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 hard.

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.

 Pressing 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 outside again.

Brother 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 apparently.

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 his return.

He 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 all…