Monday, July 23, 2012

Operation Iron Defense: Parts I-V

For those of you that wanted it, here is the full thing in one installment.  I'll put a link up on the side in case you want to read it again or show it to someone for easy access.

Fire Warrior Team Leader Shas'ui Dal'yth Vyk'tos watched the planet approach through the viewing screens on the passenger scenery deck, alone in the vast room designed to hold several hundred and sparsely decorated, no aesthetic having been added even to the grey walls.  The planet was largely tan and brown, the color of sand, indicative of its desert atmosphere and the lack of flora and fauna, even within the deep canyons or upon the high cliffs.  Of course My'lok's army was being deployed near the northern pole, one of the few volcanic regions on the planet, where reputedly a large contingency of Orks would be found.

Vyk'tos glanced at her briefing pad, idly scrolling through the orders she had already read several times: Cavalac VI was a world destined to rejoin the Tau empire during the Third Expansion Sphere, it was only a matter of time before the Orks realized their defense was hopeless.  Already the Tau forces had been battling for supremacy upon the land, but the massive Ork armies had mostly held the Tau back as more and more Orks began to flock to the planet for the good fight that they felt was brewing.  Of course the Tau had suffered no real losses, but it seemed that they couldn't put a dent in the Orks position.  Whenever the Tau exterminated one group of Orks another would appear in another location.  This is why My'lok's force was being deployed: end the stalemate, provide victory quickly and efficiently.

Vyk'tos looked up from the pad and jumped, having been startled by the sudden appearance of Mart'el.  He noticed her jump and laughed, his brown eyes shining with mirth at her surprise.  Vyk'tos brushed back her black hair, taking it out of her eyes.

"Mart'el, what are you doing on this deck?  Shouldn't you be preparing your squad for deployment?" Vyk'tos asked, her voice playful.
"I would ask you the same thing if I didn't know you had already briefed and readied your own squad.  Mine happens to be completely battle ready.  I bet it took us less time than you, especially considering the lazy shas'ui they have in charge of them" It was clear that the two were long time friends.  Sometimes Vyk'tos wondered if they would become more than that… she pushed such thoughts out of her mind, forcing herself back into the realm of the possible.
"Of course you'd finish before us, there's only four of you and you can strap on your armor so quickly it isn't even funny.  It takes skill and precision to don all of the protective gear that Fire Warriors have, unlike the small pads and chest plate that consists of all of your protection.  Lets switch places and see how fast you are then!"
"I would love to switch places with you, but who would guide the rest of the army with our markerlights?  Certainly not you, you couldn't hit a Greater Gnarloc if it was ten feet from you!"
"I can't believe you are still going on about that Warboss!  Yes your markerlight helped the Railgun to hit him, but I'd already shot his head a second before the Broadside killed him!"
"That's not how I remember it happening"
"Of course not, you were collecting from the rest of your squad from winning your bet that you could snipe him with your markerlight!"
"Now, now, you know that we don't gamble, it isn't for the Greater Good"
"As if that's ever stopped you"
The two looked towards the entrance to the deck where a tall, gray being in robes decorated with numerous glyphs and symbols stood.  The two looked at each other, noticed their proximity to one another and stepped farther apart.
"We are deploying in 5 minutes.  Shouldn't you be with your squadrons?"
The Ethereal spoke softly, his commanding voice filling the room.  Vyk'tos and Mart'el murmured their apologies and bowed their heads.  They quickly headed for the entrance and walked down the hall, watched by the Ethereal for a few seconds before they were behind one of the many bends of the space ship's interior.  They found their teams in the drop ship hangar bay and separated from each other, only giving the other a nod.  This wasn't the first time that they had gone to battle together.

Vyk'tos looked to her squad.  Everyone was geared up and ready for war, their stances demonstrating the aggressive tendencies that came with the battle not seen in peaceful life.  As Vyk'tos worked her mind into that state of war, she too could feel herself being held differently.  Her legs were tensed and ready to run, her legs perfectly balanced.  Her arms were held close to here body but still relaxed enough to swing and aim her pulse rifle that she had already unconsciously drawn from its holster on her back.  As the army boarded the Mantas, Orcas, and other drop ships one thing was on her mind:  the Tau were ready for war.

"Focus fire upon those Ork Boyz!  Don't let them reach our lines!  Bork'ev raise that pulse rifle and really push it against your shoulder!  There'll be time to be exhausted later, if those Orks get to us then its all over!"

Vyk'tos roared at her men, continuing to bellow encouragement and orders as she brought her own weapon to bear and brought down some of the xenos herself.  One after the other they came, charging through the narrow canyon to the east of the Tau base that consisted of the only viable route to their lines.  Wave after wave of Boyz, nobz, deff koptas, storm boyz… this planet had it all.  And all of them were rushing at her squad, one of many that had been deployed in that position to protect the rest of My'lok's forces.  They were the spearhead, the tip of the iceberg that encountered the first of all the enemy forces.  If they faltered then the rest of the army would have some serious problems heading their way.

But they would not fail.  They couldn't.   Too much was at stake here, too many green-skins needed to be purged on this battlefield.  And a precedence had been set.  They hadn't failed yet.  It seems like such a long time ago when they first landed on Cavalac VI's volcanic north pole.  And yet Vyk'tos and her men had only been on the ground for three weeks.  But every moment of it had been spent fighting.  From the instant they made planet fall they had been set upon by hundreds of Orks eager to rip out their throats.  Dozens of good Tau had died that day as the landing zone was secured.  And kept that way.  And reinforced.  And reinforced.  And reinforced.  No matter how much they put into its defense it felt like the Ork waves were scaled to that exact level to take them out.  They barely held on.  But they had.

Slowly their foothold was established and fortified, a solidifying territory of safe operation being created upon the soil that so many Orks had thrown themselves at the Tau guns for and died for it.  Those Tau that died had been given their rites and peace by the Ethereal, having served the Greater Good valiantly as the rest of us could only hope for.  It was times like that, when the Tau faced adversity like never before, that they really needed such ideals as the Greater Good to believe in.  That is what it means to be a Tau.  To work for the future of the Empire, to keep safe the very livelihood of those family members on planets not consumed by war.  Only the Greater Good would see them through the times ahead, as only it had allowed the Tau to come out of the Dark Times.

Of course Vyk'tos had been deployed on the front, in the most critical danger zone to ensure that nothing went wrong as more and more land was cleared of the pitiful xenos who could not recognize the Greater Good.  From that moment she and her squad had rested at most 4 hours each day, having no sleep for three in a row once.  They were due to be rotated out soon, just two more days to hold on.

In the brief lulls in combat that had occurred (were the Orks toying with them, or did other places have it worse at those moments?) Vyk'tos had been filled in on the situation of the entire planet.  Apparently things were going well for the Tau, as well as they could with such vicious fighting.  The Ork menace was slowly being pushed out and away so that there was some actual coherency to the Tau space and there wasn't a constant threat of ambush regardless of where you were.  About 50 miles out from the equator in both directions had been claimed and was no longer contested, the majority of the islands in the one ocean to the southwest of the planet were now entirely Tau controlled, and certain key points in some of the larger canyons had been taken and fortified, positions that the Orks were throwing themselves at to escape the fury of the Tau army elsewhere but to no avail.  Sort of like they were doing here.

Vyk'tos slammed another clip into her rifle, discarding the powerless one into the overflowing basket of them behind her.  The runners would be here soon to pick them up and drop off fresh ones.  Looking up she noticed the last of the Orks was dead, glimpsing a brief flash as the only one standing was hit in the chest and thrown to the ground where the brute lay motionless.  Into her field of vision strode one pathfinder, leading three others.

"Did you miss me?"

Mar'tel gave her a private message, the boasting in his voice giving away his belief in his abilities.  A belief that he had earned over several years of combat, a complete one under the command of My'lok, just like herself.

"Maybe I'd miss you more if you would stop stealing my kills from me.  Shouldn't you be somewhere a little more… you know… hidden?"
"Oh blabber blabber blabber.  You're always concerned with your safety?  Can't you ever take a little risk and live a little?"
"I prefer to stay alive than risk it"
"Well I'll have you know that my orders were for me to come out here anyways.  There is a ridge just over there that will offer perfect line of sight to anything in the area"

It was true.  Just to her left, visible through the windows of the ruins of the imperial building that she and her men had occupied as their personal bunker (they were not alone in this.  Broadsides and other fire warriors were skirting the rubble around it as well) was a raised cliff, about 7 feet off of the ground.  His story just might prove true.

"If that was the case shouldn't you be over there?"
"Well I couldn't resist the chance to come over here and say hello to you.  You know I'm a sucker for a pretty lady"
"Am I going to have to discipline you again?"

Vyk'tos was blushing underneath her helmet, glad for the privacy that it gave her and the private lines given to the squadron leaders to use as they saw fit.  As she and Mar'tel were using them now.  Pushing her flattery and girlish dreams aside she returned to reality.

"Shouldn't you be heading for your position about now?  The Orks could be back any second now"
"Ma'am, yes, Ma'am.  On my way"

He trotted over to the ridge and hoisted himself up, nimbly pulling himself up and grabbing onto handholds as only Tau trained as pathfinders could, the true eyes of the military.  Turning and assisting the remainder of his squad up, he glanced over her way, gave her a nod and turned towards the choke point.  It was only a matter of time before more started coming...

Just as Mar'tel and his unit turned towards the canyon Vyk'tos's headset became overrun with numerous reports giving all sorts of mangled information.  After some twenty seconds of audio chaos some clear messages came through.  Vyk'tos gasped at what she heard, almost falling in shock as she leaned against the dusty walls of the ruins she was camped in.  She looked at Mar'tel and asked him one question.  He nodded.

"Repeat, a large contingency of Imperial Guard and Ultramarines are on the move to our north west and headed straight for us.  They have proved to be beligerent and must be dealt with cautiously but violently.  Use all necessary force.  Again, the Adeptus Astartes have made planet fall and are coming towards your position.  Be advised, the Ultramarines are highly dangerous and may be accompanied by several Leman Russ tanks and Terminators"

This was the worst news that could possibly have arrived.  The Orks would probably be coming through the canyon to the east any minute now, and the forces of the Imperium had just arrived.  The Tau had come expecting to fight only one foe, they did not have nearly the numbers to deal with both at once.  True reinforcements were on their way.  Displays upon her helmet's visual feed projected the estimated time of arrival for a nearby lieutenant of My'lok and his bodyguard, a piranha, additional fire warriors, and a devilfish.  Other Kroot and Pathfinders on scouting missions elsewhere were making all haste towards their flanks in an effort to help from their position.  Even a specialized battlesuit designed to take out the most well armored tanks would be arriving shortly.  But all of that might not prove enough.  Even with them they were barely equal to one of the armies heading for them.

Vyk'tos realized that she was panicking.  There was nothing she could do about the situation.  If they failed here, all of the Tau upon the planet would be doomed as the Orks or the Imperium  would dive right into the rest of the army and sweep them away.  The only option was to hold here.  Retreat was not an option.  For the Greater Good they would make a stand here.  Although the Tau rarely fought to protect ground against overwhelming odds (if Vyk'tos was remembering her tactical education correctly) there were no other suitable options that would provide any chance for success in the near future.  So it was that the Tau would dig in.  And they would pay dearly for their lives with the blood of the enemies that could not accept the Greater Good.

Taking a deep breath she opened up a channel with her fire warriors.  Stick to the plan.  Deal with the Orks that came through the canyon and pray that the battlesuits that had originally been posted upon the upper levels of the ruins could hold off the Imperial forces.  Suddenly she could hear a voice with power and wisdom, a voice that spoke softly and clearly to her.  She knew he was talking to her.

An Ethereal strode next to her position, flanked by a unit of veteran Fire Warriors given the task of protecting the Ethereal no matter the cost.  They would give their own lives for him, as any Tau would in the presence of one.  As the Ethereal spoke, Vyk'tos felt herself being filled with a new purpose.  They could hold back both of those armies, they were the Tau!  They had won countless victories despite overwhelming odds before against all sorts of foes!  The Adeptus Astartes were terrible to behold, but they were not unstoppable.  With railgun, and plasma rifle, and pulse rifle they could be brought down.  The Damocles  Crusade had proven that.  Several chapters of Space Marines had been involved in that conflict, and none of them had succeeded.  This was a test of the Tau, a chance to prove the worth of the Greater Good.  And they were going to surpass the expectations that high Command had given them and would repel everything thrown their way.

With renewed vigor and strength, Vyk'tos and her Fire Warriors positioned themselves upon the walls, holding their weapons with strength and fortitude that had not existed even when they were fully rested and newly deployed.  Taking her place at a former window, the glass upon the floor having lost its sheen from months of dust and almost entirely buried, she watched through the narrow hole for any movement.  Already she could hear the sound of plasma and missile fire as battlesuits engaged forces to the west.  The loud crack and boom of railguns being fired resounded through her ear slits, even through the noise dampening helmet.  She swung her head around at a particularly loud crack and noticed a Hammerhead gliding along and firing into a foe blocked from view because of a cliff, blocking the Imperial forces from a direct route to the Tau position.  Another choke point existed, there was hope yet for the Tau.

Explosions were audible to the west as some vehicle's fuel line ignited and the screams of human's rang through the air until they were abruptly silenced seconds later, accompanied with the sounds of gun shots.  That would be the Imperial Guard officers disciplining the men that would not be quiet.  Then another explosion could be heard to the east.  There were no sounds of screaming this time, only the loud roaring of angry, guttural voices invading the ears of the Tau.  The Orks were coming, en masse.

Mar'tel gave a quick pic-feed for the rest of the army to view for what was coming.  A looted wagon had just exploded, thanks to the battlesuit squad on the same ridge as them, on the other side of it, protected from view of the green skins until they were ready to fire.  Three trukks were roaring towards the Tau, followed by several mobs of Ork Boyz.  Two Kannons manned by dwarfish grots were also visible upon another looming cliff.  Deff koptas and storm boyz were also charging towards them, taking a more direct path and diving towards the tau and ignoring the intervening cliffs.

So much for that choke point.  Lets hope the Orks can be dealt with before the humans get to us.  This isn't going to be pretty.

Digging into the ground with her feet, churning the old glass and dirt up as she brought herself into a position to fire upon the canyon.  The ash in the air gave Vyk'tos a bitter taste in her mouth.  It was all she could do to keep herself from taking off her helmet and spitting the foul saliva from her mouth.  But there would be time for that later.

The sounds of the railguns continued, added to occasionally by the plasma and missile fire of various battlesuit squads as they leapt onto strategic points and then jumped back into safety.  Seconds after steeling herself for further combat more explosions and screams resounded from the west, accompanied again by single shots and then the screaming ended.  Almost immediately following that bellows could be heard west as a Trukk zoomed into her view just before the canyon's opening and was wrecked where it was by broadside fire, the nobz and warboss inside leaping out the front.  Two more Trukks skittered around the corner and turned around the destroyed Trukk at full speed, nearly overturning in their haste to reach the Tau.

It was at that moment that Vyk'tos was distracted by a closer and much more immediate threat:  3 deff koptas flying low and fast towards her position.  She gave Mar'tel a quick shout through the private channel and turned his attention towards the crude jet bikes that were approaching with dangerous speed.  It was well that she did so because the pathfinders' shots allowed the fire of several fire warrior squads, including the veterans to glimpse through the belching smoke and remain accurate despite their random weavings.

When the third and final one crashed into the ground she gave Mar'tel a quick thank you.  She hated relying on him so much but she was glad that he was there for when she did need him.  Mar'tel gave another update on the position of the Orks out of her line of sight, most of them were in the same position, some discerningly close Storm Boyz following the same route that the Deff koptas had attempted.  Apparently the Kannons were still alive… Broadsides must be getting fired at more important targets.

"Oh Shit…."

She murmured to herself, noticing the monstrosity that was arriving.  They had encountered Battle Wagons before, but none nearly so large as this one.  Or with such a massive gun.  It appeared that this thing came bearing some serious fire power, the kind that the Orks weren't supposed to have.  Where could they have gotten it?  Was this in fact an Imperial world at one point and they had looted one of the supply depots or found some hidden cache of weapons not noticed before?  Or had the Orks been toying with them before this?  That was the notion that frightened Vyk'tos more than any of the others.  That the Orks were holding back and only now revealing their hand.  And if they had more…

This gargantuan battle wagon easily dwarfed all of the Tau vehicles, it was nearly as large as an Orca… And disturbingly there was some sort of energy field surrounding it, warping the air and sights around it.  Communications came through the various channels as others noticed what was coming in and everyone looked west at the behemoth.  She was even able to see it over the cliff that normally kept her from knowing where anything was not near the canyon.

"That is one big mother…"

A piranha glided forward into the canyon to try and act as a deterrent for any closing hostiles but then the pesky Kannons from the ridge fired two rounds and immobilized it, preventing it from turning and doing its job.

And then the stormboyz were upon them, showing up where she could see them - but she couldn't get a shot off at them.  None of the fire warriors were able to deal with them.  Outcries of rage and surprise were echoing from her right, forcing her to glance that way.  A lone warboss had caught the battlesuit squad and was ripping two of the three to pieces with its power klaw.  The sheer ferocity of it frightened her in a way she never had been before, its eyes almost gleeful at the destruction and bloodshed it had wrought, spittle flying as it roared mightily.

Distracted by the creature single handedly destroying the most veteran members of the army Vyk'tos turned to look at the storm boyz again… Only to hear Mar'tel whisper softly into her ear:

"I'm sorry"

She managed to see him and his squad charge the Storm Boyz in a valiant effort to prevent them from arriving at the Tau lines, pulse carbines flaring as they rushed into the temporarily static brutes.  And then he was lost in the swirling melee.

Vyk'tos was devastated by the hole that had just erupted into her life.  One of her oldest and best friends had just thrown himself into hand to hand combat, not only ignoring the Tau mantra of ranged combat only but also committing veritable suicide.  What was she to do without him?  Who would she confide in, joke with, talk to?  Who else could fill the void that now existed where once Mar'tel had been?

One thing was clear in her mind.  Those Orks were going to PAY.  EVERY.  LAST.  ONE.  Switching her rifle onto Auto she turned her sights upon the Nobz coming down the canyon and unleashed her fury, expending the entire clip in ten seconds of sustained fire, the sizzling blue bolts of energy flying into the ranks of the Nobz and killing several as her squad stood dumbfounded at her fury.  The Nobz were shocked by the sudden onslaught and nearly tripped over themselves before they roared their anger and dived towards her position.  The Veteran fire warriors rose to stand in front of them… And then were almost all blown away by a tremendous explosion.  One of the loudest boom's she had ever heard echoed throughout the landscape, shaking the earth and sending rocks tumbling from the cliff tops.  The Battle Wagon had fired.

Shakily the Fire Warriors and their drones stood up.  Only four of the twelve had survived, plus the Ethereal.  Encouraged by the murder that had just been inflicted upon these veteran warriors the Nobz charged into their ranks, shaking off the hesitant fire as the Fire Warriors regrouped.  Just as they were upon them a fusillade of shots erupted into their midst, slaughtering all of them but the Warboss and a painboy who was bleeding badly, kept together only by the random needles he continually was jabbing into himself and some bandages torn from his already rudimentary armor.  The Warboss continued on alone as the Pain boy fled back towards the canyon.

Her rage stymied slightly by the fruits of her labors, she turned back towards the storm boyz, ready to bring her gun to bear as another clip was slammed in place.  Shockingly she could see Mar'tel limping away from them as fast as he could.  Only three of the five storm boyz were alive, but they were roaring for a fight and they ignited their jump packs and flew right next to her position, where she shot them all to oblivion with three two round bursts of medium power.  Holes appeared in their chests and head, green ichor seeping out of the entrance and exit wounds as they sunk to the ground lifeless.  And then the worst happened.

The fleeing painboy had assaulted into Mar'tel.  Unaware of the pain boy, he had his back turned to it and was making his way back towards the ridge he had been positioned upon originally in an effort to put himself back into use and placing markerlights everywhere.

Vyk'tos felt helpless as she watched, her ability to stop the pain boy nonexistent as her gun needed two more seconds to cool down from the bursts that had been fired.  So she shouted to him.

She shouted her rage, her hopes, her fears, her need for Mar'tel, her very being in one quick wordless noise.  Turning he had just a second of realization before the painboy slid a knife coated in poison into his chest.

Vyk'tos sank to her knees helplessly.  After everything that he had just survived, everything that they had gone through… she entered a state of shock, an abyss of blackness that she couldn't climb out of.  She was told later of what happened on the other side of the battle and after she slipped into unconsciousness: the anti-tank specialist had arrived from the skies just after Mar'tel being stabbed by the Pain boy and had exploded the Battle wagon in a great volcano of fire, the explosion deafening the Tau for several minutes and obliterating chunks of the landscape and those Orks that had occupied that space before; the pathfinders had arrived and did a suicide run into the flank of the imperial forces with their tank, driving off several teams of lascannons and even some of the fabled ultramarines before they themselves had been obliterated as the entirety of the army turned upon them for revenge, a sacrifice made for the Greater Good.  The Hammerhead had been operated valiantly and fearlessly, withstanding round after round of anti-tank fire from nearly all of the imperial force from the very start before finally being forced to resort to tank shocking due to its weapons being torn off by a lucky las cannon shot.  A unit of terminators had deployed and was constantly hampered by two squads of battlesuits before finally being destroyed just before they reached the Tau lines.  At that point the imperial guard fled the battle field as they had already suffered a great deal of losses, even their Leman Russ Vanquisher had been obliterated.  The rest of the marines were then swept up for without the support of the guard they did not have the fire power to deal with the Tau who had just the specialized weaponry necessary to bring about their end.

The Orks too had been turned back.  The numerous Boyz and Nobz charging straight towards them had slowly been dealt with, one group by a time.  The lone warboss that had inspired such fear in Vyk'tos had taken one railgun shot and that had been the end of him.  A deff dread that had rushed into another unsuspecting battlesuit squad had taken another railgun.  The warboss that had charged the veterans had dispatched all of them and then found an honour blade driven through his chest as the Ethereal slew him in the act.

This was a victory for the tau, but one at a great price.  6 battlesuits had been destroyed, 5 of their operators killed, 2 gravely injured.  Kroot had thrown themselves into the enemy to protect the Tau but found themselves faltering in the fury of the green menace despite their own prowess with their knives and claws.  And Mar'tel… she mourned him still, for all that he had stood for and done.  If only there was some way that she could grace his memory with some act of her own…

She received a notification through a personal channel telling her to meet a friend, Gilc'yre, near the mess hall.  She arrived and he took her by the hand and began to lead her through the halls.

"Where are we going?"
"Just wait"

They continued in silence for several minutes through the winding grey halls of the ship in orbit she had gone back to with her squad.  Finally they arrived at the infirmary.

"Hey there.  Did you miss me?"

Mar'tel asked her weakly from his bed.

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