Antonius calmed his mind as the Navigator called out the timing. Her voice was hoarse and ragged, as this was the fourth precision realspace translation she had guided in as many hours.
“Three… two… one… JUMP!” she cried. On cue, several chapter serfs and Astartes crewmen activated the warp engines, and shunted emergency power to the Gellar Field to handle the strain of the transition between the Empyrean and the cold void of reality. Antonius’ external monitors were alive with the sickening magenta tendrils of warp miasma, trailing through their exit portal in their wake.
“Tactical analysis, Brother Lupe.” Antonius called.
“Beginning initial auspex sweep.” Lupe responded. In moments, Antonius’ console was alive with data. Sure enough, they were right where they needed to be: the soft underbelly of the enemy fleet. All around them, similar portals disgorged Imperial Navy cruisers, and the remnants of the Black Fleet.
“Astartes fleet, this is the Duty. Form up and launch defensive picket. Priority targets are being uploaded to your systems now. May the Emperor guide our hands and bring swift death to the traitors.” Antonius said into an open comm channel. New data appeared almost immediately as fighters took up defensive positions around their ragtag fleet, while a mind-boggling amount of torpedoes launched directly into the targeted enemy cruisers. Outmaneuvering such a wall of ordnance would be difficult, even with warning, and the enemy had none.
“Sir, incoming message from ground forces.” A serf shouted. Antonius pulled it up. It was garbled, text only, but what was there chilled Antonius to the bone.
For the next few minutes, Antonius gave a few orders, allowing his crew to perform their duties without his direct guidance. His fingers engaged the input runes of his command throne faster than most men could even follow with unaided eyes.
“Brother Arin, recall our Thunderhawk flights. Brother Markus, come about to zero-eight-four mark three-five-one. Take us to within bombardment range of the Omega Station.” Antonius called, to a chorus of “Aye captain.” He opened another channel, direct to Admiral Kolten. “Jann, I need to make a close pass. The ground forces have identified an emergency situation. I need you to punch me a hole.”
Admiral Kolten smiled. “We’ll do more than that, Captain. We’ll break their backs! Kolten out.” The fleet’s posture changed from the cross set up to harass the enemy fleet into a spearhead, aimed straight for the command fortress of the Omega Station. The void burned with thousands of explosions and was laced with the bright lines of deadly lances as the Loyalists cut their way through the enemy.
“Brother Lupe, you have the bridge.” Antonius said, disengaging himself from the throne he had lived in for the past several days of brutal void war.
“Sir?” Lupe responded.
“I am going to the surface. Be prepared to launch Thunderhawk flights on my command for extraction.” Antonius said, activating his internal comms. “Antonius to Luiz, have my personal command squad meet me in Drop Pod Chapel Two. Prepare a Drop Pod for immediate launch.”
Antonius dashed through the corridors of the Duty, forcing serfs to give way. He arrived at the torpedo room, breathing hard despite his enhanced physiology. Luiz and Squad Antonius were there. Majeed held his banner, fringed green, aloft with aplomb.
“We are going to the surface, sir?” Majeed asked in his musical accent.
“Not directly. Look.” Antonius showed them a data slate loaded with the message.
“Infiltrators in the command citadel? That’s the only part holding out. The Omega Station could fall within minutes!” Chaquadan shouted.
The Duty rocked with the impact of enemy fire. They were close.
“The situation is both better and worse than you assume, brother.” Antonius said, pointing to the authentication code. No one spoke, but their faces became grim.
“It is the highest honor to die in service of the Emperor…” Luiz said grimly.
“This may be hopeless, but we must try anyway. This is a matter that only our chapter can address.” Antonius said. “Without the command citadel, the Omega Station is lost. If we are to die, then we shall die proving our worth.” The conviction in his voice was unwavering.
“For the Emperor and Atrus.” Chaquadan said.
“For the Emperor and Atrus.” Everyone else echoed. Antonius and his squad embarked on the drop pod, and activated the launch sequence. Silence filled the air until the red lights turned green. An amazing force pushed into Antoinus, forcing his restraints taut as the Drop Pod launched. It plunged through bright lines of turret fire directly into the body of the command citadel. Five seconds before impact, he activated the retro thrsters, creating an overwhelming roar as the Pod smashed its way into the bulwarks of the command citadel. The ramp opened, and Antonius’ restraints snapped off with a crack like thunder. Antonius charged out of the Pod, Plasma Pistol at the ready.
The ruined hallway they emerged into was deserted.
“This is not good...” Majeed said.
“No time.” Antonius answered. “We must make our way to the command room.”
As they advanced, Imperial defenders clashed with hideous purple mutants and fallen Astartes. Antonius and the command squad joined the fight when they could, but regrettably left most defenders to fend for themselves. They pushed through a tense group of defenders, guarding the elevator shaft to the main control room, and piled in, declining to explain themselves.
The ride up was done in total silence. Each brother readied their weapons for what would possibly be the last time.
After all this was a trap.
The doors opened.
The main control room was a slaughterhouse. Bodies of technicians and defenders littered floors and consoles. Huge floor-to-ceiling windows looking out into the void of space were smeared with blood, giving a sickly color to the shimmering void shield beyond.
Around the perimeter of the room, a group of traitor Astartes held their bolters at the ready. They must have been at least twenty. At their heart, the man who had sent the false message. His armour the same color blue as Antonius’, save for the wicked black power fist at his side.
Gehn, the Traitor Flame.
Beside Gehn stood a man in opulent power armour. His presence was unnatural, as if he were apart from everything. He could only be the renegade known as Matthius, Prophet of the Four.
Matthius smiled. “Welcome.” He said in a deep, soothing baritone.
Bolter fire ripped into the elevator.