Scout-Sergeant Zedef emerged from the ruined manufactorium into the gloomy daylight. He did not stop to take his bearings until he was safely in the cover of a huge cargo hauler. The flatbed truck was partially loaded with sleek groundcars that the manufactorium had, until recently, produced. He noted that the freight yard outside the factory was half-full of the haulers, some fuller than others. Each one cast haphazard shadows as the mid-morning sun streamed through them, shadows that offered concealment for him and his scouts.
Zedef glanced back to see Ezri and Osher, the last two scouts remaining in his squad, follow him out of the bombed-out building and take up positions near him. He was pleased to see them choosing suitable cover. Ezri immediately set his heavy bolter on its bipod, preparing to fire at any threat that might appear. Zedef’s ears picked up a series of soft clicks as Osher loaded more shells into his combat shotgun. The sergeant was proud of the way that they were holding up, but his pride did not outweigh his grief. Zedef gritted his teeth and silently cursed the foul xenos that had killed seven of his boys in less than an hour. Damned tyranids!
“Any contacts to our rear, boy?” Zedef asked.
Scout Osher, who had been taking up the rear, answered him quietly, “None, sergeant. We lost them in the building.”
“Keep your ears open and report at the first sign that they’ve found us again.”
Zedef studied the urban terrain before him and worked out a path that would offer the most concealment.
“You two stay here for a minute,” he ordered. “I’m going to get clear of all this metal and try raising our forces.”
With that, Sergeant Zedef started picking his way down the row of parked cargo haulers. The cover they provided was not perfect, but two hundred and twenty years in the scout company of the Brotherhood of a Thousand had made Zedef a master of stealth. He reached the last hauler without any sign that he had drawn attention. Zedef took a knee at the front of the cab, carefully shifting his sheathed chainsword so that it would not bang against the vehicle’s metal side, and slowly leaned his head out past the truck to study the street beyond. He noticed that the area beyond the loading yard was more intact than the manufactorium had been and positively pristine in comparison to the edges of the city where heavy artillery had been used to keep the tyranids at bay. Zedef’s squad had been patrolling the no-man’s land when the xenos had ambushed them. Zedef looked over the light industrial area for several long seconds before deciding that its factories and worker habitation blocks were clear of tyranids. The sergeant drew back into cover and twisted the controls of his vox transceiver, dialing in a longer-range frequency.
Zedef’s ear was immediately assaulted by static and other sounds associated with overloaded circuits. It was the same noise he had heard every time he had tried to raise Imperial forces in the last forty minutes. Zedef had hoped it was mostly interference that would calm down when he found a better point from which to transmit, but as he worked to refine the signal Zedef realized that atmospheric radiation and radio-obscuring structures were not the problem. Something major was going down and the forces of the Imperium were in confusion. The sergeant decided to try a tighter wave. It would have less range, but it might be cleaner. For a moment the chaos in his headset receded and Zedef jumped at the chance.
“This is Sergeant Barnabus Zedef,” he said, pressing the transmit key. “I am calling any Imperial Guard or Brotherhood of a Thousand forces. Is anyone receiving this transmission?” Zedef waited a moment for a response. He looked back over his shoulder to check on his scouts and decided that he would repeat his call a couple of times before moving on to find a better place to try again. He saw that Osher and Ezri had followed his instructions to the letter; both scouts were exactly as he had left them.
The sergeant reached to key another vox transmission, but something stayed his hand. Zedef knew how he had left Ezri and the scout had not moved, but something had changed. Zedef had just begun to see that the shadows around the young scout had shifted when he heard Osher shout.
“Sergeant, above you!”
Zedef’s hand sped toward his holstered bolt pistol as he turned to look. A trail of slime leaked from the end of a writhing feeder tendril onto the sergeant’s shoulder pad as Zedef looked into the lictor’s face. How the xenos lurker had come to perch on the cab of the cargo hauler without him noticing, Zedef would never know, but he did know the lictor’s descending scything talon would cut him in two before his pistol could even clear its holster. Zedef gritted his teeth.
In a burst of gore the left side of the tyranid creature’s chest exploded. Half a heartbeat later, so did its head. As the lictor’s carcass fell to the ground, Zedef’s sensitive ears heard two distant, but sharp cracks of gunfire. He knew the effects and reports of Astartes-issue sniper rifles when he witnessed them and Zedef immediately barked into his vox.
“This is Sergeant Zedef. Whoever fired those shots, identify yourselves!” Ezri and Osher ran up beside him as he waited for a response. He was about to berate them for leaving cover without orders, but stopped when a reply sounded in his ear.
“Sergeant Zedef, this is Scout Tsabar. We are on the roof of a building about a kilometer north of you.”
Zedef pulled out his binoculars. “Acknowledged, Tsabar. Good shooting,” he said as he started scanning the structures to the north. “Does your position have any identifiers?” he asked. They all looked the same to him.
“Water tower,” Tsabar immediately answered, keeping his transmissions short like a good scout.
Zedef continued to search, wondering which of his fellow scout-sergeants this Tsabar belonged to. He did not ask of course. The vox was for orders and reports, not conversations. The water tower was easy to pick out. It perched on top of a building with a sign that said Adullam’s Tool and Die. He did not see the snipers until a flash of light caught his eye and drew it to the narrow walkway that circled the big water tank. Zedef could barely make out the forms of two scouts who hunched under camouflage cloaks and held their rifles at the ready. Zedef would have seen them eventually, but the flash from the signaling mirror had helped speed things up.
“I’ve got you, Tsabar,” Zedef said. He was about to ask the scout if he had been able to make contact with other friendlies, but before he could he heard an unpleasant sound from the direction of the manufactorium. It was the scratch of tyranid claws on permacrete.
“The ‘gaunts are back, sergeant!” Osher had heard it too. His shotgun boomed.
Zedef knew before he looked that the three of them would not be able to stand against the mob of xenos that poured out of the building, laying sight on the tyranids only confirmed it. Scout Ezri raised his heavy bolter, but the sergeant gave him a shove that turned him towards the street.
“Go!” Zedef shouted. He had lost seven of his boys already. He was not letting the tyranids have the last two so easily. “Head for the water tower!”
Osher’s shotgun boomed again as Ezri ran off and Zedef realized that the scout was not following his orders. He grabbed Osher by the collar of his carapace armor and gave him a strong shake.
“Listen to me, boy,” Zedef said once he had Osher‘s full attention. “Follow Ezri. I’ll be right behind.”
As the scout finally went after the other Zedef dropped his binoculars and drew his bolt pistol and chainsword. He turned to face the mob of termagaunts as the air around him filled with abominations from their strange weapons. The sergeant raised his gun and started to even the odds with well-placed shots, but there were so many. A fleshborer beetle penetrated the ceramite plate over his thigh and Zedef grimaced as the living projectile began eating into his quadriceps. A pair of hormagaunts came into the loading yard and leaped over their brethren as the sergeant’s pistol ran dry. Zedef cast it aside and revved his chainsword. With the last moment he could spare, Zedef shouted out his Chapter’s warcry.
“A Thousand for the Emperor!”