Deep in the bowels of Kulograd, production lines hum every hour of the day. It’s long, hard work, with no time to rest, though nobody complains. Most of them remember what it was like before they were picked for their strong arms, or keen eyes, or nimble fingers. All of them know that there are plenty of arms and eyes and fingers waiting in the dark beneath the habs when they need replacing. That’s what keeps Rallo Yat at the bench every day, bending steel into shape against the spiking pain in his shoulders. That’s what keeps the Bregan brothers screwing explosives to housings hours after their fingers are numb and chemical dust has tinged everything yellow. But that’s not what keeps Silas Prov there. Silas works because he is proud.
Tuck wire. Tighten cap. Pass along. Silas is proud of what he does because he knows it serves the Emperor. Tuck wire. Tighten cap. Pass along. It’s simple work, and he has no illusions that he’s some great hero like he sees on the factory’s casts. Tuck wire. Tighten cap. Pass along. But he knows that these shells will one day be fired from a tank cannon, fired at the enemies of mankind! Tuck wire. Tighten cap. Pass along. And he knows that the people firing those cannons will be heroes. Tuck wire. Tighten cap. Pass along. The way he sees it, the heroes rely on him to keep the guns firing. Tuck wire. Tighten cap. Pass along. And he will never let them down, he thinks, as he looks up to smile at the black and white battle playing out on the screen. Tuck wire. Pass along.
‘Load faster if you want to live, Briggs! And someone check on Loughlin; if she’s breathing, tell her it’s traditional to fire her gun now and then!’
Jan Cass laughed as Briggs cursed him from inside the tank. He didn’t blame the loader, he’d done that job, and he knew that by now, the man would be drenched in sweat just from sitting, never mind the labour of loading the cannon. The heat inside the tank was intense, and the six souls that crewed her would be pushed hard today if he was any judge of a battlefield. Jan took one last breath of the cool, misty air that wreathed his machine, before he descended into the furnace. It was his privilege as commander to pop the hatch, but he’d seen infantry shapes moving up past the silhouetted enemy armour, and he had no desire to make himself a sniper’s target. Glancing at the auspex display he smiled; eight enemy machines were arrayed against the three Imperial tanks. Knowing the state of the renegades’ armour and the way their tanks seemed to fight against their commanders’ control, he thought eight-to-three might be a fair fight. He laughed again as Artaloc’s Revenge trundled across the muddied field.
Throne of Courage went up in flames first. The tank that should have been to Cass’ right as they advanced had sped into the charge, that glory-hound Haight seeing an opportunity to break the arch-enemy’s haphazard formation. But the enemy armour turned in uncanny unity to meet the isolated advance. Cass’ blood ran cold as shell after shell tore through Haight’s machine, its single reply falling far to the left of the target. Quickly, he voxed Britt aboard Lady Violence, and they brought their machines level to allow as much cooperation as possible. The wreckage of Throne still burned brightly, and Cass saw enemy troopers pouring las- and auto-fire into the inferno, heads thrown back in laughter as they defiled the remains of the Imperial machine and her crew. He vowed to make them pay for that, and Briggs realised it was the first time he’d heard the old man speak without the hint of a smile in his voice.
As they advanced, it became clear that the Imperial tanks’ main weapons outranged the enemy guns, so both machines came to a halt and began to lay down fire. Flame blossomed from a renegade’s turret as Artaloc’s Revenge put a shell into their ammunition stores. Lady Violence claimed another, placing a shot at the joint between turret and cannon that put the enemy tank out of action, probably killing the crew in the same instant. The six surviving vehicles began to surge forwards in a wedge, clearly aiming to drive between the Imperials and destroy them one by one. Cass just thanked the Emperor that the enemy was easier to hit now. Both tanks bucked forwards, knowing that being caught stationary would doom them, and there was a barely audible click as Lady Violence’s left tread entered a depression in the field.
Shrapnel ripped up through her underbelly, flame and smoke gushing from where the mine’s payload struck essential systems. Jan was sure they were all dead or dying in there, and he prayed to the Emperor that it was quick. He faltered, wondering if he should add his own plea for a quick death, but he trusted his crew, and he trusted the Revenge. She was twice the tank of any other on the field, and she had fought through worse than this. Loughlin and Sorret’s heavy bolters opened up in harmony, and they could all hear Old Kal chanting a hymn as he lined up on the nearest enemy machine. Briggs joined the song as he loaded a high explosive shell into the breach. They could do this. If anyone could, it was them. For the Emperor.
The cannon burst as the loose-capped shell came apart, Kal and Briggs were incinerated immediately by the blast. Loughlin, Sorret and Tash were trapped, screaming, in the burning machine. Jan Cass cursed the shell, cursed this world, and cursed the enemy as he popped the hatch. Six war machines lumbered towards him, one man with a laspistol perched atop his dying tank. A last stand worthy of the ‘casts.
About the Author
Alex is an English teacher and aspiring writer who lives in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. While most of his gaming tends towards Age of Sigmar and Dungeons and Dragons, he is also a big fan of the world of 40k. Other than that, he spends most of his time playing guitar, planning lessons or going on walks.