Second Church Protectorate
The world of Argent III, sat innocuously in its usual place, revolving quietly around its particularly uneventful sun. Nothing ever happened here, in fact nothing had ever happened out of the ordinary as far as the inhabitants of the planet were concerned. That is, until this one fine morning, when war came slowly yet resolutely to the system.
Ships winked into real space, taking up their predetermined positions. Shuttles began to ferry Church troops to the planet’s surface, irrespective of the local Governor’s complaints. Regiment after regiment was deployed, and the Guardsmen began to dig themselves in.
Shortly after the final troop transport was once more safely in the arms of the fleet, the main body of vessels jumped once more. They had other worlds to find, other fortifications to build and time was running out.
Stiv Viker was among the first to make planet fall. Somehow Johns and his platoon had been adopted by the gruff Leftenant Krantu. They had been relieved of their more mundane duties and put through some special training. Little more had been said about the unusual treatment meted out to the Inspector, but truth be told, none of them were particularly upset about Ivanov’s predicament.
An APC roared past, spraying mud into the air and Stiv delicately wiped the front of his tunic. He, like many of his fellows, took an inordinate pride in his Regimental emblem. It instilled confidence; he always felt ready for anything when he was dressed in his uniform. Even with his body armour in place, he could feel where the snarling head sat over his heart, and was comforted.
He laughed uncontrollably as he saw Alana misjudge her step and fall backwards into a muddy puddle.
“Viker!” screamed Corporal Johns, “Don’t just stand there! Give her a hand!”
The thought of clapping appreciatively did briefly flit across his mind, but it was not advisable to display too much humour in front of the testy non-com.
With a wave of agreement, he trudged forward, better positioning his backpack to make sure he did not overbalance and join her there in the middle of the road.
“Him there,” said Krantu softly to Walters, “he’s the one.”
“Why him?” asked Walters enquiringly, not for a moment doubting the K’ran’s judgement, rather his question was out of curiosity.
“He’s different,” replied Krantu, even after all of this time and the modifications his body had undergone, he still found it hard to talk in long sentences.
Smiling to himself, Walters insisted, “How is he different?” he asked.
“Hard to say,” replied Krantu, “but trust me, he’s the one.”
Walters watched the young soldier struggling through the mud, his hand outstretched in order to help his companion. With a heave she dragged him down beside her and they both collapsed into helpless laughter. Perhaps he is the catalyst, thought Walters to himself, only time will tell.
His attention was drawn away from the two young soldiers, as his enhanced senses felt a disturbance in the ether approaching. Whatever it was, it wasn’t friendly.
Closing his eyes he reached out and felt the wrongness and with a snarl he turned to Krantu.
“They’re here already!” there was a snick of claws extending, as the K’ran grinned wolfishly.
“Good!” was his only answer, as he waited for further commands.
“Warn the men,” snapped Walters, his mind already calculating what they might have to do, “Ours that is!” he cautioned Krantu, “the others will just have to look after themselves!”
Something was going on, of that Stiv was sure. There was a new purpose in the older men, they seemed to bristle in excited anticipation. He could have sworn he had heard some of them growling to each other in low undertones, and their walk! They prowled now, like hunting beasts ready to be slipped from their leashes, hands flexing subconsciously, forgotten weapons slung on their backs.
Viker stared closely as the Colonel exited his Command Tent, Major James and Leftenant Krantu with him. A group of the men from his pinnace approached, their bodies encased in their strange power armour. They were huge men, fully as big as any of the Immortals, yet still wearing the characteristic snarling beast emblazoned on their shoulder guards.
One of them raised his visor and Stiv tried to get a better look. A rough hand jerked him away by the back of his tunic, spinning him around and there behind him was the ever present Johns.
“Stop gawking!” he hissed, “and get the rest of the platoon together. For some reason, the Leftenant has taken a personal interest in us and none of you are going to let me down!”
With a shove in the back, he was propelled rapidly across the road. Stiv risked one last glance at the group of officers and found himself staring into the unblinking green eyes of the Colonel. He felt pierced through by the Colonel’s gaze; it was as though he were being weighed on a very strict pair of scales. Smiling slightly, the Colonel turned away and Viker felt immensely disappointed, as though he had lost something and involuntarily he cried out.
Walters looked back briefly and an electrical charge seemed to pass between them, Viker feeling energised, invincible. The Colonel nodded and continued on his way, the others following meekly behind him.
Arn rose from the Command chair and looked across at Berbatov, “Can you feel it?” he asked excitedly.
Berbatov nodded and swung a foot at a passing crewman who skipped easily out of the way. His hand reached down and touched his halberd where it lay propped against the wall. The shaft was reverberating slightly, as though in tune with some strange music.
“About time!” he grumbled bad-naturedly and then he grinned, “I was getting just a little bit bored with all this waiting. Why don’t you tell them?”
The shipboard communication system sprang into life, Arn speaking softly into the transmitter, “Our Lord calls us!”
His voice echoed around the Galleon and there came an answering howl of pure joy. Messages were passed across to the other ships and after a short wait, as one they winked out of real space in answer to the long awaited summons.
Second Church Protectorate
Admiral Baynes had stayed behind with his cruiser and two destroyers, his orders to protect the best he could the troops on the planet below. Further sealed instructions had been given to him in private; if the threat was overwhelming he was make all speed to rejoin the fleet, the information of the enemy disposition was more important than the hundreds of thousands of lives below.
He had privately questioned these orders and had been curtly rebuffed, there would be no discussion allowed. So, it was with trepidation he received the reports of multiple vessel signatures. It looked as though a fleet were due and he would have to run. Perhaps he might get the chance to at least reduce the odds before he fled, although he would only do so if the risk to his ships were minimal.
It was in an awed silence he heard the details of the estimated number of enemy vessels dropping in real space and not waiting any longer, he ordered his ships away, leaving the troops below to their potentially terminal fate.
There was no escape for the Church ships, a vast fleet winked into existence all around them, effectively corralling Admiral Baynes and his men. His only option was to fight and take some of the enemy with him. He ordered gun batteries charged, missiles readied and fighter craft launched. In a tight formation his three vessels ploughed onwards, directly into the centre of the opposing forces.
On his command the ships fired into unison, their concentrated fire intended to punch its way through the vessels before them. Shields flared in opposition and counter missiles were launched.
He felt his cruiser reel under the power of his enemy’s attack, three times as many of them engaged him and from all sides. No time was given for him to communicate with his destroyers as their shields were torn apart and enemy fire sent them screaming to the Prelate’s Bosom.
Alone now, he continued to fight, data streamed in of batteries overheating, missile hits against enemy ships and more against them. Hull integrity had been breached on three separate levels and there was now no return for the fighters, the launch bays having been ripped into shreds by incoming missile strikes.
Baynes saw the indication of their failing shields and the exact moment their tenuous protection disappeared. Shortly afterwards he heard reports of enemy vessels clamping on to their hull and new breaches being blown. Reports flooded in of fighting on all decks and that his men were losing, their resistance futile.
His decision taken, he ordered his Exec Officer to join him in the destruction of his once mighty vessel. An explosive detonation stopped him short as he saw the poor man reduced to a liquid spray and he knew that all now rested on him. There was no time to do this properly and he raced to ensure that this failure at least would not fall at his feet.
It was, and always had been from the moment of the enemy fleet’s arrival, too late. A backhanded blow sent him reeling backwards in his chair and he screamed in pain as a whirring blade was pushed slowly into his stomach. The owner of the weapon calmly held the Admiral in place with one booted foot and proceeded to turn the man’s entrails into a horrific soup.
Still alive, Baynes looked up into the scarred and piteous face before him, pleading for release.
“I will give you release,” sneered the man, leaning forwards and kissing the Admiral on the lips, a vile spittle passing between them. He laughed even more as Baynes’ mouth began to blister and boil, “You are welcomed,” he snarled, “into his ever-loving embrace!”
Guest post with D.P. Prior
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