Big Game VI – Chapter Eleven: The Assault Begins
The command deck of Cruiser M-43 – often, if unofficially called The Stalwart Falcon by its crew – remained in a state of calm readiness. The sounds of minor alignment changes, incidental chatter on fleet traffic and updates on munitions rearmament after this day-cycle’s practice maneuvers were a murmured backdrop to the feel of imperious, if affable calm that radiated from the bridge, and from its commanding officer, Captain Algernon Heinrich Kalladan.
Kalladan beamed with pride at the sight before him, rubbing at the immaculately waxed curls of his copious moustache. It had been a fine day. A damn fine day. In his forty-three years of service to the Station, he had worked non-stop to achieve this kind of effortless, well-engineered discipline in every space under his command. Now, perhaps for the first time, he felt he had brought this sort of personal touch fully to the Falcon’s bridge crew.
Outside the ship, the Omega Station itself dominated the viewscreen, as did Cruiser M-44. The Crimson Heart, as its crew had named it, had sailed beside the Falcon since the Black Fleet’s founding, hundreds of years previous. A part of Kalladan swelled with pride to have been given this command, here. There was so much to be proud of, and so much to achieve.
A chime brought Kalladan back to the present, announcing the change in shift. On cue, the lifts opened, disgorging the next shift’s crew. At the head of the group, standing prim and tall in a crisply-ironed uniform was Kalladan’s own second officer, Lieutenant Gonslav Perritt.
“Any trouble, then, Captain? Problems I’ll have to solve?” the Lieutenant asked while flipping through systems reports on his dataslate, his lip curled in a mocking grin.
Kalladan bit back a surge of bile. Of all the officers that had been under his command, Perritt was by far the most irritating. He’d hardly been transferred to the Falcon a month prior, and already he seemed to have charmed the ship’s crew, nearly making some of them forget who truly commanded the grand cruiser, all the while needling Kalladan with little barbs such as this.
Kalladan grunted his anger away. Meaningless. He wouldn’t let the little worm ruin what was otherwise such a glorious day.
“No, Lieutenant. None whatsoever. I leave you command of the bridge.”
“Excellent,” Perritt said, tucking the slate under his arm. “Then there’s just one more thing.” The bridge was suddenly silenced by the sound of the Lieutenant’s blade of office as it left its scabbard with a rasping sound. All eyes turned to the two officers.
Kalladan stared blankly at Perritt for a long moment. Then, shaking his head, he reached for his own ceremonial blade held it to his chest. With all that was on his mind, he’d nearly forgotten. “To the Emperor, and to the Keepers, and to our Duty Eternal” he recited.
“Our duty. Our lives. Our honor,” Perritt said, solemnly, bowing his head to his own knife. The ceremonial change completed, he nodded to Kalladan, then turned his attention to the bridge. He was well on his way to issuing the shift’s first command when a jeweled officer’s blade punched its way through his chest, spraying a shower of blood onto the bridge’s floor.
“Goodbye, Perritt.,” Kalladan whispered in the Lieutenant’s ear as the man struggled to suck in air from a collapsed lung. “You are permanently relieved of duty.”
Perritt’s struggle ended as the knife slid out of his back and through his jugular in one fluid motion. His body slumped to the ground in silence joining that of every other loyal command crew. Each had been executed by the bridge members loyal to Kalladan and now lay in a pool of blood that flowed across the decking.
“Hail Cha-Dawn,” Kalladan shouted, hefting his knife in the air in salute to his brood-mates, who mirrored the gesture and returned the call of obedience to their Great Master. Without needing to exchange a word, the crew began the process of wheeling the Falcon around to aim its lance weaponry at the Crimson Heart, which immediately began to send frantic communiques asking for an explanation. Captain Algernon Heinrich Kalladan silenced the vox and smiled as his life’s work began to come to fruition.
Yes, it had been a very fine day, indeed.
The heavy tread of steel-toed boots rang out down the corridor as Specialist 2nd Class Donek Rathkish ran down the corridors of the Engine Control Complex, his lungs burning like coals with the effort. His sidearm was held ready in one hand, the other holding the ragged red wound at his side. He was still acting on pure adrenaline after the attack.
He hadn’t even seen the first maneuver of the betrayal. He’d been repairing cabling sheaths in the command room when the shouts started. He saw Johnson fall first, a knife through his belly. Others followed, and he watched as the command crew had fell upon each other with savagery, shouting of some bizarre allegiances. He winced at the pain from the shot that had slammed into his side as he’d fled the deck. Gasping in breath, he realized that the coppery taste in his mouth wasn’t just the recycled air of the Station’s filtration systems. It was blood.
Not good, not good, he thought, but then resolved to worry about it later. Doors rushed past him as he dashed down the corridor – infirmaries, meeting rooms, tactical command – but he’d grown up in this Station, and knew none of them would have what he needed. Around one turn. A right. A left. Straight through a junction. There, at the end, he saw it – Emergency Comms.
Coming to a halt in front of the access door, he whipped around and scanned the hallway behind him. His hand trembled as he held his laspistol as straight as he could. Because his heart was pounding so loud, and his vision tunneled in front of him through adrenaline and what he hoped weren’t the initial stages of shock, he would never have heard any footsteps if he’d been followed. One beat. Two. Nothing. Suppressing a cry of pain, he slammed his other fist into the access panel and darted inside.
Donek’s eyes swept the room. The dim lighting illuminated a number of comms consoles, but no threats. He’d made it. Donek keyed a sequence into the access panel, and listened for the dull thump as the magnetic bolt slid into place, locking the door, then stepped back. The echo of his laspistol shot was shockingly loud in the small room, but it got the job done. The smoking remains of the access panel ensured no one would be countermanding his lock command from the other side.
On instinct, he moved to one of the consoles and attempted to sound the internal alarm. Nothing. Dead. Of course. The traitors had disabled the complex’s internal systems first. Damnit.
Then he spotted it – above the console, a handset. The emergency hardline. Disconnected from any centralized system. He grabbed the handset from the wall and clicked the vocalizer, but his voice caught in his throat before he could issue the first words of a warning. In the room. A sound. Coming from the venting beside him.
Keeping silent, he watched the wall vent cover deform, then fall entirely with a clatter on the floor. A hand reached out of the vent, gripping the wall.
Donek acted, grabbing the intruder by the wrist and pulling them clear of the venting with all his strength. With his foe overbalanced, Donek curled his arm around to a headlock, and ground the barrel of his laspistol into the back of his would-be assailant’s neck.
“Who are you? What are you doing here? Talk, dammit! Ta-” Donek stopped, recognizing the figure. “Kinney?”
The face staring at him was one out of childhood. Kinney had been part of his grouping in nursery on the Station. It had been years since they’d seen each other – Kinney had gone to medical service, while Donek had chosen specialist work – but there was no mistaking the look of innocence and hope in his old friend’s eyes. He released Kinney, stepping well away as a precaution.
“Donek! It’s you!” Kinney moved to embrace him, but shied away at Donek’s laspistol. “I was so terrified! They started shooting people, everyone screamed, and I ran, but…but…” Donek grunted in pain and wavered, his arm holding his side.
“Oh! You’re hurt!”
“It’s fine, it’s fine, I just…I just need to…” Donek realized his head was swimming. The bleeding from his wound was quickening.
“Here, let me take a look,” Kinney said, moving closer.
“Wait,” Donek said, shaking his head. The pain in his side was deepening, but something was wrong here. “Wait…you’re stationed at Main Weapons Control. Hundreds of miles away, you’re…what are you doing here?”
“I was here…we were training with the medical ward here. I’d meant to contact you, but…”
Donek stepped back, the laspistol still pointed squarely at Kinney.
“You…stay there. I’m going to radio the other Main Control Citadels. Maybe I’m early enough, we can stop whatever’s goi-”
Donek’s pistol shot went wide, scorching the opposite wall as Kinney barreled into him, doubled-up fists slamming into his wound. His scream rang out through the room, and ended as his own laspistol fired twice, boring a pair of holes through his skull.
Kinney’s breath rasped with effort, the laspistol in his hand shaking. It had been close. Their efforts here could have been severely undermined had the other Citadels been able to organize. Lucky that he’d been nearby, ensuring that any medical facilities that the defenders might take would be rendered inoperable. Lucky that he’d seen Donek running down the halls, and been able to predict his path. Lucky.
He picked up the handset and routed to the primary command room of Main Weapons Control, transmitting a coded signal of clicks and beeps. After a moment, the radio crackled to life.
“Report,” asked the voice on the other end. “Operative, what is your status?”
“We are secured. Secondary maneuvers can begin. All hail Cha-Dawn.”
They were burning. The bodies were burning. Why?
Ensign Nalrath watched the flame grow higher and higher. Nothing made sense. The corridor glowed with an unhealthy orange. From behind him, he heard chanting.
“Why?” Nalrath asked. “Who are you?”
“Cha-Dawn. Cha-Dawn. Cha-Dawn.”
“What do you want?”
“Cha-Dawn. Cha-Dawn. Cha-Dawn.”
“How could you do this? They were your friends!”
“Cha-Dawn. Cha-Dawn. Cha-Dawn.”
“What are you?” he screamed, as the knives took him to pieces.
Seated before a bank of monitors within The Black Morass, Lord Gorath watched streams of data pour in. Reports within the Fleet, of crews turning on their masters, of ships firing on each other in the blackness. Command centers on fire, their crews butchered.
A shape materialized on his primary screen – a skull of metal, eyes burning like coals.
“You have what we agreed upon?” came the rasping voice of Overlord Sekhef of the Sautekh Dynasty. Gorath grimaced. He loathed dealing with the Necrontyr. Their ultimate motivations remained inscrutable to him. He did know, however, what they sought. Centuries of searching for ways to undermine the Station had given him insight into their past.
“Once the Station is in our hands, you will have the locations of the sleeping worlds, Sekhef. Take them for your Empire. But not before.”
The Necron’s shivering metallic hiss caused static to ring out from the vox. “If they are not, Gorath, your victory will be a short-lived one.”
“Indeed. Trust that I want no part in a second war after the first, Sekhef.”
Without a word, the link was severed, his viewscreen back to scrolling reports. Gorath immersed himself once more into the tale of the Station’s demise.
“Interesting choices, my Lord,” came a voice from behind Gorath’s perch. The Iron Warriors Lord grunted in annoyance, and rose to his full height upon jagged spider’s talons of chromed plasteel.
“Teufel,” he drawled with a considered neutrality.
“The Fleet. The Station. Their defenses are beaten, but not broken. Years of infiltration, but you chose not to allow Cha-Dawn and his forces truly overtake the Fleet or the Station.”
“I do not trust my closest brethren any more than necessary, Lieutenant. Mad xenos, even less. The Cults have opened the hole we need, and no more.”
“Indeed. And now the time comes,” he said, activating the vox.
“This is Gorath. I command you now, my Alliance,” he said, “Begin the assault on the Omega Station.”