Refinery 18, Floor 64/pl Tarquini Hive Sextis. 04:00 standard Terran M41 466
She fell, hard the textured plating of the catwalk breaking her descent with a sharp whack of dulling finality. With a stomach turning crack, her left collar-bone snapped under the impact, her off-hand stub-auto spinning over the edge of the gantry to fall into the empty air of the transit shaft, the ivory white, bone grip plates (the only reflective surface on an otherwise matt-finished gun-black weapon) glittered up at her as she gazed over the edge of the walkway, her prized kill-tool spinning down into the dizzying snakeway of the drop-shaft. Adrenaline had long ago taken over her faculties and the agony registered as a numbing throb in her arm and shoulder, her reaction no more than a tightening of the jaw and an evasive roll to the centre of the catwalk.
No sooner had she done so, las-shots hammered and smacked into the dented metal where she’d landed, flashing and snapping the air. Kicking her legs out fiercely onto the deck and rising in a kippup, Ephesse returned fire with her remaining auto-loader while regaining her feet. Furious fire withered the space around her, solid rounds joining the las-blasts from the higher catwalk, one scoring a groove in her back, another plinking off the plas-steel carapace of her right pauldron, upsetting her aim and leaving a shockingly bright scratch along the curve of the plate. One of her returning shots punctured the skull of an attacker, pitching them backwards onto the upper catwalk, their autogun spinning from lifeless fingers to bounce off the handrail of the walkway next to Ephesse, but it was one of many enemies swarming the deck above.
In front of her, a bulkhead snapped open, the ragged shapes of more cultists spilling from it guns barking at close range. Reacting instinctively, Ephesse arched her back into a flick flack, landing on her left hand. Agony so acute that it cut through the adrenaline seared through her neck and shoulder, buckling her arm beneath her and sending her crashing down onto the riddled platform knocking the wind from her with the impact. The accident saved her from a torrent of fire from one of the cultists who’d levelled a heavy stubber at her spinning body, anticipating her move. Dozens of solid shells hummed and snapped over her prone form, clattering sparks from the curved drop-tube wall and ricochets plinking down the length of the pit below. As the cultist adjusted his aim, fighting the muzzle-climb of his unwieldy weapon to track the line of probing, sparking shots to carve toward her, she rolled desperately off the edge of the gantry grimacing with the pain. The pit of the tunnel slid into view below her, her gut tightening with nausea as gravity snatched at her. She began to fall, the catwalk below her loomed with terrifying speed, filling her view. The deck-plating was gaggled with cultists, their guns trained up at her previous position, some discharging their shots passing her as she descended toward the railing below.
Falling, she squeezed off a couple of desperate shots at the fast-approaching huddle of scum, one shot plinking off the handrail, another thudding down through the top of a cultist’s shoulder burying itself in his torso and tearing through a lung, his diaphragm finally coming to rest in his liver. His limbs convulsing in his death throes, he depressed the trigger of his lasgun and flashes of searing light-energy raked the air, punching through the face of one of his companions and impacting on the back plate of another, immediately igniting him in a flash of super-heated flesh and desiccated cloth, the fat of his body cooking off like tallow. Her slide locked back, indicating empty and she let her pistol slip from her grasp in the free-fall reaching for the hand-rail as she sped towards it.
Careful to use the smooth curve of the metal to deflect the impact, she still felt her hand numb and were it not for the recoil glove; she knew her forearm would have shattered, the bone smashing out of her elbow and rendering it useless. As it was, she swung under the bar, twisting her body into a ball and looping her legs under in a whipcord of muscular strain that sent her boot-soles battering into the lower torso of a cultist, pitching him over the rail on the other side. He didn’t have time to scream, the initial shock of the impact was followed by a spine-crushing landing on the next gantry down blacking him out.
Already on her feet, having used the transferred force of her assault to arrest her flight, Ephesse grabbed the autogun of the nearest cultist by the barrel, the hot metal scorching the leather of her gauntlet and pulled it past her, redirecting the man’s bewildered reflexive burst of fire to rake the cultist immediately behind her then snapping the sight rail into his face and sweeping the gun from his grasp. As he crumpled forward, his nose exploding under the savage blow, she ducked into him, flipping the rifle in the air to catch it by the grip and using him as a human shield against the reactive fire of his companions. The body twitched against her, the traitor dying in the volley as las rounds tore him to ribbons. Taking the weight of the flinching corpse on her back Ephesse opened up with the autogun, letting the bucking gun track across the two remaining cultists in front of her, bullets stitching holes from the hip of one in a jagged line to the bicep of the other, spinning them and jerking the first from his feet to crack his jaw on the rail. She gritted her teeth against the shuddering impacts on her numb forearm, the recoil gauntlet the only thing keeping the climbing gun from tearing itself from her throbbing fingers. Feeling the clack of the gun’s action as the magazine emptied, she dropped it and fell to her haunches, the mangled corpse on her back following her down to droop briefly over her shoulders before she gathered her strength, exploding upwards, flinging the dead weight at the attackers behind her and turning to face them a slim-pattern combat dagger in her hand.
Staggering under the sudden impact of their comrade’s body, the front-most of the remaining cultists wailed as he fell against the rail, his ribs cracking under the blow, his weapon clattering to the decking. The two behind reacted better, raising their long-arms to fire on their prey. She launched herself at them attempting to close the distance a las-shot striking her squarely in the breastplate of her carapace cuirass, scoring a black dent in it and jerking her backwards. She twisted into a roll, coming to her feet again directly in front of the second nearest and plunging the blade up, under his gun into the soft flesh of his belly. She grinned as hot blood fountained over her arm and thrust up savagely into his twitching form, twisting the blade under his ribs seeking his heart. Spasming violently in his death-throes, her victim tore the blade from her blood-slicked fingers and fell backwards, his legs kicking desperately at the plating.
The disarmed cultist at the rail was struggling from underneath the mess of tangled limbs and ragged, las-torn flesh that was his former comrade when his tormenter’s boot cracked into his gritted teeth, snapping his head back so hard his vertebrae crunched under the savagery of the attack. In the same movement, she stretched her good-hand toward his discarded weapon, balancing the stoop with her attack, but solid rounds from somewhere studded the deck around the gun, kicking it over the edge and out of reach. More of the same rounds threw her down, impacting all along her side, one clipping the back of her head, scoring a groove in her flesh as it tracked her skull and painting the deck with a bright flash of oxygenated blood. It also knocked her insensible and when she hit the metal plating of the gantry she stayed there, smoke rising from the impacts in her armour, blood pooling around her head.
The last living cultist on the walkway, edged forward to prod her prone form with the smouldering tip of his autogun, his features pasty with shock and numb fear. When she failed to move, he raised his hand to signal that all was right, making an ‘O’ with his thumb and forefinger. His brothers above laughed in relief and triumph, whooping and waving their weapons, jumping up and down on the deck. Suddenly, they stopped, listening.
Kill-team ‘Virtus Primoris’ moved swiftly down the plant corridor in standard two-cover. They’d already made hostile contact and concluded them. The fighting had been fast, brutal and close, but that was their calling and their targets had barely the time to register their attackers before they’d been cut down in furious helgun fire. Distantly it seemed Sergeant Eban Tannil heard more small-arms fire. It was a mixture of autogun and las-fire which indicated it wasn’t any of the other teams. They’d been mobilised an hour previously via coded transmission, the message,
“Mercy insufficient, operation purgatory.” Their target location had followed and they had deployed in four teams, covering possible routes of retreat by their prey in an enclosing manoeuvre. The likelihood was that their enemies would greatly outnumber them, but here in the tight tunnels of the plas-steel refinery, with ample cover on the plant floors from the hulking abandoned machines numbers counted for little. With merciless precision, they cleansed the steel cage of traitors, their helguns blazing, each shot a kill.
Sol cursed his luck as he pressed his back into the wall, ricochets peppering the wall in front of him from the heavy stubber that had him pinned. These guys weren’t much good by the standards of hive-fighters, but there were so many of them. He could hear the group that’d been pursuing him approaching the other way, their work-boots pounding the metal grill of the corridor floor. He didn’t have much time. Quickly sliding the sickle-pattern clip out of one of his bolt-pistols he saw that he had only four rounds left, which meant he likely had three to five in the other. He slapped the clip back home and hunkered down, steadying his breathing and closing his eyes to calm his thumping heart. He had to choose, there were maybe eight on the way with long-arms, but the heavy had the corridor locked down the other. He had a brace of frags left, but it was a long throw and to step into that killing field was suicide.
His hiver instincts made him glance down. A dangerous toothy grin spit his features and he holstered his pistols kicking at the edge of a deck plate and fishing desperately in one of his webbing pouches.
Rounding the corner, the group of cultists stopped dead. The air was strangely still, thick with gun smoke, the fumes chocking as they made their way toward the next turn of the corridor. Something was very wrong. Their enemy should have come this way and they knew that their brothers had a heavy-stubber position at the end of this run. Had he been killed? There was no sign, but they did not rush for fear of startling the machine-gun team into firing on friendly targets. Edging forward, the point-man reached the corner and noting the fresh dents and gouges on the edge and far wall stepped out slowly calling the safe-word to his comrades at the gun position. No fire came his way, but the correct reply drifted eerily through the smoke and he heard the sound of the action of the gun breaking for the team to insert another belt. His comrades, seeing that it was clear came forward, milling, bewildered by the loss of their quarry. They looked at each other’s faces askance, their feet dragging sullenly across the grill decking.
Suddenly one of them stopped, confused and looked down, then shouting an alarm leapt back. It was much too late. Sol pulled the thread of the knot, releasing the grenade’s spoon letting it spin free of the detonator, the grenade set on a zero time delay going off as soon as the mechanism released erupting in a ferocious blast and shower of shrapnel and shredding the packed group of cultists. The point-man, sheltered from the bulk of the blast by the bodies of his fellows, staggered stunned into the wall, crying out in alarm. His comrades manning the stubber position opened up in shock, plucking the man from his feet and battering him against the far wall in a sustained burst that tore his body to ribbons, showering the already gory corridor with red fluid.
Below the corridor decking, Sol grinned to himself triumphantly the stink of burnt blood in his nostrils, fluid filling the maintenance duct below the walkway, oozing through the grill to pool thickly under the pipes which had protected him from the least of the grenade’s upward blast-cone. He eased himself over the ichor crazed pipes, pushing the loose grate up again with his back, a pistol in each hand. The heavy gun continued to fire in bursts, but he could tell it was desperation fire. Either they were running low on ammo, or courage. Maybe both, either way it was only a matter of time before the gun overheated and jammed and that would be the time to make his move. He waited for the tell-tale scent of near-molten plas-steel, his breath coming in ragged gasps of exhilaration, for some reason he couldn’t keep the mad grin from his face and he could feel hysterical laughter welling up inside him. He fought the sensation, but it was overwhelming and when he heard the clack of a misfire, his enemy’s gun going silent, he could control it no longer. Rounding the corner he charged the gun-post through the thick smoke laughing madly his prized bolt-guns poised for the kill-shot.
The darkened room was strobe-lit by the muzzle-flashes of Cog’s rotary-cannon and Halo cursed once again, blinded once more by the contrast of light she couldn’t make out the control console’s runes.