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Wildoxmoan
27-03-2006, 16:03
That Scratch

Part 1

Chapter 1


Sergeant Bryce kept his head down as he picked his way through the frost-covered undergrowth. It was a race against time and darkness threatened to leave him lost in the woods. He had already squandered several hours of daylight traversing the marsh and the squishing sound his boots made whenever he stepped seemed to mock him for the effort. He couldn’t remember a time when his feet had been so numb with cold. Even when he was a conscript on Sepsis IV during the winter campaign he hadn’t felt this cold although he was nearly three decades younger then. He remembered fear had kept his feet warm then. Not from the Orks they were driving out of the factory district but from Commissar Blunt whose cruel stare could wither a young recruit’s mettle in a heartbeat.
Now a different fear motivated the one time Guardsman; the fear of losing his family, friends and home. Bryce reckoned it was a tradeoff. Here he valued his fellow man and the opportunity to allow his spirit to connect to the land and his community whereas if he had stayed with the Imperial mandate, he would’ve been a decorated hero with a promise of an officious position and perhaps a handsome commission when his career was finally at an end. Providing of course that he wasn’t killed a dozen times over in the limitless wars the Guard was engaged in.
Bryce trudged onward through the deepening shadows listening to the only sounds of the cracking and crunching of the dead foliage underfoot and his own labored breaths. He began to sing a song under his breath to keep his mind from focusing on his wet feet. It was an old Imperial anthem meant to bolster moral and praise the Emperor.
“The light of His teachings, will keep the brothers true,”
“Hold the line with bayonets, the heretics run through,”
“Into the breach lads, into the breach”
“When the eye is finally shut, His light will guide us home”

Sadly he could only remember the words he and his brothers-in-arms gave it when they were all drunk (and there were no Commissars or Ecclesiarches within earshot).
“The smell from her pootah, like flies the brothers drew,”
“Hold on to your bayonets, and run the harlot through”
“Into her breach lads, into her breach,”
“If your pecker burns tonight, you should have worn a dome”

It was crude and childish but when accompanied by the little hand jig never failed to rouse spirits and coax laughter out of even the most homesick of lads. He continued to hum the ode as he remembered how he went from a terrified fourteen year-old when he was inducted into the Guard to a hardened and jaded soldier at only seventeen. That was the first time he ever had to walk on the corpse of a fellow Guardsman.
It was less than a year after the Sepsis IV campaign and the boys of the 114th Phoenix Regimental Conscripts were riding high after cleansing the remnants of the Greenskins out of the outlying cities. They were part of the mighty Damocles Crusade and as such they were not only at war with the Tau but also all the xeno’s that infested the sector such as Orks and Tyranids. Their first action however would be to mop up Ork resistance from the great Marneus Calgars’ Balur Campaign on Boros. There was a sense of pure awe amongst the boys when they heard they would be walking in the wake of the living legend but that feeling quickly turned to a different sort of wonder when they arrived on the planet.
The battles between Ork and Marine had left hundreds upon thousands of victims littering the streets. Civilian and soldier were left to rot next to the carcasses of dead Orks everywhere. The Ultramarines had left weeks earlier leaving what was left of the PDF forces and civil populace to deal with mountains of corpses. The Conscripts brought Chimera’s outfitted with bull dozer blades to move the bodies and then lit the pyres that were piled so high that the smoke could be seen for miles. Bryce would never forget the smell.
By the time they left nearly a month later over half the lads were sent to reformatoriums. Of those that moved on with the Regiment over half ended up in penal legions for crimes ranging from going AWOL to heinous murders that were hard to believe let alone describe.
Bryce himself sobbed every night for the first week or so and then something in him died and he became numb. He never feared space travel in the warp after that. Grave duty in future engagements was akin to picking a piece of grime from the bottom of one’s shoe.
It was also the first time that the young soldier silently questioned the motivations of the Imperium for he never heard of the travesty on Boros other than it concluded Calgar’s successful campaign. The millions and possibly billions who died on that planet and the bravery of the PDF forces not to mention the thousands of dead Guardsmen were never alluded to. Unsung and disregarded they were flung to the wind and wouldn’t even warrant a footnote in the great tomes of the Ultramarines.
The second such incident, though nowhere near as traumatic also left an emotional scar on the Guardsman. It was a few years after the Boros nightmare and Bryce was a fully inducted Guardsman now of the 39th Hollingsworth Grenadiers Company. The Imperial forces were in a state of flux as hive Fleet Behemoth chewed through the Eastern Fringe. Bryce was on a transport headed toward a planet where the civil defense corps had waited far too long to evacuate the populace and now they were caught in an orbital battle.
Imperial troop transports carrying Guardsmen descended through oncoming unarmed freighters loaded with civilians as Tyranid Droneships swooped between them in a dance of death. Just as Bryce watched one of the strangely beautiful Tyranid organisms pass frighteningly close to their transport, he saw a barrage of Imperial torpedoes miss it and strafe one of the freighters. The way the civilian vessel was struck caused the cargo holds to pop and the Guardsmen watched as hundreds of women, children and the elderly were spewed into the void. A hundred Guardsmen sat in horrified silence listening to the muffled thuds of their frozen corpses as they were brushed aside by the transport.
Bryce was not naïve. He had seen the results of and almost succumbed to friendly fire in the past but never had he seen such zealous disregard for human life. He used his rage once he got to the planets surface to kill the Tyranids but in less than two days the defense was aborted and a planet-wide exterminatus ordered.
The Gue’vesa’ui stopped to get his bearings in the creeping dusk. He’d been to the great hall nearly a half-dozen times but in the dim light he now doubted himself. He also realized that he’d have to keep moving before the icy numbness in his feet started crawling up his legs. Checking his positional locking device he ascertained he was within two kilometers of the mercenary’s enclave and started marching again.
The soldier unconsciously hummed a different song now as he trudged onward. It was one of the last songs he heard when he left the garrison and if he had been paying attention he would’ve realized he hated it. “Benita” by the Glowfish. He really hated that song.
In his mind the sergeant skipped past the Marlin incident wherein an Orca gunship was first crippled and then utterly destroyed after having assisted an Imperial Frigate drive off a Dark Elder pirate craft that was preparing to board her. Several reasons were offered as to why the Imperial vessel turned on the Tau but seeing as Bryce heard about it second-hand from his Tau captures; he didn’t linger on the event. He was present though for the final capitulation and declassification of he and his brothers-in-arms at Sha’kesla and that is what he was thinking of now as he softly whistled Benita.
At twenty four Bryce was one of the younger sergeants but had seen enough action that he deserved the rank. His platoon was one of ten that advanced into the rubble strewn streets of the city, the first major Tau settlement he and his squad had ever seen. Even in ruins, the city was elegantly crafted in its simplicity. Wide thoroughfares lined with now blackened, smoldering tree’s. Arching causeways linking the long-shattered monorails stretched overhead. Smooth round structures punctured from the three days of continuous shelling. The Basilisks had done there job well as the once picturesque cities infrastructure crumbled all around them. The Hollingsworth Fourth Regimental infantry company was tasked with cleaning out any and all remaining resistance from the ruins.
Fighting had been sporadic to say the least. Bryce’s squad had been sent in with the third wave of troops to secure the building interiors approximately two kilometers into the city. The Tau had done a masterful job of evacuating their people as there were few bodies other than a few Fire Warriors and the empty shells of their dreaded Crisis Battle suits. As they picked their way through one empty building after another, occasional bursts of lasgun fire erupted outside as the fifth wave moved through the streets but all-in-all the siege was over and the operation went smoothly.

Wildoxmoan
27-03-2006, 16:05
Suddenly, a series of deafening explosions erupted somewhere behind them in the distance. Bryce ordered his squad into over watch in the building they occupied and tried to radio the platoon behind them to see what was going on. Garbled, panic laced phrases were all that he heard through the unnaturally dense static. Private Gonsalves reported that he could see at least two Devilfish transports entering the city from the east. As the sergeant peered through the binoculars he could see teams of Fire Warriors taking positions on the outskirts of the city center. A metallic clunking noise drew his attention away from the Warriors and before he could warn the others, the haywire grenade detonated blinding all but two or three in the platoon.
The rest of the day was a blur of shame and confusion as nearly the entire company was captured and subjugated in the span of about four to six hours. Bryce had the misfortune of being dragged out of the building by Private Gonsalves and along with Private Bilevsky, the three ended up getting into a running firefight with a squad of well trained Pathfinders. It took almost five minutes for the effects of the grenade to fully wear off and in that time Gonsalves lead the two stumbling Guardsmen back toward their lines. Too late did it dawn on the well meaning Private that they were no longer their lines.
Just as Bryce regained his senses the Pathfinders cornered them in a large ventilation shaft that, although buckled in spots, seemed to lead back the way they had come. Gonsalves opened fire and Bilevsky attempted to toss a frag grenade in the direction of the cautious Tau but he was brought down in a burst of Pulse carbine fire. The live grenade dropped down into a dark crevice forcing the pair to flee in opposite directions away from the imminent explosion. Bryce was launched off his feet head first into a metal grate.
When the sergeant came to, he was sitting up against a low wall alongside a string of wounded Imperial soldiers. He was disoriented but felt very little in the way of pain even though his head was bandaged and one of his eyes covered over. He had been stripped of his watch and tags and boots but still wore his uniform though he felt that his shirt was stiff with dry blood. On his right ankle was a light plastic band with a small disk attached to it on a retractable cord. Judging from the waning light and the positioning of the nearest of the four moons, Bryce judged he had been unconscious for several hours. As he sat and took in his surroundings he saw a single Fire Warrior posted in the distance with his Pulse rifle slung casually over his shoulder. Bryce also noted that all of the prisoners were silent. Not the usual wailing that accompanied the various and in some cases grievous injuries he could see the carefully bandaged Guardsmen bore.
Instead he could hear a chipper, if somewhat monotone voice broadcasting in the distance. It alternated between a male and female voice offering condolences and hope for a bright future.
He watched as a pair of Tau in short grey smocks went along the line of prisoners and stooped to take a reading from the disk on each man’s ankle with a portable template that looked like a small clip board.
As they got closer to him, he was suddenly overcome with panic and tried to bolt away which resulted in his head lolling to one side and a wave of nausea nearly overcoming him.
Suddenly a three fingered hand appeared in front of Bryce’s face and gently lifted his head so that he could see his capture and benefactor. The Fire Warrior pushed a tiny button on his helmet that translated his words into high Imperial gothic.
“We apologize for the quality of our anesthetic. Our grasp of human genetics has improved tenfold since this latest intrusion into our realm, but I assure you we are trying to reduce its side effects.”
The xeno leaned to look at Bryce’s rank marked clearly on his forearm, “A sergeant, you must be an impressive soldier to lead men at such a young age”.
Although the transmitter allowed little in the way of inflection, the aliens’ voice was not mocking or derisive in any sense that Bryce could tell. As the soldier squatted before him he looked down the line of casualties and continued, “What lies ahead will be difficult for all of us. Your Captain Hagoths men were captured without a fight. They will be defiant as they will feel the desire to prove themselves brave and honorable. It is easier to negotiate with those who were vanquished through struggle, such as yourself sergeant”.
Again Bryce searched the words for some kind of malice but only heard the respect given from one soldier to another. He attempted to speak and found his tongue twice its normal size. The resulting sound was more of a guttural croaking noise, “Wha gnow?”
The Fire Warrior reached to his side and opened a waist pouch. He produced a shiny, black flask and a second smaller pouch.
“Now? Now you will be offered a choice sergeant. All of your soldiers will be given the same offer. It will not be an uneducated choice I assure.”
As he spoke, he pressed the flask into Bryce’s hand and helped him lift it to his cracked and bloody lips. A clear, flavorless, odorless liquid flooded the Guardsman’s mouth and though he was sure he had only taken a tiny sip, his whole mouth felt completely rinsed and refreshed. There was a slightly metallic after taste. He watched as the alien carefully opened the pouch and offered him a variety of accoutrements ranging from gum, to cigarettes to what he presumed was the equivalent to Tau chocolate.
“You see, your Imperium offer’s no quarter when it comes to the Tau and from what I gather any non-human unless it serves their purpose such as is the case with your tiny snipers and the giants you employ. We on the other hand have a different philosophy. We bear you no ill will, nor do we seek conflict with any race or species. Instead we only wish to offer you an alternative to conquest and should you not wish to receive our gift of clarity, you can still serve the Tau’va…” and there it was. The first time Bryce had heard the words ‘Tau’va’, the Greater Good.

Wildoxmoan
27-03-2006, 16:06
Three hundred and eighteen Guardsmen had been captured in Sha’kesla of which most had not fired a single shot including Bryce himself. As prisoners they were treated with the utmost respect, almost comradely. They were moved from the city to a prisoner of war camp via Devilfish transports. The camp was inside a cave that overlooked the city some thirty kilometers away. For days Bryce contemplated how it was that such an operation could go unnoticed by reconnaissance until it was revealed to him that the entire cavern entrance was shielded by a holographic image of a plain rock face.
The Fire Warrior who had spoken with Bryce earlier was right about the attitude of the soldiers. As the Tau’va indoctrination procedure was implemented, a few of the officer’s captured balked at what they were being told and tried to rally the dejected soldiery to riot. Plans to escape were bandied about and some prisoners were beaten (a few of them to death) for either supporting the Tau or supporting insurgency. Eventually the prisoners were split into smaller cells and infiltrated by Gue’vesa to root out the trouble-makers.
Finally, those who had accepted their fate, approximately two hundred or so were moved off world to start their new lives as militia men in the Tau Empire. The single file walk to the refitted transport was probably the worst part of their brief incarceration. Those few that chose to stay loyal to the Emperor’s creed that all xeno’s must die were allowed to move about freely in the exercise yard before they too would be transported off world to prison facilities or forced labor worlds. The loyalists watched the procession as it boarded the Manta with sullen stares of burning hatred. The loading bay was behind a plasteel partition that prevented sound but Bryce and those who would now be called Gue’vesa kept their eyes on their feet as they boarded, not daring to see the accusing eyes and sneers of the betrayed on their former brothers faces.
Three decades later, Sergeant Bryce still felt the sharp pang of guilt that stung his eyes and made him flush even though he was fully absorbed into the Greater Good now and saw the antiquated and iniquitous ways of the Imperium. Fortunately for him, he met Captain Shaw shortly after he was instructed in the ways of the Tau and more specifically Tau tactics and he changed his perspective again.
Shaw had a keen, analytical mind that saw beyond the dogma of both species philosophies to something that a common soldier found more tangible. When Shaw offered Bryce the position of Master Sergeant of the Verdanian Prime militia, the younger man jumped at the chance to serve with Shaw and their friendship formed.
Dusk had fully enveloped the forest. Bryce had been following his nose more than his eyes for the last five minutes. The smell of the War Dogs reminded the soldier of raw meat, blood and death. Their own permeating musk clung to clothing and skin for days after contact with the foul tempered beasts. He was glad that the Hunters could deal with them and kept them penned up next to their compound.
At last Bryce saw the dark out line of the long hall that was home to the mercenaries. He passed under what looked to be a copse of rotted tree’s that fell on their own but as he squirmed through to the other side he noticed it was a cleverly disguised barricade of sorts. He was just straightening back up when he heard the husky panting almost right next to his head. Terror seized him as he looked to his right and standing with its head at the height of his chest was the tooth filled maw of a War Dog.
The great beast bore its teeth and let out a growl that originated somewhere from the depths of its barrel chest. Bryce felt its hot breath on his face and his knee’s turned to water.

Hulls Raven
27-03-2006, 23:01
Pretty good.
A fair few gramma mistakes but other than that the story was pretty much a good read.



~Raven.

Wildoxmoan
02-05-2006, 14:04
Chapter 2

Chief of Security, Lieutenant Kurtz sat on a low stool and bit into an apple-like fruit wiping the juice from his lower lip as he watched Fat Dikk toiling over a huge pot of stew.
“Yer gonna spoil yer appetite Chief” sited the cook as he stirred his pot. Sweat rolled down his face and neck and disappeared into a filthy apron that was stretched across his expansive girth. Dikk had let his weight become a problem after his kneecap was shattered by a bolter round fired by an Ultramarine some years ago. Since then, Dikk was designated the platoon’s cook and a few years later the appropriate descriptor, ‘Fat’ was attached.
“Dat just means der’ll be more for our guest, Dikk” replied the Hunter leader as he tossed the half eaten fruit into the pot.
“Who’d dey send?” asked Fat Dikk as he waddled over to the big stone oven to check his bread.
“Bryce. Da boys is just givin’ um a little start now, but he should be in soon”.
“Bryce!” exclaimed the cook, “Must be somethin’ purdy big if dey sent number two!”
“A-yuh” replied the leader of the Hunters and turned to leave the stiflingly hot kitchen through the heavily reinforced back door. He already had a good idea why the Gue’vesa ex-Guardsman had come.
The door opened out into what appeared to be a large storage room with another heavy door opposite and a large bay door to the outside. Across from the bay door was a heavy metal door with a barred window leading to the dog pen. The Chief breathed in the cool night air like a refreshing drink of water not even noticing the stench of the hounds. After acknowledging the guard sitting perfectly still in the shadows with a nod, he turned and removed the camouflaged door from the elevator. Kurtz stepped onto the lift that groaned slightly under his mass and descended the rattling, creaking device to the subbasement.
At the bottom, the cement floors and walls were slick with condensation and the air smelled of earth. The overall impression was that of a dimly lit bunker that closed in all around but that was nothing new for the Jolian. Their home planet was virtually sunless, so much of their existence was spent indoors and underground. They were ideally suited to space flight where the environment could become claustrophobic to the unaccustomed and they did just that for many years before they came to this moon.

Wildoxmoan
14-06-2007, 19:06
The Chief moved down the uneven corridor to the communications room, passing under dripping ceiling grates and by other side tunnels that lead to maintenance facilities and storerooms.
The comm center was lead shielded so that its energy signature couldn’t be detected. The knob and tube appearance belied a cleverly disguised sophistication. If anyone approached within 48.279 kilometers of the compound, the Hunters knew about it. They were tapped into the On’ari mining facility to the north and the Tau landing zone Sha’zer to the south as well. If it was worth broadcasting, the Hunters knew about it. That’s how they knew that the military forces on their tiny planetoid were being primed for a possible attack by Imperial forces.
Kurtz itched with anticipation at the thought of going toe-to-toe with the Adeptus Astartes but didn’t get his hopes up telling himself that their little moon with its two mining facilities wasn’t worth sending the big boys. He wasn’t alone though in his excitement. He could feel the same sense of electricity in every other Hunter once they’d heard that a Battle Barge had come out of the warp in their system.
“Anything new Dillon?” asked the Lieutenant as he slid the heavy door shut behind him.
The communications officer sat in a wide, low, swivel chair with a bulky headset atop his brush cut head. He was leaning forward fiddling with a large dial and tilted his head as he slowly turned the knob as though it would somehow improve the reception.
“Not really, Chief” replied the burly Jolian without looking up. “Dey don’t tink much of the Tau defenses doh if dey tink der just gonna set up shop down der” he said referring to the limited number of heavy transport barges that had been sent to the planet surface.
“What about da dogs?” asked the Chief in reference to the Space Marine’s.
“Not a peep, deys out der just watchin'. Maybe dey tink da Guardsmen got enough ta do it by demselves!” mocked the radio operator.
The former Security Chief folded one arm in front of him and resting his other arm on it, stroked his chin thoughtfully, “Maybe…or maybe deys just seeing what kind of response da Guard gets and setting up a trap for da Blue skins. Still no buzz since dey dropped da EMP on der heads?”
“Nuttin’ Chief, but I tink deys just playin’ mum cause deys got da transmitter on da udder side of dis here moon and dey can talk back an fort from Sha’zer”
Kurtz raised an eyebrow and smirked slightly. The perfect target for a specialized force to take out he thought. The comm officer caught the gleam in his leader’s eyes and gave a quizzical look.
“Keep monitorin' da stations Dillon and let me know if der’s any word dat da dogs are doin’ anyting! And let me know if ya hear what kind of dog’s dey is” growled Kurtz placing a hand on Dillon’s shoulder before departing.
“Right Chief!” answered the radio operator and squinted at the dial as he continued his vigil.