25 years ago - The Battle of Iocanthus
The screech of rending metal filled Zarkov's skull, reaching a crescendo before his implanted automatic dampers engaged, cutting back the sound of howling adamantine to a piercing whine and bringing everything back into sharp focus. The Gunnery Command Bridge had received a direct hit, and bodies of the dead and the dying lay scattered about the deck. Medicae-servitors picked through the wounded, administering basic treatment or a quick death where it was needed. A targeting control terminal, its power source hit by a lucky shell, exploded spewing forth great gouts of electrical flame and immolating its operators. Two servitors trundled towards the scene with foam cannons to extinguish the blaze. The acrid smell of burning flesh and ozone filled the air. Zarkov looked around in a daze. A shield officer was screaming, but no words were audible.
As his aural dampers disengaged the noise of battle flooded back into Zarkov’s head. "...ard shields are down! Repeat we have lost forward shields!" The voice of the officer was high and stressed, Zarkov could now hear his fear. His face a rictus of terror; eyes glazed and vacant, it was patently obvious that this was his first fleet action. Zarkov's attention was pulled away as Captain Fulvium’s voice filtered down via Vox-caster from the Command Bridge. "Commander, give us a targeting solution on these impudent greenskins, and do it now!" "Yes, Captain." Zarkov turned to the crew. "Hold heading! Ahead flank!" he barked, ignoring the shell-shocked officer. A few seconds later the main engines began to wind up; hundreds of Tech-priests in the engine room screaming obeisance to the Machine Spirit within. The other ships of the line held position, the lances of the Gothic class Indomitable reaping swift death on the opposing Ork armada.
The battlecruiser accelerated ponderously out of line, still taking hits from the attacking Ork ships off its port bow as it began to forge toward them. The smaller Imperial ships fell behind as the xenos concentrated their fire on the unshielded bow of the battlecruiser. The ship reverberated as shell after shell hit home, its heavily armoured prow weathering the worst of the fire. "Hold heading!" Zarkov shouted, "The Emperor is with us!" The Infinite Fury came alongside the leading Ork vessel just as it reached flank speed, its surprising advance leaving the savages with no time to react. A full broadside from the macrobatteries struck the Ork vessel starboard side at point blank range, even as it tried to turn about and bring its forward guns to bear. Holy fire engulfed it as it shuddered and began to break up.
The other attacking Ork ships, momentarily distracted by their leader's fate, began to turn to face the battlecruiser. At the same time they turned away from the main Imperial line, exposing their flanks. Zarkov checked his tactical display. "Deactivate port engines and activate retrothrusters on my mark. Three...two...one...MARK." The Fury's port engines suddenly winked out, while the starboard engines continued to propel the ancient vessel at maximum burn. The entire ship shook and groaned as it began a sweeping turn to port. Massive retrorockets decelerated the vessel and tightened the turn, and the ship, not designed for such stressful maneuvers, began to list violently to the left. Her gyroscopic gravity generators, thousands of years old, were unable to compensate for the list, and several crew members lost their footing, skittering across the deck or plunging over railings to their death. Swinging wildly, the massive chandelier on the bridge ceiling detached and fell four storeys to impale an unfortunate rating.
The battlecruiser completed its turn, now facing the Ork ships. "All stop." Starboard engines shut down as Zarkov concentrated on the largest of the xenos vessels, a captured Lunar class cruiser, still trying to turn and face the Imperial ship. “Range to target, 255 kilometers..." the mechanical voice of the targeter intoned. A perfect firing solution. Zarkov smiled. The voice of the captain again filtered down to Gunnery Command. "Excellent work, annihilate this alien filth!" Zarkov nodded to his men. "You heard the captain! Forward Lances fire; concentrated pattern Delta IV. Annihilate them in the name of the Emperor!" The gunnery crew gave out a hearty cry as the forward weaponry of the battlecruiser powered up, glowing with an unnatural light. The intense Lance barrage, silent in the void of space, cut through the Ork vessel's shielding and devastated its superstructure. Incoming macrobattery fire from the opposing imperial ships added to the conflagration. The xenos were caught in a pincer, and the gap was closing. Lances aboard the Fury began to overheat from the sustained fire as the leading Ork vessel continued its turn, slowly coming into firing position.
Soon Ork shells were impacting the bow in massive numbers, some even penetrating the armoured prow. Thousands of crew perished as explosions wracked the forward section of the ship. Her forward macrobatteries fired again and again, but somehow the Orks continued to forge towards the battlecruiser. "Range to target, 47 kilometres and closing." Zarkov glanced at the tactical display. The leading Ork vessel filled the screen, its bow a mass of fire and explosions. Even as he watched, the enemy ship loomed larger, closing the distance. "The primitive scum are going to ram us! Prepare to repel boarders! Lance concentration maximum!" Tech-priests in the bow increased the fervour of their libations, but it was not enough to appease the ships Machine Spirit. The forward Lance batteries overheated from the sustained fire and shut down, leaving the Infinite Fury without its main forward armament.
"Curse the Omnissiah!" Zarkov spat. At this, several Adeptus Mechanicus on the bridge made the sign of the Machine-God, and prayed silently for absolution. The voice of the captain boomed again in Gunnery Command. "Very well, if they wish to ram us, we shall respond in kind! All ahead flank!!!” In the bowels of the ship Tech-priests and servitors struggled in vain to restart the ancient engines as the Ork vessel continued to advance. The Fury hung in space, macrobatteries still firing. The Tech-priests on the bridge whispered amongst themselves, while the wailing, desperate obeisances from the lower desks became loud enough to reach Zarkov’s aural implants. The engines would not respond. "Range to target, 11 kilometres and closing." Zarkov grimaced as he stared at the tactical display. Collision was now unavoidable.
The stricken xenos vessel, still on fire and beginning to disintegrate, plowed into the Infinite Fury's prow. The disabled Lances were torn asunder by the force of the collision, and the ship shuddered violently. Zarkov was thrown from his command position as explosions resonated within the hull. The forward macrobattery magazine, penetrated by the collision, detonated in a massive blast that vaporised the crew, most of the prow, and half the Ork vessel itself. "...ctivate...retrothrus...pull...way!" came the captain's broken voice from the Command Bridge. The Ork ship came free as the Infinite Fury slowly pulled away. Secondary explosions blew the floating hulk into several pieces, which drifted off into the void. Aboard the Infinite Fury, communications were in chaos, and warnings flooded Zarkovs aural implants, threatening to overload their fragile neuro-circuitry. Filtered messages painted a grim picture. "ZZTT...Engines still down, sir." "Sir, the remaining xenos are flanking us from above and below." "The Machine Spirit has been affronted! We must appease it!" Voices were cut off or replaced by screams as shells from the flanking Ork ships impacted the Command Bridge, and once more the sound of tearing metal filled the room. "Comms are down! We've lost contact with the Command Bridge!"
"Sir, we've lost shields on the starboard sector!" The shield officer’s voice cracked as his will finally broke. Approaching Zarkov, the officer raised his hands in a gesture of supplication. "Sir, the ship is unresponsive and the Command Bridge destroyed! Our shields are down! The Emperor has abandoned us!" Zarkov pulled his bolt pistol from its holster, and in one fluid movement shot the man through the face. Shards of bone and what was left of the officer’s brain matter sprayed onto the bulkheads behind him as he twitched and fell to the floor. A pair of servitors quickly disposed of the still spasming body, while another servitor began to idly clean skull fragments and flecks of hair from the wall.
Zarkov reholstered his bolt pistol and strode back to his command position. As he did, Captain Fulvium descended into Gunnery command, his features bloody and disheveled. "Captain on the bridge!!" Zarkov reflexively saluted as the captain approached through the chaos. Fulvium waved away his salute, and grasped Zarkov’s hand, grinning. "The Command Bridge is lost, but we have struck the filth a telling blow on this day my friend!!!" "Yes, Captain." Zarkov remained at attention. "Damage to weapons systems is extensive, and our shield generators are still overloaded, Sir." Fulvium laughed heartily. "The Fury will prevail. She has seen through worse battles than this." "Indeed she has Captain," said Zarkov, relaxing from attention, "though not within our lifetimes." The Captain nodded. "Aye...true." He paused. “Well then, perhaps today is a good day to die!" Turning, his voice rising, he addressed the crew. "Men! This may yet be our finest hour! Our ships are closing the gap, and the foolish xenos seem to be concentrating all their firepower on us! A perfect pincer maneuver! We shall not falter!!!" The captain drew his power sword, holding it above his head. "Let fly with everything we have remaining! Our lives will cost them dearly! FOR THE EMPEROR!!!"
"FOR THE EMP…" Zarkov began, but his words were cut off as a massive explosion engulfed the Gunnery Command Bridge. Massive chunks of adamantine rained down as shockwaves ruptured the ceiling bulkheads. Zarkov struggled to remain upright as more Ork shells impacted the bridge. An errant shell, its proximity fuse malfunctioning, skidded to a stop near the primary macrobattery command console. Detonating, it took the console and crew with it. Shrapnel exploded outward, shredding all in its path. A shard of twisted adamantine tore through Zarkov's left thigh, amputating the leg above the knee and leaving a messy, ragged stump. Blood instantly began to gush from severed arteries as Zarkov slumped to the floor, staring at his leg and struggling to stay conscious. The searing pain was the only thing he could concentrate on, and his head spun as he voided his stomach contents on the bloodstained deck. Broken, indistinct thoughts swam in his mind. Die...it was right for him to die here…ship of birth…in battle...yes...a fitting end... The captain was still screaming orders at the crew, and while Zarkov could hear his words, he could not decipher them. A good day to die…good… His vision blurred as a Medicae-servitor trundled towards him. "Blood loss, critical." it droned to itself. Selecting a promethium cauterizer mechadendrite, the appendage clicked twice before igniting. The last thing Zarkov was aware of, before he passed into unconsciousness from the pain, was the smell of his own burning flesh and marrow as the servitor staunched his wound with fire.