The ground vibrates with the pile-driver growl of low orbit thrusters. Quall grits his teeth at the sudden nerves clamouring through his blood; tamps the impending flashback down, hard.
Outside the light is brown, thin suns filtering through urban dust, cutting through the dilapidated stacks of prefab housing rising like piles of uneven shale, like a gargantuan card deck mid-shuffle. Jamming on a filtration mask, he races down an alley, skids to a stop along the cinderblocks. Listens, quick glance down one direction, pushing off in the other. Forcing the panic down, breath ragged in the filters.
Rust flakes thrum off each iron step he pounds up, expanded steel grating bolted to the side of a nameless stack, each step ringing as he climbs higher and higher. Citizens duck out of his way, eyes wide, animal fear trying to claw its way out.
Shoves into a dim hallway, doors slamming at his approach, no one wanting to be a witness. At his door, hands shaking, keycard jangling on its thin chain, just trying to keep that panic on simmer, away from full boil. The mag lock beeps, he bursts in, yelling, ‘Where’s your sister?!’
The boy, face wet with tears.
Quall bolts into the bedroom. ‘Where’s your mother?!’ Dives under the bed – trunk’s gone. White heat grips his heart. Realizes it’s already on the bed. Open.
‘Dad, what’s happening?’
The trunk is empty except for several chunks of clunky-looking weapon parts. Plus two oblong 40mm shells.
‘Go find your aunt!’ His hands pick up this piece, fit it to that piece, third clacking into place.
Two grenades. Thunk. Thunk. Weapon hot. What can you do with two bloody grenades?
Quall rounds on his son, gun in hand. ‘Get outta here!!’
His son shrinking, Quall’s heart wanting to explode, his mind wanting to leave,
to wake up, pleading for this to just be a nightmare. Reaches out, touches the boy’s face. ‘Go to your aunt’s.’
And then he’s out the door, running, hefting the black metal gun. Just like the old days.
Quall runs down another alley, chest heaving, lungs burning, something in his eyes, salt sting, the micro ventilators on his mask clogging with sweat and dust. Grinding clanks, pulsing roar of massive horsepower ricocheting down dry canyons of stacked flats, clapboard warehouses, accretions of industrial detritus hollowed out and burrowed through by countless years of humanity mining out a living on this forgotten rock.
Except it isn’t forgotten, every god be damned.
A woman four blocks back swore the Taurox was headed west, toward the dust hills, the shanty towns. The old welder two blocks over pointed out the little black ship on the sun today. Quall pushes that from his mind. Working his sweat- slicked grip on the grenade launcher, he lunges across the street, into a tunnel, hoping it’s the shortcut he thinks it is.
The six wheels on the dust-camo’ed Taurox sport heavy-lugged tires printed in off-world forges and hardened in the crucible of countless campaigns. The armored transport rumbles to a stop, reinforced hatches popping open, the driver’s cupola rising on pneumatic arms. Quall watches two figures dismount, black armor sashed with red, white hair flashing in the dust. Industrial cardboard and factory-rejected slabs of tin, iron, manganese webbed with perforated steel straps into makeshift housing units, hovels usually teeming with life, cooking smoke, conversation, arguments, fights – the hovels are silent as death.
Quall checks the safety on the grenade launcher, thumbs the sight bracket, works his sweat into the polymer grips. His eyes, sharp now, flick from the hulking personnel carrier to the twin Sisters and back. He starts downhill, tactical wheels turning somewhere behind his bloodshot eyes.
Approaching the Taurox from its blindside, a whining blast slices the ambiance, something bright cracking into the Sister furthest from Quall, her silhouette just a sizzling afterimage. Her body thuds in the dirt, smouldering.
Everything slows down.
Quall looks right, sees a woman in a micro-tornado of wafting scarves advancing with a glowing weapon in her arms – he knows its the plasma gun they had hidden under their bed for twenty five years.
He looks left, sees the Sister of Battle spinning in place, dropping to one knee, pistol thrusting – POP POP POP.
Pans right, watches his wife evaporate in a red mist amongst the flowing pale scarves.
The launcher slides into his shoulder. The site pops up, ranges metered in tiny etched arches down the corroded brass. The Sister comes into focus beyond the site, rolling to face him – THUNK!
The Sister splashes across the nearest hovel, gun hand, oddly intact, landing forlornly in the dirt. Her single shot blows out his knee, he sits abruptly, launcher still aiming, tracking right again, finding the cupola, the driver just a ballistic helmet trying to drop inside, trying to lower the hatch – THUNK! The cupola clangs shut after swallowing the grenade, a muffled whump rocking the Taurox just the tiniest bit.
“Elsbet Quall!!” He screams for his daughter, who appears at the edge of the Taurox’s cargo hatch, pale against the interior shadow.
“Dad?!” She’s running to him, pounding through the dirt. His heart is melting, he’s trying to channel all the love in the world to her, somehow.
She crashes to her knees at his side, “You’re bleeding, Dad!”
“Bet, you gotta run, you need to run!” Vision swimming, he sees movement behind her, another shape in the monstrous vehicle’s hatch.
Heavy black boots land in the dirt, buckled in polished silver. The flared hem of a leather coat rises and falls in the diesel-drenched air. Face partially obscured by a targeting servo mask with articulated fingers like an alien creature built from guilt and despair and black steel.
Elsbet, teeth gnashing, turns to face the Inquisitor. Her scream full of primal rage wells up and out and lances across the desert, her feet leaving the ground, body borne on the winds of the Warp as she summons … something …