Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Iron Sleet Invitational - Thorne Moons

I've written the below piece to guide my submission for the Iron Sleet Invitational. I hope you enjoy it. Comments and criticism are always welcome.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Geiger, are you sure?"

"As sure as I can be, my Lord," Geiger said, wiping sweat off his brow.

"How sure is that?"

"I believe I am correct, but unfortunately my Lord, I cannot answer yes or no."

Inquisitor Tarralax frowned.

Navigator Delarius had wandered over.  "The Thorne Moons?"  he said. "Routes are still being mapped out. I'm sure I could get you there, but I cannot vouch whether it would take a few weeks or a decade."

Tarralax could see Marris narrowing her eyes at the navigator. Likely already anticipating what he is about to say.

"As I'm sure you remember my Lord," Delarius continued, "my uncle's promise was for two score standard years. We may find that my service to you is over upon our arrival. You would need to find your own way back."

Marris snarled. "We need to be sure Geiger. Do another spread."

Geiger turned towards Tarralax, spreading his hands in a gesture of helplessness. "My Lord, I am not yet recovered from the previous spread."

Tarralax frowned inwardly. Marris' anger was warranted, but the subject was not. "No Marris. Our intel is that they have their own bastardized version of the Emperor's deck. We cannot take the risk that our quarry would feel the ripples of another reading." Geiger's reading had been powerful indeed and Tarralax was fighting back the nausea he always felt in the presence of psychic divinations. And that was through the dampener. 

"So read without ripples," Marris protested.

Geiger jumped in before Tarralax could answer. "Marris, I'm afraid only potent readings will uncover the information we seek. Too potent to avoid ripples."

"That's the problem - you're always afraid, coming up with reasons why we can't instead of reasons why we can."

+Being my interrogator does not entitle you to be petulant or rude.+ Tarralax thought at her, taking no effort to hide his feeling of disappointment. He continued out loud. "There is a time for action and a time for prudence, Marris. If I teach you nothing else, I will teach you to distinguish between them."

Marris' cheeks flushed and her mouth snapped shut; her pride wounded. Her master did not normally chastise her in front of others.

Truthfully, Marris was very good at action and she had potential. I just underestimated the amount of growing up she needed.

Geiger had the decency (or the exhaustion) to ignore the exchange, but Delarius looked on with glee, an oily smile spread across his face.

Delarius spread his hands. "I am at your service, my Lord. Please let me know what I can do for you."

"Set a course for the Thorne Moons, we leave as soon as you're ready."

Delarius' smile spread wider and he started to head towards the Navigatorium.

"Oh, and Delarius?"

Delarius turned, that smile still stretched across his face.

"I recommend that you exercise extreme caution before deciding that I will be finding my own way back." Tarralax said. "My fondness for your uncle would not outweigh the betrayal I would feel at being abandoned in the Thorne Moons."

Delarius' smile disappeared as he sensed the weight behind Tarralax's words.

Taralax continued. "And you know how the Inquisition deals with betrayals."

Delarius turned and stalked off.

"Now Geiger, let's discuss what else you read in that spread."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 The plan is to create Inquisitor Tarralax, his Interrogator Marris, his heirophant Geiger and the navigator Delarius.  For the fifth model, I'm considering doing a cybear familiar that Geiger will control with a flute per this:


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Mission Report (A6): Interrogators and Interrogations


This is the narrative of Althea's 6th mission in a Dark Heresy campaign put on by one of the boys from Hogtown 40k (Toronto).  Part one is here.  I think it's pretty exciting. I hope you do too.  Please let me know if you have any feedback, constructive or otherwise.

As a player, I think I have a sense where the story is heading, but my character obviously doesn't know what I know (as a 40k nerd with 20+ years in the hobby compared to an ignorant pilot in the 41st millenium). I tried to ask leading questions to confirm whether my suspicions are true in a way that would give my character my knowledge while still being "realistic", but it didn't quite work.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Althea was still riding high when they landed. Her excitement from piloting their escape was overwhelming and (mostly) drowning out any guilt around Hippolyta, Ceres and Armand being in chains. Not that she owed them much, but she had given her word…

Her mood was barely dampened when their weapons were confiscated and they were sent to separate rooms. She only took pause when she realized that her room (which had a plasteel table, two chairs and a one way mirror covering an entire wall) was probably more appropriately labelled a cell. Still, Althea wasn't too worried - her confidence in her ability to talk herself out of almost anything buoying her.

Her mood only started to change as this new gentleman, Interrogator Corchoran, berated her.

“Why did it take you so long to come to the Master with your information? You had your vox, didn’t you?”

This Interrogator did not look… interesting – not the type of person she would ever socialize with. His tall form was clad all in black and his bald head was balanced with thick side burns, a goatee and small circular spectacles. A silver Inquisitorial emblem on his chest was his only attempt at colour, but even a small Inquisition ‘I’ spoke louder than words. He seemed humourless, a soul stripped of all trappings of humour or delight.

“Interrogator, I don’t believe that’s fair.” Althea protested. “We can’t come running to the Vox, I mean, our Lord, with every little rumour we hear. We had to check it out.”

“By your own account, you’ve had this information for days!”

“We submitted the request for a meeting days ago. We judged that the information would be incomplete without the others’ testimony and we knew they wouldn’t speak over the vox.”

“What if you were killed, or lost in the Face? We would have been blind without that information!”

“Well we weren’t killed.”

“You’d be dead if your xenos-loving allies hadn’t rescued you.”

“We survived.”

“Something of that importance should have been communicated first!”

“If you want us to understand the immediate importance of every scrap of information,” Althea was almost yelling now. “Then you and the master need to do a better job of communicating with us instead of keeping us in the dark.”

He blinked at her. “True.”

She knew she had pushed her luck. Her cutting temper sometimes got the best of her. He may not have humour, but at least he doesn’t seem to have much of an ego either.

Might as well cut to the chase. “So, are we in trouble? Where are the others?”

“In similar rooms. They’re fine.” He hadn’t answered her first question. Either the answer was no and he didn’t want to admit it, or he didn’t know. Better not rub it in. She switched tacks.

“You came here first?”

“Yes, reports indicated that you are the closest thing your group has to as a leader.” He stated matter-of-factly.

Althea had known that the others had a tendency to defer to her, but it was different to hear her new boss (which this guy must be...) admit it. She felt an even stronger sense of duty to her team. Someone had to look out for them - these cutting bastards certainly weren’t.

“Can you tell me what’s going on?”

“The Face has gone quiet. It’s been very disconcerting. But not too quite – it’s as if someone has been trying to hide something. The tithe quota has still been met.”

“What now then?”

“This planet will soon be again in the control of loyal Imperial servants. Not xenos sympathizers. This entire sector needs the tech and the resources that are harvested here. We need to take back the Spire. Take back the Sunguard outposts. One by one, the Emperor’s will shall be done.”

Althea nodded. It made sense if your viewpoint was that all xenos were only a hair’s breadth better than a heretic. She had hoped that they could work together. Her father's voice echoed in her ears: "A fool and an optimist are different sides of the same cred-chip."

“What about the prisoners? Have you spoken with them yet?”

“I have not begun any interrogations yet, no. But my men advise me that Hippolyta is a psyker. And she has tattoos only found on eldar thralls. This is not good company to keep.”

“A psyker? Are you sure?”

“Very. I’m not surprised you wouldn’t have picked it up. She appears to have a subtle command. Likely as a result of eldar influence.”

“I would like to come with you when you interrogate her. She knows me better and I may be able to get more information out of her.” And I'd like to apologize to her. And, if we’re going to find a solution where nobody dies, I think I’m going to have to be involved.

Corchoran nodded. He turned and started to go.

At that moment, Althea remembered why she was here to begin with. Not because she had saved her friends from the Sunguard, or because she had cleaned out a xenos cult, but why she hadn’t just run when she received the vox message in the first place.

“Interrogator, one more thing. The Inquisitor mentioned the vid-tape of my father. It was one transgression. Surely I’ve done enough to earn the right to destroy it now. You can’t condemn a man for one minor misstep.”

“Your father? One minor misstep?!? He was a flesh trader and a heretic of the worst sort. You’ll have to take this up with the Inquisitor.”

Rage washed over Althea and her blood started to boil. I’ve certainly done enough. These cutting bastards feed me lies. They’re going to string me out until I waste. Corchoran turned and left the room. Althea looked down and noticed that she was clenched her fists so tightly that her circulation was starting to cut off. She took a few deep breathes and then followed him.

They will either give me what I want or I will take it from them.

~~~~~~~~~~

Althea followed the Interrogator down the hall. “How about the others? Lazo? Doc? Gus?”

“They’re fine. They’re still in their rooms, but I just want to have a quick talk with them before we send them to their new quarters.”

“Will we go do that now?”

He shot her a don’t-try-me look. “No. We will talk to Hippolyta, and then you will go to your new quarters and I will speak with them.”

As they walked down the hallway, she saw her friends in rooms that were identical to the one she had been in. I must be looking through the one-way mirror.

They approached the room with Hippolyta in it. Althea turned to Corchoran, “You have safeguards against her psychic powers?”

He nodded and reached for the door.

“Corchoran, wait.” He stopped. “Before we go in - how is the other one? With the stomach sword wound?”

“She’ll live.” He pushed open the door and entered the room. Althea followed him in.

Hippolyta looked up and tracked their movement with her eyes.

“Hippolyta, I’m glad you survived the ride here.” Althea said, with genuine warmth. “I wanted to let you know that Ceres seems to be doing fine.”

Hippolyta nodded in acknowledgement.

Althea realized that it was guilt that she had been feeling as a pit in her stomach. She felt responsible that Hippolyta was here and that Ceres had been stabbed. She didn’t owe them anything, but she had promised that the Inquisitor would listen and he didn’t seem to be doing that yet.

“I wanted to let you know that I’m still optimistic that our people may work together to fight the coming storm.”

Hippolyta paused a moment before responding. “I’m sure our acquaintance will be brief.”

Okay, I'll try the direct approach. “Hippolyta, I want to apologize," Althea said. "I never meant for things to end up like this.”

Hippolyta looked at her, as if looking into her soul. “I accept.” She said after a pause.

As Althea pulled out a chair, Hippolyta added, “Others may seek a different type of apology.”

Althea nodded her head in acknowledgement, “I know you speak only for yourself in this.”

Corchoran cleared his throat. “We have questions.”

“You may ask.”

“What are you doing here on Pickman?”

“I am enthralled to the Watcher and his clan. Duty compelled me to come. I have only been here a few weeks.”

“What is happening here? What are you preparing for?”

Hippolyta laughed without humour. “This is but one bit of chaff before a whirlwind. Soon the gates will be opened.”

“What do you mean?”

“Gate, path, river. All of these things are apt comparisons. A river to the stars.”

This is going nowhere. She looked at Corchoran. He nodded to her.

“Where were you before this?

“On a world you know as Coelia.”

Althea looked at Corchoran. “A notorious crimeworld,” he said.

“And before that?”

Hippolyta looked afresh at Althea, as if to measure whether she deserved the answer. “On many worlds across these so-called Ghoul stars. Your people are being turned. Not necessarily against you, but away. Away from Rhidhol.”

Corchoran interjected, “Rhidol is an Exodite world.” Althea nodded. She had heard something about the Eldar a long time ago – that they had worlds; worlds that they protected.

Althea tried a different tact. “Have you always been enthralled?”

“I was born on an island in the darkness of the Riasiaesch. I became the Speaker for my people, bearing the third eye. Being so chosen, I was taught the lesser wraith calls and learned to hide from dragons.”

Althea could see Hippolyta beaming with pride and understood what she was. A xenos vassal. She has left her humanity behind.

“Are you not worried about leaving your people? Dying?”

“My life is nothing if not done in service. These are the shattered ruins of the war in heaven. It is all about us, this ruin, even now. Can your dim mind fathom this? I mean that not as an insult but a statement – you barely shine. Compared to the Watcher … the watcher is a blazing lamp. The lamp that lights the way for us.”

“Lamp by which what is seen?”

“He is a being of pure radiance.” Hippolyta appeared to drift away on a memory. After a moment, she comes crashing back to reality. She fixes Althea with a piercing stare and a grin. “When the Devourer comes, it will be a rude awakening… I have told you, it is here now, but soon it will be everywhere. First, all of your reluctance will be swallowed. Then, this world.”

“How is the watcher planning to resist the devourer?”

“I dare you to go search in the vastness of this world. It is not for me to tell you what you may find.”

These answers are getting less and less useful. “Will Pickman survive?”

“Not as you know it.” And here Hippolyta’s face split wide with a crafty smile.

Althea looked at Corchoran and shrugged.

He started moving towards the door. “I think we have what we need for now. Let’s leave her to her thoughts.”

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

AOS Mathhammer - Judicators v. Vanguard Raptors

I'm creating a Stormcast army and I'm trying to decide between Judicators and Vanguard Raptors with longstrikes.

EDIT - My original calculations did not take into account the shockbolt bow nor the +1 to hit for the judicator prime, both of which will lower the Judicator's scores.  I've updated below.

EDIT 2 - I've fixed two errors in the text below pointed out to me by C4st3r. There happens to be a lot of text removed (but luckily, very little of the math). How embarrassing for me.

Judicators v. Vanguard Raptors


So the initial calculations against no armour is as follows:
Judicators (5) - 2/3 to hit, 2/3 to wound, 1 damage, 4 shots + 5/6 to hit, 2/3 to wound, 1 damage, 3.5 shots = 16/9 + 17.5/9 wounds = 33.5/9 = 67/18
Vanguard Raptors (3) -  4/6 to hit, 2/3 to wound, 2 damage, 3 shots = 8/3 wounds PLUS 1/6 to hit * 2 mortal wounds, 3 shots = 1 MW

Against armour: Judicators have -1 rend, and the VR have -2 rend.

Against 3+ armour, Judicators will do 33.5/18 (=1.86) wounds and VR will do 16/9 + 1 (=2.78)
Against 4+ armour, Judicators will do 134/54 (=2.48) wounds and VR will do 40/18 + 1 (=3.2)
Against 5+ armour, Judicators will do 335/108 (=3.10) wounds and VR will do 8/3 + 1 (=3.67)
Against 6+ armour, Judicators will do 67/18 (=3.72) wounds and VR will do 8/3 + 1 (=3.67)

Unsurprisingly (given their higher rend), VR will consistently do more damage against armoured targets. Against:
3+ armour, they do 1.49 times more damage,
4+ armour, they do 1.29 times more damage,
5+ armour, they do 1.18 times more damage, and
6+/- armour, they do 0.99 times more damage.

They are also 1.25 times more expensive (180 v 160 pts) which means that, in terms of damage output, Vanguard Raptors are a more efficient use of points when facing 3+ and 4+ armour and Judicators are a more efficient use of points when facing 5+ and 6+ armour.

Additional Considerations


Three KEY considerations that aren't included in the above analysis:

  1. RESILIENCE - Judicators have 10 wounds instead of VR's 6. So if your squad takes 5 wounds, the Judicators are still going to be pumping out over 75% of their full strength damage and the VR squad will be pumping out only 33% of their full strength damage. If the squad takes 6 wounds, the Judicators are still dishing out approx 65% of their full strength damage and your VRs are wiped out.
  2. BATTLELINE - Judicators happen to be battleline in any Stormcast army, whereas you need a Lord Acquilar to make your Vanguard Raptors battleline. Vanguard Raptors are never battleline. This can be a big deal depending on the rest of your army (i.e. you need to fill out battleline slots).
EDIT - The below is not true. The easily accessible +1 to hit bubble in the SE book is the Lord Celestant on foot, but his bubble only applies in the combat phase (and these guys obviously shoot in the shooting phase.  Keeping the text below in case you have access to a +1 to hit from some other source. 
  1. SYNERGY - By combining with a +1 to hit bubble, the VRs will do an average of one extra MW per turn (which is pretty awesome). However, they'll do a little less damage through regular wounds (since the Rule of One states that a natural roll of one before modifiers fails). So although the VRs will do an average of 2 MW per shooting phase, they'll do 25% less damage otherwise (because 4/6 to hit becomes 3/6).  Note that under these new percentages (set out below), the VR's do 1.29 times more damage to 5+ armour and 1.08 times more damage to 6+ armour. It's still increasing their damage output as follows:

Against 3+ armour, VR will do 12/9 + 2 (=3.33) (increase of about 20%)
Against 4+ armour, VR will do 30/18 + 2 (=3.67) (increase of about 15%)
Against 5+/6+ or no armour, VR will do 6/3 + 2 (=4) (increase of about 9%)

Lord Celestant (on foot) synergy


So the synergy is pretty great, but is it worth it? I'm going to do a little thought exercise.  Against 3+ armour, the Lord Celestant is worth about 36 pts per phase of shooting at full strength. Against 4+ armour, this becomes 30 pts and against 5+/6+ this becomes 16 pts. A Lord Celestant costs 100 pts. So, approximately, the Lord Celestant justifies his cost (on this alone) if you can boost a full strength squad of VRs through 3 shooting phases against 3+ or 4+ armour (or three full strength squads of VRs through one phase).

We shouldn't ignore the LC's synergy with the Judicators. He won't effect the prime (who already hits on 2+), but the others will do 25% more damage (because a 4/6 to hit becomes a 5/6 to hit) resulting in a total of 37.5/9 instead of 33.5/9, which represents a 12% boost. As Judicators cost 160 pts, that's a benefit of 19 points, which means you'd need to boost a squad through 5 phases to justify the cost.

Conclusion - so are Judicators or Vanguard Raptors better?


Ultimately, it depends. It depends on whether your opponent has a horde of lightly armoured guys or few heavily armoured warriors. It depends on how you plan to use them - are they meant to take out the enemy's force multipliers? Are those force multipliers going to only be visible for one turn (in which you want to have the highest output possible for that turn)? Does your enemy have more shooting than you in which case their resilience will matter?

Personally, I already have a unit of Judicators so I'm likely to grab a squad of VRs so I can see which work better with my style. Ultimately, it will probably depend on whether I also end up running a Lord Celestant on foot and the rest of my army's target saturation. There's no point in running VRs if they're the easiest models to kill per point and they always die first.  Anyway, we'll see how it works!

Friday, September 8, 2017

(Exciting) New Kickstarter: Chronicles the Game

So, I've just come across this pretty neat kickstarter for a miniature wargame where the players are characters within the storyline and drive the narrative.

The gameplay seems decent (i.e. easy to learn while still with some depth and complexity), and the models look great, but most exciting is that your battles, painted models, conversions and written fiction will drive the narrative forward.

I won one of their instagram contests and received a werebear. It was a high quality model and was super easy to prime and paint.

I'm not a huge fan of monopose models, but the poses are at least quite good and I think it'll be pretty easy to take a hobby saw to them and repose a few things so that every model is unique (and if you're already a gamer with lots of extra bits, the sky is your limit).

I'd like to play it, it just needs to get funded first!

So thought I would leave this here in case a few others were interested: CHRONICLES THE GAME KICKSTARTER.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Mission Report (A5): A Diplomatic Speed-bump and a Tactical Withdrawal


This is the narrative of Althea's 5th mission in a Dark Heresy campaign put on by one of the boys from Hogtown 40k (Toronto).  Part one is here.  I think it's pretty exciting. I hope you do too.  Please let me know if you have any feedback, constructive or otherwise.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The lights went out. A few people in the room reached their hands to their weapons, but Althea didn’t. Her low-light eye could see Olivia in the dark. Olivia was relaxed, so Althea was relaxed.

“What in the Emperor’s name is going on?" Gustavius said.

“They’ll be here shortly.” Olivia responded.

Althea was grateful. Olivia’s hab flat was cramped and the last hour of waiting had been very unpleasant. Hippolyta and Ceres had stuck to themselves, clearly not ready to mingle with the broader group. Armand and Olivia had been in the corner discussing in hushed tones. Althea couldn’t overhear them and, not for the first time, cursed the fact that she had an augmetic eye instead of an augmetic ear.

Gus and the Doc were debating some point of Imperial faith. It sounded to her like they were arguing the same side, but there must have been some small distinction there that only they could see.

She sat beside Lazarus. They had originally been debating the intricacies of laspistols, but they had fallen silent ages ago and had just been sitting there silently.

Althea had been watching the new man that Ceres and Hippolyta had brought with them. He was a large man with rippling muscle. Dressed in camo fatigues. Clearly ex-guard. Clearly Catachan. He had introduced himself as “Rigs” and had slowly been checking out every woman in the room. His gaze had lingered a big longer on Olivia and Althea herself.

In other circumstances she might have been flattered. It was nice to know her scar wouldn’t repel men. But she had lived with Catachans for a month during a Navy deployment. They were almost caricatures of men, not real men. Something missing. She would have preferred to be invisible to him.

The lights came back on. She could be mistaken, but she thought she could see relief in the Catachans’ face. Big, bad Catachan, afraid of the dark? The thought nearly made her giggle.

Moments after the lights returned, the door chimed.

“Enter,” Olivia said from across the room.

The door slid open to reveal three figures. Two adeptus mechanicus guards flanked an imposing man. He was tall with a shaggy head of hair and significant augmetics. He projected an aura of power. The skitarri accompanying him wore flowing robes and carried arcane rifles.

They stepped forward into the room.


“Master, thank you for attending,” Olivia began.

“You have been fraternizing with xenos?” The voice sounded larger than life. And she hadn’t seen the man speak. Olivia looked at Althea. Why do I always have to do the talking?

“Master, I don’t think that’s a fair characterization,” Althea began.

“You brought me here to fraternize with xenos.” It responded. Althea realized that the voice was coming from the vox units of all three men, simultaneously.

The grizzled augmetic man wasn’t the Vox, just another play piece.

Althea thought of all of the different ways she could respond. And she picked none of the ways she had rehearsed. She sensed that time was short and that she might not get to make her point if she didn’t make it immediately. “Master, they say that the Great Devourer is coming to Pickman. We knew that no one but you could be trusted to assess this information.”

There was silence then. A silence that stretched uncomfortably long. Gus was starting to rock on his feet and even Lazarus started to look awkward.

“That is interesting,” the Vox finally responded.

“The Great Devourer. Of my regiment of 500,000, only 500 of us survived the Great Devourer on Priam.” Doc said. “Neither the tanks of the guard, the bolters of the astartes nor the guns of the navy could hold them back.” The Doc's knuckles were white as he strangled his pistol in a death-grip.

“Yes, the Great Devourer changes everything.” The Vox responded. “Two heresies. I should not be surprised.”

Two heresies?

“Master,” Olivia began, “How can we save Pickman?”

“I will need more time, and less… complication. Attend to me at the forge.”

But he hasn’t spoken yet to Ceres. “Master, they have information. Please assess the veracity of their claims.”

“Then bring them to me if I must speak to them. You must come now.”

Althea opened her mouth to protest, “Master, there is much to discuss, we should talk with…”

She was cut off. “There will be time for discussions later, attend to me now at the forge.”

Olivia turned to her. “We should go.”

Althea turned to Ceres and Hippolyta. “Will you come with us?” They looked at each other, then at Armand. Althea felt a little guilty. She was asking them to walk into an Inquisitor’s lair. Such an exercise usually ended only one way for subjects of interest.

“I think we should go with them.” That was Rigs. Disgusting grox. He’s probably just wanting to follow Olivia and I.

The three of them seemed to reach some understanding as Althea saw Armand reach for his guns. Althea registered this and, in the split-second she had, realized that her best chance of keeping them alive was if they came with her. They will definitely not live if we have to kill them here.

“No!” Althea yelled and jumped at Ceres.

Althea had been faster than anyone else, but unfortunately that’s where her advantage ended. Her attempts to subdue Ceres were met with a solid fist and she staggered back.

Luckily, Lazarus took her cue and leapt towards Armand. He was significantly more successful than Althea as he caught Armand in a bear-hug, trapping Armand’s arms before Armand could grab his pistols. As Armand started to struggle, Lazarus lifted him up and slammed him onto the ground.

That was when all hell broke loose. Ceres drew her pistol and shot one of the skitarri guards in the face before the grizzled skitarri veteran ran Ceres through the stomach with his sword. Doc had been holding his own against Hippolyta until Ceres was stabbed. Hippolyta seemed to foam at the mouth as she drew her sword and attacked Doc. She lacerated Doc’s arm with her sword and it would have been far worse if Rigs had not stepped in and crushed her against the wall, knocking the fight, and most of her consciousness, right out of her.

Armand was struggling like a caged animal and it was all Lazo could do to hold onto him.

Althea saw Gus raise his holy hammer. “Wait,” she cried, as Gus connected solidly with Armand’s head. The helmet crumpled and Armand ceased to struggle. Althea hoped he was still alive.

Everything was over as quickly as it started. They used Armand’s and Olivia’s manacles to restrain Armand and Hippolyta. Ceres, who had been pierced clean through with a sword, they tied with a piece of rope.

The three skitarri spoke as one. “Come, there is transport inbound.”

Just then, a blinding flash of light momentarily blinded them. As the light dissipated, they found themselves surrounded by tall, lithe forms clad in iridescent turquoise interlocking armour. Their tall, plumed helms loomed over Althea and company.

“Xenos.” Gus hissed.

Althea wondered, briefly, if maybe discussions might be more successful with these new individuals. What are they doing here? Are these xenos watching after Ceres and Hippolyta? Or are these different ones? Althea’s mind was swirling with questions.

The closest one leaned forward, and with a gleaming spear of sickening light, stabbed one of the skitarri. The air filled with a metallic shriek. The other two raised bows, likewise flaming with terrible brightness. The questions disappeared from Althea's mind and she scrambled for her shotgun.

Althea had been training her reaction time and she felt a surge of pride as she managed to shoot before either of the bow-armed xenos could fire. Her shotgun barked twice and the closest xenos went stumbling back into the neighbouring room of Olivia’s hab.

The other xenos let loose with an arrow of energy that slammed into the Catachan’s stomach. He grunted and doubled over. Doc fired his laspistol but the shot caroomed off the xenos’ armour. Althea was impressed with him. For a man that didn’t seem to like fighting, he could usually be found where the fighting was thickest.

The xenos which Althea had targeted came back into the room. He appeared to have a moment’s hesitation before deciding on Althea as his target. Three quick shots came Althea’s way. She dove to the side and two of the shots whistled harmlessly by. The third scorched her leg, lancing pain through her body.

She brought her shotgun to bear and fired back. The xenos managed to leap out of the room and dodge her shot. She looked around – the door to the hab was open and Olivia and two of the Skitarri were gone, as were their three prisoners. Althea recalled the Vox saying that transport was incoming.

Lazarus had his autogun out and filled the air around the spear wielding xenos with bullets. It went down. Althea saw the Catachan punch the final xenos in the stomach so hard that the armour dented. The xenos coughed up blood between teeth that had been filed to points. Althea’s stomach turned. These xenos were trouble. But they were also in trouble. They were all hurt or down and Althea’s team all seemed in mostly good shape.

Then there was a flash of light in the neighbouring room. It was identical to the flash that had preceded these initial three.

Reinforcements! “Let’s get out of here!”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Althea stepped out of the hab and into the gantry between the two habs. She could see a lander hovering about 30 metres off to her right. Looks like the Drophawk 43Bs I used to fly in the Navy. Olivia and the skitarri were halfway there, carrying the prisoners. The deck of the lander was crawling with skitarri and they were firing their rifles into the distance. Althea looked around and saw their targets – there were more of the turquoise armoured xenos gathered on the gantries between the two hab buildings. They were swarming towards the lander.

Althea yelled into the doorway, “We need to go! Lazo! Gus! Doc! Now!”

Althea started to move towards the transport. She curbed her desire to sprint all out. If she got there too fast, she’d just end up waiting for the others. It will have to be a fighting retreat. She started to move and pulled out her laspistol to shoot at the closest xenos. Both shots went wide. Ugh. Cutting hell.

Cracks rang out from the Skitarri’s long rifles and energy arrows flew overhead. She had stumbled out of the hab and into an active warzone.

The grizzled skitarri, who had been carrying Ceres, crumpled to the ground - his back erupting in flames. Ceres flew forward and landed on the gantry with a thud. A beam of light punched a hole in the lander. The lander started to smoke and, although it rocked, it stayed hovering.

In what was probably only a few moments, but seemed to her an eternity, her team slowly came out of the hab. Lazo, Doc and Gus. They were followed by Rigs who had a look of pure rage on his face.

Althea saw a turquoise form flash behind them. There was a crack of light and Rigs cried out. The shot seemed not to really hurt him – he seemed, however, to simply boil over.

Lazarus reacted to the shot before Rigs could – he spun with his autogun and sprayed behind them. A few of the slugs hit the xenos and it tumbled to the ground. It had been winged but it wasn’t out. It started to get up, slowly.

“Filthy xenos!” Rigs bellowed. “You can’t harm me and get away with it! I’m going to deliver the pain!”

He turned away from the lander and ran back to the downed xenos who was starting to get up. Rigs pulled out his bolter as he ran. How the cut does a thug like that have a bolter?

“No!” Althea yelled, “we have to leave!”

Rigs ignored her.  He reached the xenos, aimed briefly and pulled the trigger. There was a loud boom. The bullet entered the xenos’ chest and exploded. Chunks of xenos flew in all directions.

Althea saw a brief smile start on Rigs face. It didn’t get a chance to finish. His head snapped back as two energy bolts slammed into him. There was an explosion of blood and he crumpled to the ground.

Cut! Allies (even filthy grox allies) seemed hard to come by.

Althea turned. “Doc, Lazo, Gus! Get to the chopper!”

Everyone rushes the lander. The prone forms are either prisoners or corpses.

She sprinted to the lander and leapt aboard. She grabbed the nearest skitarri. “Where is your pilot? We’ll be on in a moment, and we need to be ready to move!”

She could see the skitarri’s eye lenses focus as it stared at her. “Pilot X1-042 is right there.” He indicated a corpse on the deck. “Back-up pilot C4-754 is over there.” He indicated a flaming corpse on the gantry. “Our only hope is to beat back the invaders and wait for backup.”

It was at that moment that Althea’s trained ear caught the unmistakable wup wup wup of inbound ornithopters. Sunguard. Cut it, not now.

The lander looks the same as the old Drophawks – maybe it pilots the same too.

She ran and jumped into the cockpit. The overall design was similar, but it had been customized to Skitarii specs. There was a jack for a wrist interface in front of her. She noticed that the leather on the wheel was barely touched and the dash wasn’t worn down at all. The skitarri either didn’t have skin to touch the dash or they used the wrist jack for everything.

The lander was already hovering, she just needed to take control and apply some juice. She searched for the manual override. They keep the cutting design but move the cutting manual override! She was sure she had dreamed this nightmare before.

She looked up and saw an ornithopter touch down in front of the lander. A quick glance at the radar showed another ornithopter abeam on the starboard side. Sunguard started to stream out of the bow-side lander.

She reached for the foregun controls and realized they were gone. She had seen the guns on the ship, but it must be wrist-jack controlled. Cutting robots! Why can’t they leave good enough alone!

The lander was suddenly rocked under a savage blow. She heard screams from above and at least two little shapes showed on the pict-radar. Crew pitched overboard. Cut. I hope that wasn’t Lazo, Doc or Gus. Or Olivia I guess…

She reached around desperately. Where is the EMPEROR DAMNED OVERRIDE?!?!

She was hitting every button she didn’t recognize. There was a savage dip as she finally found the right control and wrestled the lander into place. The building exploded in front of them. That dip had inadvertently saved them from a powerful blast. We have the Emperor’s own luck today.

She trained the pict screens on the starboard ornithopter and saw a sunguard grab the pintle-mounted cannon.

She was a little rusty and she wasn’t quite familiar with the ship, so her evasive maneuvers were nowhere near what she was capable of. But if you had asked any of the occupants who were hanging on for their lives, they wouldn’t have known. The shots all missed.

She keyed the cockpit door open. “Hey metalhead, which way to the forge?” She yelled.

She saw a cowled head peer into the cockpit. “Coordinates 342a by 86b, 4th stratum.”

She blinked at him. “Direction!”

“East.”

“Warn the others. Acceleration in 5.” The head disappeared.

Her hand was moving towards the burners as her count hit one. She throttled the accel, and the lander lurched up and banked hard left before tearing off down the gantry.

She looked down the pict screen and saw the bow-side sunguard sprinting towards their ornithopter as it started to rise. The other thopter was already airborne and was gaining on them.

Althea jammed the throttle against the dash. It couldn’t go any faster. The ornithopter was still gaining on them. She heard the warning signal – weapon lock. She sent the craft into evasive maneuvers. It looked a bit like a drophawk and the controls were similar, but it did not handle like a drophawk. She jerked to the left but pulled up just short of a barrel roll. Cutting people sitting on the roof. What sort of lander doesn’t have proper restraints?!

She felt a few shuddering impacts and risked a glance down at the hull and engine integrity schematics. A bit of damage, but it could have been much worse.

She heard high caliber rounds being fired. She looked down at the rear pict screen and saw the closest ornithopter shudder. The aft-gun. Likely Lazo. She was grateful for that man’s affinity for ranged carnage.

The ornithopter fell back as the pilot fought to keep it under control.

The second ornithopter burst forth from the shadow of the first. She heard the weapon lock chime and was luckier this time – she evaded the entire burst.

Within moments the ornithopter was close enough to ram her, and the proximity chime was starting to drown out all other noises. She tried an evasive manoeuver, but the thopter stuck on her tail the whole time.

She glanced at the pict screen and saw that it was straight red. Cutting guard shot my eyes. But they hadn’t. The screen started to clear up and she saw the tail end of a burst of flame cover the ornithopter’s viewport. Apparently the flames covering her eyes had also been covering theirs. They had slowed dramatically so as not to crash while blind.

She would kiss Gus when she saw him next. What a fabulous flamer!

She heard more shots from the aft-gun but this time her crew missed both of the ornithopters. The lander had gained some distance on both of them, but the thopters were gaining on her now. Fast and getting faster. Looks like hyper-thrusters are engaged. Althea saw a break in the spires up ahead. They must not have seen it, otherwise they wouldn’t have both burned hot to catch her.

It’s now or never. She cut the rear thrusters, pumped the fore-thrusters and port-thrusters to full and pulled hard on her steering control. She felt the navi-vanes struggle against the wind, but the lander obeyed her and pulled a hard right through the break in the spires and into a narrow pass.

She saw the ornithopers blaze by the alley entrance, their speed too fast to risk the same maneuver. She had probably gained almost thirty seconds on them. Thirty seconds might as well be an eternity in a bird flight.

That’s how it’s done in the Navy you cutting grox sows.

The cockpit door opened and Metal-head 1 poked his head in to guide her. Moments later, they were joined by 3 identical landers which took up protective positions around them. Althea felt a surge of pride for having made that escape. She had saved them.

They settled into an easy route through the skyline as, behind them, hordes of landers and clouds of ornithopters swarmed in a delicate dance of death. 

Something big was starting tonight. 


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As Althea’s lander approached the forge, the body carts had arrived at Olivia’s (former) habblock.

The sunguard were long gone, and other than the blast marks on the hab’s walls, there was no trace that the xenos had ever been there. The witnesses not killed in the crossfire had disappeared shortly thereafter.

The orderly in a brown Sanitarium uniform was directing servitors to gather the bodies and place them on the body carts, to be transported to the autopsium, the donatorium and then the crematorium, in that order.

The orderly looked down at his wristcron. It was getting late. Overtime’d start soon and then he’d be raking it in. He changed his directions so that the servitors would fetch the bodies in the least efficient way possible. The job’d get done, the servitors’ records’d be clean, and he’d get a nice pay bump next cycle.

Noises snapped the orderly out of his reverie. He looked around but didn't see where they came from.

They came again. Grunts. The servitors were still far away, but he wasn’t afraid. No one messed with the corpse carts. There wasn’t anything worth the trouble.

It finally turned into a yell, and a stack of five bodies toppled off the cart and onto the ground.

A large man – a very large man – stepped off the cart. He was wearing camo fatigues stained in blood. He put a hand gingerly to his head and it came back red. The orderly could see the glint of steel from where the man’s hand had disturbed the blood across his skull.

“Hey! Yousa can’t get off the cart! Yur dead!”

“Don’t feel dead.”

“Yousa gotta be dead. You was put in the cart! Only deads go in the cart.”

“And if something not dead goes in the cart?”

“Againsa rules!”

“You got me in the cart and I aint dead, so you broke the rules.”

“No! You …” The orderly trailed off. “But” was all he could manage before the large man continued.

“If I ain’t here, then only way anyone’s finding out you broke the rules is if you tell them. You talk a lot?”

The orderly’s eyes slowly widened as he realized what he was being asked.

“No suh…”

“Good. I won’t either. I just need 20 cred for the tram to get out of here. Do you have that?”

The orderly frowned. He looked slowly from the distant servitors to the big man. He looked at the bodies on the ground. More work, a little more overtime. And he wouldn’t have to fill out any of the cart infringement forms. He reached into a pocket of his brown overalls and pulled out two 10 cred chips and handed them to the man.

He turned to see if anyone had seen. When he turned back, the man was gone.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Mission Report (A4): Culling the Nest and Brokering Introductions

I've been writing a narrative of a Dark Heresy campaign I've been taking part in.  Part one is here.  This is part 4. I think it's pretty exciting. I hope you do too.  Please let me know if you have any feedback, constructive or otherwise.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Clear here.” Althea yelled.

“Clear.” She heard Lazarus yell. She was glad that he had been running rearguard. She had heard shooting from behind as she and Gus had charged forward. If they had been surprised from behind… she preferred not to think about it.

Oh cut, Gus! She turned around and saw Doc Geryk hovering over Gus’ prone form. “How is he?”

“Administering adrenolada. Will then follow up with sterasiphon to stabilize.”

Doc!”

“Oh,” he stammered. “Give me a few minutes. He will be mobile.”

She was pretty sure that Gus had taken most of a clip of an autogun in his chest. She had seen bigger men than Gus fall and never get up after that. But if Doc said he was getting up, well, we’ve each got our strengths.

Our heroes run into brutes. This is right before this report starts (and right before Gus takes a full clip to the chest).
Although she had fought many different xenos and pirates in the navy, she had never seen the like of these cruel things.

Some of them looked like regular men; others had large bulbous heads. They generally looked… scrappy. Just men. Scrappy, dirty men. Hard men.

She looked down at the corpse below her. It was inhuman, huge. The monster had stood two and a half metres when it was still walking. Thick corded muscle stretched across its broad form. It had three arms.

Lazarus walked up to it and kicked it. “There are some pretty big claws here. Think this is it?”

“Naw.” Althea shook her head. “The fop said four arms. And somehow I think he’ll know these aren’t the claws he wants.”

Lazarus shrugged. “Just seems like we might be risking bullets unnecessarily here, is all.”

“We’re doing the work of the Emperor!” Althea heard Gus’ voice float from further down the hall. “I would risk many more bullets to spread His cleansing flame!”

Doc is a miracle worker. “Gus, how you doing?”

“I can walk. Thank the light of the Emperor for the Doc.” Gus tossed aside his ruin of a flak vest.

“Good. Let’s get this four-armed dog and get out of here.”

“Perchance you may regret wishing to meet it,” muttered Doc Geryk. “These xenos make Halerian pit hounds look like plain noodles.”

“Doc, if we didn’t want to find one, we shouldn’t have bothered to come.” Althea said, resignedly. “Let’s go hunt ourselves a claw.”

But inside, her sinking feeling was getting worse. She had seen a Halerian pit hound once. It had been as big as a groundcar.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A few corridors later, they found themselves on a ledge in a large cavern. They couldn’t see the floor past their ledge – or the ceiling. The ledge extended to both the left and right. There was a thick, acrid flavour to the air. It didn’t feel like air from the outside. She flashed back to the slack hoses of their recent enemies’ rebreathers, and clutched her own.

Gus had promised that he could smell corruption from their right. Althea chuckled inwardly, but lacking a better direction, Althea led them to the right.

They moved slowly to avoid detection. After a time, Lazarus halted them. “Movement behind us.”

They took positions behind cover and Lazarus took out his sniper rifle. He took a look down the scope. “At least five of them. Autoguns.”

He continued in a few more heartbeats. “Thoughts?”

Althea considered it a moment. “Gus and I have shotguns. Doc has a pistol. You’re the only one with range. Let them get a bit closer before surprising them.”

Lazarus nodded. They sat there for what seemed like forever before Lazarus’ rifle cracked. “Target down. There are more now. Maybe eight/ten.”

Althea frowned. She didn’t like these odds.

Boom! Boom! Boom! Gunshots tore chunks out of the masonry near Lazarus’ head. He ducked under the hail of bullets but she heard him grunt. He’d been hit with something.

She hid and listened in between the gunshots until she could hear their feet pounding just around the corner. She unhooked a frag grenade, pulled the pin and swung it around the corner. She heard the explosion accompanied by screams of pain. They clearly hadn’t been expecting someone that close.

She hefted her shotgun and jumped around the corner. She saw a few bodies but didn’t have time to count them. She squeezed off a few shots and saw one of the leading figures stumble. One of the others raised his weapon and she leapt back as a swarm of bullets filled the air where she used to be.

She heard the boom of Gus’ combat shotgun and the cracks of Doc’s and Lazarus’ las weapons. She heard screams from the cultists in front of her. She threw another grenade around the corner and followed through with her shotgun, taking out a few more cultists. She thought there were maybe only five left. It looked like they were going to pull through.

She ducked back again and heard Lazarus yelling. “More of them. Behind us!”

“How many?” She yelled.
Althea sends Gus to help the others.

“Don’t know. I see three arms. I think they’re the fast ones, not the big ones.”

Cut this!

“Gus,” she yelled, “Go help them.”

“There are too many here!” He yelled.

“It’s worse behind us. Go!” She responded. He looked at her.

“I’ll be fine!”

Gus scampered to the other end of their beleaguered last stand. Truthfully, she didn’t know that she could hold off all of these guys by herself, but things were looking grim and she thought they were going to need to take risks.

She picked her last grenade off her vest (cutting Olivia couldn’t even get me enough grenades) and tossed it around the corner. She waited for the explosion and then barrelled around the corner with her shotgun held high.

Five men stood there staring at her. Nonchalant, their heads turned in unison to address her. A few of them even had grins on their misshapen faces. They must have kicked the cutting grenade down the hall. Too cutting predictable!

She leapt backwards just as their bullets tore through the space where she had been moments earlier.

This is bad. She lifted her shotgun, ready to blow off whichever head peeked around the corner first. Should’ve kept Gus here with me…

She heard a stamp next to her and turned to see a huge four limbed monster land nimbly on the deck. It was hunched, but it would have been half again as tall as Althea if stretched to its full length. Two of its arms ended in large hands, with vicious claws. The other two arms were tipped with more claws, each as long as her forearm. As Althea watched it, its large bulbous head swivelled towards her, a long tongue snaking out between sharp teeth. She could see a gaping intelligence glittering in its eyes.

Althea had assumed that the ledge was impassable, but it must not be impassible for creatures like this. Smart.

She started to raise her gun but was immediately slammed from her feet. Her brain slowly registered the boom of a shotgun followed quickly by pain – flowing, serpentine pain. Those goons had taken advantage of her brief distraction and had come around the corner with guns blazing.

She flew through the air and landed in a heap on the ground. She looked up at the goons who had shot her and saw one of them smile with filth encrusted teeth. He raised his shotgun.

Then his head promptly disappeared. The others turned down the corridor they had come from, their attention immediately drawn away. Their guns started blazing.

Althea slowly turned her head and saw the genestealer start to stalk towards the others.

“Lazarus! Gus! Doc! It’s here!” She yelled. Or at least, she had intended to yell. Instead only a quiet croak had emerged and none of them had heard over the sounds of guns.

Her vision was starting to fade. She would only have one more chance. She gathered all of her energy and tried one last time, picking the man closest to the beast – “Lazo!” She hadn’t been much louder, but she was luckier and her voice had fallen in between gunshots. Lazarus turned his head and saw the beast as it leapt towards him. He didn’t have enough time to bring up his gun, but the warning had given him enough time to fall awkwardly on his ass allowing him to narrowly avoid the grasping claws.

Her vision faded to black.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“This should help you feel better.”

Althea heard Doc’s voice coming from somewhere in the distance. She felt a brief pain in her arm.

“Please note though - you’re not actually better, you’re only feeling better. So try not to push it too much, or you’ll have hell to pay later. Again.”

Doc’s face came into focus above her own. His warm concern for a fallen comrade was familiar now. He was right. She was starting to feel better.

“How is everyone?”

“None of us are untouched, but you undoubtedly took the worse of it.”

“We killed the monster?”

“Yes, my trusty bolt pistol slew it. Although we never would have survived without Ceres and Hippolyta.” Doc gestured over his shoulder to a pair of newcomers talking with Lazarus and Gus. “Say hello to our new friends.” A pair of women greeted her.

“Who are they?”

“They claim they’re here on behalf of the xenos.”

“Ahhh. Help me up.”

Althea limped over to them, favouring her left leg. Ceres looked … dorky. She was tall and thin with a large nose. But her most notable feature was her giant mop of hair. It had been cut to neatly frame her face, but the effect reminded Althea more of a lander’s cockpit was framed by the rest of the craft. She must be an off-worlder. Althea had been on Pickman for months and not seen anyone affecting that style. She walked with a dancer’s grace and exuded confidence that was thrown in disarray by her strange drab garments.

Hippolyta, much shorter, looked dangerous. Dressed in matte black, she was compact and confident, with a sword slung over her back and a large bulpup autogun hanging from her belt. Her apparent strength seemed odd also, compared with her grey hair and the clear weathering of her skin. Althea would have to watch out for this one.

“I hear we have you to thank for being alive,” Althea said.

“Not so,” Ceres responded, smiling. “Your team fought well. We very nearly did not need to intervene at all.”

“Need to intervene? You mean, you were watching us?”

“Yes. The Watcher sent us to ensure that you acquitted yourself as promised.”

Althea felt her blood starting to boil. “Why didn’t you help earlier? We barely survived as long as we did.”

“Our mission was to assess your worth. If you seemed useful, but were threatened, we had license to step in.”

“If you had intervened a little earlier, I might still be in one piece.” Althea gestured down at her body – her flak armour was covered in blood.

“We are not your caretakers. Should you not have proved your worth, we would have let you perish.”

Hippolyta spoke up. “We should make haste. More will come soon.”

“Good to know.” Althea said to Ceres. She looked over at Gus, who had just finished tying the purestrain’s two clawed hands to his belt. It looked as if he had taken them off at the wrist with a chainsword. The front of his tunic was covered in blue ichor.

He smiled. “This is an auspicious day. The Emperor smiles upon us.”

“Hippolyta is correct. We should leave.” Doc said, sucking hard on his rebreather.

They fell in behind Hippolyta and walked out.

Gus fell into step beside her. “You sent me back to go help Doc and Lazarus.”

“Yes. Those three-arms are more powerful than the thugs I was facing.”

“You nearly died.”

“We had to take risks.”

“Althea, you nearly died and our flank collapsed.” Althea started to protest but he continued. “It would have, if those two newcomers hadn’t come. Then we would have been cut up.” He said, using her slang against her. That shut her up.

“We generally let you call the shots, but you’re not invincible and you need to do better. Not everything moves like a man, these things always know how to get behind us. I’m glad you survived. Glad we all survived.”

They walked back to the cutter in silence.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

They made it to the lander without further incident and packed into the cargo hold. Ceres and Hippolyta climbed into the front next to a Sunguard pilot. Althea wasn’t quite used to the Sunguard tabs yet, but he looked like a lieutenant at least.

Hippolyta walked into the hold and placed a box on the floor. She removed the lid and they saw a touchstone. An image of the eldar xenos shimmered into being above the stone.

“I’m told that you did an excellent job.”

“Couldn’t do it without your henchmen,” Lazarus muttered. Apparently not quiet enough for the xenos to miss it.

“We manage the lairs, and occasionally they get big enough that we need to cull them. You should not feel ashamed – this lair was long overdue for a culling.” He responded.

“You ‘manage’ them?” Doc asked.

“Yes, we will use them in our fight against the Great Devourer.”

“How?”

“It is beyond your ken. Just know that they must not be too weak, nor too strong. So we cull periodically. You did an excellent job on this culling. Your first culling.”

“And what do the bloodwraiths have to do with them?”

“Our pets are a separate matter. They must be protected, as they protect us. You will see in time.”

“What now?” Lazarus asked.

“You have proven your worth. Now we move forward.” The xenos’ image shimmered and then disappeared.

Lazarus leaned forward and yelled into the cockpit. “How long until we get back to the safehouse?”

“We will not be going to your safehouse.” Ceres responded.

“We must go back, my research is there.” Doc protested.

“The safehouse was burnt down. There is nothing left to go to.”

“By the light of the Emperor.” Doc leaned back into his seat and closed his eyes.

“We are taking you to the eldar.”

Althea’s stomach tied itself into knots. I cannot let them put us on the wrong side of the Vox.

Althea leaned forward, “Your xenos made us a deal. We would torch a nest and bring him back a claw, and he wouldn’t turn our hideout into a warzone. He’s breaking his end of the bargain.”

“The deal was that he would not kill you. Your lodgings were not included.”

Althea conceded the point. This Ceres sounded like a magistrate and that wasn’t a line of reasoning that she was going to win. It was worth a shot. “Regardless, the deal did not include our eternal fealty. Take us to Olivia.”

The others looked up at her. Lazarus, the only one on her side of the hold, leaned in and whispered “What do they know about her?”

She waved him quiet. It was a good question though. She knew they knew of Olivia, since the xenos had mentioned her by name. But she was gambling that they knew much more.

“Why would we do that?” Jackpot.

“Why does your master want us?”

“I’m the one asking the questions here.” Althea couldn’t see Ceres, but she could hear the annoyance creep into her voice. She was used to being obeyed.

“Fine, I’ll spell it out,” she said, unafraid that she might be making an enemy. “Your master wants us because he wants allies in his war. We’re just four soldiers. If he wants allies, he wants our boss on his side.”

“And?”

“Let us talk to Olivia and we’ll get her, and our boss, onside.” She was met with silence from the cockpit.

“You think you can do that?”

The others looked at her searchingly. “Yes,” she said. Truthfully, she had no idea. But she knew that it was their only chance to keep the vox on their side.

“Sure enough that you’ll kill Olivia if she won’t agree?”

“Yes.”

She looked around the cargo hold and the others were staring at her. Gus’ mouth was hanging open (although he had really taken a beating, so he might just be out of it). She pointed at herself, as if to say “I’ve got this.” She hoped Gus trusted her to make the right decision they would have to follow her lead if this was going to work out. The last thing I need is one of them to play hero.

Then she leaned back and closed her eyes. She felt their eyes on her, but she did her best to ignore it. She started to count her breathing the way she used to before a big race.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Sunguard Lieutenant led them to a hab in what seemed to be a good block. It seemed Olivia did well enough for herself. He knocked on the door.

The door slid open. Olivia’s eyebrows rose as she scanned their motley crew and the Lieutenant, who she clearly recognized. Althea thought she recognized the look on Olivia’s face. It reminded her of prey who was trying to figure out if it should bolt or if maybe, if it stayed still enough, the predator wouldn’t see it.

“Please come in. Armand, good to see you. Doc, Lazarus, Gus,” she said. “Althea.”

Althea had to hand it to her, she was handling it well. She led them into her hab and offered them some caffeine, as if this house visit was the most normal thing in the world.

“So, I went by the … flat.” Olivia ventured. “What happened?”

The men turned and looked at Althea. Typical.

“I think Armand should explain that.” Althea said.

“Arson.” Armand said around a cookie he had stolen from one of the cupboards. Huh. He looks quite at home.

“I see.”

“We left it whole and thought we would be going back to it,” Althea said.

Olivia’s eyes narrowed at her. “Did you?”

“Yes.”

“What do you want?” Olivia looked angry.

“We need to speak to the Voice.”

Now Olivia looked angry and scared. But she didn’t respond.

Lazarus responded to the unspoken challenge. “They already knew where to find you, Olivia. We didn’t lead them here, they led us here.” Thank you Lazarus.

“We need to speak to him. Their boss,” Althea indicated Ceres, Hippolyta and Armand, “has some information the Vox needs to know.”

“You can tell me.”

“Look Olivia, I know you don’t like me.” Althea said. “But their boss has information on this Great Devourer. Apparently it’s coming. Now I know my place, and I get the sense that this is big information. Much bigger than me, and much bigger than you. The type of information that the Voice needs to hear. This can only be the Voice’s decision. Not mine and not yours.”

Olivia stared at her and the dislike in her eyes was unmistakable. It was clear her life had just been flipped upside down and it appeared that she blamed Althea for it. Althea would have felt bad for her if she wasn’t such a cutting tool.

“I’d bet my reputation on it.”

“Reputation?” Olivia spat. “You’d be betting both of our lives on it.” She was silent a moment longer.


“I’ll arrange a meeting.”