A Story Where Space Marines Hit Things Very Hard Pt. 02

19 Jul

In low orbit above the tainted shrine world the blind and austere astropaths of strike cruiser Exidius Ordae alert the crew to a ripple in space and time.

Hundreds of thousands of light years away, deep within a fortress spanning a continent, the Emperor of Mankind sits bound to a throne of gold. Bundles of tubes filter psychic nourishment into his ancient form, supported now by a grand and golden suit of armour, and by the daily sacrifice of thousands of the Imperium’s psykers. A white film covers his eyes, which seem to be the only part of him now that moves. They switch from staring to frantic modulation.

Within visual range of the Exidius, an enormous black smudge appears along with a delayed flash of brilliant white light. More black objects break off from the smudge and stream towards the red planet below.

The ancient battle barge drifts for a time after launching its drop pods, then kicks to life as eerily red plasma thrusters flicker on all along the aft. All-black and bristling with guns, the hull is crusted with warp-things and is marked with the untended blast streaks of a thousand wars.

Inside this dark vessel hundreds of thousands of broken, lost men work in toil, tending to the great engines, the navigation systems and the gun batteries. A number of hatches along the fore of the ship slide open and launch torpedoes in straight trajectories which quickly turn and snake towards the Space Marine strike cruiser.

The Exidius kicks its starboard engines and turns its armoured prow into the barrage. The two front dorsal gun batteries creak into place and begin firing at calculated trajectories with the incoming torpedoes.

Like a predatory thing the battle barge makes its way to within firing range of the strike cruiser, under cover of its torpedo volley.

***
Vox transmitters crackle planetside with the news. Marine sergeants rally their squads and prepare to fall back to their armour. A thunderhawk gunship assists overhead, pouring battlecannon rounds and bolter fire into the ranged contingent of renegades.

The now-battered chaplain and a handful of marines stay behind to pry the mad berserkers from their brothers. As his men fall around him the chaplain orders the thunderhawk on overwatch to fire on his position. It craters the area and breaks off to cover the other thunderhawks as they pick up the ground force for extraction.

***

Torpedoes slam into the prow of the strike cruiser and the whole vessel shudders as tendrils of blue plasma stream across the ship from the points of impact. Point defense lasers cut through the vacuum and reach at the torpedoes, causing a few premature detonations. Still, some of these missiles twist towards the bridge. Turrets track too slowly and the warheads impact with the lower half of the tower. The base of the massive bridge structure is splintered open and thousands of the Emperor’s loyal are ejected into the void.

The Exidius attempts to maneuver its bow, which contains a mighty bombardment cannon, towards the black barge, which approaches from portside with alarming speed.

***

A marine stands halfway through the hatch of his predator tank and sights his pintle-mounted twin-linked bolters at the last known Chaos position. Behind him marines drag wounded brothers through the dust and into rhinos and prepare to load into the landing thunderhawks. With the valorous fall of their chaplain, a veteran sergeant called Tetanus Riker has taken command of all forces planetside. He removes his helmet and a leathery face squints skyward in an attempt to make out the ships responsible for the flashes he can see popping in the sky.

***

The black barge pulls alongside the slow-turning strike cruiser and lights up as it fires a broadside. Forgoing salvo fire, all guns begin firing simultaneously in the silence of the vacuum and the ship leans starboard with the recoil. Here and there the thick fiery beam of a lance energy weapon pulses and licks at the cruiser.

The shield matrix operating aboard the Exidius Ordae strains to absorb the shock. The cannons can be held off for a time, but the lances threaten hull integrity where they graze. Thousands of crewmen rush to the lower section of the bridge to assist in damage control as cabins are sealed and fires are extinguished.

As the black barge rocks to the side and idles to recover for another barrage, the Exidius’ prow-mounted bombardment cannon aligns with the barge’s engine stack.

A three hundred foot warhead groans into the loading tube as shipboard logic engines process targeting data. The warhead picks up speed as it slingshots down the firing tube and screams out the mouth of the towering bombardment cannon slung underneath the scarred bow.

The barge has begun to turn, but the cruiser’s logic engine has calculated for the shift and keeps the Exidius in lockstep. The warhead travels unabated, shirking off laser fire as its plasma drive whirs at an unimaginable speed, heating itself up until it strikes the drive tubes of the black barge. A large blast is followed by another as engine compartments shudder and break off.

For a moment the crew stands still, and the dark beast sits. Then, firing off its portside batteries it propels itself in baleful desperation at the cruiser. As it splinters apart it shudders into the adamantium hull of the cruiser, decompressing chambers and threatening to topple the already damaged bridge.
Without concern the barge fires its starboard guns, lodged inside the Exidius Ordae. The cruiser’s port side is torn asunder, spilling a hundred thousand men into the black sea of the void. Immolated crewmen are extinguished as they tumble into space or are trapped in the ruined starboard of the black barge, which trolls, broken, in orbit.

Without the means to maintain speed and with the force imparted by the black barge’s ramming, the Exidius drops toward the planet below.

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