Cracks

Trooper Audwin Havener moved through the rubble of the barracks that had for the past two years served as the billet for the one hundred members of the 7th Company of the Jager Corps. The boots of his power armour snapped the already twisted frames of metal bunks. He moved through– not around– the debris that had collapsed into this room during the orbital bombardment that had signaled the beginning of the enemy’s assault on Jager positions on Adrilles. That had been more than three weeks ago.

The 7th Company’s losses had been minimal during the bombarment– a handful of ancillary non-combat units. The Company’s commander had moved all personnel and supplies into the underground bunkers as soon as the enemy arrived in orbit. The Company had waited in the bowels of the broken earth while the enemy shattered its home. When the rain of destruction had stopped, the Company had emerged. The enemy was coming to wage war on the planet.

What followed for the 7th Company was almost three weeks of continuous combat.

The western hemisphere of Adrilles had once been dominated by a vast ocean surrounding a continent fringed by flora choked islands. When the Jagers arrived none of that remained. The islands and the continent were dead, nothing but exposed rock wearing the deep scars of unimaginable violence. The ocean, too, was gone. The seabed was discernible from the rest of the wasteland only because of its altitude. It was in these deep, rocky plains that the 7th Company had been assigned. The base of operations assembled here was not a research station like those further to the east in what was named in whispers as the Tyranid Fields. 7th Station– so named after the Company charged with its defense– was a recon station and a supply depot, one of many in the west.

All that now remained of 7th Station were a handful of ferrocrete and rockcrete skeletons, their broken remains reaching upward like the curled, claw-tipped hand of the xenos the Psykers had been experimenting with since their arrival on Adrilles. After weeks of hard fighting in the surrounding area, the remains of the 7th Company had fallen back to the station to regroup. No respite was to be had because festering dissension among the ranks erupted in violence.

Trooper Havener suppressed a shiver, but could not help the snarl that escaped between his clenched teeth.

“Maintain silence, trooper.” The voice that came over the vox was tense. It was the voice of Sergeant Herrick Janz. Over the vox, the sergeant’s voice was close, but Havener knew the man himself was some 50 yards ahead at the very edge of the ruined barracks. The shadows there were deep. Havener switched his display filters and was presented with the lit shapes of other troopers pressed up against a towering wall that, though pockmarked, still stood. In a moment, Havener was with them.

Rainer Amsel flashed him a quick smile and made a motion to the southeast quadrant. Some 250 yards away across an open field of ancient seabed rock that had been melted and shaped into a road was a trench-line. Havener could see some of its shape through the ribs of an exploded warehouse.

“Assault squad,” said Jaecar Behrnat who was standing next to the sergeant. Behrnat checked his weapons. Holes in his battle armour still smoldered. The remains of his faceplate sat shattered on his shoulders.

Havener looked behind him, his gaze reaching across the barracks he had just traversed. Back there, beyond the barracks, across more cratered road, and crouched behind some rubble was Specialist Gunnerson. There was no chance Havener could spot him but he looked anyway. Gunnerson had hoisted the missile launcher without a word of farewell or good fortune and had run across open ground with such purpose that it had given Havener pause. That had been less than ten minutes ago.

Trooper Havener did see something. He saw the flash before he heard the sound. Gunnerson had fired his missile launcher. The contrail of smoke and fire arced below the swirling black clouds that hid the sky, raced across the length of 7th Station and struck with explosive might into the position where brother Jagers were positioned.

Not brothers, thought Havener. Not anymore.

It was the signal. No command from Sergeant Janz was required.

Trooper Amsel ran down the length of the wall and out into the open. Havener was hot on his heels. The two Jagers angled sharply, racing for the one building still possessing much of its roof. In the distance, across his enhanced field of vision Havener could see muzzle flashes and hot streaks of weapons’ fire. He could also see the combatants– Jagers against Jagers. A sight that made him snarl even as it made his heart heavy. A sight that he had seen too many times in the hours since 7th Company– sorely reduced in number, exhausted and low on supplies– had realized it was isolated from any friendly positions. The enemy was out there– beyond ridges and in the peaks and valleys of the ancient seabed. Incorporeal daemons of the Warp, black Necrons rising from the earth in Tombs suffused with green energies, and chittering, scrabbling Tyranids freed from the Jagers’ yoke. It was differing opinions on who was to blame that had cracked the veneer of the Jager discipline.

Havener could see the shape of the Skimmer resting in the lesser shadows of the building’s belly.

The seed of the plan had begun with Amsel. The trooper was the Skimmer’s pilot and felt certain it was still operational. Sergeant Janz shaped the idea into a workable plan. Shots would be fired and brothers may be wounded or even slain but this was not to be a battle. This was to be a break. Gather those loyal and leave this position with the goal of eventually reaching a Jager position of strength. Broken comm signals suggested one such position existed some 100 kilometres to the west among the former islands. Havener and his fellows would be harassed by the true enemy en route, but at least that was an enemy that could be killed with a clear conscience.

Amsel ran his gloved hand along the the curves of the Skimmer as he raced along its side. Havener took up a defensive position just outside the building, his bolter aimed in the direction where shots continued to be exchanged. Another pack of fiery comets arced down toward the distant trench-line. His vision filters dialed down in the resulting explosive flash. As the thunderous explosion rolled across Havener and then subsided, the high thrum of the Skimmer’s engine took its place. Havener hipped his weapon and leaped into the Skimmer’s gunnery chair as Amsel throttled the craft out of the building and pointed its nose in the direction of the wall where the others waited.

A bolt of super-heated matter streaked across the Skimmer’s canopy. Amsel jerked the controls reflexively. “Plasma gun!” he shouted.

Havener spun in his seat, looking out the back of the open-topped Skimmer. There! Moving across what was once the central courtyard of 7th Station. A Jager. Havener could see the red-heat of the plasma gun’s belly. Enemy fire beyond had also intensified. Havener was also now aware that there was a lot of chatter over the vox. His brother Jagers– no, not brothers– had patched in and were demanding surrender. And amid that was the frustrated voice of Specialist Gunnerson.

“Gunnerson is in trouble,” said Havener. Amsel banked the Skimmer hard and another plasma bolt cut across the canopy. The bank became a tight turn and Havener pressed the triggers on the Skimmer’s guns, sending bolts racing toward the Jager with the plasma.

Gunnerson had stopped yelling. No more missiles cut the darkness.

Sergeant Janz was shouting. Amsel completed the turn, the Skimmer now heading once again toward the wall. Havener could see that Janz and Behrnat had moved to the wall’s edge and were firing their weapons. With Gunnerson’s artillery silenced the attacking Jagers were moving toward their position. Havener wanted Amsel to turn the Skimmer so he could fire the ship’s weapons and perhaps slow the advance, but the pilot was fixed on his destination and indeed they were close. Now the Skimmer was slowing. Now Janz was running toward the Skimmer as Behrnat supplied covering fire. The advancing Jagers took a knee but did not stop firing. Bolts shattered the corner of the wall and bits of ferrocrete bounced off the Skimmer’s hull. Now Janz was hoisting himself into the back of the transport. Now Behrnat was falling back toward the Skimmer.

That is is when the world went white.

A plasma bolt had hit the Skimmer.

Havener felt himself pulled to his feet. His vision swam. Noise filled his ears. Behrnat’s face filled his field of vision. Behrnat was yelling something, but before Havener could ask for clarification Behrnat was gone. Havener stumbled for a moment and then found Behrnat hauling Amsel out of the wrecked Skimmer. Sergeant Janz was firing from the hip. His power armour looked like it had been crushed by a Titan and yet the sergeant’s aim was true. An advancing Jager holding a red-hot plasma gun toppled.

“Go, go!” Sergeant Janz was yelling, motioning that they should run for it. Behrnat pushed Amsel into motion. The Skimmer pilot started running down the cratered road, his stride becoming sure and swift. Sergeant Janz followed, still firing. Behrnat motioned for Havener to go, but the trooper felt a tingle at the base of his neck that made him turn. That is when he saw them. Assault troops in the distance, their jump-packs flaring and trailing streams of cloud.

Havener started to run.

He half-turned as he ran, firing behind him. He could hear the whirling blasts of the jump-packs as they were engaged. He knew an Assault Trooper could cover more ground then an Astartes on foot. Amsel might make it, thought Havener. Amsel was fast. But Havener was not as fast. Havener knew if he was going to make it he would have to put down his once brothers.

A couple of his shots hit his target but he did not see if the trooper faltered. He did however see the shots that sent Behrnat tumbling a split second later. Havener skidded to a stop and was going to go back to help him to his feet, but two shapes came out of the gloom and landed in front of the felled man. The Assault Troopers fired and started running. Havener returned fire, turned on his heel, and wished he possessed Amsel’s speed.

Up ahead, Amsel was not even firing his weapon. He was putting all his focus on running and it was paying off. Sergeant Janz’s face was fixed in a grimace as he dropped another Jager with his shots. Bolts struck the sergeant where blood already ran between cracked plate. Havener saw the man’s death stare as he ran past his fallen commander.

The whirl of the jump-packs was close. Too close.

Amsel is going to make it, he thought. Amsel is going to make it.

Two Jager troopers dropped down in front of Havener as if placed there by an unseen hand. Havener fired his bolter and unsheathed his chainsword.

Amsel is going to make it. Amsel is going to make it.

Havener smashed into the two Jagers and brother fought brother.

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About caperaway

I’m a publisher writer of graphic novels and short fiction. Published works include Acts of Violence: An Anthology of Crime Comics, The Grim Collection, Black Salt, and Psychosis. View all posts by caperaway

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