"Do you think you're tough boy?!" The grizzled sergeant was trying to be terrifying, but it seemed comical to the young recruit.
"No sergeant!" said the young recruit.
"Well you aren't! You are a piece of refuse unworthy of the Emperor's love! You- are you trying to eyeball fuck me recruit?!"
What in the Emperor's name is that? goggled the recruit. "No sergeant!" said the recruit. It seemed to be the best answer.
"Ork shit! You tried to eyeball fuck me you unworthy little heathen pissant! Drop and give me twenty!"
"Yes sergeant!" Twenty is easy, though the big farmboy. I thought this would be tough. Then the sergeant's boot came down on his shoulder.
"You're a big, strong boy. You can take it. Now give me twenty!"
"Yes sergeant." The sergeant bore down with his boot. The recruit struggled through the required number.
"Don't ever try to screw with me again recruit or you'll be in so much pain you'll wish you had become an Ork's bitch! I'll be keeping an eye on you, D'eckor!"
"This is a lasgun," said the sergeant holding the rod of metal and plastic before his trainees. "Some of you come from worlds so assbackwards that when you think high tech, you think crossbow. Perform the rights properly and the spirit of this weapon is supportive and reliable. It does not have a bolter's prickly pride or a plasma's moods and spite. It is so simple even you dirt brains can use it, for the lasgun is a true friend to the race of man. One day you may be worthy to bear it."
The sergeant twirled the gun and squeezed the trigger. Each time there was a loud hum and bolts of light flashed. The straw dummy started to burn. The wood dummy had a divot blown out of it and a large black scorch mark. The dummy wearing the breastplate had a noticable hole.
"The lasgun will burn through armor kill its target. Some alien monstrosities will resist its righteous power. Shoot them again! They will succomb! Each time you pull the trigger, the lasgun will fire and smite an enemy of the Emperor. For those of you who can actually keep time, if you hold the trigger down this model with fire three shots a second! This weapon has killed more of the Emperor's enemies than all other hand weapons combined! You will be worthy of the mighty lasgun or you will die in training! Am I understood?"
"This is an knife, you Emperor denying maggots. It can attach it to your lasgun like this. Do you know why you have knives when you have a gun?"
"No, Sergeant!" the recruits yelled.
"Because we can't relying on you bunch of Emperor bedamned heathens not to fuck up shooting the enemy! Because in the 40 millenia of human history, all armies have had a use for the knife! And you will learn to love this knife.! In fact you will learn to love this knife more than the Emperor loves you! And do you know why!"
"Because the knife, unlike you, will be absolutely faithful. The knife will serve you better than you will serve the Emperor! Until you can match the faithfulness of this knife, you will not truly be members of the Imperial Guard. Form up for close combat drill!"
"Hey, buddy this your first drop?" said the soldier beside him.
"Yes," said Hethor.
"Don't sweat it," said the man beside him. "Too bad this isn't a mixed unit. A few women would make this ride easier. Say buddy, you got any tabac?"
"Yah, they gave us some a while back. Don't know why. Here, take it," he said passing the pack over.
"Thanks buddy," said the other soldier. He drew one out and flicked a match against his stubble. He tucked the pack away and took a long drag. "Ah. Got hooked on Menthas Minor. You one of the replacements?"
"Yes," he replied.
"There grabbing people from every shit hole and sticking people everywhere to bring regiments up to strength. Do you know what that means? Casualties, lots of them. They're losing people so fast they are mix and matching regiments because they can't get gear for new foundings fast enough. Get used to seeing people die around you, if we make it down."
"If we make it down?" asked Hethor.
"We're doing a hot landing in a drop pod. Maybe three out of four will make it to the ground. The rest will buy it from bad landings, malfunctions, and enemy fire. From the ways the navy boys talk, enemy fire is the least of your problems when riding these things." The veteran took a long drag on the stick. "Better smoke them if you've got them."
Trooper D'eckor walked through the village. "Heretical activity in this sector," the Commissar had said. "Scourge it clean," was her order. The vanguard had done that. They had reduced to village to a burnt out shells filled with charred corpses. Some of them were so tiny that they couldn't have been born live, but must have been cut from there mother's wombs.
Small lines of young women, naked, hobbled, and battered, had been trucked back from the front lines. The locals apparently had strong feelings about this kind of thing and after they were displayed through the surrounding regions they were sent to be slave-prostitutes for units rotating back from the frontline. The Imperial Commander wanted it to be clear he was taking a hard stance.
It bothered D'eckor. Places like this reminded him too much of home. But he was just too tired. He had seen too many people die near him, fired out into the darkness too many times, finished off too many wounded men. He was just wrung out. He kept slogging forward. Anyone not in Imperial uniform was an enemy to be killed and to do otherwise was to face the Commissar.
Corporal D'eckor pumped las blasts into the beast's torso. Sometime between blast four and five it decided to drop and be seriously injured. D'eckor kept shoting, putting the holes in its chest up to seven and added a double tap to the head. "Fuck this! There has got to be an easier way of killing them. "
He was given the chance of finding out a moment later. Another ork rounded the bend, a huge pistol in one hand, a thirty pound cleaving blade in the other. D'eckor shot it point blank in the face. Twice. It dropped. "Praise be to the Emperor, that's more fucking like it!"
"P'terson, you take point," he said singling out the greenest member of his squad. If someone was going to buy it, better him than a proven veteran. His first campaign had taught him that. In this, his second, he was putting it into practice.
P'terson scrambled ahead. The newbie was shaking like a leaf. He's not going to fucking make it, D'eckor analyzed. Might as well give him all the hazardous duties until someone more expendable came along.
The sound of the world's noisiest gang of hooligans reached him over the shelling. "Back," he snarled. "Fall back." The trenches were arrayed in a zig-zag pattern back when the Imperial Guard dug them before the orks took them. The bend's were the best defences available under these conditions.
The squad hustled back. P'terson tripped and was got half stuck in the mud for a moment. Fucking imbecile, Hethor thought. It was fatal. The Orks rounded the bend before P'terson hit cover. They riddled his body with bullets and he fell.
The squad returned fire. The had crouched down by the bend or gone prone for better cover. The greenskin lumbered forward, firing their big, unreliable guns and filling the air the bullets. The first one madie it half the distance before falling from las wounds.
The second got two steps further before Rawlin's kneecapped it. Hethor was up top, firing down into the trench on his belly. It was a lousy fucking position, but it gave him some cover from this bunch and a decent firing arc.
Number four took it in the face from Hass'n. She was a cold bitch, make no mistake, but she was a damn good fighter. Rumour had it that her squad was gang raped by a bunch of Menthans from 2nd battalion and she hadn't been the same since. The Menthans thought they owned the greenies and they stole, bullied, and abused them whenever they could. The fucking Commissar turned a blind eye, thought it was good that the men were being toughened up. Bitch. Hethor put one in number five' neck, another in his face, and another in what was left of his skull. The Ork toppled.
Number six was practically ontop of the guardsmen before it fell. Number seven's machine gun had jammed and he proceeded to try and bash Gregar's head in. Greg tripped and fell back. Hethor put three rounds into number eight's right arm, crippling it. It still came forward, wielding a huge chopper. Rawlin's put two in its' torso, which was covered in leather and mail. It didn't go down and buried it's chopper in Rawlin's chest. Hass'n finished off number six as Hethor put down number eight.
Nine shot Hass'n at point blank in the chest with a hand cannon. She slumped, maybe dead, maybe injured. Gregar pumped las bolts into it. Number ten reached for Hethor and yanked him into the trench by the barrel of his lasgun.
Emperor preserve me, D'eckor thought. D'eckor was big and damned strong, but the Ork had more than a foot on him and was even more powerfully built. It didn't have a gun, it having discarded it for either jamming or running out of ammo some time in the past. The chopper in its hand was more than enough to finish the fight.
D'eckor sprung forward. He had learned that the Orks had a few good points. Their gear was unreliable, their supply methods were a joke, they were stupid as well as cunning, and they were slow. The Ork had been moving up to finish a human scrambling away. D'eckor collided with it, inside the reach of its chopper.
D'eckor moved. In a second the Ork would grab or batter him with it's free hand and then finish him with the chopper. That was unavoidable. So he stabbed his knife deep into the muscles of the Ork's right bicep and twisted. The ork flinched back, taking his knife with it.
The green skin grunted and tried to lift its' chopper. It succeeded. Hethor butted it in the jaw with his helmet, breaking teeth. It grunted and slapped him with its left hand. Hethor realed back. Damn, I thought that would be worse, he thought. It ain't so tough. Rawlin's lasgun was nearby.
The ork transfered its chopper to its other hand, leaving the knife still sticking in the wound. Hethor swung the lasgun in a swift arc. The but shattered on contact with the Ork's skull, but the greenskin dropped. Hethor looked around. The other Ork was down, its torso an oozing ruin. So was Gregar. The Ork in front on him stirred and tried to get up. D'eckor kicked back down and then stomped it in the face.
He applied his boot a dozen more times. Then he ripped his knife out of its arm and went to work.
D'eckor swirled the amber liquid in his glass and studied his cards for the third time. The Emperor had not intervened and the hand was still a dog. He sipped some the substance that the local's alleged was whiskey and threw the cards in. The tension dropped noticeably among his fellow gamblers. D'eckor leaned back in his chair. He was the lord of all he surveyed.
The CO of the firebase was a colonel, but he rarely left his dugout and was probably on something most of the time. The commissar was a liability and was probably going to get scragged sooner or later. The dumb fuck had gotten too many soldiers killed to be tolerated. Most of the officers were slightly less useless.
But Sergeant D'eckor came back with more men and killed more of the enemy than anyone else. That his killbag included the previous commissar (false, that had really been the enemy) and a green lieutenant (false, it was a lieutenant and the major) was widely rumoured. Nobody said anything. D'eckor was hard, but he brought his boys back. And some numbers that made the officers look better.
The commissar came in. Everybody stood up and saluted, even Hethor. The commissar walked up to him. He was young and a little scrawny, with a fanatic's gleam in his eye. Rumour had it he had been shot six times by orks at close range and survived. Hethor had talked with a medicae and knew better. It was seven times.
"Sergeant, I want you to round up two squads of men."
"Yes commissar. In what way shall we serve the Emperor?" Commissars' ate this shit up. So did Colonel Maddox.
"I will brief you in half an hour," said the commissar.
I can have them in five minutes, idiot thought Hethor. What he said was "Yes commissar." He didn't need the briefing. The commissar's attempt at maintaining need to know was laughable. It was another sweep and kill mission through the highlands, using a variation of one of the three routes. The bonehead officers were only slightly smarter than Orks. Maybe he should frag the colonel, get some new blood here. Couldn't be any worse than the current lot, thought Hethor, deciding the issue. This pointless stalemate was going to continue until it killed him unless he did something about it.
Brutal, bloody, pointless stalemate. For six months the brass had been dreaming up of new offensive to break through the enemy line. Four bloody failures. Four failures to break the line, four failures, to punch through and attack the planetary defense batteries. Four failures to weaken the enemy enough to bring the navy in the war. Four failures to get closer to victory.
You didn't need to be a genius to figure out that there was going to be attempt number five in the near future. Hethor knew when his regiment got rotated near the front that it was their turn to bleed and die. The chances of him getting his ass shot off because a general who only understood frontal assault was going to fail to learn for a fifth time was far too high.
There were some other clues which did not bode well. Those stuck up "elite" stormtroopers were patrolling in squads lead by junior commissars. The placement and coverage of heavy stubbers and multilasers batteries was also less than reassuring. Someone, probably a commissar, understood these suicide charges were less than popular with the troops. Hethor considered his options and decided now was the time to "volunteer" to lead a sweep and kill mission through the woods. It was a death trap crawling with enemy troops, but at least his life wouldn't be in the hands of the jackass general in charge of this operation.
"Sergeant D'eckor!" sounded from behind him. A green louie with fancy shoulderboards was standing behind him, along with several other officers and . . . . .Colonel Stran. What in the Emperor's name was Stran doing here? These guys weren't in his regiment.
"Yes sir!" said D'eckor, saluting as the officers approached.
"You and your platoon have been selected for a special assignment. Assemble them at point Upsilon three in one hour!"
"Yes sir!" Replied D'eckor. Maybe the bone heads were going to send him into the woods after all. But assembling in the daylight? Trust the brass to fuck up a stealth mission. They were going to make it damn hard for him not to get killed in this ratfuck of a mission.
Hethor got his boys and girls over to the martialing area. They probably hated his guts but they knew survival rates in Hethor's platoon compared to everyone else's. If Hethor could just manage to avoid having them assign another lieutenant, everything would be golden.
There were a lot of troops over here. A quick glance told him that a good third were stormtroopers and commissar cadets and the rest were light infantry. The Emperor have mercy. They're going to have us assualt something. But there was something wrong here. Too much brass. Why were they here to get their asses shot off? They were far too close to the heretics' guns.
The hatch of an unfamiliar armoured vehicle opened and Hethor's question was answered. The figure that emerged was huge. His dark green armour added even more bulk to his frame. Metal studds glinted on his forehead. Even without the armour, he must have been as massive as a bull ork.
"Soldiers of the Emperor," the demi-god shouted. The chosen of the Emperor's voice carried like he was hooked up to a vox projector. "We are the Dark Angels! We will lead you to victory over the heretic scum who dare raise their hands against our beloved Emperor. Bow! Bow and give thanks to the Emperor that you will have the privalege of acting as His instruments of punishment."
"The Emperor knows that you are weak. The Emperor knows that you are not the equal of his Space Marines. The Emperor will allow you to prove your worth to him by slaying his enemies. For with service to the Emperor, redemption is possible! Soldiers of the Empire, prepare to follow the Dark Angels into battle and to victory! All hail the Emperor!"
Eight demi-squads of Dark Angels lead the way through the woods. More than a thousand Imperial Guard troopers tried to keep up with two score Space Marines. Marine scouts had already been at work, the grisly evidence of their skills littered through the forest like leaves in autumn. It wasn't until they closed with the enemy lines that there was any resistance.
Hethor heard the shots and overran the destroyed positions. With their autosenses, auspexes, and augmented abilites, the Astartes found and killed nests of the enemy without pause. The skirmish line gunned down heretic soldiers on the run, firing and moving with superb accuracy. The barely slowed to finish the wounded, stomping on skulls with their armoured feet.
Hethor hustled his people forward. The commissars were in the back and the Marines only had eyes for the front. A small knot of the enemy managed to survive the Marine's initial volley. D'eckor's platoon added their fire to that of the Marines. None of the return fire came their way. The few feeble shots were fired at the Marines, with the only hit grazing a shoulder guard. The Astartes continued their advance.
The Marines continued to push forward. Eventually they stopped to allow the Guard to catch up as their scouts continued to work ahead. Hethor's people had barely gotten their breath back before the Marines pushed on again. They were in the enemy's part of the woods now and Hethor understood the plan.
The forest was impassable to most vehicles. Almost all the defenses would be anti-infantry with the most of the anti-tank placed well away, along the gap where four previous Guard assaults had drowned in blood. Anti-infantry weapons against the Astartes? They would cut through and shred the defenders, rolling them up from the flanks. That's why all the vets and the stormtroopers. Not to prevent the force from breaking, but to insure that they Astartes had the support necessary to win.
Adrenaline flowed through his body. He wasn't being sent to die. He was being sent to kill.
The Astartes barely hesitated at the forest's edge. A few quick orders deployed them in a spear point with the Guard on the flanks. Missle launchers lashed out at weapon emplacements as the other Astartes fired frag grenades from their bolters into anything resembling a strong point. As their battle brothers laid down a hail of murderous fire, a score advanced at a run towards the enemy lines.
Guard forced poured more fire in. "Charge," yelled an officer or commissar, Hethor couldn't tell which. His men stormed foreward. The Space Marines had first targeted the few anti-armour weapons and they had more than succeeded. Shattered multilasers and heavy stubbers gave mute testimony to the deadly effectiveness of the Space Marine gunners. The Astartes in the lead drew most of the remaining fire, but it was spotty and inaccurate. Anyone taking a shot at the Astartes risked a lethal return volley from his battle brothers.
The charging Marines hurled grenades with all the might of their augmented arms. They landed in fox holes and gun pits, shredding flesh. They landed in front of the firing slits of bunkers, blocking them with billowing smoke. They were followed up by a hail of deadly bolter fire and charging Astartes. Nothing survived.
As the first battle brother hit the line, the other half advanced under the covering fire provided by their batle-brothers. Imperial Guard fire teams remained, suppressing what little pockets of resistance remained. The charging Marines fired from the hip at anyone who dared to target them. That any of their shots hit at all was testimony to their accuracy. There were a lot of hits. The Astartes had killed more than five times their number and had yet to loose a man.
Hethor hit the line just ahead of the Marine second wave. The bulk of their armour did nothing to hinder their speed. Hethor's platoon stormed through the gunnery pits, finishing the dead and the dying, and securing the area for reinforcements.
The Astartes continued their advance. Ahead lay the artillery batteries, unprotected by the shattered defensive line. The line had been broken, but the Marines had yet to rip through the exposed units. Hethor moved up to support the Astartes. There was a lot of killing to be done and the Astartes could only carry so much ammo.
Hethor stroked the gorget he had earned all those years ago, fighting along side the Dark Angels. He had seen then and there what it was to be truly be a soldier of the Emperor. He had not forgotten.
He was almost jolted out of his seat by the bump. It was almost over here. His regiment had been chewed up again and again. They were down to fewer than half their numbers and the campaign was almost over. One last push, that was what the colonel said. One last push.
The Governor's palace had to be taken intact. Minimum damage. Hethor didn't know why and didn't care. He just knew that the job had to be done.
So here he was sitting in an advancing Chimera while artillery plastered the palace with blind and frag shells. It was the usual "full ahead charge" Guard assault favored by far too many commanders. D'eckor knew better and held them in contempt. He was going to bring about victory regardless of the incompetence of his superiors.
"Sarge," said Krain. "Can I have your tabac?" D'eckor's face was impassive as he tossed the pack to Krain. Krain was a steady man, but he was weak. His indulged in a vice that weakened him on the field of battle. Hethor had no tolerance of those in himself, but knew that there was only so much his men would put up with.
The multilaser and heavy bolters were firing now. They were getting close now. The Chimera shook as something clanged off of its hull. Hethor checked his rifle again. He was using the Triplex model instead of the rapid fire Necromundia pattern carbine. He jacked the level to full power. Hethor favored one shot kills over spray and pray, at least with small arms. Of course, not very many people were as steady as he was in a fight.
The signal went off. The Chimera's hatch swung open as the grenade launchers fired. Hethor ran into the smoke and chaos of battle.
Hethor lead his men through the smoke across the palace grounds. The thunder of battle raged all around them as the Chimeras and support teams tried to take out every enemy shooter. Fire came back from the windows and the gaps in the walls as the traitors resisted. Four of the Imperial tanks were already burning.
Hethor pointed. "Zash, hit it!" The trooper pumped a frag grenade into the gap in the palace's side. There was some kind of stubber emplaced there. The grenade landed just in fron, spraying shrapnel. Hethor pumped full strength laser shots in. Kal and Nerek pumped full auto volleys inside. The stubber fired back, chewing up Caldreth's legs. The emplacement exploded as Zash put another frag grenade in, this time directly on target. Ammo and something else exploded.
Hethor lunged forward, Lenns coming just behind. Las fire continued to flash in and no enemy fire came out. Lenns closed the range and opened up with his flamer. Screams came from within. Hethor waited a moment and then chucked in another grenade. There was a dull whump as it went off. The guardsmen followed their sergeant inside.
Two traitors were still twitching. The wore a mix of metal and leather, remnants of some cult force. Hethor finished each one with a high power shot to the head and switched his power cell. "Take us forward Kal," Hethor ordered.
Kal stuck his head out the door and promptley fell back twitching with a hole in his head. "Fuck!" swore Hethor. He bounced a smoke out the door and down the corridor. For good measure he tossed one the other way. He ducked low and popped out.
It was a long corridor, at least a hundred meters as far as he could see. Several traitors were retreating from other rooms that faced the advancing guard, obviously pulling back in the face of the Guard assault. He could see the bright boy who punched Kal's ticket, one of the Scravian Elite. He was still very pretty with his shiny metal breastplate, vambraces, and greaves over flak armour and his fancy mirror faced helmet. He was also faster than D'eckor and a good shot. The bolt from the Scravian's carbine punched through Hethor's flak armour over his right shoulder.
Which is why Hethor was using a max powered Triplex. The Scravians wore good armour and favored a high cycle rate but low powered carbine for close quarters work. With their heavy armor there was less chance of serious friendly fire issues when they filled the air with lasbolts. The looted mesh tunic he was wearing under the flak jacket drank up most of the rest of shot, although it hurt like hell. Hethor's return shot blew a hole in his chest and Hethor put another one into the chest before he toppled, just to be sure.
The retreating traitors had an inkling they were being flanked when Hethor's boys joined him in putting las rounds into them. Nerek pumped fire in the other direction. In moments the Eastern Promenade of the Grand Palace of Illizak, ancient home and headquarters to the Imperial Commander of the Tannezed System was empty of all life except for those who wore the emblems of the Imperial Guard.
Hethor checked around the corner with mirror. Several bolts flickered down the corridor, one of them hitting the mirror, causing it to explode. So much for shaving.
"Bad?" asked Gellmenn.
"Bad. Fucking Scravians. Improvised barricade. At least six of 'em. Maybe 30 meters back. Fuck the Governor's Grand fucking Promenade. And either they can shoot or worse, they're fucking lucky."
Hanto cracked a grin. "Hey sarge, too bad we can't borrow a Terminator with an assault cannon for, say ten seconds."
Hethor scowled. "One battle brother with a bolter, five seconds. Tops." He paused for a moment. "Okay, enough fucking around. Those fucking Scravians aren't going to kill themselves."
Hethor checked his weapons. Knife. Triplex Rifle. Frag grenades. Blind grenade. Two krak grenades. Stubber. Las pistol. Everything loaded and ready to go. Now he just needed a plan that wouldn't involve getting everyone killed. What would a Dark Angel do?
Direct frontal attack on such a well defended position? No, they were brave not stupid. Something to even the odds. Hethor looked up at the soot stained ceiling with it massive stained glass windows set in gilded, baroque frames. Most of the windows were shattered now, jagged chunks of glass clutching empty frames. He looked back down the long hall with generations of Imperial Commanders memorialized on pedestal mounted white marble busts, now scored the shrapnel and lasfire. Hethor smiled. He had an idea.
Nek attached the demo charge and backed away. Heth could always be relied upon to pull his boys and girls through any mess and this one was no exception. Standing to close to him could be hazardous. "Fire in the Hole!" he yelled. He backed behind the wall and triggered the explosive.
Debris blew through the doorway in a thunderous cloud of smoke. Damn that blast was loud. Nek and Gellmenn looked back in. Yep they had blasted through the wall. The grass was nice and green out there, because the Guard wasn't assaulting from this side. The shear cliff just beyond the palace grounds probably had something to do with that. Clutching their sacks, the two men exited and edged along the wall.
"Are we there?" Nek asked.
"About so," said Gellmenn. He looked up. "Hey the windows are still intact." Above him towered a eight meter high depiction of the Emperor vanquishing xenos.
"What do we do?" Nek asked.
"He'll expect us to do our duty," said Gellman as he raised his lasgun. He didn't feel good about this. [i]God-Emperor, Master of Mankind, forgive me[/i]. He fired. Las bolts tore the beautiful image of the Emperor apart. For good measure Gellmenn cleared out the adjoining frames, bearing the images of Sebastian Thor and Rogal Dorn. Rainbow shards fell to earth.
"Let's do it," said Gellmenn retreating several steps. Both he and Nek reached into their bags and threw in a high arc. Inside, deadly flowers of steel shrapnel erupted around the barricade.
Hethor rolled out and fired as the grenades burst around the Scravians. Little J poured out full auto on his carbine and charged. Hethor watched with awe. He's even crazier than I am! He sergeant hustled forward to the fucking inadequate cover provided the nearest niche. Inadequate was better than none.
Zash began to pump fire from his grenade launcher down towards the Scravians. Two of them were returning fire. Hethor shot one of them in the head. Krain had dashed to the other side of the corridor and was advancing that way. Fuck this was a mess!
Hethor hustled to the next niche, snapping off a shot as he ran. The return fire was still spotty and inaccurate. Several of Hethor's boys were pumping fire forward, trying to suppress the Scravians's fire. As Hethor closed he learned one thing: there was a lot more than six of the fuckers.
It went to hell in an instant. Just as the grenade from outside ceased, Zash scored a direct hit on a Scravian with his launcher. Good, another down and shrapnel in the area where Hethor wanted it to be. Then some Scravian fucker and stitched Krain up good when he was still in the open. Krain went down.
Little J put the fucker down but another Scravian had an underbarrel grenade launcher on his las. He sent a round back towards Hethor's fire support. Then another Scravian hit little Little J. The shot caught him high in the chest and he staggered. Hethor put the shooter down hard with his Triplex. Two other Scravians stitched up J real bad. At least a half dozen hits to the torso. At close range. Little J went down hard. There was no way short of direct intervention by Lion El Johnson that Little J was going to get back up ever again.
Hethor burned down one of the Scravians. The other fired wildly. It was hard to shoot straight when your target was shooting back. It wasn't a big problem for everyone. Hethor, for example. He punched two shots into the Scravian, almost severing his right arm and blowing open his left lung. The Scravian spun and fell.
Hethor was close now. He fired low, just over the barricade as he charged. His shots kept their heads down as his power cell bled dry. He dropped the las and drew his pistol.
He shot the first one in the chest. And again and again and again. The fucker then decided to fall. Even at point blank, a laspistol only blasted small holes in flesh after burning through all that armour. He shot the next one in the neck and got a much more satisfying result. To bad that the Scravian shot him twice in the chest. Holy Emperor, it hurt. Both men fell.
There was only one left, a Scravian with an officer's red piping. He raised a beautiful curved sword over his head-
And was cut down by half a dozen shots from Hethor's boys. "You lose," Hethor snarled.
Hethor raised the glass and drank. The sweet orange juice mixed in meant that the grain alcohol actually tasted like something. He gulped half the glass and put it down. Praise the Emperor, he needed that.
A woman walked in. She was all wrong for this place. While not quite dirty, this place wasn't exactly clean either. It's customers had more than a few rough edges and the bouncers were big and earned their paychecks.
She was simply dressed, but their was something classy about her that didn't fit. Her dark hair was tied up with a short braid. There were grey strands here and there and crowfeet around her eyes. A slight smile on her lips. She was pretty good looking for a broad her age. She pulled out the chair on the other end of the table and spun it around. She sat down, leaning forward over the chair's back.
"I didn't tell you you could sit here," said Hethor coldly. He didn't know what the fuck was going on, but there was no way he was going into it blindly.
"A little early for that," she said waving at his glass. She smiled, showing teeth that were way too good. She had to have serious juice to have teeth that good around here and most people of her age with that kind of juice had gotten scragged. The Arbites had spent three days shooting their prisoners. That meant she was probably from offworld.
"A man with responsibilities like yourself, getting drunk this early in the day. Might cost you your position as foreman if you keep going this way."
"Fuck you bitch," Hethor replied. He would have to get pretty ragged before they would fire him.
"Of course, with your sideline as a bonebreaker for a moneylender, you do have another job. You could do your drinking somewhere better."
"Fuck you twice, bitch" he answered. You didn't need to go to someplace fancy to get blitzed. And there you couldn't kick ass.
"How are the memories sergeant?" she asked. "Lot of dead you are carrying with you. Did a lot of service to the Imperium."
Hethor stood up, his face contorting in rage. She knew way too much about him. At the bar a weedy man stood up straight. He was with her, but too small to be muscle, unless he was really good muscle. She could afford really good muscle. She put something on the table, uncovered it for a moment, and then picked it up. It was an Inquisitional rosette. He was truly fucked.
"The campaign was over, the worlds retaken. They didn't bother with the smashed regiments, did they sergeant? How many hundred men left in yours? Two, three? Out of a founding of full strength of how many thousand? Not worth it to ship you somewhere you were needed and build you back to strength, so they discharged you. How many years did you serve sergeant?" She must have already known the answer.
"How many of the Emperor's enemies did you kill sergeant?"
"I lost count. After fifty three, I stopped counting." He had been at fifty three when he saw the Dark Angels.
"So here you are, a discarded piece of the mighty Imperial War Machine, fighting, drinking, gambling, and fucking yourself to death," she said.
"What do you want?" he asked
"I want you to serve the Imperium again sergeant. Very few men swept the basement levels."
"We didn't sweep 'em," his throat was dry. He didn't want to think about there again. "We just secured the entrance for a special purge team."
"Yes," she replied. "That's were things go wrong. They were supposed to be swept before they were burned, but that didn't happen. The inquisitor who should have seen to it was killed by a booby trap earlier in the day and the Monodominant fool told no one of what he wanted. So everything got burned, without it being investigated. The purge team's identity isn't even recorded. The disposition of the 322nd Menthian Strikers is."
"What do you want with me?" he rasped.
"Something is stirring and it has a foothold in the palace. It was exactingly rebuilt. A need a tough man who can show me the way and Hethor D'eckor, you are that man."
"Who are you?" Hethor asked.
"I am Kyra Neven and my companion is Jolan Gix. Welcome back into the Emperor's service."
The temple was the biggest place he had ever seen. Even here, during dark cycle the holos on the ceiling were beautiful. It was kind of scary. All big and dark and empty. And he was still hungry.
"When are we going to eat mama?" he cried.
She hugged him. "Soon, Anjun, soon. Mama just has to do something to get us food. Now you stay here and I'll be back soon." She kissed him on the forehead and hustled down the isle. The priest in his shiny red robe with all the gold was there. He and mama talked for a little big and then went behind the altar.
Anjun fidgited. He had been told to stay put, but he was bored. He would go check on mama and asked. He crept up, being real careful. There were some strange noises coming from behind the altar. Anjun peaked around the side and saw the priest had his robe open and his mama was kneeling in front of him. What has going on?
His moma saw him and stopped what she was doing. The priest slapped mama and said, "I don't care. Finish if you want the food chit." A tear rolled down mama's cheek.
"Hey," said Anjun.
The man didn't look up from the candies spread across the table.
"I was wondering, if I could, you know, step up," said Anjun.
"Step up?" His voice contained no warmth. Just the icy chill of drawn steel.
"Well, running and look out is okay, but I need more cred. I can do deliveries. And sell. I'm good with numbers," he said.
"Trusting you with a package is a big step," said the man. "Don't fuck it up. Your mother hasn't hit rock bottom yet and you have a long way to fall."
"That means I can?" he asked excitedly.
"Vren, get him a package. We got a new merchant."
Anun jinked right and fired back. The autopistol sprayed small calibre soft nosed slugs in his attacker's general direction. The hive rat ducked back behind a corner as Chou hot footed into an alley. He could here them coming behind him. A crossbow dart wizzed past him, missing by a handspan. The young ganger leaped into a recessed doorway and returned fire.
That sent the hive rats leaping for cover behind piles of garbage. Hands shaking, Anjun ejected the clip on the autopistol. He grabbed a new clip, almost dropped it and fumbled as he inserted it into the butt of his gun. In the middle of this process, one of the hive rats decided to rush him.
The ganger was almost on top of him. He was shorter and scrawnier than Chou, who wasn't the tallest man he knew by a long shot and liked to think of himself as lean. The hive rat's teeth were rotten and his rags stank. Chou put a dozen bullets into his chest. The hive rat shook at the impacts and fell, his torso red ruin. The other fired a handbow at Anjun's head. The bolt skittered off the wall by his head.
Anjun fired back. One of his slugs went in through the hive rat's left eye and blew out the back of his skull. He fell. Chou looked out. No one else was out there. He slipped out of the alley, hugging the shadows. He had protected his turf and High Ones woud be pleased. He might be able to move up soon, or get more territory. He was whistling as he headed home.
Anjun was awed by the club. Hidden beneath one of the hive stacks it was the most opulent building he had ever been in, even grander than the Ecclesiastical Cathedral. Holos flashed and revolved on the ceiling and crawled along the walls, changing too rapidly for one to be quite sure about what you saw. Their was music, not church music, and it was loud and stired the blood. People danced, wearing a fortune or practicaly nothing, or both. Drugs and booze flowed freely. He had found paradise.
He knew where he was supposed to go, but he couldn't see it through the crowd. Pushing his way through, he finally spotted the High One. Anjun slithered through the mass, heading his way. A wall of muscle blocked his path. "I'm Anjun," he shouted over the music. "He wanted to see me." The muscle moved.
The High One was attended by three women. One wore skin tight armour and wore spring talons. A las was in easy reach. Another wore glittery gold fabric and was sniffing 'blot through through an ivory tube embossed with gold. The third was maybe fourteen with metallic hair. She was naked, except for some paint, and giggling. The High One didn't notice him for a moment and then gestured for him to sit.
Chou was wearing his most glitz clothes, but he knew he was like a scavy to the High One. The High One was at least a little drunk. "Chou, you earn well. Real well. And you only steal a little. That means your smart. And your smooth. We're going to move you up."
Anjun's draw jumped. He was going to become a boss. A distributer. People would come to him for packages. 'Who's territory?" he asked.
The boss looked at him for a moment. "No, not like that. We're going to move you up," he said pointing to the sealing. "Gone wheel and deal with the top level. Become their friends and their suppliers. Higher return, less risk. Make us all more money, make some uplevel friends for us. You can never have enough uplevel friends. You do this right, you got a big future." Chou sat there dazed, stars in his eyes.
Anjun was walking home, a joy girl under one arm and a joy boy under the other when the raid happened. A shot banged out, ricocheting against an Arbites Rhino. That drew Anjun's attention to the scene happening way down the avenue, during the darklight hour. The Arbites were after something, mutants or heretics most likely. It didn't matter. Their response was predictable.
Combat shotguns opened up. Pintel mounted storm bolters raked the building. A larger vehicle opened up with multiple autocannons. The arbites poured fire and flame into the building for a full minute. When they were finished the front half was gone and the back half was burning. The Arbite's silhouettes were visible against the fire's glow as they swept for any survivors.
They drove away after a few minutes. Two buildings were cratered from autocannon rounds going through the wreckage and hitting another building. One of them was beginning to burn. The Adeptus didn't care. The priests didn't care. The nobles didn't care. The Imperial Commander didn't care. Why should Anjun Chou?
"Alexos!" Anjun sauntered over to the noble. They exchanged a complicated series of hand gestures. "Nice party."
The young noble extended his arms. "Welcome to my palace." There were scores of nobles sprawled among the cushions of the cavernous rooms. Each one was attended by at least two hangers on attending to his or her debauched needs. Lascivious holos danced through the room, some of them performing rather improbable acts of intercourse.
The young noble pulled Anjun closer. "Do you have the stuff?"
"Yah. No prob."
"Good. We're ah . . . .using it a little faster than I thought."
No shit, thought Anjun. This lot could snort through a mountain of drugs the size of a spyre in a weekend. "No prob. I was able to get some more stuf. You'll know better for next time."
Alexus smiled broadly. His teeth were inlaid with mother of pearl. "Yeah, I guess I will." He put his arm around Chou's shoulders. "But for now enjoy the party. As my personal guest." He steered Chou towards a low table. Silk clab beauties reclining there rose to meet them.
Anjun knocked back another drink. It was his fourth. He had been doing that a lot since his mother died, but fuck it, what was better? Drugs, booze, and sex were only temporary solutions, but they would do for now. It didn't affect his work. Hell, it was half of his work. The up level boys and girls loved him and the cred flowed.
"Mind if I join you?" a bass voice rumbled. He was distinctive, even in the bar's poor light. A huge bastard, muscled like a grox with shaved head and the aquila tattooed on his forehead. Light brown skin, definitely unusual in these parts. His tunic and pants were clean and nice, but nothing special.
"Who are you?" Anjun asked.
"A man with a proposition," the big man replied.
"What is that?" Chou responded.
"I've heard that your hooked in pretty good uplevel. That you make more money for the High Ones than most territories. Yet you aren't even a boss."
"So? Not that I'm saying its true?"
"You won't ever be a boss. They're all someone's nephew or son or some shit like that. If you marry in and your son's a good earner, your grandson has a shot. But you, you've gone as high as you can go. Your smooth enough of a chameleon that you can blend and make money, but that's it. You're done. You're just waiting to be discarded."
Anjun saw red. It was true, he fucking knew it was true. That didn't mean he liked it. He reached inside his jacket and found his wrist pinned by the big man. The big man squeezed and he let go of the gone. The big man spoke again.
"You're dead meat. I can kill you here or feed you to the Arbites. But there is a way out."
"Not smart," the man said as he shot chew with a digital needler. He tapped the microbead in his ear. "Coming out with the package." He through chew over his shoulder and walked towards the door. His las pistol was ready to discourage heroics, but at this hour there were no heroes. Only drunks. He disappeared into the night.
The big bastard was there, smiling grimly. So was a slim woman wearing a form fitting black body glove. The third figure was an olive skinned man in up level clothing. He looked pretty tasty, but Chou didn't think he would be game. The fourth commanded his attention. She was middle aged, dark hair shot with strand of grey.
"Welcome back to consciousness Anjun Chou."
"Who are you?" Chou knew better than to run his mouth. These people could vape him anytime they wanted.
The woman smiled. "I am Kyra Neven. Sergeant D'eckor you have already met and this-" she pointed at the looker, "is Jolan Gix. You are going to bring Jolan to some of those debauched functions you service."
"Why?" he asked. She looked at him strangely.
"Not why should I do it, but why do you need me? You have the money to get yourself on the guest list if you want in."
"We need you to vouch for him so they won't check him throughy. Jolan Gix may be pretending to be a prosperous younger scion of a Mercantalis family, but he is actually a member of the Inquisition."
"Inquisition?" he gapped.
"Yes. I am Inquisitor Kyra Neven." She produced her rosette.
"Word will have gotten out about me being taken," said Anjun. Anything to talk his way out of this rat fuck in the making. "I won't be any good to you."
"Word has indeed leaked out about an Arbites raid. Fortunately you weren't there and there are no witnesses to contradict that statement. Of course, if you aren't useful to us in this matter, then you know too much. Are you useful Anjun Chou?"
Severa maneuvered the ponderous Gothic class cruiser in a broad turn, taking it out of the broadside fire arc of the Murder class. The Gothic class ship poured heavy fire from its powerful gun decks into the heretic ship as the Lunar class came along side and blew down the void shields with its gun decks and lance batteries. The Murder class burned as the Imperial vessels turned toward the other traitor cruisers, which had been dispersed by the Imperial torpedo volley.
The door opened. "I'm home!" cried out a strong male voice. The girl froze the holosimulation and ran across the room. A man in his mid thirties wearing the great coat of a naval officer stood in the doorway.
"Daddy!" she practically leaped into his arms. He picked her up and hugged her.
"How's daddy's big girl?" he asked.
She giggled. "I'm winning daddy!"
"Really?" he asked gently.
She wiggled lose and he lowered her gently to the ground. She yanked his arm. "Come and see."
He let his daughter drag him into the other room. He took a look at the projection. "So you are honey. So you are."
She heard the door open behind her. "Your still mad at your mother?" he asked. He stepped onto the terrace, closing it behind him. She didn't answer.
"Throne, that's a beautiful sunset," he continued. "It's one of the reasons your mother and I wanted these quarters. Up above the bustle of the city, with a gorgeous view and a lot of room. Good place to raise a family."
He put his hand on her shoulder. She had grown over the last year. She wasn't much shorter than he was. "Listen honey, I know its tough. I'm not around often, it's difficult being your age, but you're tough. It's all right to be upset or angry, but just ease up a little on your mother. She has to go through enough-"
Her bitter laughter interrupted him. "Go through enough? How would you know? You're never here. And she doesn't miss you. She whores around when you're away! She's was with him yesterday!"
He rested his arms on the railing. "I know," he said softly. "The navy isn't all glamor, and danger, and hard work. It's a long time spent in places where you can't bring your family. It's hard to be alone for all that time. A lot of navy officers have quarters for mistresses. Some admirals have whole harems that travel with them."
He paused for a moment. "Your mother and I, we don't ask and we don't judge. When we are together, we use that time. And what we do when we're away, the other doesn't need to know about. Whatever gets us through the long lonely stretches, that's not anyone else's business. So if your mad at your mother about that, you better be mad at me as well."
He kissed her on the forehead. "Be well, my strong beautiful daughter. Whatever you decide to do, I am sure you will make me proud. Now I am going inside so I can help your mother set up for the party. Join us when you're ready."
Severa considered taking another piece of cake. She'd pay for it latter, that's for sure. She didn't have her sister's lithe build and forest fire metabolism. She was heavier set, more like her father. She wasn't carrying too much in the way of extra meat, most of what she possessed was muscle. But next to her sister she always felt big and clumsy. What the hell. She scooped up the piece.
"Isn't she beautiful? She's glowing."
"Yes mother," Severa replied. She was trying hard to not to be jealous. It was a happy occasion and it was her sister's day. And it wasn't like Elena wasn't a decent person, but everything came to her so easily.
Severa watched her mother drift away, talking with her friends. A voice called out from behind her. "Hey Sever."
She turned around. Another cadet in dress uniform stood there. There wasn't a shortage of Navy families at this wedding. She greeted her classmate by his nickname. "Hey Jinx."
"Your sister's quite the looker. Too bad she's being taken out of the running. Lucky bastard- Owe!" He rubbed his arm where Severa hit him. "There wasn't any need for that Sever."
She smiled. "In your opinion."
He smiled weakly. "Hey, some of are getting together for a little get together tomorrow night. Are you gonna show? You don't have the excuse of having to study this time."
"Come on. We're on break and it won't last long. You're a good girl all year. Cut loose just once."
"Querrin's. 1500 tomorrow. Be there.
The music was slightly below deafening level and the booze flowed like atmosphere going out the side of a torpedoed cruiser. Maybe a third of the people were navy. Friends, relatives, hanger oners, and complete strangers had found there way in and were now partying with the rest.
Jinx was dancing with a pretty girl (much prettier than her, Severa admitted), a petite dark haired thing. He had been making the moves all night and was having some success. Severa took another sip of her drink. It was cool, fruity, and had a nice bite. Chaos take her if she knew it's name, but it was good.
Someone tapped her arm. It was Deadman. "Hey Sever. What are you doing here all by yourself and not shaking it on the floor. Wanna dance?"
"You're on flyboy," she replied. He took her whirling out onto the floor.
"Damn, you can really move," he said.
"My mother's fault," she shouted back. "Dance lessons." She nearly bumped into Carlyle, one of Chess's flunkies. He gave her a dirty look. Well rape him and their whole "Old Family" crowd. They'd look better if they actually worked harder, instead of relying on blue blood. She was Navy going back ten generations. She worked her ass off to get near the top of her class. What right did they have to look down at her?
The song ended and she bowed out to go to the bathroom. It took her a good five minutes, the line was so long. By the time she was back the fighter jock was gone, probably dancing with another lady. She took another drink. She smiled as she sipped it. The night was still young.
Severa groaned. Her skull throbbed in agony. She tried to get up, failed. She didn't recall drinking that much. Not enough for this. Not that she could remember much. She tried to get up again. Succeeded.
She didn't recognize the bedroom. And she was undressed. Her clothes were scattered about the room. And she ached. Really badly. She put on her clothes and staggered out. She got a cab and headed home.
She dodged her mother and headed into the bathroom. Clinically she examined herself. She was bruised on her arms and her legs. She was bleeding and sore between her legs. She dreaded to look.
She cleaned herself up as much as she was able. She dried her tears and pretended nothing much was wrong for the rest of break. But her eyes told a different story.
She caught the looks in classes and in the halls. People knew. Not everyone, but the Old Families. She could see it in their eyes, in their thinly veiled snickers. Someone had drugged her and then they had raped her and who was so high and mighty now?
Her gaze was cold. Her blood was ice. Her heart blazed with fury and indignation. She would not be broken. She was a Valen.
Proctor Hessen walked into the infirmary. It smelled heavily of antiseptic. There was the usual training and horse play injuries and then there were the more unusual cases. Like the three last beds on the row.
Their bodies were almost completely covered in casts. Bones throughout their bodies had to be reset. And that was just the beginning. The broken bones made them unsuitable candidates for the skin grafting surgeries that they all needed. The delay wouldn't help, or so he had been told.
The reedy man turned towards him. "Proctor."
"How long will their recovery take?"
"Another month for the bones and then there is the skin graft and the recovery period. I'm afraid there is no help to it proctor. They're going to have to repeat the term."
"Their fathers won't like it."
"With all do respect proctor, the ability of the human body to heal and recover is beyond the ability of their fathers to control. And we both know why they are here."
It wasn't said, of course. There was a reason why no one saw the mask wearing assailants who stormed the shower after the cadets' rec class and beat them severely, but not fatally. The temp regulator that had malfunctioned for a short period of time and bombarded their broken bodies with scalding water had also been no accident.
There were suspects, of course. The boys had coasted and bullied using their fathers' and uncles' rank. Of course, everyone had an alibi. The cadet core had an ancient way of leveling transgressions and it had clearly swung into action. What could they have possibly done to deserve this?
It didn't matter now. The investigation had dead ended. Whoever had done it had covered their tracks too well and cut the winds from these boys sails. They would still have careers and most of their wounds would heal. Their fathers would have to be content with that.
Severa listened as Gherhardt Ferr gave his speech. He had been first and fair enough, he had earned it. And to be fair, his speech was better than hers would have been.
Jinx squeezed her elbow. "How much do you think he beat you by?"
"Dunno. Not much, I hope."
Her friend smiled back. Emperor Above, it was good to have friends. They hadn't said anything, but just as the Old Families "knew" they had figured it out and had made themselves available when the time came. Severa didn't know if they got them all or if everyone of the one she had gotten had been guilty, but it was close enough. Imperial justice was like that.
"So," Jinx said. "Do you think you made eighth?"
She punched him lightly in the arm. Gherhardt rapped up his speech. They began calling the rest of the names. "Severa Valen," was next.
Second! She was second! She headed up to the podium to receive her bars. Behind her came the call of "SEVER! SEVER!"
The grizzled officer showing the rookie was the ropes was a cliche, but it almost seemed appropriate. Lieutenant Ralthman was tall, lean, scarred, and was missing half of his face. A metal plate and an augmentic eye on the right side of his face covered the injury and upped the intimidation factor. His right arm was also an augment. A power cutlass and a bolt pistol hung from the belt around his great coat.
"So ensign," he rasped, "you placed 2nd in your class. I suppose you think that makes you hot stuff?"
Well I am, she thought. "No sir," she lied.
"Heh. What was your nickname?"
"Cute," he rasped. "Not very original, though. You couldn't have been that good if that was all they could come up with."
"I was also one of the best duelists in the academy, sir."
"You mean your class."
"No sir, I mean the academy."
"So you do think you're hot stuff."
"You bet your ass, sir."
He laughed. "I like you ensign. Welcome aboard the Incandescent Blade."
The Incandescent Blade shuddered at the impact. "Hold steady!" Severa yelled. The gun crews knew that the impact wasn't from weapon's fire. She grabbed the vox line. "This is Battery Four. We have an impact, presumed boarding vessel, approximately two hundred meters aft of our position. Repeat, impact two hundred meters aft of Battery Four. Probably boarders."
"Master Gunner, continue to fire as we bear. Senior Gunner Hark!"
"Round up every available crewman and arm to repel boarders."
She descended from the gantry down towards the deck with its power leads, capacitor banks, sub generators, and logic engine relays. She thumbed the safety off he pistol. She could here them coming down the long corridors toward her position. They had to hold.
They were clumsy and in no way subtle, just like she had been taught. They fired their guns almost randomly and bellowed to each other in their uncouth tongue as they advance. Severa crouched and waited for them to close.
She rose, firing. She put four in the chest of the lead Ork with her naval pistol and it fell. She missed with her next and put the last into an Ork's head, blowing out the back of its skull. Crewmen fired with her, shotgun short barrelled, high calibre, low velocity autoguns. She crouched back down to reload.
Orks fells torn open by the fusillade of fire. Some orks suffered wounds that on a human being would be called terrible. They continued to fight. The Orks responded to firing wildly in the humans' general direction.
About nine out of ten of the Orks' weapons worked. Those weapons that didn't jam and blow themselves apart unleashed a lot of very big bullets. They tore up machinery, severed cables, punched divots in walls and the floor, and in a few instances, mangled flesh.
Severa rose up and emptied her gun into the torso of another rampaging Ork. It went down and it wasn't alone in falling. They kept coming, choppers and hand cannons clenched in their fists. Severa didn't bother to try to reload.
She drew her blade and opened up the first one from right shoulder to left hip. The power sword was a family heirloom, a seventy centimeter long single edged blade with a gilded hilt in the form of an eagle. Even Ork flesh and bone parted before its edge, especially after being disrupted by the power field. And the ork had no technique. Holding a giant chopper over its head was not exactly a stance conductive to defence.
She took off the top of the next one's head. Even a Ork couldn't function with its brain cut in half. The third charged straight at her. She impaled it, her blade going all the was through its chest. It kept on coming.
She sidestepped the chopper, losing her grip on her cutlass. Now she was really screwed. Fortunately a crewman rammed a pike into its chest and pushed it back. She reached for another ammo clip.
She never got to it. The Ork in front of her fired its big bore pistol. Two bullets struck her in the chest and she went down.
Severa came to. She was lying on her back and a medicae was leaning over her. "Relax ensign, you're going to be fine."
Grox shit. He head rang like a bell, the back of her head ached, and her chest was on fire. The medicae continued blathering. "You were shot at close range with a large caliber pistol. Fortunately they were low velocity soft slugs. Your armour stopped them, but there is a lot of bruising and three broken ribs."
"The battery?" she rasped. It hurt to talk.
"Preserved. The battle has been over for half an hour. We won." The medicae injected something into her arm. It didn't matter. She felt herself grow warm and sleepy. We won.
"Not a bad looking record lieutenant." Captain Parlin drummed his fingers on his desk.
"Thank you sir." Severa managed to keep the smirk off her face as she stood rigidly at attention.
"If you're half as good as your record indicates, you'll do fine. Service on a station is very similar to ship service. In the security section most of the work is arresting drunken sailors and checking ship cargo holds. Every now and then the shit hits the fan. But you've dealt with that before."
"Have you met Senior Lieutenant Reckart yet?"
"Yes sir. He met me at the 'lock and showed me to quarters. I look forward to working with him," she lied. Reckart was a drunk and sloppy. A disgrace to the Navy who shouldn't be wearing a uniform let alone his current rank, but she wasn't going to let that stop her from doing her job.
"Good. Welcome aboard lieutenant."
"Thank you sir."
"Uh, ma'am, uh the Senior Lieutenant said to pass this one through," the Ensign said apologetically.
"Really?" said Severa skeptically. She looked at the cargo list. The run was slightly profitable with the listed cargoes and she didn't know any captains that would take a run with profit margins this slim unless there was no other choice. And the Swift Traveller had been doing this run for three years, four times a year.
"Yes ma'am," said the boy. Severa swore that he might start getting peach fuzz on his cheeks next month.
"Priority," the ensign said. "These others higher priority searches. We can always get this one next time around."
"Funny, that's always the case unless the Senior Lieutenant is on hand to supervise the search. And the only time that happened he set a speed record."
She considered the problem for a moment. "Having docking control manufacture a reason to hold them. Begin the other searches. I need to speak to Captain Parlin."
"I really don't see why you are bothering me with this lieutenant. If I thought less of you, I would say you are slandering a superior officer." Captain's Parlin's voice was glacial.
"No sir," she replied stiffly. She was screwed. The old man didn't want to hear it and was going to make sure no one ever brought it up again. Which meant making an example out of her.
"There is no evidence of malfeasance on the part of Senior Lieutenant Reckart. For this he has grounds for calling you out," he said. Severa's heart skipped a beat. She wasn't afraid to duel anything this side of an Astartes. "This will go on your record lieutenant. You will not attempt to go behind your superior's back again or I'll find a way to bust you down to the lowest rank of conscript rating. You are dismissed."
Severa Valin flipped through another listing on her data plate. They had screwed her good. In hindsight it would have been wiser to find out that half the senior officers were up to their neck in smuggling operations before going to the old man about it, but she hadn't.
They were too smart to write bad reports that could be challenged or investigated. Mediocre evaluations would do the job well enough. And, of course, she was always off duty or had a different assignment whenever one of their ships came in. She knew better than to complain. She had no proof and if she got too close an "accident" could always happen.
So she sat at her desk and rotted. Well, not entirely. She became very good with cogitator systems and auspexes. She acquired a lot of experience examining questionable lists and doing electronic and paper data traces. She got very good at searching ships that weren't paying off the officers on station and she learned security operations very well. She got most of the dangerous and dirty jobs and learned to excel at them.
Her career had taken a hit, but it might be possible to salvage it. If she performed well at her next posting, she might undo the damage that this one had done. That meant only two tours wasted. She was off the fast track, she could accept that now even though it still caught in her throat, but she still might make it back on to a bridge. She might have a command one day. It wasn't impossible that fifty years from now she might be issuing commands from a cruiser's bridge. Just unlikely.