Monday, 17 February 2014

Council of Seven Information Services (C.o.S.I.S.) - Tales from the Deadzone


Redacted Information Files
An Unusual Day at the Office, Asterians - Silent and Deadly, Containment Protocols, Crossed Paths, Forge Fathers - Don't call them short; they hate that, Harsh Lessons, Predator and Prey, Surrounded,

KEY - Deadzone, Dreadball.

An Unusual Day at the Office.

Radchik sat quietly behind his blaster-proof neodurium desk, watching his reflection in the polished obsidian walls of the Councillor’s antechamber. He was smiling slightly, though there was no-one else in the room to see it. Surveillance might notice, of course, though they would be unlikely to even recognise the emotion. They were a dour lot. Still, Radchik was pleased with himself. In his own, quiet way, he had much to smile about.

It had been five years exactly since he was promoted to the position of Conciliary Aide First Class. Five years since he had met the Councillor and first been inspected by the steady gaze of those dangerously unemotive black eyes. He had held the gaze without looking away, and suspected that this was what had earned him the right to work here, at the pinnacle of Corporation government.

It was a lonely job in many ways. He had no living colleagues – security required that there be only robots handling such sensitive documentation. Many of the Councillors had no living aides at all. At least, that’s what he guessed from the names on the memoranda and the way they were produced. There was no inter-office banter, no gossip around the coffee machine, no office parties, and so Radchik knew today would be like any other in the last five years.

The fact that he was here at all was merely a foible of the Councillor who preferred to deal with life forms rather than constructs. This put Radchik at a disadvantage when it came to speed of processing, though he was used to dealing with the various layers of internal politics by now. Mostly that just meant keeping his head down, ignoring the sniping and getting on with things. If he needed defending the Councillor could do that for him better than anyone else. As long as he was worth keeping.

There would be no doubt that the Councillor would replace him if he was found wanting. He strove, above all else, to be brutally efficient and was a man of few emotions. In all the time he had served the Councillor, Radchik had never seen the old man ruffled. “The Old Man”. Radchik smiled again at the thought. He never said the words out loud, but in his head that was how he thought of the Councillor. Old, wise, fatherly almost. Caring for the uncountable billions of the Corporation’s citizens without glory or recognition. The sense of responsibility must be enormous.

Radchik saw the problems as they came into the Councillor’s office, sorted through them and prioritised what should be presented to the Councillor himself and what could be safely delegated to the automated systems below. That was quite enough responsibility for Radchik. Thinking about this reminded Radchik that it was high time he began this process. He began by sifting through the accumulated comms from the overnight traffic. The Corporation never slept, though some of its operatives still had to pause every now and again. There was the usual round of petitions, trade agreements, minor security issues, and so on. A promotion here, a commendation there, punitive measures for cowardice in the face of…. All usual stuff. As they appeared on his screen, Radchik swept them into the appropriate file, mainly following the AI assisted recommendations, but not always. After five years Radchik had learned a lot about the Councillor’s preferences for dealing with certain aspects and leaving others to subordinates, regardless of the official protocol the AI was trained for. By the time the Councillor arrived there would be an accurate and up to the minute itinerary for his day waiting. That’s how he liked it.

Today there were probably only two items that needed the Councillor’s personal intervention: a supposedly minor rebellion on Drentil IV, and a trade embargo of the Snavan sector. Neither looked like much, and it was only because Radchik knew the background and the Councillor’s personal interest in these matters that he raised their priority. The AI would have delegated both.

Radchik had started to collate the complex background information on the various companies involved in the embargo when an alert sound made him jump. Not a fire or a security breach, just a discrete alert, but an unfamiliar one. He checked the screen. It was a visitor.

The alert stopped while Radchik stared at the word glowing quietly on his screen. Visitor? Nobody came to visit. Not in person. Not here. In five years he had never seen another living creature in the office apart from the Councillor. If he had any friends or family they were well separated from his work, as were Radchik’s. No matter how dire the situation, departments communicated digitally. What could be so important that it could not even be trusted to the multiply-redundant security of the council’s own comms system? What could be so dire that it could only be communicated in person? Perhaps it wasn’t dire at all. For a moment Radchik wondered if it had something to do with him, with his five years’ service. In his youth he had worked in offices where there would be cakes and presents for such a thing, but surely not here. It must be something else. He pondered for a moment the many threats and disasters that had crossed his desk and the more he remembered, the colder he felt. If assassination, rebellion, and planet-wide natural disasters were all things you could send a memo about, what was this?

Moments later, on the stroke of 7am standard, the Councillor strode into the office, on time as always. Radchik immediately rose to his feet. The Councillor still looked the same as when Radchik had first met him. If anything, even younger. With unlimited credits at his disposal, the possibilities of rejuvenating medicine were almost endless. He could be almost any age, though presumably chose this early fifties appearance with the salt and pepper hair to impart a sense of wisdom and experience. It worked.

“Good morning, Sir” said Radchik as the Councillor approached.

“Five years” was all the Councillor said as he passed Radchik’s desk, and for a moment Radchik thought he saw the glimmer of a smile on his face too. That was possibly the most emotion he had ever seen him show. Today was turning out quite dramatically, and it had barely begun.

As the Councillor went into his inner office, Radchik sat down again and turned his attention back to the screen and its peculiar alert. It showed that whoever the mysterious visitor was they had passed security and were approaching the Councillor’s offices. Radchik felt the first flutter of alarm. He had expected security to hold the visitor until he was summoned, but he was on his way. There was no time to do a background check and find out what this was about. All Radchik could do is hope that the unprecedented intrusion would not reflect too badly on him. He tried to reassure himself. It couldn’t be an assassin or anything like that - he’d passed security. What to do? There was no protocol for this. It never happened. “Still”, Radchik thought to himself, “it is happening. Best deal with it.” He rose from his chair once more and checked his reflection again in the polished obsidian wall. He was smart and well groomed, as one would expect from a Conciliary Aide First Class. He was ready.

The woman that stepped into the room was as nondescript as she could be. Medium height, plain grey suit, mid-brown hair raked back into a tight bun and bland features. She wore no badges or rank markings. She could have been anyone, from anywhere. She had to be 8th Directorate. Radchik’s blood ran cold.

Ignoring Radchik entirely, the woman strode briskly past and opened the door into the Councillor’s inner office. Radchik blinked and unfroze, dashing round this desk to apologise for the intrusion. But when he entered the office he just stopped. The woman had approached the Councillor’s desk and was standing there, waiting. She had moved so quietly that the Councillor hadn’t even looked up from his screen, and it was only the noise of Radchik’s hasty entrance that caught the Councillor’s attention. He looked up, and for the first time saw the grey suited woman. All the colour drained from the Councillor’s face. “You”, he said.

There was clearly no need for introductions. Radchik, afraid of compounding his mistakes simply stood as quietly as he could, hoping not to be noticed. To leave now would only draw attention to himself, and that would not be good. Whatever was happening here was obviously way above his pay grade.

It seemed like a long pause, but it was probably only a heartbeat. Then the woman spoke. “It’s happened”, she said. “Your area. Nexus Psi”. Her voice was even, uninflected by any emotion. The Councillor, started to rise. “I thought we had… ”

“So did we. Apparently we were wrong.” That seemed to settle things. There was another pause, and then the woman simply turned and left without another word. Radchik stood stunned, watching the Councillor.

Forgetting his position for a moment, Radchik spoke. “Sir?” he said. “Who was that?” The Councillor met Radchik’s gaze with his cold, black eyes. “8th Directorate messenger. I haven’t seen one in over seven years. You won’t see them often, but they’re easy to spot as they’re all identical and all have an overinflated self-importance about them. It’s not your fault she came barging in. They always do that. Bloody robots.”

“She was a robot?”

“Oh yes. One of a group that share a hive mind. They make ideal messengers as they simply dump the information onto another one of the group if they’re threatened and then self destruct. You can’t make them talk or bribe them. It really is a secure way to transfer news. And it’s always bad news. The worst. They’re probably all you’ll ever see of the 8th Directorate. At least, all you’ll ever see that you know belongs to them. Not my favourite department, but they have their uses. Unfortunately, this is one of them.”

Radchik was beginning to feel a bit embarrassed by his ignorance. Best to slip back into something more familiar. Following orders, for example. “Do we need to deploy a strike force, Sir, or is it a fleet action?”

“Neither. Containment protocol, Nexus Psi. Flash message to Senior Strike Leader Yemenkov. Immediate deployment.”

There was a pause. “I’m very sorry, Sir. I’m still not sure which sub-protocol we need to invoke.”

The Councillor said only one word. “Plague.”

Asterians - Silent and Deadly.
I am a product of the greatest military programme in the history of the human race.

Standing alone I am a one-man army. With my squad by my side there is nothing we cannot overcome.

I am briefed on all forms of combat, and every enemy known to the Sphere.

My training did not leave room for emotions like fear, or hatred, or revenge.

That is why, as I sprint across the wreckage that used to be a motor pool or a mech depot or maybe a transit site, the only thing on my mind is a situational re-evaluation.

My heart rate is elevated beyond acceptable levels. This is understandable, given the loss of my right forearm. Subsequent loss of my assault blade gives a significant reduction in melee capability, but nothing I cannot work around. My uplink was scrambled by the first shot that was fired, and I cannot contact my squad. Beyond that, I am at full capability.

The enemy were strong, and they were fast. I have studied the Aster report, but we did were not given the opportunity to deploy recommended countertactics. I did not see the unit that fired the opening shot, but damage spread and aftereffect suggests a heavy drone unit. I saw 09 and 13 taken down by the shot. The rest of my squad took firing positions in response while I advanced with 07 and 10. I sighted three combat drones and made for them while 03 and 05 provided covering fire. Either the drones did not display the extent of their capabilities at Aster, or these ones were differently equipped; in any case, the report did not prepare us for their ability to capture our munitions from mid-air and propel them back. 04 was taken down with a burst of fire that, I believe, originated from 03’s rifle. Seeing that we could not necessarily match them at range, I advanced at speed. This was an error, as 07 and 10 had clearly realised as they broke off to take cover. My uplink was malfunctioning by this point but I imagine my squadmates were urging me to reconsider my actions.

As I approached the first drone, I caught sight of their leader. The alien was in fully-enclosed armour, almost mirroring our own. It directed the drones with hand movements and sweeps of its staff. Its motion was strange; too fluid; nonsensical. Under the creature’s direction, four drones raised their rifles and fired as one, aiming – I can only assume – at the members of my squad that were providing fire support.

This distraction may have been what caused my first strike to go wide. My target stepped aside almost indifferently. Furthermore, the three shots I fired at its supposed weak spots were less effective than I had expected. It grasped my overextended right arm and, with the care and precision of a surgeon, severed it at the elbow joint. The ease with which it neutralised my primary weapon was troubling.

I rolled aside from its return blow, noticing that its two allies had moved past me and were now engaging 07 and 10. In both cases, my squadmates seemed outmatched. It was clear at this point that disengaging had become a priority. On a positive note, the drone’s weapon had cauterised the stump of my arm, so blood loss was not a concern.

I ducked past its second strike and kicked out at its knee joint. It gave slightly, just enough to give me an opening. Without looking back, I broke into a sprint.

It is not often that an enemy takes us by surprise. Standard procedure in this unlikely instance is to scatter and regroup. The remainder of my squad will break away. I will circle around to the rally point. I will trade my sidearm for a rifle. We will reconsider and re-engage with the enemy.

We will not take revenge, for that is not our purpose. We will simply obliterate them.

Among the Corporation troopers “Asterian” is a byword for treachery and underhanded dealings. They are sly and cunning and never to be trusted. Their every action betrays the fact that they obviously know more than they are telling – probably because they are responsible for the disaster in the first place.

From the Asterians’ point of view, things look very different. The Corporation seems to have an unending ability to stir up hornets’ nests of violence and disorder and the Plague is just the latest in a long line of calamities. Quite how a race can become so ungainly and inelegant is beyond the average Asterian who is horrified by the way that humanity rampages across the stars leaving nothing but carnage in its wake.

Asterian units within a Deadzone could be on a number of missions. Most are scientific to a degree, though all are also very well armed and protected. On Plague infested planets the Asterians are not so foolish as to risk their lives needlessly and only the commander of a force of Cyphers will be a living being. The Cyphers he commands are no longer living as such, and because of this their loss is felt less keenly should they fall in battle.

Containment Protocols.
“Are we ready, Captain?”

“We are, ma’am. Recon Unit N-23-5 has been briefed and understands he must give full disclosure.”

“Very good. Unit N-23-5. You have been summoned to this council to give a full and truthful account of your actions during the Nexus Psi containment protocol. The result of this testimony will determine your future operational status. Do you understand these terms as they have been read to you?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Unit N-23-5, tell us your mission purpose during the incident.”

“I was assigned to Task Force Epsilon. The mission was to drop onto the north coast of the continent designated C-4. As the least populated major landmass, C-4 had avoided much of the effects of the outbreak. Epsilon was triggered when the Recon Unit on C-2 lost track of a group of Second Generation infected. The target vector suggested they could have reached C-4. The mission objectives were to locate and tag the Second Gens for termination when larger forces could be released from the contact zones.”

“How many were you in the task force?”

”One, ma’am. I was Task Force Epsilon.”

Crossed Paths.
Darkness, Ogrut knew, was relative. His unit’s last contract had taken them to Draven, a planet at the edge of the Arklyte cluster, where the sun hardly graced the sky. They’d carved through Corporation Army and Secessionist troops alike for six days straight as they made for their objective, all under cover of total darkness. Now they found themselves bound to a new contract, this one on Nexus Psi, where midnight didn’t look much different to dusk. It made their job more challenging, but if there was one thing Orx were good at it was overcoming long odds.

There were twelve of them currently planetside, but only four on this patrol. Five, if you counted Yagh, the vicious mawbeast Khurza insisted on taking everywhere he went. To the creature’s credit, she could hunt with the best of them. Khurza had raised her from a pup, and Ogrut suspected he prized her almost as highly as the battered flame unit he carried.

Now Yagh led the group, padding along silently next to her handler as they stalked through the deserted streets of Outpost T9. Ogrut followed them, and behind him came Ragnak, hands held loosely at his sides. Countless enemies had taken the Sergeant’s relaxed posture as a sign of weakness, but Ogrut knew that he could draw his blades in less than a heartbeat. Ragnak was a brawler at heart, despite his decades of military service, and was always happiest wielding nothing more high tech than a hrunka. Lurking at the back of the pack, turning to sweep his paired rifles behind them every few steps, was Morkul. The tall, broad warrior had parted ways with the unit some time ago and taken his chances on the professional DreadBall circuit, where his particular brand of deranged violence was much more appreciated than it had ever been on the battlefield. Ogrut didn’t know how Ragnak had tempted him back for this mission, but he suspected it had been financial. The payout for this mission would definitely have been big enough to grab his attention.

Ahead of him, Khurza ducked into the cover of an old storefront and raised a hand, signalling for the group to close up. Up ahead was their objective: an abandoned med-station. Mazon Labs were at the cutting edge of medical research, and it had come as no surprise to discover that they had a station all the way out here on the frontier, where regulations were a little less strict than the Core. Of course, the moment Containment Protocol was called, none of it mattered; anything on the surface was forfeit, to be written off as a loss by order of the Council. Officially, the corporations didn’t have any options, but that didn’t stop them hiring contractors to retrieve their valuables.

The outpost wasn’t much to look at from the outside. A squat building with frontier-standard Habtainer walls, it was hardly bigger than the shuttle they’d come down in. A lone watchtower loomed behind it, a common sight in the more isolated settlements, and it was flanked by taller buildings, probably warehouses or vehicle sheds. Ragnak made several sharp gestures with one hand, instructing Morkul to circle around towards the watchtower.

Less than a minute later three flashes came from the tower, signalling that their brother-in-arms had scaled it and found it clear. Ragnak drew his pistol and gave the signal to advance cautiously. They broke cover in a staggered line, Khurza on the left flank and Ragnak on the right. They were halfway across the open ground that stood between them and the station when an ungodly screech broke the silence.

Ogrut dropped into a crouch, rifle swinging up as he tried to see the source of the noise. He swung his head to the left just in time to see a winged creature drop onto Yagh, stabbing frantically at the beast’s flank with a heavy blade. Khurza roared in fury and raised his incinerator.

Before he could pull the trigger, a shot rang out. High calibre, suppressed, but still audible across the open plaza. Khurza’s head snapped back, dark blood spraying from a ragged hole at his temple. Ragnak shouted an order at Ogrut, and the two Orx threw themselves into the scant cover of an overturned supply pallet. Over to the left, they saw that Yagh was not out of the fight. Her winged attacker was scrabbling backwards, one arm dragging limply, trying to fend off the wounded beast with its knife as she lunged again and again.

From the other side of the plaza, they heard the satisfying tunk-tunk, tunk-tunk of Morkul’s rifles. Eager to make use of covering fire while it lasted, Ragnak clapped Ogrut on the arm, and they rose from cover to sprint for the med-station. They threw their backs up against the wall either side of the open door and paused to take stock of the situation. As they’d broken cover the twin flares of Morkul’s rifles had marking the sniper as somewhere in an elevated position off to the left, and the mawbeast was still pinning their other attacker. Of course, there could be any number of enemy inside the building, waiting in ambush, probably chasing the same objective they were.

Ragnak holstered his pistol and drew his knives. If they were going in, things were going to get messy very quickly…

Forge Fathers - Don't call them short; they hate that.
Another missile impacted against the habtainer wall, but miraculously it held. Fillon didn’t know how many more it could take, but her options were limited. They were surrounded on three sides leaving only an open kill-zone to fall back into. Of the Rebs under her command, only four were still capable of anything like a fighting retreat, and Joruk’s Desolator had to run dry sooner or later.

Belwin darted around the refrigeration unit he’d been using for cover and let loose a burst from his rifle. His only reward was the bark of return fire from the enemy position, shots chewing more fist-sized holes through the wall. Fillon barked at him to get down and stop wasting ammo. Not that she blamed him. If they didn't do something soon, none of it would matter anyway.

She replayed the past ten minutes in her head – her compad’s clock showed it was only ten minutes, but how was that possible? – and tried to work out how OTR-9 had been backed into the scant cover of a blown-out diner unit. It had been a routine sweep-and-keep, picking the area clean of resources for the good of the cause. Drone visuals had shown no enemy forces, so they hadn’t suspected a thing until the Forge Fathers opened fire. She knew it was nothing political or personal; the Rebellion had fought alongside them on a number of occasions. She guessed they just wanted what was on Nexus Psi enough to put aside common courtesy in favour of a “shoot first, talk later” policy.

The east wall exploded inwards and she was snapped back to the present. Three Brokkr were already charging through the gap as she began to raise her rifle. Radner looked up from treating Nolan’s chest wound in time to take a heat hammer to the side of the head. Ryla sprang from cover, drawing his long-bladed skinning knife. The Sorak, an expert close-quarters fighter, had been waiting for the chance to set aside his rifle ever since the Forge Fathers had revealed themselves. He wasted no time dipping his blade past the lead Brokkr’s defences and into its exposed throat, but the dwarf still managed to unleash three point-blank headshots in return.

Fillon’s gun beeped empty as she pulled the trigger. She slung it and drew her sidearm, yelling at Joruk and Belwin to fall back. The Grogan wasn’t listening, too intent on keeping any more dwarves from making their way through the blast-hole with bursts from his cannon. Belwin stood to run and was pitched over by a heavy-calibre round that vaporized his shoulder and half of his ribcage.

The enemy were all around. Time seemed to move at a fraction of its normal speed as a missile streaked through the smashed front window and took Joruk apart from the waist up. In the tinny aftermath of the explosion Fillon could hear the enemy fire slowing as they realized their targets were running out.

She dropped her weapon and raised her arms, hoping that the little she knew of their language would be enough to convince them to take her alive. The battle was lost, but as long as one member of OTR-9 was standing, the war wasn’t over.

The Forge Fathers are in the Deadzone for a very simple reason: resources. They are, at heart, miners and artisans, and the fact that the Corporation controls any resource-rich planets is like fingernails down a blackboard to the Forge Fathers. They want it all.

The moment that a Deadzone is declared, Forge Father ships are ready to move in and scour the area for the rich pickings they imagine must have attracted the Corporation in the first place. Often they are right, and their strike teams will be able to pinpoint likely sources of ores and other minerals that can be exploited by follow-up units. However, even the most avaricious of Forge Fathers knows that they must be wary of the original cause of the Containment Protocol, and so their forces arrive encased in the best armour money can buy, armed to the teeth and prepared for anything.

Harsh Lessons.
What was taking them so long?

Fillon peered through her scope yet again, playing it around the moonlit plaza. The area was still clear. Reports had come through on long-range comms that they might not be the only ones moving for the med-station, and the longer Zek and Uro took retrieving the package the more chance they had of enemy contact. If a secure line was even remotely possible she would have pinged her team by now, but on Nexus Psi that was a laughable notion. Comms were grakked planetwide.

She sighed and shifted her weight, rolling her shoulders. Yes, she’d seen some awful missions in her time, from the massacre at Uraxia City to the Cerno uprising, but this one was a new low. No backup, no heavy support, and no comms. It was a sweep-and-keep, cutting in under the Corp’s noses and picking their well-stocked facilities clean under cover of a global panic, and it should have been easy. Okay, there was the Plague to contend with, but they’d found what had looked like an isolated continent far away from the action. They just hadn’t realised how fast it could spread.

And it wasn’t like the Infected were their only problem. Sure, the Enforcers generally had bigger game to chase, but they still took a dim view of looters, especially ones on the payroll of the Rebellion. They were terrifying to stand up against. Fast, deadly, almost impossible to kill. And jet packs! Belwin’s standard topic of conversation when he’d been drinking had always been easy life would be with one of those suits; now he’d dealt with Enforcers face to face, she doubted he’d have the stomach to bring it up again.

OTR-9 had already fallen foul of the Orx once since coming planetside. They’d walked into an ambush that had turned into a fighting retreat against overwhelming odds. She’d lost five of her squad that day; Rhodd and Brel had been the first, cut down in the crossfire that sprang the trap, and Radna and Nolan had died in the furious close-quarters battle at the end of the engagement. Gonak had died like a true hero, fighting a trio of battlesuits. She fought with the cunning of a seasoned brawler, spinning to let blows clatter off her armoured shell before turning back to smash armour open with wide swings of her ceremonial blades. Fillon suspected the Teraton had known it was a losing battle, but had held on long enough for the remaining members of the squad to break away.

They’d learned a lot that day. The Orx were neither savage not stupid, and they’d paid the price for thinking they were. That’s why they were taking no chances. If someone else was making a run on the Mazon Labs station, it was likely to be a Marauder team. If it had been another Rebs unit they would have known about it, and it was unlikely the Enforcers or Plague would be interested in black-market medical supplies. That’s why she was watching from up here, with H’ryk waiting on a nearby rooftop to get the drop on any would-be attackers, and Ryla was waiting just inside the med-station door. The Sorak was a vicious blade fighter, deadly in confined spaces, and he was ready to jump on anything that got inside. Belwin was watching the Zees as they searched crates for their objective.

Fillon raised her scope and made another sweep of the plaza. Her heart jumped as she caught a flash of movement in the shadows. It took her a moment to focus, but then she saw the running figure and her heart leapt. She felt a mixture of tension and vindication as she recognised the long arms, loping stride and crocodilian jaw. If it hadn’t been for the twin rifles, he would have looked for all the world like a DreadBall player making a sprint for the endzone. Still, the creature was stealthy; if she hadn’t looked at that precise moment she would have missed him. Once again she found herself questioning what she thought she knew about these alien raiders.

The running Orx came to the watchtower behind the med-station and slung his rifles, swinging up onto the ladder with a grace that looked out of place on such a muscular creature. She nodded absently; when they’d arrived here, that was the first place she’d checked, too. It was an obvious location for a sniper, which is why she’d left it clear and plumped for the first-storey window instead. The warrior made it to the top of the tower, looking almost disappointed at the lack of enemies. Fillon watched as he took a small device from a pouch at his belt and lifted it. It flashed three times; a signalling device. He wasn’t alone.

She swung the rifle back in the direction he’d come from, searching for targets. It took her two passes before she spotted them: three Orx and one of their malformed hunting dogs, crouched in the cover of a burnt-out Habtainer. There could have been more of them waiting in cover. Radio silence suddenly became less important than warning her troops, and she opened a broad-burst channel.

“Fillon here. We’ve got incoming. One in the watchtower, four to the south, maybe more. Things are gonna get messy.”

The first acknowledgement to snap back was H’ryk. The Kraaw had probably already seen them, just hadn’t thought to let the others know. Typical lone wolf. Before she could give an order, she heard his ear-splitting screech and knew that the element of surprise was gone.

She lifted her rifle, feeling the cool of the stock against her cheek as she slowed her breathing, and picked a target…

Predator and Prey.
Gregson fled across the ruined outpost, and somewhere behind him, a deranged beast followed.

He’d been hiding out in a network of caves less than a klick away since the first reports of monsters and gunfire, living off emergency rations he’d found on the way there. Things had been quiet – all the more so when the long-range comms signal died. One of the nights he’d ventured to the cave mouth to look out over the jungle canopy of Nexus Psi, he’d seen an incredible display in the skies; he’d seen enough CorpCast footage of orbital disasters to recognise a collision between two or more ships in the upper atmosphere. He’d fled back to the safety of the lower caves when the debris started falling like a series of flaming comets. He’d stayed there until the food ran out.

Now here he was, sprinting for his life across blood-spattered neocrete as one of the creatures he’d heard so much about across comms chatter chased after him. He’d only seen it once, not having dared to look back at it once it started chasing him, but that was all he needed. It was burned into his brain forever, maybe to the end of his life; of course, given his current situation, that might not be too far away. The thing was apelike, with long arms ending in wicked claws. Its head was disproportionately small, protruding from a bony shell that looked like it could easily stop gunfire. Of course, being a senior technician attached to an Exploration / Retrieval team, he wasn’t armed, but the thought had still crossed his mind.

Given the beast’s mass, he was astounded that it could move so quickly. He’d only evaded it so far by ducking through narrow gaps and outmanoeuvring it across the tight confines of the outpost. It was gaining on him, though. He altered his course to duck down a covered alleyway between two habtainers, the entrance partly choked with rubble.

Gunfire barked behind him, and he almost sprawled to the floor in shock. He turned to look over his shoulder and saw no sign of the creature. Then it flashed past, clearly heading for whoever had opened fire. He didn’t know who his saviour was, but he muttered a word of thanks all the same. The poor wretch didn’t stand a chance.

There was a sound like a blade being drawn from a silken sheath and a hum that reminded Gregson of the energy cutters they used for deep-core extractions, followed by a squeal of agony that couldn’t have been human. Then… silence. He crept back to the mouth of the alley, half expecting to see teeth and claws flashing towards him, but something made him stay his course.

The creature was slumped to the ground no more than three metres away. The top half of its head lay a short distance away, and a disgusting smell of burnt offal hung in the air. His saviour stood silent, regarding him evenly. He was tall, encased in slate-grey armour, his face hidden by an enclosed helmet. The technician had never seen one in person, but there weren’t many citizens in the GCPS who would fail to recognise the ominous bulk of an Enforcer. A heavy pistol was held comfortably in one hand; the other was clenched into a fist, a blue-white energised blade extending from a device the warrior’s his wrist. He relaxed his hand and the blade retracted smoothly. He took two steps towards Gregson and began to speak, his voice amplified by external speaker grilles in the armour.

Before he could finish the first word, a second creature, almost identical to the first, sprang from hiding with a defiant shriek. The Enforcer span, raising his pistol and snapping off two shots at impossible speed, but sure enough they were deflected by the bony plates covering the creature’s chest. It hit him with its full weight and both fell to the floor. Gregson scurried back into cover, looking around for a weapon to defend himself with. There was nothing.

The armoured warrior rolled with the impact, trying to pin the creature to the ground under the weight of his suit, but it was too strong. It was as though it had been created solely with speed, brute force and resilience in mind; the ultimate predator. It threw the warrior off, and he skidded across the neocrete, raising a flurry of sparks. He didn’t waste the opportunity, bringing his pistol to bear with surprisingly good aim, and unleashed a salvo of shots. Gregson couldn’t tell whether they hit their target, but the creature ducked back long enough for the Enforcer to regain his feet. He clenched his fist and the energised blade flashed back into life. The respite gave the technician a better chance to look at the new arrival, and he saw that it wasn’t quite identical to the one that had been chasing him. It looked older, and its face was patterned with scars. Its carapace was gathered into ridges of sharpened bone. Blood-flecked drool dripped from between its needle-like teeth. It was nothing less than terrifying.

The two combatants seemed to size each other up for a moment. Each must have been a veteran of countless battles, Gregson realised. They circled, bloodshot eyes locking with hard red lenses. The Enforcer held steady, wristblade held up at shoulder height, pistol arm extended; the mutant dragged its claws along the ground, twitching and spasming with barely-contained fury. Then, with a roar of primal rage, it tensed to leap.

The Enforcer hesitated for the smallest of moments before firing a single shot. The beast was springing forward, legs extending like pistons, claws outstretched, as the round took it in the centre of the face. Time seemed to pass in slow motion; its stub nose caved in on itself, pulling its lip up in a sneer. Its head whipped back even as it clumsily took to the air. Something in its brain seemed misfire and its arms flailed almost comically as it overbalanced and rolled to the ground. It continued to flail spasmodically until the Enforcer stepped forward, pushed it onto its back with the tip of an armoured boot, and plunged his blade through its neck.

Gregson broke cover, feeling almost as though he could weep with relief. He knew he looked pathetic, but he didn’t care; he was going to get off-world, and this would just be a memory.

His saviour glanced up at him, and raised his pistol.

“As you were.”

The technician faltered, and the Enforcer fired a shot past his shoulder.

“Keep running. You’re drawing them out.”

The armoured brute fired a second shot that passed so close he felt it rush past his ear. Without another moment’s thought, he ran.


Gregson fled across the ruined outpost, and somewhere behind him, a deranged beast followed.

Another hi-ex round impacted against the habtainer wall, but somehow it held. Fillon prayed that it would stay standing. They were surrounded on three sides, and it wouldn’t be long until they were entirely encircled. Of the Rebs under her command, only four were still capable of anything like a fighting retreat, and Joruk’s Onslaught Cannon had to run dry sooner or later.

Belwin darted around the refrigeration unit he was using for cover and let loose a burst from his rifle. His only reward was the bark of return fire from the enemy position, shots chewing more fist-sized holes through the wall. Fillon barked at him to stop wasting ammo, but she didn’t blame him. If they didn’t do something soon, none of it would matter anyway.

She tried to work out how OTR-9 had been backed into the wreckage of a diner unit. It had been a routine sweep-and-keep, picking the area clean for the good of the cause. Drone visuals had shown no enemy forces, so they hadn’t suspected a thing until the Marauders had opened fire. Turns out the visuals had been wrong.

The east wall exploded inwards, and three Commandos were already charging through the breach by the time she was raising her rifle. Radna looked up from treating Nolan’s ragged chest wound a moment too late; the lead Orx was on him, a heavy dagger plunging through the Judwan’s neck and dropping him instantly. Fillon aligned her sights on the brute’s centre mass but her gun beeped empty as she pulled the trigger. Swearing, she rolled back into cover and yelled an order to Joruk. The Grogan swung around, his cannon’s barrel still spinning, and played a line of bullets across the interior of the habtainer. All three of the attackers were taken down; two threw themselves behind a jumble of wreckage, while the third was almost torn in half by the hail of fire.


The trooper pulled a frag, thumbed the primer switch and rolled it underarm. The grenade detonated just as one of the Marauders lunged to kick it aside. Fillon saw her chance, and didn’t hesitate.

“Move it! Regroup at the water tower! Go!”

Not stopping to see the effects of Belwin’s frag, she followed her own advice. They couldn’t afford to be this sloppy again. Next time, she promised herself, things would be different.

Gmorts Chaotica would like to thank James M Hewitt, Mantic Games, the Quirkworthy Blog, Titan Games and of course the Corporation for their invaluable assistance in the compiling of this encyclopaedia.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails