Monday, December 1, 2008

The Assault on Djep

Please note, this is a Work In Progress. I would really appreciate any and all feedback, and I'll post updates as it gets worked on. -- Updated Jan 11, updates highlighted in orange.

Bulk Carrier Pride of Yukoni
Djep System - Inner System Approach
L-Hour minus 12

The high command chamber was sweltering, and filled with a nose-itching blend of incense, unguents, the spicy smoke from pipes and cigars, and the smell of several dozen military men crammed into too small a space. Originally a deck officers' mess hall, it had been hastily converted into a briefing room, with a circle of folding tables and chairs around a hololith tank. Among the furniture mingled the senior officers of the Third Yukoni Expeditionary Force in full dress, a forest of red serge coats, gold braiding and peaked khaki caps, sprinkled with the ominous black of commissars, and the blue of the Yukoni armour and artillery regiments.

The hubbub stilled as the room's doors swished open and a pair of grenadiers in glossy black carapace armour and tall fur busbies stepped in, flanking the doors. After them came Lord General Militant the Honourable Myers, his white uniform gleaming in the soft shipboard light. He was a stocky man of average height, the muscle of youth beginning to turn to fat, with steel-grey hair cropped close on the sides after the fashion of the Yukoni grenadiers. With a rustle of fabric the assembled officers drew to attention, saluting their general. It was crisply returned, and the general began to move through the press.

"In ten hours," Myers began in a voice made hoarse by decades of combat and screaming battlefield orders, "we will arrive in low orbit over the planet of Djep Three, and begin combat landing operations two hours after that. Thus, gentlemen, we are twelve hours from L-Hour." Trailed by his two grenadier guards, he stepped to the hololith tank. Lines of light fizzled into being, creating a sphere upon which were drawn a chicken scratch of red, blue, gold and green: the lines of battle. Myers touched a rune, and the globe unwrapped into a plane, and zoomed in.

The general waved his swagger stick at the map. "This is the primary front, Sector Alpha-Alpha-Deuce. As you all are no doubt aware from your intense study of Djep's history..." He paused for the muted laughter that rippled through the assembled officers. "...this is a largely self-sufficient planet that is governed by a collective of noble houses. Each house has feudal control over a large portion of the surface. Eighteen months ago, three of these houses rose in revolt, pushing for secession. Since then, another six have joined them. Eight of the houses have declared neutrality--they will be dealt with appropriately once the dissident elements have been crushed--and the remainder are actively fighting the secessionists. Fifteen months ago, three Praetorian infantry regiments and two Phyressian armoured divisions arrived to aid the loyalists. Six months ago, the war stagnated into static trench and urban warfare. We have been assigned to reinforce Imperial forces already on the planet and break the deadlock. Three more Praetorian regiments, an Abraxan artillery brigade and at least one Cadian superheavy battalion are already en route, and will be here in about three months." The general glared at his officers for a moment before continuing. "I want this war broken before they arrive. Planetbound, inexperienced PDF conscripts should not be holding up the cream of the Imperial military, much less requiring the intervention of the Astartes!" Many of the officers glanced out the room's narrow portholes, as if looking for the lean Astartes Strike Cruiser that had joined the battlegroup's fleet at the last warp transition.

Myers took a breath, and straightened his jacket. "Now then, to the details. We will be making full combat drops in a number of locations. We hope to take advantage of the element of surprise as much as we can, though the secessionists will know we are coming and probably already do." He pointed to the eastern end of the spider web traceries of trenches and fronts, where the angry red lines coagulated into a ball set among low hills. "This is the township designated AA2-F1, though I'm told the locals call it Hillsideton. It's the primary eastern bastion of the secessionist defense line, at the base of this mountain range. The Astartes will be making a full drop pod assault on the AA2-F1, and their commander tells me it will be taken within twelve hours of landing. To that end, the Eighth Heavy will land behind friendly lines here, and blitz north through this forest," he indicated a green space that grew like a tumour in the midst of the front lines," and link up with the Astartes. All Light and Mechanized companies from the Line Regiments will be seconded to Colonel Vierres for this operation."

Vierres, a short, latern-jawed officer wearing an NCO field cap stood up and sketched a shallow bow to the general. "Don't worry lads," he said to the other officers, "I'll keep your boys away from any hard work."

Myers waved down the jeers and laughter and continued. "At the western end of the front there are these three towns, codenamed AA2-N1 through N3. These towns dominate the main arterial between the main front and the loyalist starports and supply base. The only other route loops south around these hills, and takes three times as long to travel. The Ns have been in enemy control for four months, and we need them back if we're to deploy with any semblance of speed. Two companies of the Droptroop Regiment Third Battalion will be inserted via grav-chute in the upcountry north of the hills, while the entire 23rd Line will land via dropship on the flats here, south of the towns. Their objective will be to clear the towns so we can move from the starports to the main lines."

The commander of the 23rd, the paunchy, florid Colonel Hogan frowned at the display. "Can we expect any support, my lord? I've no doubt my lads can handle this, but clearing locals out of their home towns takes time, time I gather we don't have."

Myers nodded. "The drop troopers will be disrupting the defenders' supplies and reinforcements, and we'll move at least one field artillery battalion to support you once you've secured the beachhead. Additionally, it is my understanding that the southern sectors are still contested by PDF forces." The general held his hands up to forestall the series of groans and protests. "I know how you all feel about local forces, but remember that these men have been fighting more or less non-stop for a year and a half now. They're veterans, even by Guard standards, and they know the terrain. And Hogan, they'll be under your direct command. I won't have any of the usual liason murd in this war."

Hogan grunted, and shrugged. The general turned back to the hololith. "Now, while Hogan is opening the back door for us, bulk carriers will be landing the balance of our troops in the main loyalist space ports, two hundred kilometers west. Once the main arterial is open, we can move the army to the main front, these lines here, which are held by the Praetorians and PDF. Tactician Franz," he said, gesturing for the slender man to join him by the hololith, "will provide you with a summary of that front as it now stands."

Bulk Carrier Pride of Yukoni
Djep System - Inner System Approach
L-Hour minus 8

Guardsman Lucas Dearborn of the Yukoni 23rd Line Infantry, Fifth Battalion, D ("Dog") Company, Blue Platoon, Second Squad, First Section propped his booted feet up on the chair in front of him, tilted his head back, and pulled his helmet down over his eyes. He remained that way for about thirty seconds before Sergeant Haeks cracked him across the shins, nearly tipping him over. "Straighten up, Dearborn. You can loaf when the war's over." Dearborn resisted the temptation to snark back, knowing the Sarge was just looking for an opportunity to trot out his old saw about there being "only war" in the Imperium. Annoyed, Haeks settled for a glower and turned away.

Lucas was contemplating a way to nap without being noticed when Nicholas Rozen, his squadmate, dropped into the chair next to him. "So, do you know what's going on?" Rozen asked, nodding to the Munitorum orderlies fussing around the lectern at the base of the stadium-seated room.

Lucas shrugged. "No idea, but I'm sure the LT will be along to tell us soon." There wasn't an officer present yet, but most of Blue Platoon was there, lounging in the padded chairs as they waited to be told what was going on. Haeks and his fellow Sergeants patrolled the isles like professors at a scholam. Orange and Black platoons were there, too, each platoon spread out in little groups and ones and twos.

Rozen started to reply, then tapped Lucas' shoulder and pointed. "Something tells me this is going to be higher than the LT." Lucas looked over and saw the men of Red and Green Platoons filing in, quickly filling the room. Three of the company's platoon commanders, Captain "Wolfbiter" DeJean of Red, Lieutenant James Marquis of Green, and Blue Platoon's Lieutenant Guy Marcus. Lucas tossed his CO a lazy salute, and Marcus returned an arched eyebrow, immediately making Lucas feel slightly foolish, as the officer usually did.

Sure enough, the briefing went higher than a platoon commander. Two guardsmen, wearing the badge of Dog Company's command platoon, closed the door behind the final officer to enter the room. Major Michael Brown, decorated veteran, hero of the Sack of Fort Ilghur, former commander the 5th Battalion's Light Company, and all-around hard case (if you asked Lucas) stepped to the podium. The three long shrapnel scars across his cheeks and nose pulled his expression into a permanent grimace, but even Lucas had to admit the Major cut a striking figure in his gilded breastplate, peaked cap and sheathed sabre.

The Major waved aside the orderly who tried to pin a microvox to his vest, pitching his voice with practiced ease so that all corners of the room could hear him, a quiet briefing room not being a patch on an artillery barrage. "Dog Company," he began, leaning forward to grip the sides of the lectern, "in just under eight hours we will be dropping into combat against the enemies of the Emperor of Mankind." He broke off as over a hundred voices let out cheers and war-whoops, and grinned his scarred, ghoulish grin. Lucas and Rozen joined in, exchanging palm-slaps and fist-pounds with their comrades. The battalion had been on a troop ship for six months, and they were bored and lazy, desperate as much for real air and a sky above as they were for action.

Brown let the tumult continue for a moment, then raised his hands for silence. "In order to reinforce the main front, our forces will need the use of a highway. That highway is dominated by three separate towns that are currently contested by the enemy. The Lord General himself has tasked the 23rd - the entire 23rd - with retaking these towns so that we can move men and material down the highway without being shelled the whole way. First and Second Battalions are taking one town, Third and Fourth the second and the Fifth gets the third town all to ourselves. The Lord General, however, seems to have gotten the assignments backwards and given Fifth Battalion the smallest of the towns." That got a laugh, and a private from Orange Platoon raised his hand.

"Sir, you said the towns are 'contested'. Does that mean there are friendly strengths on the ground?"

The Major's lip twitched in what might have been the beginning of a smile, or a sneer. "Yes, private. All three towns are contested by PDF forces."

A ripple of muttering and muted complaints swept the room, and it was Lucas who raised a hand. Lieutenant Marcus raised his eyebrow again and flashed the Major a look, but the Major ignored it. "Yes, Dearborn?"

Lucas suppressed the flush of pride that the Major knew his name. "Sir," he began, "it's very nice that the PDF are there, but are there friendly strengths?" Laughter rippled across the room, but the Major just scowled.

"I know how you all feel about the average PDF force, but let me remind you that these men have been fighting for over a year and a half without respite. They are veterans, especially by PDF standard, they know the terrain, and they're fighting for their homes. Never underestimate that, of all things." The Major hadn't taken his eyes off of Lucas as he spoke, and Lucas found himself unconsciously shrinking back into his seat. As if his point was proved, the Major swept his gaze over the rest of his company. "The PDF are valuable allies. They know the ground, they know the enemy, and the job will get done a lot faster and cleaner if we work with them. That said, the chief," he meant Lieutenant-Colonel Gregor, the battalion CO, "is in direct command of the town and all Imperial forces therein, and Colonel Hogan is in overall command of this operation. The Imperial Guard are running the show, not the locals, and that is non-negotiable." The last seemed to be direct to the platoon officers, and five peaked caps dipped slightly in acknowledgment.

"Now then, to the details." The Major nodded to a drone at the back of the briefing room, and the lights dimmed, to be replaced by a line map projected on the wall behind the Major. "This is the town codenamed AA2-N3. Our objectives are marked in red..."

Forward Defence Line Command Post (formerly Hillsview Public Market)
Djep Three, AA2/West, Pellas River Front

PDF Trooper Niko Zarcov tripped over a piece of rubble and fell backwards, the impact sending jagged bolts of pain up with tailbone and knocking the breath out of his lungs. It saved his life, as a hard-round passed over his head and spat dust and rock splinters from the wall. Niko didn't notice it as he tried to dodge the saw-backed bayonet on the end of the rifle held by the secessionist trooper trying to kill him. Niko lashed out with a kick that caught the quitter in the knee, dropping him back long enough for Niko to get his feet under him and leap forwards, catching the quitter in the gut with his shoulder. They went over, rolling in the dust, the rifle between them. Niko slammed his head forwards, catching the enemy soldier in the nose with the crest of his helmet, and the quitter slumped, unconscious. Niko scrambled back, taking the enemy's rifle with him. He jerked it to his shoulder, shot another green coat and then drove the rifle butt down into his wrestling partner's trachea.

"Zarcov! Your uniform is a disgrace. Get yourself cleaned off before an officer sees you." Niko looked up and blinked at the speaker, Sarge Jenz. The Sergeant grinned back, and tossed Niko his rifle, recovering it from the rubble where Niko had dropped it in the middle of assault. "Come on lads," Sarge called, waving the rest of the squad up to the windows and doors, "the quitters haven't yet!" The squad gave a huzzah, and then more green uniforms were coming into the command centre.

Niko shot another two, and ducked a thrown rock. Next to him a corporal fell over backwards, his arms flying up as though in praise and the right side of his face gone. A quitter came in through the door the corporal had been guarding, and swung his rifle at Niko, holding it by the barrel as a club. Niko threw up his own rifle like a stave and blocked the blow.

Then the sky burst.

The noise was deafening, an explosion like every thunder storm Niko had ever heard suddenly happening right over his head, and the sun vanished. The fighting trailed off as everyone, loyalist and secessionist, blue coats and green, cattle and quitters, looked up at the sky. It was the end of the world. It was a miracle. It was salvation, and it was doom. It was a Bakka-pattern, mottle-cream, quad-engined, fat-bellied Imperial Guard combat dropship with sector fleet markings slowing from supersonic reentry speeds. It had a golden aquila thirty feet high on the side, and it was followed by six more like it. Black flowers, AA fire, blossomed around the seven ungainly ships like celebratory fireworks.

Niko felt a smile growing on his face, the unfamiliar movement cracking the layer of dust, sweat, blood and mud on his face. He looked down, happening to make eye contact with the enemy soldier he was still locked in mid-melee with, and they stared at each other, two young men caught on opposite sides of a war they didn't fully understand and desperately trying not to die. There was a long moment as they stared at each other, and then the quitter snarled and shoved forwards with his rifle, trying to push Niko off balance. Niko twisted, letting the quitter's force push him slightly past Niko and his rifle down, and Niko rammed his rifle down, inside the quitter's guard and then heaved into a cross-cut that ripped his bayonet through the other man's throat. The quitter fell over backwards, clasping at his throat and drumming his heels on paving stones. His blood make a sticky red goo in the dust.

The enemy was falling back, as much demoralized by the Imperial dropships landing in the south of the city as they were falling back from the stiff PDF defence. They left behind bodies that lay in boneless heaps or twitched and moans. Niko, Jenz and the squad rushed back to their fire positions and put lasrounds into backs. Niko got the last kill, smacking a green coat over with a hit in the small of the back. The squad gave another huzzah, and Niko saw something in the eyes and faces of his comrades something he hadn't seen in months, or more. Hope.

Primary Imperial Landing Zone (formerly Hillsview Lower Bench Scholam)
Djep Three, AA2/West, Pellas River Front
L-Hour plus thirty minutes

Lucas tugged his helmet lower to shield his eyes, sensitive to natural light after months of the fake stuff. He marched down out of the dropship with the rest of Blue Platoon and Dog Company. Around them the other six companies of Fifth Battalion were debarking from the other dropships. Arrow, Boar, Crow and Ember, the other infantry companies. The elite Heavy Company, their bulky matt-khaki carapace making them look
from a distance like bipedal insects. Battalion HQ Company, a mix of supply-hauling trucks, whole platoons of crew-served heavy weapons, light field guns, a pair of Chimeras and the stormtroopers they carried, the Lieutenant-Colonel's personal bodyguard. And of course the support personnel the battalion needed; mechanics, cooks, pioneers, Munitorum drones, cargo-servitors and the creepy Mechanicus Tech-Priests, labourers and all the other noncombatants needed to keep a body of fighting men fighting. The only thing missing was the Light Company. Lucas found it odd not to see their camo-painted Chimeras and Salamanders, clanking Sentinels and throaty bikes, but they were on the other side of the warzone, aiding the 8th Heavy push through some forest. Lucas had heard rumours that there were Astartes in that sector, but Lucas had difficulty believe the Angels of Death were troubling themselves with a backwater war like this one.

Then he was off the ramp, though it still rang and jumped as the rest of the company - nearly two hundred men - followed. Before him on the cracked and dusty pavement stood the Major and his command squad. The company standard cracked and snapped in the wash of the dropships' idling engines, and the Major held the leather leash of Dog, the canine company mascot that all the troopers loved. The big dog, a square-jawed, meat-headed hunting breed, could take down a full-grown horse or even a stag moose but was still the biggest suck Lucas had ever met. He'd never actually seen the Major take the dog into a fight; company morale depending more on the dog than it did on the Major or Commissar Mund, who stood behind the Major like a sweating shadow in the sun. The platoon commanders were receiving their printed order packets from the Major's bespectacled adjutant, and Marcus was shouting at the Sergeants to form the platoon up.

Lucas took advantage of the inevitable confusion to study the terrain around him now that his eyes had adjusted. They were in a river valley, perhaps ten kilometers wide. To the south, across the Pellas River and the highway, the hills rose sharply. The north was the town, rising above on a series of plateaus or shelves that projected from the lower northern hills. They had landed on the lowest shelf, and Lucas could see the crumbling line of buildings on the next shelf up, fifty metres up a steep hill. Lucas really hoped they wouldn't have to assault up that under fire. Above that, he could see slowly dissipating flak bursts and contrails of the surface-air missiles that had chased them down. Once again, Lucas heartily thanked the Emperor, and especially the Tech-Priests and shipwrights of the Bakka shipyards, for making such sturdy dropships.

"Blue Platoon! Blue Platoon, on me!" It was Lieutenant Marcus calling them over, and Lucas hustled over the scrum forming around the platoon commander. Lucas shoved his way closer to the front, finding himself next to Rozen and Haeks and the rest of Second Squad. "Alright, listen up. Just up that hill," Marcus said, pointing at the steep incline Lucas had noticed earlier, "and about a hundred metres in is the front line. We've gotten word that the PDF have already started a push to keep the enemy busy while we advance. Our objective is to break through the lines and seize ground. Minimum objective is the recreation centre half a click north of the line, but I want us to take at least a full kilometer. Intel says that the line has been fluid for at least three weeks, so we shouldn't hit any heavy fortification until that point."

Lucas shivered a bit, despite the heat. What that meant, in his experience, was that they could expect to keep pushing until they walked into prepared defenses with little to no warning. It wasn't going to be anything fun. Even a dissident conscript could be as dangerous with a support weapon as well as a trained Guardsman.

"Platoon Sergeant," Marcus said to his chief NCO, "form up in line of advance. First, Second and Third Squads out front, Fourth and Fifth in reserve."

The platoon was already moving before the orders were shouted, and Lucas soon found himself in the very forward centre of the formation. First Squad was to his left, and beyond them he could see Captain DeJean, in his theatric red fur-trimmed cape standing in front of Red Platoon. To the right was Third Squad and then Orange Platoon, and ahead was the enemy.

Behind him, the Company Sergeant Major drew breath into his capacious lungs. "C'MP-NAH! Had-VANCE!"

Building 83 (formerly Hillsview Recreation Complex)
Djep III, AA2/West, Pellas River Front
L-Hour plus fifty minutes

Niko decided that, of all the places it could happen, the town swimming pool wasn't really the place he wanted to die. As if the underscore the point, the light support weapon the quitters had overlooking the pool complex dug another line of divots out of the lip of the pool, spraying Niko and his squadmates with chips of concrete. The pool had been used as a makeshift trench by both sides as the lines moved back and forth, and it had been filled with enough dirt and rubble to form a firing step, but the squad wasn't using it.

Orders had come to launch an all-out attack before the Imperial Guard landers had even settled. Full of fire, every PDF trooper in the town had charged the lines, and had succeeded in pushing the enemy back at least three hundred metres, the biggest gain in weeks, before the enemy had stopped running and started a blistering defense in a line of buildings that ran from the old local praefect headquarters, through the centre of the recreation complex and further east into the commercia district. The advance had stalled almost immediately, with casualties.

Niko and every other trooper in the pool were cursing, the enemy, local command and the slow-arse Imperial Guard in equal measure. Down the line, a trooper wasn't quite low enough and he screamed as a heavy round tore through his shoulder, nearly severing his arm. Niko tasted copper as arterial blood sprayed down the length of the pool.

"They're attacking!" Sergeant Jenz was peering over the lip, ducking back whenever fire came his way. Niko followed suit, and a weight dropped into his gut as he saw at least another platoon of quitters forming up to rush them. "As soon as the fire stops, rise and address! Don't let them get close!" The order to fix bayonets was pointless; few of them even took them off any more.

1 comment:

  1. looks good! I just noticed one thing however.
    Vierres says:
    "Don't worry lads," he said to the other officers, "I'll keep your lads away from any hard work."

    it's two "lads" in one sentence. I suggest perhaps a "boys"

    "Don't worry lads," he said to the other officers, "I'll keep your boys away from any hard work."


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