This is my Iron Gauntlet FINAL CHALLENGE submission. The recommended playlist for this fic is as follows
-Resist and Bite
-Back in Control
-I am the Vengeful One (eventually, next installment)
"Boy! Over here!" Vernatus's head snapped up toward the senior apothecary of the 4th company, Kalas. Medi-servitors surrounded the post-human doctor, carrying cadavers and medical supplies. "Good to see that you're here. We need to get these dead bodies tested to see what the devil killed them. Have you done autopsies on humans killed by the Tau?"
"...yes. I have. Why do we not know why they died?"
"No burns or puncture wounds on their bodies. Just...died. Poor buggers. Probably never even saw the Tau coming; ripped right through their regimental CP, and well, a guard regiment loses the regimental CP, and it's game over, y'know?"
Vernatus nodded. It was odd Kalas was so concerned with the operations of Guard regiments, but he was right. If you killed the Colonel and their Major, the regiment was essentially beheaded.
"So what should we be looking for, sir?"
"Anything out of the ordinary. Oh, and what's your name, son?"
"Vernatus, Apothecary Kalas."
The elder Apothecary grunted. "Vernatus. Good, strong name. Parents?"
"Dead thirteen years ago, gunnery accident. My uncle's a senior instructor for the snakes, though. He's looked after me."
"Tell me more at another time, get your scalpel and cut this man open," he ordered.
Vernatus complied, drawing his combat scalpel from a holster next to his bolt pistol and unzipping the dead Imperial Guard Colonel from neck to groin in three brutal strokes. Shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, and then right down the center.
With one hand he pulled the flesh back and barked orders for the medi-servitors to clamp them open.
His eyes roved across the internal organs, searching for anything that might give a hint to the cause of death. With no wounds on the outside the Tau had either acquired Necron interdimensional phase tech, or this was the work of some chemical weapon.
He began to look for signs of the latter. All the organs at initial inspection appeared degraded, which was expected, though they were further along than they should have been if this had been a regular death. He dismissed it as currently unimportant and proceeded.
What was-no, just a poorly-done appendectomy. Wait, what was-no, residue from smoking and lung cancer. Given the lho-sticks he saw in the breast pocket, this guy was a smoker.
Rolling his eyes-couldn't they ever make it easy on the coroners?-Vernatus reached further in and peeled the organs back to reach the ones at the back of the chest cavity.
And that-ah yes, jackpot. Exploded liver, spleen, and kidneys. Major filtration organs gone. He had a strong hunch this was a poison.
"Kalas," Vernatus called, "have a look at this."
Kalas replaced his helmet onto his head and came over, futzing with the optical control dials as he did so.
Grunting, he leaned into the cadaver and looked closely.
Vernatus nodded. "That's my guess. The liver, spleen, and kidneys are all splattered bits of goo. Everything else looks like it was on the way of getting there, or at least would have been if we hadn't refrigerated the body. I saw something on the lungs but didn't think it important, because he was a smoker."
That earned him a cuff upside the head-with a ceramite gauntlet. "Idiot! Never discount anything! That gunk isn't lho-stick residue, that's an after effect of the poison!"
Rubbing the back of his head, because damn had that hurt, Vernatus apologized. Then, at Kalas’s direction, he took syringes and began to take samples of everything. When he was done, he moved on to the next cadaver.
Given the speed of the elder Apothecary, Kalas and Vernatus were able to be done within three hours; all of the guardsmen were dead by by way of poison gas.
After reporting to the Shinsengumi what they had found, and recommending a general order be given to have all personnel in the warzone, human and posthuman, wear gas masks or their helms to protect themselves, Vernatus retired to his chamber to catch up on some Legio Bolter and Chainsword Apothecary circulars.
The next morning Kalas woke Vernatus from slumber with the sound of a deactivated power maul smashing on the door. "Vernatus! Wake up, man, you're deploying in 3! I'm sending you with a kill-team as an attached specialist, now get your ass moving so you can go kill some tau! If you can keep the rest of the team alive, I’ll certify you as a full Apothecary!”
"Yes sir," Vernatus said as he sat up and stood. "I'll be in the mess deck once I'm armored." Pushing a button on the wall, Vernatus summoned his serfs to come and armor him.
As the apothecary waited, he turned to his desk and retrieved three things. First was a pict-capture of his parents and his younger sister, which would be kept inside his right gauntlet. After that was safely tucked into the slot in his gauntlet, Vernatus took a purity seal given to him when he graduated from the snake training regimen and promoted to full Astartes. It would be affixed to his breastplate, with a proper prayer, as it always was.
The third was his Narcethium, which would be fitted over his left gauntlet when the serfs were finished.
His serfs entered the room and began to armor him, beginning first with the leg and waist armor so Vernatus could attach whatever he needed to it.
After the lower armor was attached, Vernatus grabbed his weapons belt and buckled it over his waist. It contained holsters for four things: his bolt pistol, his chainsword, his combat knife, and his medical tools.
His serfs placed the chestplate on him, then the arm and shoulder armor. Vernatus slapped their hands away from his gauntlets and attached them himself. That was something he alone did. Having to train new serfs was quite frustrating.
Then he took his helmet from the now-trembling serfs and placed it on his head, sealing it with a pair of taps just below of the left 'ear'.
Ensuring all of his weapons and tools were on his belt, Vernatus placed his purity seal to his chest and gave his short prayer as he always did.
Taking his Narcetheium from its rack, Vernatus fitted it over his left vambrace and walked out the door.
As he approached the mess hall aboard the strike cruiser, the chaplain joined Vernatus. His Terminator armor was not the full traditional black but rather regular plate with a single black pauldron opposite the chapter sigil, and the armor plate itself was covered in purity seals as was to be expected.
“Apothecary JG Vernatus, I assume,” grated the helmed Chaplain.
“Yes, Chaplain Arkant. You assume correctly,” Vernatus said with a bow. “I am the Apothecary for this upcoming sabotage mission. Can we talk while we eat? I have not eaten since yesterday morning.”
The skull helm nodded, the grim visage giving Vernatus pause, even though he knew the face behind it was-theoretically-friendly.
Vernatus entered the mess hall, followed by the Chaplain. There was a smattering of brethren around the hall, most eating the soupy nutrient gruel that formulated most of an Astartes’s diet. A few brothers were congregating together in squad-sized groups around kegs of ale and small feasts to celebrate one brother’s achievement or the squad’s survival with no injuries from their last mission or any myriad of reasons.
Vernatus, having no cause to celebrate today, walked over to the gruel station and retrieved a bowl of the stuff, along with a protein-calcium shake. Arkant took nothing but a mug of water and a piece of bread, clearly either fasting or snacking from a meal earlier in the day.
As they walked to a table, Vernatus scanned the room and felt a pang of discontent. Here were those he would know, and eventually see die. He was at the same time the person they would always and never want to see; if they were injured fatally they would want their gene-seed to be in safe hands, but if they saw him in the heat of battle it tended to mean they were mortally wounded and would not live much longer, and that meant they could no longer serve humanity, or see their brothers for a long long time.
And contained therein was another matter. He had no squad to cling to for support. Having demonstrated aptitude for the medicinal sciences, he had been shunted to a lonely track with few other candidates and fewer graduates. He would always stand apart from his brothers in the chapter, and damn if that didn't stab at the heart somewhat.
He sat down and removed his helmet, eyeing Arkant as he did the same. The Chaplain did not sit but rather stood, though Vernatus knew from his study of body language that Arkant had locked the legs of the suit and relaxed his biological legs.
They both began to eat. Arkant took his time, relative to Vernatus, as Vernatus had much more to consume in the time he had.
“Vernatus. Your face is grey and cloudy, much as the rising storm front preludes its deluge with clouds over the sun. What troubles you?” He took a sip of water and inclined his head ever so slightly, prompting Vernatus to speak.
The JG Apothecary glared and shoveled another mouthful of gruel into his mouth. He didn't like talking much, and he absolutely couldn't stand poetry. The only talk he preferred was the medical discourse that happened during treatment and the only beat he cared for was the beep of a vital signs monitor, proof that he hadn't frakked up yet and killed his patient.
The chaplain blinked. "I see. Well, in any case, we should probably be discussing the mission you’ll be going on. How much do you know about the fourth company?"
Vernatus through for a moment, then spoke between mouthfuls. "Skilled at hit-and-run attacks. Hard to catch and pin down in a straight up fight unless the company wants one. Good at crypto attacks and cryptography, good espionage network. Am I missing anything?"
"One or two things. We're exceptionally good at all of what you named because we are the students of the Raven Guard; specifically stealth and stealth missions. Our kill teams are the best of the best. The original 4th company captain was of Raven Guard stock. And that has carried through the years to today." The chaplain raised an eyebrow and smirked. "How good are your sneaky-skills, Apothecary?"
After embarking on the Cobra Destroyer that would ferry the kill team to their covert infiltration craft (a much-modified civilian ship with warp capability and the proper ID but enough hidden firepower to level a small hive), Vernatus retired to his bunk to continue to read.
Or at least that’s what he wanted to do, anyway. Arkant, who would be with them for the fourteen days it would take to reach the Unseen Manipulator, had decided that he would find the stealthiest marine onboard the Cobra and press-gang him into teaching Vernatus the finer points of infiltration, beyond what was taught in the 10th company.
After three days of searching, they found him skulking around the reactor room, keeping watch over the door and the techpriests within. After negotiating a relatively large chunk of the marine’s time away to train Vernatus, the Apothecary went to go pull records on the marine. The only things he could find were basic information and a number (0076563), which roughly translated to ‘Slope’ on a number pad.
The days passed with training, meals, and meditation. The day before they were due to rendezvous with the Unseen Manipulator, Arkant called a meeting of the kill-team to one of the mess halls aboard the Cobra.
Arkant briefly took in the gathered marines and spoke. “Right then, settle down. We’ll begin with prayer.”
He cleared his throat and began. “Gracious Solis-Imperator, give us the strength to do your bidding. Let us be your finest blades, wrought to bring ruin to your enemies. Guide our minds so we may know your will, and guide our hearts as we cling to you and our brothers. Blaze Bright!”
“Blaze Hot!” was the response. With prayer finished, Arkant turned to the hololith and activated it. Displayed was the Dawn Blades’s intelligence report of the Tau-held Gue’vesa planet Rolyn.
“Gentlemen, I will warn you now. As a Samurai qualification mission, or in Vernatus’s case his Apothecary trial, this mission will not be easy by any stretch of the imagination. You’ll be spending an entire year deep undercover, on a sabotage campaign against the Tau and the Gue’vesa sympathizers. In a year’s time there will be a combined Imperial Guard and Astartes assault, which you will need to be ready for. If you don’t destroy critical infrastructure, this world’s chances crumble. We are this world’s best hope. We are hope for this world. You might be shadows in the dark, but I’ll be damned if you won’t be the brightest shadows that Rolyn has ever seen. Understood?"
Those present nodded their heads solemnly.
"Good. Now then, your infil point will be the main spaceport. The local Guard regiments have a tradition of keeping trophies from the battlefield, and as far as anyone else is concerned you're just a group of imposing sets of armor, but trophies nonetheless. Once you've landed and departed for the General's Museum, the truck carrying you will be 'hijacked' by Inquisitorial agents. They will provide you with a base of operations and supplies for the time you're here, to the best of their abilities.”
“The invasion will arrive in approximately a year’s time from the start of the mission. In that time you are to conduct as much sabotage operations as are deemed feasible, with priority given to disrupting command chains, global logistics trains, and antispace batteries. An extraction team will deploy to support and remove you in the fray. Any questions?”
There was a small chorus of nays.
Arkant nodded. “Excellent. You’re dismissed until evening meal and prayer, 1930 hours.
Vernatus crawled through the air duct, trying to locate Slope before his time ran out. He had precisely 2600 beats of his secondary heart to find him before Slope was allowed to retaliate, and then Vernatus had to hide for 3000 secondbeats to ‘win’ the exercise, if Slope wasn’t found before the first segment was done.
There were, of course, other obstructions. The ship was on high alert, to simulate a Tau base on full lockdown. Therefore Vernatus has a half dozen other marines keeping an eye out for him, as well as the rest of the human crew (who were mostly an unknown to the Apothecary JG). It was hard to judge how they would react, which made them unpredictable and therefore dangerous.
This was not fun, that was for certain. But then, neither would the mission. After all, keeping five other Marines on active duty healthy and in fighting trim was never easy, given the sheer number of missions they would undertake.
He shook his head to clear the extraneous thoughts and listened intently. Ah, there. Ceramite on steel. But was it his target?
He slowly inched forward to the vent grille. Yes, there was Slope’s helmet, his pack, and his weapon. The marine was standing at a table, studying a dataslate that held, from the looks of it, information of the ship’s supply list.
Something else, however, wasn’t right. Upon close observation, the marine shifted onto his other leg-his right one, clearly favoring a limp in the left.
But Slope had been shot in the right knee. This wasn’t Slope, this was a marine trying to trick him. This was an excellent opportunity to eliminate some of Slope’s phase two assistance.
Grinning, Vernatus began to lift the vent up to eliminate the target from the exercise and as he dropped down, he suddenly felt the cold steel barrel of a bolt-calibre paintcannon pressed to the back of his head.
“Good try spotting the decoy, Vernatus, but you didn’t account for anyone else in the room. Checkmate, you’re dead.”
Vernatus cursed and then turned. “Dammit. Good game, then. Who’s the marine failing at mimicking your limp?”
Slope smiled. “Senior Corporal Farnok, about-face, helmet off.”
The now-named senior corporal turned wordlessly and nodded. A pair of grav-pistols hung from underarm holsters, and as he removed the helmet, Farnok revealed the grim-yet-joyous face characteristic of all assault officers Vernatus had ever met.
There was uncomfortable silence before Slope sighed and appeared to vanish into thin air. When they both were looking at him, he was there, but when they looked away-nothing.
“Well, he’s good, I’ll grant him that,” Farnok muttered. He put the helmet down onto a gurney and began to remove the rest of his borrowed armor.
“Would you like a hand with that, Corporal?” Vernatus asked, after a stretch of somewhat awkward silence.
“No thank you, Apothecary. I can manage.” He continued to divest the armor, then spoke again.
“This is your first company assignment, isn’t it? I can tell by the way you’re talking. Guarded. Closed off. No sense of brotherhood established yet. It all shows up. Now, would you like some help with that?”
Vernatus backpedaled a step. Was everyone in this damn company a training-cage psychoanalyst? He was fine!
“You...are correct. This is my first company assignment.”
“Hmph. And your first mission is a Samurai Qualification Mission. Depending on how you view it, that’s either good or bad. Good, because your tutor thinks you’ve got enough experience and guts to handle this mission. Bad, because you are going underground for an extended period of time with six other Astartes you don’t know and won’t know after the mission is over, either because we’ve been transferred or killed.”
Upon seeing the slightly imperceptible impact that had on the young marine, Farnok snorted. “Oh please. You thought there wasn’t a chance of death here? This is an SQM, boy. They’re meant to be hard. Yes, one of us might die. Yes, you’ve been entrusted with keeping our sorry asses alive. Yes, I know the potential psychological damage of being entrusted with lives and failing to keep them alive. I failed, forty years ago. But I got over it. We’re the Solis-Imperator’s Angels of Death. And sometimes that means dying. We live, we fight, we die. We don’t like it, but we deal with it.”
He shucked the upper arms and stepped towards the Apothecary. “I understand you’re scared. I understand your pain. But you’re strength is here,” he said, pressing an armored finger against the neck progenoid gland. “in the Solis-Imperator and your brothers. And so help me, I will get you through this mission if it is the last thing I do, because I can tell that if you don’t form some brotherly bonds now, you never will, and you’ll be ridiculously less effective. So get your head screwed on straight and your Narcethium primed, because you’ll likely need both. Got it!?”
The thirty-two year old gulped against the ceramite gauntlet. “Yes sir. I understand. Head on straight, Narcethium primed. Ready to use both. Got it.”
The Corporal smiled and stepped back, disengaging the locks on the rest of his upper body armor. “Good. After I’m done here, I’ll introduce you to the rest of the team."
"y...Yes sir. I'll wait."
Vernatus followed Farnok after he was done doffing his borrowed armor, and they ended up in the ship’s Astartes exercise section, where the rest of the group was just getting started with individual exercise routines.
Recognizing that he hadn’t done any PT since breakfast, Vernatus shucked his outer garments and began his standard routine that didn’t need a spotter. Farnok did the same, moving to the sparring cage to begin a combat with a number of servitors. The rest of the kill-team began their own routines, and one moved off to a target range immersion tank while another two—identical twins, by their looks—paired off and began to spar. Another shed his armor and began a wild series of acrobatics with his knife and pistol, beginning what appeared to be a very complex anti-Eldar training course. The clash of metal on metal and the thunder of weaponry began to permeate the chamber as the exercises got more heated.
After about a two and a half hours, all the Marines were sweating heavily and panting from their exercises. As was custom for the chapter, they convened in the sentō for washing and cooldown.
On the far wall, a large mural displayed an image of a breathtaking mountain and river from one of the Ocrod system worlds-details had long since been lost to time, and bureaucracy. Still, it, combined with the statues of old chapter heroes created a spiritual sense of calm and belonging. This calm was engineered, as every other aspect of Astartes life, to sharpen the edge for war. Here the marines could think and become cleansed, both physically and psychologically. In doing so they would become focused, ergo efficient, ergo deadly.
It was also a good place for socialization, which the chapter encouraged to a degree to promote cohesion on the battlefield, between both squadmates and squads.
The marines washed up quickly, then stepped into the heated pool of water in the center of the room to soothe tired muscles.
Farnok nodded once at Vernatus and began to speak.
“Brothers, who among you have met this young marine here?” he said, motioning toward the Apothecary.
Everyone shook their heads. They had seen him in the halls and briefings, but none had spoken to him.
“Well then. Clearly we are all lacking knowledge. Tell us young one, what is your name?” an old, wizened marine growled, his voice rocky and scarred from a trio of tyranid claw marks across his throat. Vernatus recognized him as the Samurai sergeant from the command squad attached to the mission to pass or fail the marines.
“I am Vernatus, ancient one,” Vernatus replied. “And who are you?”
“I am Samurai sergeant Kirn. I am the overseer for this mission, and guidance. I’ve been in this chapter for two and a half centuries. Don’t worry about me, Apothecary. I’ll be fine,” he said, with the slightest hint of a smile.
Vernatus bowed as best he could in the water. “Well met, Samurai.”
The marine who had been doing acrobatics training bowed in greeting. “I’m sergeant Ofjin. Pleasure to meet ya,” he said, voice rough with an accent Vernatus couldn’t quite place.
The two brothers spoke up next. “Well met, Apothecary. I am Iesada Ishiyama, and—“
“I’m his brother, Seishisai. We’re both tactical—“
“Sergeants, and we’ve never—“
“Missed a beat on the field.”
Vernatus knocked his head back against the concrete side of the pool and muttered under his breath, “oh Solis-Imperator, they’re one of those sets of twins. Ferrus preserve me.” Of course, they heard that and nodded in the affirmative.
Kirn spoke up, his hearing, of course, being just as good. “The Ishiyamas are eccentric, but very good and they mesh so well that their squads are one unit on the TO&E.”
That raised Vernatus’a eyebrow. The Table of Organization and Equipment was maintained by the human serfs that were more inclined to paperwork than ship’s crew and battlefield support positions, but they were advised by the senior officers of the company. That meant at least half the sergeants plus the captain and maybe even the chaplain thought that the Ishiyamas meshed well enough to be one unit. That was...impressive, to say the least.
“If such is the case, then I commend you on your skill. I trust your squads will handle well in your absence?”
They smirked, Iesada to the right and Seishisai to the left, their mirrored dragon tattoos seeming to smirk as well. “We left our corporals in charge—“
“They’re quite competent—“
“And we’re fairly sure that they’re staying—“
“On the battle barge as security—“
“For the year that we’re gone.”
Vernatus shook his head to clear the confusion and nodded. “I...see.”
“Indeed,” they spoke in unison.
Farnok turned to Vernatus and gestured to a scarred and muscular marine with a bionic hand. “He’s sergeant Xul-chun. He’s sergeant of ninth squad, AKA the Smoke Plumes, and his entire squad carries lascannons and hotshot lasguns. Odd, I know, but as he always says...” Farnok said, clearly leading up to a common phrase from the devastator,
“If I can shoot it, I can kill it, so I had better use the best gun I can,” he growled. “Additionally, lasweapons are so low-maintenance that we’re never wanting for fully operational equipment.”
“‘Smoke Plumes’ comes from the fact that they light enough fires to recharge their packs that you can track their passage easier than an ork horde,” supplied Kirn.
Vernatus’s eyebrow shot up and his head cocked in disbelief. “And he’s part of the stealth company, assigned to a stealth mission. None of you see anything wrong with this?”
The twins spoke up. “Well—
“He gets results—“
“And he hasn’t taken a casualty—“
“In a decade of combat.”
Vernatus rubbed his forehead. “Are you sure you two aren’t minor telepaths? Because you honestly seem like you are.”
“Not that we—“
“Have ever noticed—“
“Or that’s been recorded—“
“By the Librarius.”
Yep, Vernatus definitely had a headache, and it would take many hours with the medical journals to relieve it. He would request some servitors to practice the operations on before reading, however, so if he wished to replicate a surgery, he could, using live subjects.
Deciding he would like to alleviate his headache a little bit before the evening meal, he excused himself from the sentō, dried, and redressed in his robe before returning to his quarters to practice his techniques.
Vernatus spent the next hour and a half reading his journals, and, finding nothing worth practicing immediately, returned the servitors to their depot. There were several interesting articles on tyranid toxins and their antitoxins, but there were no Tyranid biomaterials to experiment with, and having seen what they did to an Astartes, wouldn’t wish that on anyone, human or transhuman, ergo wouldn’t experiment with them even if they were to hand.
His headache from the Ishiyama brothers no longer an issue, he stood, dusted his shoulders off, and walked to the evening meal.
Upon entering the small Astartes mess hall, he walked to the table the rest of the kill-team was sitting at, along with Arkant, and took a seat alongside them.
The kitchen servitors brought what was a small feast by Astartes standards—actual human-type food, and relatively larger portions than were required for an Astartes metabolism and lifestyle—but it was the final day before they departed for the Tau-held world, merely two day’s travel by the Unseen Manipulator[i/]’s souped up warp and subspace engines. (On paper, the upgraded engines were gifts to a Rouge Trader household from a grateful shipyard planet after the ship had stopped a minor ork invasion in orbit. In reality, they were the result of the genius of a previous Master of the Forge more than a millennia prior, which made for a powerful vessel, and recent upgrades had done nothing to dull its capabilities.)
Arkant led the group in the pre-meal prayer, and the marines dug into their food, the older marines using their utensils like the ancient cultures of Terra, and the younger ones, especially Corporal Farnok, ripping into their food like so many Space Wolves.
Despite having been introduced so very recently, Vernatus stayed at the end of the table and ate quietly, having sips of ale as opposed to the mugs his older brethren were having, and eventually ignoring the drunken, off-key, songs that began to issue from their throats. Songwriters and poets the Dawn Blades were, but talented singers they were not (as a general rule).
Eventually, though, the Ishiyama brothers came over to Vernatus and began to, ah, convince him to have more than the few sips of ale that he’d had, and at their goading he began to down more of the stuff (though it was rationalized as providing a baseline for a post-drinking night morning and his effectiveness after one. A picture was worth a thousand words, so video would surely provide endless data points that he could study, yes? He wanted to be sure that if he was to ever come in contact with one of the more...rambunctious...chapters that he could still function the morning after a feast).
Eventually Vernatus began to no longer care and upon seeing that even Arkant was imbibing heavily and singing just as loudly and poorly, he joined into the drunken war-song that was currently being sung.
“And we’ll come right on down, knock from your head that crown, burn and plunder the town, and gather such renown, Oh you won’t have a chance, for when we advance, we cut through like a lance, without even a glance!
“We are! Undefeatable!
“We are! Indefatigable!
“We are! Indestructible!
“We are! Forged in flame!
“We are! Annihilation!
“We are! Domination!
“We are! Termination!
“We are! The Sun’s Might!
“Dawn Blades! HOO-RAH!”
With that last line, the song concluded. Vernatus stood, and to ensure he had somewhat of a decent ‘party baseline,’ drained another flagon of ale before saying a goodnight and stumbling off to bed. Technically this was the time of Spiritual Expression, but given the chaplain was drunk as a guardsman on leave, there was no forge project Vernatus wished to start, and being averse to almost anything poetic, Vernatus felt he could spend the time better resting for the mission tomorrow, and ensuring he had enough chemicals to reanimate his brothers from their Sus-An states they would enter for transport to fool the Tau scanners.
Thusly, upon reaching his quarters, he laid out a basic medical kit for what he would need to hand immediately, and then flopped on the bed and fell asleep.
On the morn, Vernatus rose with a slight headache, but nothing more. The previous night he had apparently had the presence of mind to activate a pair of cameras, though he did not recall doing so—no matter. His data would be sufficient. With that, he smacked a button on the wall and a trio of serfs came to armor him for the journey.
When they were finished, they fell in step behind Vernatus as he walked out the door. As the single marine required to stay awake for this whole frak-show, he was the highest security risk for this phase of the op. If they were boarded and he was discovered, a fair number of serfs were being press-ganged into service to provide a cover for him—he was a prisoner, and the serfs were task-masters for him, and he was going to become both a research subject and a living exhibit in the regimental museums.
While not perfect, the story would allow him to pass through Tau security nets long enough to get on the ground and wake his compatriots up, so they could get to the killing. And when that time came—well, Vernatus was an Apothecary, but one from the Adeptus Astartes. He lusted for war surely as a tyranid did for biomatter. No, wait, bad comparison. He lusted for war just as surely Old Terra had lusted for sunlight—both needed it to survive.
A savage grin rose to his face. It would feel good to have Tau blood coat his blade. The serfs behind him glanced at each other uncomfortably at the grin, but the group continued toward the Thunderhawk that would ferry them across the interstellar void of space.
As they arrived, Arkant waved the group over to the rest. Each marine had a gaggle of serfs about them, some clearly serfs that the Astartes had known for years, even decades, while a couple groups were clearly just assigned baseliners who didn’t care one way or the other, so long as they got out alive.
“Ah, Vernatus. Good. You’re the last group. Are you ready?” Arkant asked, a hand extended out in greeting.
Vernatus reached out and clasped Arkant’s wrist. “I am ready. My blade is thirsting for blood, and my scalpel is primed to do the healing work of the Solis-Imperator.” The second part was all bravado, of course. He was being trusted with the lives of a combined millennium of battlefield experience, and he had all of a decade of medical training. A fair bit of time, to be sure, but the order of magnitude that he was outlived was nothing short of stupefying to him. He mentally sighed. The Chief Apothecary must have been chasing the dragon when he assigned him here (and Kalas, too, on that thought).
“Excellent. Now, before you depart, we shall pray.” And with that, Arkant and the others all bowed their heads, and murmured along with the Chaplain.
After prayer was concluded, the Astartes and their attending serfs entered the transport ship, which was not marked with any Astartes symbols, or indeed anything to link it to the chapter. Vanus assassins training in the area were often told to track the ship’s parent organization as part of their final assessment. Few failed, but all found the tasking difficult. Tracing the Unseen Manipulator was harder, which gave the Astartes complete confidence in their anonymity.
All the necessary equipment was aboard, and there was enough war supplies to last the team the entire mission, and then some. Bolt shells, power cells for las-weapons and various swords, rations for the marines and their serfs, and enough explosives to keep an entire company of Militarum sappers happy for a month (and that was a conservative time-estimate).
To support himself, both psychologically and physically, Vernatus had a dozen stealth-dataslates he could use to download new journals as they were published, and sufficient medical supplies for the mission.
Everything was loaded onto pallets, which in turn were mounted on grav-sleds that dominated the cargo hold of the ship. The marines and serfs squeezed around the grav-sleds to start themselves in as the engines rumbled and the craft lifted from the deck of the Cobra’s docking bay.
As the craft enrered hard vacuum, the serf to Vernatus’s right began to hyperventilate in panic. The Apothecary JG shook his head and fixed the serf with a not unkind look, forgetting the personal authority he held over a regular human as an Astartes. What was meant to be a stern but welcoming face evidently appeared terrifying, as the human shied away from him, covering his face.
Vernatus sighed and placed a gauntleted hand on the serf’s shoulder, forcing the arm down and tilting the serf’s head towards him. “It is alright. What troubles you?”
“Th...the shields, milord. I have never been outside the shields, except when I was tithed as a serf. I’ve always stayed on the Cobra, for thirty years now. They’ve been there...always there. The hum...oh Emperor the hum, it’s so beautiful, it was the Emperor’s armor and shield made manifest...and now it’s gone, I can’t here it, I can’t hear the Emperor’s voice, his power....” The serf broke down into a quiet sob, breaking from the Apothecary’s loose grasp and placing his head in his hands.
Vernatus lifted the serf’s head. “What’s your name?”
In between the sobs, the serf choked out, “My name?”
Vernatus nodded. “Your name.”
“Akinao Nima, I am going to let you in on a secret about the shields.”
Akinao looked up. “A...a secret, milord?”
“Yes. The shields, they are the Soli-the Emperor’s armor. But they are not his entire suit of armor. Tell me, have you ever seen Astartes fighting in full combat gear?”
“N...no. Just armor maintenance, an...and provisioning, lord.”
“Here. I am going to fully power my suit reactor. The shields are the Emperor’s armor. The Astartes are his mailed fist. Listen closely, and know that the Emperor’s protection is here with us, even now.” Vernatus blink-clicked his powerpack to 90 percent of maximum (the rest preserved for emergencies and actual combat. This was the highest he was allowed to power his pack to, by chapter bylaw). Soon, a throaty thrum, thrum, thrum, thrum began to emanate from the powerpack as the reactor spun up.
The serf, with no regard for propriety, practically clambered on top of Vernatus to be as close to the thrum as possible. Akinao quickly found a relatively comfortable position to curl up in between two walls and Vernatus’s armor, and with a whisper of “the sound! I can hear my Emperor’s strength and protection,” drifted off to sleep, tears rolling his down face, but not of sadness.
Ofjin scoffed, but when Vernatus looked at him down the beak of his MkVI helm, Ofjin just shrugged and catnapped.
As it happened, the transfer and infiltration went smoothly, even taking into account the margin of error that resulted from the inquisitorial agents’ mild baseline human incompetence. The ‘heist’ had gone off without a hitch, and pieces of defunct, damaged, or otherwise worthless Astartes weapons and armor were distributed on the black market to make the Tau authorities less suspicious of the missing shipment. The 4th Company of the Dawn Blades had planned this mission; there would be nothing unaccounted for, nor anything left to chance.
The sabotage campaign itself displayed superb results, leaving Tau infrastructure and defensive structures in ruins. Factories were destroyed, antispace cannon that took months to construct were left a shambles, adding valuable time to reconstruction periods. Labor camps and sterilization camps were infiltrated by the human inquisitorial agents, in preparation for freedom when the marines brought war to the planet for real.
Not all of it had been smooth sailing, however. Three times the Tau had come close to either locating their secret bunker, or discovering they fought Astartes. It was not until after the scheduled invasion failed to show up that things began to go wrong.
First, the invasion was delayed by a week of the expected arrival date. This fell well within the expected Warp margin-of-error that every Imperial operation ever had had to include in its timetable.
The Astartes planetside began to get suspicious when the fleet became three weeks overdue, which was the upper limit of the mission’s WMoE.
At this point, Kirn made an executive decision and emitted an emergency signal that would hopefully catch Arkant‘s ear and find out what the Warp was going on. The pulse was dispatched from a comms relay a hundred miles from their bunker. Not twenty minutes after the signal was sent a Tau orbital strike obliterated the relay, destroying any chances of a reply.
Some time later, the Tau finally contacted the Astartes in battle proper, severely wounding Seishisai, causing him to slip into a Sus-An coma. A month past, an ambush killed Sergeant Xul-Chun, Tau snipers punching two neat holes through his braincase. Morale started to become crippled. Astartes did not need supplies such that a human did—but their serfs and inquisitorial aides most certainly did. Food, water, even ammunition. The Astartes had plenty for themselves, and to spare for a dozen more, but a baseliner could not eat the rations the marines did (the caloric value and the varied additives in the rations of a marine were enough to kill a regular human, when combined) and the only ammunition the base liners could utilize was Xul-Chun’s laspacks—and the laspacks were beginning to deteriorate. Something had to break; that which shattered was only a matter of time.
In the end, very little was actually required to break the Astartes, and Vernatus didn’t even know how it had happened. With the death of an Astartes and the crippling of another, Kirn had ordered Vernatus to stay with the valuable gene-seed and Seishisai’s broken body to protect them. The remainder of the team had left and he had not seen anything more of them. He had set out to find them, but had been wounded and forced to retreat back to the bunker, where he would rest and rearm.
Vernatus staggered into the bunker, and sighed as he allowed his special cocktail of painkillers and autoheal stims to flow through his system. This wasn’t something he broke out often, given it was both hard to make and reacted with the Sus-An membrane to slow down other bodily functions to help the autoheal stims achieve maximum potential.
He’d administered it perhaps seven times this mission. Every time it had had potent effects, but the recipient had been out of commission for three days at least. He’d only given himself a quarter dose; he didn’t have three days. He needed to be infiltrating the Tau scientist’s lab the next day to try and free his brothers, or recover their gene-seed, to add to Xul-Chun’s gene-seed and Seishisai’s broken, twisted, Sus-An’ed body, mangled but alive. (He would need dreadnought internment, and that wasn’t Vernatus had either the equipment or expertise for.)
Vernatus slumped, and only his armor kept him standing as the drugs began to take effect. He directed the armor over to the nearest bunk, and once there collapsed in a heap of armor and weapons.
When Akinao emerged from the human barracks a little while later, he saw Vernatus, and, though he knew it unnecessary, took one of the blankets from an uninhabited bunk and lay it over the marine. It was the best he could do, and with that he gently took the weapons Vernatus was carrying from the sleeping marine one by one and set them out on the table to clean, maintenance, reload, and recharge.
Vernatus rose groggily, his Catalepsean node and Sus-An membrane fighting consciousness, effects the drug was engineered to induce. However, as soon as he could feel his fingers, Vernatus activated his blink-controls and selected some combat stims from his armor reservoirs, and exhaled slowly as a heady rush of adrenaline, both of the natural and man-made variety, flooded his bloodstream.
Walking towards the central table, Vernatus saw laying upon it his pistols and swords. The bolt pistol and chainsword were his weapons, but the power sword, hotshot laspistols, and plasma pistol that lay next to his own belonged to Xul-Chun and Seishisai. Vernatus had hardly dared use them, but after running out of ammo and powerpacks deemed that dying in transit and losing these relics of the 4th company a greater mark upon their honor than the one inflicted on their owners by using their weapons without permit.
Vernatus said a prayer to the machine spirits and began chaining weapons to his armor and wrists, then walked to the door. He knew where the rest of the team was being kept, and precisely how he would infiltrate it. Armed with that knowledge and all the ammo he could carry, Vernatus knocked an armored hand against the door console six times. Knock, knock knock, knock, knock-knock. With that, a trap armed itself and the cogitator recorded the precise time of departure and the number who had departed.
Vernatus set out with murder on his brain.
Kirn swam through a haze of drugs to come into consciousness with an ugly xenos fish-face in view. Muted Tau conversation flowed in and out of his ears as what appeared to be a team of scientists walked about, attaching various cords to both him and the computers. He saw no Fire Warriors, and only one blade, carried by someone who appeared to be the chief scientist.
Experimentally he flexed his limbs, to much disappointment. His limbs were bound tightly with steel binding chain, wrapped tightly around winches clearly meant to restrict movement as much or as little as the scientists wished. The Tau were clearly aware of his enhanced strength, as he had almost no freedom of movement.
Kirn stretched his jaw, and was surprised to find it unbound. But not, apparently, aware of my acidic capabilities. He stretched his neck and found it free as well. Inwardly he grinned savagely. This would be fun indeed.
Surreptitiously he spat a small amount of acid at the analog mechanism that held his right arm in place, then at the one securing his left arm. His unusually powerful acid began eating away at the metal. He estimated perhaps seven minutes until his arms were free, with a pair of chainwhips for weapons, along with his natural abilities.
The one with a blade walked forward. “So then, Astartes. Tell me your name.” His-for Kirn assumed it was a male, these damn xenos never used females in combat roles, he’d yet to eviscerate a female xenos that wasn’t an Eldar witch. Perhaps today he’d get the chance.
He smirked. “I tell you so you may know the name of your doom, alien filth.” The scientist twitched almost imperceptibly, and a current of electricity flowed through the Astartes’s body, shocking him and causing his muscles to spasm.
The shock was not particularly strong, but the electricity hurt Kirn because he knew these uncontrolled spasms may release him from his weakening binds early, which would hamper his escape efforts.
“Do not grandstand, Astartes. Now, your name and chapter.” The scientist had a paper clipboard, which would make this job much easier. Kirn could give more information than normal, and then destroy the notes when he was free. Thusly, he spoke.
“I am Kirn Solakana, of the Dawn Blades chapter, in service to the Solis-Imperator and the glorious Imperium of Man. You and your pathetic race shall be crushed under-gahhh!” Another shock, more powerful this time, flowed through the Astartes, but thanks to luck or a merciful Imperator, the acid hadn’t eaten through enough to accidentally release the marine prematurely.
“What. Did. I say. About. Grandstanding?”
Kirn simply laughed in the xeno’s face. His plan was advancing just fine.
“Where is the rest of your force? Surely six men cannot wreak this much havoc. Tell me where your base is, and the remainder of your forces, and I shall be lenient”, commanded the interrogator.
“Ha...foolish xeno, you don’t have enough experience with an Astartes, do you? We were all. There is no one else, you hold everyone.” This of course was a lie, Vernatus, his serf, and the other Inquisitorial agents were holed up in their bunker, but he wasn’t going to tell these xenos that.
“No! You lie! Where is your base? Where are your men?”
Kirn laughed long and hard, then when he was finished he clamped his mouth shut and didn’t move it a millimeter.
The scientist/interrogator began to proceed with questioning. Kirn didn’t say a word, but not of refusal to talk.
No, he was quite willing to talk. He would talk of the glories of man, of the Tau inferiority, their futility, and the Imperium’s eternalness. However, he would not talk now. He would much rather have a massive blob of acid spittle in his mouth, ready to be spat out as soon as he was free. L
He let the interrogator ramble for a couple of minutes, making threats he would not keep and boasts he could not back up. This continued until he heard a faint click of metal falling on metal, and chains slowly easing loose from their spool. Just before they were to clatter to the floor, Kirn muttered around his saliva, “Tau.”
The interrogator leaned in. “Yes, human? Are you ready to talk?”
Kirn flexed his muscles slightly, coiled up and ready to move. “Ebo svoya mitri,” whispered the Astartes, which was a very strong imprecation in the gutteral-but-lyrical Frensan Tertius tongue, usually only said when someone had a knife at your throat.
The Tau, while holding no concept of the extent of the insult, still took offense to the tone of the statement and expressed as much with a rather loud shout and a slap-or at least, an attempted one. As the interrogator reared his hand back, Kirn spat four ounces of pH 0.5 acid, which blinded the interrogator and sent him backpedaling, one hand rubbing his eyes and the other scrabbling madly for anything with which to rinse them.
In the commotion, as others raced towards doors, comms consoles, or in search of water, Kirn flexed his arms and broke his wrists free of the stone plinth. He spat on the chains binding his feet, much larger globs this time, and aimed at the weakest area-he wanted his feet free ASAP.
As he waited, he swung his fifteen-foot chainwhips, targeting first those heading for doors, then those at the computer consoles.
When they were dispatched, he lashed a whip towards the interrogator. It crushed his skull with the force of the blow, and sent the blue blood of the creature splattering across the notepad and other valuable equipment. A louder clatter of metal on metal echoed the room, and Kirn smiled savagely. He was free.
Soon enough, the room was clear of hostiles and full of corpses. Kirn grinned. None had gotten out alive. It was time to hide here and eliminate forces as they entered the lab.
Vernatus approached the Tau research complex. The ground around it was bulldozed and cleared of anything that could be used as cover. It didn’t matter to a marine who’d spent an entire year with some of the best of the 4th company. Vernatus was silent as the night, and swift as the wind. He avoided the meager drone patrols, and, to prevent reinforcements from the base he knew was nearby, destroyed communications relays and cameras with globs of acidic saliva that he kept in vials.
Soon he was at the door. The time for subtlety was done. The time for brute force was now. Vernatus took a deep breath and scanned the area one last time.
The Apothecary started. He had not realized it, but the mission had timed itself to arrive at the main door when the sun was beginning to rise over the horizon. A good omen.
He drew his chainsword from his back, and after pouring a generous dose of salivary acid onto the door, revved it and plunged it into the door. The door bent and buckled under the assault, and caved in with a crash and a blaring alarm.
Well, stealth was gone now. Not that he’d wanted it, anyway, after he was there. He didn’t plan on sticking around, anyway. He’d have his brothers rescued before anyone could reach the facility. It wasn’t far from the nearest full base, but this was a very small facility, and a very small garrison, with a drone overreliance.
He sheathed the sword and drew the twin pistols that belonged to Xul-Chun. They would draw the honor of first blood.
He descended into the underground station, ready to kill.
Shas’La Me’lek Firoth stepped around the corner into the lab, the door ajar.
He had been ordered down here after the scientists had failed to report for their scheduled check-in.
Firoth stepped inside, nudging the door the rest of the way open using his pulse carbine. There was blood on the floor; a lot of it, and all of it was blue. That didn’t bode well.
He raised a hand to his comm, but as he did so, a massive shadow reached out and crushed his hand.
A scream of pain died with the fire warrior as a metal hand clasped around his throat and crushed it into bloody chunks, then dragged the body over to join the pile of Tau corpses.
The Apothecary JG stepped onto what appeared to be the detention level. Surprised to see no guards, Vernatus warily walked into the dark, enhanced vision providing him a decent view of the darkness. There were cells here, to be sure, with what appeared to be the unconscious bodies of his brothers. As he approached the first cell, though, something seemed...off. He activated the biosign scanner in his helm and looked about. There were four life-signs in the room—but none came from the mannequins of his brothers.
He quickly brought both pistols up and dodged to the ground, squeezing off a pair of hotshot lasbolts into the nearest stealth suit.
He missed, of course, but so did the stealth suits. They had not anticipated the human to notice them, and were ill-covered and more casual than they should have been. They had expected a defenseless human, and in turn received a cornered, violent posthuman that was far more lethal than they had experience with.
A dance of death soon ensued. In the confined space, with his enhanced reflexes, Vernatus quickly slaughtered one, then another. Having honored Xul-Chun’s weapons, as he dodged backwards he holstered them both and drew the two swords on his back. He decapitated one cleanly, then as the body slumped to the ground, the last Tau took off into a dead run, then into flight with his jet pack.
Vernatus soon lost him in the corridors and the dark of the station. Setting his scanner to maximum range and sacrificing some sensitivity, the Apothecary JG looked about the entire facility. No one. At all. It had been a trap, and he’d fallen for it.
Vernatus let loose a long list of Dawn Blade naval curses, his vernacular a mongrel breed of Frensan, the Ocrod language, and many other languages the Dawn Blades spoke. When he finished, he deactivated his bioscanner and activated the IFF scanner, set to look for Imperial IFF codes, to see if he could locate gear or weapons. After several tense minutes looking about the facility, Vernatus was about to let loose on another tirade, when his scanner began to ping softly.
His own personal weapons drawn, Vernatus slowly approached, wary of another trap. He needn’t have worried, however, as all he found was Xul-Chun’s broken helm, a pair of neat holes punched into it.
Touching it to his own helm, Vernatus sat for a moment before mag-locking it to his hip and swiftly exiting the facility. He had failed, and would need to try again soon, lest his brothers misbehave and get themselves killed.
Shas’Vre Me’Lek Al’wra deactivated his stealth field and ascended into the clouds, throwing protocol to the wind. He’d seen three of his bond brothers slaughtered in the space of about 30 seconds, and hadn’t been interested in sticking around to become cadaver number four, especially given the human’s unusual ability to see them even with their stealth fields activated.
Once he’d calmed down, Al’wra opened a comms link to the nearest ship with a relay. “Shas’Vre Me’Lek Al’wra to nearest ship, please patch me into Science Command.”
“Please hold,” came the air caste’s voice. “Science Command, Shas’Vre.”
Al’Wra launched right into a report. “Fio’El, the remaining human insurgent has escaped ambush, repeat, escaped ambush. I’m the only one left, it didn’t take him but a minute to kill my brothers, and he could see us! How could he see us?! We had fields up, invisible, how could—“
“Shas’Vre, breathe. Continue,” the Fio’El commanded.
“Terminate the subjects immediately, otherwise we’ll have a leviathan of a problem. Kill them and he’ll go away. Kill them now!”
“Can you confirm what you just said, for record?”
“Yes! Kill them immediately!”
“Kill-order confirmed. We shall proceed. Thank you, Shas’Vre. For the Greater Good,” the Fio’El replied.
“For the Greater Good.”.
Five hundred miles away, Science Command was a buzzing hive of activity. ”Fio’Vre, I have something for you,” the Fio’El said, handing a large canister to the ‘Vre.
“And what is this, Fio’El?”
The Fio’Vre raised an eyebrow, or what passed as one for the Tau, “We are deploying it this early?”
“The field report indicates it is time. Now, quickly, to the airway hub! We must release this before the Astartes finds this installation!”
The Fio’Vre nodded, shifting his bulky frame to carry the large and fragile chemical weapon. “Of course, Fio’El.”
The earth caste Tau took off down the corridor, careful to not drop the canister and waste the chemical.
Kirn stretched as he dropped the twentieth corpse onto the pile, and made a decision. No longer would he tarry here, rather he would go and find the central control center, and do his best to not get himself killed.
Wrapping his chainwhips up, and picking up a pulse pistol, he stepped cautiously into the corridor. He aimed and fired the pistol once, striking the camera dead center and destroying it. With a satisfied grunt, he moved on, eliminating all Tau he came across.
However, all was not well. Soon a hiss and a tinged green gas filled the air.
Recognizing it for what is was (a nerve toxin, from the smell and the way it caused his body to ache), Kirn sealed his lungs and activated the multilung. He pushed forwards. He would find the control center, or his brothers (whichever he came across first) and end this game. His pride still smarted at being captured, and was determined to murder the entire planet to get vengeance and reclaim the world for the Imperium.
In four separate cells a quarter mile deeper underground, each a hundred yards away from each other, the same sickly story played out.
Stunned and unable to activate their multilungs, the remaining members of the kill team slowly and painfully died, their gene-engineering fighting tooth and nail to keep their bodies alive. Unfortunately for the Emperor’s work and the Emperor’s suns, this was a very well designed nerve gas, targeted specifically to kill humans in a way that wouldn’t kill Tau.
It took about half an hour, but they died. The Tau guards entered the cells and dragged the bodies to another room for dissection, and eventually disposal.
Kirn smashed into the command room, punching his way through the door with his hand after weakening it with his spittle. Before any of the Tau could blink, or bring up a weapon, Kirn had dispatched three with his stolen pistol and one with his whip. In the next three seconds, all but five Tau of the perhaps 20 present were dead.
The remaining five were not yet dead because they were three Shas’Vre’s, a Shas’El, and the Fio’El—Science Command and his bodyguards. The fire warriors were all in battlesuits, and had their weapons glowing. Kirn had his pistol trained on the Fio’El. They had their blasters pointed directly at his progenoids—what ancient Terrans called a Mexican standoff.
Oh, he could easily kill the unarmored Tau this instant—but then his genetic legacy was shattered, never to return to the chapter, an unbearable prospect.
But he had a timer, and they didn’t. All they had to do was keep their weapons trained, hope he didn’t move, and wait until he died. This nerve gas was starting to affect his mind. Kirn’s thoughts were nanoseconds slower, and it should only have taken him two point five seconds to slaughter the Tau in here, as opposed to the 3.1 seconds it had taken.
“Yes. You feel the Silence, don’t you, human. Impressive you are still able to fight after spending several minutes breathing in a gas specifically designed to kill you. How does it feel? As a scientist I value my test subjects’ input,” the Fio’El spoke, with level tones in his voice. Did he not comprehend the danger he was in?”
“It’s not fast enough,” Kirn granted through the pain. His Betcher’s gland was empty of overuse, and his mouth dry, at least partially due to the nerve toxin. His weapons wouldn’t pierce the armor of the Fire Warriors’ battlesuits. That left him one option, decided before he even finished his sentence.
His leg muscles coiled tightly and he dove forward the fifteen feet separating him and the Fio’El, dropping the pistol and jumping through the XV-88 Crisis suits guarding the scientist. They attempted to bring their weapons to bear, but he moved too fast for their suits to compensate and turn.
His whips lashed forward to impact upon—
Nothing. A loud crack filled the air, reminiscent of the crack that he heard whenever he’d conducted terminator operations.
“Marvelous, isn’t it? I took this from an Inquisitor that I killed with the Silence. It’s saved my life, many times,” came the Tau’s voice—from behind Kirn. Displacement field, Kirn thought. I’m dead.
“Enjoy death, Space Marine. Perhaps your Emperor will welcome you to his table. Perhaps not. Your progenoids will not survive.”
“Nam Claritas Solis-Imperaaaagh!” screamed Kirn as he made one last futile attempt to kill even one of them. As he twisted, the Crisis suits opened fire and riddled his body with pulse fire, killing him. It was an ignominious end for a storied Astartes, and he would soon be forgotten.
Vernatus arrived at the bunker, and stayed just long enough to do two things. Firstly, he deposited Xul-Chun’s helmet with his progenoid cylinders. Then he grabbed a ration bar, shoved it down his throat, and turned right back around to leave again.
As soon as he was out of the door, he took geopositional data from the automatic data-hack all of their helmets had been upgraded with and used that to locate the proper facility, based on size, protection, and other Imperial IFF signals in the area (there were very few), and began to run directly toward the triangulated area.
Vernatus was not the fastest marine on the kill-team—that honor belonged to Farnok, as the tallest marine on the team as well he could average more than sixty miles per hour—but he could still run a sustained pace of more than fifty miles an hour without his armor, for at least seven hours straight.
With his armor on, he would be slower (the high end of 45 miles an hour), but his endurance would be greatly increased, due to the armor’s natural enhancements and kinetassist function, and be able to run for more than a day without stopping for anything.
And speaking of kinetic energy and not stopping, he thought, given I’m going to crash right through everything I’m not exactly going to be stealthy./i] “Oh well” Vernatus muttered as he angled his shoulder to plow into and through the first obstacle in his way (an abandoned hab-building).
Soon the only sign he’d been there was a very large hole in some of the walls, in a roughly linear path from the bunker to the Apothecary’s destination.
It took close to 11 hours, but Vernatus reached the Tau’s Science Command Base. A very light green tinge was in the air, and it registered as toxic in higher concentrations on Vernatus’s medi-HUD.
There had been no defense to speak of. A thousand pounds of steel, rock, and muscle impacting lightly armored flesh at a delta-vee of greater than 35 meters per second (his running speed plus the actual throwing of the punch) had a tendency to absolutely splatter the impacted flesh in question, and a power sword at a similar delta-vee cut through even heavy armor (of which the Tau had none) like a chainsword through a scrap of parchment. Anything that he touched died, and what he didn’t touch was very, very terrified and quickly outstripped by a half-ton bipedal tank blowing by them faster than it had any right to be moving.
Vernatus began to slow over the last two hundred yards, so he didn’t crash into the doorway and then right back the other side. By the time he had reached the gate, Vernatus had friction-braked enough to toss up a massive dust cloud that hid him from whatever defenses were left.
As he broke the gate, he brought his own personal weapons up, and began to slaughter the interior defenders that had been summoned in the last ten hours. SciComm was no idiot, and had known that the man who had attacked the other installation had defeated some of the best he had under his command. Thusly, he’d brought more troops and suits.
It didn’t matter. Vernatus was a Space Marine Apothecary who had brothers to save and progenoids to recover. Nothing could track him, and what did manage to get shots off before dying had a boot, gauntlet, or bolt buried in their torso before they could blink.
The Tau were experiencing something Imperial cataloguers designated ‘transhuman or posthuman terror.’ Anyone who saw the Apothecary would have sworn that the Marine could not move faster than an XV-88–but he did. This shock allowed Vernatus to rip through the defenders.
As he approached what he presumed to be the detention level, he received a patchy transmission, on an old Imperial channel they had been instructed to use for interplanetary communications in an emergency, or upon the invasion’s advent.
The transmission started choppily but became smooth and clear. “...ill team Kirn...ome in, ki...irn. Th...Chap...Arkant...Strike Cruiser Malevolent Sunset, I repeat, Kill team..., come in, kill ...team Kirn, This is Ch...Arkant, aboard Strike Cruiser Malevolent Sunset, come in kill team Kirn!”
“This is Apothecary JG Vernatus, I read you, Chaplain. Go ahead,” Vernatus yelled over the sound of combat. “What is your status, and what the hell took you so long? You’re three months overdue!”
“The 4th company is ready for combat, Apothecary. We’ve been held up by a combination of slow Warp currents and a surprise ork raid during the transition. Apologies for that; but now isn’t the time. Where is Kirn?”
“The Ishiyama brothers?”
“One’s SIA, the other’s MIA. And so is everyone else.”
“WHAT?!?!?!?” Arkant yelled in shock. “Is there anyone left except you?”
“Some serfs, sir. Right now I’m looking for everyone that’s MIA. Bring a techmarine and a dreadnought chassis to the planet. We’re gonna need one. Vernatus out, BLAZE HOT!” he roared, revving his chainsword in unison with the battlecry.
Aboard the Strike Cruiser in orbit, Arkant nodded grimly and offered a characteristically poetic line. “Be their sunset, brother. Blaze Bright.” Deactivating his comm, he turned to the deck officer. “Commander Vylata, you are to enter geosynchronous orbit over and begin orbital bombardment of the area surrounding the Apothecary’s transmission, excluding an interior circle with the radius of one mile, assuming the usual margin of error. I shall begin drop pod assaults with my men. Are these orders clear?”
Vylata was an aging commander of sixty years, and in any sane world would have had no place on the combat deck. She was the youngest person on command staff, and had a vivacity and range of movement to make an Astartes scout jealous. “Perfectly, milord Chaplain. Go give those Tau a whooping they won’t ever forget, soldier.”
“Yes’m. Nam Claritas Solis-Imperator,” Arkant intoned in High Gothic.
“Nam sumus sed huius serves,” Vylata replied. With the exchange complete, Arkant left the bridge, followed by two Samurai in Tartaros armor. His destination was the drop deck, and he had blades to paint as blue as the cold sky of Ocrod Primus.
“FEEL THE WRATH OF THE SOLIS-IMPERATOR, WORMS!” Vernatus cried, as he saw the bodies of his dead brethren laying in a lab, their postmortem scientists, and their guards.
Posthuman terror manifested itself once more, as Vernatus leaped off the walls and ceiling to close rapidly with the Tau, twin swords flashing in the low light.
Blue pulse fire ricocheted throughout the corridor and room as walked shots impacted full meters behind the moving marine. Two shots connected, but did nothing but scorch his armor, and then he was within the Tau.
Vernatus dived off the ceiling, and landed with a loud [i]thud, disorienting the Tau as a thousand pounds of Astartes, metal and ceramic impacted the ground. They didn’t even see the twin swords come about as Vernatus pirouetted and decapitated or disembowled each one of them in turn.
As they fell dead, Vernatus dropped both weapons and ran to his brothers’ sides. He activated the bioscanner to confirm what he already knew—dead. Every last one of them. He grimaced under his helm. Unpleasant, but not unexpected. Fortunately, they all appeared to have been suffocated to death, with no marks on their skin at all, and relatively peaceful eyes. Their progenoids should be intact, which was a small stroke of luck.
He readied the reductor in his Narcethium, and without hesitation placed it against Farnok’s neck, where one of his progenoids would be. The device entered the flesh, and cleanly withdrew the gene-seed incubator, ejecting it into a clear holding container, which Vernatus looked at with satisfaction—
And then horror. The organ was deformed beyond all use, blackened and twisted, not green and healthily fat like it should be. Trepidation began to build within the Apothecary JG, and he removed the reductor and readied it once more to remove the gland in the chest.
Shakily he triggered the device, eyes shut even as the even hiss of pneumatics withdrew the misshapen lump of flesh from Farnok’s chest.
Genuinely frightened now, Vernatus reached out with a trembling hand to so as to fold Farnok’s hands over his chest in prayer, and close his eyes, so his eyes did not appear like lightless globes of glass.
Afraid of what he would find, Vernatus retrieved Ofjin‘s next—and they were destroyed as well.
Vernatus shut down. Mechanically he removed the gene seed from the remaining cadaver, marked each container properly, with the marine’s name and the progenoid’s location within the body. Visual data would be retrieved from his helm aboard the [i]Malevolent Sunset, and audio data was not required. When he was finished with his grim task, he barricaded the door to the room they were in, and wept as he laid down next to his dead and legacy-less brethren.
Arkant and his two Samurai escorts Kolonara and Leyng materialized with a crack inside SciComm’s central command room.
Autocannon shells and plasma blasts began to perforate the walls as three very annoyed Tartaros Terminators let rip with their weapons and tore the defensive forces to shreds. The Fio’El had long since fled the facility, having escaped to orbit in between the attack on the satellite station and Vernatus’s arrival, but many skilled scientists were present, along with several Tau commanders.
Arkant and his companions slaughtered them all mercilessly, glorifying the Solis-Imperator as they did so.
The Chaplain raised a hand to his ear and activated the comm in his helm. “Vernatus, this is Chaplain Arkant with two Samurai. What is your location?”
No response. “Apothecary Vernatus, report! This is Chaplain Arkant. What is your location?”
Again, only silence filled the vox. “Damnit,” Arkant cursed. “Where is he? Leyng, can you find him?”
“Of course, Chaplain. Triangulating now.” Leyng was a 1st company Techmarine of the martial leaning, and had been honored when he had been presented with a sacred Tartaros suit to wear in combat.
After a few more moments of wholesale slaughter, Leyng spoke again. “I have found him, brothers. Follow me.” With that, he exited the command room, Arkant and Kolonara trailing close behind him.
They arrived at a locked door. "He is behind this portal, Chaplain."
Arkant nodded behind his helm and smashed the door with his crozius. Behind it lay four corpses and a seemingly-comatose marine in full armor. The Chaplain walked over and kicked Vernatus in the side. "GET UP SOLDIER, THAT'S AN ORDER! ON YOUR FEET AND AT ATTENTION!"
Vernatus didn't move, much to Arkant's chagrin. That had been one of his better Sukuato imitations, too. He just didn't have the same cadence to his voice. It was no matter, though. He motioned to Leyng. who activated one of his mechandendrites and used it to activate a drug reservoir in the armor that was guaranteed to wake the recipient up.
Vernatus visibly spasmed and rose to his feet, eyes flashing and breath catching under his armor. "y...yes, Chaplain?"
"Where is the rest of the team, Apothecary?"
Vernatus shuddered imperceptibly. "Dead...all dead but Sei...Seishisai...hyyyeeeugh...hyyyeeeugh...forgive...me, Ch...Chaplain, but I wish to...submit myself for...censure...." The armor locked up and Vernatus slumped inside it, the marine in shock at having lost the genetic legacy of four powerful warriors, after having been entrusted with them. He had failed. There was no excuse for that, and that thought was the last conscious one he had before he slipped into a blissful unconsciousness.
Vernatus raised his head to look at the oath of moment that laid before him, having replaced the ink quill and finishing it. Arkant stood beside him and withdrew his own quill, and affixed his signature to the bottom of it, approving it.
I, Vernatus, brother of the Dawn Blades,
do swear this oath of moment, to be kept until
completion, or death.
To each brother dead on Rolyn,
I owe one hundred T'au heads.
For each progenoid lost,
I owe one hundred T'au broodlings.
To Xul-Chun, I owe twenty-five T'au snipers,
in addition to one hundred heads.
To Seishisai, I owe the support and training
of his great-great-grandson, in lieu of him.
To Kirn, I owe twenty-five commanders,
in addition to one hundred heads.
And to the coward that has designed
this new poison gas,
I promise the most painful death
imaginable, courtesy of the
I shall not remove my armor
until I have completed this task.
Vernatus sighed. This was the first step.
Arkant held the strip of parchment to Vernatus's torso, and poured wax over the top of it. He pressed a single finger to the blob of wax, his armored hand pressing the insignia of the Dawn Blades Chaplaincy into the wax.
Arkant cleared his throat, and spoke thusly: "Rise, Apothecary Vernatus. Rise into the darkness. I welcome you to the ranks of the Fallen Dawn. May your journey for redemption be filled with challenge, so as to earn it in the eyes of the Solis-Imperator."
Vernatus rose, feeling the wax slide down his armor ever-so-slightly. "And may I ever blaze with his light." With that, the private ceremony was complete, and Vernatus collected naught but his weapons as he walked out the door. His dataslate pinged, a new journal having just been published. The beaked Mk. VI helm looked over its shoulder for a second or so before turning back forward and closing the door on both the chaplain and Vernatus's--well, not his past, perhaps, but certainly on his old pastimes. Vengeance would be his pastime now.
End of Broken Glass.
Edited by Daimyo-Phaeron Lenoch, 24 December 2017 - 08:49 PM.