Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Entombed VIII

Part 8 in the Entombed series. If you're anything like me, all this talk has left you a little bit antsy. Well, worry no more. This section gets back to the action in a big way. Hopefully you're as pleased with the results as I am.

     The streets outside the spaceport were a riot of color and activity. Vercingetorix had to activate his audiovox's filter to drown out the worst of the noise, but even then the cheering cacophony was louder than most battles. Vendors shouted advertisements for their wares, from simple foodstuffs to trinkets with the likenesses of saints. Priests shouted litanies of jubilation through vox-casters, their magnified voices echoing from the bronze domes of Nobilis's grandiose architecture. Pennants flew on every corner - the Imperium's flag, black with a golden Aquila; the skull-and-wings of the Imperial Guard; the fist and scales of the Adeptus Arbites; some locals even held hastily-sewn mockups of the Steel Revenants' own symbol, the skull gripped by a gauntlet. The sidewalks were packed with cheering people. Others waved from balconies and threw streamers and coins into the street.

     The Adeptus Arbites had cordoned off the impromptu parade route with sectional iron grates two meters tall. Some citizens stood with their faces or bodies pressed against the railings; others reached their hands through, and were shoved roughly back into the crowd by black-clad Arbites enforcers. One man even climbed over the grates and ran toward the procession, a rapturous expression of joy on his face. The Enforcer nearest the dreadnought, a woman named Helspeth, tackled the man and shoved her knee in the small of his back. She jabbed his neck with her shock maul, then hit him two or three more times to ensure he did not get up. The marines of the Steel Revenants did not even glance at the man as they passed.

     This is foolishness, my companion. Arrayed as they are, these humans make themselves targets, and they block our mobility should the enemy strike. My targeting arrays cannot filter out this many entities.

     "As far as they are concerned, Spirit, we are their salvation from certain doom. They had already accepted their fate, and we have delivered to them freedom. They do not realize that the fighting has not yet even begun." The column turned from the spaceport road to the main thoroughfare that ran straight through the heart of Nobilis. This road would lead them directly to the Arbites precinct.

     They could be fortifying their homes, barricading roads, building walls, making weapons! Instead they grow intoxicated and drive themselves into a frenzy. This energy is wasted, my companion. The Arbites should declare martial law and put an end to it.

     "Let them have their fun, Spirit. They will have much time for lamentation when the enemy is beating down their gates. Let them think that we are all that the legends have made us. It may be all the spark needed to ignite the flame of martyrdom in the hearts of these people."

     If you are so confident, my companion, then why do you watch the crowd so vigilantly?

     "Confidence is no excuse for laxity, Spirit. Idle hands are the playthings of the ruinous powers. Besides, if I do not look after you, they will undoubtedly give your body to some young pup more full of enthusiasm than sense. I cannot bear the thought of some damnfool neophyte, his head full of glory and his progenoids empty, stepping into some pothole and marring your paint."

     The road expanded into a broad plaza. In the center, a massive ornamental fountain sprayed jets of colored water dozens of feet into the air. Huge hab domes surrounded the space, and the ground was a dazzling jeweled mosaic of the Emperor.

     The Machine Spirit sent pleasant pulses of electricity through the sarcophagus. I am fond of your guidance, my companion. You do bring me to the most excellent battlefields. I am simply growing restless. I long for something to kill.

     Vercingetorix focused on one corner of his HUD. If he had lips, he would have frowned. "You may yet get your chance, Spirit. Amplify on the large dome, heading 055. Full-spectrum scan. Something is amiss." The Machine Spirit was already warming up the power coils on the machine's plasma guns. Power fields energized, wreathing the Dreadnought's fists in shimmering blue electricity. His vision narrowed and focused on the broad roof of a hab complex and began to shimmer as previously-unseen radiation became visible.

     There, my companion. You were correct. I have noted at least three other locations that may be troublesome. Something is casting ultraviolet shadows.

      "I will put an end to that." In one swift motion, Vercingetorix raised his right hand and unleashed a burst of plasma at the distorted space on the roof of the building. Green-white light flashed from his plasmaguns and hit something solid. A vaguely humanoid shape was briefly highlighted in blinding green luminescence, then the plasma burned through the roof and the blazing body fell into the hab-complex.

     Even as the first figure was burning, a dozen other forms coalesced seemingly from thin air. "Stealth suits!" shouted Sergeant Filos. "Get to cover!" At the same time, the closest members of the crowd turned to flee. They ran into those behind, who also panicked. Within seconds, the crowd was swirling like one enormous, terrified beast. The Enforcers accompanying the column rushed to the barricades blocking the street and began hauling them inward, forming a closed perimeter. Vercingetorix fired again, striking a second stealth suit in the leg. The suit pitched over and toppled from the roof. Then the suits leaped into the air, burst cannons spitting fire at the crowd indiscriminately. Crimson blood sprayed into the air and stained the pavement as dozens of fleeing civilians and several Arbites officers were cut down. Dozens of cloaked drones zoomed in low over the horizon, beneath the protective curtain of the city's air defense network.

     Vercingetorix's voice boomed across the plaza. "Citizens, take cover in the nearest building!" He increased the throttle on his body, running beyond the protective circle the Enforcers had created to interpose himself between the Tau and the fleeing Imperial citizens. The burst cannons dug thousands of tiny divots from the Dreadnought's formidable armour plating. "Brothers! Protect these people. We will show these aliens how the Emperor protects his own!"

     Very dramatic, my companion. But are they truly so important?

     Vercingetorix loosed shot after shot, swatting down alien drones like insects. "They are the Emperor's subjects. Their own defenders are crippled and broken. How will He watch over them if not through us?" He activated his vox-caster and spoke to his men. "Protecting the civilians is vital to our success. But even more than the civilians, we must make sure the air defenses are not taken offline. If we lose those, our battle will be lost before it begins."

     A stealth suit sprang from cover less than five meters from where Vercingetorix stood.  It fired its jets and jumped over the Dreadnought's head. Vercingetorix turned, trying to track the nimble Tau machine. His plasma guns spat beams of sunfire and carved enormous gouts from the facades in the plaza. The machine spirit angled his deflector plates to protect his vulnerable backside. Suddenly there was an incredible pain as his left leg went numb beneath him. The machine spirit cried out in wordless agony. Vercingetorix swept his arm out to catch himself, turning the pavement molten where the plasma beams hit it. He managed to arrest his motion as the stealth suit leveled its fusion gun directly at his sarcophagus. Vercingetorix shoved himself out of the way with all his strength and a burst of deadly energy crackled overhead. Inside the protective mantle of his sarcophagus, Vercingetorix's mortal form was battered mercilessly as his metal body jostled and shook. His machine spirit had stopped responding. Then the massive dreadnought crashed into a hab-dome and Vercingetorix passed out.

     He came to moments later. His suit detected ozone and seared metal, as though lightning had struck the dome against which the dreadnought lay. The Tau stealth suit was facedown on the ground. Standing over it, a triumphant grin visible beneath her black mask, was Helspeth, her shock maul raised high.

     "Are you alright, Lord Revenant? You took a good shake there."

     "I am... not sure. Give me a moment." He spoke to the machine spirit. "Spirit? The foe is dead. Is the leg usable, or did the damnable alien cripple it?"

     It burned a hole in the primary motive core. I have several redundant systems that will allow us to move. We must get back to the battle!

     It was a struggle, but Vercingetorix slowly picked himself up. He had to brace himself against the front of the nearest hab-dome, which cracked, then crumbled, beneath his massive weight. Most of the civilians had managed to evacuate, but more drones were pouring into the city, hunting for the domes where the flak guns were hidden. "I owe you my life, young woman. The machine conveys its gratitude as well. Ave Imperator."

     "That's twice you owe me now, m'lord. Imperator tuetur. Now let's get back in the fight. We've got a city to defend."

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