Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The Savours of Damarus

Regimental Sergeant Major Wulf Heironymous stood behind the firing line of the makeshift firing range that had been erected in the cargo hold. He recited the right of accuracy to the troops that had been assigned to weapons drill. They all knew it but he recited is anyway. 
'Remember these words they are now your mantra! On this range you will come to understand the importance of accurate coordinated fire, or I will personally eject you from the nearest voidlock' 

He turned to the corporals, and barked 'Ascending small arms volleys. Begin at 50 meters.' 

He turned as the NCOs began bullying the green troops into firing ranks and remembered back when he first began to understand the words of the right.

Recruit Wulf Heironymous felt pressure on his left shoulder as Reinald squeezed it 
'Repeat the right of accuracy this time.' 

he spoke softly. Wulf wasn't sure if he was worried that an officer would hear. Or if Reinald was just trying to calm his nerves. Wulf adjusted his grip on the wooden handles and shifted one hand to loosen the clutch of the tripod. As he did he sighted along the receiver and down the long barrel of the Autocannon. He moved the range notch up a 20 meter increment, aligned the front post with the rear sight and laid them over his target. A stack of grain bales with a crude circular splash of red paint approximately 400 meters distant. 
'No 420 meters distant.' 

Wulf thought correcting himself. The receiver radiated heat and the air crossing across his sight picture twisted and turned as the much hotter barrel produced a heat haze. Wulf though back to his militia training and began to softly speak the right he had learned by rote even before he had held his first lasrifle.

'Haste is the enemy of accuracy.
Enemies targeted in haste are not speedily terminated.
Accuracy is methodical, ordered, and precise.
Methodical is ordered.
Ordered is precision.
Precision is accuracy.
Without accuracy even heavy fire will fail to find its mark.
Without accuracy the Xeno advances.
Without accuracy the heretic continues to draw breath.
Accuracy is the bane of the enemy.'

Wulf finished muttering the right, as he completed realigning the Autocannon. A lieutenant barked through a loudhailer from down along battlements. 
'Box 75 do insure your performance improves!'

Apparently the officer had noticed Wulf's abysmal shooting. He wasn't surprised every cluster of bales besides his bore huge holes punched from the heavy caliber rounds of the Autocannons. Aldheim snidely remarked that a recruit shouldn't be shooting the heavy weapons and they would all be disciplined if the officer sent a corporal over for couragement. Reinald Interrupted 
'This will likely be the only chance the kid will have to learn how to use a heavy weapon before the fighting starts.' 

The lieutenant held his loud speaker to his mouth and bellowed. 
'All sections. Short bursts. Two cycles... FIRE!' 

Thunder erupted along the wall as over two hundred heavy weapons simultaneously opened fire. Wulf depressed the tab between the Autocannons's handles with his thumbs. This time he kept his head low and eyes aligned with the sights. He released the firing tab after a count of two, let the weapon settle on the target again and depressed the tab a second time. He continued, methodical in his actions. Aim, fire, reset, after 50 smoking shells had tumbled to floor of the parapet the receiver locked back with a satisfactory metallic clunk. Aldheim seamlessly reached across and released the exhausted ammunition drum from the Autocannon's feed. He then slid a fresh one in place and raped the side of the drum with the flat of his hand to free any stuck shells. Wulf grabbed the cocking handle with both hands sliding it back towards himself and then forward again. His whole body rocked with the effort of charging the spring, striping a shell from the ammunition drum and chambering the explosive tipped projectile. Realigning the sights with the target he continued depressing the firing tab. Again the Autocannon barked and vibrated violently as the receiver rapidly reciprocated. Each time he fired he was sure to lose only a few rounds that way he was able to correct his aim. The previous attempt he had held the firing tab firmly down. the entire autocannon had bucked so much his hands and teeth had hurt from the vibrations despite the sandbags pinning the legs of heavy weapons tripod down. Even if his initial aim may have been true but by the time the Autocannon had expended all the ammunition it had carved small river of muddy craters away from the initial impact point.
'That's a bit bloody better. Why didn't you do that the first time Mus?' 

Aldheim slapped him on the back as he congratulated him 
'Perhaps we will avoid having to stand post all tonight after all.' 

The bales of hay had been smashed apart by the concentrated fire, the small remaining clumps were smoking from the heat of the explosive rounds. The air was thick with the acrid tang of cordite. 

Reinald nodded towards the barrel of the autocannon. It was smoking along its length. Aldheim swiftly pulled on a pair of thick gloves, depressed the barrel locking lever as he griped and rotated it a half turn. The barrel sprung free and he laid it upon the open asbestos lined bag put aside just for this purpose. He grabbed the unused spare barrel and reversed his actions to lock in place. All three occupants of box 76 scrambled to attention and saluted as they noticed the lieutenant marching along the wall towards them.

The lieutenant spoke with the smooth accent of high born plutocracy. 

The lieutenant addressed Reinald but he looked straight at Wulf. Reinald snapped his response 'Sir!

The lieutenant eyes dressed Wulf up an down as he continued.
'Your performance in the first drill was typical of a recruit not inducted in the use of a heavy weapon.'

Reinald looked straight ahead and remained at attention 
'Sir. Yes Sir.'

'But your performance improved remarkably in the second dril.'

'Thank you Sir '

The lieutenant returned the three's salute 
'You have my congratulations. Your target is the most thoroughly destroyed'

The lieutenant turned his head to the left addressed the sergeant standing behind him. 'Sergeant. Please see to it that the recruit maintains the grooming standard. '

As the lieutenant walked away the sergeant began berating Wulf. A tirade of abuse flowed form the stern sergeant who was concerned with the moral ramifications of how Wulf's hands and sleeves ended up coated in soot. After some more disparaging remarks about Reinald's, Aldheim's, and Wulf's parentage. The sergeant gave the members of box 76 double watch duty that night and stalked down the row of pill boxes on top of the wall looking for more victims. 

Wulf sighed with relief as the Sergeant beratement seised. 
'The lieutenant knew that I was the one who used the Autocannon. He could see the powder no my hands. Why didn't he say anything?' 

'I am guessing he was happy with your performance... He may also realise that having the recruits actually learn how to shoot might be useful.'

Aldheim scoffed.
'Thoes big green brutes won't know what hit em if they come near the walls. The whole bloody leavy is mobilised. Besides did you see the Sphinx Heavy Guard, and Highlands Wardens mustered on the southern planes? Tanks! Undereds of em... No Ork is even gona get close to these walls. It's a pity too. They say kill'n Xeno is the Emperor’s work.'

'I'm not too sure Aldheim. They wouldn't have mobilised the leavy and conscripted the recruits if there wasn't a real threat. Not to mention all the off world reinforcements that have arrived.'

'Pffh you melancholy bastard. It's always doom and gloom with you. Mark my words the Wardens will chase the Orks into the hills the moment they make planetfall. If they make planet fall! Did you hear we've got a Navy cruiser, and one of the Rogue Traders have a fracking battle cruiser! Training that recute is a waste of time. We're not even gona get to fire a shot.'

The coordinated crack of a lasgun volley impacting the metallic silhouette targets brought the Sergeant Major out of his daydream. The green troops had found their groove. The veteran NCOs had bullied, coaxed, threatened, and tutored the green troops into a disciplined firing line. The rhythmic firing of the troops was an impressive sight and he knew the officers would be impressed with straight backs, synchronised movements and clean starchy uniforms. Now that the new men understood how to volley fire they would practice and drill twice each day at the opening and closing of each day training. As Regimental Sergeant Major, it was one of Wulf's duties to ensure that the troops looked proper. But he knew that wars weren’t won with formation marching and neatly arranged lasgun volleys. 

He gestured to the sergeant leading the other NCOs training the troops.


'Don't sir me Sergeant Decius. You've done good dressing those kids up, the officers will be most pleased. Now it's time to show them how to properly use those lasguns.'

'Kids eh... No problem Sergeant Major.'

The elderly sergeant turned and almost immediately began bellowing at the youths. Suddenly their neatly arranged ranks and straight backs were imbecilic. The other NCOs also berated the unseasoned troops. As they almost fell over each other and scrambled into firing positions behind cover. Worn-out cargo crates scattered along the length of the firing range just for that purpose. 

The NCOs broke the men into two groups and begun instructing the first to suppress the targets with aimed fire from behind cover, while the second advanced. After a short distance, the advancing group was halted behind cover and extolled to open fire, allowing the first group to advance. The two groups of troops repeated the cycle until the end of the range was reached. 

Wulf thought about the elder sergeant's remark. At Nineteen he was one of the younger NCOs in the regiment. He was definitely the youngest Regimental Sergeant Major the regiment has ever had in its history. Traditionally it was battle honours that won a veteran the title of RSM. As the levy hadn't seen any major conflicts in sixty years, hard work and an affinity for pleasing the officers had been the deciding factors for the appointments in recent memory. A few of the oldest soldiers in the regiment were NCOs that had spent a decade or more lobbying for the title of RSM. There was some discontent about Wulf's appointment, but while he continued to act competently the worst he would have to contend with would be a raised eyebrow or a laconic response. 

After the troops had navigated the length of the firing range three times The NCOs broke the groups up further down into squads of four. And then began to run the drill again half of the troops would fire other half would advance. The roles would switch and the first group would leapfrog the second. The fresh troops were learning fast but their actions were still less coordinated and their movements slower than Wulf would have liked. They would get there he was sure of it. He knew the next step of their training would be the hardest yet. They were going to have to learn what to do once they had closed with the enemy. Neet volleys and fire and manoeuvre drilling were only half the battle. They were going to have to learn the brutal reality that despite rapid fire Autocannons, tanks and mass lasrifle fire a lot of the killing in war was done art arms length. 

After mess he retired to his bunk. They had been voidbore for sixty days and the ship sleep cycle was second nature now.  He had become accustomed to the shifts in gravity, the sense of continuous movement, the sounds and smells of ship life. Bitter Oil, grease, and body odour. Sporadic crinkling of electrical arc welders, and the hammering of tools, the thrum of the atmospheric scrubbers, and the knocking of water pipes. The boastful laughing of young men, the hushed whispers of attempts to maintain private conversations, the mournful screaming of someone awakened by a dreamborn terror. The task before him was to transform the assortment of weathered veterans, and green recruits into a functional fighting force. General Dantie had honoured his treaty with Lord Havelock after the invasion of Damarus was repelled, troops, tanks, armaments, and equipment were all made available. The tanks like the armaments and equipment were less than optimal. Either well past their service life or damaged from battles with the Orks on Damarus. The troops likewise were the minimum the general could supply and still adhere to the agreements he had signed with the rogue trader dynasty. Freshly conscripted juveniles untested in battle and elderly men well past their prime. The officer corps were quite component, battle tested, and loyal... To Lord Havelockat least, but politically opposed to Dantie's goals so the general was happy to send them off world. 

As Wulf drifted off to sleep he thought about what lay ahead of the troops. He had advised that most veteran troops be promoted into NCOs and laid out a program of intense physical training to mould the youths into real soldiers. For the most part the officers had delegated the reformation of the newly formed First Damarus Leavy Expeditionary Regiment to him. The task before him was daunting but he would not srink before it. He understood the consequences of should he fail to prepare the troops to meet the challenges that they would be expected to face. 

The cool wind blew over the edge of the battlements its temperature lowered by the flurries of snow that had begun to fall as Autumn deepened. The chill in the air cut Recruit Wulf Heironymous to the bone his fatigues and coat wet with sweat but the cold did nothing to dampen the flames of the burning buildings behind him. Aldheim maned the Autocannon swivelling it on the tripod across his field of view searching for more targets.
The quietly spoken gunner Reinald had died a week ago his blood still stained Wulf's clothing.
'Mus get another drum ready, you dolt?

'Why don't you just call me Wulf?'

Wulf open the crate that held the ammunition drums. Empty shells rolled off and clattered to the rockcrete floor as he flipped the lid. 
'Only one left'

'Then stop daydreaming you're a Wolf; and find more. NOW!'

Wulf jogged along the parapet avoiding sandbags of collapsed pillboxes, and piles of spend shell casings. He didn’t want to slip and fall to the street below. One of the other recruits had fallen two days ago. Back broken but still alive... he had screamed for his mother as the medicals had carried his stretcher into a waiting cargo van that now served as an ambulance. His movements were hampered by the fading light of dusk, and the bodies. He hated looking at them; faces frozen in rage, pain, or fear. Worst of all were the bloody lumps of shredded flesh or blackened smoking remains unrecognisable as human besides the tattered remnants of green and blue Levy uniforms. The medicals would remove them eventually but they gave priority to the wounded. 

He reached the stairs and swiftly descended joining other troops doing the same. He approached one of the ammunition dumps. All he found was empty crates and scattered packing material. Other troops crawled through the mess flipping empty crates over looking for one that remained unopened under the detritus. He abandoned his search and returned up the stairs. He paused at each pillbox that had been struck by a shell and rummaged amongst the carnage for additional ammunition. By the time he returned to Aldheim the Autocannon was barking again. The Orks often mustered together into great green waves that surged forward and threatened to wash aside the the city's great walls. But the time between these grand assaults wasn't quiet. Smaller bands and tribes continually launched skirmishes, heavy weapons were pushed into position and begun shelling, and fast vehicles raced along the perimeter of the defences firing wildly and bellowing insults as they careened across the rough landscape. The continued pressure punctuated by the major assaults was wearing on the defences. Lack of sleep and maintenance  further degraded the collation of forces stationed on the walls. The defence council had directed all available resources to the city's defence. Platoons of Levy troops stood shoulder to shoulder with Damarus law enforces. Their numbers further bolstered by masses of armed voidmen supplied by the Rogue Traders who had come to the planet's aid. The poorly armed and unarmoured voidmen's skin was unaccustomed to natural light of the long Damarus days and clothing was unsuitable for the chill of the Damarus evenings. Their uniforms were an eclectic assortment. Bare feet, and bare chests weren't uncommon. Some possessed tricorn hats or tools for maintenance, all were armed but again there were a great assortment of weapon types. Shotguns, auto rifles, and various lasguns. What they lacked in provisions they did make up in discipline, not once did they shrink from battle. However the intense fighting and unrelenting tempo of the conflict combined with Damarus Weather resulted in very high attrition among these units. The Companies of Levy troops fared better but they too were at breaking point. Heavy weapon ammunition was nearly exhausted and casualties were mounting. Wulf slumped down beside Aldheim as he begun striping the shells from the partially expended drums and consolidating them.
'this is all I could find'

Aldheim glanced at the blood smeared ammunition drums.
'It'll have ta do. I hope this truck shows up soon or there'll be nothin left ta resupply.'

Aldheim, Wulf and several other heavy weapon squads had been redeployed from the walls overlooking the western argi plains to the wall guarding the major highway to Shard's forge. Supplies were running low and the forge had continued manufacturing from its stockpiles throughout the two weeks of the siege. However with the majority of the Sphinx Heavy Guard, and Highlands Wardens vehicles damaged or disabled and the infantry marred in the defence of Damarus prime. Safe transport of the vital ammunition shipment was impossible. The Rogue Trader; Atticus Havelock had volunteered to personally escort the multiaxial cargo haulers as they made a high speed dash along the highway leading from the forge to the city. 

'Lord Havelock will make it. He has to succeed. He just has to.'

'I don't like his chances the whole damned place is swarming with those green bastards.'

'He has done the same before. Gone beyond the walls to take the fight to the Orks. You've seen the pic-casts. He led those sorties With the Sphinx Heavy Guard, and Highlands Wardens. Sweeping the Orks from the walls. Twice now he's done it.'

'Aye but he ain't got two armoured divisions backing him up this time. Most of da Wardens and Guards are still recovering from those sorties and a lot of em didn't comback.'

'You'll see. He'll do it. They say he saved the offensive against the first rock that fell the one they surrounded and destroyed with Highlands Wardens artillery. You've seen the posters. General Dantie was pined down with the Sphinx Heavy Guard. Suddenly as if summoned the prayers of the troops he descended on wings of light and by blade and flame Lord Havelock single-handedly cleared the way.'

'Single handed eh. Then why're we up on this wall providing over watch for his approach?'

Wulf didn't answer. He just knew that this hero that had come from across the stars to save Damarus was like the heroes of old. The preacher every seventh day had told the stories of the Emperor and his warrior's who had travelled the void defeating mankind's enemies. Surely in this time of need one of those heroes had returned. The Rogue Trader's actions has surely proved it. Atticus Havelock had United the despite forces of Damarus under his command had charitably deployed thousands of Voidmen, and tonnes of materials to aid in the defence of Damarus. His advisers has redirected and repositioned elements of the defences to better Whether the attacks the the Orks had launched. His ship The Redeemer mighty enough to be seen in orbit from the surface had unleashed spears of light down onto Damarus scouring away the Orks when they had gathered in sufficient mass to detect from orbit. Now he was insuring the safe delivery of the precious ammunition that the defences needed to continue the fight. 

Composed on a phone while sitting on a commode.