When Beyaert had finally reached the
boarding torpedoes, stumbling and near the end of his powers, the
Castigator Fautor had collected a bolter and had headed back out,
towards the base. They exchanged no words but the brief moment their
eyes locked, Beyaert could almost sense something akin to
understanding, strengthening his resolve somewhat that he might yet
salvage his position within the Legio.
He had wrestled himself into the
torpedo he had been assigned to at the beginning of the mission and
was greeted with the sight he had been dreading ever since he set
back out to the rally point; five empty seats. Four marines that
would not be returning. Four marines that had counted on him doing
his job. Four marines now dead because he hadn’t.
He eased himself into his seat and ran
a quick check of the torpedo’s machine spirit and systems,
distractedly giving praise to the Omnissiah as he was supposed to.
Not that the Machine God was really part of his beliefs, but he had
been instructed to do so every time he handled the ancient
machineries maintained by the Techpriests. That was long ago, back
on the Fiery Lions fleet he had served on first and old habits die
Suddenly his eye caught movement on one
of his vidscreens and his musing ended. Something out there was
moving and he strained his eyes to see who it was. More of the Legio
marines returning after all? Could be, but he did not get any signal
on his tactical displays. There was a chance one of them had had his
armour’s systems damaged in such a way the identification
encryptions were destroyed. A fleeting image in his head of a
hulking, power armoured figure was all that remained though
and it might well have been imagined.
But he could not take that risk. Not
only were the torpedoes valuable artefacts that were vulnerable to
sabotage, they were also the only possible way off this rock for any
Legio brethren still out there. If whoever was out there had bad
intentions, there was a chance even less brethren would make it off
the asteroid. Beyaert had forsaken his duty enough for one day.
He grabbed another bolter from the rack
on the wall, slammed home a drum magazine, donned his helmet and
awkwardly exited his seat and the torpedo. Luckily the base’s
gravity generators did not reach as far as their landing site and
movement was made a bit easier for Beyaert, still struggling to get
to grips with having only one leg again to move around with.
Outside of the torpedo, he sluggishly
headed into the direction he had seen the movement, behind the
second torpedo on his right; the rightmost torpedo of the four.
Holding the bolter out in front of him, he leaned on his damaged
chainsword to get a better view before moving around the torpedoes,
when he caught sight of another, slight, movement. This one inside
the torpedo between his and the one he intended to investigate.
Hopping towards the small view port in
the torpedo’s reinforced door, he peered in. Two battle brothers
were strapped in. One appeared dead, missing parts of his armour and
desecrated by whoever had bested him in battle. The other’s movement
had been what had caught his eye through the small view port. The
lulling head of sergeant Domadeus, strapped into his seat, drifting
in and out of consciousness, but alive nonetheless.
That's why the Castigator had been
guarding the torpedoes. The sergeant unsteadily lifted his head and
looked straight at Beyaert, outside the torpedo. He slowly mouthed
some words, with some urgency obviously. But Beyaert could not hear
what the wounded marine was trying to tell him. Gesturing for the
sergeant to put his helmet on, Beyaert began the short sequence to
open the torpedo door, giving him access to the inside of the
boarding torpedo. Slowly and obviously in pain, Domadeus managed to
secure his helmet and gave Beyaert the okay signal.
the final rune, the door opened with a hiss of the last escaping
air, after powerful pumps had secured most of the torpedo’s air
supply, which must already be low, since the torpedo had been opened
and closed a number of times already since their landing. Making the
best of his disabled form, Beyaert managed to get himself inside of
the torpedo and locked the door. Air was let into the small
compartment again and it took almost a full minute before a green
light sprung on and both men took off their helmets.
Domadeus’ voice was unsteady and weak;
’where are the others?’ The sergeant had been wounded early in the
battle and did not know of Beyaert’s wandering off on his own. ‘I’m
afraid there’s only a few of us alive still sergeant’, replied
Beyaert. The full realisation that they might well be all that
remained of the strike force hitting him hard. He had been relieved
not to find the stern sergeant Golgotha at the landing site, as he
had dreaded. But now, the loss of so many, even him who might have
him punished was keenly felt.
Beyaert started up the Torpedo’s
systems, giving the same blessings he had given just minutes before
in the other craft. He checked the vidscreens again, keen on
anything out of the ordinary but could not see anything else moving
beyaert, we must make haste’ Domadeus whispered weakly, ‘the
countdown has ended, we must assume we are the only ones left. It is
our holy duty to return to the Spear of Justice to report on the
tragedy that has occurred here’. Beyaert was about to protest, when
the torpedo shook violently and rolled over a couple of degrees to
the side, as powerful tremors shook the asteroid.
Checking his screens, Beyaert could
make out a huge cloud of debris, where the entrance to the base has
been. It appeared there was just a crater left, and a huge part of
the base had collapsed in on itself. Stunned, both Legio marines
watched in horror as the scene unfolded on the screens in mute
clarity. No part of the surface area of the base remained standing
but for some jagged spires and broken walls. It would seem the
entire interior of the base had collapsed under the violence of the
repeated demolition charges places all over the base.
Beyaert was certain none of the
individuals planning this operation could have foreseen this immense
destruction, which must have been caused by a strange combination of
destructive explosions at key points and a hidden weakness in the
base’s superstructure. At any rate, it was clear nobody would make
it out alive now.
As sergeant Domadeus let his head fall
back into his seat from exhaustion and grief, Beyaert finally
punched in the codes that would start the Torpedo’s take off
sequence. The final keystroke barely passed, the vectoring jets
kicked in, throwing them into their seatbelts, as the torpedo
violently launched backwards, as if releasing itself from the side
of a ship.
Altering its course, the torpedo angled
away from the surface of the asteroid and gave a short, powerful
burst with its escape jets. Beyaert, now looking straight down on
the surface of the asteroid suddenly spied the power armoured figure
he had seen moving around the torpedoes, entering the one on the far
right, which he had intended to investigate. There was something
familiar about this marine. But before he could discern who it was,
billowing dust clouds thrown up by the torpedo’s engines made him
loose sight of the other craft altogether.
It appeared they hung there for an
eternity, the asteroid only slowly moving away from them, even
though Beyaert knew they were still accelerating away, through the
black void of space. Looking down on the diminishing features of the
asteroid, he could see the bursts of manoeuvring jets inside the
gray dust clouds thrown up during their own takeoff. He anticipated
the moment the torpedo would break free of the cloud and follow them
up and away from the asteroid.
But that too, seemed to last forever.
Then, just when Beyaert wanted to adjust the zoom of the vidscreens
to keep a better view of the cloud and the oncoming torpedo, when a
loud clang rocked their craft and sent it spinning wildly through
space, the asteroid swirling in and out of view, the starts blurring
into circles of light, as the torpedo spun out of control. Huge
clouds of debris had been blown free from the weak gravity well of
the asteroid because of the explosions and were now speeding away
from it. The torpedo had overtaken and hit some of the larger ones
As Beyaert worked the controls in a
practiced manner, as he had done so many times before, he managed to
stabilise their course and turn the torpedo around, facing away from
the doomed asteroid. Furiously managing the controls through
instinct and years of training, Beyaert had no time to check the
viewport, until the wounded sergeant behind him exclaimed: ‘by the
emperor, look! We truly are in his blessing. We are saved’. Beyaert
looked up, and was met with the sight of the kilometres long
strikecruiser Spear of Justice, straight ahead of them.
With mixed feelings, Beyaert went
through the routines to ready the torpedo for retrieval by the Legio
vessel. He knew the dire consequences of his actions would be
overtaking him at last and even though it was the way of the Pride
to accept one’s fate without hesitation, for a moment he regretted
had lost so much; the hunt had only been a partial success, he had
abandoned his battle brothers to their fate, he had lost his battle
with his most important quarry and was badly wounded in the process.
And now he limped home with nothing to show for his actions but
shame. Beyaert was not looking forward to his return. No; not at