Thursday, July 27, 2017

Mission Report: Culling the Nest and Brokering Introductions

I've been writing a narrative of a Dark Heresy campaign I've been taking part in.  Part one is here.  This is part 4. I think it's pretty exciting. I hope you do too.  Please let me know if you have any feedback, constructive or otherwise.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Clear here.” Althea yelled.

“Clear.” She heard Lazarus yell. She was glad that he had been running rearguard. She had heard shooting from behind as she and Gus had charged forward. If they had been surprised from behind… she preferred not to think about it.

Oh cut, Gus! She turned around and saw Doc Geryk hovering over Gus’ prone form. “How is he?”

“Administering adrenolada. Will then follow up with sterasiphon to stabilize.”

Doc!”

“Oh,” he stammered. “Give me a few minutes. He will be mobile.”

She was pretty sure that Gus had taken most of a clip of an autogun in his chest. She had seen bigger men than Gus fall and never get up after that. But if Doc said he was getting up, well, we’ve each got our strengths.

Our heroes run into brutes. This is right before this report starts (and right before Gus takes a full clip to the chest).
Although she had fought many different xenos and pirates in the navy, she had never seen the like of these cruel things.

Some of them looked like regular men; others had large bulbous heads. They generally looked… scrappy. Just men. Scrappy, dirty men. Hard men.

She looked down at the corpse below her. It was inhuman, huge. The monster had stood two and a half metres when it was still walking. Thick corded muscle stretched across its broad form. It had three arms.

Lazarus walked up to it and kicked it. “There are some pretty big claws here. Think this is it?”

“Naw.” Althea shook her head. “The fop said four arms. And somehow I think he’ll know these aren’t the claws he wants.”

Lazarus shrugged. “Just seems like we might be risking bullets unnecessarily here, is all.”

“We’re doing the work of the Emperor!” Althea heard Gus’ voice float from further down the hall. “I would risk many more bullets to spread His cleansing flame!”

Doc is a miracle worker. “Gus, how you doing?”

“I can walk. Thank the light of the Emperor for the Doc.” Gus tossed aside his ruin of a flak vest.

“Good. Let’s get this four-armed dog and get out of here.”

“Perchance you may regret wishing to meet it,” muttered Doc Geryk. “These xenos make Halerian pit hounds look like plain noodles.”

“Doc, if we didn’t want to find one, we shouldn’t have bothered to come.” Althea said, resignedly. “Let’s go hunt ourselves a claw.”

But inside, her sinking feeling was getting worse. She had seen a Halerian pit hound once. It had been as big as a groundcar.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A few corridors later, they found themselves on a ledge in a large cavern. They couldn’t see the floor past their ledge – or the ceiling. The ledge extended to both the left and right. There was a thick, acrid flavour to the air. It didn’t feel like air from the outside. She flashed back to the slack hoses of their recent enemies’ rebreathers, and clutched her own.

Gus had promised that he could smell corruption from their right. Althea chuckled inwardly, but lacking a better direction, Althea led them to the right.

They moved slowly to avoid detection. After a time, Lazarus halted them. “Movement behind us.”

They took positions behind cover and Lazarus took out his sniper rifle. He took a look down the scope. “At least five of them. Autoguns.”

He continued in a few more heartbeats. “Thoughts?”

Althea considered it a moment. “Gus and I have shotguns. Doc has a pistol. You’re the only one with range. Let them get a bit closer before surprising them.”

Lazarus nodded. They sat there for what seemed like forever before Lazarus’ rifle cracked. “Target down. There are more now. Maybe eight/ten.”

Althea frowned. She didn’t like these odds.

Boom! Boom! Boom! Gunshots tore chunks out of the masonry near Lazarus’ head. He ducked under the hail of bullets but she heard him grunt. He’d been hit with something.

She hid and listened in between the gunshots until she could hear their feet pounding just around the corner. She unhooked a frag grenade, pulled the pin and swung it around the corner. She heard the explosion accompanied by screams of pain. They clearly hadn’t been expecting someone that close.

She hefted her shotgun and jumped around the corner. She saw a few bodies but didn’t have time to count them. She squeezed off a few shots and saw one of the leading figures stumble. One of the others raised his weapon and she leapt back as a swarm of bullets filled the air where she used to be.

She heard the boom of Gus’ combat shotgun and the cracks of Doc’s and Lazarus’ las weapons. She heard screams from the cultists in front of her. She threw another grenade around the corner and followed through with her shotgun, taking out a few more cultists. She thought there were maybe only five left. It looked like they were going to pull through.

She ducked back again and heard Lazarus yelling. “More of them. Behind us!”

“How many?” She yelled.
Althea sends Gus to help the others.

“Don’t know. I see three arms. I think they’re the fast ones, not the big ones.”

Cut this!

“Gus,” she yelled, “Go help them.”

“There are too many here!” He yelled.

“It’s worse behind us. Go!” She responded. He looked at her.

“I’ll be fine!”

Gus scampered to the other end of their beleaguered last stand. Truthfully, she didn’t know that she could hold off all of these guys by herself, but things were looking grim and she thought they were going to need to take risks.

She picked her last grenade off her vest (cutting Olivia couldn’t even get me enough grenades) and tossed it around the corner. She waited for the explosion and then barrelled around the corner with her shotgun held high.

Five men stood there staring at her. Nonchalant, their heads turned in unison to address her. A few of them even had grins on their misshapen faces. They must have kicked the cutting grenade down the hall. Too cutting predictable!

She leapt backwards just as their bullets tore through the space where she had been moments earlier.

This is bad. She lifted her shotgun, ready to blow off whichever head peeked around the corner first. Should’ve kept Gus here with me…

She heard a stamp next to her and turned to see a huge four limbed monster land nimbly on the deck. It was hunched, but it would have been half again as tall as Althea if stretched to its full length. Two of its arms ended in large hands, with vicious claws. The other two arms were tipped with more claws, each as long as her forearm. As Althea watched it, its large bulbous head swivelled towards her, a long tongue snaking out between sharp teeth. She could see a gaping intelligence glittering in its eyes.

Althea had assumed that the ledge was impassable, but it must not be impassible for creatures like this. Smart.

She started to raise her gun but was immediately slammed from her feet. Her brain slowly registered the boom of a shotgun followed quickly by pain – flowing, serpentine pain. Those goons had taken advantage of her brief distraction and had come around the corner with guns blazing.

She flew through the air and landed in a heap on the ground. She looked up at the goons who had shot her and saw one of them smile with filth encrusted teeth. He raised his shotgun.

Then his head promptly disappeared. The others turned down the corridor they had come from, their attention immediately drawn away. Their guns started blazing.

Althea slowly turned her head and saw the genestealer start to stalk towards the others.

“Lazarus! Gus! Doc! It’s here!” She yelled. Or at least, she had intended to yell. Instead only a quiet croak had emerged and none of them had heard over the sounds of guns.

Her vision was starting to fade. She would only have one more chance. She gathered all of her energy and tried one last time, picking the man closest to the beast – “Lazo!” She hadn’t been much louder, but she was luckier and her voice had fallen in between gunshots. Lazarus turned his head and saw the beast as it leapt towards him. He didn’t have enough time to bring up his gun, but the warning had given him enough time to fall awkwardly on his ass allowing him to narrowly avoid the grasping claws.

Her vision faded to black.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“This should help you feel better.”

Althea heard Doc’s voice coming from somewhere in the distance. She felt a brief pain in her arm.

“Please note though - you’re not actually better, you’re only feeling better. So try not to push it too much, or you’ll have hell to pay later. Again.”

Doc’s face came into focus above her own. His warm concern for a fallen comrade was familiar now. He was right. She was starting to feel better.

“How is everyone?”

“None of us are untouched, but you undoubtedly took the worse of it.”

“We killed the monster?”

“Yes, my trusty bolt pistol slew it. Although we never would have survived without Ceres and Hippolyta.” Doc gestured over his shoulder to a pair of newcomers talking with Lazarus and Gus. “Say hello to our new friends.” A pair of women greeted her.

“Who are they?”

“They claim they’re here on behalf of the xenos.”

“Ahhh. Help me up.”

Althea limped over to them, favouring her left leg. Ceres looked … dorky. She was tall and thin with a large nose. But her most notable feature was her giant mop of hair. It had been cut to neatly frame her face, but the effect reminded Althea more of a lander’s cockpit was framed by the rest of the craft. She must be an off-worlder. Althea had been on Pickman for months and not seen anyone affecting that style. She walked with a dancer’s grace and exuded confidence that was thrown in disarray by her strange drab garments.

Hippolyta, much shorter, looked dangerous. Dressed in matte black, she was compact and confident, with a sword slung over her back and a large bulpup autogun hanging from her belt. Her apparent strength seemed odd also, compared with her grey hair and the clear weathering of her skin. Althea would have to watch out for this one.

“I hear we have you to thank for being alive,” Althea said.

“Not so,” Ceres responded, smiling. “Your team fought well. We very nearly did not need to intervene at all.”

“Need to intervene? You mean, you were watching us?”

“Yes. The Watcher sent us to ensure that you acquitted yourself as promised.”

Althea felt her blood starting to boil. “Why didn’t you help earlier? We barely survived as long as we did.”

“Our mission was to assess your worth. If you seemed useful, but were threatened, we had license to step in.”

“If you had intervened a little earlier, I might still be in one piece.” Althea gestured down at her body – her flak armour was covered in blood.

“We are not your caretakers. Should you not have proved your worth, we would have let you perish.”

Hippolyta spoke up. “We should make haste. More will come soon.”

“Good to know.” Althea said to Ceres. She looked over at Gus, who had just finished tying the purestrain’s two clawed hands to his belt. It looked as if he had taken them off at the wrist with a chainsword. The front of his tunic was covered in blue ichor.

He smiled. “This is an auspicious day. The Emperor smiles upon us.”

“Hippolyta is correct. We should leave.” Doc said, sucking hard on his rebreather.

They fell in behind Hippolyta and walked out.

Gus fell into step beside her. “You sent me back to go help Doc and Lazarus.”

“Yes. Those three-arms are more powerful than the thugs I was facing.”

“You nearly died.”

“We had to take risks.”

“Althea, you nearly died and our flank collapsed.” Althea started to protest but he continued. “It would have, if those two newcomers hadn’t come. Then we would have been cut up.” He said, using her slang against her. That shut her up.

“We generally let you call the shots, but you’re not invincible and you need to do better. Not everything moves like a man, these things always know how to get behind us. I’m glad you survived. Glad we all survived.”

They walked back to the cutter in silence.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

They made it to the lander without further incident and packed into the cargo hold. Ceres and Hippolyta climbed into the front next to a Sunguard pilot. Althea wasn’t quite used to the Sunguard tabs yet, but he looked like a lieutenant at least.

Hippolyta walked into the hold and placed a box on the floor. She removed the lid and they saw a touchstone. An image of the eldar xenos shimmered into being above the stone.

“I’m told that you did an excellent job.”

“Couldn’t do it without your henchmen,” Lazarus muttered. Apparently not quiet enough for the xenos to miss it.

“We manage the lairs, and occasionally they get big enough that we need to cull them. You should not feel ashamed – this lair was long overdue for a culling.” He responded.

“You ‘manage’ them?” Doc asked.

“Yes, we will use them in our fight against the Great Devourer.”

“How?”

“It is beyond your ken. Just know that they must not be too weak, nor too strong. So we cull periodically. You did an excellent job on this culling. Your first culling.”

“And what do the bloodwraiths have to do with them?”

“Our pets are a separate matter. They must be protected, as they protect us. You will see in time.”

“What now?” Lazarus asked.

“You have proven your worth. Now we move forward.” The xenos’ image shimmered and then disappeared.

Lazarus leaned forward and yelled into the cockpit. “How long until we get back to the safehouse?”

“We will not be going to your safehouse.” Ceres responded.

“We must go back, my research is there.” Doc protested.

“The safehouse was burnt down. There is nothing left to go to.”

“By the light of the Emperor.” Doc leaned back into his seat and closed his eyes.

“We are taking you to the eldar.”

Althea’s stomach tied itself into knots. I cannot let them put us on the wrong side of the Vox.

Althea leaned forward, “Your xenos made us a deal. We would torch a nest and bring him back a claw, and he wouldn’t turn our hideout into a warzone. He’s breaking his end of the bargain.”

“The deal was that he would not kill you. Your lodgings were not included.”

Althea conceded the point. This Ceres sounded like a magistrate and that wasn’t a line of reasoning that she was going to win. It was worth a shot. “Regardless, the deal did not include our eternal fealty. Take us to Olivia.”

The others looked up at her. Lazarus, the only one on her side of the hold, leaned in and whispered “What do they know about her?”

She waved him quiet. It was a good question though. She knew they knew of Olivia, since the xenos had mentioned her by name. But she was gambling that they knew much more.

“Why would we do that?” Jackpot.

“Why does your master want us?”

“I’m the one asking the questions here.” Althea couldn’t see Ceres, but she could hear the annoyance creep into her voice. She was used to being obeyed.

“Fine, I’ll spell it out,” she said, unafraid that she might be making an enemy. “Your master wants us because he wants allies in his war. We’re just four soldiers. If he wants allies, he wants our boss on his side.”

“And?”

“Let us talk to Olivia and we’ll get her, and our boss, onside.” She was met with silence from the cockpit.

“You think you can do that?”

The others looked at her searchingly. “Yes,” she said. Truthfully, she had no idea. But she knew that it was their only chance to keep the vox on their side.

“Sure enough that you’ll kill Olivia if she won’t agree?”

“Yes.”

She looked around the cargo hold and the others were staring at her. Gus’ mouth was hanging open (although he had really taken a beating, so he might just be out of it). She pointed at herself, as if to say “I’ve got this.” She hoped Gus trusted her to make the right decision they would have to follow her lead if this was going to work out. The last thing I need is one of them to play hero.

Then she leaned back and closed her eyes. She felt their eyes on her, but she did her best to ignore it. She started to count her breathing the way she used to before a big race.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Sunguard Lieutenant led them to a hab in what seemed to be a good block. It seemed Olivia did well enough for herself. He knocked on the door.

The door slid open. Olivia’s eyebrows rose as she scanned their motley crew and the Lieutenant, who she clearly recognized. Althea thought she recognized the look on Olivia’s face. It reminded her of prey who was trying to figure out if it should bolt or if maybe, if it stayed still enough, the predator wouldn’t see it.

“Please come in. Armand, good to see you. Doc, Lazarus, Gus,” she said. “Althea.”

Althea had to hand it to her, she was handling it well. She led them into her hab and offered them some caffeine, as if this house visit was the most normal thing in the world.

“So, I went by the … flat.” Olivia ventured. “What happened?”

The men turned and looked at Althea. Typical.

“I think Armand should explain that.” Althea said.

“Arson.” Armand said around a cookie he had stolen from one of the cupboards. Huh. He looks quite at home.

“I see.”

“We left it whole and thought we would be going back to it,” Althea said.

Olivia’s eyes narrowed at her. “Did you?”

“Yes.”

“What do you want?” Olivia looked angry.

“We need to speak to the Voice.”

Now Olivia looked angry and scared. But she didn’t respond.

Lazarus responded to the unspoken challenge. “They already knew where to find you, Olivia. We didn’t lead them here, they led us here.” Thank you Lazarus.

“We need to speak to him. Their boss,” Althea indicated Ceres, Hippolyta and Armand, “has some information the Vox needs to know.”

“You can tell me.”

“Look Olivia, I know you don’t like me.” Althea said. “But their boss has information on this Great Devourer. Apparently it’s coming. Now I know my place, and I get the sense that this is big information. Much bigger than me, and much bigger than you. The type of information that the Voice needs to hear. This can only be the Voice’s decision. Not mine and not yours.”

Olivia stared at her and the dislike in her eyes was unmistakable. It was clear her life had just been flipped upside down and it appeared that she blamed Althea for it. Althea would have felt bad for her if she wasn’t such a cutting tool.

“I’d bet my reputation on it.”

“Reputation?” Olivia spat. “You’d be betting both of our lives on it.” She was silent a moment longer.


“I’ll arrange a meeting.”

Monday, July 10, 2017

Mathhammer - CHAINAXE vs. CHAINSWORD

I've had the opportunity to get in a few games of 8th edition now (love it so far) and I've found myself wondering if chainswords were better than the chainaxes I paid for. So I thought I would do a bit of mathhammering and figure out what was what.

I've set out my math below (the probabilities are for "to hit", "to wound", then failed armour save) and then drawn conclusions below that. If you don't like math, you can jump ahead to the conclusions heading.

Berzerker w/ chainsword (WS3+, S5, 0 Rend):

vs T4, 2+ save = 2/3 * 2/3 * 1/6 = 2/27 wounds per attack
vs T5, 2+ save = 2/3 * 1/2 * 1/6 = 1/18 wounds per attack
vs T6, 2+ save = 2/3 * 1/3 * 1/6 = 1/27 wounds per attack
vs T7, 2+ save = 2/3 * 1/3 * 1/6 = 1/27 wounds per attack

vs T4, 3+ save = 2/3 * 2/3 * 1/3 = 4/27 wounds per attack
vs T5, 3+ save = 2/3 * 1/2 * 1/3 = 2/18 wounds per attack
vs T6, 3+ save = 2/3 * 1/3 * 1/3 = 2/27 wounds per attack
vs T7, 3+ save = 2/3 * 1/3 * 1/3 = 2/27 wounds per attack

vs T4, 4+ save = 2/3 * 2/3 * 1/2 = 2/9 wounds per attack
vs T5, 4+ save = 2/3 * 1/2 * 1/2 = 1/6 wounds per attack
vs T6, 4+ save = 2/3 * 1/3 * 1/2 = 1/9 wounds per attack
vs T7, 4+ save = 2/3 * 1/3 * 1/2 = 1/9 wounds per attack

vs T4, 5+ save = 2/3 * 2/3 * 2/3 = 8/27 wounds per attack
vs T5, 5+ save = 2/3 * 1/2 * 2/3 = 2/9 wounds per attack
vs T6, 5+ save = 2/3 * 1/3 * 2/3 = 4/27 wounds per attack
vs T7, 5+ save = 2/3 * 1/3 * 2/3 = 4/27 wounds per attack

vs T4, 6+ save = 2/3 * 2/3 * 5/6 = 10/27 wounds per attack
vs T5, 6+ save = 2/3 * 1/2 * 5/6 = 5/18 wounds per attack
vs T6, 6+ save = 2/3 * 1/3 * 5/6 = 5/27 wounds per attack
vs T7, 6+ save = 2/3 * 1/3 * 5/6 = 5/27 wounds per attack

Berzerker w/ chainaxe (WS3+, S6, -1 Rend):

vs T4, 2+ save = 2/3 * 2/3 * 1/3 = 4/27 wounds per attack
vs T5, 2+ save = 2/3 * 2/3 * 1/3 = 4/27 wounds per attack
vs T6, 2+ save = 2/3 * 1/2 * 1/3 = 2/18 wounds per attack
vs T7, 2+ save = 2/3 * 1/3 * 1/3 = 2/27 wounds per attack

vs T4, 3+ save = 2/3 * 2/3 * 1/2 = 4/18 wounds per attack
vs T5, 3+ save = 2/3 * 2/3 * 1/2 = 4/18 wounds per attack
vs T6, 3+ save = 2/3 * 1/2 * 1/2 = 1/6 wounds per attack
vs T7, 3+ save = 2/3 * 1/3 * 1/2 = 1/9 wounds per attack

vs T4, 4+ save = 2/3 * 2/3 * 2/3 = 8/27 wounds per attack
vs T5, 4+ save = 2/3 * 2/3 * 2/3 = 8/27 wounds per attack
vs T6, 4+ save = 2/3 * 1/2 * 2/3 = 2/9 wounds per attack
vs T7, 4+ save = 2/3 * 1/3 * 2/3 = 4/27 wounds per attack

vs T4, 5+ save = 2/3 * 2/3 * 5/6 = 10/27 wounds per attack
vs T5, 5+ save = 2/3 * 2/3 * 5/6 = 10/27 wounds per attack
vs T6, 5+ save = 2/3 * 1/2 * 5/6 = 5/18 wounds per attack
vs T7, 5+ save = 2/3 * 1/3 * 5/6 = 5/27 wounds per attack

vs T4, 6+ save = 2/3 * 2/3 = 4/9 wounds per attack
vs T5, 6+ save = 2/3 * 2/3 = 4/9 wounds per attack
vs T6, 6+ save = 2/3 * 1/2 = 1/3 wounds per attack
vs T7, 6+ save = 2/3 * 1/3 = 2/9 wounds per attack

Now for the comparison in each fight activation, a berzerker will have 3 attacks with a chainsword and 2 with a chainaxe, so each model will do the following number of wounds:

vs T4, 2+ save = 6/27 (0.22) w/ CS and 8/27 (0.30) w/ CA - CHAINAXE WINS
vs T5, 2+ save = 3/18 (0.17) w/ CS and 8/27 (0.30) w/ CA - CHAINAXE WINS
vs T6, 2+ save = 3/27 (0.11) w/ CS and 4/18 (0.22) w/ CA - CHAINAXE WINS
vs T7, 2+ save = 3/27 (0.11) w/ CS and 4/27 (0.15) w/ CA - CHAINAXE WINS

vs T4, 3+ save = 12/27 (0.44) w/ CS and 8/18 (0.44) w/ CA - EVEN
vs T5, 3+ save = 6/18 (0.33) w/ CS and 8/18 (0.44) w/ CA - CHAINAXE WINS
vs T6, 3+ save = 6/27 (0.22) w/ CS and 2/6 (0.33) w/ CA - CHAINAXE WINS
vs T7, 3+ save = 6/27 (0.22) w/ CS and 2/9 (0.22) w/ CA - EVEN

vs T4, 4+ save = 6/9 (0.67) w/ CS and 16/27 (0.59) w/ CA - CHAINSWORD WINS
vs T5, 4+ save = 3/6 (0.5) w/ CS and 16/27 (0.59) w/ CA - CHAINAXE WINS
vs T6, 4+ save = 3/9 (0.33) w/ CS and 4/9 (0.44) w/ CA - CHAINAXE WINS
vs T7, 4+ save = 3/9 (0.33) w/ CS and 8/27 (0.30) w/ CA - CHAINSWORD WINS

vs T4, 5+ save = 24/27 (0.89) w/ CS and 20/27 (0.74) w/ CA - CHAINSWORD WINS
vs T5, 5+ save = 6/9 (0.67) w/ CS and 20/27 (0.74) w/ CA - CHAINAXE WINS
vs T6, 5+ save = 12/27 (0.44) w/ CS and 10/18 (0.56) w/ CA - CHAINAXE WINS
vs T7, 5+ save = 12/27 (0.44) w/ CS and 10/27 (0.37) w/ CA - CHAINSWORD WINS

vs T4, 6+ save = 30/27 (1.11) w/ CS and 8/9 (0.89) w/ CA - CHAINSWORD WINS
vs T5, 6+ save = 15/18 (0.83) w/ CS and 8/9 (0.89) w/ CA - CHAINAXE WINS
vs T6, 6+ save = 15/27 (0.56) w/ CS and 2/3 (0.67) w/ CA - CHAINAXE WINS
vs T7, 6+ save = 15/27 (0.56) w/ CS and 4/9 (0.44) w/ CA - CHAINSWORD WINS

CONCLUSIONS

Some interesting results to analyze.  The first (and the most obvious IMO) is that the chainaxe is better against against 2+ armour.  That is because each attack is now TWICE as likely to make it through the armour. The margin of betterness becomes even higher against T5/T6 because of the chainaxes other benefit (the +1S).

When looking at all of the other results, the chainsword tends to do better in the extremes where the chainsword's extra attack outweigh's the aggregate benefits from the chainaxe (being the extra point of strength (which is useless against T4 and T7) and the -1 rend (which is less useful when the enemy's armour is shitter)). After reviewing the math, it made sense to me that the chainaxe upgrade only costs 1 point - of the 16 scenarios where the opponent has 3+ armour or worse, the chainaxe won 8, the chainsword won 6, and they tied on two.

Interestingly enough, once you ignore 2+ armour saves, the decision appears to be more connected to toughness than armour. Look at T4 guys - the chainsword wins twice and they're tied the final time - the axe never wins. Same with T7.  Compare that with T5/T6, where the chainaxe always wins.

Basically, if you think you're going to be facing mostly T5 and T6 (or 2+ armour), it's worth it to use your chainaxe, otherwise keep the chainsword.

Or you could do what I plan on doing for my tournament armies - which is to have a couple of chainaxes (maybe 33% of the unit) and then remove casualties depending on what's on the field opposite me. That way the list can be more balanced and I can adapt to the circumstances.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Mission Transition: Dancing with the Xenos Devil

Father,
In a few days it will be the 6th anniversary of your crash.
It’s been almost a year since I’ve written to you. It feels like an eternity. These last two weeks in particular have been more jarring than any since I left the Navy.
I’ve been stuck in bed for a week now. My medtech says I’ll make a full recovery if I rest and give my body time to heal.  That’s time I don’t have.  I need to be better. I need to be training.  I need to be moving.
I can picture your reaction. Althea, one thing at a time.  As your father’s daughter, you will never face a challenge your will cannot overcome.” I try, my father. But my spirit is exhausted.
I find myself caught up in schemes. Risking my life to achieve unknowable ends. I think it will get worse. I’ve killed so much. I’ve killed so much of myself. In the Navy my uniform was a shield against doubt. Now I lack that shield, and I’m full of doubt.
I know you would tell me to leave. I cannot. I do this for you. I was sent a vidtape shortly after I joined the Navy. A very disturbing scene, involving you. I don’t know how they got it. I don’t know how it exists. All you built - your reputation, your business. It would be ruined. As my last gift to you, I hope to prevent that tape from ever making it to the Nobles’ Ledger on Neroter.
I miss you father.
I’ve tried to make you proud. I’ve tried to push and achieve, but I haven’t found a direction. Now someone has given me a task, but how can I know if it’s worth fighting for? Is this task just a chance at redemption for you? If I redeem you, will I myself be damned? I’m tortured by not knowing.
In a few more days I should be able to walk around, and a few days after that I should be able to begin practicing again. I still have your gun. Thank you for using a soldier’s gun instead of a showman’s gun - it’s saved my life more than once.
I know you weren’t perfect. I’ve had six years to think about it, grow older and hopefully wiser. I know you put your business first, but you protected me when you could. From mother and my brothers.
Now all I have of you is your gun, your scribebox and your legacy.
I’m afraid this year’s anniversary prayer will have to be private instead of at a chapel’s altar. I’m a wanted woman in this world. I hope your spirit forgives me.
Love, your faithful daughter, Althea.
Althea signed her name and put quill down. She sighed and rested her head down on the desk.
She got up suddenly, knocking her chair over.  Her mind seethed.
Cut you father! I can’t do this anymore.  You neglected us.  You neglected me.  
She paused, trying to slow her rapid breathing.
You always cared more about your business.  We needed you. Why couldn’t you see that?  Or did you see that and not care?
I still love you.  You abandoned me.

Althea's father's combat shotgun.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Althea sprinted down the hallway. She strained her ears but couldn’t hear anything other than the pounding of her feet on the tile and the pant of her breath. He had a 5 minute head start. He could be anywhere. But she knew the twists and turns ahead of her as well as anyone. He wouldn’t be just anywhere - he would have picked a spot where she wouldn’t be able to sneak up on him.
A copper light filtered down, showing the rust on the walls.  This hab block hadn’t been properly maintained in centuries.
Five cutting minutes! Frag it. There’ll be surprises. One of the two best ambush spots was straight ahead as the corridor branched out. This was the only entrance into this side of the Nest and they both knew she wouldn’t take the long way around.
She caught a glint of light on a wire at knee height. 
Hah. She started to pick up speed. He knows I’m coming.  I gotta take this fast - be a hard target to hit. 
She launched through the air and over the wire. 
She planted her hands on the ground and pivoted into a backflip.  CRACK. Lasgun. She heard tiling shatter as she spun through the air and made it past the passageway.  She kept racing down the corridor.
He would be moving his position now. She just needed to keep him moving, not let him settle in again.  She knew the odds were with him if he managed to dig in again.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
She crept along slowly. She had him. Around this corner…
She heard the slightest scraping sound behind her and whipped her head around.
He was there with a piece of piping, swinging it at her head.
She launched herself backwards. She managed to dodge the pipe, but she wasn’t graceful about it, spiraling out against the wall.  It was all she could do to keep her feet.
He came at her again. Too fast.
She dodged. Barely.
He was getting a full head of steam. It was going to be impossible to stop him soon.
She reached for her laspistol. She had been practicing in her room for a month. It came out in one fluid motion and was in her hand almost before he realized she was grabbing for it. His eyes widened in surprise. Frankly, she had surprised herself.  I hope the power level is still set correctly.
She leveled the gun at him. “It’s over.”
She squeezed the trigger, but he shifted quickly to the left and the bolt of energy went crackling by him.  NO!
He brought the pipe up and connected it solidly with the laspistol, ripping it out of her hand and sending it flying up in the air. Althea’s eyes followed the gun’s trajectory straight up, but he was quicker. He leapt at her with the pipe.
It was all she could do to avoid the blow, leaping out of the way and landing on a heap on the ground.
He caught the gun on its way down and leveled it at her. “You’re right. It’s over.”
“Frag it,” she yelled. “You cutty bastard!”
Lazarus threw back his head and laughed.
“Got you again. Face it, I’m better than you.”
Althea took his offered hand and let him haul her to her feet. “You’re better,” she said. “For now.”
He shrugged. “You might be right. I was impressed with that quick draw. If you had just shot me instead of pausing to gloat, you probably would have had me.”
She smiled ruefully at that. “How can you blame me? That’s the first time it’s ever worked in front of another person.”
Lazarus laughed again. “I’m not blaming you, just pointing out that you’re your own worst enemy.”
“But I dodged that pipe what, three, four times?”
“Don’t forget the lasblast at the beginning. Like I said the last time, you’re getting better.”
She preened under his compliments.  They had been out here for two weeks while he trained her. She knew she had so much to learn about everything, but they had been working on her speed and her ability to dodge – she had to stay alive long enough to learn everything else.
“Who knows,” he continued. “Maybe one of these days you’ll get good enough that I’ll be out here training my skills to keep up.
She punched him, but grinned despite herself.
They walked back to the safehouse in silence. The abandoned hab-block they called the Nest lay past some warrens of dubious safety.
They made it back to the safehouse as twilight was descending.  She wondered, not for the first time, whose safehouse it was and whether the owner knew they were staying there.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“This is heresy!”
“Look Gus,” Doc Geryk continued, “you need to calm down.”
Althea looked over at Lazarus.  Poor guy.
“Calm down!?!” Gus sputtered, “Only the fool is calm in the face of heresy!
Althea’s cooking skills barely stretched to fixing dehyd soup, so when Lazarus had shown any inclination to fix food she had willingly abdicated all responsibility.  Hoping to buoy flagging spirits, Lazarus had spent the afternoon slaving in their sorry excuse for a kitchen (his words). It had looked good and tasted even better than it looked. She was rather impressed.
Of course, that was overshadowed by the scene in front of her.
Doc Geryk was doing his best to keep their voices down and their conversation private, but there was no controlling Gus.  They could hear him loud and clear from the other side of the room.
“Milk curds with fish! Imperial Creed forbids dairy during the Feast of Vernon!”
Poor Lazarus. It looked as if every comment was a stab wound to the chest. She leaned forward. “Laz, it really is quite good.” He wasn’t listening to her.
“Gus, you don’t have to eat it.” Doc continued.
“You would have me sit by while heresy takes root?! Next you would have me hand the heretic my hammer for his next dark sacrifice!”
It was breaking her heart.  Nobody had cooked for her since ten years ago, when one of the cooks had made custard eggs for Candlemass because they were her favourite. Finally someone had made a delicious meal and it was being ruined.
“Gus, this is hardly a dark sacrifice. He made us dinner.”
“Knowing that to eat it would be a sin in the Emperor’s eyes! He is trying to damn us!”
That’s it. “You cutting bastard, what the frik is wrong with you!?”
Gus turned his piercing gaze on her.  His eyes were tainted with madness.
“You too! You’re in on it!” He took a step forward.
Doc Geryk stood in between them. “Althea,… “ he started.
“What the frik is wrong with you?” She said. “You haven’t been acting normally.”
“How could I act normally with heresy right under my very nose?!
She reached down and grabbed her plate. “Imagine the heresy if you had fish and dairy running down your tunic and soaking in your hair.” He took a step backwards and a look of horror spread over his face.
“You wouldn’t.”
“Emperor guide my aim. Don’t test me.”
Gus abruptly turned and fled towards the bunkroom. His mind is just cut right now. What is wrong with him?
Althea looked around.  Lazarus had left too.
“Althea, why do you antagonize him?”
“Lazo was just trying to help.”
“You know the Emperor’s light blazes brightly enough in him to dim some of his other thoughts.”
“No, Doc.” She shook her head. “I think the Emperor’s light is dimming. He hasn’t been the same since that night at the Red Eyes’ depot.”
Doc Geryk sighed and waved his hand, conceding the point. “I just think there are better ways to defuse Gus’… piety.”
“That’s not piety. That’s one of our crazy teammates undermining one of our dependable ones. You need to figure out what’s wrong with him.”
“The touchstones are beyond all my knowledge and reasoning. I cannot discern their function.”
“Keep trying!” She said, with a little more force than was necessary. It wasn’t Doc’s fault.
Althea sat down and looked at her plate, no longer interested in the food.
She heard Doc Geryk shuffle off towards his study.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Althea had made it halfway through her plate when a bloodcurdling shriek cut through her thoughts.
It had come from Doc’s study.
She grabbed her laspistol, sprinted through the safehouse and burst through the door to Doc’s study. In front of Doc Geryk was a shimmering apparition. It was floating a foot above the floor. It was tall with long, lithe limbs. It had long flowing robes and delicate interlocking armour and it turned to face her,  long hair shimmering about its form but not quite hiding long pointed ears. Its grace was unmistakable. This was an Eldar. She thought it was male, but she wasn’t quite sure. She hadn’t seen one since her Navy days when they had fought off Eldarii pirates. She raised her laspistol at it.

The xenos ghost of christmas future pays our heroes a visit

“Your weapon is useless.” His musical voice sounded like gentle rain.
She ignored him. Her skin crawled with psychic power being harnessed and keeping her gun pointed gave her a measure of comfort.
She heard Lazarus and Gustavius barrel in after her, nearly knocking her over.
“Who are you?” She demanded.
“That is not important.”
“I will decide what’s important. What the cut are you doing here?”
“Trying to decide what type of nuisance you are. You have stolen my property. But you may yet make amends.”
“What property?”
“Why, my poor stones.”
“He is referring to the touchstones we procured.” Doc said.
“Those are yours?”
“Yes. And I will have them back.”
“They are ours now. What are those touchstones doing to the people of Pickman?”
“Heresy…” Gus muttered.
“Why are you doing it?”
“We do this to save you, and everyone.”
“Your stones are poisoning people’s heads and your monsters are killing people.”
“We are doing only what we must. An unspeakable horror is upon us. The Great Devourer approaches, and we act where your people do not. We act to save life, and freedom and thought and beauty.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Your leaders ignore this peril and doom us all.”
“You seek to save the planet by burning it?”
He considered this for a second. “Why do you do nothing while the planet burns around you?”
Althea was taken aback. “We are working to save this planet.”
“Are you?”
The simplicity of the question struck a chord in her.  She didn’t truly know. They had done what the vox (and Olivia) had asked of them. She had no idea what their true aims were.
“Serve me and help me save you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Olivia and your patron know not what they do. Only we can save the sector.”
He continued, louder now, in a voice that reverberated through her head. “Serve us and help us save the world.”
The Eldar turned and looked at Geryk, talking quickly now, and staring.
“Geryk, we share a great enemy. Rest assured that our ultimate goal is to confound the Great Devourer. You are wise to fear it. You are unwise to avoid it. We can help you become the hunters that will be needed not now, but next year, and the year after that. Your masters up to now have not rewarded your commitment and your tenacity. I have at least the honesty to admit to you: you are disposable, but you can be useful now for all of your kind, and mine.”
Geryk’s face was a mask of emotion. It was clear he was deeply affected by what the xenos was saying.
“Gustavius, I know I am asking you to break oaths that have served you well, and served your people well. I also know that your understanding of humanity is more nuanced than some high-minded and rigid forms demand. Is it your belief that He on Terra demands the obliteration of this sector? Can only humans have solutions to a crisis born outside the very galaxy? A new age is coming, and the Eldar will stand with Humanity here, to protect a bounty that lies hidden. Here among the Ghoul Stars you drift upon a battlefield that has raged since your Dark Age. The Emperor’s light will never fall here if we cannot learn how the Swarm behaves. Here, we have the antibodies that might begin to turn the tide. All that is required is your patience, diligence and grit.
Next, the xenos turned to her and fixed its eyes upon her very soul. “Althea, the retribution you seek is nothing at all. It is meaningless. Your own father trafficked with my most blasted Cousins. His malfeasance should be exposed, or his name be never more than a sham. Your patron has certainly damned you, and only we can save you, make you really human in a way that a name could never achieve. Indeed, you can find a new name should want it, if you have the boldness to take it for yourself. You are lucky: you need not tread so lightly on the skeins as I must, and thus may live a full life, without the terrible burden we suffer.
Althea was stunned. It was talking about her father.
“Lazarus, You understand this all already, I believe. There is nothing to be gained from sentimentality if it bars one from effective action. This is a job worth doing.”
“WHAT THE CUT ARE YOU SAYING ABOUT MY FATHER?!?” Althea raised the laspistol and shot a bolt right into its eye. The bolt passed harmlessly through the apparition and scorched the rear wall of the study.
“You heard me. You already surpass your legacy and you are held back by ties to the past.”
“You’re LYING.” Althea fired again. Twice. Lazarus reached over and took the pistol out of her hand.
“Look instead to your true heart. You believe.”
That was perhaps the scariest part - that a part was only too ready to believe that it told the truth of her father.
“How can we fight the Great Devourer?” Geryk asked.
“We can show you how. There is no place you can run, you must take a stand.”
“Whaddaya want us to do?” Lazarus asked.
“I need a token of good faith. I need you to prove that you will help us, serve us. There is a cell near the Face where a genestealer cult is operating. We need you to go and return with the claw of a genestealer.”
“Why would we believe you?” Althea asked.
“Your friend is sick.”
Althea blinked as the pieces fell into place. Gustavius. She looked at him. Gus was staring blankly, pleadingly at the xenos.
“When was the last time you ate?”
“Cannot remember.”
“How have you slept?”
“Barely.”
“Do you dream of fire and blood? Of creatures from your worst nightmare.”
“Yes.” He whispered.
This explains Gus. Althea thought. But nothing else
“Why is he sick?” Althea asked.
“His blood has been mixed with the blood of our Pack. Those you know as bloodwraiths.”
“What is this sickness?” Doc asked.
“He will eventually turn into one of them. More properly, they will turn into him.”
A silence fell as the group digested this.
Trying to regain control of the situation, Althea asked, “Why don’t you kill this genestealer yourself?”
“We need a gesture of good faith from you.”
“We need a gesture of good faith too. Heal our friend.”
The xenos considered this, and then nodded.  A blue light came out of his outstretched hand and a cloud seem to float out of Gus’ mouth in one long exhale.  Gus slumped momentarily before looking back up.
“How do you feel?” Althea asked.
“Hungry.” Gus got up and turned to leave. “I need food.”
“Wait!” Doc Geryk hurried and grabbed Gus before he could leave. “I must inspect you first.” Doc peered into Gus’ eyes and down his throat and brought out his scanner and passed it over him. “He’s healthy.” Gus practically knocked down the Doc on his way out of the room.
“Now you will do as I request?”
“How exactly did you see this working?”
“There are Sun Guard waiting for you outside. They will take you there in a cutter and you will retrieve the creature for me.”
Althea looked around. Lazarus was nodding and Doc was still looking at his scanner. She sensed that Lazarus had been won over. She had heard Doc’s views on genestealers before and knew what his decision would be.
She wasn’t as deadly as Lazarus, as righteous as Gustavius or as useful with a needle and a stimpack as Geryk, but she felt useful to the group nonetheless. She felt that the others looked to her for guidance when the bullets started flying. She supposed she might be their leader.
And she felt a certain amount of loyalty to these three cutting bastards, and wanted to make the right choice by them. She knew Olivia and the vox had been holding out information on them. Probably lying to them too. Just as she knew that this xenos wasn’t telling them the whole truth. Probably lying to them too.
“I assume it went without saying, but let me be clear.  The Sun Guard will either take you out of here in a cutter to the cult, or they will take you out of here in boxes.”
The threat rang true, but she wasn’t that worried. She knew this xenos underestimated them. Everyone had so far.
Ultimately, it came down to trusting her instinct and the decision became a lot easier once she put aside concerns about Olivia and the vox and what they would think. Her decision boiled down to one simple question - fight the Sun Guard, who might be her enemy, or fight the genestealer cult, who were definitely her enemy.
“Tell them to prep the cutter, we’re going in.”

            They could deal with Olivia and the vox later.