The Shilwulf Dynasty
Chapter 02 - Disaster Strikes the Hymn
|Present Location:||Crossing the asteroid belt, exploring the system|
Well, I suppose this was worth two weeks of travel through the Immaterium, Lord Captain Shilwulf grins to himself, his eyes twinkling as he gazes through the bridge’s void windows.
His ankle-length woolen greatcoat, adorned with a veritable wall of accolades from his service in the Imperial Navy, swishes softly as he slowly paces back and forth. The high-collared deep blue coat, along with the power sword sheathed on his hip, are indicative of his station as Rogue Trader. Octavius has led the Shilwulf Dynasty for over half a century and, though more of a military man than merchant, his keen instincts have led to profit in the most unexpected of places.
After entering the WAV-314 system three days ago, augur scans reported the presence of only a large asteroid belt and a singular star. Upon a cursory inspection, it seemed as though the sun was surrounded by a hazy cloud of glittering debris. As the Hymn drew closer, more accurate scans revealed that the star was actually surrounded by a vast field of metal orbs. Now the deep orange sun burns in the distance, the countless spheres sparkling like strands of beautiful jewels suspended in the void.
Lost in thought, Octavius doesn’t immediately notice the servo skull that softly whirs to a stop at his side. In actuality this is how the ship’s enginseer, Ethan Libram, usually communicates. Dedicated to the sole purpose of fully restoring the Hymn to its original magnificence, Libram himself is almost always somewhere deep in the bowels of the ship. His small army of servo skulls are a familiar sight flying hither and yon among the crewman as they go about their daily lives.
‘Lord Captain, the field appears to encompass the entire star at a distance of 12,728 VU’s1 in a spheroid shape,’ Ethan reports. ‘The field extends at least as far as our augurs can penetrate, and each orb is roughly equidistant from the next. However, I am still analyzing the data on what, exactly, the orbs are.’
‘I see,’ Octavius replies, his brow furrowed in contemplation. ‘If you had to take a guess, Enginseer, what would be your conclusion?’
The servo skull hums quietly for a few moments before Ethan responds.
‘Judging by the data we have gathered so far, the field is obviously artificial. The spheres are not standard Imperial construction. It could be something from the Dark Age of technology, though I suspect they are xenos in origin. If I had to guess at its purpose, Lord Captain, I would say it is a minefield of some kind. Though I wonder where the materials came from to create such a truly massive field. Since there are no planets in the system, perhaps they converted them into these orbs and all that remains is this asteroid field.’
‘That is a question I will leave for you to answer,’ responds Octavius. ’I’m far more intrigued by the prospect of what they would go to such great effort to protect.’
‘Indeed, Lord Captain. Though I must advise caution. Any attempt to investigate what they may be guarding might activate these orbs and could result in cataclysmic damage to the Hymn.’
Suddenly, an automated beacon relays its message over the bridge vox-casters:
++ Warning. A xenos mine field has been determined to exist within 12,700 void units of this system's star. They are of heretical design and have been designated as Plasma Scythe mines. You are ordered to turn away. ++
- Ordo Xenos
Normally, an Imperial vessel receiving a warning message from a branch of the Holy Inquisition would cause its captain to immediately turn his ship around and leave the system as quickly as possible. However, being the bearer of a Warrant of Trade empowers Rogue Traders with liberties that average Imperial citizens can’t even fathom. Even so, the bridge officers exchange worried glances at one another.
‘It would appear that your hypothesis is correct, Enginseer. Keep me apprised of any additional information you gather that might be of interest. In the meantime, I would like Annatolla to see this.’
‘As you wish, Captain.’
The Rogue Trader turns slowly on his heel as he taps the small com-bead in his ear.
‘Doctor Marastraza, what is your location?’
‘Almost to the the turn, Captain,’ Anna responds. ‘Hob promised he’d help me with some supply crates in the medicae ward after he finished eating.’
The Captain smiles to himself – he should have known if Annatolla wasn’t busy in the medicae ward she could be found hanging around the giant Mortressan. The ‘turn’ she refers to is near Hob’s quarters where communication via comlink will be temporarily interrupted. Several such dead zones are scattered about the Hymn, but as of now they are nowhere near the top of Ethan’s lengthy to-do list.
Since the young woman had never served on a void ship, the Rogue Trader gave Hob strict orders to guard Anna and keep an eye on her regardless of whatever objections she might raise. However, she’d taken an unexpected shine to her warder shortly after coming aboard just over a month ago. And though likely to deny it if asked, the usually gruff, anti-social Hob has become quite attached to his new friend. Octavius finds the image of the fiery red-headed doctor hanging around his behemoth-sized bodyguard both amusing and comforting at the same time.
He’s much like Heinrich in that regard, Octavius thinks sadly to himself.
Annatolla’s older brother, Heinrich, had perished in action saving both the Captain and Anna’s lives almost ten years ago, a tragic loss even for a seasoned Imperial Navy veteran like himself. Octavius had feared that Heinrich’s death would cause her to want nothing more to do with the Shilwulf Dynasty. Admittedly, it was much to the Lord Captain’s surprise when she accepted his invitation to rejoin them aboard the Hymn once she completed her medical training on Cortesia V.
‘I see,’ the Captain replies. ‘I’m afraid that will have to wait until later. I have something I think the both of you should see. If you could report to the bridge as soon as possible?’
‘Of course, Sir.’
The Lord Captain realizes Annatolla’s new life aboard the Hymn has been rather hectic. However, this is his first opportunity to reveal a glimpse into what the adventurous life of a Rogue Trader involves. After all, trinkets and legends told over after dinner amasec pale in comparison to seeing things with one’s own eyes.
Octavius returns to the void windows, peering at the glinting gems with an appraising eye. He is no fool, his many decades of honorable service in the Imperial Navy taught him many things, including that something seemingly so innocuous can quickly become an unexpected foe. The corners of his mouth draw down in a slight frown as an all too familiar feeling begins to grow in the pit of his gut, an instinct he has learned not to ignore.
Anna makes her way down the narrow, dimly lit corridor. Where the Lord Captain’s voice had greeted her just minutes ago, soft static now buzzes in her ear. She has made this trek a few times since her arrival on board, realizing that as soon as she turned off the main walkway radio contact would be intermittent at best. Now all that can be heard is the quiet, constant thrum of the Hymn’s engines and the hissing of steam from the multitude of pipes running along the walls.
Due to the close proximity to one of the primary boilers for this deck, the corridor becomes hotter as she progresses. Anna recalls the first time she came down here to visit Hob in his quarters, finding herself drenched in sweat by the time she arrived. Few crewmen make their way to areas of the ship like this, servitors and servo skulls are usually the only sign of life one can expect to meet.
This doesn’t trouble the Doctor, however, as keeping company with man-machines is nothing new to her. Though Anna has wondered why someone would choose to make their home in such a place, she imagines the heat and humidity must remind Hob of his home planet.
A whirring sound coming up behind her rouses the Doctor from her thoughts, and she turns just in time to come face-to-face with a chromed servo-skull.
‘Greetings Doctor Marastraza,’ the vox unit drones back. The one thing she doesn’t terribly care for regarding members of the Adeptus Mechanicus – the lack of inflection in their voices makes them seem so lifeless and dull.‘I was in the area performing diagnostics and detected your life signs on my HUD. Do you require assistance?’
‘No thank you. I was heading down to visit Hob,’ Anna replies as she begins walking again, the servo skull hovering at a leisurely place near her shoulder.
She’d met Ethan in the flesh at the dinner party Octavius had thrown to welcome her aboard the Hymn. Though, hidden beneath long Adeptus Mechanicus robes, exactly how much of the Enginseer’s flesh remains is a mystery.
‘I was unaware Master Hob received visitors.’
Anna chuckles to herself.
‘Well, to be honest I’ve only been down here once or twice before.’
‘Did you find my calibrations to the unit designated Michael to your liking, Doctor?’
Anna frowns for a moment. Her combat servitors were an extravagant gift to her from the Lord Captain. Mechanical monotone or not, she could tell straight away that Ethan was excited about them, for they truly are a shining example of the Omnissiah. To her, however, they are a constant reminder of the loss of her brother.
‘Very much so, Ethan. Thank you,’ she replies.
‘Amazing specimens. I wish I could interface with their creator.’
A few minutes pass as they travel together in silence before Ethan slows to a stop.
‘I will be in the area should you need my assistance, Doctor Marastraza. As always I have found our interaction to be most satisfactory.’
One of the skull’s mechadendrites extends and activates a rune near a small hatchway. The servo skull whirs loudly for a moment before disappearing into the darkness, the hatchway door sealing shut behind it with a soft clang.
Just up ahead, Anna can see a familiar light emanating from her destination. However, despite her friendship with Hob, she still approaches the doorway with caution. Her arrival is met by a horrendous cracking of bone followed by the sound of wet chewing. She sincerely doubts the manner in which Hob eats his meals will ever become bearable, but she tries to keep an open mind. It is a rare occasion when the death worlder dines in the presence of the rest of the retinue, and she can fully understand why.
Another bone snaps and clatters to the floor, joining a growing pile of others. Even with faith in the Emperor as strong as her own, Anna hesitates to venture a glance into the room, her heart thudding in her chest as she second-guesses her decision to interrupt mealtime.
Get over it, Anna, she reprimands herself. It’s only Hob.
She takes a deep breath, absently caressing the long strand of well-worn prayer beads that encircle her waist.
‘H-hob?’ she inquires, cringing at the meekness in her own voice. Another bone snaps.
‘What?’ comes the reply. Evidently he didn’t seem inclined to swallow his mouthful of meat before answering.
Not only is the Lord Captain’s bodyguard physically huge, his deep voice could rattle the resolve of even the toughest underhive ganger. Judging by the Lord Captain’s tales, the Mortressan has more than enough honed combat skill to prove he isn’t just some thick-headed slab of muscle.
‘Captain wants to see us on the bridge,’ she hesitates, ‘As soon as you’re finished.’
She dares a peek inside and just as quickly wishes she hadn’t. While the meager light isn’t enough to illuminate the entire room, she can still make out the tray piled high with large cuts of raw meat. Other than the table he sits at, there is little else to qualify the room as personal quarters. A pile of furs occupies the darkest corner of the room, which Anna assumes is a makeshift bed. His weapons sit on a foot locker near the door, but there is a curious lack of pictslates or any other kind of personal effects.
‘Told you not to come down here, Doc,’ comes the reply, punctuated by a sharp crack of bone. ‘Not safe for someone like you.’
Anna bristles. It didn’t take long after meeting him to figure out he thoroughly enjoys being a pain in the ass. Despite her best efforts so far, his attempts to ruffle her feathers usually achieve their intended effect.
‘Exactly what do you mean by someone like me?’ she asks, putting her hand on her hip and cocking her head to the side.
‘What I mean is,’ he replies as he slowly stands and walks toward the doorway. ‘It’s not safe for someone like you.’
Though his tone conveys that the matter isn’t up for further debate, Anna still begins to open her mouth to protest. She finds that words fail her though when the Mortressan walks into the light. She gasps involuntarily, reflexively covering her mouth with her hand. Face, neck, and arms covered in sloppy gore from his evening meal, the bodyguard’s eyes glint like a wild beast after bringing down a fresh kill. Crossing his arms over his wide chest, the Doctor knows all too well she won’t get anywhere trying to argue with him.
‘You missed a spot,’ she replies, motioning to his entire face with her hand.
‘Best get goin’,’ Hob smirks as he begins cleaning himself off with a towel.
‘Do all the Mortressans eat like you?’
The thought of an entire squad of his hulking mercs sitting around a table, ripping fillets of meat apart with their bare teeth makes her stomach wretch.
‘No, I have manners,’ Hob replies matter-of-factly.
Dwarfed by the gargantuan bodyguard, Anna must take two steps to match every one of his as they walk down the corridor. She sneaks an inquisitive peek up at the square-jawed Mortressan, but decides against posing her question. She looks away quickly, confident he didn’t notice.
‘What’s on your mind, Doc?’ Hob asks without looking at her.
Anna sighs. She should realize by now that the bodyguard has an uncanny knack for perceiving even the smallest details.
‘I’m concerned about your diet,’ she confesses. ‘The amount of raw meat you consume is astounding. I don’t understand how you haven’t become seriously ill.’
Hob grunts. ‘Life on a death world ain’t easy. Not safe to cook our food.’
‘So it’s safer to risk eating uncooked meat?’ Anna asks, a look of skepticism on her face.
‘With all the time you and the Cap’n spend together I’m surprised you didn’t ask him about this.’
Even as he hears himself speak the words, Hob realizes the effort to divert the conversation is hopeless. He’s learned that the Doctor won’t let up until she has the satisfaction of an explanation, a good quality to have in her profession. Even he has to admit she is extremely intelligent and a damn good doc, especially for her age.
Gifted, he recalls the word Octavius had used to describe her. Gifted and stubborn as a Tyvek hound.
He glances down at the young woman, her long curly red hair pulled into its usual braid. All that high learnin’ she chooses to hang out with someone like me. ‘Course, that’ll change. Always does once they find out.
The Mortressan is a formidable man, quite possibly tough as they come. He counts few among his friends but made peace with that long ago. In his line of work, it doesn’t do any good to get close to people. Emotional attachment provides foes with far too much leverage, just one of many hard lessons he learned early on. It doesn’t help that she is a member of the ecclesiarchy, he hasn’t exactly ever seen eye-to-eye with the God Emperor or his agents. If Anna knew even half his story, saw him for what he truly is, she’d likely stay far away from him like everyone else.
‘Cookin’ food is dangerous. Predators can smell it, so can hunters from enemy tribes. Some of us came to the point where we could tolerate raw meat.’
‘I see,’ Anna replies slowly, pondering the reply.
’What’s that?’ Hob asks, putting his hand up to his ear as they emerge from the communication dead zone. ‘Yes, she made it, Cap’n.’
He motions for her to wait as he walks away, continuing his conversation with Octavius over his com-bead. Absentmindedly, Anna glances over some crates stored in the corridor. Excess cargo is not an unusual sight on a rogue trader’s vessel. Anything deemed worthy of fetching a profit is stashed wherever space can be found.
She pauses as she hears a muffled rustling sound coming from one of the opened crates. Looking over her shoulder, she finds that Hob has wandered further down the corridor. Though he’s too far away for her to hear what he’s saying over the com, she feels a comfort that the bodyguard is still visible. Edging closer to the boxes, she leans forward to peer into the large crate.
With an angry screech, a large dark form suddenly leaps from the opening. Startled, Anna stumbles backwards as the boxes clang loudly to the deck. She topples over as a creature nearly her size slams into her stomach. As the beast and doctor fall, the doctor catches a glimpse of vicious-looking, curved yellowed teeth gnashing at her throat.
Thick strands of foul-smelling saliva drip from a fang-filled maw onto her face as she desperately struggles to push the heavy beast away. Its hot breath washes over her, filling her nostrils with the heavy stench of rotting carrion. Anna realizes she lacks the physical strength to keep the creature at bay much longer, but her struggles have left her breathless and unable to call out for help.
Suddenly she hears a resounding THUMP as Hob’s combat boot connects with the beast’s side. Launched into the air from the force of the blow, the creature squeals in pain before crashing to the deck plating meters away. Anna yelps in surprise as the death worlder’s massive shape leaps over her prone form, the light catching the edge of the combat knife in his hand as he swiftly closes in on the creature.
Giving the beast no time to regain its footing, Hob pounces on top of the mass of fur and thrashing tails. He grasps the throat of the struggling creature with his free hand, firmly pinning it to the floor. Despite its cries, nothing comes to the beast’s aid as Hob plunges the honed blade into its side.
The huge rat flails about in a desperate attempt to escape the bodyguard’s iron grip but to no avail. He stabs the vermin repeatedly, flinging arcs of blood onto the corridor wall with each brutal stroke. The frantic struggles of the creature lessen as it bleeds out onto the deck plating, but Hob refuses to relinquish his hold. In stunned silence, Anna looks on as Hob dares to draw his face closer to the dying beast, locking it in a cold, hard stare. The snarling Mortressan is the last thing the animal sees as the fires in its eyes finally extinguish.
The creature’s head lolls to the side, its bloated tongue flopping out of its gaping maw. Satisfied his foe is finally dead, Hob wipes his blood-drenched blade on the thing’s fur before standing. He sniffs the air like a wolf, scanning his surroundings. Anna gasps quietly when his feral gaze finally settles on her, the hunter’s dilated eyes alive with the thrill of the hunt. A surge of primal fear sends a chill down her spine, and for a moment she finds herself unable to move.
To her relief Hob regains his composure, returning the blade to its sheath on his belt. He strolls over casually, offering his hand to help her to her feet. She stares at him a moment longer before accepting, certain she won’t soon forget what she just witnessed.
‘What the frak was that?’
‘Void rat,’ Hob replies matter-of-factly, as if he sees its like everyday.
‘Void rat?’ Anna pants, checking herself for wounds.
‘That was a small one, seen plenty bigger down here.’
‘That was small?’
’Didn’t the Cap’n issue you a gun?’
’I’m afraid I’ve never done well with firearms,’ Anna replies. ‘I put my trust in the Emperor.’
‘Maybe next time I’ll let the Emperor save you then,’ Hob replies, giving her a disapproving glance.
‘I prefer swords,’ she tells him reassuringly. ‘Although I don’t actually have one of my own.’
‘Need to remedy that, Doc. Told you to have a weapon on you at all times.’
‘Even when I sleep?’ Anna asks with a small chuckle.
A sober look comes over Hob’s face, his prominent brow furrowing as he nods solemnly.
Anna breathes a quiet sigh of relief as they finally reach the main corridor. Even at a kilometer and a half long, the Emperor’s Hymn is considered small by Imperial Naval standards. A crew of 22,417, many of whom will never set foot on actual land during their lifetime, make certain the ship functions every hour of every day. Despite the Hymn’s size, Anna has yet to explore even a fifth of the ship’s seventy-four decks. Like a self-contained city hurtling through the void, the Hymn is not only the flagship of the Shilwulf Dynasty, but a source of pride for those who call her home. Still, she realizes Hob is right – there are many places aboard any void ship where someone like her shouldn’t venture unarmed or alone.
‘So Hob, I’ve been meaning to speak with you about my next training session – Ahh!’ Anna yelps as the the corridor suddenly lurches, like a great fist slammed into the side of the ship. Alarms blare loudly and red emergency lights flare to life, but the doctor notices none of it. For a surreal moment she wonders why the deck is coming up to meet her before the more logical part of her brain informs her that she’s falling. Too late to brace for impact, she hits the unforgiving metal grating full force and briefly everything goes dark.
‘Doc!’ a familiar voice yells, though Anna is so disoriented she can’t tell from where.
She groans as someone rolls her over onto her back, slapping at the idiot who is moving her.
‘Damn it, stop hittin’ me,’ Hob growls.
Anna opens her eyes as consciousness returns, albeit dim and fuzzy around the edges.
‘Wha-, what happened?’
‘Don’t know, ain’t good though.’
One might expect there to be a sense of urgency in his voice, but of course there is none. Anna has made her peace with the fact that the bodyguard is an absolute rock, a trait she finds both reassuring and disconcerting.
‘Got to move. Now,’ he says emphatically, practically lifting her to her feet. ‘Can you walk?’
Anna steadies herself, dizzy from the sudden change from horizontal to vertical. She compares her aches and pains to a checklist ingrained into her memory from her earliest days at the medicae scholam. Finding nothing of critical note, she nods slowly.
‘I think so, just scrapes and bruises.’
Hull breach detected in section 38-D through 38-R, please proceed to the emergency hatch, a mechanical voice drones over the ship’s coms. This section will be sealed for depressurization in 30 seconds.
‘Frak,’ Hob growls as he breaks into a run.
‘What does that mean?’ she asks, struggling to keep up.
‘Means if we don’t get out of here we’ll be kissin’ void.’
‘What?’ Anna screams, ‘You can’t be serious! Don’t they know we’re here?’
‘Wouldn’t change nothin’,’ Hob replies.
‘What?’ she screeches, looking at the bodyguard in disbelief.
20 seconds until depressurization…
‘Shut up and run!’
‘How far do we have to go?’
‘That bulkhead up there,’ he nods ahead of them.
Anna looks down the long corridor, slightly relieved that their destination doesn’t seem too far away. Then she notices the bulkhead door is starting to close.
‘Oh frak,’ she mumbles.
The Hymn shudders violently once again, throwing both doctor and bodyguard to the deck this time. Driven by pure adrenaline, Anna rolls as she hits the floor and jumps to her feet, running again almost immediately. After a few strides, though, she notices the Mortressan isn’t with her.
10 seconds until depressurization…
‘Hob!’ she yells, glancing from the closing door to the bodyguard. Slowly, he rises to his feet, shaking his head to recover from the effects of the fall.
Anna dashes to his side, tugging on his massive arm with what little physical strength she can muster.
‘What the hell are you doin’, Doc?’ Hob growls. ‘Get out of here!’
‘And just leave you behind?’ Anna asks, disbelieving that he’d actually consider that as an option.
‘Now we’re both goin’ to die,’ he rumbles.
‘What do you mean? The door is still-’ She looks just in time to see the bulkhead door seal shut. ‘Oh, oh dear.’
Anna closes her eyes and caresses the long strand of prayer beads she has worn for over a decade. A cherished gift from her brother, they have brought her peace of mind in the darkest of times. Even standing here facing Death itself, she finds comfort in the familiar ritual of rolling each of the smooth beads between her thumb and index finger.
Hob looks down as Anna takes his hand. There aren’t many things in this universe that can harm the death worlder, but the frigid embrace of the void is undoubtedly one of them. For a moment he admires Anna’s strength, most everyone else would be screaming or pleading with the God Emperor to spare their lives. In his experience prayer rarely gets the job done, but in this case he’ll take all the help he can get.
Finding the emergency voidsuit receptacle empty, he searches for a solution – drawing upon his survival of a death world upbringing, a youth spent in the cruel bonds of slavery, decades of weapons and combat training experience. In the end, however, all come up lacking. He shoots a cold, hard stare – the same look that has crumbled the resolve of warlords – toward the meter-thick solid metal barrier standing between them and survival. However, the blast door remains closed, impassive and unimpressed by those who stand before it.
‘Sir, we have three more unidentified ships approaching,’ a young technician reports. ‘They appear to have emerged from the asteroid belt as well.’
The Hymn shudders once more as another barrage slams into the ship’s starboard side shields.
‘Now identifying Big Toof as a Savage Gunship and Hull Kraka as a Brute Ram Ship,’ reports a tactical officer. He grimaces at the thought of the fast Brute Ram ship slamming into the Hymn’s hull. Renowned for their bloodthirsty ferocity, if the orks manage to board the Hymn there will be little hope for survival. ‘The other three contacts are still beyond the range of our long range augurs.’
Octavius watches the hololithic dome as blocks of tactical information attach themselves to the closer of the two green blips. Their augurs not powerful enough to perform a deep scan, the Hymn was taken by surprise by the ork vessels who had been lying in wait among the asteroids. Under normal circumstances, the Hymn could possibly engage one or two of the smaller Ork vessels. However, with three more contacts joining the fray, the tide of battle has clearly turned in the ork’s favor. Whether they are merely pirates or scouts for an invasion force is unclear, but right now Octavius has no interest in sticking around long enough to find out.
‘Full stop, prepare for translate!’
‘Full stop!’ the Lord Captain’s order is relayed down the line of furiously working technicians.
‘Shields have recharged, Sir,’ a tactical technician reports. ‘Estimating starboard armor at eighty percent.’
Octavius considers the tactical display before him. His years of military experience have taught him to look ahead, to improvise and adapt to the battle as it unfolds. The corners of his mouth draw down into a frown, what his experience is telling him now isn’t good. Orks are notoriously inaccurate, but stopping the ship makes the Hymn an easier target.
‘Going to be close,’ he mutters.
The Lord Captain ignores the organized chaos of the bridge, instead concentrating intently on the display, willing the Hymn to complete its full stop.
‘Full stop reached!’ a tactical officer shouts. ‘Ready for trans-’
‘Translate to warp!’ Octavius orders, cutting the officer off before he can finish his sentence.
As the warp drives begin to power up, a distinct vibration begins to travel through the deck plating, perceptible only to those who have traveled extensively on void ships. The Rogue Trader feels a slight sense of relief, but time has taught him that they aren’t out of the woods just yet. As if on cue, the Big Toof’s heavy gunz find their mark, landing a series of powerful blows.
‘Report!’ yells the Captain, barely keeping his feet on the bucking deck.
Several men shout out the varied information available to them, but one panicked voice can be heard above all others, ’The Gellar field is fluctuating! The Gellar field is fluctuating!’
‘Belay translate!’ Octavius orders, striding over to the technician’s station. ‘All power to the plasma engines, bring us one-ought-two to starboard.’
‘Toward the orks?’
‘Unless you happen to know of a different starboard? If so, please enlighten us,’ the Rogue Trader asks with a stern look on his face.
He doesn’t have time to explain the countless ways the battle has already unfolded in his mind. If they try to run, the Hull Kraka will likely overtake them and ram its armored prow straight into the Hymn’s plasma engines. Fleeing toward the asteroid field could reveal even more orks, not to mention the dangers involved with moving full speed into such a hazard. Attacking the orks isn’t a great option, but right now it’s the best they have.
‘No, Sir. Binging us about one-ought-two degrees to starboard.’
The dorsal laser batteries unleash their blazing red light into the darkness a final time before the ship begins its turn. The turrets track their target as the starfield slowly pans to the left, bringing the two ork vessels into view. Even at ‘close’ range the enemy ships are barely distinguishable from the stars, discernible only by the sustained flashing of their gunz.
‘The Hull Kraka is speeding up, Sir.’
‘Maintain course and speed. Target the Hull Kraka and hold fire for my command.’
The Hymn brings its Titanforge lance to bear and, like jousting knights, the two vessels charge headlong toward one another. Instead of firing their gun batteries in tandem, the undisciplined ork crew fire a continuous but ineffective stream of ordinance at the lone Imperial vessel. Though the volume of fire is impressive from the small ork vessel few of the shells find their mark, and those that do are easily deflected by the Hymn’s void shields.
The Emperor’s Hymn stoically weathers the assault, sailing through the explosive clouds of enemy fire toward the ork vessels as if playing out a scene of propaganda pictcaster footage. The Rogue Trader strides to the front of the bridge, watching the pyrotechnics with his hands clasped behind his back. He waits patiently for the Hull Kraka to cross into optimal range, his face occasionally illuminated by the silent fireballs dancing in the void. The reports of the bridge officers lessen in volume and intensity as they wait in anticipation for his next order. Soon the enemy vessel is close enough to make out the crude face motif that is common among Ork void ships.
Octavius mastered the art of exuding an air of unshakable confidence long ago, but underneath the facade he is more than a little concerned. Earlier he had determined this was the best plan of survival, but now he is second guessing that decision.
If we don’t cripple that ramship with a couple of lucky hits, it’s going to slam into us at full speed and this battle is over.
However, even if there is a better option, it’s far too late to put it in motion. He whispers a silent prayer to the Emperor to help guide the fire of the Hymn’s gunnery crews. Resolved to whatever fate awaits them, the Lord Captain takes a slow deep breath before shouting out the crucial order.
Like a blazing wave cascading down the length of the Hymn, the guns fire as the Rogue Trader’s order is passed along. The barrage from the Sunseer turrets overpowers the Hull Kraka’s void shields, scoring several telling hits. As the intense power of the lasers sweeps across the bow of the enemy vessel, deep gouges are cut into the ork’s heavily reinforced prow. At the same time, huge plates of armor are sliced away from the Kraka’s hull and sent tumbling away into the void still glowing hot. Small explosions dot the face of the ship as several external melta-drills and plasma boarding tubes are destroyed by the powerful Sunseers.
All of the lights aboard the Hymn dim for several seconds as the Titanforge Lance unleashes its fury. A brilliant white beam of glowing energy stabs into the front of the ork vessel, piercing deeply into the ship’s inner workings. A massive internal explosion blows several of the ork’s turrets off into space, but most impressive is what occurs next. Once the lance’s beam extinguishes, a huge fireball erupts from the gaping puncture it left behind. The bridge crew erupts into cheers at the crippling blow, and Octavius breathes a silent sigh of relief.
The bridge lights return to normal as an augur technician excitedly reads off the inflicted damage. ‘Both were direct hits, Sir! We seem to have knocked out its maneuvering thrusters, its augur array, and it’s on fire, Sir!’
With its few remaining gunz, the blazing hulk fires blindly into the void as it passes harmlessly by the Hymn. Though not officially a kill, it will no longer pose a threat for the remainder of this engagement.
‘Target the Big Toof and fire at will. After we pass and she starts coming about, bring us hard to port, heading ought-two-seven.’
The Lord Captain’s orders echo down the line of bridge officers and servitors almost flawlessly.
‘But Sir, that heading will take us into the minefield!’
Octavius unsnaps the holster on his left hip and draws his customized bolt pistol with his gleaming mechanical right arm. He has seen a plentiful share of battle in his day and has the scars, both visible and not, to prove it. He continues to stare out the void windows towards the Big Toof and sees the flickers of countless cannons firing.
‘The next person who hesitates on my orders is going to get a bolt round in their skull,’ the Lord Captain states calmly, his gaze still fixed outside the windows. His sentence is punctuated by Ork shells hammering into the prow of the Hymn, causing the void shields to wink out. The ship lurches from the blast, but the armored hull plates withstand the assault.
‘Aye, Sir! Heading two-ought-seven!’ the questioning young officer quickly replies.
The Rogue Trader activates his combead.
‘Libram, I want that Gellar field stabilized!’
‘It is our highest priority, Lord Captain,’ the Enginseer’s metallic voice reports back.
One of the tactical officers interrupts, ‘Sir, the other three contacts are now in range. It looks like they are a Ravager and two more Savage Gunships. They’re broadcasting as the Grok, Shootier, and … ,’ the technician pauses, ‘The More Shootier Ha Ha.’
Octavius scratches his forehead with the sight of his bolt pistol while letting out a quiet sigh.
Frakking orks, he thinks to himself as he begins to pace the length of the bridge, his weapon remaining at his side.
The Hymn’s weapons blaze to life once again. The laser turrets inflict superficial damage along the port side, and Octavius curses under his breath as the Lance just misses its mark. As the two vessels pass each other by, the Big Toof begins its lumbering turn. Ork vessels may be fast, but even the smaller ships have trouble coming about.
Once the Big Toof is committed to the turn, the Hymn sets its course toward the glittering minefield. By the time the Toof adjusts its heading, the Hymn is safely out of the effective range of the ork’s Big Gunz. Regardless, it still doesn’t stop the orks from firing.
Minutes seem like hours as the Hymn approaches the field of glittering orbs, until Octavius finally orders the ship to half-speed. The Big Toof is the closest of the four enemy vessels and is wasting no time in closing the distance.
At first the mines move slowly away from the Hymn, yielding to the intruding ship as if inviting it in. As the ship travels further, the mines circle behind the vessel closing the gap they just made.
‘What type of yield do those mines have, ensign?’
The young man at the scanner concentrates for a few moments, but eventually shakes his head.
‘I’m sorry, Sir. Our augurs cannot penetrate the heretical xenos armor,’ he admits defeatedly.
As if in response to the Captain’s inquiry, a mine that had appeared to be far enough away suddenly begins moving toward the Hymn.
‘Brace for impact!’ the Captain yells.
While everyone else begins securing their restraint harnesses and grabbing onto whatever they can, Octavius strides confidently to the massive floor to ceiling windows for a better look. He looks on as the gleaming, perfectly smooth metal orb rapidly accelerates toward the hull. Despite the commendable effort of the crews manning the anti-fighter turrets, the orb seems unaffected by the Hymn’s weapons.
Seconds later, the orb impacts the starboard-side hull, rebounding slightly after the initial impact. With alarm he sees other mines nearby briefly flare to life like spheres of molten metal, but breathes a sigh of relief as they dim once again. The original mine skips down the hull a few more times as the Hymn glides past, but nothing seems to happen.
Once in the Imperial vessel’s wake, however, the xenos weapon begins to glow. Luckily, it changes course to a direct intercept vector with the closest ork vessel. Octavius looks on as the orb becomes increasingly bright, finally bursting into a ball of brilliant white plasma right before impact.
The ork ship has no time to execute an evasive maneuver before the molten ball punches through the ship’s heavily armored prow in a blinding flash. With amazing speed the orb travels through the length of the greenskin’s vessel before exploding out the aft. Clouds of burning oxygen spew forth from the wounds but are quickly quenched by the vacuum of the void. A mish-mosh of debris and ork crewmen vomit out of both ends of the gutted ship and the enemy ship’s image on the hololithic projector slowly fades away.
‘Threat neutralized, Lord Captain,’ reports an augur technician.
‘All stop,’ Octavius orders, still far from convinced that they are out of this yet. The destruction of a second of their vessels seems to do little to deter the remaining orks as they continue to bear down on the Hymn’s position.
‘How’s that Gellar field looking, Libram?’
‘We have her nearly squared away, Captain,’ the Enginseer responds. ‘We are currently reconfigu-’
‘Just convince the machine spirits to keep it stable.’
‘Aye, SIr. Just a few moments more.’
That old familiar feeling begins to well in the pit of the Rogue Trader’s gut once more as he peers out of the window. Another mine breaks away from the pack, once again on a direct course for the Hymn. The orb gains momentum, beginning to rapidly flicker between molten glow and cool chrome. By the Emperor’s grace, the xenos mine is in the ‘off’ state when it slams into the hull with a resounding whoooong. However, the force of the impact alone is enough to buckle armor plates and crush a Sunsear turret before it rebounds off the hull like some terrible child’s toy.
The mine rebounds out into the void, but comes back to life as a fiery-white ball of plasma before looping back around for a second pass. Instead of punching a hole through the Hymn as with the Big Toof, it slices along the dorsal spine from bow to stern. As the orb travels, a glowing gash appears along the frame of the ship causing a massive hull breach. Before it completes its journey, the mine’s plasma field winks out. The weapon ricochets out of the freshly cut channel and flies towards the bridge, impacting just above the void window frame.
Though his expression remains impassive, Octavius watches in horror as thousands of people and supplies spew out into the void of space. Emergency bulkheads slam shut throughout the ship to prevent the precious air, stale though it is, from being sucked out into the void. As he watches the mass of crew sucked out into the cold void of space, he imagines their faces twisted in silent screams.
‘Lord Captain, what just happened?’ Ethan’s metallic voice inquires over the com. The complete lack of alarm in the Enginseer’s voice seems eerily surreal considering the chaos surrounding them at this moment.
‘No time, to explain. Is the Gellar field operational?’ Octavius asks.
‘Aye sir, now reading stable.’
‘Translate NOW!’ the Rogue Trader bellows deeply.
Looking out past the cracked glass of the void windows, he can see the split down the top of the ship still glowing orange. As the void shutters slowly begin to close, Octavius catches a final glimpse at the ghastly cloud of supplies and dead crewmen slowly expanding away from the ship. The last thing he sees before the shutters close is two more mines breaking away from the pack and swiftly moving directly toward the Hymn.
An instant later the Hymn translates into the Immaterium, leaving the cursed orks and xenos weapons behind. A sudden influx of skull servitors and comm chatter begins to report the horrendous damage sustained, but still the sense of relief is almost palatable.
’She’s all yours Leere,’ the Lord Captain nods at the silent Navigator. ‘Get us to a safe spot so we can drop out for some emergency repairs.’
1 – VU stands for Void Units which is the standard measurement of distance for naval combat. One void unit is equal to 10,000 km. To give you a sense of how big the minefield is, the Hymn’s guns can only reach out 18 VU’s. 12,728 void units are roughly equivalent to the Earth’s orbit.
This chapter was based on the very first Rogue Trader session that we played over Google Wave. Warhammer 40k ship combat is tough to get right in story form. I know that technically a round of ship combat is supposed to take thirty minutes, but how can that be exciting? The captain gives an order to fire, then heads back into his office to grab a quick nap. We decided to go with a more actiony interpretation for the story. Let us know how it turned out. :)
My players never did go back to visit WAV-314, so whatever the field is protecting still remains a mystery.