First half of ch 23;
A Squelch of Empires ch 23
'You've worked it out?' Lennart asked Brenn.
'We jump once the nova shell is hit, say four seconds after detonation, into the fireball to use it as cover; launching as soon as it's cooled too far to set off a torpedo, or melt an escape pod for that matter. This is what we have laid out.'
The navigating officer brought up the flow diagram of the course, the submodules of individual descent, transition stages, main legs, target and own motion allowances- the plot for a combat jump was always more complex than straight move, even without the fancy bits.
Of course, once they got there then they had to do the job. No star destroyer had enough escape pods for the entire crew, nor could, except in the most unlikely circumstances, the moment between needing to get the entire crew off to the ship going boom be long enough for everyone to get to a pod.
The only way large scale escape was remotely possible was breakaway sections of the superstructure, like the damage control bunkers- and newer designs of ship didn't even have that.
It was simply not Imperial policy to compromise the lethality of the design by spending enough of the ship's mass and volume budget on survival gear to actually give the rank and file a chance; better to kill the enemy in the first place and not need to have to bail out.
Only someone completely unfamiliar with the concept of accidents, or more likely indifferent to the fate of the crews, could have thought it was a flawless solution.
Black Prince, license built in Corellian Engineering's yards, had better life support redundancy, crew facilities, survival and escape gear than most- but in the last analysis, Lennart had to agree that the official policy had a point. Better to win, and not need them.
She did have enough escape pods for this dodge, and conveniently they came in rows of twenty with short- burn, high thrust engines, low speed cruising drive and a one use hyperdrive- most of which would be unnecessary.
They held seven people at most, which Lennart reckoned as being about equivalent to three Astartes, and they were solid enough to survive abuse like the ship they were launched from exploding behind them. Slow, though, after the initial boost phase- the tractor beams would be doing most of the work of guiding them to their targets.
And Galactic Spirit, what a boarding party. They had not been easy to convince, and he had not been entirely happy about sending them; but given the choice between keeping them on his bridge and sending them to do a nasty, brutal job of close quarters fighting, no contest.
The crew of Blistmok probably wouldn't thank him for it, either, turning that lot loose on them. Perhaps he just wanted them on a ship he was authorised to shoot at? They made very strange bedfellows, anyway.
Bedfellows...Aleph-3 would be going too, along with the rest of the team which, come to think of it, were the closest thing he had to daemon hunters. She wouldn't thank him for being worried about her, probably be offended in fact.
All of the visitors, Eldar and Astartes at a minimum, would be trying to learn as much as they could, probably steal as much as they could, maybe even try to hijack the ship themselves- he wouldn't put it past the Caledonians at least.
Point them at the bridge module, that would be likely where they would end up anyway, and it was conveniently available for turbolaser fire to get at.
Captain Lennart called them just before the they were ready to begin the boarding action. 'First of all, despite appearances to the contrary this is a volunteer job, but it is what needs to be done, I wouldn't be pushing you at it if I didn't think it was necessary.
We only have so many flukes in the bag, I can feel Brute Statistics start to loom up behind me; we need to reconvert- cleanse- at least one of those ships to stand a worthwhile chance of taking down the other two.
Blistmok is the most likely candidate.' The fighter attack had gone in against Bucinator- the Slaaneshi held ship- and elements of the Chaos battle group were manoeuvring to support them now, at last; but slowly and hesitantly.
Such of the chaos lords as were left would be looking the other way, to her, and that damage would be capitalised on in the next phase. Assuming the plan went that well.
'You'll have to kill the top command and any fanatics, but you are there to break the grip of Chaos on that ship and restore her to the side she ought to be on, the side of Imperial order.' And there was half the problem in a nutshell. Or a nutter, which was just as apt.
'Gethrim, this means you. Everyone else, Engineer-Commander Mirannon's done this before, and if this were a properly organised joint operation he would be in charge. As it is, I hope enough of you have been around long enough, and have enough common sense, to follow the man who knows what he's doing.'
He waited two seconds, and added 'Chief, I know you've just said “I had a legion with me last time.” A stunt like this we can manage- but not a boarding assault in the face of intact point defence. Find or make a clear patch, and I'll push through what we can.'
That would be whatever was still alive by then of their own twenty-six platoons, twenty-nine from each of the other two Imperators in Deep Field, the contributions of the long range Venators with their larger small craft complements, the escorts of the 401st's remaining actives- that did add up to about two composite Legions worth.
Nowhere near enough if the entire crew and troop complement were hostile, but if things were at least moderately like he expected then they should be more than enough to cover the hit team and do what had to be done.
Research Station Bifrost;
'Where are they? Comb that ship until you find them- this is unacceptable.' the voice coming over on the speaker ranted.
'It was criminal stupidity on your part to allow them on board in the first place.' the voice that Amberley and her team could hear directly replied, in a weary, gloomy tone, I told you so but I knew you weren't going to listen.
'You pulled rank, overrode my better judgement, and you are carrying the can on this one- I told you they were too dangerous. By now they're probably in the ductwork outside main control, listening to every word.'
Was that a pure guess, or was there some kind of intruder-sensor system they had tripped without knowing it? That was exactly where they were. There was a complex of tiny, extreme pressure pipes that it would be impossible for anything much larger than a single cell to get through and filters to stop them, there were no 'air vents'.
That security hole had been plugged long since- but there was an eight foot diameter pipe ringed on the inside with various labelled cable runs, for maintenance access.
Felton looked at the Inquisitor, and raised an eyebrow; she nodded approvingly. At least they had an enemy who had some shreds of wit about him- not always a good thing, but as this was highly likely to descend to negociations, better that than a blood- blind fool.
'Then go after them, hunt them down.' the admiral's aide ranted over the comlink.
'We, our side I mean, have had four chances to do that cleanly so far and missed all of them, the intruders are in too deep to be got rid of without massive collateral damage I'm afraid you're going to have to sign for.'
Amberley could see the man now, peering through an inspection hatch; he was surprisingly human looking, which was a mystery and a worry to an agent of the Ordo Xenos but solving that issue was not exactly priority one.
He was dressed in a patchwork mixture of uniform, civilian work wear and safety gear, no augmetics visible and no rank insignia either, light brown skin and dark hair, and there was no-one else in line of sight.
The voice on the other end of the com was spluttering in incoherent anger, managing to form the words- after several attempts- 'Are you refusing an order?'
'I refuse to believe you have the competence to issue it, or for that matter to put your uniform on without help.' the gloomy engineer said, matter of fact tone being even more provoking.
'You insubordinate- I'll report you to the Admiral.'
'Do that- in fact you'd better get him on line, because the intruders' chief negociator is going to want to talk to him in three, two...you're early.' The last part was addressed to Amberley, as she kicked the door out of it's mounting and dropped to the deck of the main operations room.
She and her team quickly fanned out to cover the room, rows of workstations facing inwards towards a ring of key positions around a giant holo table. There was no-one else there; half-full cups of something, chairs in odd positions, some of the monitors still active- it had been occupied, and evacuated.
No obvious booby traps either, apart from the entirety of it. Any acolyte fool enough to put their head into the noose like this, Amberley thought, I'd recommend they be found a job with the Ordo Malleus.
'You appear to be alone. No guards?' The inquisitor challenged him. It smelt- stank- of trap, but what kind she wasn't sure of.
'The crossfire wouldn't help.' Besides, the protection force assigned to the installation were, incredibly, not stormtroopers; the researchers had felt uncomfortable around them, and although that had cut no ice whatsoever, they had rigged several pranks that depended on taking advantage of literal- minded obedience.
Well, closer to the truth, they had staged incidents and accidents that made it look like a bunch of brainwashed, heavily armed gung- ho idiots were a greater risk to the project than anything that was likely to turn up to bother them.
The stormtroopers, being from a recently raised- if that was the appropriate term- intake, hadn't even figured that out, never mind been able to reply in kind; they had been replaced by a mixture of navy troopers and private 'security contractors'.
It had been an inexplicable and criminal decision, only comprehensible in view of how lackadaisically the project was being overseen, and that no-one had bothered or dared to explain to the Grand Moff exactly what was going on.
“Membrane probe science” did sound a lot less threatening than”Oh, by the way, we're working on a project that's basically a spinoff from Separatist superweapon research that was originally supposed to wipe out all life in the galaxy.” That would have got an Army Group sitting on the place in short order.
In principle, the hyperdrive systems engineer detached from Black Prince could understand the researchers' reluctance to have high security that would soon be followed by a never- ending stream of scary political heavyweights looking over their shoulders asking 'When can we kill things with it?' In practise, a legion or two would be really handy right about now.
'I don't think blowing this place up is going to help you much, either.' he said, levelly. Actually, there were a couple of potentially very useful things- depending on how they thought the larger conflict was going- that shooting up the operations room would achieve, and suddenly the plan Senior Lieutenant Beliksjaden had started with made less sense. Time to not admit any of that.
'Someone who wanted not to be blown up would suggest that.' Amberley let Pelton point out, while she scanned the area. Only one obvious entry point- shower of micromines in front of that. Maintenance access, beneath floor level. All right. This could be made to work.
'Are you not afraid of your own lack of knowledge? Are you not conscious of the fact that you do not know how anything here works, or what it achieves, or why?' Beliksjaden challenged.
It was an interesting question, Amberley acknowledged, and made what he was doing here clearer- appointed or self- appointed negociator. It was also one their own Mechanicus would be exceptionally unlikely to put in such a way.
'I think we're in the wrong place.' Yanbel said. 'Look how irreverent all of this is, not an icon or an incense burner in sight, no purity seals and sacred writ- this is almost Orcish in it's blasphemous disregard.'
Amberley was watching Beliksjaden carefully, and his semi- contained look of absolute horror was informative. 'You mean you're genuine?' he said, appalled. 'That baroque excrescence out there isn't maskirovka? Galactic Spirit...I've changed my mind, blow up whatever you feel like.'
The inquisitor did not take well to having her ship described in such a way, but objecting was hardly worth wasting time on. These people clearly had a different design aesthetic, and perhaps a cool- headed Malleus, if one existed, could think of some way to exploit that, but not now.
The other point that was painfully clear was that she had no route of retreat, with her ship in these people's hands. A hostage, particularly a technically skilled one, could come in very handy. Not that Yanbel thought so.
'Ach, I don't understand it, this is the rightful place for a control chapel and it looks more like a janitorium closet. Admit it, you, you push a mop for a living.' he challenged Beliksjaden, who was still reeling.
'You literally worship machines? Treat them as objects of faith, set up temples to them, worship them? You can't have any real, thinking engineers, only priests of the mechanism...that explains a lot.' he said, as if it actually resolved something, then added
'How the kriff do you people remain an interstellar civilisation with this brain- damaged drivel to work with?'
Yanbel and Mott both reacted angrily- drawing and pointing guns at him- and Beliksjaden was seriously grateful for the time he had spent listening to Chief Mirannon talk about interesting things to do with containment fields.
Amberley was disturbed too, but it wasn't her personal sacred cow he was taking a chainsaw to; she had actually heard something similar from the Lions of Caledon- about the proper relationship between machine and man.
The professional, inquisitorial part of her was interested, trying to figure out what a society without the worship of the machine would look like- which tied in to the larger question of a society without the pressure of the Warp on it. It would be a complex and fascinating project- the tactical usefulness of which, right now, though...
More to the point, 'If you deny all claims to sanctity, making you merely among the profane, tell me why your own side doesn't consider you expendable?'
'Ah.' Beliksjaden said. 'Good point.' of course, he hadn't exactly been making himself popular- had still been trying to wrap his head around enough membrane physics to think sensibly about it, but the project team hadn't taken to him, and vice versa.
Yanbel was about to shoot him, but Mott wanted to know more. 'You do not worship the Omnissiah?'
'God the Mechanism?' Beliksjaden guessed, not accurately. 'Bit of a trick question, isn't it? There is a knowledge and diligence and due care, but that stops well short of spiritual surrender.' Plan gone to bits, buy time.
'We, I mean the Imperial Starfleet, have found iso-worlds off the galactic mainstream, hundreds of separate cases, where there was something like the worship of the mechanical; in almost every situation, from Gree splinter colonies to the mudphibians of Advani IX, it killed them.
Sometimes it destroyed the economy, often the ecology, but usually the inhabitants discovered the power of simulation, built machine- run dreamworlds for themselves, and disappeared beyond the entertainment horizon up their own collective arse into extinction.'
Not something that the Imperium was ever likely to be in danger of, Amberley thought. 'Gree?'
'Old species, very technologically advanced, but basically their day's over, there are so few of them left they hardly matter.'
'Ah. Eldar.' Not a precise analogue of course, but close enough to improvise with, and a possible source of aid and refuge- not that it would be easy, but at least a potential bolthole potentially existed.
'So if you do have this duty of care,' she asked Beliksjaden, 'why is it irrelevant if all this is blown to bits?'
'It would definitely be expensive, but apart from that- you'll never figure it out unless I tell you. The only fully adequate way to describe this complex is with equations I'm certain you wouldn't understand,' which was sheer cheek, especially considering that he wasn't sure he did, 'but fundamentally it is a making thing.
It is a creating device; we can build space with it, spacetime in which the laws of matter and energy are as we say they ought to be. We didn't open a portal or go on a jump or anything like that to your universe, we built a bridge. Even destroying the bridging machinery isn't going to do a damn thing to that bridge.'
Actually, blowing up this chamber wouldn't achieve even that- it was the operations control room, the place from which the use of the thing was plotted and executed. Maintenance control, that held it stable and safe, was a separate facility entirely.
Amberley pondered that, urgently. There was absolutely no reason to assume he was telling the truth, but worse than that there was also no way to be sure either. And so much hung on this, or could. Gut said he certainly wasn't telling the whole truth- why would he?
Closing the bridge would probably be essential- what there was to gain and what there was to lose for the Imperium? This was an Ordo Xenos problem if ever there was one.
Never mind how much Amberley happened to enjoy the disguise, misdirection and sneaking about, among her colleagues Inquisitor Vail had always tried to project an image as cautious, sensible, thorough and reliable. A wild man on the order of the semi-sainted Lord Inquisitor Baruch Jehan Kryptmann she was not, and for far more reasons than just what was between her legs.
This was not the time to be cautious, and there was not time enough to be thorough; it probably wasn't even the time to be sensible.
Militarily- who knew? Too many unknowns, but the xenos were certainly very powerful, and very, very different. That in itself was danger, the Imperium could lose a culture war quite easily, in the short term. If they could muster the forces for a Grand Crusade- but she knew right now, it couldn't.
That left blowing up the bridge- closing the wormhole. With her, and the survivors of the battle group, on the wrong side of it. Accepting the principle of self- sacrifice for the good of the Imperium.
Up to date, she had been rather good at getting other people to do that sort of thing for her, frequently without their even realising it. Always aware that in the bloody games of the Inquisition, the ultimate forfeit was a real threat- but always until now managing to avoid being in a position to pay it.
Well, frak. 'Right, who remembered to bring the demolition charges?' she said, apparently cheerfully.