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The Penal Legions
 
Old 15 Aug 2007, 09:22   #1 (permalink)
42
Shas'El
 
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Default The Penal Legions

The harsh, sharp percussion of a gavel striking the ornate desk echoed inside of Karl’s head. The robed figure behind the desk looked up.
“Karl Serghun, on the counts of murder of an Imperial Official, you are found to be guilty. On the count of grand heresy, you are found guilty. On the count of provoking riot, you are found guilty. On the count of impersonating an Imperial Official, you are found guilty.”
Karl showed no emotion. He knew full well what he did. He himself couldn’t tell if he was proud of his actions. He certainly didn’t feel guilty. He did what he needed to do. At the time, killing van Hossel was necessary. He had pled guilty to all charges, hoping for a sentence that didn’t include the words ‘arco-flagellation’. The painful practice was well known to convicts; it was perhaps the best deterrent to crime he had ever seen.
“In accordance to Imperial Law, dictated by the Most Holy Emperor,” the Imperial Lord Justice paused only to make the sign of the aquila, “you are to be assigned to the XXIV Penal Legion. Serve the Emperor better with your death than you have with you life.”
Karl managed to crack a smile at the traditional last line of Imperial sentencing. He was a happy man. The Penal Legion was no easy line of work, but at least he could keep his mind.

He was hauled abruptly upright two Arbites troopers. Their jet-black armor glowed in the cramped hall. The Lord Justice, flanked by two Arbites, stood and took his leave. The Arbites followed. Karl was led through a door in the back of the hall.
The door hissed as it slid open to reveal a long corridor. Either side of the hallway were more doors like the one he had just entered. He was half-walked, half-dragged to a door near the end of the hallway, just before the entrance to the flight deck. In large black letters, stenciled onto the iron door, were words Karl were all too familiar with: ‘Imperial Justice System’. However, written below was a different inscription, one that caught his eye just before the door hissed open: ‘XXIVth Penal Legion Penitentiary’.
He found himself facing another hallway, darker and more sinister than the previous. In place of motion-sensing servo doors stood archaic iron grilles. Within the cells on the left of the hallway were the very dredges of Imperial society: rapists, murderers, traitors, and hive gangers. All had received the relatively light sentence of the Penal Legions.
Karl was escorted to a door uniform to the rest. It slid to the side, and he was shoved bodily in. There was nothing in the cell, not even a cot, as his holding cell had. Four steel bulkheads, and one steel-barred door surrounded him.
He was still shackled, and as the door slammed shut, a slim pamphlet was slid through the grille.
He crawled on his chest to reach it, and struggled to open it with his chained hands.
His twinkling eyes, shrouded by heavy eyebrows, lit up in laughter as he read the flier.
“Welcome to the XXIVth Penal Legion! We hope you are enjoying your last days, for The Emperor needs your services in death. On the Thirteenth day of the seventh solar cycle, you and your new comrades will depart for training with our skilled instructors. From there, you will be shipped to an on-world assignment. Rest well, for your days are now numbered!”
His lips curved upward in a grotesque parody of a smile. He was going to enjoy his brief sojourn in the XXIVth. He knew full well that death awaited him.


Karl was not an exception in the XXIVth’s newest recruits. All of them were career criminals, used to hardship and violence. However, few, if any, convicts survived even a month in the Penal Legions. The criminal soldiers were given little training, then shipped off to one of the many campaigns in the Legion’s assigned sector. They were then under the command of the Imperial Guard officer running the local scene.
The Penal Legions were suicide squads. When there was a few score Termagaunts roaming around the streets of some capital city, the Guard would drop Penal Legion troopers into the city. If a few hundred Orks were mobbing up to storm a fortress, the Guard would drop criminal soldiers right on top of them.
They were given their weapons seconds before they were pushed out of a transport ship with a grav-chute strapped to their backs. Average life expectancy for missions was about 0.003. A man had more chance of winning the cred-lot than surviving one mission, Karl thought. His thoughts trailed off to when he thought he had possessed the winning ticket. The cred-lot was a huge underground gambling ring in his hive. Everyone played, sometimes even the Arbites. Just a few numbers would be chosen every week. If you had a winning number, you’d have to make the trip up hive to cash in your ticket. Karl laughed. If the gangs didn’t rip you to bits and steal it first. The prize was usually in the range of a few hundred credits.
Karl sat, still holding the pamphlet in his hands. His shackled hands rose together to scratch his itchy cheek.
Sleep stole upon Karl, amidst the roaring fans and the muffled, yet still loud, backwash of jets leaving the flight deck.


Pain. Karl awoke to sharp pain. He winced, and rolled over to see a fat sentry prodding him with a long crowbar. The man was obscenely overweight, and chewed slowly on an extinguished cigar. Drool slowly dripped down his huge lips to land on his dirty field jacket.
“Wake up!” he gurgled.
Seeing Karl awake, he moved on to the next cell.
“Someone oughta grab that crowbar and take out that fat bastard’s teeth.”
Karl glanced across the hallway to see a tall, muscular man glaring back. His head was shaved unevenly, and gang tattoos covered his burly arms.
“I would any day. You a Paclaro?” Karl noticed the unique mark on the man’s temple.
“Til death, brotha.”
Karl knew the Paclaro gang well. They ran the section of hive he had called his home. Karl wasn’t permanently involved with the Paclaros, but he had many allies there.
“Were you in Sub-Level 18? I recognize your face.” Karl asked the man.
“Yeah… you ain’t Krazy Karl, is you?”
“The one and only, brother.”
Before the Paclaro could respond, the guard slammed his crowbar into the steel-barred door. The harsh clang almost made Karl jump.
“Shuddup, or I’ll call da Colonel!”
The Paclaro sniggered. The guard turned to look at him.
“Yew don’ want me callin’ da Colonel. Uh uh, not ‘im. Y’all be sorry you messed wit da Colonel when he’s done witcha.” The guard stooped to pick up the fallen cigar, leaning heavily on his crowbar.
When the guard had passed on his round, Karl looked again at the Paclaro.
“Krazy Karl, eh? Never thought I’d meet ya. I remember that time ya took out van Hossel. That what yer in for?” The Paclaro looked up at Karl.
“Yeah. They got me on inciting a riot, too. A loada bull if ya ask me.”
“That wasn’t no riot. That was a celebration! We only rioted when they started shootin’.” The Paclaro laughed.
“So what’s yer name, Paclaro. Your Jorgi’s son, ain’t ya?” Karl asked him.
“Yeah, tha name’s Lepkin. But my friends call me Gin.”
“Not anymore they don’t.” Karl laughed humorously.
“Yeah, suppose I won’t hear dem anytime soon. Less, o’ course, they wind up here.” Lepkin looked thoughtful.
“Nah, we won’t survive to see anybody. Nice thought, though, ain’t it?”
“Yeah… I suppose. When is we goin’ off-station, ya know?” Lepkin asked Karl.
“Probably in the next few minutes. By my guess we been asleep only about an hour.”
As if on queue, the intercom crackled.
“Hands on the line, now, hands on the line!”
The dozen or so prisoners rose and placed their shackled hands in a gap in the door. There, a strong magnet grabbed their shackles as the doors unlocked.
Three guards marched down the corridor, carrying a lightweight steel bar between them.
“One!”
The first inmate’s door swung open, dragging him forward by the wrists. A guard appeared in front of him, holding a loaded shotgun.
“Hands on the bar! Do it!”
The confused inmate lay his shackled hands on the bar before him, that two of the guards were now holding. The third attached a chain to the end of the bar with a padlock, then ran the chain through the inmate’s arms, securing him to the bar.
“Two!”
So the ritual continued, until it was Karl’s turn. He timed the door and was able to keep his balance as it swung quickly outwards. The magnet powered down, and a shotgun barrel was pointing at his sternum. He calmly placed his shackled hands on the bar. The guard ran the chain between his arms.
“Eight!”
Now it was Lepkin’s turn. He was unlucky with the door. He stumbled, and fell heavily. Blood wept from his wrists, coating his shackles. He stood, and placed his hands on the bar.
After a few more inmates, they were finished. They now stood in a single file line, with their hands attached to the bar. The bar was too long, so the line would be unable to turn around. Instead, they had to walk backwards out of the corridor, until the reached the main hallway. Guards toting shotguns surrounded them at every move. Finally, they were in the main corridor. They began making their way to the end of the hallway, where a large door stood awaiting. Stenciled clearly across the double sliding doors were the words ‘Flight Deck’. The roar of jet engines could be heard above the fans.


The long bar, with all fourteen inmates firmly chained to it, made its way onto the flight deck. Surrounding the criminals was a ring of shotgun-toting Arbites troopers. They led the convicts to a small lander near the rear of the deck. The rear door hissed down, and a small echelon of Arbites marched out of the craft. They split, and formed a straight line from the group of criminals to the interior of the ship. They stood at ease, an arms length apart.
The criminals were told to stand easy, and all eyes turned to another door in the bulkhead, near where the inmates had come from.
The door slammed open, and two Arbites officers emerged. They marched in perfect step, and immediately upon stepping onto the deck, whirled around to face the door.
Colonel Isaac Stowe was a man of pure character. Karl felt the hair on the nape of his neck rise. Few men in the Emperor’s galaxy had such an effect on Karl, but he was sure one stood before him now.
The Arbites at the door threw crisp salutes. Colonel Stowe’s hand rose casually, and returned the salute without eye contact. His green, octagonal fatigue cap sat high on his short hair. His grizzled face sported a vicious scar running from his left ear to his lip. Another scar distorted his brow on the right. His tight, almost lipless mouth clenched a slender cigar in a vice-like grip. The olive drab fatigues he was wearing were accented only by unit and rank insignia. A pistol belt, holstering a standard issue auto-pistol, sat on his hips. Karl, however, noticed only one thing about the Colonel. His eyes, chips of icy blue granite, sparkled with the beauty of pure cruelty.
The stately man walked forward, the ring of his steel-bottomed boots ringing with every step. He stopped a few feet short of the prisoners. An Arbites officer walked up just in front of the Colonel. The officer threw a perfect salute, which the Colonel returned.
“Sir, we have fourteen new recruits for the Twenty Fourth Penal Legion. All have been sentenced by Lord Justice Kappelheim. They are now under your control.”
“Very well. Have them load up.”
The Colonel merely stood as the Arbites turned.
“Inmates! Forward walk, on two. One, two. March!”
The inmates slowly shuffled forward, the first pair hitting the ramp. Those in the middle had to raise their hands, while those at either end lowered theirs.
In a moment, the crowd was gathered in the lander. Arbites troopers were still visible inside the lander. About one per inmate, Karl figured.
The soft hiss of hydraulics signaled the closing of the rear door. Karl managed to steal a glance over his shoulder to see the Colonel walking towards a ramp located farther towards the front of the craft.
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Old 15 Aug 2007, 09:23   #2 (permalink)
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Default Re: The Penal Legions

As soon as the door had locked, bright fluorescent lights switched on above them. They were in a compartment no bigger than the cellblock they had left behind. There were similar cells on only one side of the passageway, and these had bars. The previous accommodations had been constructed of steel bulkheads.
The Arbites around them leapt to work, up in adjacent cells. As they unlocked Lepkin his snapped his teeth at them. The helmeted Arbites, a young-looking enlisted man, flinched in fear. The door of Lepkin’s cell slammed shut amidst his laughter. Karl, also hoping to inspire some fear in the trooper beginning at the front of the bar. They unlocked the chain, and escorted the first prisoner to his cell.
Lepkin and Karl were next to each other, and ended unlocking him, followed Lepkin’s example. The trooper, who turned out to be a grizzled veteran, looked Karl straight in the eyes. He unholstered his pistol, and, all while smiling at Karl, pulled the action back and chambered a round. Karl, disheartened, still managed to hold his smile as they slammed his door shut.
Within a few minutes, they had finished. The Arbites went to forward compartments, except for one guard who paced back and forth in the passageway, shotgun held ready.
Another period of waiting, and the inmates could feel the ship taxiing out onto the launch pad.
The Colonel’s voice cracked over the intercom.
“Welcome to the Twenty-Fourth Penal Legion. I’m sure you’re all aware of the tasks laid before you. My name is Colonel Isaac Stowe, and it is my personal duty to turn you into vicious fighting machines. Fortunately, much of my work is already completed. You are here because you a violent criminals. It only takes a small amount of work to change you into soldiers. We are en route to an active war zone. ETA is about thirty-six hours. Sleep now, because we will begin weapons training in six hours.”
The ship stopped, and they heard the whine of the jet engines warming up. Suddenly, everything seemed to triple its weight as the ship rocketed straight up into the atmosphere.

In the cockpit, Lieutenant Senior Grade Feldson felt the lurch upwards as he pushed the throttle forwards. The massive offshore platform prison diminished in size as the ship went straight up into the sky. He thumbed the controls, and the four massive jet engines rotated to horizontal positions. The craft shot forward, leaving the prison behind as it left the atmosphere. When air levels began to drop, Feldson again adjusted the controls. Three massive rocket engines, in the rear of the small lander, ignited, shooting the vessel forwards at unimaginable speeds.

In the hold, Lepkin winked at Karl. Karl returned the gesture, and motioned he was going to sleep. Lepkin nodded.
Karl rolled up into a corner, and was soon snoring.
The harsh shriek of an alarm woke Karl instantly. He was still on his side. Lepkin was snoring through the din.
An Arbite sentry strode down the hallway, slamming the butt of his shotgun into the bars at every cell.
“Awake! Everyone’s awake, now!”
The prisoners left their surreal dreams of freedom, and were shot back into their harsh reality of confinement and restriction with the clang of steel on iron.
After a few brief moments of yelling, all the prisoners gathered at the bars to watch the guards. The door leading to the forward decks hissed open. Colonel Stowe stepped out, flanked by two guards. Behind him, a servitor pushed a trolley with an array of armaments upon it.
The Colonel’s booming voice left no choice but to pay close attention.
“In a few short hours we’ll be making landfall at our target. We don’t have time to go through the normal training procedures at my base of operations, so we’ll do it right here.
“I’m sure all of you know your way around hive-gang weaponry well enough. All of you are violent offenders with a background in gang warfare or just plain militaristic violence. Most of you will be issued the standard Mk 3 Ghydon-Pattern Autogun. It holds a twenty round clip and fires hard rounds at full automatic or semi-automatic. It has rigid metal stamped stocks.”
The Colonel picked the example off of the trolley. He slammed a magazine in, and pulled the bolt back. There was a foam target, apparently set up while the inmates were asleep, at the end of the corridor. The guards gathered behind the Colonel as he took aim at it.
The deep, guttural roar of hard rounds filled Karl’s ears. A few of the weaker inmates winced. Lepkin, Karl noticed, seemed to bask in the sound, the delight of the destructive weapon. He was certainly a Paclaro.
After emptying the clip into the foam, the Colonel lowered the muzzle.
“As you can see, it’s a simple weapon. Unless you have shown a specialty in any other weapon, this is what you will be issued.”
He placed the weapon on the trolley, and picked up another.
“Sidearms. This is a Mk 7 Ghydon-Pattern Autopistol. It fires twelve small-caliber magnum rounds at full automatic. You pull the slide back like so, after inserting a clip.”
The Colonel slammed a small clip into the handle, and pulled the slide back. It shot forward, and he brought the pistol up with one hand to aim squarely at the target.
“Like its larger counterpart, it can fire semi- or full automatic.”
The Colonel switched the lever to ‘Semi’, and aimed at the foam.
The handgun seemed louder than the rifle. The gun rose in the Colonels hand, but his expertise brought the muzzle back down to the target every time. The slide rocked back and forth, and spent shells clanged loudly on the deck.
The smoke cleared, a heavy over-head fan turning on to clean the air.
“That’s about it for these weapons.” He laid the pistol flat on the trolley, and picked up a much heavier rifle. “This is the Mk 2 Ghydon-Pattern Heavy Stubber. It’s been lightened up a bit to conserve metal, and you’ll also find it’s much easier to carry in. It fires a much larger round than the autogun, and can fire only on full automatic. It is fed by a belt of ammunition, which another convict will have to carry and load. Smaller, more compact versions use box magazines, but you will not be using any of those. Two of you will be elected to carry in these weapons, another two will take the belts of ammunition for them.”
“These are all the weapons you will be able to use. You will each be issued a pistol, and twelve of you a rifle, each with three magazines for each weapon. Those carrying stubbers will not carry ammunition. Those packing in stubber rounds will carry 750 rounds, in 250 round ammunition boxes. Before we issue fatigues, we will be reprogramming your PLD’s to our system. Sergeant Leufled, if you would.”
The burly Arbites guard stepped forward. The inmates groaned en masse. The PLD, or Prisoner Location Device, was a bionic device planted in the cavity that used to house each prisoner’s left kidney. It sent out a constant radio wave that carried the prisoners name, serial number, and most importantly, location. Upon entering suspicion by the Arbites, persons would undergo the small surgery that would introduce the device. From there, it could be reprogrammed for any world’s local Arbites facilities. The Penal Legions used them to keep track of their operations squads in the field.
The sergeant led off the first inmate to get his PLD reprogrammed. Karl sat back against his cell bulkhead while he waited for his turn.
Lepkin cocked his head at Karl. Karl nodded. The two men would stick together on world. They were, after all, from the same sub-level.

Karl winced. The reprogramming always hurt; never enough to do damage, always enough to be annoying. He was standing naked in a dark room surrounded by guards. He was given a pile of coal-black fatigues, and pushed back out the door into another room. He pulled on the standard issue white drawers, and then the black trousers. Then the white undershirt, and the black field jacket. He noticed the only insignia was an Imperial Aquila above the left breast pocket, and the Legion emblem on the right shoulder. His black fatigue cap had no insignia.
In the room was Lepkin, already dressed in fatigues and lacing up his boots.
“Hey! You, what’s your foot size.”
Karl looked at the man distributing combat boots.
“37.5 in Ghydon size charts.” Karl responded.
He was hastily thrown a box of boots and ordered to put them on, along with the socks inside.
“Everybody who has boots on and laced, proceed to the next room!” a guard shouted.
Lepkin and Karl shuffled into the final kitting room, and saw a guard laying out web gear. It was a common, if not uniform piece of equipment for infantry across the galaxy. A pistol belt, along with a pair of load-bearing suspenders, was handed to each inmate. Next, straps running under the legs were given to add extra stability. Finally, they were issued web gear. This included a canteen, along with a cover, three rifle ammunition pouches, and a pouch that held three pistol clips. Also, they were issued a holster that strapped around the thigh as well as attached to their belt, a collapsible shovel holster, and a knife sheath. Finally, a Ghydon-Pattern hand torch was given to all.
“Your pistols, ammunition, shovels and knives will be issued to you when you board the landing craft. When you have your gear, proceed back to the corridor!” the guards directed them.
Karl nudged Lepkin with his elbow and sniggered. They looked like actual soldiers now, kitted out with web gear and all manner of equipment. However, they had the constant reminder of iron bars to assure them they were still prisoners.
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Old 15 Aug 2007, 09:23   #3 (permalink)
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Default Re: The Penal Legions

Each inmate was locked back in his or her cells. The Colonel reappeared. He was garbed similarly to the inmates, except he had his pistol, magazines, and knife on his belt. Also, the glint of fluorescent light reflected off of his colonel pins located on his collar.
“We make landfall in a few hours. You will be issued your weapons in the landing craft, and then dropped by rappel line over the area your operating in. You will be briefed on your way down. Get a little more shuteye, I expect it’ll be your last.”
He turned sharply on his heel and strode out; the two guards at the door saluted, then turned behind him to go to the forward decks.
Karl again set his back against the bulkhead. He tried to catch a deep sleep, but managed only to doze lightly. Lepkin, he noticed, was snoring heavily again.

Karl awoke to hear the sound of a small alarm. He saw the guard walk to the end of the hallway, and attached two clips to his suspenders. These led to lines that were bolted into the wall. Karl was puzzled momentarily.
“Hey! Lepkin, wake up!” Karl whispered into the cell next to him. “Come on, wake up, brother.”
“What you need, man?” Lepkin opened one eye and responded groggily.
“Why are they strappin’ themselves to the wall?”
“We’re probably goin’ into orbit soon, I guess.” Lepkin answered in a whisper.
Karl paused. “That makes sense, I figure. You wanna team up on planet?”
“Sure, man. Maybe we can…” Lepkin looked at the guard quickly, “… you know, jump ship.”
Karl merely chuckled quietly. “No chance of that man, it ain’t possible. If it was, I’d be right behind you.”
Lepkin merely closed his eye. “We’ll see soon enough.”
Karl smiled at the thought. Suddenly, he felt weightless. His hands rose up, along with his legs, and started to float. He lifted off of the ground lightly as they entered orbit around their target planet.
He grinned. There was something childishly exciting about free-fall. He had only been into orbit a few times in his life, and had never grown used to it.
Lepkin, Karl noticed, began to snore again, but this time in mid-air.

After about half an hour, the Colonel strode into the hallway himself, to the sound of the alarm. Gravity had been restored, apparently through an artificial density generator in the belly of the craft.
“We’re docking on an orbiting Munitorum vessel in a few minutes. From there, you’ll board a landing craft and head planet side. Lucky for you, they have a surplus of some combat armor. You’ll be each be given some extra protection before you board. All hands on the line.”
The prisoners stood and put their hands in the gaps of the doors for one final time. The usual ritual followed, and in a trice they were shackled to the bar.
The ship seemed to shudder for a second, and then suddenly, all the lights brightened. The fans picked up their pace, and the hum of generators increased threefold.
Karl figured that they must have just docked, and connected power lines into the Munitorum ship. The rear door lowered, and they shuffled out of the craft.
The docking bay was not unlike the one they had left, except Arbites troopers were replaced by Imperial Navy deck troopers, armed with shotguns and an array of heavy weaponry. The Navy troops approached the ship, and set up in formation. The Colonel, flanked by two troopers from his battalion, exited first. The First Battalion of the XXIV Penal Legion, 217th Regiment, consisted of non-criminal personnel. These troops lent support of Arbites units handling the convicts, as well as dealing with administrative and liaison duties. They were garbed similar to the colonel, in coal black fatigues. Sharp salutes were thrown left, right, and center as Stowe walked down the ramp.
An Imperial Guard commander, Karl figured a Major, greeted Stowe with a salute. Stowe’s adjutant handed over a data slate, and a few words were exchanged. Karl was unable to hear most of the conversation, so satisfied himself with surveying the Navy deck troopers. One of the particularly young looking troopers shifted a foot. Bad form on the parade ground, Karl thought with a grin.
Again, the prisoners were ordered to move. They were ushered into a dark room that stank of fuel. The guards began unlocking the shackles and pointing weapons at the inmates. Several crates lay on the floor, and, as Karl soon found out, they contained body armor.
A Navy deckrat, as low-ranking Navy personnel were derogatorily referred to, began tossing helmets and chest plates to the prisoners. The chest plates were light gauge steel, and the shoulder pads were of similar material. The helmets were round and reminded Karl of a helmet he had used before in his illustrious career as a hitman.
It was on the operation he had run under payment from the Paclaro boss Vinchatto. His job was to assassinate one of van Hossel’s security advisors, prior to the killing of van Hossel himself. He had used a model that was bought from his friend Hjurden. He ran a black market in the depths of Karl’s hive. The helmet was spherical, but sported wider areas around the ears to provide comfort, as well as a close fit.
Karl attached his armor to his web gear, and connected the straps to ensure a tight fit. He let his helmet swing from a clip on his belt, choosing instead to keep his cap on.
Lepkin put on his helmet, only to find the strap was much too short. He struggled over the strap before it broke under his strength.
The deckrat looked at him hopelessly.
“Just take another one, damn it.”
Lepkin caught the second helmet, and tossed the first back.

The group of convicts was equipped, and was led back outside. There, they were finally led to the landing craft. Stowe was already there.
“I won’t be joining you on the flight down, but a few of my other recruits will. There’s twenty or so of them, so you’d better get to know them. They’ll have your back in a war zone, and that’s a heavy responsibility. This planet is called Khaleed II. It’s heavily mountainous with sparse evergreen forests in high elevations. You’re landing just outside Vraksburg. It’s a large urban center adjacent to several oil wells. The enemy you’ll be fighting is none other than the Eldar. For those that don’t know, these xenos filth have been launching assaults on Vraksburg for some time. We’ve learned a large assault is planned anytime soon, so your job, along with my other recruits, is to delay the Eldritch assaulters long enough that the Khalik defenders can set up shop. Also, the Valhallans have sent a tank regiment to land in the city, but they’re having technical problems. If you can stall the enemy long enough, those tanks can get to the fringes of the city and hold against attack.
So, all aboard, your weapons are in your seats.”
The group was led up the ramp. Guards pushed them into a section, where they were sorted by weapon type. Karl ended up carrying ammunition for Lepkin, who was issued a Mk 2 Heavy Stubber.
Colonel Stowe walked away from the ship, and headed off the flight deck with his two aides.
Karl finished preparing his weapons. He felt like a real soldier now, with a rifle and a pistol. Unfortunately, he was issued a mussette pack with seemingly eighty pounds of ammunition. All was well, however, because he was next to Lepkin.
“This is what I’m talkin’ about, man. I felt like an idiot in a uniform wit’ no gun, ya know?” Lepkin said.
“I hear that, brother,” Karl answered, “It’s just I can’t stand carryin’ these damn bullets. Maybe we’ll commandeer a Chimera or something, eh?”
“Sounds like a plan, but we ain’t gonna find one down there. Anyways, it’s too damn hilly.” Lepkin observed.
“Maybe you’re right… Nice thought, though, right?” Karl asked.
“Definitely, brother.” Lepkin nodded.
The ship seemed to rise, and the roar of engines filled the compartment.
“Here we go!” Lepkin yelled above the din. Troops around them, strapped into their seats, yelled at the exhilaration of coming battle. They were riding to their deaths, but they wouldn’t go down without taking some with them.
Their attitude changed with a healthy dose of Eldar anti-orbit fire. The ship, which was rocking and bucking before, now seemed to somersault and flip as the pilot maneuvered evasively. The girl across from Lepkin grew pale, and then vomited all across the deck. The woman started to cough violently, which was followed by more vomit. Karl nearly gagged from the stench, but Lepkin merely lifted his boots off the deck, and laid his head back.
They were nearing the ground when the entire shuttle seemed to shudder. There was an audible crack, followed by a multitude of alarms and sirens signaling trouble.
The whole ship was listing heavily to port. Worried eyes cast fearful glances at the air conditioning vents pouring with smoke.
The pilot knew the game was up. The well-placed shot had completely destroyed his for’ard port landing array, and ripped a massive hole in his auxiliary fuel tank #2. He looked at the rapidly approaching ground, and tried a risky move. He leveled out, opened the doors, and switched the Jump Readiness alarm straight to ‘Go’.
In the compartment, a deckhand came screaming in.
“Out of your harness! Go or you die! Do it now! Go!”
The men and women scrambled to get out of their constrictive landing harnesses, as the deckhand clipped on the rappelling cable.
“Down the rope! Go, go, go!”
The men ran up to the cable, grabbed hold with their gloved hands, and went out the back ramp.
Karl whipped out his knife and sliced through his harnesses. He turned to Lepkin to help him out. Lepkin, pausing only to hoist his stubber, stomped over to the ramp with Karl. Karl watched Lepkin’s huge frame drop like a rock out of the ship. He was next. The deckhand pushed him into the rope, and as he was inches from tumbling out of the ship, he grabbed the rope and closed his eyes.
His rifle, on sling, was rocking around and being a nuisance. His mussette pack, weighing him down, angled his body so that his face was skyward. He dared open his eyes as the cable burnt through his gloved hands. The ship was above him, smoke and liquid pouring out of the left side. Small arms fire hit the ship at odd intervals, and the pilot tried valiantly to stabilize it.
Lepkin looked down. The ground was rushing up to meet him. He went blank for a moment, but then remembered when he was rappelling into van Hossel’s security bloc. Bend the knees, back straight, slow down just before hitting the ground. Below him, Lepkin slammed into the ground at top speed, his knees buckling. He fell instantly over, and rolled down a small incline in a mess of web gear. A small pine tree stopped his descent.
Karl watched the ground. It was a surreal affair at the pine-needled ground slammed into his legs. He rolled to spread the impact, but that accomplished only getting his rifle in his suspenders.
He rose, brushing the pine needles from his face. The rest of the men were crowded around, as it waiting for some sort of directive. The last girl came down the rappel line, but the pilot brought his ship up too early. The rope rose, until the end was several feet above the trees. She was screaming as she came rocketing down the line. Finally, the rope ran out, and she plummeted into a pine tree. The tree rocked as she hit it, and then seemed to spit out her mangled body. Her neck was bent at a crazy angle, and she had no left arm. As if to answer Karl’s thought, her arm fell out of the tree, bloody and misshapen.
The convicts were standing dazed on the hilltop, when small arms fire began cutting into their group. Two men went down, bloody wounds appearing in their necks. Karl grabbed Lepkin and began running down the opposite side of the bluff. The group was following them, but still a few fell victim to the shuriken rounds.
At the bottom of the hill, Karl saw a road. There was a small truck pulled over to the side of the road, both its driver and passenger with their chests ripped open. Karl hoisted them out of the seats, and plopped himself behind the wheel. He turned the key in the ignition, but nothing happened. Lepkin looked at Karl.
“Idiot…” Lepkin murmured as he threw the truck into neutral. “Putting it to neutral would help, there, Karl.” Lepkin said.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever.” Karl turned the key, and the engine coughed and sputtered. Finally, it turned over and started.
He pulled the truck onto the road. He saw a sign in a strange language, Khalik he presumed, that had a word followed by the number two.
“That must be Vraksburg. Lets go.”
“What do we want in Vraksburg?” Karl looked to Lepkin.
“We get these PLDs outta us, and we can grab a shuttle right back home, with Stowe none the wiser,” Lepkin grinned childishly.
“Well, he’s gonna suspect something when he sees us goin’ into the city,” Karl sighed.
“Nah, everybody’ll make their way there. It’s just natural,” Lepkin replied.
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Old 15 Aug 2007, 09:23   #4 (permalink)
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Default Re: The Penal Legions

After a few minutes, the truck rounded a bend to see the walls of Vraksburg. The walls were five metres high, and had gun emplacements mounted every score metres atop. Huge chunks were missing from the sides from heavy Eldar tank fire.
Guards patrolled the smaller vehicle gate used for day-to-day traffic. The larger tank gates remained closed, for now. Sandbags were thrown down to either side of the road, and two guards sat chatting behind one stack. Karl noticed with apprehension the long heavy stubber the second guard was holding. They looked at the truck approaching.
Lepkin stretched back to rip something off of the two dead soldiers in the trunk. He then covered them with a tarpaulin.
Lepkin handed Karl a pin. “Put this on your collar, and act assertive.”
Karl drove with his knees while he pinned the gold oak leaf to his collar. Lepkin, he noticed, had the higher-ranking silver Aquila holding a bushel of arrows in its talons.
The truck slowed down next to the guards. Karl looked down at them. The guard not holding the stubber approached the cab.
“Hey, there’s a mess of Eldar comin’ down that hill, we just got out. They dropped some Penal Legion right on top of us; so we had enough time to get the hell outta dodge. We got wounded soldiers in the back, we need medics right away!” Lepkin called out.
Karl looked at Lepkin. He deftly winked.
The guard looked to his companion. The machine gunner shrugged.
“All right, I guess…” he looked at the back of the truck.
“Soldier! What kind of etiquette is that?”
The guard looked blankly at Karl. Karl merely pointed to the gold oak leaf.
“Oh, uh, my apologies, Major. Go right ahead, sir. Lepkin looked down at the trooper.
“Colonel, my apologies, I… I didn’t know, sir.” The guard stammered.
“Well now you do, trooper.” Karl gunned the engine.
The two Guards snapped to attention and saluted. Karl and Lepkin returned the salutes with a stifled laugh.
The truck entered the city, but ran out of gas just out of sight of the guards.
Lepkin kicked the bumper. “Damn piece o’ crap. Least it got us this far.
Karl was shouldering his weapon. They both had yet to fire them.
“Lemme take some ammo, lighten your load, there,” said Lepkin.
Karl, without word, ripped open his pack. Lepkin took a chain of ammunition and threw it over one shoulder like a bandolier. He snapped the chain together at his hip. He took another chain of 250 rounds, and did the same on the other side.
“There, now we’re all set. Lets find the ghetto around here.”
“Why, man? You ain’t explaining your whole plan to me, brother,” Karl asked sharply.
“Lho, man. We need lho to shoot up if we’re gonna take out the PLD’s.
Lepkin dropped his voice as two troopers passed at a trot, saluting sharply. Lepkin grinned as he returned it.
They rounded a corner to see a vast empty lot, with a battery of carriage-mounted Earthshakers preparing to begin firing. Several Centaur artillery tractors rolled past the two men, pulling trailers laden with shells and powder canisters. The tracks squealed as they pulled into the lot.
“Let’s walk over, see if we can get some info.”
“Karl, are you outta your damn mind? You know what they’ll say ta us? If they don’t shoot us, their MP unit’ll round us up, man. Let’s just keep going.”
Karl had a twinkle in his eye. “Just watch and learn, Lepkin. Watch and learn.”
He unslung his firearm and walked across the road to the artillery crews, who were cleaning the inside of their breeches with wire brushes.
A commander stood to one side with his vox team, and as orders came in, he plotted out targets in his charts. The men were wearing khaki webbing and blue fatigues. Several carried lasguns on sling.
Karl walked up to him. The man’s insignia denoted him a major.
“Major, pleased to see you. My name is Major Serghun with the XXIVth Penal Legion. My CO, Colonel Isaac Stowe, over there, needs to know the current layout of the attack on Vraksburg. Colonel?”
Lepkin walked over. The Major snapped to attention, along with his vox team, and threw crisp salutes.
“At ease, gentlemen, at ease. Do you have intel?”
“Yes sir, right here.” The Major handed him a document. “These are our targets as per the request of Colonel Brightling. We’re about to initiate firing.”
Lepkin scanned the chart, noticing a note on the map.
“Now, Major, a few of my convicts have, well, they managed to slip into the city and get into a ghetto. I guess they’re hoping to disappear in the area. Luckily, our PLD’s tracked them, but I need the quickest way to get to the Frugin Ghetto.” Lepkin squinted his eyes in his best impersonation of a senior field officer.
“Of course, sir, that’s right along this boulevard we’re on, about two kloms up. Actually, our ammo dump is just before it, perhaps you’d like a lift on our Centaur tractors?”
“That would be ideal, thank you, Major.”
“Sergeant Boutross, take these officers with you to the ammo dump!” the Major called out.
“Certainly, sir.”
The men clambered aboard an ammunition tractor just as the Major gave the commands to commence firing.
For a moment, Karl thought someone had just shot him, because his entire head seemed to compress inwards. A massive explosion tore into his eardrums, and seemed to rattle his skull as the shockwave came over him. He blinked, noticing the noise of the tractors engine had just stopped. In front of him, the first cannon in the battery seemed to fly backwards, a massive plume of smoke erupting from the muzzle. The barrel moved forward to its original position, and the crew swung open the breech.
Again, a massive ‘boom’, followed by silence. Lepkin’s lips moved, and the tractor was moving quickly, but there was no noise. The only audible sound was a piercing ring in the back of Karl’s head. Again, the thunderclap of artillery fire.
Eventually, the tractor got away from the immediate noise of the guns, but the constant barrage was still loud enough to force shouting. Karl’s ears were eternally ringing.
The tractor stopped outside of another empty lot. Earthshaker shells lay in piles on wooden platforms. Powder canisters also were strewn about. Lastly, a pile of ammunition boxes containing fuses was next to the small hab block beside the lot.
Lepkin and Karl jumped down, as the crews began gingerly loading the shells into the tractors. They paused to salute the two men, calling a farewell as they strode away.
After they were a safe distance away, Karl looked to Lepkin. “I told you.”
“I’ll give it to you, it was well done. But now we can put into play my half of the plan.” Lepkin responded as he hefted his weapon. “By the way, we’re in a ghetto, so lock and load.”
The taller manufactorum buildings were slowly descending into ramshackle, run down, low-rise shacks. Here and there, a small crater obstructed the road, where stray Eldar assaults had damaged the city. Shady characters loitered here and there, sporting gang tattoos and firearms.
Lepkin and Karl were no strangers to drugs. Both often dealt them back home to pay tips to other gang members, or to provide their own income. They also knew, no matter where one went in the Imperium, you could ‘score some lho’ in any city on any planet.
They walked down the sidewalk, eyes always carefully surveying the gangers around them. Lepkin stopped Karl with a rigid arm.
“There, lets try it.”
Lepkin walked up to two men squatting beside a ruined pump-station. One of them was puffing a hand-rolled cigarette. Tattooed across the forehead of both was the word ‘Savior’. Lepkin wordlessly pulled up a sleeve, where he had tattooed his family’s name. The two men nodded, and rose. They opened a door in the pump house control room, and stepped inside. Karl and Lepkin followed.
“You two look like Guard. Major and a Colonel?”
“You think I’m a Colonel? Ha, that’s pretty damn funny. Nah, we’re Legion, just stole the pins so we could get back here.”
A pistol appeared in the man’s hands, pointing at Lepkin’s forehead. An autogun was presented by the other man, aiming squarely at Karl’s chest.
“PLD’s, you bastard. You may as well just invite the Arbites in to share a puff. Tell me why I shouldn’t shoot you now and stop the Arbites finding my location?” the man sounded agitated, panic stricken. Karl knew a scared man with a gun was never a good combination.
“They won’t find us because we fully plan on taking out the PLD’s. That’s why we need the dope. I ain’t a smoker, neither is he. We need the good quality stuff.” Lepkin reasoned with the man.
“We ain’t got money, but we got all this.” Karl pointed to his rifle and the machine gun.
“Stuff like this is worth big on the black market. You know that. Give us a few grams of dope and we’ll get the hell outta here. Come on man, you guys know we Paclaros don’t lie. Come on.” Lepkin pressed the issue.
The pistol dropped. The man looked to his partner. He dropped the muzzle of his weapon.
The man with the pistol wordlessly lifted a floorboard. He opened up a plank, and pulled out a bag filled with white powder.
“This the good stuff, man?”
“Yea. This cost me seven hundred Imperial. Gimme the stubber and all the ammunition. Keep the autogun, we got plenty o’ them.” The man tossed the bag on the decrepit desk they were gathered around.
“I need needles and a spoon, man.”
“I got ‘em. You ain’t shootin’ that up in here. I ain’t havin’ you OD in my dealership.” The man’s pistol brooked no argument.
Lepkin took the paper bag from the other man, and dropped his weapon on the table, followed by both ammunition belts. The two convicts then left the room. Lepkin touched a bit of the powder to his tongue.
“Yea, we got the good stuff. Lets find someplace to go.”
The two men found an abandoned truck down a smelly alley. Lepkin opened his first aid kit, selecting alcohol wipes, heavy gauze, and tape.
“You first, Karl. Then wait for the dope to wear off, you can take mine out.” Lepkin said as he took the spoon out.
Karl merely nodded, and gave Lepkin a lighter.
Lepkin bent the spoon, pouring a third of the powder into the spoon. He held the flaming lighter beneath the spoon, and the powder began to break down to form a liquid.
When all the powder had liquefied, he carefully poured it into an open hypodermic needle. He closed it, and flicked it upside down to get the air out.
Karl sighed, preparing himself for the ensuing madness. He pulled some line out from the bottom of the truck bed, and gave it to Lepkin.
“Tie my hands to the back of the cab, I don’t wanna thrash during surgery.”
Lepkin agreed, and a moment later Karl was on his stomach, hands and feet bound, with the back of his shirt lifted up. Karl had his knife out, and had put a fresh edge on the blade. He had also rubbed it with alcohol. Additionally, he had rubbed Karl’s back with alcohol. He pressed the needle to Karl’s back, right around the left kidney, and pushed the plunger forward.
In a matter of minutes, Karl was effectively stupid. He lay motionless, drooling and completely dazed. Lepkin had sliced open Karl’s back, and had carefully removed the small package sealed in surgical rubber. He closed the cut, and used his needle and thread to sew it back up. He threw gauze over the cut, and wrapped the whole thing with tape.
Within an hour, Karl had regained feeling in his back. The pain was excruciating, but thankfully, the drugs were still affecting the immediate area, so the pain was dull and throbbing, instead of sharp.
Karl followed similar steps with Lepkin, and, as night fell, both lay tired in the truck.
They nibbled on ration bars and sipped the scant water they had been issued.
“Well, I’ll take first watch, brother. You get some shuteye.” Karl looked over at Lepkin.
“You got it. Wake me in a few hours, mate. Keep that pistol ready.” Lepkin was soon snoring softly.
Karl and Lepkin had decided to keep a small amount of dope for either if the pain revisited them strongly when the first hit wore off. Then, each man could take small enough a dose simply to numb the nerves around the cut, lessening the paint, but not eliminating it.
Karl tried his level best, but his eyes kept closing. He wrenched them back open, but they slowly creep closed again. After the fourth time of forcing his eyes open, he suddenly noticed he was lying on his back, and it was semi-bright. He woke Lepkin.
“Sorry, brother, I fell asleep. At least nobody killed our sorry asses. Lets get outta here.”
Lepkin groggily nodded. He hefted the autogun. It was agreed he should carry it, as he was the stronger of the two. Karl was by no means scrawny, he considered himself to be quite powerful, but Lepkin was simply built. Karl, however, had agility to his advantage.
The two men began trudge back into the civilized portion of town.
By full sunrise, they were back in the empty lot. The Earthshakers were gone, replaced by a fuel depot. A Valhallan vanquisher was filling its tanks when they walked by. Apparently, the botched Penal Legion operation had paid off, and the Valhallan tanks had enough time to reach the wilderness outside the city, where they made short work of the Eldar armor.
The two men walked by, giving a wave to the Valhallan crew. They waved back, calling out an unintelligible greeting. Lepkin merely shouted back.
They strode down the road, turning north to walk parallel to the city limits. Off in the pine-strewn hills, the distant crump of explosions was heard as the war raged on. They marched in high spirits until they reached their destination.
Vraksburg Starport #3 was by no means a large facility, but it would serve it’s purpose well. The two men walked onto the field, asking the guard near the gate where the merchant strip was. They walked over, and began asking pilots who was bound for Cedes Hive. Finally, a small ship carrying rubber gaskets told them he’d be willing to fly them there for a price.
Lepkin pressed his pistol against the man’s temple. An Autopistol was quite a negotiator.

Colonel Stowe was puzzled. The two surviving men from his several-squad operation hadn’t moved in over twelve hours. Their heart rates were flat lined, but somehow, Stowe didn’t think they’d die that easily. He picked up his vox horn, eyes still glued to the HUD map, the two adjacent blinking lights lying in the Frugin Ghetto.
“Major, would you detail a few troopers to inspect this co-ordinate for possible deserters…”
Stowe finished relaying the co-ordinates, and hung up the horn. There was something strange about these two. They had survived the Eldar attack that had killed everyone he sent down. They apparently scavenged a truck, snuck into the city, and were now hiding in the ghetto. But were they foolish enough to forget their PLD’s?

The small merchant craft broke the atmosphere of Cedes. It had been an eighteen-hour trip from Khaleed. The two men had taken shifts guarding the pilot.

The craft landed, and the two men strode into Cedes Hive. Within the hour, the Paclaro family was in the midst of a drunken, drug-crazed celebration. They had beaten the system. They had triumphed. The two men were regarded as heroes.


Colonel Stowe woke up early, and within a few minutes, was dressed and in the situation room for his regiment aboard the Divine Light.

His HUD was blank. Two blood soaked PLD’s lay on the tabletop.

Stowe sighed. Smart little bastards, they were. Smart indeed.
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Old 18 Aug 2007, 07:57   #5 (permalink)
Shas'El
 
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Default Re: The Penal Legions

I like it. Good story with characterfull characters and told from a different angle. Good work.
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Old 18 Aug 2007, 15:17   #6 (permalink)
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Default Re: The Penal Legions

Ah, yeah, this was great. I found the constant repetition of the phrase 'the good stuff' (in regards to the drugs) a little irritating, but otherwise it was brilliant! I always thought lho sticks were just cigarettes though. ???
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