“Orks orks orks orks! Orks orks orks orks!” Somewhere in the morass of sound, of thumped oil cans and weapons cracked against walls and floors and stamping feet, Greenbeard’s army were singing. It was because it was a good day. The enemy were coming and there was going to be the finest fight they had had for a long time.
It was a new enemy, and Greenbeard had been watching them for some time through telescopes. He didn’t really know who they were but the Chaos boys he’d crumped good what seemed like forever ago were with them and he knew how they fought. If they wanted a go at his planet – if they were coming to muck about in Orktown – then he would kick them again and kick them harder. His campaign had taken an unfortunate turn and there were humans now on the planet – resilient things that hid behind walls. A plan was beginning to form, and it involved letting them deal with the other invaders.
“Shut it!” The singing came to an unsteady end and the mob below looked skywards. “I don’t know who these new gits are but they’re getting too close. Who’s up for kicking them all the way out of Orktown and then off this planet?”
The cheering was absolutely deafening, accompanied by an ever-growing roar as engines started, guns were fired wildly to the stars and a veritable horde of Orks of all sizes lumbered towards their destiny.
With an ungainly style, Greenbeard himself vaulted the mek-shop’s balcony and, grabbing his hat as it drifted away, landed heavily on the back of his personal truck, knocking the other orks crowding its flatbed platform off-balance.”Cheez, you git! Let’s go! Like old times!”
The big, scarred ork looked back at Greenbeard. “Yeah. Let’s go.”
As the truck bounded off, its comically oversized tyres bouncing erratically from each rock or piece of junk it hit, the corpulent form of Einstein the squig followed, half running half-rolling.
“It’s ready.” The Earth Caste looked expectantly up at Commander Ri’n, and she was unsure how to reply. Preparing the XV8 for combat was not some kind of especial request that would warrant a reward or good reference, it was the most basic duty of his station. “As requested, all systems fitted according to specification, weapons calibrated and a full internal computer check done.”
“And the prototype weapon?” She snatched his tablet and stabbed at it to call up a schematic. “What is this?” Red bars had flashed on-screen.
“Ah, that is the voiceprint lock. In order to prevent the system from being activated unintentionally we fitted a lock based on your personnel-file data to it. To activate the weapon simply use the activation code you will find written on a note inside the cockpit. It is a standard security protocol.”
“I see. Well, prepare the other forces, too.” There was some time until the attack, and she returned to her office – a section of the Orca’s hold partitioned off. “You!” One of the fire warriors was waiting about in the hangar-like space. “Fetch Qan.”
Cadre Leader Kira’nui Qan was as impeccably punctual as ever, hair brushed into a precise queue as suited her rank and red-and-grey armour gleaming under the whitish light.
“Our first battle against these orks. Indeed, your first battle against their kind, am I correct?”
“Concern yourself with nothing except eradicating them. The Aun decree their kind cannot be reasoned with.”
“That is possible.”
“Good.” Ri’n looked again at Qan’s report on the territory, a carefully-constructed bringing together of reports from stealth teams, drone surveillance and personal reconnaissance. A small chemical storage facility surrounded by abandoned human military buildings in the midst of which two Ork installations sat, surrounded by mountains of junk and waste. A fuelling station for their vehicles. “Shi’vre Qan I have a question. Your proposed attack plan accounts for the presence of third-party forces. Who are they?”
“I received a transmission from Aun’o Zo’rah that our role in this campaign is officially only one of support and that Shas’O Ru’luc requests that we be accompanied by human forces. They are providing heavy armoured assets.”
“Why was I not informed?”
“Aun’o Zor’ah did not say.”
“Very well.” Ri’n was not particularly concerned by the development. There was certainly a good reason why the Ethereal had not informed her.
Qan’s intelligence had paid dividends for the expeditionary force; the Orks had blundered right into their trap and from well-prepared hiding-places the Tau army enemrged. Ranks of blue-armoured fire warriors took up position around the oil-tanks and atop piles of scrap, while heavier battlesuits in a dull green filled the gaps in the line.
First to move was the ungainly, squat Broadside suit; it lurched upwards towards an old Imperial communications post and landed heavily, awkwardly, one ankle twisting and grinding and its rifle falling from its hands. The tower listed for an instant as one corner of its rusted foundations had to support the suit’s entire weight but then it pulled itself back upright and the tower with it, balance now found again.
The red balancer warnings turned green again and Shas’ui Mi’kel’s heart-rate dropped back to safe levels. The power-readings on his railgun began to climb back to operating capacity, and the ground-sensor suggested his sniping-point was now secure. His view of the battlefield was a commanding one, the Ork horde sprawled out in a mass of ungainly vehicles belching black smoke to the sky. Text, finely-printed blue lettering, began to chatter across his visor as the markerlights of Ga’li Cadre – the one led, he knew, by Shi’vre Qan – sent telemetric data to his own suit. Five orks on the balcony of a teetering cone of metal, holding bulky, high-calibre firearms.
The suit’s lenses – a knot of four glowing red orbs – twisted and rotated. The crosshairs flashed green and Mi’kel fired. Self-guided missiles looped over the orks’ hiding-places and rained shrapnel down on them, and two heavy metal darts in quick succession slung at supersonic speed tore plates from the balcony. Two of the orks had ducked in time, avoiding the missile storm, but three were dead.
Gleaming in the desert sun like a mockery of a kaleidoscope despite the many scars in its hull, the Chaos tank – part of the Mykene’s small supervisory contingent – dragged its immense barrel wide enough for a human to easily crawl into upwards. Inside, far from the air-conditioned banks of touchscreens the Tau pilots enjoyed, were only grinding exposed gears and arcane rusted machines. A shell the size of a man’s torso and then some was loaded into the breech, the gunner (a prisoner from the forces of Blitz) peered again into the sighting device and with a horrific report the gun fired.
The shell arced surprisingly slowly – in no hurry to hit since it was designed to destroy buildings – seemingly hung in the air and then decided to hit its target.
It landed on the driver of the Battle Wagon Mega-Truk and carried on, embedding itself in the vehicle’s cabin. The timed fuse ticked down to zero and when the explosion finally faded to a cloud of dissipating oily smoke the ork tank was nowhere to be seen, a knot of confused and panicked orks lucky enough to be blown clear of it crawling bloodied from the crater.
Shas’ui I’kar saw the enemy were not wiped out and hefted his rifle, lining the sight up on the largest ork, and firing. One of its idiotic brethren had blocked the shot at the last moment and its head exploded and that served as a warning for the others as they dived behind debris and rubble to avoid fire. The humans accompanying his unit also fired, and more orks died. As it should be.
Qan herself had her eyes on a greater prize. Her tactical computer indicated the rickety ork truck before her, emerging from the garage-building, could be destroyed by pulse rifle fire in the correct positions.
“Cadre! Divide into fire teams! First team fire on enemy truck, second team follow! Firing rhythm!” It was a frighteningly effective strategy, one half of the unit firing a salvo of pulse fire then the other, alternating to lay down a solid hail of shot. The results were perhaps predictably effective, the truck’s fore-section torn apart and the orks within tumbling out into a hail of missiles from the nearby XV8 unit. Not enough had died for Qan’s liking, but their vehicle threat was significantly reduced.
“WHAT. IS GOING. ON?” Greenbeard spun round to see the lumpen form of Boss Zog, a tough old boot of an ork who had never quite been the same after losing a duel for the right to rule the clan, standing in a crater where the Mega-Truk had once been.
“Tank, boss. But I’ve got a plan I have.” With an awkward attempt at a combat roll the eight-foot tall ork smashed through the wall of an outhouse near where the Mega-Truk‘s remains sat. “Go on boys, follow the big boss. I’m going to show that tank what’s what.”
Accompanied by his bikers, Greenbeard spurred the one surviving truck forward, looping around the chemical-storage towards a radio station where the chaos boys were sat.
Although the Gunhead Looters were rather shaken by the Tau missiles, they fired blindly over the parapet of the building and, although they could no see it, managed to explode two of Ga’li Cadre. The mek-shop’s own guns, operated by Greenbeard’s finest gretchin, took another down. Qan’s position was a good one for laying fire on the orks, but too exposed to weather the return fire.
As the guns of the mek-shop chattered overhead, the mob of survivors from the truck could see the XV8s. They fired their ungainly rifles, a harsh clattering of gunfire ripping the air, and one of the battlesuits was torn apart – first the bullets thudding against its chest armour, sending it bobbing and juddering about, then the plating giving way and it collapsing as bluish-silver blood dripped from the hull breaches.
The Mykene Priest Gehennam leading the detachment was mostly present to chronicle events for the high command back at Hell Castle, but the thought of glory was omnipresent. The small force of Iron Masks he led opened fire on Greenbeard’s bikers, but seemed to have little effect on their haphazard progress.
In the open killing-ground, Qan again co-ordinated her cadre’s fire with the XV8s, and five of the orks were cut down as shots scythed through them from two directions. This seemed almost pathetic, the systematic execution of wounded animals rather than any kind of actual war. I’kar felt much the same as his own cadre fired from their elevated position down on Zog’s crippled unit, sending them fleeing for the cover of the oil-tanks.
Without any markerlight data, Mi’kel was firing blind, hoping his missiles could find targets. The sounds of distant reports suggested something had happened, but it was impossible to see what.
What had in fact happened was Greenbeard’s truck had a flat tyre after a missile hit its wheel. As the orks worked to get it moving again, they did not notice the high-speed contact closing in on them.
R’in saw the building and brought her Crisis battlesuit down to land. Data flashed over the screen informing her that the fusion gun stood around a 50% chance of successfully damaging the building’s structural integrity.
“Provide data for close attack system, classification Mei’ou.”
“Mei’ou system chance of success: 92%.”
“Activate Mei’ou system.”
With a sigh, she reached for the sealed orders the Earth Caste had left. She did something of a double take when she read what the password was.
“Flame that burns a sunset crimson, darkness deeper than the infinite void, to the way of the Mont’ka I pledge myself completely, grant unto me the power to lay waste to the Greater Good’s enemies.”
“Mei’ou Close Attack System active.”
The Crisis Suit’s arm began to crackle with electricity, Ri’n’s entire display replaced by a mass of graphs.
Barrier Energy: Stable. Impact Compensator: Ready. Plasma Field Integrity: 100%. Mei’Ou System: Ready To Fire.
She swung the suit’s arm at the building’s wall, fist balled, somewhat unsure of what would happen.
Burning with a white light it punched straight through the mek-shop’s wall and then, when fully extended, exploded. Not the neat purplish dome of a micro-missile, a sun-hot orb that grew, sending around it a shockwave. That hit the suit first, sending its internal energy field into a flickering hexagon-patterned bubble around her, and then the plasma reaction followed. There were a few moments of blinding white heat when she thought the shield had failed but somehow she lived, and when the display returned to normal fully half the mek-shop had been burned away as the rest slowly collapsed in on itself.
Surveying the explosion – quite blind to the cause of it behind the blinding sphere of light – Greenbeard adjusted his pipe and flicked Einstein a bit of ork limb that had ended up inside the truck.
“What the heck was that about?”
It was not over, however. The final stage of Qan’s plan involved a precision air-strike to finish off the disrupted enemies.
What she did not expect was her private cadre communications channel to be interrupted.
“YA-HOO!” The Razorshark fighter burst into communications range in a death-dive towards the ground, spinning upwards as its wing-mounted drone turrets spat whirling, looping blasts of energy towards Greenbeard – which all missed and cut glassy scorches into the sand as the aircraft suddenly pulled backwards, thrust-vectored engines sending it almost into a stalling climb. Qan noticed the smoke trail from its engines drew the T’au sept symbol in the blue sky.
“That. Will. Do.” Ri’n got in before Qan could. “That was a shameful display of ostentation that jeopardised this entire operation. Return to combat stations and provide local air support.”
Before Kor’ui Dai’san could reply, however, he found himself not alone in the skies. Half-blinded by the explosion of the mek-shop, the Green Baron dived down, sun behind him, and saw a Tau aircraft in his sights.
The ork plane did not have a trigger for its guns, so to speak. It had a chain, taken from an old lavatory, connected to the firing-systems for all its weapons – the bank of machine guns on the wings, the unguided rockets in the nose, the turret guns.
The Green Baron pulled hard on that chain and before Dai’san could react the Razorshark took the pride of the ork air force’s entire barrage full on and shattered into rough debris. Zog had not noticed this as he burst from the outhouse’s door and rushed towards the tank, and so was quite oblivious to the spinning piece of drone turret that fell from the crashing plane and landed on him.
However, an ork is a hardy creature and to Zog being hit by a half-metre long ion gun barrel was only a minor inconvenience in his loping progress towards the tank. Shrugging the hit off he brought his armoured claw up and grabbed the tank’s cannon, pulling the vehicle with it as if it weighed nothing.
With a battle-cry of “I TOLD YOU I HAD A PLAN!” ringing out he smashed the tank into the ground and watched as it collapsed on itself.
From his perch in the truck, Greenbeard watched the spectacle and turned to Cheez.
“Zog might be thick but when he has an idea it’s generally a good one, no?” His blood was up now. Someone, probably one of the feeble-looking aliens, had blown up his mek-shop. There were chaos gits ahead of him.
He charged, vaulting from the truck, ignoring the fact that three of his boys managed to get themselves shot by its own gun providing supporting fire, and began carving into the Mykene to get to their leader. He saw Cheez wind up for a punch at the chaos boss only to be sucked into a strange kind of hole that opened beneath him, and made double-time towards the elaborately-armoured figure.
Meanwhile, the bikers were running rings around I’kar’s cadre, picking four of them off with wild swings of tyre-irons and chains. Only when one was killed by a pulse shot to the forehead as I’kar organised a precise and measured fall-back with suppressive fire did they stop and pause to regroup. Without Greenbeard or Zog nearby to give them orders, they were there to have fun. Mucking about with the fragile fish-men suited them.
Zog was busy looking for trophies in the wreckage of the siege tank when he died; I’kar and Qan co-ordinated their fire on the lone ork and that easily proved enough to down him. The head-wound from the falling debris had slowed the boss’s reactions and he had not been able to avoid the incoming shots and get into cover.
Meanwhile Mi’kel, who had seen Dai’san’s utter failure to achieve anything before being blown apart, now had a clear line of fire on the ramshackle propellor-plane approaching him. The railgun again fired, blurry shockwaves marking its projectiles’ course, and the front-end of the Green Baron’s plane suddenly began to spew smoke. The aircraft stumbled in the air, its pilot leapt out and opened a parachute and then it shattered as the aftershock of the rails’ passage was felt.
“Confirmed one enemy aircraft kill. Awaiting further orders.”
Ri’n saw this, saw the large ork officer cut down by Qan, and proceeded to her next objective; stop the ork riggers (part of their stunted slave-species) from escaping. On the way through she aided the two surviving XV8s in finishing the crippled ork mob with a blast of flame that corralled them neatly for a missile strike.
This was the point where, if Greenbeard had not been locked in a duel with Gehennam, he would have told the bikers to stop mucking about and run down I’kar. That he didn’t meant they could carry on playing chicken with the disciplined Tau.
Gehennam saw Greenbeard block another swing of his mace with an armoured hook-claw and feinted low to little effect. The ork was fast, and strong enough to take the blows on his metal-plated arm. The Iron Masks were fighting valiantly to keep him alive, wearing down Greenbeard’s mob, but the fight was almost certainly lost.
The gretchin riggers fired side-arms and blunderbusses and air-rifles at Ri’n, and threw bricks and grenades and spanners. They were a chattering mob burbling across the desert and Ri’n took some pleasure in incinerating those that came too close.
Tiring of their games and beginning to finally fear the Tau rifle-fire, the bikers pulled back and fired the machine-guns mounted on their vehicles in a display of uncharacteristic caution. It had little effect.
As Gehennam continued in his futile duel with Greenbeard, both sides matching each other blow for blow, the Iron Masks were cut down one by one until only their champion remained. They had wreaked a significant toll on Greenbeard’s mob – only one remained – but Gehennam knew his time was up.
That moment of panic was crucial. Einstein, the loyal pet, sprung from behind Greenbeard and slammed into the Mykene sorcerer. As the squig began chewing on the Chaos marine’s arm, Greenbeard strolled up to him.
“Well it’s been fun I suppose but that’s that.”
I’kar saw the bikers’ retreat as the chance he needed to stop retreating and begin firing in earnest. They were few in number and exposed targets, and they died.
Qan, now with little to do, saw the mob by the wrecked mek-shop finished off with a last salvo of fire, and consolidated her units into better a firing-line for if the insane ork leader rounded on them.
Lacking targets, Mi’kel again set his missile-launchers to automatically acquire targets and was surprised to see a kill confirmed by I’kar. A damaged ork truck had taken the barrage and not survived.
Ri’n was now close to the riggers, cutting a path through them with fire, and decided to end the fight there and then. She did something quite unusual for a Tau, and charged in.
The bigger ork leading the mob of runts jabbed at the Crisis Suit with a billhook and without thinking Ri’n activated the Mei’Ou system instead of her flamethrower, the password by now bypassed. When the blinding explosion was finished, there were no riggers. No ork leader. No orks at all really. One of the chemical-storage tanks was also missing.
Gehennam now squig-food, Greenbeard made to finish off the last Iron Mask, and missed completely.
The second punch did not, however, and the Chaos marine exploded into gore. However, Greenbeard was not stupid. The fight was lost. And so, with squig in tow (and Gehennam’s leg hanging from its mouth), the ork again lumbered off to plot a new comeback.
Ri’n stepped down from her battlesuit to see no Earth cast about. Only a pair of maintenance drones, performing the methodical, impersonal and ultimately useless field-service.
The engineering crew, it transpired, were watching the black-box footage of the Mei’Ou system and laughing heartily at the “password”. In fact it had been nothing of the sort; a ridiculous trick from Fio’vre O’bata, the system’s designer.
It was the sort of utter nonsense that she had to admit she would have tried if given the chance. She was still full of adrenaline, coasting on the visceral joy of slaughtering orks, and could do little but laugh at how ridiculous she had presented herself.
She let the Earth castes enjoy themselves, and began preparing the next wave of attacks.
Another outpost destroyed, Cheez AND Zog AND the Green Baron gone. Greenbeard realised a new plan was needed.
“Boss? I got a plan.” It was one of the other bosses who occasionally tried to make a run on his leadership.
“What’s that big orange thing what melts people?”
“You mean that squig thing with the big brain?”
“Well I think if we got Einstein to eat it he might be able to melt people with his brane too.”