Argus jerked awake suddenly, his breathing heavy in his mask as his body shot upright from his seat. For a split second, the young inquisitor could see nothing but darkness around him, but his eyes adjusted quickly. It was still night, the fires of battle off in the distance. Around Argus was Squad Helax. Sergeant Amalda was beside him, looking towards him through her expressionless omnimask. The rest of the squad sat around them in a dug-in position up against a rock face. The Sergeant spoke coldly. “Equipment malfunction Sir. Your oxygen feed was barely feeding you any. You passed out in the fall. Chute auto-deployed when you got low enough.” Argus simply nodded back.
“Where are we?” He questioned weakly, still struggling to catch his breath from his sudden awakening.
“Just outside the complex Sir.”
“All accounted for. You were the only casualty Sir.”
“And the rest of the 406th?”
“Engaged with Enemy forces…” Sergeant Amalda’s gestured to the fiery lights of battle in the distance. Argus nodded slowly.
“Right. Let’s get back on mission Sergeant. You take the lead. I’m afraid I don’t have much experience in this kind of work.” Argus gave an uneasy laugh to try and ease the harsh atmosphere around him. The stormtroopers around him were silent.
“Copy Sir.” The Sergeant responded in cold low gothic. She hadn’t even needed to speak as Squad Helax began to advance. Argus scurried to join them, ending up somewhere in the middle of the marching order. It was barely a 5-minute march to the operation entrance, a small side door that had been located from orbit. Scans had proven it led into the facility, provided the lone long hallway it led down wasn’t watched or guarded. Argus had hoped to remove that problem when he sent the 406th against Fread’s men on the front. Now he would discover if his plan had succeeded.
Squad Helax approached the entrance slowly and methodically. Half the team stacked up on one side, the other half opposite of them. Facing the door directly were the Gosvintha triplets, one of them loading what seemed like a dark orange canister into their launcher, while the other two loaded pale white ones. Every single pointing at the door, fingers hovering over their triggers. Sergeant Amalda pulled a small device from her pack, a small screen attached to a suction cup, what seemed like a glass panel on the inside. She tossed it to Specialist Ataulf, the massive man placing the device firmly on the wall up above the door in the darkness. There was a soft whirring, a small dusting of the ferrocrete reinforced structure falling on top of the squad. Sergeant Amalda looked down to the screen, taking a moment to examine it, pressing a gloved finger to the screen and rotating it.
Seconds later, three red markers appeared on Argus’ HUD, each with some 15 – 20 meters out, placed behind the door in the hallway. Argus did not understand what they were, but he had no chance to ask. The report of a grenade launcher rang in his ears, as the charge slammed into the heavy adamantium door. There was a loud whirring and an immense heat. Argus’ visor darkened automatically as the heavy door glowed hot and then exploded inwards with force. The twin bangs of more grenade launchers followed the hot detonation, and that was quickly matched by a deafening and constant scream of a high-pitched tone. Argus’ mask drowned it out, and the only sound he could hear was his ragged breathing. He watched as Sergeant Amalda rushed through the door, followed by Specialist Ataulf and Corporal Angalda. The young Inquisitor spotted to bright flash of a Hot-Shot. One of the markers disappeared from his HUD. The second vanished as well. The third was just as sudden. The rest of Squad Helax piled through the blown-out door. Argus was the last to pile in.
As Argus stepped through the door, the high-pitched whine finally stopped. He just managed to watch two of the squad pick up and disable a number of small speaker-like devices, no doubt the producers of the noise unleashed by the Gosvintha grenade launchers. The sounds of the world returned to him just in time to spot the three smouldering carcasses down the hallway, sprawled out in ragdoll poses. It finally clicked what the red markers had been, but by the time he managed that realization, the professionals of Squad Helax were moving again, all of them in low crouches as they moved to the end of the hallway. The Gosvintha Triplets reloading their launchers with what Argus recognized as standard issue frag rounds. The team moved slowly as they exited the long-exposed hallway, and entered the facility.
The squad immediately stepped into a 3-way hallway, with their entrance directly behind them. Sergeant Amalda pointed to Corporal Angalda and then down the hallway on their left. The Corporal moved immediately, followed by Trooper Bragga, Trooper Teja, Specialist Ataulf, and one of the Gosvinthas. The team vanished down the hallway quickly, moving lowly but silently. Sergeant Angalda repeated the gesture to Corporal Vodulf and then down the hall on their right. Vodulf was followed by Troopers Gundiok and Amouk, as well as another one of the Gosvintha team. They vanished just as quickly as they moved. Sergeant Amalda pointed forward and carried onwards, followed by the remaining Gosvintha Triplet, Specialist Atharid, and finally Argus himself. The hallway they walked was filled with doorways on their left and right. Argus would have thought they should be checking these doors, but he remembered the noise makers at the entrance. Anyone here would have heard that and checked for sure. Sergeant Amalda must have known that as well as she carried on. Argus eyes were slowly scanning the doors for anything, as he loudly bumped into Atharid before him. Amalda’s gloved fist shot straight into the air as she turned her head to stare at him expressionless. Argus could feel her glare.
They had come to an intersection. The hallway carried on forwards, but also shot out to the left. While down straight was clear, Argus could hear faint voices. Then the stomping of boots running off, and finally, the clattering of . . . a giant insect? He timed it to be sure. 8 clicks, over and over, accompanied by a pair of combat boots. The voices picked up. They were approaching.
“. . . But why do you need his face? Not like it’s any use when he’s dead. . .” one voice spoke. Argus recognized it instantly. His hand reached for the blade at his hip, quietly undoing the clasp and slowly pulling the humming sword free. Argus turned to Atharid and Gosvintha, pointing back down the hallway. They understood instantly, moving back to secure an exit. Amalda called it out over the vox-array, the other teams were to move back to the entrance. The second voice answered, its tone robotic.
“You must take on his face for this plan to work. The probability of you being recognized without it sits at 99.99% repeating.” More skittering feet. The voices were nearing. Argus had to move. “Once we have acquired what we need, we will make for anomaly 034 19 kilometers north-northwest of this facility. . .”
Argus and Amalda moved to cut them off.
Argus raised his bolt pistol and levelled it for the shot, but before he pulled the trigger a rippling wave of energy cut past him, striking Sergeant Amalda. In a flash, her head vanished from her body and her corpse collapsed to the floor. Argus tried to return fire, but his bolt pistol was torn from his hand. The weapon clattered across the floor, tugged away by a string of white gossamer. Argus responded by gripping his sword tightly with both hands. His stomach tightened. He broke out in a cold sweat.
“I was wondering when you would make your move. We almost had to jump you instead.”
Grinning with malevolence, Captain Samwell Fread stepped from the shadows, a smoking hot-shot pistol in one hand and a gleaming power sword in the other. Beside him, white silk hanging from its abdomen, was a disturbingly large spider wearing a commissar’s hat. The creature’s eyes glowed a mechanical red.
The spider spoke.
“Operation success Captain Fread. Ensure you maintain his facial integrity, we require it at least 85% recognizability for further success.”
Argus was dumbfounded, but had no time to question. Captain Fread dropped his pistol.
“Duly noted.” He spoke softly, shooting forward with his power sword raised and ready.