Big Game V – Chapter Sixteen: Steel
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Antonius moved up to support Apothecary Luiz. Fifteen days of slow, cautious movement had yielded no action, and had only been broken up by one day of simple construction to set up the relay station in the mountains. Blips on Antonius’ heads-up display showed Brother Liam moving up to the edge of the ridge, and Brother Quon going off to his right. Movement out of the corner of his eye drew Antonius’ attention. Apothecary Luiz had been staring at him again. Antonius had suspected that Luiz was staring at his several times during this mission, but this was the first time he had caught it. Perhaps Luiz did not think Antonius would survive, and was looking for the most likely place to cut his armour away and harvest his Gene Seeds, immature as they were. Antonius forced himself not to shake at the thought, but took pride in knowing that his gene seed would return to the chapter, should he fall.
“Squad, Kafele. I have found the sensor post. Sending coordinates.” A voice broke in over Antonius’ vox link.
“Good job Kafele. Squad, Joseph. Move in and secure the location.”
Antonius and Luiz followed the signal to a small clearing with several crates. Erallion and Demetrios were already stripping the impact cushioning off of the sensor array, and Kafele was assembling the framework.
“Antonius, you and I will scout to the northwest, and Chaquadan and Liam will scout to the northeast. Before we bring the sensor tower online, we must be sure it will not be discovered. Drop your long term supplies here, and take a few extra clips.” Joeseph said, unfolding a map. “Chaquadan, Liam, go up to this ridge, and do a passive scan with your Auspex. Be thorough but quick. Antonius and I will shadow the edge of these hills, near these sinkholes, and scout out the edge of this cliff.”
“Yes, Brother.” Chaquadan answered. Antonius removed the rations from his belt pouches, and borrowed a clip from Erallion, then followed Joseph. Joseph moved slowly, always sighting down the top of his massive Combi-Plasma gun. Though it seemed to weigh more than twice Antonius’ Bolter, he swept it from side to side swiftly. As they walked, the sun set, and they relied less on cover and more on speed. They moved up, and around the hills, then to the lip of the cliff. Joseph handed Antonius his Auspex, and walked over to gain a better line of sight through the trees. Antonius began scanning, picking up the odd snippet of radio frequencies bouncing off the Ionosphere. Several frequencies were highly organized static, no doubt encrypted bands. Antonius moved around the edge of the cliff to find better reception, and felt his right leg sink into a large hole. He stepped back, and noticed that the hole was oblong, with definite signs of stress. A track of something large, and heavy. A dreadnought? He voxed his findings to Joseph.
“Silence.” Joseph barked back. Antonius immediately switched off his vox, and took cover. Joseph was almost on top of him before he realized.
“Tracks. Heavy walker, possibly a Dreadnought.”
“No, lad. I’ve seen Dread tracks. These are too numerous and small. It has four legs, with talons on the back and claws up front. It’s also back heavy. Did you finish the scans?”
“Yes sir, I… down now!” Antonius whispered. He and Joseph dropped instinctively. Antonius pointed off into the distance. A cave about two miles away was illuminated irregularly. Antonius zoomed in. Great hideous four legged machines skittered about in front of the cave, and began climbing the cliff walls. They had bright yellow lights that they shone forth into the forest, scanning left and right. Protruding from their backs was a giant cannon, and their abdomen was bulbous. Joseph signed to move out. They slowly made their way around the hills. Suddenly, a yellow light stabbed out of the darkness and began swinging left and right behind them. Antonius’ vox went active with a line from Joseph.
“Squad, Joseph. Form on me, leave no tracks. Maintain vox silence. Out.” The light immediately swung in the direction of Joseph. Gunfire ripped through the forest in their direction. Joseph and Antonius hid behind boulders. The gunfire ceased, and the light returned, along with heavy clanking footsteps. Antonius grabbed a small stone and flung it as far as he could. It impacted on a tree with a loud thunk. The thing turned its attention to the tree, igniting it with a gout of flame. Antonius and Joseph took this opportunity to move.
“It can see our heat sources. Turn off your vents.” Joseph whispered. Antonius did. As they got farther away, the thing seemed to move slower. The light shut off, and it began moving off to the east, away from them. The squad showed up relatively quickly, trailing tree branches to erase their tracks.
“Excellent. Enemy is a large vehicle walker with serious firepower. If it gets too close to the array, we need to lead it off. Demetrios, aim for the abdomen, that’s probably its power source. Everyone else, covering…” Joseph cut off as he heard a rumbling noise. “It was lying in wait! Luna Rising formation, scatter and find cover!” The thing emerged from the darkness with an explosive blast. The marines scattered, and began suppressing fire. They were answered with the chatter of the thing’s heavy guns, which broke trees like toothpicks. A rocket sailed off into the dark and exploded, but the thing came on faster. Antonius fired on it, and it turned to face him. Several rounds impacted near him, including one that glanced off his shoulder pad. Bolter fire streamed in from all around, but the thing ignored it, and came on towards Antonius. As it reached up a claw to swing at him, a bolt of brilliant white plasma seared across Antonius’ vision and impacted on the undercarriage of the thing. It struck out blindly at the annoyance, and caught Sergeant Joseph full on in the chest. He flew for several yards and landed awkwardly. Antonius shouted defiance and emptied his clip into the thing. As it turned back to assess him, it was hit by another rocket, which hit one of the rear legs. A screech of steel tearing filled the air, as the thing collapsed. It tried to stand back up, but the damaged rear leg tore completely off. Antonius took this opportunity to run to Joseph. Joseph’s neck was broken, but his Combi-Plasma gun was intact, and Antonius scavenged another plasma cell from Joseph’s body.
“Antonius! Jump!” shouted a voice over the vox channel. Antonius did, slamming the plasma cell into its chamber as he flew. A hail of fire ripped apart the ground where he was standing. Antonius rolled, and pushed himself up to face the thing. Its one good rear leg now supported the entire abdomen’s weight, and the hydraulics groaned as it reared up to point it’s Battle Cannon at Antonius. He whispered a prayer of forgiveness to the machine spirit of Joseph’s gun, aimed at the barrel of the thing’s cannon, and fired. His vision was shattered with light. The next thing he remembered was Brother Luiz standing over him.
“Well done, brother! You destroyed that blasphemous monster. Are you well?”
Antonius grunted as he stood “Yes, I’m fine. How long have I been out?”
“Only a minute or two.”
“Is the array functional?”
Luiz paused. Antonius repeated himself. “Brother, is the array functional?”
Antonius shouted “Squad, form up. We march double time. There are more of those crawling robots out there. Do not attempt to hide your trail, in fact leave signs of our escape. Drop anything you can spare as we go, slowly, so as to leave a trail. We have to lure any enemies away from the array. Liam, Quon, Majeed, you will help me carry Sergeant Joseph’s body once brother Luiz has seen to his duties.”
A chorus of “Yes, Brother” answered. Antonius turned back to Luiz to see him staring again.
“Well? Those things could be here any minute!”
“Of course, Antonius.” Luiz said as he readied his Reductor.
Five minutes later, a crude stretcher had been constructed from parts leftover from the construction, and Antonius and his brothers each took hold, as pallbearers for their fallen Sergeant.