Saturday, 7 March 2015

In service to a Rogue

Wulf Heironymous jerked as he snapped awake. Drenched in sweat he panicked a little as he scanned his surroundings trying to orientate himself in the darkness. Despite being a veteran soldier of four years service, he felt the panic rising as it took a moment to realise where he was. Shaking his head free from the effects of sleep he mused about the fact that he still wasn’t used to travelling in the bowls of this ship. He felt the subtle rocking as the ships centre of gravity shifted over eddies and currents, to him if felt like being locked inside a building while someone rocked it like a crib. He slid off the top of the tripled stacked bunk careful not to wake the men sleeping below him. The steel of the floor felt cold beneath his feet as he walked towards the end of the cargo hold that housed the lavatories and showers. The hold that was serving as his unit’s barracks always felt cold and looked dark, even when the overhead lighting was set at maximum brightness. In the shower room he squinted as the sudden brightness pained his sleepy eyes. As he splashed water from a spartan steel sink onto his face his mind flashed back to the dream that woke him. The ship-men that he had spoken to when he first came aboard had warned him of the dreams.  They said they would be bad. Especially when transitioned, something about them being your worst nightmares or sometimes terrifying pleasures. He didn’t understand what transitioning was, they had said it had something to do with the ship traveling into the black. He thought about that for a second. He’d seen out of some of the port holes before they’d been shut and welded in place before they had transitioned.  Outside had looked black to him, except for the stars. No not into, they had said traveling beyond the black. He had thought the portholes were shut because they weren’t meant to see out, but perhaps it also stopped someone from seeing in? Well whatever transitioning was it had made him nauseous, and given half of the men in his platoon migraines, and the dreams. The first night a dozen men had awoken screaming, soldiers who were adults when Wulf joined the Levy at fifteen. Men who had held firm in the face of Xeno beasts when others had wilted, screaming for the Emperor’s mercy in the night. The men hardly ever screamed in the night  anymore, but that didn’t mean they weren’t terrified while they slept. The dream that had woken him was ample evidence of that.
Wulf always dreamed about reliving the events of his past. He would stand atop the defence walls of Damaris City fighting off the Ork assaults only this time they fail. The city burns as the men of the Levy are slaughtered. Wulf sighed in relief at least this time he had awoken before his memory had soured and become a twisted parody of actual events.

Wulf stared out across the western plains despite having grown up in one of the agri collectives he had never seen them from this vantage point. Normally his visa consisted of furrowed soil covered with grain that needed harvesting or muddy fields covered in pulped grain storks from the harvest that needed to be reploughed. Now that he was above the fields he could appreciate their beauty. The fields of rolling crops seemed endless, he fancied that he could see all the way to the permafrost at the edge of the cultivated lands. But that was over a thousand kilometres away, further than Wulf was ever likely to travel.
He was snapped away from the view by the harsh words of Aldheim. Boy! What the hell is wrong with you?! Move your sorry arse!  We've got at least six more loads. Wulf sprinted after Aldheim, sorry sir it won't happen again.
The older man didn't even turn around to reply as he jogged down the stairs. Don't promise me boy. Just don't let any of the officers catch you lollygagging. The Corporals will just flog you around the backside of your head, but you better look out if the sergeant spots you slacking. What will he do? Wulf nervously asked. Nothing Aldheim replied. Wulf was confused, Aldheim continued just as Wulf was about to ask what he meant. The sergeant won't lay a finger on you.  It's not his job,  but he will make sure his corporals are doing their jobs. If a corporal is getting chewed out because some wet behind the ears recruit is off skylarking then you can bet the corporal is going to shove his boot directly up that recruit's arse.
They arrived at the base of the stairs, Wulf looked around him hundreds of men were hustling all around him, dragging out cargo from the backs of trucks and APCs  and beginning the long climb back up the stairs it reminded him of harvest day, only everyone was dressed in the green and blue uniform of the Levy instead the rough grey cotton overalls of a labourer. Someone slapped him on the shoulder and pointed to a pile of metal boxes being unloaded from the rear of an eight wheeled cargo hauler. That pile there recruit Heironymous. It was Reinald, the soft spoken gunner of the heavy weapons team he had been assigned to.
Aldheim spoke up again as he grabbed two of the large ammunition boxes and heaved them onto his shoulders. That bloody name of yours, we need something shorter. I can't be yelling Recruit Heironymous get that Mellon down before it gets shot off every five minutes. How about Mus?
Wulf stammered. Actually you could just call me Wulf. Aldheim looked at him and simply said; Mus it is. Wulf tried to respond but was interrupted by Reinald. Sorry. You rarely get to pick your nick name.  Reinald also grabbed two ammunition boxes and started up the stairs.
Wulf sighed and with one ammunition box in his left hand attempted to lift a second. Grunting he abandoned the attempt and shifted his hands to better grip the single box and prepared for the long climb.

The steps were steep and seemed endless. Streams of soldiers were flowing up and down the stairs. Wulf joined the flow heading up, Wulf's boots were ill fitting and he tried not to stumble as he climbed. Most of the troops carried ammunition canisters similar to the one Wulf was. But many still carried sand bags these were for construction of individual pillboxes on top of the wall. Each weapons team had their own. Three bags thick and four feet high, except for the entrance at the rear and embrasure at the front. These were constructed behind the armourcrete parapet at each opening in the crenellations. Two hundred weapons teams guarded this section of the wall. At either end of stood the ordnance towers making the limits of this section. The towers were at least fifteen meters higher than the wall they stood upon. Armoured doors prevented access to the tower and the next section of wall beyond the tower. The towers surfaces facing to the outside of the wall were pitted with numerous embrasures. Unlike the temporary pillbox constructed by Wulf's team, these were thick stepped armourcrete, and reinforced by additional armour plating. Each plate was engraved with images of Imperial heroes striking down foes. The weapon barrels that protruded from each opening weren't like the man portable Autocannons mounted on tripods held in place by stacks of sandbags.  They were permanently fixed weapon systems each one was fed ammunition directly from the tower's own internal magazine. They were guided by individual machine spirits that aided targeting, and they had hardwired communication systems that allowed the bunker commander to coordinate its gunners actions with HQ and the other towers. Wulf continued to drudge up the stairs, he could just see the very top of the nearest tower between the press of bodies on the staircase. It was an impressive sight. Each tower was topped with a massive metallic Imperial eagle. Wulf had always thought they were simply mighty sculptures. Then the tekpriests had begun awaking them. One by one the sculptures had transformed; the wings normally by the great birds sides had unfurled as a mighty cannons had risen out of the plinths that each eagle stood on. The sight of the thick towers ringing the entire city, each topped with a colossal Aquilia was truly inspirational. Then the wings protectively closed around the cannons forming an armoured shell. Finally the mighty dual heads that normally faced away from each other pivoted forward and now they seemed to survey the landscape around them. Their eyes faintly glowed and seemed alive. Apparently it had been more than a hundred years since the city had last needed it's defences activated.

Wulf finally reached the top of the stairs and started along the parapet heading towards the pillbox that he had helped construct. He tried to avoid looking over the edge as hefted the ammunition canister, as much as he enjoyed the endless view across the fields, looking down directly off the edge disturbed him. The walls were at least thirty meters high and thirty meters thick at the base they then tapered to about ten meters thick at the top. Looking over the edge always induced a feeling of nausea in the pit of Wulf's stomach. The work continued through the day, and at nightfall the heavy weapons teams settled in on top of the wall. Supper was brought to them up the stairs by civilians, although since General Dante declared an emergency and called for a general mobilisation every citizen was technically part of the military.
One week previously Wulf was a juvenile labourer, he had not yet even received an indenture. Like all the other juveniles the only military experience he had was with the youth militia, one day each week the youth of the agricultural districts would muster for three hours drill. Marching & parade formations practice then physical training, finally it would be marksmanship. Wulf's militia unit only had a single battered lasrifle for each of the sixty youths to share, they were lucky to get three shots each week before they were dismissed. Then one day they had heard the public Vox broadcast for all militia to muster and upon arrival at the drill yards Wulf had discovered regular troops of the Highland Levy fortifying the area. Rows of slit trenches and great earthen berms surrounded the drill house that was now covered in layers of sandbags. When he entered the compound he had was taken aside with the other youths, and addressed by an officer. The young lieutenant informed them that they were all now conscripted in the Levy with the rank of recruit. They were all handed a bundle containing uniforms shoes and a helmet. All of which were designed for grown men not the slight frames of the adolescent militia. After they dressed all sixty cramped into the hopper of a ten wheeled cargo transport ment for caring raw grain and were driven to Damaris City, without the chance of seeing off their families.
Wulf was awakened when they arrived by the sound of cheering, it seemed that the whole city had turned out to see the new recruits Wulf's cargo hauler had joined a great convoy of other vehicles filled with youths from the outlying agricultural districts. The trip from the city gates to the levy training fields was like entering a whole new world to the simple farmers, many had never even seen the city from a distance. The capital of Damaris was a city of many hundreds of millions with the news of off world Xeno invasion millions more had traveled here seeking refuge inside its walls. The buildings were awe inspiring to Wulf, looking up out the cargo truck they seemed like mountains, the massive glass sheets in the windows reminded him of waterfalls. At the training fields each recruit was issued a lass rifle, Wulf had never believe there could be so many weapons, the quarter masters office was staffed by dozens of clerks and they were all tasked with issuing rifles to the recruits, thousands of them were handed out. The recruits were given a whole day of marksmanship training Wulf was able to fire over a hundred shots. Thats when they were divvied up, each heavy weapons squad was to receive a recruit Wulf was sent to the wall and that's when he met Aldheim and Reinald.

Wulf shook his head; how long had he be daydreaming? The broken sleeps had been getting to him. He exited the brightness of the prefabricated structure that housed as the shower block. As the door slid shut behind him he was plunged into darkness. His night vision destroyed by the clinical brightness of the shower room lights, he was unable to identify the dull red bulbs that dimly lit the cargo holds during the ships night shift. He didn't need the dull glow bulbs to find his way back to ladder of his bunk rack. He silently slipped into his bunk and as he begun to nod back to sleep he prayed to the God Emperor that he would not dream anymore.

It had been three days since the sandbag pillboxes on the wall had been completed. Wulf was nervous it seemed all they did was watch and wait. Sometimes a group of offices would walk along the walls inspecting the men, some times the offices escorted lords and other gentry. Once it was the great General Dantie flanked by aids and guards he had stalked along the wall demanding the relocation of heavy weapons so that their fields of fire would better overlap. Then the off worlders had come. Among them was a great lord dressed in strange garb, a tall man of noble bearing that the others defend to. His face marked by a single large scar that ran down over his eye. Clad in armour seemedly made of glass that drank up the daylight instead of reflecting it. At his side hung a large sword whose scabbard and hilt was adorned in gold filigree and set with precious gems whose brilliance was only outdone the fabric of his cloak.
Behind him walked a group of men that acted as advisors. The great lord stood atop the parapet he leaned forward with his foot resting atop one of the crenelations, his cloak bellowed behind him as he stared out across the plains. His face shielded from the sun by his magnificent bicorn hat whose crest was thick with bright plumage. Wulf was close enough to hear them converse
Ragnar my friend, you've faced the brutality of these Xeno during your time in the Navy. Will these walls hold? His voice was smooth as oil and carried musical quality a symptom of his off works accent. One of the odd group of advisers stepped forward. His back was straight and his step was as sharp as any officer on parade. His uniform was the dark blue of an imperial naval officer similar to Commodore Naremmus the commander of the cruiser Aegis which often docked at the orbital Bulwark during its breaks in patrolling the Expanse. Except in place of military service medals his chest was adorned with a single gold pin. A swooping eagle with claws bared and beak open, and from its open beak thrust a fist as if to strike an adversary.
Aye Captain. I have faced the green tied, and lived. These men think they are prepared but they know not the magnitude of the threat they face. An Ork Warrgh is part holy war part, plantenary migration. The Orks that will come here will delight in the slaughter, whither it's their enemies or their own. They will not break until their war chief is dead. The troops here will need additional ammunition stores. The walls and buildings behind the wall will require fortification. But most of all they will need more men. The officer's voice was short and clipped. It possessed a tone that was accustomed to issuing orders and dealing out scathing beratements to those who failed any tasks assigned to them.
Then they shall have them. The Captain's voice was one you would follow anywhere, his words inspired confidence and loyalty. Luther bring down some men have them prepare the fortifications to Ragnar's specifications and open the arms lockers make sure they are prepared to repel any hostiles that make it to the walls.
Another of the advisers stepped forward he held a data pad in one hand and an electro quill expertly scribbled notes faster than the eye could follow, this superhuman act of scribing was only possible because of the augmented hand the advisor possessed. My lord by my calculations the necessary expenditure of manpower and liquid capital will be quite extensive. This advisor spoke with the polished accent of someone accustomed to using High Gothic daily, like a scribe. But he wore a high quality suite of master crafted armour and bore himself like a man accustomed to violence.
As the group continued along the wall there was one member of the advisors who didn't speak. Wulf starred as he walked past the deep flowing robes seemed to hide a multitude of secrets within their folds. It almost seemed like he was floating as he moved, when Wulf looked at his legs he just barely caught a glimpse of metal under the robes. It was as if like both his legs were augmented. Wulf wondered what had happened to these men that they bore such scars and replacement limbs. As Wulf looked up from the odd advisors feet he found himself staring into the hood of the robed figure. A disturbing voice issued from within. Worry not what horrorth we have facedth boy, jutht know that men can triumph againtht the foulnethth of the abythth. The as the figure answered  a question Wulf had not the courage to ask aloud, he leaned in close enough for Wulf to see what hid inside the darkness of the robes. A face as pale as it was gaunt leered at him, two bloodshot eyes that were unaccustomed to the morning sun glistened darkly, and mounted prominently in the centre of a greasy forehead was a third eyelid,  thankfully closed for the time being. An as the advisor spoke Wulf could see why the figure lisped. A mouth full with long needle like teeth packed so densely they more resembled some kind of primordial beast rather than a human.
The advisor smiled disturbingly. But then againth the we, are not ordinary menth.

For the second time that night Wulf awoke in the darkness of ships hold.