The first thing that Mail heard was muted screaming and cries for help. He shook his head and cried out as a headache exploded in his skull with all the fury of the Emperors Wrath.
‘Fugging bastard hell’ he reached up and cradled his head with both hands. Carefully he flipped his darkened visor down and cracked an eye open. When the pounding didn’t worse he opened the other and glanced at the chrono.
Ten seconds. I’ve been out for ten seconds. The holo-vids always showed people being knocked and transported to unknown locations and then waking up hours later. Mail knew for a fact that this didn’t happen. If he had been unconscious for any longer then he would have been seriously worried about any side effects. As it was, he knew that the headache was a precursor to finding out whether or not he had mild concussion.
‘Welch, how you holding up?’ He shook his co-pilot’s shoulder gently, not wanting to cause any more pain than he had to.
‘My head is fugging killing me man. I feel like an Ogryn gave me a high five to the face.’ Welch started to unbuckle himself, groaning as he did so. ‘We need to check on our passengers.’
Standing up he grabbed a first aid kit and entered the passenger compartment. Mail scrubbed at his eyes and unbuckled himself before leaning forward to look at the comms map. <em>we should be at least 150 miles further to the north. Damned dogfight took us much further off course than I thought.</em>
Looking at the map he realised that not only were they off course by 150 clicks, but that they were also roughly 100 miles behind enemy lines. Damn mission briefs said that we would be penetrating only a mile or so. His teeth ground as he remembered the briefing and how the intelligence wallahs had pooh-poohed the idea that the enemy had any air cover themselves.
Scanning around the cockpit he realised that there was absolutely no chance of his bird being able to fly without some serious techsengineer help. Even then it might have been touch and go. Sweat beaded his brow as he saw how close the cannon shells had come to putting a premature finish to his flying career
‘Boss, we need your help.’ Mail practically jumped out of his seat as Welch poked his head back in to the cockpit. The sudden jolt sent another lance of pain through his head and he moaned softly as he stepped through into what could only be described as a charnel house.
Cannon shells had shredded the hold and the troopers sat within it. A 30mm shell was big, and when it hit flesh, it blew holes big enough to fit your head through. Most of the trippers were dead, but enough had been unlucky enough to just be winged by a round. These men were the source of all the screaming. Limbs, whole or partial, lay scattered around as if a careless butcher had been slaughtering live stock.
Medic Artie was desperately trying a field tourniquet around the stump of a trooper’s leg as Welch poured kwikclot into the stump. Other trooper were similarly helping their friends, pinning them down and performing rough field surgery.
‘Sergeant Mass’ he cast his eyes around, looking for the platoon sergeant, and found him cradling a dying trooper, reading from a personal book of inspirational prayers to the Emperor. ‘Mass, we need to get a perimeter set up now. The main comms have been destroyed, so get your scaley out up high and see of he can pick up any signals. We’re deep behind enemy lines and I don’t want any of the bastards sneaking up on us.’
Mass nodded, and continued to read from the book. A couple of minutes later, the trooper died. Mass gently laid the man’s head on the floor and kissed his forehead, ‘Shine in the light of our Lord Emperor.’
The battle scarred veteran stood up and shouldered his rifle, ‘Three dead, five wounded, two seriously. They won’t last the night. That leaves me and three others. Your door gunners are both fine. With you and Flight-Sergeant Welch, that leaves us with eight able men and three wounded.’
Calling to two of the troopers, he popped the side hatch, peeked outside, then quickly jumped out, followed by the troopers. Snow and wind roared in, making it hard for those left inside to close it. The temperature inside the hold noticeably dropped as a wind cold enough to keep food fresh for a month reached its iced tentacles into every nook and cranny it could find
‘Thank the Emperor the munitorum got things right and supplied us with winter-issue clothing. I still laugh at the looks of the 29th infantry when they got their desert issue kit. Someone’s head is going to roll for that cock-up.’ Welch was a happy-go-lucky chap who was rarely fazed by anything. Totally dedicated to the Imperial Guard, he had taken the sword of honour for his Sergeant’s course despite being six weeks later at starting it. A scribe in his former, pre-Waaagh life, he was bright and intelligent, but not at all dusty as some scribes could be. He was also a natural soldier, and loved the challenges that life in the 6/66th threw at him.
‘Do me a favour Welch, check how many burners we have and make sure that any kit on our casualties is taken. Be sensitive about it as the lads are going to be upset, but I want those boys out in the snow as soon as possible, and as naked as they day they were born. Emperor-knows we’re going to need as much kit as we can get. Things are only going to get colder.
Mass stared out into the storm. Even with his winter-issue clothing and a re-breather on his face the cold was managing to seep its way into his bones, I’m getting far too old for this life, I should have checked out a long time ago, he stamped his feet to get some life back into them and continued to circle the area. Anywhere he found burning debris, mostly the shattered remains of petrified trees that had been ignited by burning fuel, he shoveled snow over, not wanting any enemy pilots to come and see what was causing it.
He met up with the two other troopers, ‘Right lads, the area looks clear and will probably remain so for as long as this blizzards lasts. I want four watch points carved out, the usual sort, and make sure that they can be used as a proper shelter if we have to leave the bird. Get to it.’
Reaching up he flipped his night vision goggles down, making sure that they were as snug as could be before turning them on. Everything immediately turned a grainy green and black, the snow flakes looking like small will o’the wisps as they danced in the wind.
The enemy will be able to get damned close if this storm continues. Suppose a silver lining is that they won’t be able to find us easily.
He stamped his feet, feeling the chill seeping through even his special cold-weather gear. Tramping on, he waded through the fresh snow, sliding his feet so that he didn’t slip on the packed snow and ice beneath the new layer. Sudden movement, a flash of green and black caught his eye. Snapping his rifle up, he went straight into the kneel.
‘Mass to Mail, come in over.’ He double squelched his comset, continuing to scan the area through his sight, fighting to keep his adrenalin under control. Some bastard is definitely out there.
‘Mail, go. Over.’
‘Mass. Got movement, fifty metres to my twelve. One hundred metres total to south, south-east of the bird. Would appreciate some back-up stat. Over.’ He closed his eyes for a count of one realising that he was failing to see the wood for the trees, staring too hard at the screens in front of them.
More movement, forty yards in front of him. Not human. Emperor guide my shot, make it true and deliver your righteousness to the xenos. His rifle bucked, sending a bolt flying through the storm. The wind drowned out any sound that the target made, but he was certain that he had hit it.
‘Mass to Mail. Target engaged. Zulu down. Investigating. Over.’ Mass wasn’t a man to waste words, especially when behind enemy lines. The shorter his transmissions, the harder it was to track them. He stood, snow cascading off his shoulder from where it had settled in the brief moment he was still. Rifle tucked in to his shoulder, he slowly moved forward towards where he had last seen the target, scanning around himself as he did so.
‘Mail to Mass. Proceed with caution. Backup reports fifty metres behind you. Will provide over watch. Out.’ Good, the lad’s recognised the need for vox security. Won’t have to mother him too much longer hopefully. It was a well-known fact amongst non-commissioned officers – NCO’s – that officers of Ensign, Second Lieutenant and First Lieutenant couldn’t find their own arses, let alone wipe them.
It was the solemn and sworn duty of all NCO’s to make sure that their junior officers learned their role, and did so without getting every man and woman under their command killed. I swear that some of these boys would forget to breathe if we didn’t remind them!
He reached the spot where his target had been. Even with the night vision goggles on he could see tracks, and a deep impression where whatever he had shot at had fallen into the snow. Blood spots and further tracks led away into the storm.
Fuggin’ big bastard! He put his hand into one of the paw prints in the snow, splaying his fingers out as far as they would go. Even with his fingers aching with the strain he was unable to touch both sides.
‘Mass to Mail. Confirm target hit. Has made off. Estimate was a Spine Wolf, minimum two metres tall. RTB all units immediately.’