Black Shields: Indoctrination (sm v tau, 6k words, complete)

Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim, dark future there is only war.

Black Shields: Indoctrination (sm v tau, 6k words, complete)

Postby kurisawa » Wed Sep 24, 2014 3:30 am

Long time no see! Found this short knocking around a folder I was about to delete. Still in first draft, not sure what to do with it. Comments welcome!

BLACK SHIELDS: INDOCTRINATION



‘Yes, their fleets are capable and their warriors are proficient, but their greatest weapon is this doctrine: It is as simple as it is pernicious, as alluring as it is deceptive. Already malcontent Imperial governors across the sector are salivating over the power of this great lie. This will be a war of words as much as weapons.’
- Marneus Calgar at the Second War Council of Damocles


‘THIS IS INSANE!’ Brenston yelled, sheltering behind a sectoid mound as a missile screamed overhead, ‘We have to pull out!’

Concealed from enemy sights by the insect-built contours, Brother Markius scrutinised the human through the eye-lenses of his helmet. Brenston wore captain flashes on his grimy guard uniform, but that was the only clue to the scarred Catachan’s rank. Markius had liked that about him.

Explosions sundered the parched night. Small arms fire drummed its distinctive percussion, punctuated with the crescendos of rockets and rhythmic beats of mortars. Curls of cordite smoke drifted, spicing the dry reek of the desert. A corporal crouched next to Brenston and listened through an earphone to the vox set strapped to his back. He shook his head at the muscular captain.

Brenston chewed the lump of tobacc stuffed into the side of his mouth and scratched at the bristles of his beard, squinting. ‘Fraggin’ insane.’

‘You disappoint me, Captain,’ Brother Markius said, his voice transformed into an inhuman rumble through his vox-grate. ‘I had heard good things about the 51st Catachan Regiment.’

Brenston spat. The globule was sucked into the greedy sand. A sectiod as big as the human’s head stirred beneath the grey dirt, attracted to the moisture.

‘We’ve kept the bastard toadies busy for months in the jungles without your help, marine, but we are getting slaughtered out here on the ridge.’

Markius switched his occulobe-enhanced vision northwards. Across the rugged plains, backlit by the flickers of explosions and muzzle flashes of auto-cannons in the night, the shadows of infantrymen danced in the darkness. Angular silhouettes of alien grav-tanks prowled outside their base like titansharks, hurling death in eye-searing javelins of plasma. The captain was right. His guardsmen were getting slaughtered.

The spitting and boasting was the mortal’s attempt to demonstrate he wasn’t intimidated by a giant clad in onyx black power armour. Markius liked that about Brenston, too. He needed that grit.

‘Just a little longer,’ Markius said. He tried to be sympathetic. Brenston had not fragged around complaining before.

‘You’re never going to get in,’ Brenston persisted. ‘We’ve hit those walls with lascannons, melta bombs, even demo-charges! The toady metals are too dense. We have to retreat!’

Markius exhaled. He said, ‘We have means. The nano-density is to our advantage. Focus on your mission.’

‘What the hells is that thing anyway?’ Brenston jerked a thumb in the direction of Brother Borias’s hidden position. The devastator specialist had anointed the ancient conversion beamer the required distance from the xenos compound, and Markius knew right now he would be gazing at the treasured relic through his bionic mono-visor.

‘Our door-maker.’

Markius scanned the parapets atop the perimeter walls of the xenos compound, one hundred paces away. He knew that he did not need to check on his Kill-team, but he chanced a glance toward the other marines anyway, ensuring they remained out of sight while the battle raged to the north and south. The aliens were known to have poor night vision but their advanced helmet sensors more than made up for that failing.

A hiss in his ear heralded a vox link opened by one of his battle brothers.

‘Rasmus to Actual: Only two sentries left. Time to go, eh?’ came the distinctive growl of Brother Rasmus.

‘Actual to all Talons: Standby,’ voxed Markius. He turned to Brenston.

‘We are here to turn things around on Cytheria. You understand this?’ said Markius.

‘I get it, but my boys should at least know what they are dying for!’

‘The inquisitor’s agent told you why this cannot be. If any are captured…’

‘Yeh, but… Emperor’s Blood! Don’t you give a single frag about us?’

‘I do, Captain. I truly do. That is why I trust you to complete this mission. We need the diversion your men can create for the next twenty minutes.’

‘If there’s something big in there, let us fraggin’ at it! We’ve been sloggin’ it out here with no support. My boys need some good news.’

Markius nodded. ‘I understand. Patience. You have served with Astartes before?’

Brenston chewed. ‘Yeh.’

‘You know that we mean what we say.’

‘I ain’t never met an Astartes like you,’ said Brenston, peering once more at the plain black shield that adorned Markius’s right shoulder plastron. ‘Thought you was all about showing off your heraldry to the galaxy.’

‘We are more alike than you may think, Captain. Can I rely on the 51st or not?’

Brenston sighed and turned to his comms man, swinging his battered lasgun over his shoulder. He grabbed the vox-caster.

‘This is Brenston to all Black Vipers: Hold your ground. Keep those hammerheads tied up – use fraggin’ demo charges if you can get close enough.’

Markius exchanged a nod with Brenston, then keyed the vox-bead in his ear, ‘Actual to all Talons: Execute.’

Three voices replied in unison, ‘Invictus.’

The hazy projection of the conversion beamer rippled through the night, sylphlike and unthreatening at first. Markius rose and brought his boltgun to his shoulder, switching the selector to stalker rounds. He tracked a sentry; one of the discus-shaped drones that floated on anti-gravity motors above the armoured walls. Markius’s suit of power armour whirred softly as he adjusted his aim. Then with a whistle a single shot punched through the night. The automaton blew apart a moment later. The same instant a second sentry, one of the deer-like xenos soldiers in his segmented armour, collapsed as if punched in the face.

‘Nice shot, Scholar,’ Markius voxed, joining brother Rasmus and Apothecary Sören as they stalked towards the perimeter wall. Golden-haired Sören nodded an acknowledgement when they rendezvoused beneath the parapets.

‘Brother Markius, I believe I bested you often in firing rites, back when…’

His voice trailed off and the vox autocut.

The cone of light from the conversion beamer focused into a crackling river of sub-atomic disturbance directed at the perimeter wall; its serpent hiss rising in volume, and a circular section of the barrier began to glow.

‘Oho my friends, this is going to be beautiful!’ Brother Borias voxed from his position manning the beamer, and the nanocrystalline structures of the wall began to groan.

Markius checked the chronometer on his retinal display, knowing every second meant more of Brenston’s men dead. The three Deathwatch marines, clad in their hulking suits of battle plate, waited. Finally the beam from Borias’s revered weapon achieved its critical pitch and a section of the armoured walls cracked.

Bonds between neutrons and protons shattered, advanced energy matrixes imploded, and with a flash like a miniature supernova the night was transitorily cast into scorching day. The marines glanced away, preventing their autosenses clouding their vision in reaction to the blast, as the sub-sonic roar reverberated across the desert.

Rasmus was first into the breach, barging through the clouds of sulphur dust, his bionic leg clomping. He clutched his hefty power-axe in two hands, activating the crackling corona of energy around its double-bladed head. Markius and Sören followed, one to each flank, staying close to the jagged edges of the breach, boltguns with multi-chambered magazines gripped at their hips.

Inside, the compound had collapsed into chaos, exactly as planned. Figures charged to and fro, shouts and curses filled the darkness between buildings and equipment dumps. The grav-tanks and battlesuits were still elsewhere, and Markius made a mental note to ensure he repaid the Catachans for their valour. For the moment, the xenos were too occupied by the multiple diversionary assaults of the guardsmen to respond. Glancing skywards, Markius noted the energy field that prevented orbital insertion or bombardment still fizzed above their heads, dimming the already gloomy night of Cytheria. Blowing the wall hadn’t killed it.

In a single sweep, Markius analysed his surroundings. The long blocks appeared to be habitation units, and there were hydroponic tanks, flat and wide, planted between them. Vehicles were few and agricultural in nature. Important buildings were easily identified; better armour, automated gun placements, xenos scrabbling around in greater numbers.

‘That is our mark,’ Markius voxed. The two other Deathwatch marines glanced his way and he pointed to a bastion rising from the centre of the compound.

Las beams seared past his helmet and cracked against the remains of the outer walls behind. Nearby, between habitation blocks, a ragged line of figures clutched lasguns in shaking hands.

‘Resistance,’ voxed Sören.

With a roar Rasmus charged at them like an enraged ice bear. Markius grimaced. They were humans.

Clad in ochre paramilitary uniforms, the mob spat lasbolts from trembling rifles. They still had Imperial-issue photochromatic goggles, though these were pushed back up onto strangely elongated helmets. The headgear cut oblique angles that betrayed their inhuman origin.

Sören and Markius advanced behind Rasmus, striding deeper into the compound, defying the arrows of scarlet laser that scattered around them. Markius triggered his bolter and it shuddered in his hands, hurling righteous fury at the traitors. He selected metal storm rounds, and each burst of shells shattered microseconds before striking targets, shredding gangs of the humans with their blasts.

Sören progressed in sync to Markius’s flank, in the formation they had perfected through years of arduous practice. The Apothecary’s bolter thundered its own song, in harmony with Markius’s blessed weapon. And the militias retreated.

Rasmus ignored the laser blasts scorching into his armour as he raged into the nearest group of humans. His power axe swung like a mighty pendulum, decapitating, bisecting, spilling sheets of blood onto the voracious sand. The big gladiator fought without a helmet, trusting his battered, oblong face and crooked teeth to frighten his quarry more than even the metal skull of an Astartes helmet.

It worked.

The humans, perhaps realising just how deep and lethal a pit of trouble they were in when they faced the Angels of Death, panicked and fled. Sören and Markius caught up to Rasmus and together they advanced between long hab-blocks deeper into the compound.

Markius spotted women and children among the bodies decimated by their attack and hissed. Every one of them had been armed. Rounding a corner, fresh lines of enemy crouched in hastily assembled defensive lines.

‘Cover,’ Markius voxed to his battle brothers.

These were the alien puppet-masters: The Tau.

Star-bright lances of plasma hurtled into the walls of the hab-block around them as the marines ducked back. The metal of the buildings screamed in protest and fires curled into life.

Markius checked position. The target was near. There was still plenty of chaos in the compound, but the toads were a disciplined foe. They maintained a withering hail of advanced plasma bolts, and they were accurate shots, too. The cover of the hab-block wall saved the marines from testing the xenos ordnance against their blessed power armour.

Figures moved beyond the line of aliens. Human figures, hustled by a pair of Tau herders with rifles.

‘That is them,’ voxed Markius. ‘Scholar, keep the xenos busy.’

Sören complied, jerking out from cover long enough to launch a volley of metal storms into the picket line. Three Tau died in wet eruptions. Markius sighted his own bolter to his shoulder again, this time selecting the AGL fitted beneath the main barrel, primed with a single stunburst round. He judged the distance and fired. The missile fizzed then popped above the heads of the three humans, a cloud of white gas blooming around them. It took but a moment for the humans to drop.

Rasmus led the charge again, and together with Markius and Sören thundered into the remaining Tau guards. At close quarters the doe-hooved xenos were no match for the Emperor’s Angels and soon lay battered and broken beside the bodies of their fallen comrades.

The Astartes each hefted an unconscious human onto his shoulder, turned and strode back the way they had come.


* * *



CAPTAIN BRENSTON SHOOK his head, regarding the three captives in the cave.

‘Yeh. That’s the complete Liberation Council all right,’ he said, chewing a lump of tobacc. He squinted again at Brother Markius. ‘How did you… Who’n the hells are you people?’

Across the domed grotto, Brother Rasmus flashed a crooked grin. Sören and Borias exchanged a knowing look.

‘Whut?’ said Brenston.

‘You would be surprised how many people ask us that,’ smiled Markius.

The curved walls of their hideaway were carved from the rubbery fibres of a particularly mature specimen of gemplant. From the opening at one end, ruddy Cytherian sunrays seeped into the shadows, reflecting in a muted rubicund haze from the plant’s walls.

‘Thank you, Captain,’ said Athena, sitting opposite the three captives. ‘That will be all.’

Brenston shrugged and ambled towards the exit. Markius stepped before him. He looked Brenston in the eye and said, ‘Thank you. We will not forget you.’

‘Yeh,’ Brenston spat a noxious lump onto the dirt and left. Markius returned his gaze to Throne Agent Athena.

She lounged in a foldable seat before a metal camping table, playing with a strand of the dark hair that draped in a synthetic curtain across her shoulders. Violet eyes scrutinised the prisoners from her narrow face. Clad in her usual black bodyglove, a chunky utility belt clasped her hips. Pale arms and shoulders exposed the silvery lines of Glavian augmetics beneath her porcelain skin.

Athena folded her arms and yawned. Though Brother Borias referred to her as ‘Agent Aggro’ behind her back, Markius had been forced on previous occasions to acknowledge that she was good with the mortals. He did not think so much of her handling of the Catachan on this occasion, however.

‘They’re coming round,’ Athena said, pointing a delicate digit.

The three humans sat across the table from Athena, their arms bound behind them by the wrists. Additional restraints locked their legs. On the left, the dowdy woman’s round face lolled beneath a mousy tangle of hair. The porcine man on the right already stank of sweat through his overalls, a tongue poking out of his pink face.

Markius locked his attention on the central prisoner; a vulturine man with a prominent nose and wispy fair hair. His head bobbed on his long neck, warning of his imminent return to consciousness.

Sören, Borias and Rasmus stirred, noticing the prisoners would soon be awake, but at Athena’s glanced request, Markius motioned for them to maintain their positions picketing the circumference of the hideaway.

Soon the eyes of the prisoners opened and focused. Mouths gulped. Markius watched as the information processed through their recovering minds, imagined how they would feel being trapped and surrounded by four black-armoured giants.

The fat man started moaning first, but he was soon joined by the others. Their eyes glanced at the marines, then quickly averted as if stung by what they saw. They next registered that they were bound, tugging ineffectually at the restraints. The moans became tears and gasps. The fat man blubbered, gibbering nonsense. Markius’s enhanced olfactory senses detected human urine.

Athena tired of the pathetic display.

‘Hey,’ she called, pretending kindness in her tone.

‘Hey,’ her voice turned steely when this did not engage their attention. Still the prisoners griped, now trembling violently, losing their internal battles to not look at the marines. Athena rose from her chair, leaned across the table and with an open palm smacked the skinny man in the centre right across his quivering cheek.

‘Hey!’

The splat resounded inside the fibrous cave. Markius raised his eyebrows, impressed by the effect. Athena suddenly had the total attention of the prisoners, and the scrawny one had an angry red welt spreading across his cheek.

‘You remember who you are?’ Athena challenged the three. They nodded slowly.

‘You know where you are now?’

Confused looks.

‘Somewhere out in the jungle, you can guess, right?’

They nodded. Athena jerked a thumb towards Markius.

‘You know what they are?’

The three cast wary glances at the marines. Whimpers.

‘Hey. Look at me. That’s better. So, you know what they are, right?’

Astartes,’ whispered the woman.

‘Right,’ said Athena. ‘You know who I am?’

The three exchanged glances with each other now. Trembling, they shook their heads slowly.

‘You wanna take a guess?’

Inquisition?’ it was the woman who whispered, again.

Athena reclined in her seat, folding her arms once more.

‘Good. This can go smoothly then, right?’

They exchanged looks again, gaping, nonplussed by Athena’s brisk and businesslike manner. She reached for a data-slate on the table and punched several runekeys then perused the text on its screen. A palm-sized circular device also sat on the table, little green lights flickering along its metal edges. Athena shook her head and tutted.

‘Hmmm. I suppose I don’t need to read out the crimes. Let’s just say you are all thrice damned by the laws of the Imperium.’

The woman remained silent now, studying Athena, while the fat man’s jowls quivered. Markius detected a change in the demeanour of the skinny one.

‘We do not recognise any laws of your corrupt and decrepit Imperium!’ he said, his voice a nasal sneer.

Rasmus growled and launched at him, bending and grabbing one of the prisoner’s forearms in his mighty gauntlet.

‘You want to try that again, eh?’ said the marine, squeezing ever so slightly. There was a plop and the skinny man howled, making both his companions shudder and pale considerably. He wrenched against his bonds, eliciting further screams, his eyes popping. The big one looked like he was about to vomit.

Athena sighed and looked at Markius.

‘Brother Rasmus…’ he said. The burly Astartes shrugged and backed away.

‘Sorry.’

Brother Sören knelt beside the now whimpering man, consulting his narthecium equipment. Though trained to treat Astartes, he had some experience with the fragile frames of mortals.

‘You broke his arm!’ said Athena.

‘What? He’s got another one, eh?’ Rasmus chuckled at his own joke.

‘It is just a dislocation,’ Sören noted, preparing a syringe.

‘Gnnnh, he broke my fething arm!’ whimpered the skinny man.

Sören applied the syringe and said, ‘This will stop the pain, for now.’

When the injured prisoner finally stopped wailing, Athena cleared her throat.

‘So, here we are. Why are you not dead, you may be asking yourselves? And that’s a good fraggin’ question.’

‘You’re going to main and torture us! See! This is why we renounce your dastardly Imperium!’

Markius raised his eyebrows at Sören. The skinny one was either insane or uncommonly defiant. Rasmus growled again, but at a look from Markius did not act. Cowed by the reminder of their presence, skinny fell silent and looked at the ground.

‘Hmmm, well, that’s an option,’ said Athena, unruffled. ‘But my employer, in his ever magnificent judgment of character, wants to give you ingrates a second chance.’

Astonished looks, then.

‘But first things first. Care to explain why you have betrayed the Holy Imperium and sided with these xenos invaders?’

Skinny spoke up. ‘They give us freedom from your tyranny!’

Athena snorted. ‘Cytheria was a democratic government. You had an amazingly rare amount of freedom…’

‘It is morally corrupt!’ said skinny.

‘Corrupt?’

‘The peoples’ votes were bought every time with tax-cuts and benefits…’

‘At least you had votes to sell. You have no idea how privileged you are, do you?’

Markius remembered that Athena had once confided she was from a world that treated women as possessions.

‘The evil capitalist system creates nothing but inequality!’

Athena paused then. Marius sensed her confusion.

‘Inequality, as in some earned more than others? What’s wrong with that?’

‘It was not fair!’

‘How is it not fair that wage levels varied? Is that not natural in a free market?’

‘Some were paupers while others lived like kings!’

‘Oh, well. Poverty-stricken envy I can understand… but inequality is precisely the point of a free market, where endeavours are rewarded… Surely you don’t mean to ban wealth?’

She checked her dataslate again then scowled at skinny, ‘You. You’re Lander, right? You were heir to that whole estate; not the biggest on Cytheria, but still…’

Markius noted the other two prisoners remained quiet. Lander was the ringleader, then, as the intelligence had told. Goult, the big man, was just the enforcer – the bully.

‘Eh,’ Lander scowled back. ‘My father had other plans. It wasn’t fair!’

Markius admired his resolve once more. He had just suffered a dislocated arm after all. Markius knew pain was a problem for mortals to deal with. Athena took control of the conversation again.

‘So… So, you don’t like inequality and that means you want everyone to have nothing? You think that’s sustainable?’

Rasmus and Borias shifted at their posts. Markius sensed they were getting bored with this conversation. Athena sensed it, too, acknowledged with a raised hand.

‘Boss wants to get the background. Bear with me,’ she asked the marines.

Lander seemed to gain some modicum of confidence, ‘We don’t have nothing. Everyone owns everything together… For the Greater Good.’

And there it was, Markius thought: The slogan that had tempted too many malcontent planetary governors across the sector already: The lie that had seduced entire armies of humans into rebellion.

‘You share, for whose greater good?’ Athena kept at Lander. ‘Who allocated the humans those decrepit hab-blocks, while the toads lounge in their towers? Who decides who can eat what, who must use second-rate equipment?’

‘The Ethereals are all-knowing and munificent!’

‘Ah. These Ethereals are sucking the marrow right out of their own race, for their own good, and you are but more gemcows to be milked until dry. How don’t you see that?’

‘They would never do such a thing. They are only magnanimous.’

If he had not been restrained and wounded, Markius thought Lander would have raised his hands in prayer at that point. Markius had heard the same indoctrination verbatim from a dozen worlds already.

Rasmus lost his patience. ‘This is a waste of time. Let me put these dolts out of their misery.’

Big Goult blubbered. Lander screeched, ‘You see! The Imperium is barbarous!’

Athena cleared her throat, for both Rasmus’s and the prisoners’ attention.

‘These Ethereals are making decisions for your greater good, are they?’

‘Right,’ Lander looked to his fellows, for the first time noticing their silence. ‘Right?’

‘Wrong. Did you know you have all been sterilized? The toads are using you for mule-work, then intend to exterminate you. And you, Lander, have led your fellow humans right into the deception!’

‘That’s not true! Come on, tell her it’s not true!’

The woman spoke up, at last. ‘Don’t you feel it, Lander? After that disinfection treatment… we were all different.’

He goggled at her. ‘What are you talking about?’

‘You didn’t notice? Everyone lost the… urge…’

‘Well, I never had it any…’ Lander caught himself before finishing, changed his mind. ‘We were all busy working for the great goal.’

The woman sighed, turned to Athena, ‘You have to understand: I have two children already. They had taken control, Imperial forces were in retreat. I had to do anything for the survival of my children.’

‘Mallia, don’t say that! It’s not true…’

She ignored him. ‘Then they took my little ones anyway… then after the health treatment, I felt it in my belly… all the women did…’

‘No…!’

‘Shut up Lander. You are too caught up in the dream to see the reality.’

That silenced him, if only for a moment. Athena nodded, but she said nothing of encouragement to the woman, Mallia. She turned on Goult.

‘What’s your excuse?’

‘Goult is for freedom from the Imperium, as am I…’ Lander began, before a growl from Rasmus halted him. The last prisoner, Goult, shuddered, gulped twice before answering.

‘Everyone else said it was the right thing to do – that the Ethereals would look after us. I didn’t… I don’t… I mean if this is true… then everything they said was a lie…’

Athena sat back and folded her arms.

Mallia said, ‘You just had to open your eyes, Goult.’

Athena shook her head. ‘The toad foot-soldiers, you know, they are conditioned by pheromones to stay in their dictated castes, they have no sense of free will; like fire ants. It takes a special kind of willful ignorance for humans to not only fall into their clutches, but also lead others there.’

Or desperation, or simple inability to make one’s own decisions, Markius thought. Athena raised her voice.

‘What do you think, Inquisitor?’

‘I think we proceed, Agent Athena,’ a patrician voice crackled from the device on the table. Everyone in the cavern except Athena jolted with surprise. Markius fumed; the old man had been listening in on everything.

‘You lucky, lucky people,’ said Athena. ‘Here’s the deal: We know an Ethereal is coming here, to Cytheria, within the next rotation. No, don’t try to deny it. We have the code-word for the landing-site, but we don’t know what it means. Tell us where. We know you, as the Liberation Council, will be the big presentation to the king toad.’

‘If we tell you?’ said Mallia.

‘They will kill us anyway. It’s a trap!’ said Lander.

‘You can be compelled,’ said Athena. Goult shuddered. ‘But it seems my superior believes you are more useful as willing defectors. We need you alive to spread the truth about the toads, having already been on the inside.’

The marines exchanged alarmed looks. Surely Inquisitor Zharn was not serious, thought Markius. It had to be a trick. He just didn’t have time for traditional methods. That must be it.

‘We should all agree,’ Mallia turned to her fellow prisoners.

‘I don’t believe…’ Lander started. His shoulders slumped. ‘I have no choice.’

Markius decided he would be the first. That long neck would be snapped.

Goult nodded, jowls quivering. Mallia looked at Athena.

‘Bring us a map. We can give you the coordinates.’

When it was done, when all three had independantly ringed the same location on separate maps – their bonds undone with the marines standing over them – Athena addressed the vox in the centre of the table again.

‘We have it, Inquisitor.’

‘Cut them loose.’

Athena flashed a sour grin at the three, gestured to the entrance. ‘Go on, you’re free to go.’

They hesitated.

‘Head East into the jungle. The resistance movement is camped out: You won’t find them but they will find you. It is better for you to say you escaped and came to help them, rather than what occurred here.’

They glanced at the marines, took a few tester steps, then scrambled out of the cavern.

‘Now we hunt!’ Rasmus said.

‘I’m sorry, Brother Rasmus, but the offer is genuine. They are not to be touched,’ Inquisitor Zharn’s voice came from the vox.

‘What?’ thundered Markius.

‘Athena has outlined the truth. My Ordo at Kar Duniash recognises their value alive. This is a war of indoctrination, not just weapons.’

The marines all hissed with bitterness. Even Athena seemed miffed.

‘Even such a weasel as he was, that Lander will make a good speaker.’

‘Presuming he has truly turned,’ Markius said. ‘This is a terrible risk, Inquisitor. I do not agree with it.’

‘Fear not, Brother Markius,’ said the voice. ‘The Ordo has agents with the resistance. They will be dealt with if needed, their deaths an example instead of their lives.’

‘I still don’t like it, eh?’ Rasmus harrumphed.

‘At least now we finally have the target site,’ Sören studied the map. ‘We have preparations to make.’


* * *



KILL TEAM TALON crawled through the jungle. Having foregone the protection of their standard plate, the Astartes’ scout-pattern carapace was painted in black-grey camouflage that rendered them invisible in the night. And silent. Stalking an enemy in full power armour would have been like trying to sneak around in Leman Russ tanks. Still, Markius felt naked. But the ultralight armour did revive an old memory, of their days as neophytes… long before the Deathwatch.

‘Oho, there she is!’ Brother Borias’s mono-visor spotted the Tau base first, its advanced filters piercing the night. A little closer and soon all the marines could view the scene.

‘Talon to Psiren,’ Markius voxed on the secure channel, ‘We have eyes-on.’

‘Psiren to Talon: Acknowledged. Are we go?’ Athena’s voice crackled in his ear.

‘Security is tight.’

Markius appraised the squadron of hammerhead-class tanks. He estimated an entire division of troopers and a hunter-cadre of crisis battlesuits.

‘We anticipated that,’ said Athena.

Right. The strategium meeting had been heated. What they really needed, all agreed, were two if not three entire companies of stormtroopers and orbital support. But circumstance had not permitted. If only four men in the galaxy could achieve that which required an entire army, Markius knew it would be his team.

‘We are go.’

They shuffled closer. Sören touched Markius’s arm.

‘Look at this,’ he said, offering the needle rifle.

Markius had issued the high-powered sniper weapon to the Apothecary to take the shot. That had been a difficult decision, and he hoped Borias would not be too put out. Borias still had his beloved heavy bolter, and Markius had issued him three kraken rounds as a back-up. The armour-crackers were complete overkill for a single Tau dignitary, likely to make so much grey paste of the xenos dictator, but the extra range and accuracy would be needed.

Markius took the rifle and looked through the enhanced sights into the base. They gave him a close up of three familiar faces.

‘Throne!’

‘What?’ Rasmus growled.

‘Our willing defectors have run right back to the enemy,’ Borias reported, also watching through his advanced mono-visor.

‘After everything? You’ve got to be kidding me!’ said Rasmus.

‘A deep indoctrination can be hard to break, it seems,’ said Sören.

Markius scowled. ‘That Lander must have convinced the others. Forget indoctrination, he just wanted to believe in the xenos. Wait…’

Markius saw the three humans escorted by Tau guards towards the large flyer in the central landing area. That must be the Ethereal’s ship, he realised.

‘Something is happening,’ he said, watching. ‘They are lining up the traitors, the troopers holding them at gun-point.’

Before the ramp to the ship had fully extended, the humans were ceremonially executed by the firing squad.

‘Serves them right!’ said Borias.

Markius grimaced, mixed feelings in his gut. He certainly felt no loss for the turncoats.

‘They may well have warned them of our intentions,’ said Sören, ‘if they dared admit their part in us finding the secret location…’

The others waited for Markius to make a decision.

‘We will not get another chance at this.’

‘Come on! You know we are still going to have a go, eh?’ said Rasmus.

Markius nodded, ‘Then let us do this.’

Another one hundred metres closer and Markius held up a hand to halt the stealthy advance. His old hunter instincts were tingling. Rasmus shuffled beside him.

‘Those shadows do not fall right in the starlight,’ Markius pointed. A feeling that the jungle around them had fallen a little too silent settled upon Markius. Then the faintest of whirs.

‘Scatter!’ Markius yelled, just in time.

From the darkness, star-bright streams of plasma bolts ripped the night apart. The marines dived to safety as the jungle plants were pulverized around them.

‘Stealthsuits!’ Sören called, switching to his rapid-firing boltpistol sidearm. Markius heard them now, heavy foot-treads disturbing the soft undergrowth. There, a flicker in the shadows, their chameleonic energy fields momentarily disrupted by the feedback from their advanced weapons.

‘Shall we dance?’ Borias shouted, hefting the heavy bolter to his hip.

Mass-reactive rounds poured from his weapon and he swung round its barrel in an arc, hosing the general direction of the enemy fire. One of the robotic suits appeared from shadow, bursting into flame.

‘There!’ Markius spotted another two lurking. He and Rasmus rushed them. Markius hammered down one with a volley from his standard-pattern Godwin. Rasmus emptied his boltpistol into another, reaching for a new magazine as its stealth-field shorted and sputtered out, leaving a matt black wreck.

Back-to-back, Borias and Sören kept low and exchanged streams of fire with invisible enemies that lit up the jungle in a strobe effect. Fighting blind, Astartes instincts and enhanced sensitivity to sounds and smells kicked in.

‘Hold your fire,’ Markius finally ordered over the vox to be heard, sensing that their immediate foes were defeated. Cordite smoke drifted through the jungle.

‘What’s fraggin’ going on?’ Athena called over the vox.

‘This is Talon: We are compromised. They were waiting for us.’

Sirens wailed from the alien base and grav-tanks deployed. The Tau army mobilised.

Inquisitor Zharn’s voice came over the vox on override channel.

‘This is Bishop to Talon: Abort mission.’

‘I can see him!’ Borias answered. ‘He just came out of the starship.’

‘I repeat: Abort mission. I will not have you paraded as trophies by the xenos,’ voxed Zharn. Markius remained calm.

‘That shall not happen. Leave this to us.’

He motioned to the others to advance.

‘Brother Markius, are you sure…?’ began Sören. The jungle was alive with armoured tanks and their trooper escorts hunting for them.

Markius looked at him. He said, ‘Plan B. You and Borias fall back, shooting. Brother Rasmus, are you ready?’

The big Astartes offered his toothy grin. ‘Let’s make a mess, eh?’

The Tau forces were calm and efficient in their deployment, and predictably unimaginative. The Deathwatch veterans split into pairs and led the xenos a merry dance through the jungle. Borias kept up a grueling routine, sprinting to new positions before unleashing concentrated volleys from his heavy bolter to shatter the darkness, then moving on again. Sören moved in tandem, single shots from the needler taking heads of incautious chasers.

Hiding with Rasmus, Markius waited for the Tau troopers to overtake their position before pouncing. Markius slung a melta-bomb and its magnetic charge attached it to a prowling grav-tank’s hull with a dull clang. A moment later it erupted like a firework. Their position discovered in their midst, Markius and Rasmus charged out and scattered the hooved troopers of the Tau.

‘Sören to Actual,’ Markius’s vox crackled as he fought. ‘I am not going to get a shot like this. We need to get back inside the shield-cover.’

‘Do not worry about that,’ he voxed back, at the same time dropping a xenos Fire Warrior with a shot from his Godwin. Rasmus decapitated another with his power-axe. Markius glanced towards the base. The blue jets of battlesuits had ignited, and were heading right for them.

‘Come on, go round that way,’ he said to his friend. Wiping grey blood spatter from his balding pate, Rasmus grinned and followed.

A battlesuit descended through the treetops, its jets washing the glade with fire. Markius and Rasmus halted as it slammed to the floor before them. A moment later its rapid-fire weapons spat death, and the two marines dived for cover. Markius reached for another melta-bomb.

‘Can you get behind it?’ he shouted to Rasmus over the crescendo of the xenos guns. He couldn’t see the burly Astartes. Then another battlesuit landed behind them with a thump that rocked the jungle floor. Crouched beside a rapidly disintegrating gemtree, Markius began to wonder for the first time if they had bitten off too much to chew.

Then the whine of a solo missile, a crack as something blasted through the armour of a battlesuit, and then another ear-shattering boom as it exploded from within. Markius viewed the charred mess and recognised the work of a Deathwatch kraken bolt.

‘Thank you, Brother Borias,’ Markius signaled as Rasmus leapt at the other stunned Tau battlesuit. He slammed his power-axe into its back-unit, carving wounds into the machinery there as it stomped in circles, trying to throw him off. Coils of electricity wrapped the machine as Rasmus leapt clear and it, too, collapsed into a charred mess.

‘My pleasure,’ Borias voxed back. ‘We are nearly at second meeting spot. Scholar keeps whining he cannot get a shot at the king toad.’

‘I am not whining…’

‘Understood,’ Markius interrupted. ‘Keep falling back. Draw them out further. We will be with you soon.’

Markius glanced towards the enemy base once more. There were barely a dozen Tau troopers still guarding the Ethereal now, and a pair of hammerheads maintaining vigil.

‘Bishop to Talon: Are you there?’ Zharn’s angry voice cut into the vox again.

‘Mission at critical point, Bishop. Standby,’ Markius sent then changed channel. Rasmus came to his side, his carapace armour blood-stained and scorched by the battle.

‘Enough fun, eh?’ he looked disappointed. Markius nodded then keyed the vox.

‘Mother Goose to Chicken Little. Ugly Duckling is in the nest.’

‘This is Chicken Little. One more moment, thanks Mother Goose,’ the grizzled voice of Captain Brenston came back.

Through the commotion of the Tau troopers yelling to each other, the hum of the grav-tanks crunching through the vegetation looking for them, the roar of battlesuit jets illuminating the night, Markius’s enhanced ears caught the distinctive whip of a single shot from a distant sniper-rifle.

‘Chicken Little to Mother Goose,’ crackled his vox. ‘That’s it. The sky has fallen. And thanks... for keeping your word...’

Markius grinned and turned to Rasmus.

‘Time to leave.’


* * *



‘WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENED down there?’ Athena asked as the thunderhawk dropship screamed towards orbit and escape.

Markius and his Kill Team, battered but alive, exchanged knowing looks.

‘The mission is completed. One dead Ethereal as requested.’

Athena raised one eyebrow.

‘Toad vox-chatter indicates they are blaming the Catachans.’

Markius matched her expression.

‘Is that so? They will enjoy the credit. They deserve it.’

Athena allowed a sly smile to cross her stern face.

‘The Old Man won’t be happy.’

‘We needed a back-up plan, and it succeeded.’

‘It was supposed to be in house. Secret. That’s why he used the Black Shields.’

‘Inquisitor Zharn may keep his secrets, and so shall we.’

‘You trust Brenston?’

‘Yes.’

Athena shrugged. ‘Good enough for me. He was there to identify the Liberation Council anyway, and he saw you at the ridge.’

‘Yes.’

Athena shrugged again and left the passenger chamber for the bridge, figuring out how to frame her report.

‘I still can’t believe those ingrates turned on us again,’ Rasmus broke the ensuing silence. ‘We should’ve executed that Lander when we had the chance. Good job the toads saved us the trouble, eh?’

‘He was a true believer. One almost feels sympathy for him. I believe the lady’s sin was greater,’ said Sören.

‘You what, Scholar?’ Borias stared at him.

‘She knew the true nature of the xenos but she went along with the deception anyway, for her own reasons.’

They all considered that for a moment.

‘I cannot believe a planet with such unusual amounts of freedom offered any traitors at all for the toads, myself,’ said Markius. ‘Or any of the Imperial worlds that have fallen. Such despicable heresy. We should not be expending any resources for their benefit.’

‘I am not so sure about that,’ Sören said. ‘If you simply replace the Emperor with the Ethereals, the service of humanity with the Greater Good, is the indoctrination not remarkably familiar?’

‘Oho,’ said Borias, ‘that is heresy.’

‘I am just saying, totalitarian regimes all become strikingly similar when you strip away the symbols and ignorance.’

‘Brother Sören, please stop before we have to shoot you!’ said Markius.

‘Think about this: The Imperial Creed, the vast mechanisms we have in place to keep humanity in line, the persecution – are they truly the right way?’

‘Scholar, you know what would happen if mutants are left free, if our armies are not filled and ready to fight the teeming hordes. You have been to planets where the psykers have taken over, where the daemons have come, where the aliens have enslaved billions…’

‘Yes, we know why. But humanity as a mass does not. I am saying that the ignorance and iron-fisted rule may not be necessary. Education, more freedom, would surely not hurt humanity, as long as the will to be vigilant for the great enemies remains. I wonder if humanity would still be able to defend itself… survive.’

‘Err, you are making my head hurt, Scholar,’ said Borias.

‘Aye. Shut up with your deep thinking. I’m getting an ale soon as we’re back. And that’s all I need for my indoctrination!’


THE END
My short stories:
1. Extraction = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2127
2. Intoxication = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2188
3. Desecration = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2294
4. Indoctrination = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=3172

My novel:
BLACK SHIELDS: INCOGNITUS = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=1901
kurisawa
 
Posts: 352
Joined: Mon Mar 07, 2011 12:39 am


Re: Black Shields: Indoctrination (sm v tau, 6k words, compl

Postby Samnite » Wed Oct 15, 2014 6:57 pm

Sectoids, eh? Someone's been playing XCOM ;)

Nice story - very fast paced. Although I couldn't stop imagining a Canadian or South African accent whenever one of the marines said 'eh'. I liked the Catachans as well.

A piece of crit; break it down a little into multiple posts, give readers a break. In my experience a good length is around 2k words per post. Now I'm just going to head back to my work to see if I actually obey my own rule...
"There's a special rung in hell for those who waste good scotch..."
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Re: Black Shields: Indoctrination (sm v tau, 6k words, compl

Postby kurisawa » Tue Oct 21, 2014 1:02 am

Samnite wrote:Sectoids, eh? Someone's been playing XCOM ;)


Haha, I swear on my life the word just popped into my mind indepedently. Not familiar with the game at all. The name may have unconsciously come from some old 80s toys called Sectaurs (showing my age now).

Nice story - very fast paced. Although I couldn't stop imagining a Canadian or South African accent whenever one of the marines said 'eh'. I liked the Catachans as well.


Hmmm, you are not the first to comment on that little speech pattern. I used it originally to give Rasmus some uniqueness, but maybe I'll drop it now I have his cadence of speech pretty much set.

A piece of crit; break it down a little into multiple posts, give readers a break. In my experience a good length is around 2k words per post. Now I'm just going to head back to my work to see if I actually obey my own rule...


That sounds like a very sensible suggestion. I shall definitely take it on board.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read & comment.


K.
My short stories:
1. Extraction = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2127
2. Intoxication = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2188
3. Desecration = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2294
4. Indoctrination = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=3172

My novel:
BLACK SHIELDS: INCOGNITUS = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=1901
kurisawa
 
Posts: 352
Joined: Mon Mar 07, 2011 12:39 am


Re: Black Shields: Indoctrination (sm v tau, 6k words, compl

Postby fallen inquistor » Sun Oct 26, 2014 8:28 am

Some fun ideas here, but the thinking feels a little "modern" for 40k. The Gue'vesa leader is a Marxist caricature, the blatant capitalism vs. communism debate with a heavy favoring of capitalism (I'm a red blooded, anti-communist capitalist through and through, but it feels a little preachy), the Astartes seem a bit more open minded and less indoctrinated than they should, and I find it hard to believe that the Imperium is entirely unfamiliar with Command Economies. That's basically how a munitorium world operates. I do like the exploration of the darker side of the Tau though, and the presentation of the shades of gray, and how the Tau and Imperium really aren't as different as people might think. Mostly, I would tweak the dialogue a little. I think the basic premise is fine.
fallen inquistor
 
Posts: 42
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Re: Black Shields: Indoctrination (sm v tau, 6k words, compl

Postby kurisawa » Wed Nov 19, 2014 4:10 am

Thanks for taking the time to read and reply, Fallen. Some interesting opinions there for me to process.

Thanks again.

K.
My short stories:
1. Extraction = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2127
2. Intoxication = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2188
3. Desecration = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2294
4. Indoctrination = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=3172

My novel:
BLACK SHIELDS: INCOGNITUS = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=1901
kurisawa
 
Posts: 352
Joined: Mon Mar 07, 2011 12:39 am


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