Big Game V – Chapter Thirteen: The Drop

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Stormtrooper First Class Donsk Tommels shook his head, clearing the sleep from his mind. The Thunderhawk was awash with tromping boots and yelling. Shit, I slept straight through the drop again, he though to himself.

“Tommels, look alive!” the sergeant gave him a kick to the shins as he passed by. Tommels snatched up his tactical hood and snapped it over his head. The secure, enclosed armor of the helmet enveloped him in a muffled darkness as he connected the conduit leads to his pack. Jumping from the Flight couch he slung his webbing gear around his shoulder and hustled to join up with the sergeant. Muted early dawn light shone in through the Thunderhawk’s cavernous landing bay. The wet green grass of Iperin was being trampled beneath the landing party.

The clearing in which the Thunderhawk had landed was sloped and covered with a soft blanket of green grasses that reached up to about mid thigh on Tommels. Surrounding the clearing were large trees that appeared to have some sort of nettles instead of leaves. The whole scene was very pastoral, like Rierna IV. The sky was still dark but the light of the sun could be seen to be on the rise. The marines were already out and deployed, with one of the squad as well as the flight crew unloading equipment.

Tommels tactical hood began to display information across his lenses. Light green dots hovered near the marines and other “friendly” troops. Ghostlike numbers indicated rangefinding information. Tommels blinked the last bit of sleep from his eyes and checked his weapon. The AR272 Hellgun was fully charged. To the extreme right of Tommels vision he could see the energy counter, indicating how many rounds were left in the weapon. Tommels pulled the weapon up to his chest and thumbed the safety off.

“Tommels, see to the supplies,” the Sergeant snapped, “Riggs, ensure that the Inquisitor’s guests are settled and have all of their equipment.” The Sergeant was good at what he did, Tommels quickly trotted off to the large pile of crates. A Techmarine by the name of Brother Janus, or something like that, was setting the final box down. Two other marines stood next to the piled equipment.

Tommels spoke into his squad vox, “Brother marines, I have been ordered to see to the dispensation of the supplies.”  The two Astartes turned to look at the man. Tommels unconsciously tried to pull himself up straighter to stand equal with the marines, it made little difference.

The larger marine, a nameplate on his power armor indicated he was called “Erallion” spoke, “Trooper Tommels, we have unloaded the core equipment and first squad will be ready to depart in a moment.”

“What about all of that,” Tommels jerked a thumb at the three large pallets of equipment still sitting in the Thunderhawk’s staging bay.

“That will be dropped from low atmosphere to DZs indicated in the briefing,” The other marine spoke. Tommels recognized the voice of Brother Antonius, “We will encounter it nearer to the reconnaissance sites. Do you have further questions, Trooper Tommels?”

Tommels looked over the half-dozen crates and curtly resonded, “No brother marines, thank you.”  Muttering, Tommels turned and began walking back to the cluster of figures surrounding the Inquisitor. Somehow they had acquired a massive retinue of odds and ends on the way here. It was unclear what anyone here needed with the Mechanicus detachment, Tommels was sure that they would be dead weight. Besides that the Skitari ‘thing’ was unsettling. In the morning fog it was even clearer how inhuman the creature was. Its goggled eyes were immense and the whole bottom jaw of the thing was made of steel giving it a disturbing canine look. Its legs had a reversed joint like a sentinel walker and the massive bionic arms moved in a fashion that was unlike any machine Tommels had ever laid eyes on.

“Contact, two-one-seven, fifteen degrees elevation,” The vox squawked with a marines voice, “Target closing at one-twenty kay, direct course.”  Tommels immidately darted towards the Inquisitor and the rest of the squad, this was bad. They must have been detected dropping into the atmosphere.

“Tommels, Riggs, secure the detachment in the northwest copse,” Pickman’s voice intoned, “Prepare for incoming contacts.”  Tommels caught up to the cluster of people as Riggs began herding them towards the trees. Spinning around, Tommels jogged backwards and scanned the skies for the incoming target. The Marines had fanned out and most were now out of sight. The Thunderhawk’s engines whined and they gained power for lift.

“Squad, Joseph, dispersal pattern Steel Ingot, defensive stance. Brother Kalsman, to ground. Brother Utien, light engagement. Proceed to Indications for further drops.” Dozens of affirmations crackled across the vox. Tommels ducked under the lowest branch of a tree and slid down into the small depression just behind the cover. The Inquisitor had a pair of magnoculars and was scanning the skies. Tommels heard the shrieking noise before he saw anything. When the Thunderhawk was twenty feet in the air, another atmospheric craft flew overhead. The brief glimpse confirmed Tomels’ suspicions: Chaos Hell Blade Class Fighter.

Tommels scanned the clearing for figures, the tactical display picked out a few Marines across the grass, readying a missile launcher. The crates had been pulled clear and it was startling how quickly the whole area became vacant. The Thunderhawk had gained altitude and was slowly rotating to move off from the drop site. Despite being a cumbersome, long-range scout fighter, the Hell Blade circled around on the Space Marine craft. Tommels saw the incoming missiles before they struck and yelled to the rest of the Inquisitorial retinue, “Incoming! Down!”

Two Doomfang missiles impacted on the side of the Thunderhawk but the mighty craft was unfazed. The roaring clatter of heavy bolter mounts were the only audible noise after the deafening missile explosions. Tommels heard the Marines’ tactical cantos in the background of the vox.

“Two-oh-eight, mark for fire,” Shouted one voice.

“Block two, ground positions secure,” said another.

“Utien to strike team, negative visual confirmation, positions excellent.”

“Strike lead to Thunderhawk Eighth Son of Vengeance clear of DZ, recommend evasion on pattern two-one-four, repeat two-one-four. Go with glory.”

“Third pass, Enemy mark incoming. Closing range at ninety-nine kay.”

“Lead to Brother Demetrios, let us assure our hosts that the Azure Flames are not thought of as ungrateful guests.”

“Confirmed, round loaded and blessed.  May they make good use of this,” The short range anti-vehicle missile streaked out of the trees and hissed a contrail of smoke and fire towards the chaos fighter. The pilot was good but was clearly not expecting ground fire of that degree. The missile slammed into the left wing and touched off the remaining ordinance. The fire erupted across the vehicle, which immediately lost altitude and maneuverability. The Eighth Son of Vengeance finished the deed, laying hundreds of heavy mass-reactive rounds into the mid-fuselage. Streaking fire, the Hell Blade crashed into the forest to the east.

“Hit, target destroyed”

“Confirmed, excellent shot Brother.”

The Inquisitor spoke through the vox, “I commend your aim, Brother Demetrios. Let us reconnoiter, immediately, Brother Joseph.”

“Confirmed, Brother Voltman. First squad! Converge at rendezvous point theta. Brother Erallion, Brother Liam, move into position through a Helios pattern scouting maneuver. Auspexes out, I want assurances that there are no marker beacons in the area.”

“Confirmed Brother sergeant,” came the stereo reply.

Tommels turned and surveyed the charges. The sergeant and Riggs had pulled off their tactical hoods and nodded at Tommels who removed his as well, clipping it to the belt webbing.

Sergeant Pickman addressed the group, “Alright, we’ll be moving in a cluster over there,” gesturing with his hand, “Inquisitor, I suggest that we break the team down for now. Clearly there will be present resistance even if the Chaos forces detected on descent have not noticed immediately.”

The Inquisitor nodded, “I trust in the stealth of the Astartes but your caution is prudent, Sergeant Pickman.”

“Riggs, you will accompany the Inquisitor and Navigator Krosp to the left extremis. I will take Mago Kelhar through the forward copse. Tommels will go with Skitari Abraxas down the rise and back up to the rendezvous point.”

“Sir,” Riggs confirmed.

“Aye Sir,” Tommels said. He was not particularly happy to accompany the Skitari.  The team broke off quickly and Tommels moved off down the hill. Mechanical soldier followed behind in a disturbingly quiet manner. Despite the large amount of gears and bionic implants, the Skitari was clearly forged for a war. Its massive power halberd was gripped in its human-like hands. Tommels could see that along the back of each of the Skitari’s forearms were repeating laser mounts. Additionally, the thing carried its own pack of equipment along and a sizable amount of ammunition and water from the retinue’s supplies.

“So,” Tommels asked quietly, “you see much action?”

The Skitari cocked its head but remained silent.

“I mean,” Tommels continued, “have you fought a lot in the past?”

“Affirmative,” the metal man replied.

Tommels fell silent with the abrupt reply. Tommels concentrated on the surroundings. The soft nettled canopy of the area was clearly rugged. Tommels now noticed the sharp drop off in the hill signaling that they were indeed on the side of mountain. The floor of this copse of trees was rich with ferns and teeming with moisture. Having reached the lowest point of the depression, Tommels and Abraxas turned and began the climb around the low-spot towards the rendezvous. Abruptly, they stumbled onto a rocky ledge.

“Holy Hrud,” Tommels said aloud as he drew in breath. The Skitari merely stood motionless taking in the sight. The valley stretched out before them a glittering emerald carpet shocked through with a deep blue river. Directly in the center of the valley was an immense geodesic sphere of faded white stone. The sphere was clearly old and covered in strange markings but not a single plant or vine grew upon it. From the size that it appeared at this range, it must have been hundreds of feet high and made a perfect half-sphere in the direct center of the valley. No matter how impressive, this was not what captivated Tommels’ attention.

The short granite ledge that overlooked the valley began as rough uneven stone but transitioned into aged stone tiles. The edge of the ledge was bounded by an ancient wall, no more than thigh high. Facing away from the valley near the edge, standing twelve feet in height was a statue of a space marine. The figure was donned in ancient power armor, embellished with dragon-like iconography and gripped a mighty hammer in one hand. The other clutched a pole that was broken off near the top. Tommels presumed it was once a flagpole. At the feet of the statue was a large tarnished metal plaque.

“Why is there a statue of a Marine with alien writing on it?” Tommels asked aloud.

“Erroneous. Font is not alien in origin,” Abraxas croaked offhandedly.

“What? You know what that is?”

“Affirmative. Textual indications paired with iconography on the carving indicate ancient gothic.”

“Can you read it?” Tommels asked dumbfoundedly.

“Affirmative,” Abraxas stared without a hint of emotion or surprise.

“Then what the frak does it say?” Tommels demanded.

“In the name of the Patriarch of Man, Emperor of Terra, This world is declared subjugated. All that rests upon this world now belongs to the dominion of mankind. Rights to all structures and resources of unknown or known origin are hereby the property of the Emperor and his duly appointed representatives. All this claimed and dictated by High Commander Vulkan, Master of the Adeptus Astartes Salamanders Legion and all troops under arms of the XVIIIth assault wing of the Imperial Legion.”

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