Big Game V – Chapter Twelve: New Faces

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Sergeant Pickman ran his hand across his shaved face. It was odd to be clean shaven and well bathed. Shifting in the acceleration couch he inhaled the deep pungent aroma of the interior of the Thunderhawk gunship. Never had he seen the like of the vessel from this vantage. The crew compartment was as large as you would need to accommodate the colossal bulk of the Space Marine in their full armor. You could easily park two STC Lift Trucks in the bay of this craft and still have room for all them men who currently occupied the room. Pickman leaned forward and looked down at the rows of Azure Flames Marines. Each sat absolutely motionless in his seat. Their heads were all uniformly bowed and eyes glazed. Each had racked his gear beside him in absolute uniformity. Their helmets hung on magnetic studs just below where each right hand lay. Despite the hypnotic slumber each engaged in now, they were taut, ready, like a Carbarian hunting dog. Talyn Pickman shudder slightly a mix of awe and fear. These were not men; they were holy weapons of the Immortal Emperor, each of them. The catechism that Sister Anastasia drilled him in the scholam leapt to his thoughts “Blessed are those who sacrifice their humanity for the betterment of man; for they seek to emulate his sacrifice in the flesh as all should in the soul.”

“Sergeant Pickman?” Inquisitor Kalsman spoke, wrenching Pickman from his study of the marines.

Turning, the stormtrooper took in the Inquisitor. The man was not old; his brown hair was cut short, trim but longer than it needed to be. The Inquisitor wore his deep grey armor like a man born to books and holo-cyphers. Voltman Kalsman was not a man who would strike fear into many. The deep blue robe that he had been given by the Marines was shed however, a practical concern that Pickman thought the Inquisitor would overlook. Perhaps the Marines saw something beneath the surface in the man. Pickman didn’t know what it was but somewhere it sat well with him; the man certainly had charisma, “Sir?”

“Brother Utien, the lead pilot, informs me that we are closing on the Menelaus on a docking vector with the mid-spine locks. Would you please prepare to accompany me onboard?”

“Certainly, Inquisitor, consider it done,” Pickman flipped the magnetic clamps on his boots to active and unclasped the restraints. He quickly began to float free and stomped his boots to the steel deckplate with a resounding ‘thud’. After noting the marines remained motionless, Pickman leaned back and collected his gear. Nearly missing the immense blade that had been his ‘gift’ from the Azure Flames, he hefted the marine-sized power sword sheath and slung it across his back, the handle thrusting over his shoulder, like he’d seen done by the 54th Karakian Dragoons do.

Pickman motioned to Riggs who was already rousting Tommels from his customary ‘zero-g nap’. How the man could sleep in weightlessness was unfathomable. Moments later, the three stomped to the side airlock of the ship and began the waiting. Suddenly, the ship bucked and slammed down, landing.

“Saint Rien’s Teeth!” Tommels exclaimed. Receiving a nasty glare from Riggs, Tommels asked “where was the gravity sheath?”

Inquisitor Kalsman spoke, “I believe the ship has been running on only primary systems as the repairs commence. There is likely to be no gravity systems active onboard, hence the lack of warning before docking.”

Pickman saw Brother Utien wave a “thumbs up” gesture and then there was a sucking sound followed by a clanging thud. The suctioning noise continued and moments later the bright green light flashed.

“We have a hard seal, Inquisitor,” Pickman intoned.

“As you will, Sergeant,” Kalsman stated.

Pickman spun the wheel lock and punched a heavy runeplate deactivating the inner door. The rush of air into the airlock was quick and the second door swung easily. Beyond was the short umbilical tube leading into the Menelaus.

Crackling across the combead, Brother Utien intoned, “We shall await your return, Brother Voltman. Should you require anything I will monitor on general frequency 32.41 Alpha.”

“Understood, Brother Utien.  We shall not be long,” Kalsman looked at the stormtroopers, “Lead on.”

Pickman took the point and the other fell into their standard ‘escort’ position. Down the short tube they led into the staging bay, which was filled with Mechanicus personnel. Thank the Emperor the gravity is on in here, Pickman thought as his boots hit steel.  It appeared to be a hasty welcome party and the small room was crowded with Machine Priests. A dozen Skitari Warriors, bedecked in dress uniforms snapped to attention as the party set foot in the room. Two Master Magoses moved forward to greet them.

“Welcome aboard, Inquisitor Kalsman,” Spoke Master Magos Hacking in his non-augmented voice, “May I present Master Magos Iute, bearer of the forgehammer. We welcome you back aboard him who is called Menelaus.  May you walk with the blessing of the Omnisiah.”

“I accept your welcome and wish you the blessings of knowledge and wisdom, Master Magos Hacking,” Kalsman intoned without a moment’s hesitation. He continued after an appropriate pause, “Not to disregard your hospitality but we have a short time and must be off as soon as possible.”

“No offence is taken Inquisitor,” Hacking spoke, “you have but to gesture and it will be done. Master Iute?” Hacking asked, turning to his companion.

“Indeed,” Iute was a large Tech-Priest, his immense bulk supported by a brace of revised-joint legs and an ostentatious frame of mechanical supports. Servo-motors had been installed on the man’s back to accommodate a bulk of at least four-hundred pounds. The Priest’s head was encased in a single large mask that obscured any hint of humanity that may, or many not, lay beneath. The man’s voice crackled again from the loud-hailers on his shoulders, “we have collected the necessary implements and outfitted Magos Kelhar for his expedition. Magos Kelhar has requested assistance from Navigator Krosp, whose contract still bound to the Mighty Mechanicus, has accepted this charge. Additionally, as both of these cogs are valuable in the great machine we have deemed to send protection for them in the form of Skittari.”

Kalsman scoffed, “Surely you do not mean to infer that the might of the Adeptus Astartes cannot protect two men?”

Hacking spoke quickly, “Surely not, Inquisitor, merely we do not wish to trouble the mighty Space Marines with our minor needs.”

Kalsman stopped dead, Pickman thought he might be speechless but he spoke again after a pause, “We will accept these three but I cannot vouch for when they will return. The moment that they step off this ship they will remain under the direct charge of the Immortal Emperor’s Inquisition and by my authority I will use them to whatever my goals may need.”

“We presumed as much Inquisitor,” Iute croaked.

“They have been briefed and outfitted with the necessary sundries for your task,” Hacking added.

“Very well, then let us be off,” Kalsman stated, adding finality to the preceding.

“Prepare for departure,” Master Magos Iute spoke.

The wiry Navigator, Pickman noticed immediately. He was dressed in a heavy robe with a cowl to obscure his vision and he carried a rucksack that appeared to be too heavy for him. He tapped his way forward with a walking stick and appeared as an old man on the way to town on market day. Pickman thought his presence on the mission a bad idea but the man moved well and appeared to be able to handle the heavy pack without difficulty. The laspistol at his belt was another issue altogether though…

If the Navigator inspired reticence, the Skitarri warrior was another thing entirely. The man, if it could be called that, was a frame of steel and wires. The only vestiges of humanity were the odd patches of flesh that were exposed between sections of armor plating and tubes. The Skitari moved like a loping animal more than a soldier and it hefted the massive halberd like it was a child’s toy. It too bore a pack, but the sealed metallic canisters stood in stark contrast to Krosp’s sack. It walked forward surveying the soldiers coolly with its bionic eyes. The cold black reflective material made Pickman shiver.

Finally, a small man in Mechanicus robes stepped forward. His sparse black hair was unkempt and his robe was stained with ink. The Magos wore spectacles in an archaic style and had no vocal modifications. He has a small satchel back and a pack of the same canisters as the Skitari. The Magos’ right hand had been replaced with a form of manipulator and two mechandrite adaptors slithered around his midsection like coiled snakes. The man who Pickman presumed was Kelhar was unimposing but appeared rugged enough to hold his own. Perhaps this would not end as badly as Pickman has thought.

“It is time to go,” Kalsman said, and Pickman had second thoughts immediately.

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