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Hello, I first posted the first part of this story in the fluff forum. Didn't know about this place so now that it is completed I can post the full thing here. Enjoy. The story is about guard infantry in a jungle infested with Tyranids!
Isaac stepped forwards, taking care not to step on any of the many twigs and obstacles that littered the jungle floor. The tropical heat was almost unbearable, he paused briefly to wipe the sweat from his forehead. Something rustled in the bushes. Isaac spun round, training his lasgun on the disturbance.
Out of the corner of his eye he could see Ben move up in support. The bushes moved again, then a blur darted out and ran away from the approaching soldiers. It was just a bore-rat, one of the many creatures indigenous to this planet. Ben gave me a nod and moved on. Isaac blew a sigh of relief and relaxed his itchy trigger finger.
"Seeing ghosts Isaac?" remarked Reed in his usual derogatory tone.
"Shut up Reed! You trying to get us killed?" snapped Sargent Cormac, who was leading from the front, machete in hand. Him and Douglas were trying their best to clear a path through the thick vegetation that made progress slow and tiring. Reed had always been a rotten son of a grox, even in this situation he never missed an opportunity to take a stab at someone.
Isaac was on edge. This whole mission had gone drastically wrong from the get go. His platoon, the 23rd Haneul rangers had been tasked with making a diversionary attack against the Tyranids to help buy time for the rest of the army group to retreat through the jungle to the neighboring defenses that outlined the fortress city of Mariaburg. However it was they, not the enemy, who had fallen victim to an ambush as they had blundered into a fierce living wall of teeth and claws which had proceeded to slaughter many of his comrades and split the force up as they fled for their very lives. They'd already lost a few members in the route, whether they had been killed or lost in the confusion wasn't known. Well its not like they were in a position to do anything about it in any case. The sergeant had decided to make a break for the platoons Chimera transports which were hopefully still at the assigned area. If they had caught wind of the disaster and had high tailed it out of here...
A brightly colored bird was rosed from its perch high in the trees as the soldiers picked their way carefully through the foliage. It flew away, squawking. Everyone froze and took up a combat stance as the sound echoed throughout the jungle. Quietly, when they realized there was no danger, they went back to the business at hand. The jungle was eerily silent, as if every living thing had suddenly vanished. It had been buzzing with life, alive with sound just a few hours before as they had made their way to the staging area.
Abel Marwood moved closer to me. He gave a nervous smile.
"Bad situation we got ourselves into, huh?" he whispered, not wanting to draw the attention of Sergeant Cormac. Well that was the understatement of the century.
"You can say that again, this whole mission was a death trap from the get go," Isaac said, making sure to keep his voice equally low.
That was nothing new he thought, bitterly. There had been a string of badly planned offensives in the recent months that had lead the army group nearly to the brink of destruction. He could almost believe that his platoon had been sent in merely to act as cannon fodder, that high command had known what would happen but didn't care as long as the Tyranid advance was slowed even for a few hours with the blood of himself and his comrades.
"So Isaac, what are you going to do when we make it back to camp? I'm going to visit madam Lisa, after I hit the card tables to earn some green."
"Well at least you have your priorities straight."
"You need to keep thinking of the things you have to look forward too, otherwise you'd go insane with all the stuff we have to deal with."
Issac wondered at the mans ability to keep a straight face while saying that, but he guessed that every person dealt with the horrors of war in a different way. Himself? He just made sure to thank the emperor everytime he made it back to the mess-tent in one piece.
Sergeant Cormac sent Ben on ahead, to make sure that they didn't wonder into any waiting monstrosities. Ben Marshall was the squads scout. A serious man of few words who had a businesslike attitude to his duty. He seemed a bit detacted recently but at least we could feel a little safer with him keeping watch out front. Ben readjusted his glasses, checked his webbing and then proceeded to disappear into the jungle.
Cormac's unit traveled for another 30 minutes without incident. Occasionally they would hear some scattered gunfire in the distance or the wailing of some unseen animal but for the most part, the only sounds they heard were their own footsteps and heavy breathing.
Cormac held up a hand for them to stop. Everyone spread out, searching for good positions in order to cover all possible angels of attack. Issac found a nice fallen tree to hide behind. The small of rotting wood filled his nostrils but he'd gotten used to a lot of unpleasant things in his time here. A rather large flying insect landed on a branch up in one of the trees. Ugly thing Issac thought, with its bright orange wings and misshapen design. It started to clean its limbs when one of the nearby plants growing on the trunk shot out a fleshy harpoon which skewered the bug and pulled it towards it. Issac cringed. I'll be glad when this whole sorry mess is over, the jungle is no place for a hive regiment. Blood sucking bugs, poisonous plants and the constant background noise had driven many soldiers to curse this deployment.
He glanced over his shoulder. Cormac was talking to the squads communications trooper, Jenkins. Cormac looked agitated, whatever he was being told, he sure didn't like it. A few moments passed, before Cormac snatched the mic off Jenkins, barked something down to whoever was on the other end of the line and then stalked off.
"Alright ladies, seems that our ride is about to take off without us. That means we need to double time it before those transport jockies get cold feet."
Everyone shuffled back towards where the Sergeant was standing, some lingering to take one last look at the shadows between the trees just to be sure.
"That means now!," he bellowed, "Get moving, and keep your eyes peeled. I'll not have any of you mess things up even further!"
They started off at a brisk pace, which isn't as easy as it sounds in terrain such as this. Issac tore his shirt on one of the many protruding branches, one of the other guys even fell over flat on his face though one dark look from Cormac stopped anybody from laughing and they quickly resumed their journey. He swore under his breath.
At least he didn't break the skin. He'd seen a few people catch an infection from just a careless scrape which could prove fatal without the right treatment.
Issac hoped Cormac knew where he was going, this stretch of jungle looked almost identical to the countless other areas they had passed. Just the same endless vines, plants and trees that stretched as high as the eye can see. It almost seemed as if the jungle had swallowed them up and wouldn't let them escape, that the green canopy above acted as some kind of prison.
"Halt!" Cormac yelled as he held up his hand to those behind.
The squad came to an abrupt stop. Abel was just to Issac's side, trying to catch his breath.
"What is it this time?" he mumbled under his breath.
"I can hear weapon discharges up ahead Sargeant," said Holden, who was one of men out in front.
"I'm well aware of that trooper," he spat. Cormac turned around and searched for Jenkins. He ran a hand over his gray hair.
"Jenkins, get over here and raise the transports. The rest of you, split up and establish a perimeter, now!"
Jenkins hurried over while the rest of the men fanned out. Issac could hear it more clearly now that the background noise from their march was absent. The distinctive wine of las blasts could just be heard over the horizon mixed with other sounds that he couldn't identify. Something roared. It was distant just like the gunfire, but there was no mistaking it.
Several of the guardsman exchanged nervous glances. Douglas was closest to him, Issac could see the man was pretty jumpy. He was still bleeding from a slash on one of his forearms which had been hastily bandaged up, blood ran down his arm onto the ground below. Hopefully the smell of blood wouldn't attract any unwanted attention. As if he could sense his thoughts, Douglas looked in his direction.
Issac gave him a nod which after a few seconds was returned.
"Hows your wound buddy?" asked Issac.
"Feels like crap, what do you think?" Douglas grinned.
"Nah, its not that bad, See?" Douglas tried to raise his arm but winced in pain.
Issac reached into his pouch and pulled out a pain stim, which he handed to Douglas. Its not as if he needed at the moment, better to give it to whoever needed it. Who knows, he may even save my butt today, so it might turn out to be a smart investment.
Issac returned to his watch. Nothing moved apart from the gentle swaying of the leaves in front of him. Some movement drew his eyes to the grown where some insects were scurrying about. At least they weren't totally alone out here.
Something else caught his attention. There was something else moving out there, something far larger than an lowly incest. Issac raised his lasgun to his shoulder, aligned his eye with the rifles sights and slowed his breathing. Issac always felt that in this state, the weapon was an extension of himself, that it was his instrument bringing his own personal vengeance to the enemies of the imperium and his continued existence.
The dark shape was becoming more visible now, mostly because he could now tell that it was heading straight towards him. Had he been spotted? Possibly, though he had made sure to blend in with the dense vegetation as best as he could. His finger gripped the trigger tightly, ready to press down with just a little more force at a moments notice that would send white hot beams of death towards his enemies.
He whispered to Douglas and then, when he had his attention, nodded in the direction of the shadowy figure. Douglas nodded back and started to crawl over to a nearby patch of bushes, in order to get a better angle at whatever was approaching.
The figure pushed past some giant sized leaves and ran into a small clearing. He could see now that the figure was human, wore guard issue fatigues and carried a lasgun. He strained his eyes to make out the mans face, by the emperor, it was Ben Marshall!
He signaled to Douglas to hold his fire, and then formed his hands around his mouth. He mimicked the warning call of the Kuula bird which would only be recognized by someone who grew up on Haneul. He called again, this also alerted the rest of the squad to the potential danger. He saw Ben adjust his course to followed the sound. Issac lifted his hand just above his green shelter and waved him over.
Ben got a foot on the crest of the ridge, and jumped down so that he was standing besides Issac. He was breathing heavily and struggle for a few moments to speak. The man looked spooked. It was very strange to see the normally businesslike and serious Ben reduced to such a state, but then again, everyone had their breaking point.
Finally after readjusting his glasses he looked up at his fellow soldier and managed to sputter out a single word which turned Issac's heart to ice.
"Tyranids?" Issac asked. "Where?"
No sooner had the words left his mouth, he started to see shapes darting amongst the plants and shrubs. Ben saw the shapes as well, and it drove him into hysterics.
"They were waiting for us. Near the rendezvous point, they jumped me. I managed to outrun them, came spiriting here but they followed me. They're all around us, everywhere!"
The shadows in the jungle continued to move forward. You couldn't actually see them very well in the thick jungle cover, just formless ghosts, but from the way that the vegetation stirred, as something brushed past them you could tell something was out there.
Ben pointed at them.
"You see! They followed me, the monsters followed me all the way here. They're not going to get me!"
Ben raised his lasgun and began to fire on full auto into the endless expanse of the jungle, in the direction of the approaching silhouettes. Looming pink and green plants were blasted apart, great leaves rich with moisture were cut to ribbons. Things which had taken years to grow were destroyed within the space of a few seconds.
Sargeant Cormac and a few others rushed up in support. Guns held ready, scanning for any hostile sign. Ben emptied the power cell in his lasgun and went about the automatic reflex drilled into every guardsmen of changing it out and storing the spent clip in his belt pouch, for later use.
Silence fell. Nothing stirred apart from the fragments of plant life that were falling back to the earth after the onslaught.
Cormac slung his rifle over his shoulder, he looked directly at Ben with an annoyed looked. "What the hell are you firing at soldier?" Cormac boomed. "You'd better have a real good explanation for not reporting in at the assigned time and advertising our position to every damn bug within this entire jungle."
Ben was still scanning the dark spots in between the trees, as if he expected something to jump out.
"Hey, I'm talking to you soldier! You'd better start answering my questions or the phantoms out there will be the least of your troubles."
This time, Ben looked up after another brief look around. He looked more like his usual self now that he was with the rest of the unit.
"The bugs sir, they're ahead of us. They jumped me but I managed to escape, ran all the way here. They followed me, I'm sure of it. They're out there all right."
"Ahead of us? What about the convoy?"
Whatever answer he was about to give was cut short when a almighty scream rang out from behind them. It was Holden.
It took Issac just a second to piece together the grizzly picture in front of him but it felt far longer. A sharp javelin shaped limb was sticking out of Holden's chest where it had been rammed through with inhuman strength. It belonged to one of the common Tyranid beasts that were used as cannon fodder by the hive fleets. The beast streaked as it cast its gaze at the remaining imperial guardsmen, pulled its scythe from Holden and ran back into the forest before anybody could pull a trigger. Holden gave a gargled moan as blood formed in his mouth and his lasgun fell to the floor along with its owner a moment later.
"Damn hell spawn!" roared Jasper, who fired in the direction the monster had traveled.
Hesitantly, Jenkins went over to check on Holden, his weapon held at the shoulder.
"Spread out, cover all approaches!" yelled Cormac.
Ben, Douglas and Issac stood watch in the direction of the convoy. Issac's palms itched, he swallowed hard.
No matter how many times he saw them, they still surprised him with how alien, how wrong they looked. They stood on two feet, were green in color (though he had been told they came in a variety of colors and forms) and had two intimidating long blade like arms as well as a head full of teeth to tear and rend anybody or anything they came across. Some of them had ranged weapons that spat acidly death at soldiers or even maggots that ate people alive. That's not a way for a soldier to die thought Issac.
They stood alert and waited, ready to blast anything that dared to show its face out in the open. The forest was still and silent as a cemetery with only the rustling of the leaves and the faint calls of the few remaining insect to break the quiet. That's what the Tyranid bugs do here, they lie in wait, ambush you when you least expect it and then hide back in the shadows of the vast all encompassing jungle.
Commissar Kleg had briefed the regiment just before the start of the jungle campaign, back at headquarters, saying that the Tyranid scum was devious and without honor. "They had thrown away their usual tactics of rushing into the cleansing fire of our glorious weapons and had instead adopted a habit of sneaking around combined with cowardly surprise attacks against the emperors brave soldiers. Be on your guard men!"
A far cry from the earlier battles in the built up areas around the capital where you couldn't see the ground in amongst the vast hordes of the enemy.
"I got movement here, Eleven o'clock!" called Wilhelm.
"I see them too." confirmed Abel.
"Everyone stay at your positions!" yelled Cormac. "These bastards could pop out anywhere, keep all avenues of fire covered or it won't be the Tyranids that kill you!"
Not long after that the attack began. Abel and Wilhelm started firing at the gaunts as they emerged from the treeline. Two of them were hit by accurate fire as soon as they left the safety of the green plant cover. Their screams echoed around the tall trees as they madly thrashed around on the floor, their foul ichor seeping from their wounds into the soil. Still more followed behind, showing no concern at the fate of their siblings.
It took all of Issac's training and experience not to tear his eyes away from the empty scene in front of him and rush to aid the battle going on just a scant distance away. If he left his post there would be a blind spot in the squads defenses which could be exploited.
Douglas placed a hand on his shoulder which snapped him out of his thoughts. He nodded towards one of the broad trees. Issac couldn't see anything special for a few seconds before he noticed a number of leaves twisting in the wind as they fell to the ground. He cast his gaze upwards and gasped. Sneaky buggers. He could just about make out the forms of Tyranid creatures climbing in amongst the canopy overhead. They were moving slowly, clearly taking their time in order to not be seen. Well it hadn't worked.
"Good eyes you have there, Douglas," Issac whispered.
"Single to Ben, then we will light these monstrosities up."
Douglas grinned and singled to Ben. After he got his attention he casually pointed upwards. Ben's look of concentration left his face the instant he laid eyes upon the guants and twisted into an expression of horror and revulsion. He immediately sighted his lasgun and opened fire without even a look back at Douglas for confirmation.
He struck one as it was reaching across for a branch, it lost its grip and fell to the jungle floor below. Another was killed outright by a lucky head shot.
Issac and Douglas followed suit and added their fire to the onslaught, killing many Tyranid organisms before they realized what was happening. Still, it was hard to pinpoint enemies in the treetops. Their green skin acted as the perfect camouflage combined with the many large tropical leaves and greenery blocking line of sight.
Issac spotted a creature climbing down a tree truck, he sent three successive shots of energy hurtling through the air which all hit home, causing it to plummet downwards, crashing through the endless layers of branches and vines as it did so.
Issac fired at any movement, any shifting in the thicket, confident that it betrayed the presence of a gaunt.
Something moved in the corner of his eye, the tall green stems of plants were being pushed aside as something moved between them. He shifted his gaze downwards and was horrified to see a gaunt only a few paces away from him. It was wounded, he could clearly see burn marks scarred across its body and strange colored blood which stained nearby plants as it passed them but even in this state the single minded instinct to kill drove it onwards. Curse him for taking his eyes off the ground. It hissed at him, drool dripping from its open mouth as if it could sense the impending slaughter.
It pounced on him before he could get a shot off. It barreled into him, knocking him off his feet. He fell on his back with the gaunt on top of him, its weight pressing him down into the muck of the jungle floor. Issac brought up his lasgun and managed to brace it against his chest, pushing it against the gaunt's arms in an effort to keep those sharp dagger arms away from him. It screamed in fury which was deafening when they were practically face to face, and thrust down, driven on by bloodlust now that its prey was so close.
One of its sword arms scraped across the barrel of his weapon, cutting the back of Issac's arm in the process.
Spittle from the Tyranid's open maw trickled down on Issac's face. Its head lunged at him, its jaws snapping shut just inches away from him. He cried out in desperation, kicking out with all his strength, putting everything he had in holding the beast at bay, for if he didn't it would be the end for him.
He could see those black, almost lifeless eyes staring down at him as he wrestled for his life. Issac jammed up the lasguns barrel and pulled the trigger repeatedly. Even though he couldn't get the right angle to actually shoot the gaunt, the close proximity would still cause heat burns. The Tyranid's assault slackened for a crucial moment as the beams of lights singed its flesh, giving Issac the chance to grab the hunting knife from his leg sheath and plunge it into the side of the beasts head.
It reared up in pain, madly flailing in all directions, chopping apart everything around it. As soon as he was able to, Issac threw himself away, trying to get some distance from his attacker. He held one hand out to steady himself as he landed, then losing no time, he scrambled for his weapon which was now caked in mud.
As he turned to fire the Tyranid was struck repeatedly by las-blasts, the blinding flashes lighting it up as its body jerked as the force of the impacts hit it. It collapsed, dead at last.
It was Douglas who had killed it. The whole ordeal had only lasted a few seconds but it felt like an eternity to him. Douglas held his hand out and pulled Issac up. No words were exchanged, thanks could wait for later, they still had a job to do.
Issac resumed firing, picking off a few more that had gone to ground. The stench of the dead was almost overpowering when combined with the tropical heat but he blocked it from his mind and instead focused on the methodical routine of aim and fire, aim and fire.
They cut down those few on the ground that remained before they could close any further while keeping their eyes peeled for hidden enemies approaching above.
"Ah, I'm hit, I'm hit!" someone called.
"They got shooters out there!"
"Keep your heads down men!"
That last voice was from Cormac.
"Pinpoint where those hell spawn are firing on us!"
It was Macallister who was hit. Issac could see a cruel looking barb which was sticking out of his thigh. More barbs were scattered about, dug into the ground around the squads perimeter. Several more spines zipped overhead and pieced a tree trunk behind them. A strange whining sound marked the passage of the rounds through the air.
Macallister winced as he pulled the barb free from his leg and threw it in anger in the same direction it came from.
Have it back, scum, he thought.
"I got em, north of my position!" yelled Reed. His guff tone instantly recognizable.
Sergeant Cormac reached down and plucked a grenade from his webbing, he indicated that Reed should do the same with a outstretched thumb.
"Listen up! As soon as the blind grenades go off I want everyone to race towards that great hardwood tree over there by that rockface, got it?"
There was a chorus of "Yes sir!" which briefly drowned out the hammering sound of gunfire.
Issac shielded his eyes at the last possible second, just as the munitions left the hands of those that threw them. Wanting to keep the suppressing fire going for every crucial moment he could to avoid any more sneak attacks.
A trio of grenades exploded, the sound deafening, the bright blast bathing the jungle in a few seconds of intense light.
And everyone was up, rushing towards the rockface, hugging whatever cover they could find as they went. Cormac was leading the way, snapping off shots on the move.
Someone was shouting, but it was impossible to see who with vision blocked by the countless Auburn trees plus the many vines which hung down between them.
Issac, Ben and Douglas were the last ones to join the fray as they were positioned the furthest from the break out point so they had settled back into a rearguard action, making sure nothing was following them.
"Right, Issac, Ben, lets get moving."
Issac picked off a Tyranid that was trying to crawl under a overturned tree trunk, Ben was still firing wildly. Once he was satisfied that nothing could be seen moving he nodded to the others.
"Lets get out of here, now!"
The three men followed in the others wake, wading into the green Rainforest. Shooting could be heard just up ahead. The familiar wine of lasguns mixed with the strange whooshes of alien weaponry. This spurred Issac to pick up the pace, plus the knowledge that his back was now completely exposed now that they had left their watch. Anybody...no, anything left behind them would have a clear route free of guardsmen to snap at their heels.
Issac was in front, with the two others following close behind. He pushed through a mass of bright orange leaves only to come face to face with the barrel of a lasgun. The arm holding it had a dark blue dragon tattoo running up its length.
"Lucky my finger didn't slip Issac," said Reed.
"Lucky for you maybe."
Reed grinned but didn't lower his rifle. Issac didn't have time for his stupid games, he swatted the weapon aside and continued on past him, looking for the Sergeant. It was a shame Reed wasn't in a penal legion as that snake belonged in one. Well, give it time Issac thought.
Douglas caught up to him while Ben just sat down on a log and checked his weapon.
Sergeant Cormac was kneeling, examining the dead bodies of Tyranid organisms which littered the ground around him.
He heard Issac coming and looked up.
"Ah, good of you gentlemen to join us."
He followed his gaze.
"Ah, these things? We found them dazed from the grenades, guess they didn't have the good fortune to shield themselves from the blast."
He shrugged before kicking the gaunt's arm. Actually the arm was shaped more like a weapon, plus it seemed attached to the alien wielding it. Strands of flesh linked them together like a ammo belt. Cormac gave it another kick.
"These blasted creatures were the source of the problem. Well we slaughtered them, did a good job of it too. Disgusting things, these Tyranids."
"What should we do now, sir?"
"We move ahead of course, we only have a few minutes until they catch up to us, maybe less. There might still be enemies that we missed here. We need to keep on the move, get to the rendezvous point."
Men were busying themselves with checking weapons, pulling out ration bars for a quick snack or a little swig of water from their flask. They never relaxed while doing this of course but you had to take what little time you could, even in the middle of combat. You never knew when the next respite would come. Soldiers taking a peek behind their back, scanning the darkness in amongst the bushes and vines or arcing heads high into the trees to make sure there was nothing crawling around up there.
Cormac cleared his lungs.
"Right everyone, enough sitting round, lets get a move on again."
Nobody complained due to the fact that they wanted to get away from this god forsaken place as soon as possible. The team pushed onwards, marching at a fast pace. Not running anymore as Cormac hoped that they had managed to evade their pursuers for the time being, Emperor willing.
"So, ummmm. Douglas was telling me that you took down a Tyranid that jumped you."
Issac pushed some vines out of his way with his lasgun as he made his way ahead.
"Who told you that, Jenkins?"
"Oh I heard it from Douglas." He formed his a thumps with his digits, smiled and nodded. Guess he was impressed.
"Thanks. Better keep it down before Cormac notices."
Jenkins nodded again. Jenkins was set apart from the other men by his blond hair and youth. He was the youngest man in the unit, in fact, he only been part of the unit since the start of the campaign on this world as they'd needed a replacement vox operator. Ah, the start of the campaign. How long had it been now? It was hard to remember and keep track of time when you were fighting for your life. The days seemed to almost blur together.
As they passed a collection of multicolored mantrap plants the communication equipment on Jenkins back started to blink.
He put on his headset and listened for a few moments. Issac could see that it wasn't good news based on how his expression turned sour.
"Sergeant, I'm picking up communication traffic from command. Sir, the whole front has been ordered to fall back and regroup to the rear positions effective immediately!"
That didn't sound good Issac thought. A general retreat meant that something even worse was happening in the grand scheme of things besides our counter attack failing miserably.
"Damn it all," spat Cormac. "Ben, get the maps out, tell me how long till we reach the transports."
We spent another few hours matching after that. The atmosphere was tense, no one said a word. We already knew that the attack had failed of course but a general retreat meant that things had taken a turn for the worse. At least as far as we were concerned, getting back to friendly territory just got a little bit tougher.
Jenkins had been scolded for letting slip that particular piece of information but no further action had been taken. Guess they needed every fighting man alert, not worrying about possible punishments.
"According to the map, we should be nearing the site now Sergeant," said Ben who was trying to juggle walking with a rifle and reading the maps with his other hand.
Cormac was silent and just nodded without missing a step. Guess we would be continuing on then in the absence of any other orders.
Issac noticed that Macallister was struggling to keep the pace up. Always at the back of the column, always the last man to clear obstacles such as shallow lakes and fallen trees.
They'd already had to stop once to allow him to catch up. Cormac held a hand up, he fixed Macallister firm in his gaze.
"Whats wrong soldier?"
Issac could see that his legs were giving him trouble. He looked sweaty and ragged, even more so then everyone else with the heat bombarding them plus the recent excursions.
"I don't know sir," he said, his voice slurred every so slightly as if it was an effort to even form the words.
"Been feeling weak lately and my legs are killing me."
"Well we don't have time for this soldier, you'd better pick things up or you will get left behind."
Reed started picking off insects that were crawling along a vine. "We gonna get moving?" he muttered.
Issac stepped forward.
"Let me take a look at him sir."
"No need, the mans poisoned."
It was Lando who had said that, crouching in amongst some bushes. Lando was a dark skinned man who always enjoyed a good game of cards, and of course, taking peoples money while doing so.
"I seen it before, the man hot hit with those spears. They contain poison, he'll get worse soon enough."
That wasn't what Macallister wanted to hear. His expression cracked a little before he managed to mask it with a face of brave indifference. The same mask that a lot of soldiers found themselves using when faced with the day to day horrors of war.
"So," he finally said. "How long do I have?"
Lando looked at him for a moment, then laughed.
"Its not that bad man, but your gonna need drugs, drugs that we don't have."
Cormac looked up at the sky which was starting to darken every so slightly. It was still bright with the sun turning the jungle into an uncomfortable sauna but it wouldn't stay that way forever. They had no night vision equipment with them so the prospect of being stuck in the middle of nowhere with Tyranids running around in the pitch darkness was unwelcome to say the least. Even the local wildlife would give a trooper cause for concern.
"We move on, we're not that far away now. If you can't keep up I'm afraid we're going to have to leave you behind."
And so that was that. He had a hard time keeping pace in the rough and inhospitable terrain but he managed to keep pace with a little help from Douglas, Abel and myself. Hopefully when we made it back to our army group we could get him some attention from the medics or at least something to dull the pain. He hadn't complained once to his credit but he was sweating nonstop and he grimaced every time he took a step. Just hold on a little while longer.
We hadn't ran into any more attacks thankfully and we'd managed to lose the monsters from the previous ambush assuming they even tried to follow us in the first place.
"We should be reaching the site within the next few minutes, Sergeant."
Cormac nodded but had a grave look on his face.
They hadn't run into any sentries or any signs of life and had been allowed to approach this close without being challenged. Either the infantry here were immensely incompetent or something else had cause them to leave their posts.
Cormac signed for the rest of the squad to be alert for possible trouble and moved forwards, more cautiously then before.
The rest of the men followed suit, sticking close to the treeline. Issac crossed under the canopy of a grand old looking greatwood which cast the ground beneath it in a kind of permanent twilight. He was a good enough soldier to recognize when things didn't feel right and had picked up on the signs that his Sergeant had noticed. Where was everyone?
Ben was the man most out in front. He suddenly stopped and crouched low, backing up slightly. He signaled back that there was some noise up ahead.
Cormac ran up to his position, keeping his form as low as possible.
"Whats going on?" asked Douglas.
"Ben gave the sign for noise, Cormac's gone up to see for himself." answered Issac.
It didn't take a lord general to put together the lack of guard presence with sounds up ahead and come up with bad news.
Was it his imagination or was it starting to darken? Certainly the rays of light coming through the canopy was lessening by the hour. They'd better be making a move out of here soon.
Douglas rubbed his arm in discomfit. The bandages were bloody and torn in places and could do with changing.
"You could do with a trip to the medicare."
Douglas tore off a piece of his shirt and hastily added it to the jumbled mass of bandages.
"I could do with a personal visit from a nurse or failing that, a one way ticket off world."
"I hear ya, we could all do with that lucky ticket," added Abel.
Out of earshot of the others, Lando was Reed were pointing their weapons down the rough trail they had just taken. It had been their job to cover the squads tracks and they hadn't been all that happy about it. Being at the back of a unit put you first in the cue to the morgue. Of course voicing your concerns wasn't advisable in the imperial guard.
Lando flicked off a fly that had landed on his dark skinned arm.
"You hear these guys talking about off world tickets," Lando said. "You'd think they would've learned by now." He paused, swatting another fly out of the air.
"Then again, I guess old commissar Robins isn't around anymore to catch em."
Reed smirked. Robins had been the platoons commissar before he had an unfortunate encounter with a sporemine. He couldn't say he wasn't happy to see the last of him. He had had enough to worry about without him breathing down his neck, trying to bust people for illegal gambling.
"Ha, that man cared more for filling the slammer than keeping people on the frontline."
Lando nodded in agreement.
"True that, can't a guy just play a hand of emperor without getting the book thrown at you?"
"Listen Lando, we might not make it out of this mess unless we stick together and keep our eyes open for any opportunities. You get me?"
The two men turned at the sound of Ben and Cormac returning to the vicinity. The Sergeant was waving everyone over to him. With some reluctance Lando lifted himself off the ground and started forwards.
"Yeah, I get you man," he said over his shoulder.
Cormac stood bolt upright, with a very serious look on his face. Those that knew him didn't have to guess hard at what he was about to say. They had seen the signs as well.
"Alright men, we heard gunfire ahead. Put this together with the overall lack of guard presence here and we're have our backs against the wall. The enemy are most likely attacking the transport detachment so we're going to have to do this by the numbers. No heroics unless I give you a direct order, you got that?"
The assembled troopers all understood and indicated so to their Sergeant.
Cormac gave one sharp nod and rammed a fresh clip into his lasgun.
"Good, lets get moving."
Sergeant Cormac took in the scene of chaos in front of him as best as he could. There was fire roaring into the sky in dense clouds of heat as several burnt out vehicles littered the area. Large dome like tents, some torn or burning were lined up in orderly columns. Dead bodies of both sides could be seen lying all over the place. The air stank of death.
The transport site was a moderately large open expanse of land interspaced with the odd patch of greenery or tall tree. The squad was waiting on the edge of the treeline, observing things before making a move as ordered. Issac could still clearly hear the sounds of battle though the area they found themselves scanning seemed devoid of any activity at the moment.
Behind him Jenkins was fiddling with his headset, trying to make sense of the incoming traffic.
"Its no good sir. Its just soldiers crying out for help, low ammo and the like. No sense of any organized resistance. I can't hear a single officer on the command channel at all."
Cormac tightened his fists hanging at his sides, his jaw set in a scowl.
"What are those brass monkeys doing, sitting on their hands?"
He cast his gaze around the site, wondering if the armies officers had joined the mass of bodies lying on the jungle floor. They'd better be dead, because the commissars would be looking for someone to shoulder the responsibility after this ordeal was over. Maybe even Cormac would be interested in enacting some justice if he came across one of them.
"Well no matter. In the absence of any concrete orders it falls to me to make the best decision based on the intelligence at hand. And I say we get the hell out of here and link up with the first guard element we come across."
Issac ran out into the open towards one of the more untouched looking troop transports, keeping his figure as low as possible. His back hit the vehicle with a thud. He hugged the transport as he slid around to the back wheel, before peering around the side. The black belching smoke made visibility low but he didn't see anything moving out there. He slowed his breathing, cleared his mind and listened. If you couldn't see the enemy, it was always possible to hear them the instructors had always said. He could hear the crackle of the burning flames, the clanging of a truck door opening and closing in the wind and the still present sound of not so distant gunfire. He waved back over his shoulder without turning his watchful gaze away.
Immediately soldiers darted out of the jungle and sprinted over to join Issac while a few kept watch from the shadows.
Cormac was the first to reach Issac's side who was still keeping watch over the surrounding area.
"Whats the ground like, Issac?"
"No hostiles or friendlies in the area sir, but it wouldn't be difficult for anyone to hide out here."
In twos, the remainder of the unit joined the rest of them, huddling behind the vehicle as best as they could.
Macallister was the last to join them despite being part of the second duo to make the run across no mans land.
Issac knew the poison must be making even the most simplistic of movements excruciating for him. His skin was losing its color and he was slick with sweat. He hadn't complained about his difficultly to his credit, but how long could he go on?
Issac would tell that the Sergeant was impatient with his progress but hadn't mentioned anything about it yet. Issac knew however that if he slowed the squads progress any further, that might change.
The decision was made to split up the squad into two teams in order to cover more ground. The chief objective was to find a suitable vehicle that would hold everyone. Second on the list was helping repel the Tyranids. Issac was chosen to lead the second team consisting of himself, Douglas, Lando, Jasper, Jenkins and finally Ben. Everyone else went along with Cormac in the first team. They would converge on the maintenance facility which, despite the grandiose name was little more than a series of tents and pre-fabricated garages.
Issac took the lead, jogging across to some sandbags which housed a heavy machine gun, its gunner just a bloody stain on the floor. He waved the all clear to his comrades, as they too moved forward while Issac assumed a covering stance. In turn they would provide cover for him as he took his turn to move up. They played this game of leapfrog for a few more minutes, following the nearest sounds of gunfire until they found their first signs of life.
A handful of scattered soldiers were fighting for their lives against a swarm of Tyrandis. Each soldier fighting his own individual battle for survival in the cauldron of battle. One man turned to flee when his weapon ran dry. He was calling out in blind terror but was run down without mercy and hacked to pieces. Another soldier was behind a tree, firing at two charging creatures with talons. The leading one was taken down with lasblots caving in the back of its head but the second one kept on coming even when it suffered multiple injures. The soldier was screaming at the top of his lungs, "Die you monster, why won't you die?" before it plunged its bladed arms into the mans torso. They collapsed in a bloody heap, both in deaths embrace.
Issac saw two gaunts with rangers weapons peppering the side of a tent with holes, presumably because someone had taken shelter inside. He stopped running, knelt on one knee and took aim. Since they was facing away from him and the enemy were not yet aware of his squads presence, he was able to take a few seconds to time his shots with shooting range precision. Both were taken down without any trouble despite the fading light. The other squad members were trying to take some pressure off the beleaguered defenders by picking off those enemies on the fringes of the engagement. Jasper felled one Tyranid while it was turning to face the new threat and was quickly forced to duck behind some nearby metal crates as bright green projectiles flew at him at high speeds. They impacted on the crates which began to hiss and melt under the assault of the strong acid compound. More and more Tyranids were turning their attentions to Cormac's men, making things much more dangerous for them.
Issac with Jenkins and Douglas in tow had made their way to a series of tents, using them as cover to approach around the side of the Tyranid position. Assuming that they even had a position of course and the battle wasn't some all encompassing mess. Still they had to work with what they knew so this was the best move they had to play.
The three men moved at a jog but kept their eyes glued to each tent opening as they passed, the darkness inside may hide more than imaginary monsters. One of the tents contained an old fashioned oil lamp which was burning dimly, probably lifted from the local population. The picture it illuminated inside was not a welcome sight. Two humans in beige maintenance overalls lay on the ground, partially dismembered. Such was the state they were in, Issac couldn't tell what gender they were. Swallowing hard, he signaled the group to move on.
Lando was the man up front, sweeping from left to right with his weapon. He stopped in his tracks as something caught his ears, causing Ben who was covering behind him to walk into his back.
"What the hell?" Ben whispered, readjusting his glasses.
Lando pointed to one of the tent openings on the right, from which a horrible bond crunching sound could be heard which had been covered before by the sounds of battle. Ben noticed the sound too and started to look more than a little put off, he started to back away.
Jasper pushed past him, clearly annoying at his companions reluctance. He pulled out a flashlight from his pocket and fumbled for a few moments before getting the thing working.
It shone out bright light which pushed away the darkness, revealing a ghastly picture to the assembled soldiers. One of the common Tyranid spawn was hunched over another human figure, this one in combat fatigues. The creature was in the process of moving its bloody maw in closer to take another bite before it was disturbed by its unwanted visitors. Cranking its head round, it saw fresh bio mass very much alive behind it. Lando didn't give it the second it needed to form the next thought in its head, or rather, receive it from the hive mind. He gunned it down on full auto, angry at this piece of filth for snacking on one of the regiments soldiers. He was well used to the idea of dying, but the idea of being eaten sickened him to the core.
Jasper patted Lando on the head and urged him to move on. He looked at the scene in front of him for a few moments before heading back down the role of tents with the others.
Issac could see that they were nearing the end of the tent complex which meant a end to their cover. The hissing of laser rounds and the booming of explosives was ever present as always but a burst of weapon fire closer to the squads position alarmed Issac and caused him to slow up and look around. Nothing that he could see, some of the men ran past him while he scanned the gaps for any sign of life.
His gaze was torn back to the middle trail where pot marks started to appear in the fabric just in front of him. The air fizzled as the high energy laser beams cooked the air, and anything they came into contact with on the way. Issac yelled for everyone to hit the dirt as the few shots rapidly turned into a laser storm of death. Jasper just had time to register a look of disbelief before he was cut to bloody ribbons. Lando had just a second more to react, and drove for the ground, flattening himself as much as humanly possible.
Issac grit his teeth as the roar of laser fire passed right above his head, filling the area with the smell of burning fabric as the tents were damaged even further. Ben cried out for it to end, for this whole damn mess to end and the injustice of it all. Further back down the line, Jenkins held the necklace he kept hidden under his shirt, given to him by his father before the mustering. Then as suddenly as the storm had broke, it stopped.
The men were still reluctant to get up after what had happened but they knew that staying prone on the ground would leave them easy pickings for anything that came across them. They got up one by one, dusting themselves off and taking stock.
"Is anyone hit?" Issac called out.
It turned out that only Jasper who was on point had been hit, everyone else had managed to avoid any injury by the emperors grace.
Douglas was complaining that he had landed badly on his already hurt arm, and couldn't aim his lasgun properly with both hands. Issac handed him Jasper's autopistol without a word. Douglas took it with his good arm with a glum look, slinging the rifle behind his back. Taking needed equipment from dead comrades had become commonplace since arriving on this emperor forsaken world. Still, being killed by stray fire from your own side. Fate can be wicked sometimes.
Not far from Issac and those men still with him, Sergeant Cormac was leading his team through the battle as best as he could. They'd killed a good far share of the enemy as they worked their way towards the machine bay. They were taking their time, playing the cautious game, trying to hide their presence until they could link back to some sibilance of command, assuming anything like that still existed. Cade Cormac was starting to wonder. He'd never seen things this bad before, with the comm channels completely devoid of any forms of command and control.
The men under him were fanning out and sweeping the area as they went along. Crates of supplies had been haphazardly stacked together to form barricades. Personal effects had been discarded on the floor in a effort to escape. Imperial coins, an aquilla half buried in the earth, even an old wooden music box which from the look of it, had been dropped and trampled underfoot.
A roar sounded out, long and deep. Loud enough to shack a few leaves from a nearby tree which fluttered down in the air before a further eat-splitting roar, closer this time, pushed them away with sheer force.
Cormac gestured for everyone to get down before he himself lay down in a patch of long grass, parting the edge just enough for him to peer out.
A massive Tyranid creature loomed into view, its footsteps causing the earth to shake with each footfall. Cormac recognized the breed. Carnifex, a living tank packed with muscular power and heavy, bone armor that can take cannon rounds to the chest and still keep coming. It was nicknamed the berserker by the rank and file as it always seemed to be full of bloodlust, more so than the other creatures.
It cranked its neck from side to side, its tongue darting out of its mouth as it emitted a low grow. Cormac knew what it was doing. It was tasting the air for any signs of its prey, something which a few of the predators of his home planet were known for. He thanked his luck that his scent should be sufficiently covered by the grass cover he had hidden in considering he was the closed of his squad to the monster. It took a few steps towards him. The hairs on the back of his neck shot up. Had it detected me? He found himself tightening the grip on his lasgun, strangling it. The monster stopped, then turned away from him, towards a dugout made up of sandbags and wooden trunks. It stormed over to it and lashed out with one of its four gargantuan bladed arms, pulverizing most of the structure into smithereens with one blow.
It stabbed again into the heap of debris, throwing up dust everywhere. When it cleared Cormac could see that the monster had a guardsmen impaled upon one of its talons. He was still alive, and howled in agony.
It drew the poor unfortunate man up to its gaping maw and bit half of his body off in a shower of blood. Dropping the carcass on the floor, the Carnifex bellowed in rage. Its anger never satiated. Several men burst out from the crushed dugout, those that had survived the destruction but had hid in terror at what awaited them outside. The picture they had witnessed had driven them to flight. One of the soldiers was supporting another on his shoulder but it was clear that it was a lost cause as the Carnifex caught up to them within the span of a few massive strides.
The soldier looked over at the hulking monster of death approaching him and dropped his friend in panic who fell face first in the mud. Rather than help him the man sprinted away as fast as his legs would carry him. He wasn't nearly fast enough.
The Carnifex crushed the wounded man underfoot, too focused on the moving pray to bother killing him. The fleeing trooper was just about keeping pace until a big green blob shot out of the colossal creatures mouth, hitting the man in the back and knocking him to the ground. The fex was on him in an instant, slashing, pounding and ripping. One of the dismembered armed rocketed against the side of a tent, painting the green camo design a bright red. After the Carnifex had finsihed it immediately set off in the direction of the remaining guardmen who had managed to put some distence bewteen the two in the brief instant given to them.
Cormac didn't fancy their chances. He signaled for everyone to get moving and pointed in the assumed direction of the machine yard which was thankfully in the opposite direction. Using this distraction could be their only chance of making it past it without having to take a big detour and risk being detected by a similar Tyranid. They had nothing that would bring one of those behemoths down anyway. Lasguns and grenades? Good luck with that.
Meanwhile Issac and his team had come across the machine yard. Burning vehicles littered the area and those that were not on fire seemed to be battered or in a state of disrepair. One truck had been turned completely on its side. The wheels and axle bent at a wired angle.
Creeping closer, he bent under a ruined shed door, batting spider webs or whatever the local equivalent was out of his way. The building was partially collapsed and stank of some unidentifiable substance. Issac stepped on something, sending the object clattering noisily across the narrow space. He paused, partly to discover if anything had heard him and partly to see what the object was. He smirked when the item turned out to be a can of ready to eat general issue. Even without eating it, it was trying to kill him.
After a minute Issac continued onwards. He had to almost climb down a series of wooden supporting beams that had fallen from the roof in order to reach the side of the building overlooking the machine yard. Some dust was disturbed by his passing, drifting down before being pushed behind him by the air current coming in through the fractured wall. Hopefully it wouldn't cave in on me Issac thought. He enjoyed the good view he had of the machine yard for a while, taking note that it looked a lot more war-torn this close up. Ruined and blackened in places, he hoped they'd find something working or at least serviceable in there.
The plan was that he would act as a lookout while the rest of the team moved up. Since they didn't enjoy the benefits of micro-beads they had to do things the old fashioned way, sound. If any beasts showed up he would blast them, thereby alerting the rest of the unit. It wouldn't matter about the sound as the cover from nearby skirmishes would mask things and if there were any hive mind linked creatures around the sound wouldn't matter in any case.
Issac focused on Lando and Douglas as they approached the large entrance which was tall enough to accept the passage of massive 8 wheeled supply trucks and battletanks. It was completely black inside besides the foreboding red light which bathed the closed vehicle in a crimson glow. Lando stopped at the overturned truck, looked around quickly before waving Douglas forward.
The two men ran up to either side of the entrance, looked at each other to confirm they were reading from the same page, and darted inside. Issac held his position, just in case something came in behind them. All he could do was wait there and hope things went well inside. Well trust was an important thing in the guard. They trusted him to watch their back and he in turn should rely on them to carry out their job. Gunfire echoed out of the machine yard. Evidently they had ran into trouble.
One burst of lasfire, two, and then silence. Soon after that Lando appeared and gave a quick wave for everybody to move inside. After everyone had assembled, a few men were detailed to guard the entrance while the rest of the men searched around for a working vehicle. The gunfire as Lando had explained had actually come from a group of panicked mechanics who had opened fire at the first signs of movement. They had been forced to gun the three men down, no point in trying to talk down nut jobs Lando had stated. Douglas had been grim faced and nodded. Clearly he was of the same mindset. The red light mixed with the darkness was unnerving, constantly making you double check areas that had been previously cleared. One damaged battle tank at a distance looked like a fire breathing dragon, annoyed that its slumber had been disturbed.
Ben called over that he had found a flatbed truck in somewhat good condition. Only thing is that it needed a replacement battery. Finding one would have been impossible in this light, even with the aid of a torch had they not been stacked in the same area in typical guard efficiently. Of course a lot of them were unusable. Rancid acid polls had formed underneath a number of them. Ben, who had been detailed to find one and then fit it had tied a bandana around his face so as not to pass out from the fumes.
"Hey, I'm getting a signal through," said Jenkins, who was unhooking the vox unit from his back and setting it down on a metal table covered in documents which he pushed off to make room. "Its the Sergeant!"
With the earpiece pressed firmly against the side of his head, Jenkins listened intently while the message was relayed to him.
"Says he is having trouble finding this place. Hes using a vox unit that they found, its too large to carry so this will be his only transmission. Two men down, large enemy creatures in the area."
A few people turned their heads to listen, including Douglas who was on watch at the gate but one tap on the shoulder from Lando was enough to keep his gaze on the outside.
Jenkins set the receiver down and looked at Issac. "He said he wants you to give them a landmark that they can follow, something tall for them to use as a waypoint to find this place."
Issac nodded. "Hold on." Jogging to the nearest window he could see, Issac fumbled for the switch to raise it. As soon as he found it, warm light flooded into the dank workshop floor. He only opened it a fraction though, before removing his hand from the button. Looking for something large and easily identifiable, his gaze was drawn to a large tree which grew the poisonous blue pommy fruit. It towered over the other trees and plants and was also on fire which helped a bit. He thought for a moment.
"Ask the Sergeant to look for the pommy tree, its burning. The machine yard is on its southern side, about 200 meters."
Jenkins relayed the message back. We waited, Ben still working on the flatbed.
"He said he sees it and he will be with us in 15. Out."
So they'd lost a man as well. Hopefully it was Reed. Issac closed the window, it cluttered down with a grinding sound like metal on metal. Red black darkness again. He pulled out a flashlight and thumbed it on, ah that was much better. He hadn't used it before for fear of standing out like a beacon while holding a sign that read 'all you can eat right here' but he was confident that the place was empty after everyone had given it the once over.
Issac spotted a jeep which looked promising before looking at the underside and noticing that it lacked two back wheels. Well that was hardly helpful. Doubt they would have the time to scavenge a set of spares, and that's assuming the only problem with it was the lack of backwards propulsion. He noticed Jenkins in the yards office, the glass door hanging wide open. He spun around as Issac entered, autopistol in hand but didn't raise the weapon as soon as he realized who it was.
"Hey Issac, they have a proper long range vox unit laying on the table here. Its broadcasting and I was flipping through the channels, trying to find the one it was set too." He had already sat his pistol back on the table and was busy tampering with the vox.
"Ok, carry on. I'll keep watch for you so keep working."
He nodded before turning back and resuming his work. Issac looked around the workshop, silently thinking about the general state of things. His own reflection staring back at him in the offices glass wall. Things seemed worse than usual but didn't they always? The only break from fighting mankind's most dangerous enemies was fighting mankind itself when some no name dictator decided they could do a better job than the Imperium. Rebellions and peacekeeping missions were always jokingly referred to as holidays in the ranks of the guard.
"Hey Issac, I'm getting something. On the general channel, no wait, its being broadcast on all the common channels. Here, I'll set it to speaker."
A gruff male voice suddenly filled the room who sounded like he was reading from a script.
"....to the nearest city or Imperial base and await further instructions. The emperor protects. Due to an upsurge in enemy activity all guard elements in all are to disregard current orders and proceed to the nearest city or Imperial base and await further instructions. The emperor protects."
And so it went on. A recording that was set to loop endlessly, playing out the same message.
"What does this mean?" asked Jenkins with some uncertainty in his voice.
"It means that nothing has changed. Our plan was to get out of this meatgrinder and meet up with the nearest guard element as soon as possible and that's exactly what is..."
He stopped talking as a rather frantic looking Ben came running out of the gloom.
"Issac, there you are. We got trouble out front. Theres Tyranids moving around out there, they noticed us yet but its only a matter of time. What are.."
"Fine, get back to the truck and get it ready. I'll see about the gate." Issac cut him off, not wanting him to work himself up any more.
Douglas and Lando were on either side of the main entrance, one of the men held a shaving mirror in one hand to view what was going on without being seen. Issac approached as carefully as he could and ended up standing just behind Lando on the right hand side.
"What are we looking at here?" Issac asked.
"We're looking at a whole load of trouble hanging around outside. Large beasts, and many smaller ones are right next to us swarming around. Its only a matter of time until some of them decide to check out this area for anything to eat. How long are we going to have to wait here Issac?"
"Not long now, the Sergeant and the rest of the men are on their way here, they should be very close now. We got a ride, Ben's working on it. Just sit tight."
Lando didn't say anything after that, he just continued to watch the nids with his mirror. A few of the larger ones were carrying some heavy looking ordinance judging from the size and the amount of fleshy cables hanging from them, joining them to their carriers. Maybe they were the same entity altogether? Who knew?
The smaller creatures, like those whom they have fought in the thick jungle parted like free flowing water as the larger ones moved, avoiding their crushing feet as if they were one mind.
He retracted his arm and the mirror and listened to the constant chattering and growing from outside. Death was so close to them now, with just one wall of sheet metal separating him from a entire hoard of Tyranids. Most of the time you didn't know where the enemy was, didn't know when they would show up, to claim your life finally, but here, you knew. It was only around the corner.
A engine coughed and sputtered deeper in the building, sending an echo bouncing down throughout the structure.
"Who in the name of the holy emperor did that?" said Douglas, who looked like he may boil over at any minute.
"Ben, it must be Ben. He was looking shaky when he came to get me."
Douglas gripped his rifle hard, his jaw set.
"I'll kill that stupid idiot when I get my hands on him"
The noise from outside had picked up as well. Unseen forms were moving close, towards our position. The baying and snarling growing ever louder as they approached.
The engine noise was also picking up, a loose screw on the floor jumped up and down, being thrown around by a heavy object approaching. Then light lit up the 3 soldiers like deer in headlights from the headlamps of the flatbed truck that was hurtling forwards, a panic-stricken Ben in the cab.
Issac moved in front of the speeding truck, shouting out "Stop, stop" while waving his arms. Ben didn't slow down and Issac just barely had enough time to jump out of the way before it barrelled past him and left the machine yard.
"That scumbag left us out to die!" Lando exclaimed, moving a few steps after the vehicle before his rational mind took over and he stopped himself from charging into a mass of bloodthirsty enemy monsters.
Issac stabbed his finger at the door. "Hey, close the bay doors. They will be on us in a second thanks to Ben's idiocy!"
Douglas and Lando searched for a few frantic seconds for the shutter controls. Douglas was the first to spot the red lever mounted near the side and almost yanked it off the wall in his effort to pull it. The metal stutter doors lowered with a loud mechanical drone.
Come on, damn it, faster, Issac thought as he watched the doors lower what felt like slow motion.
He stole a glance outside and immediately pulled his head back as several bright discharges flared up on the horizon, blinding him with their intensity for a second. The metal wall plating near him sizzled and melted under the powerful effects of the corrosive acid, filling his nostrils with noxious fumes.
Before he become light headed, Issac backed up a few steps. If the acid could do that to solid metal, then he dared not think what it would do to human flesh. The metal shutter had almost finished closing, the motor above rumbling with the strain. He didn't expect it to hold the enemy for long but hopefully it would buy them some much needed time, however short.
"Lets get some space between us and the opening gentlemen," Issac shouted to be heard above the shutter, waving his arm behind him.
"Some of them might try to make it through before it shuts!"
The three men backed up, keeping the area in front of them covered. Just before the shutter reached the ground a blue shape darted under it, barely avoiding the gate as it hit the floor with a loud clang. Lasfire studded the 4 armed monster as it speeded towards the soldiers. Its body was peppered with holes and burn marks. One of its clawed arms was shattered and hug limply at its side. It let out a piercing cry, perhaps because it was denied its prey having been so close to it. It skidded along the floor, leaving a blood trail in its wake before coming to a halt.
A resounding impact drew everyone's attention to the shutter. Another, and another, one after the other! Rents began to appear in it, claws could be seen as they ripped through the metal. Not wanting to waste the limited time they had, Issac was just about to tell everyone to move to the rear of the warehouse when the seemingly dead Tyranid twitched, then lunged itself at the nearest target which happened to be Douglas. Caught unawares, he only had the time to register a look of total surprise before the Genestealer barrelled into him, a storm of slashing teeth and fangs. Douglas snapped off a shot into the roof as it caused him to lose he footing and pushed him onto the ground.
"Damn it, Douglas!" Issac screamed as he rushed towards his friend without thinking of the risks. Lando followed suit and together the two of them repeatedly battered the alien with their rifle stocks. In its weakened condition, they were able to knock it clear of Douglas for that brief moment they needed to empty their entire energy clips into it to make sure it was down for good.
"How is he?" Lando asked, standing over him with an unreadable expression.
He didn't look good. He was breathing heavily and had many cuts and lacerations across his body. Cruel looking puncher marks could be seen on his chest, which leaked lifeblood in a rapidly growing pool on the concrete around him. Douglas looked up weakly, tried to form some words but coughed up blood instead.
"Just grab his left arm Lando. Whatever happens we need to be away from here right now!"
The two men took one arm each and half dragged Douglas towards the other side of the machine yard, all the while the monsters baying for their blood could be heard as they threw themselves at the gate denying them with ever increasing force.
The noise was even loud enough to get through to Jenkins who had been enclosed in his own private little world, working on the vox unit with his ears muffled with headphones. The repeating message hadn't changed and he had been unable to find any other frequencies that offered anything better. Better check on the others and find out what was going on. He picked up his weapon and opened the glass door that lead into the main work area which opened with a c. Was that banging he heard? Had the enemy found us already? Jenkins felt his stomach knot with anxiety at the thought. Still he jogged towards the sound, not taking a step backwards. In his other hand he flicked on his flashlight. Not much use if he couldn't find them in the first place.
Issac saw the beam of light before Jenkins came jogging out from behind a big industrial tractor, he also saw his face change as he looked upon the sight in front of him. Two men covered in blood, propping up Douglas who looked as pale as a native maroot.
"Issac..." he began before he was cut off by Lando.
"We got the enemy breathing down our necks, not much time before they get in here. Go ahead of us and find a way out of here."
Jenkins just stood there, his mind sruggling to process what he was seeing.
"Now man!" Issac shouted.
Spurred to action, he gripped his weapon and ran, searching. A way out? What happened to getting out of here, they should have had the whole thing covered by now. His head spun left and right, there must be a back entrance to this place. Follow the wall he thought. He almost tripped on a pile of rubber tubing, such was the light. A loud booming crash filled the entire yard, something large hitting the factory floor behind them with a solid thunderclap. And then, a different sound. The not so distant bellowing of the Tyranid flood which hit Jenkins from all angles at once as an echo. Oh emperor, they're already in here. I have to get out of here!
Just then his enitre mood lifted as his flashlight illuminated what he had been looking for, a side door that must lead outside. He was just about to sprint back to the others when he heard gunfire just outside the door. The tensed up, waiting. The side door that promised sanctuary began to open.
"You hear that Issac? They must have bust down the door."
"I know, I know. Just keep moving," Issac replied with a little more unease in his voice than he would have liked.
Just a little more now. They passed endless rows of vehicles of all shapes and sizes, all neatly lined up together. Waiting for the loving care of technicians that would never come. It almost seemed like a graveyard at night.
Something was swinging from the roof, slowly swaying from side to side. It turned out to be a hook connected to a long chain. False alarm.
Issac took another look at Douglas. he had been silent for a while now, the bleeding wasn't stopping. They needed to get him out of here, and not just because of the Tyranids.
There was a clang that came from one of the trucks, something heavy had just landed on top of it. The flashlight was immediately killed. The guardsmen stopped dead.
Perched on top of it was another one of those four armed blue Tyranids, genestealers now that he had more than a free second to look. It cranked its neck from side to side, searching. Issac couldn't see the fine details of its face in the light but he could visualise it's malicious eyes rolling in their sockets, searching for them. They were completely in the open, in between the two lines of vehicles and it didn't take long for the Tyranid to look downwards and spot the three men with its excellent night vision.
"Hit the light!" yelled Issac. No point in staying in the dark if the things weren't hindered by it.
They both dropped low, letting Douglas slip on the floor. Lando lit up the target while firing with his other hand while Issac took accurate shots, holding his rifle two handed. The high pitched wine of lasrounds knocked the genestealer back a few steps, each flash from the lasgun lighted up the entire area like fireworks.
The onslaught pummelled the Tyranid horror, causing it to spasm and fall back out of sight.
"Grab his arm Issac, we need be gone, now!"
"Yeah I know."
Douglas groaned at the pain as he was quickly hoisted up and carried, his wounds opening up at the strain.
With constant glances back and the weight of a full grown man, progress was depressingly slow. They would never make it out at this rate. That gunfire would act like a beacon, drawing everything to them. Had Jenkins found a way out? Where was he?
The sound of something cutting through the air could be heard before several sharp spines shot past them and smashed the windscreen of the truck in front of them.
"Hit the deck!"
Issac dropped low, spun around and lined up his weapon, panning left and right, looking for the source of the fire. Damn this lack of light. A shadow moved a hairs breath near a black cube, probably a crate or something. He was sure it wasn't human as Jenkins would be on the other side.
Issac set his lasgun to single shot which would up the power and squeezed off three shots. One shot hit the crate with a show of sparks but the other two hit the shadow. It gave off an squeal and crumpled down to the concrete.
"Kill," he said out of habit.
"I got more targets moving in the darkness."
Issac could see the shapes as well as Lando could, could just about make out something raising a weapon.
The two men ducked down and scattered as a second barrage of spears was launched at them. Several stuck into the ground around the men as the Tyranids advanced on them. Lando dropped one of them that ventured too close but the return fire sent a spear into his leg, just above the thigh.
He doubled over, cursing the aliens with words they wouldn't understand. By this time Issac had kicked over a workbench and was busy laying down covering fire. It was laughable cover but you had to use what was at hand. He couldn't get to Douglas with those bastards taking pot shots.
With one hand, Lando clutched the white bone spear embedded in his leg. He didn't dare pull it out as the blood loss would kill him.
"Ahhh, damn son of a grox!"
He began to drag himself towards the sound of lasfire. A familiar sound, the sound of safety.
Isaac unclipped a grenade from his webbing, a frag, pulled back his arm and threw it in the direction of the enemy. It exploded in a dazzling display of brilliance, showering the area with super heated shards of metal.
The screams of his enemies filled the machine yard and it was music to his ears however the blast also blew away the darkness long enough for him to see a new threat. Four blue and green genestealers were sprinting in from the side, in between two massive sheaves filled with maintenance tools, their armoured carapaces reflecting the blast for only a moment.
Lando and Douglas were closer. Issac shouted a warning but there was no chance for them to get away, even as the words left his mouth Issac knew it was a lost cause. Lando, who was crawling, pulling his leg with him looked up in horror at the direction of the noise. The scrape of taloned feet could be heard, gouging holes in the concrete floor as they came. Out of the blackness came creatures from hell, one after the other. Lando screamed in defiance, holding the trigger down, promising himself that he would take as many of them with him as possible. The lead stealer took the brunt of the fire, its face disintegrating under the high powered laser fire but there were still more waiting behind it.
Issac couldn't see Lando and Douglas under the moving mass of genestealers, like an ocean of living death. They hadn't noticed him yet after he took out the gaunts. His squadmates surely dead, Issac unclipped a second frag grenade, threw it and started running down the row of vehicles. IF they were still alive, this would be a mercy.
A loud thump could be heard behind him before the mild shockwave hit, shaking some tools off the shelf and dust into the air.
Not all the aliens were killed in the blast as the now familiar clattering of talons told Issac that he was being followed. He didn't stop to look back and instead continued running, turning around a large pile of spare tires.
That was Jenkins voice. Issac adjusted his direction and veered towards where it originated from. He was starting to tire, his breath becoming ragged. How long could he keep this pace up? In the gloom he could make out the rusted rear wall, almost there!
Inhuman shrieks felt like they were brushing the back of your neck. Issac spun around and saw three genestealers, their claws held high in an attack posture, ready to strike.
He backed up a few steps, as if that made any difference at all, sighted the nearest one and took aim. It was rocked with lasfire, but not his own. All three of them were assaulted with what looked like multiple lasgun fire, two dropping with a sickening sound of laser punching into flesh. They still tired to drag their broken bodies forwards, one claw at a time. Behind him Sergeant Cormac and the remainder of the squad were laying down covering fire. The last stealer which got the closest tried to leap at Issac but it only got a few centimetres off the ground before it was knocked back with lasfire. Issac finished off the crawling enemies with head shots, his expression cold and taking no little amount of satisfaction considering what they had done earlier.
Inhuman shrieks felt like they were brushing the back of your neck. Issac spun around and saw three genestealers, their claws held high in an attack posture, ready to strike.
He backed up a few steps, as if that made any difference at all, sighted the nearest one and took aim. It was rocked with lasfire, but not his own. All three of them were assaulted with what looked like multiple lasgun fire, two dropping with a sickening sound of laser punching into flesh. They still tired to drag their broken bodies forwards, one claw at a time. Behind him Sergeant Cormac and the remainder of the squad were laying down covering fire. The last stealer which got the closest tried to leap at Issac but it only got a few centimetres off the ground before it was knocked back with lasfire. Issac finished off the crawling enemies with head shots, his expression cold and taking no little amount of satisfaction considering what they had done earlier.
It was them who had been on the other side of the door and as soon as Jenkins had explained the situation they had went back to find Isaac.
"Where's the rest of them. Issac?" asked Jenkins.
"Dead," Issac replied, simply.
Everyone was silent for a few seconds after that, before Cormac took charge of the situation.
"Right, Jenkins has already filled me in on things."
He pointed his finger twice. "You and you, stack those barrels by the tires. The rest of you, keep watch."
Issac was one of the men keeping watch. Despite was had happened just moments before, now here he was, standing guard in a place he wanted to get out of with every fibre of his being. But his pride as a guardsman wouldn't let him leave.
Holes were stabbed into the red fuel drums which were than overturned and stacked near the tire pile. Flashlights scanned the dark, the only thing moving in the cone of light was dust that had been disturbed by the manual labour.
"Right, everyone out! Reed, light that sucker up when everyone is clear."
Issac ran outside, low, and took up a covering stance for the rest of the men. He breathed in great lungfuls of air. Ah, it was great to be outside again. Even this jungle hell was better than being trapped in a maze with monsters.
As soon as the last man was clear, Reed ignited the fuel with his lasgun.
The doorway burst into flames, a roaring inferno could be heard inside. Issac hoped they all burned to death.
Cormac ordered the advance and took the lead. Where he was going was anyone's guess though it was good for the men if the person in charge seemed to have a plan. Ben had really screwed them good. What would happen now?
The surrounding area this side of the machine yard was just more tents and trees though with dirt tracks that lead from the yard due to the vehicle traffic.
Several Tyranids followed us out of the burning building or maybe they were just trying to escape? Either way, lasrounds didn't even have to be wasted as they simply fell down after a while and died.
"Hey, we got company!"
Before Issac could ask, Cormac told him that it was Macallister who had been put on watch since he was still under the effects of the poison. It had worked its way through his system somewhat and he was starting to recover but he still wasn't in tip-top condition.
He moved up to us as fast as he could.
"We got a lot of nids coming round the side of the machine yard sir, larger warrior forms and countless smaller creatures."
"They must be what remained of the forces out front, those that didn't go into the barbecue," added Issac.
"Lets get out of here, someone help Macallister.
And so we ran again, always a fighting retreat. Many of the men just wanted to get back to a unit so they didn't have to run anymore, so they could stand and fight, drive the enemy back and destroy them.
The same scenery filled their gazes, the same endless rows of trees, tents and grass. The same smells of burning jungle and the occasional sent of death carried by the wind. This continued for a while until they reached the edge of the camp, where they heard a human voice.
"Come on, put your back into it!"
Cormac pushed his arm behind him, the signal for everyone to stay low and silent. Then he indicated Issac and Abel to flank him as he investigated.
They walked on the edge of the central dirt track, which had been churned up by months of war. One man could be seen in the side ditch, keeping watch.
"Right, you two keep me covered. We don't know these people but we don't have the time to be picky."
Issac and Abel nodded, checked their weapons and took up covering positions.
"Hey," yelled Cormac.
The man in the ditch jumped a little at that and turned, trying to see where the voice came from.
"My name is Sergeant Cormac of the 23rd Haneul rangers, can I come up? We don't have the time to mess around."
A slight pause before the man responded. Probably talking it over.
"Yeah, come on over."
"Right, you two wait here."
And with that, he rushed over to them. Issac moved a little closer in order to cover him. He could see that there were three men clustered around a medium sized sex wheeled truck which looked stuck in the ditch. The men wore the same green jungle issue uniforms that everyone used so it was impossible to discern which unit they belonged to.
After a short while, Cormac came running back with the lookout in tow who was cradling a flamer in his hands. They jogged past Abel and Issac and waved for them to follow. Issac looked and Abel who shrugged and followed in step behind them. Issac did the same.
When they reached the rest of the men Cormac held his arm up to stop.
"Right, I'm going to make this quick for all concerned."
His voice was loud to make sure everyone could hear.
"This is trooper Mulan. Him and two others found that truck a little while ago and have been trying in vain to dig and push it out. It must have come off the road and the occupants made a break for it. Bottom line is we're going to help them get it out and buy time for it to happen."
"Wilhelm, Macallister, Jenkins and Draco, go back and help them. The rest of us will hold the enemy here for as long as it takes. Understand?"
"Yes sir," came the answer.
Issac was paired up with Abel. The two of them overlooking the approach up the road from the machine yard. The rest of the unit were scattered about here and there in mutually supporting positions. They had found a heavy bolter and another team had set it up behind a nearby row of sandbags. Besides the flamer that the newcomer had brought with him that had nothing else besides the weapons they had been carrying with them this whole time.
Issac made sure to keep on eye glued to the trees. This time he wouldn't be surprised by anything. Abel didn't try to break the ice or make light of the situation like normal. He was as focused as the rest of them. The sounds of distant gunfire had died down to the point that the only sound that could be heard was the crackle of the fire raging at the yard. Had everyone else been killed or had some men managed to escape?
Issac would be one of the men escaping, just as long as they could survive the next few moments.
"I got contacts over here!" shouted Reed. He was with Flint on the north side. Shortly after they opening fire but Issac didn't have too much time to imagine what was happening as Abel tapped his shoulder and indicated some movement in their area. Along the road came two hulking warriors, easily double the size of the lesser breeds. Both of them carried big organic weapons and had a set of cruel barbed talons, their hard exoskeletons glistening in what sunlight made it past the treeline.
They called up the sighting to the heavy bolter team behind who trained the weapon on the approaching warriors and opened fire. The deafening hail of high calibre ammunition drowned out the cry from the warriors as they stood their ground, taking the brunt of the humans attack. Issac and Abel lent their own lasguns to the attack and one of the beasts went down, its chest full of smouldering craters. The remaining warrior fired off a few shots from its venom cannon but couldn't see where the attack came from and didn't come close tom hitting the dug in defenders. It retreated behind the nearest full-grown tree, bleeding from several wounds but not before bellowing in rage.
As if in answer, a whole swarm of Tyranids rushed up to take the place of the retreating warrior, making sure that the larger animal made it out alive. Many of them were blown apart as they stood in front of it and many more rushed onwards, following the sound and muzzle flashes of the imperial guns.
Issac must have counted up ten or more kills in a short space of time but there were still more coming, a endless wave of attackers. Had the entire alien force decided to attack them and only them?
The heavy bolter did the most damaged and only a handful made it to within charging range. They spirited up the hill towards the closer Abel and Issac.
"Grenades!" he shouted as both he and Issac rolled two frags down the hill and took cover behind the earthworks. A resounding boom filled the two soldiers ear drums and dirt was throw over them in a wave but they came back up as soon as it was over, to pick off those that had survived. Many of them were still moving, even those that had gaping holes in them or missing limbs.
Abel shot one threw the head and it fell, catching another as it went, causing them both to fall back down on the roadside. The temptation to run became all the more tempting as they came closer but they stood firm and made sure that not one enemy made it past them. In front of them lay countless Tyranid dead. All around them they could hear the sounds of lasfire as the other men fought their own battles but something was missing. The heavy bolter had stopped firing.
"Hey, that bolters been silent for a while Issac."
Issac nodded. "Something must have happened. Lets check it out while we still have the time."
Meanwhil Mulan roasted a group of gaunts that had ventured too close to Cormac's position. They had managed to hold the enemy here but at the cost of two soldiers. One of the men had been by Cormac's side when a burrower round had hit him in the chest. Living ammunition that was a lifeform that dug into your very flesh, killing you in agony. Cormac had shot the man and hoped that his men would do the same for him if need be.
"Not long now men, hold them firm."
The next attack on Cormac's front consisted of ranged units instead of the mindless charge that they had fought off successfully moments before so they played a shooting duel with the aliens. They came crawling out of the trees or behind some cover and snapped off a few shots and retreated, avoiding any return fire. Cormac still nailed one of them with a shot through his beady little eye before it could return to the cover of a thorn bush. Perhaps they were trying to soften them up before another push? That was fine with him, the more time they mess around, the better.
The bolter team was dead, body parts scattered about, blood covering the area like a blanket. Issac moved closer to examine further but a warning from Abel made him stop dead and kiss the ground. A ball of bio plasma disintegrated the nest, melting down the various elements into a white hot paste that covered the area that the bolter and sandbags had been occupying not a few moments before.
The Tyranid warrior that had pulled back earlier emerged from between two trees, steam rising from its bio weapon. Its jaw barring its shape teeth, almost in a grin. It was bleeding and had wounds from the heavy bolter but it was still very much alive. The trees parted as its immense weight uprooted them, pushing past them with the ease of a man wading through water. They crashed to the ground, kicking up plant life either side of the giant Tyranid as it advanced on the two men. Slowly at first but it soon picked up speed, flexing its talons in preparation.
The one advantage that the two soldiers had was their size. As they tried to put some distance between them, they could run around trees, tents barrels and other objects while the warrior had to barge its vast form past, slowing it down.
Abel was in front.
"Where are we going, Abel?"
"I don't know, its not like I have a plan," he said between breaths.
He felt, more than heard the venom cannon fire again, which impacted and utterly destroyed a nearby patch of grass. Some of the bio plasma splashed into his combat fatigues and ate away at the fabric.
A single gaunt wandered into the path of the two men and pursuing warrior and was blasted apart without a second thought, Issac and Abel running past it before its body even realised it was dead.
The jungle floor shook with each earth shattering step. Issac unclipped his last grenade and told Abel to go the same with whatever he had on him. As one, they unclipped the firing pin and counted down a few seconds before dropping them in the path of the rapidly approaching monster. The warrior walked right into the multiple detonations, shredding its leg muscles to pieces. It let out a ear piecing screech as it toppled over head first into the muddy jungle floor, pulverizing anything underneath it. Its bladed armed trashed about, cutting down any branches or vines nearby. Since it was now at ground level, its head was a lot more vulnerable as it swayed from side to side. Issac and Abel let loss a torrent of lasfire, punching through the soft areas like the eye sockets and mouth. Its body jerked, carving up huge tracks in the earth. It let out a howl and stopped moving.
"Its ready, come on!" shouted Jenkins.
Cormac looked back, almost smiling at the first good news today.
"Alight people, fighting withdraw."
They took turns falling back, covering the other and then returning the favour. The nids made them keep their heads down. Every time someone left cover they would emerge and try and to snipe them down but their efforts only resulted in more of their own dead.
There was the sound of tortured metal, coming from the machine yard. As others rushed past him, Cormac saw the entire southern wall buckle and collapse as something huge smashed past it. It was the Carnifex, the one they had narrowly avoided once today always. The flames bellowing behind it from the burning building, it truly looked like a scene from hell.
"Move!" Cormac shouted at the top of his lungs. "Everyone to the truck right now!"
Everyone forgot about the fighting retreat and rushed for their very lives, pushing their legs to the limit and pumping their arms for more speed.
Issac and Abel quickly followed suit as soon as they made it back to the rest of the men. The Carnifex crushed everything in its path in order to get to its prey. Vehicles, emplacements and junglelife were all flattened or shoved aside in the face of its relentless advance.
Cormac made it to the road with Jenkins close behind. The men were on guard, clearly on edge. Good thing they hadn't left without them.
"What in the name of the warp are you doing? Get that engine started!"
Soldiers started to reach the vehicle and quickly piled up into the back of it, almost fighting each other to get inside. Cormac got into the cab alongside one of the new troopers and pulled the door closed. He adjusted the side mirror and looked into it. Not long now.
"What's that sound?" he asked Cormac, as the truck jumped slightly every few seconds.
"Nothing to concern yourself with soldier. Just get this thing ready to move when I tell you too."
Issac scrambled into the truck, then turned around to lend a hand to Abel. It was tight inside, no room to even sit down. The interior stank, that familiar smell of many soldiers who hadn't had the time to take a shower and had been out in the field for far too long.
Cormac could see the Carnifex now in the side mirror, the driver could see it too.
"We gotta get out of here Sergeant, right now!"
He put his hands on the gear stick. "You move this rig before I give the order and I'll leave you behind for the nids. Now stand down and sit tight you got it?"
The last man climbed inside the back. Jenkins hammered the wall connecting the cargo compartment with the cab.
"Everyone's loading up. Go, go go!"
Cormac turned to the drive.
"Well, you heard the man. Get a move on!"
The truck start to crawl forwards inch by inch, picked up speed and soon the burning imperial base was speeding by, along with the hellish jungle that had almost killed the lot of them. In the back, Issac saw the Carnifex roar in frustration as its quarry sped away, running after them at first but quickly giving up as they moved away. The truck hit something on the road and jerked the men around inside. Someone cursed. Someone else laughed.
Even sitting blot upright, packed in the back of a truck like sardines, Issac managed to fall asleep while staring at the endless expanse of jungle as it hurtled past until eventually it all combined into a green blur. He hoped they never ordered him back here.
That's quite a substantial effort, there - Nice work!
A pretty decent story, I thought. A good look at the guard, at the way they work. Some decent work on the characters, too.
Ah, thanks. I find it hard to keep motivated when the story gets this large. I'm all good in the beginning but later on it drags on a bit. I did have another arc planned at the starport but I think it had gotten large enough as it was. Too large and people may not read it