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!”


“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.

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