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Mal'caor's Strike
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Old 02 Jul 2005, 09:29   #1 (permalink)
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Default Mal'caor's Strike

The blanket of night covered the planet. A large bank of clouds was rolling in from the east, obscuring the stars. The twin moons still gazed down, almost uncaring from the vast open sky. The sweltering jungle heat did not abate with the coming of the night. If anything it got worse. It was clammy, still, and sound carried great distances. Imperial guns roared their defiance at the tau invaders. The ricochets of their artillery pieces were like thunder, reverberating through the low hills and valleys, their flashes briefly illuminating the overhead clouds, and lighting the surrounding area as though it was day

They were nearing the target. The 5 gue’la heavy artillery pieces lay ahead.* The shas’o had deemed their destruction critical to future operations. The artillery pieces lay on a ridge cleared of all vegetation. The ridge was high, and offered an unparalleled view to the experienced gue’la gunners who rained death on the tau positions every day. The battery lay with its back facing the jungle. They regarded the jungle as impassable. That, and the platoon of guardsmen guarding the battery made the gunners feel safe. They could concentrate on their job, without having to worry.
The six shapes moving stealthily through the undergrowth disproved this notion of safety. They approaching team had been in the field for three days now, approaching their target. They were experienced, and moved from cover to cover, slowly but methodically covering ground. They moved in standard order, three moving, three covering. They could not afford to be spotted.
Shas’ui Mal’caor stopped. He held up his hand, indicating his squad to hold their positions. They moved forward, carbines raised, each covering a section of the visible target. Mal’caor nodded, appreciating his team’s efficiency. He gazed impassively at the target that lay ahead. He gazed at the gunners frantically loading and firing. He heard theirs shouts, curses and the louder, calmer tones of the gue’ui officers bellowing commands and target co-ordinates. Their firing teams were efficient, he noted coldly. The ground shook as each gun sent its load to the heavens, he noted the low whine as the shell followed its trajectory, and the dull whump of a distant hit, and the metallic hiss as the spent shell was hurled out of the firing chamber.
He gazed at the ground that lay ahead. Getting too close to the gue’la position was an unnecessary exposure. They could not afford to be spotted. His superior night vision saw a small hollow ahead, with the remains of a giant collapsed tree offering a natural barrier. Considering the area, it would be the best position for the kill. He made a further signal, and shuffled slightly. He moved slowly, trying not to disturb the undergrowth. He dropped slowly to his knees, then slid forward so that he lay on his belly. He cradled his carbine in both hands and started crawling forward, wary of any sound. His breathing came in short, controlled rasps. He sensed his ta’lissera were doing the same as him, following his lead.*
Slowly, the six pathfinders moved into the killing position.

Private Smythe relaxed on his haunches, trying to steal a minutes respite in the middle of his sixteen-hour day.* Or night, or whatever passed for a planetary rotation on this hellhole.* They had been continually bombarding the Tau positions for three days now from the relative safety of this ridgeline and he was exhausted. Better here than down there though. That’s what Smythe loved about his job; sitting back pounding out death while someone else caught it on the chin.* But three days of it were beginning to catch up with him.
“Smythe! Chamber another round!” bellowed Sergeant Isaiha.
“I’m on it!” yelled back Smythe with his best impression of enthusiasm.* Every muscle in his body threatened mutiny; if he didn’t get a break soon he was going to pass out.* Of course what kept him from passing out was the fact that he would probably wake up with the Commissar’s laspisol in his face.
Smythe and two other troops manhandled the round onto the auto loader, with speed and efficiency born of long practice.* The gun greedily sucked the round into the firing chamber.
“Prepped to fire!” Everyone in field artillery yelled.
“Plot laid!” All the time.
Smythe pressed his palms over his ears as the massive gun fired, jamming itself back against its break stops.* The sound wasn’t so much heard as felt, Smythe bones resounded with the fury of the blast.
“Rounds Complete!” hollered Loader First Class Penny.* They were the sweetest words Smythe had heard in what seemed like ages.* The primary fire mission was complete and they wouldn’t be firing the gun again until more rounds were brought up from the ammo storage dumps several hundred yards away.* It meant he had about four good minutes with nothing to do.
Smythe smiled smugly to himself as the other gunners continued to feed the ever hungry Baslisks.* He turned his back to them and faced out to the perimeter, looking for a good spot to rest his bones a minute.
His half closed eyes sprung wide open, he would have sworn something moved out there.

Mal’caor breathed in silently. The short rasps were gone. Now they were just long, steady breaths. He gazed at the guns. He raised his carbine, activated the markerlight, held it to his shoulder and aimed at his target. His team were lighting their predetermined targets: the guns, and the ammunition stockpiles. He tried to keep his mind calm, remembering the shas’vre’s instructions not to let emotion interfere with his duty. There was no place for anger, hatred, or fear. A cold detached mentality was desired. Mal’caor knew the shas’vre to be right. Still, his heart beat a little faster, his breathing was a bit higher than normal and the sweat still trickled down his back.
He spoke quietly into his com-link. “Target is lit, kor’vre. Begin surgical strike.” He did not hear a reply, but knew the Skyray support vessels would target the co-ordinates his team had lit for a surgical strike. The tau response to the continual gue’la bombardments would be quick and devastating.

Smythe grabbed his lasgun and moved forward slowly, a questioning look on his face. He knew he was tired, the numbing bone-deep tiredness that only a soldier on a warfront can describe. He knew his vision must be playing tricks, he must be seeing dancing shadows. But he could not shake it off. Was there something out there? He had to be sure. He squinted, his eyes trying to pierce the gloom of the jungle ahead of him, his ears, still ringing from the firing trying to pick out any unnatural noises. The guns farther down the line continued to rumble and shriek, their gunners unceasingly pounding the tau. The one nearest to him opened up, shell screeching into the air, and illuminating the jungle for the briefest of seconds. Smythe stopped, and gasped. Were his eyes deceiving him, or had he seen the silhouette of an accursed fire warrior!? He raised his laspistol, and made to fire at the things’ location whilst simultaneously filling his lungs to shout a warning, when a red light flashed across his vision. Instantly, he knew death. The mark of the valkyrie! Turning to the battery to shout a warning, he was horrified to hear the scream of incoming ordnance. Not the deep thump and fury of the basilisk, but a louder, shriller noise. Gazing upwards, he saw white contrails, illuminated against the dark sky. Missiles! Damned missiles! He was about to shout a warning, when something tore at his side and chest. He felt himself falling to the ground. He felt numb. He wanted to scream, but couldn’t. He could only gasp. He was dying. And he could do nothing. And he knew it.

The roaring of the basilisks deadened the sound of the approaching tau missiles. The first anyone knew of it was when no. 5 blew. It was there, and then suddenly it wasn’t. With a deafening explosion, the guided missile struck. Dead on. Number 5 blew in a tempestuous fury, shredding its unfortunate crew, and anyone unlucky enough to be nearby with razor sharp pieces of shrapnel.* It, and its crew, or what was left of them were blown, hurled through the air as though some ancient god had plucked them from its grasp. Most of the crew did not even have time to scream. Twisted pieces of metal, and severed limbs, formerly identified as barrels, breeches, legs, arms, ears littered the scene, illuminated eerily by the flamed that licked the charred remains of number 5.
The other batteries ceased firing immediately. The crew abandoned their tasks, grabbing their gear and ran. Some ran towards the burning wreck of number 5, some towards whatever meager cover offered itself. Officers screamed, trying to maintain control. To no avail. The whine they all heard, increasing in volume with every heartbeat could only be one thing: Death. And they all knew it.
Then, the full force of the tau’s revenge struck. Simultaneously it seemed, the tau missiles struck the remaining targets. In a sick synchronicity, the remaining batteries exploded. Number 4. Number 3. Number 2. 1. All exploded. Their deathcries were the cries of their gunners, the shriek of metal, the gutwrenching explosions as they tore themselves open, explosions that you felt more than heard, that twisted and buckled the ground under your feet. Vicious shrapnel laced the surrounding trees, tore through the prone gue’la, and cut down those trying to fell the scene.
A moment of silence followed. The moans, screams and cries of the wounded could be heard above the crackle and hiss of the flames. Then, the ammunition dump blew. And a sound unlike anything they could have dreamed of, enveloped them. They heard a deep rumble, lasting a fraction of a second. They had this much time to register what would happen. A fraction of a second to pray, cover their ears, widen their eyes in absolute shock. As if any of these things would save them. The dump blew itself apart in such a fury, it seemed as though the end of the world had come, seeking its victims for eternal damnation. It just rolled over the macabre scene, deafening in its intensity, unrelenting in its fury, complete in its destruction. Nothing was left of it afterwards. Just a huge crater was left. Bits of metal lay around the crater. Charred and blackened corpses, whole or dismembered lay all around. A few gue’la had survived. Some stood, gazing at the destruction, some simply sat and cried, others walked in circles, mumbling incoherently to themselves. 6 shadowy figured moved into the clearing, taking up commanding positions. They aimed at the gue’la who had survived. One shot. One kill. Coldly and efficiently, they dispatched the survivors.

Mal’caor gazed at the scene. He had to observe the strike’s effectiveness for the shas’o. Its success was total. He motioned to his team. Their mission was a success. Now, all that lay ahead was their exfiltration. The team moved silently back to the jungle. A brief motion distracted Mal’caor. He looked to his left, and down. The gue’la who had spotted them lay there, in a pool of his own blood. Mal’caor knelt down, placed his carbine on the ground beside him and removed his helmet. He did not have long. Their eyes-those of the gue’la, and those of the shas’ui met, and though they spoke different languages, belonged to different empires with vastly different philosophies, something passed between them. Something only soldiers from opposite sides in a war can understand. The shas’ui stood up walked a few yards, and picked up a bulky gue’la rifle. He walked back, knelt beside the gue’la and handed him the rifle. The gue’la held it tightly in both arms, tears welling in his eyes chest rising and falling rapidly, as he struggled to breathe, his mouth moving as though trying to say something. The shas’ui saw his grip on the rifle go slack, saw the eyes glazing over. Sentimentality was frowned upon, among the shas, but mal’caor still felt a slight pang of guilt for the death of the alien. He rolled down the gue’la eyelids, picked up his carbine and rose, and moved to join his team.

Silhouetted by the flames that licked greedily at the chassis of the basilisks, 6 figures moved stealthily, and silently into the jungle, as vast plumes of smoke arched, and twisted their way towards the heavens, darkening and already dark night.

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