Range, five hundred metres. Wind, five kloms per hour, easterly. Target moving at walking pace. Breathe in, breath out, breathe in, hold. Squeeze the trigger gently, release and breathe out. Slowly crawl backwards and relocate.
The sound that the rifle made would have been hard to distinguish at fifty metres, let alone five hundred. The bullet took roughly five seconds to travel the distance, before slamming into the chest of the target with a loud whack, and a soft grunt from the victim. A fine mist of blood puffed from the ork’s chest, and he dropped to his knees, one hand holding the wound and the other clapping over his mouth as he started to vomit blood. With another grunt he fell face first into the dirt.
Shouts of surprise and anger rang out, and the target’s squad mates dived to the ground, desperately seeking what cover or concealment they could, whilst scanning for the source of the round. Bolters crackled as the orks shot at potential hiding places, trying in vain to provoke another round.
Chubb Fellowes had already gone by that point. Scuttling through the ruins, he made his way back to his rat hole, a chamber he had found in a ruined pipeline that was lined with heat resistant insulation. This was Emperor-sent for the sniper, as it meant that no auspex would be able to locate him once he was ensconced within.
He reached up to the lip of the opening in the pipe, taking care not to snag his ghillie suit on the jagged edges, or to cut his skin. One tiny slip could lead his pursuers to his hole. One tiny cut could easily become infected, a slow death that he wanted to avoid at all costs. I want to avoid any form of bloody death if I can, he did not know whether he had spoken that out loud, or just thought it. He was on his own so much that it was hard to tell where the inner voice stopped and the outer voice started. With a practiced wiggle he was into the piping, belly crawling until he came to a ninety degree bend. Holding his breath he slowly reached around the corner, fingers walking along the bottom of the pipe until they brushed against a wire so thin as to be invisible in the pipe’s darkness.
The fingers walked their way along the wire until they came to a hook. Carefully, with the most gentle of movements, he lifted the hook out of the incendiary grenade’s pin. With a sigh he released the breath he had not realised he had been holding. No matter how many times he disarmed his trap, he always feared unhooking the wire from the pin, as he had rigged it so that the slightest pressure would release it. Adding that to the fact that he had cut the fuse down to less than a second even a microscopic slip in concentration would see him turned into so much charcoal in less time than it would take to realise that he had cocked up.
Booby-trap disarmed he wriggled around the corner, and into his nest. With a huge inhalation of breath he stood and stretched out, relishing the ability to move freely without having to worry about disturbing his surroundings and giving away his position.
He reached out and turned on a tactical lamp, the soft red light reminding him of some of the more raucous nights out he had spent with the rest of the lads in his unit. Turning, he carefully set the hook back into the grenade’s pin before dropping a makeshift curtain down, sealing the dim light in the chamber and ensuring that nothing could give him away.
His stomach rumbled and he gently rubbed at it, chuckling ruefully at how small it seemed to be.
“Ration packs just don’t cut the mustard, do they old boy?” Nevertheless, he reached out for a self-heating pack and pulled the tab, setting it down onto a small shelf he had cut into the insulation. The smell of cooking protein started to fill the chamber, so he opened the vent he had created, the smell being dispersed out of a number of pipes so that even the smell of his food would not give him away.
He ambled over to somewhat dinged up vox caster, turned it on and picked up the mic.
“This is Trooper Fellowes, 5th Recon Battalion, Six Sixty-sixth Devil’s Own Regiment Sector Nok, two three two three. Ork squad, fifteen strong moving towards the aqua purifier. One kill confirmed. Squad’s advance delayed by estimated ten minutes. Out.”
His hands started to shake as he hung the mic back on its cradle. With a sob he sat on the floor and started to cry, deep wracking sobs ripping from his throat, tears running freely down his cheeks. Anyone seeing him at that point would have been forgiven for thinking that he was a child of roughly ten years, crying over some slight. It was only the butcher’s whiskers running down the side of his face that belied his true age, and race.
“Please, just once, fugging reply. Please.” The vox remained silent, not even static coming from it. For all he knew, the damned thing could be broken, but then again, for all he knew the damned thing could be working fine and there was no-one left within range to even pick it up.
The last of his team members had been flayed alive by an ork using razor wire, nearly two weeks ago. It still felt as though those awful screams were still bouncing around inside his head. Unable to do anything but watch as he was frozen in fear, his whole body trembling, even his teeth rattling, he had been forced to stuff his fist into his mouth to stifle the sobs of fear and self-loathing, stopping himself from giving his position away. Even now his dreams were haunted by what he had seen through the scope of his rifle. Too scared to pull the trigger and end his friend’s life, he had found it impossible to pull his eye away from the scope, watching in morbid fascination as the ork took nearly thirty minutes to still his friend’s screams.
The end, when it had come, was surprisingly quick. The ork, a big bastard with its missing right arm replaced by a drill attachment of some sort had stepped forward and plunged the drill bit straight into its victim’s forehead, stopping the screams with an abrupt finality.
Still sniffing, he grabbed the now-hot ration pack and started to eat the Grox Kurrai, one of the most offensive flavours that the Departmento Munitorum had ever come up with. Unfortunately for him, it had proven to be so unpopular that the quartermasters had been loathe to hand it out for fear of retribution from their fellow soldiers. So, after a week of scavenging from the bodies of both armies, he had come across a rations bunker, packed to the rafters with the most obnoxious, life-saving, belly-filling food he could ever wish not to find. Unfortunately, he had worked out that he had at least three year’s worth of food.
Chewing on a particularly hard piece of gristle, – How the fugg does gristle get into bloody re-processed meat in the first place! – he started to strip his rifle down. Very early on, he had realised that the pulse from a las rifle could, if a particularly sharp-eyed enemy was looking carefully enough, give away the position of even the most well-concealed sniper. Being very fond of staying alive – Can’t really call this living though can I? – he had opted to go for a bolt-action slug-firing rifle.
Basic it might be, crude, obsolete even, but to him it was beautiful and, more importantly, had a lot less things to go wrong with it than the more advanced imperial weapons. Granted, the magazine capacity was limited to only ten rounds, rather than the thirty or so a hotshot magazine would give, and the ammunition weighed a lot more, but at the same time he could craft his own rounds, choosing how much charge to put into the shells, shaping and building the bullets to his own purpose and meaning that control of his destiny was squarely in his own hands.
In less than thirty seconds the rifle was stripped and he set to cleaning it, gently wiping it down, blowing out the most miniscule specks of dust and finally oiling the wooden stock, the cleaning of the weapon turning into a ritual that helped bring him down from the effects of combat. That done, he turned off the light, crawled into his sleepsac, drew his las pistol and fell asleep.
The sound of gunfire snapped him awake. Rubbing his eyes, and wishing for what felt like the millionth time that he had some mouth wash, he sat up. Despite the firing, he felt snug in his hole. At one point in his life the thought of such hardship, especially the lack of meals, would have made him shudder in horror. On Bilderskrag, his home planet, food and comforts were plentiful, with servitors doing pretty much all of the manual labour required to feed and supply a planet’s population.
Known as Ratlings to the rest of the Empire’s citizens, his people preferred their own name of Kraggers. He knew the contempt that their allies held them in, their lives rightfully appearing to be lazy and selfish compared to those lived by most of the God-Emperor’s faithful. If he was honest with himself, he couldn’t blame them for that. The vast majority of Imperial civilians lived lives that could only be thought of as short, brutal and awful. What he could blame them for was not giving his people the credit they deserved for their efforts on the battlefield.
Ratlings could outshoot even the Emperor’s Angels, the revered, the respected, and the feared Space Marines. Out of all of the sharpshooters in the 6/66th Devil’s Own, it was the Ratlings in the 5th Recon Battalion who held all of the challenge cups, quite often placing first, second and third. It grated that the larger humans could never see past their prejudices.
Despite that, he would have given anything to have a human member of his regiment turn up. Especially if that member was female and had some food, booze and an open mind and a willing attitude. Hell, I’d hug a fugging Commissar if it meant I wasn’t alone anymore.
Even with all that in mind, this hole was now home, a place of refuge and sanctuary that hid him from those bloody awful Orks. Even the smallest ork would happily chow down on him and still want seconds. His stomach rumbled at the thought of chow. He had rations a plenty, but they really didn’t make up for real food, a nice juicy medium rare steak with a glass of red wine would be more than welcome.
With a heartfelt sigh he reached for a self-heating ration can and cracked the tab. Setting it down whilst it heated, he started to strip his rifle. It did not matter that he had cleaned it the night before, this weapon was the only thing with which he could kill orks. Someone his size would never be able to face an ork in open combat. Many of his comrades had mocked him for having such a basic, out-dated weapon. He didn’t give a fug what they thought, this weapon was a piece of art in his mind.
The craft of a sniper was far more geared towards stealth, target selection, and causing the enemy to stop in their tracks, often delaying an entire advance with one shot, so why would any sniper want a weapon that was semi- or fully automatic? A backup yes, for when their position was threatened, but to use a weapon designed for firefights, rather than built for taking out single targets, was illogical.
He thought about the friends he had lost. One, Airpat Slinksy, was a legend in the 6/66th, and a hero to his fellow Kraggers. In the dead of night he had started to crawl the half-mile to his objective, an ork base. Once there he had crawled across the compound, taking nearly a day to reach his firing point. Then, under a blazing hot sun and literally lying under the noses of the orks he had waited over two days his target to emerge. With one shot he killed Gutgnasher Snaggletooth. In the ensuing chaos, Airpat had calmly crawled back to his own lines, taking a further three days to do so. That was the purpose of a sniper. In fact that was the very essence of a sniper. Wanted, cool-headed killer. Glory boys need not apply.
His wristchrono gently vibrated. Dawn. Two days ago he had found an excellent spot for a shot. Well concealed, he would be able to make a kill and stay in the same spot without having to relocate until all the furore had died down.
Carefully he disarmed and armed his trap, then crawled down to the pipe’s exit. Slowly, like, a tortoise emerging from its shell he slid out of the comforting darkness and into the dimpsy light.
In the distance he could hear the crack and boom of a firefight, the ruins surrounding him making it hard to properly judge the location and distance. There was no point in trying to make his towards it anyway. Bitter experience had taught him that it was more likely to be orks killing each other rather an any form of organised resistance. The other thing it could be was something he could not do a thing about. The first massacre he saw he had tried to stop, all it had achieved was a firefight that saw a few orks dead, him nearly so, and everyone he had been trying to save being immolated when the orks set their burnas on them in an attempt to draw him out. Tears rolling down his cheeks he had curled up into a ball and wept with fear and shame.
With all of the caution of a true rat, he scurried through the ruins, constantly scanning for threats. When you were his size, that could be anything from unexploded ordnance to wild dogs and rabid squigs. He chuckled, when was a squiq anything but rabid!
A clatter of stones and in a split second his rifle was up and on his shoulder. He dropped to the knee to steady his aim and make himself and even smaller target. Silence. That meant nothing. That meant everything. Was it quiet because there was no danger, or was it quiet because the enemy was waiting for the perfect kill moment?
The perfect kill moment took two forms. Any sniper worth his salt always waited for the perfect moment if they could. The first was the moment that taking the shot would cause the most damage to the enemy’s morale, sucking all of their forward momentum out of them, making even the bravest hug the ground and regret ever signing up to fight.
The second moment was when the enemy knew that there was a sniper. Knew that at any moment a bullet could rip its way through their body. Knew that the shot might not even be aimed to kill. Kill shots were good for some situations, but wounding shots not only took one trooper out of action permanently, for those races that actually cared for their troops, it could mean at least another two troopers helping to remove the casualty. One shot that caused three enemy soldiers to be removed could win the battle. That moment caused the target to literally freeze with fear, sweat blinding their eyes, shakes throwing off their aim, keeping them cowering for vital seconds, minutes, even hours.
This time the silence was just that, the rubble falling naturally. He stood and continued to make his way through the ruins. The area he was in had once been a hab block housing thousands. Faded posters and prints on the wall declared it to be the property of House Avonuk and most exhorted the workers to working hard, taking pride in their work, doing extra work and serving the God Emperor. Personal belongings were strewn across the floor, in this block at least, the inhabitants had been able to get out before the orks entered. Coming to a hole in the wall, he poked his head out and scanned the ground one hundred storeys below. Nothing moved, not even wild canids or other pets that their frantic and panicked owners had released when they fled. Even zoo keepers had released their animals. Fugging idiots even released the predators.
A shadow suddenly shifted at the corner of his eye. Quick as lightning he spun and dropped to his knee, his rifle snapping to his shoulder. Flame stabbed out of the darkness and a round snickered off the wall above him, plasticrete splinters showering him.
His answering shot was far deadlier. A gretchin tumbled out of the darkness, its home made pistol clattering to the floor. With a smooth movement he chambered another round, slung his rifle and drew his pistol, scanning the darkness for more targets. Nothing.
He rose quickly to his his feet and walked over to his attacker. Not wanting to risk another shot, he smashed his pistol down onto the snotling’s head until the creature’s head shattered.
Satisfied that the gretchin posed no further risk, he swiftly rifled through the creature’s pathetic belongings. Time was crucial. Being a powder-based weapon, and with no suppressor, his rifle was loud. Inside a building such as this, the sound would have been amplified many ties over. Aside from a couple of worn amulets, a single bolt-gun round and the scratch-built pistol, there was nothing else of value. Value. A strange word when you think about it. Never, in his whole life would he ever have considered such dross valuable.
An hour later, he was in position. Another hour later, he was perfectly concealed, snare mines scattered around to act as a deterrence and a way of slowing down any pursuers should they guess his position. No matter how unlikely it was, to expected the unexpected had rapidly become second nature.
Laying his rifle to one side, he put his magnascope to his eye and slowly started to scan the ork position in front of him. Situated in what appeared to be a communal gathering plaza, the base that the orks had built sprawled across the open space like the debris from a spoilt child’s tantrum.
Rubbish, damaged vehicles and rotten waste were everywhere, and huge piles of excrement sat steaming in the mid day sun. Through his scope he could clearly see the haze of methane rising from the larger piles. Snotlings scampered amongst this, diving into the piles with excited screams, emerging covered in gunk and holding the odd piece of junk or food as if it were the greatest treasure in the universe. Every time a particularly exciting find was made, other snotlings would rush forward and try to snatch it, a chaotic melee breaking out until one of them finally made off with the treasure.
Adding to the chaos of the camp were the wild squids that hopped around, often following the snotlings in an attempt to either snatch a piece of food from them, or to actually eat them. The latter seemed to be a source of great amusement to both the squigs herders and anyone not currently being eaten.
The orks themselves were no better, squabbling amongst themselves and seemingly fighting for the sheer joy of it. He counted at least five stills that were busy brewing moonshine and fuel for the vehicles that had been parked in a cobbled-together hangar at the opposite side to him.
“Where the fug are you?” his voice sounded like a stranger’s. Aside from when he tried to raise any friendly units, he barely spoke, as he felt that speaking to himself would set him onto the path of madness and he didn’t want to survive all of this just to be mind-wiped or granted the Emperor’s Peace by some euthanasia happy surgeon. Although, after what he had been through, he could not be sure he was not mad. Who else is there to tell me if I am or not?
His target for the day was a boss that he had spotted leading the latest massacre of slaves. The local population had mostly been evacuated but mostly still meant that a lot of people had not managed to get away. Rather than killing them all out of hand, or eating them, this Waaagh! seemed to realise the potential of keeping slaves to carry out any number of mundane tasks, such as mine clearance and bullet shields. Only when they were too weak, too ill or too injured were they rounded up and slaughtered, the squigs gorging themselves on the heaped remains.
A quick scan of the slaves showed that they were all civilians, none of them were even militia, let alone guard. He shifted the scope back when he heard a loud roar come from a large group of orks.
“At fugging last, you big sack of skudge.” the Ork was huge, an obvious veteran of many battles. Chubb had named him Bug, because both of his eyes had been replaced by bulbous bionics, brass contraptions that had wires arcing out of the tops and into Bug’s skull.
He tracked his target through his rangefinder as it strode through the orks gathered, knocking the smallest out of the way with casual, almost absent-minded brutality. Bolters fired into the air, ricochets spanging off the highly polished marble that lined the plaza, as the orks saluted their leader the only way they knew how. The odd bolt claimed a victim as it fell from the sky, plummeting down like a malevolent rain drop, smashing to the odd unlucky victim.
The shot was over three hundred metres. Thankfully there was no wind, so all he had to compensate for was the bullet drop. With the bullet being in the air for over three seconds, and the bullet drop, he was not aiming for where his target was, he was aiming for where the target would be.
Slowly, he placed his range finder aside, reached for his rifle and settled it into his shoulder, taking care not to knock the scope in the slightest, a millimetre off could be enough to cause the bullet to miss its target by centimetres, something that he could not risk happening
He gradually brought his breathing under control, slowing his heart rate down to less than sixty beats a minute, to the point where he could not only feel his heart beating, he could hear it thumping in his head.
A final breath out, a thump of his heart and a gentle squeeze of the trigger. The rifle barked, kicking back against his should and the bullet screamed off towards the target.
As soon as the bullet left the barrel he was breathing in, shifting his aim and snapping off two more shots at nearer targets. With the first bullet still in the air, the third hit it its final destination. The still it struck ignited with a huge explosion, the hot shrapnel cutting through the anything near it and setting off a number of barrels of moonshine.
The orks barely had time to react to the first explosion before his second bullet hit a cluster of fuel barrels. Another explosion, even bigger than the first sent a shower of burning fuel over a wide radius, orks and snotlings dancing as they burned, their ammunition cooking off and adding to the mayhem.
Finally, if a matter of seconds could be called finally, the first bullet struck home. Bionics, skull and gobbets of brain erupted from the back of Bug’s head as the powerful round went clean through his skull, burying itself in the wall behind him.
As Bug slammed into the floor, the other orks were too busy reacting to the explosions to even realise that their leader was dead. Chubb placed his rifle on the ground and tugged gently on a string in front of him. The chameleoline cape over his hiding place dropped down, hiding him from every eye that might be looking for him.
The next five hours were fraught with worry. Despite the distractions and the hope that the death of Bug would be attributed to shrapnel, Chubb worried that one of the smarter nobz would realise that this was not a moonshine accident exacerbated by badly stored fuel.
Once the power struggle for control of the ork base was over, the winner might well want to remove any further threats to his power, including a certain sniper named Chubb Fellowes.
So, for five hours he lay as still as he could and fretted. When the explosions, shouting and shooting died down to that normally expected from an ork compound of that size, he lifted the cloak and inched out. Without power, the ruins of the hab block got darker much quicker than outside, and he used the shadows to the best of his ability, gliding from one dark spot to another, making his way slowly but surely home.
“This is Trooper Fellowes, 5th Recon Battalion, Six Sixty-sixth Devil’s Own Regiment Sector Nok, two three two three. One Ork Warlord eliminated, multiple secondary casualties, multiple tertiary casualties following internecine fighting. Estimated one hundred total. Over.”
Once again he listened for a voice, any voice. One again he was greeted with white noise and silence. A sob escaped his lips. His whole being yearned to hear a voice, a friendly voice, any words beyond ‘waaaagh! Kill, crush, deff’ and the rest of the ork’s limited vocabulary.
‘Answer you fuggin slits! Is there anyone monitoring this frequency!’ his heart almost stopped as there was a squelch of static from the vox.
‘At ease Trooper Fellowes, this is Scout Sergeant Danz of the Dark Angels. We are five hundred metres from your position. Guide us in, over.’
TO BE CONTINUED
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