Fuel cell’s taken a hit. So, not only do I no longer have power to the leg actuators, but now I’m actively venting plasma. The suit’s HUD says I’ve got maybe twelve seconds of power remaining in the arm actuators until those go, and seven seconds after that, the suit powers down completely.
Mathieu’s sacrifice bought me time, but it’s seeming pointless now. After all, what does three minutes’ pause buy me when my armour isn’t working any more?
No: stop these shameful thoughts. Fear is unworthy of those who do the Emperor’s work. You have eighteen seconds of suit power left, and three minutes until the Orks reach you.
That’s all the time in the world.
Time to make some changes.
The armour’s data spirits scream at me as I disengage plate linkages, decouple the joint locks and detach the spinal connections, but the armour’s not armour any more. It’s dead weight. Unlike a suit of standard Mark VII which you can still walk about in when the power’s done,  Tactical Dreadnought Armour is called that for a reason. Even Astartes can’t lift two metric tonnes of ceramite unaided.
The plates hiss, giving off little plumes of the last clean air I will taste as the armour unfolds itself, and I step out, naked, into the darkness. The air stinks of hard radiation and rust. Looking at the damage from the outside, things are even worse than the suit’s datafeeds said. The plasteel of the rear plates is shredded,  cooling pipes dangling out like the ropey intestines of a slaughtered grox. Vox Dominus took too much of the blast and without looking, I can tell its mechanism is ruined… Even if it did have more than a handful of bolts left in either mag, it couldn’t shoot. Manus Veritas may be undamaged, but there’s no way to use such a venerable power fist separate from the suit; its spirits have spent too long in the armour’s systems. They won’t know what to do when disconnected, and I don’t have the time – or resources – for a full recoding. Which leaves only Astacus Ares, who seems utterly undamaged… But she’s hanging, lifeless, her mighty pistons and servos utterly bereft of motion. That makes no sense; even with minimal power, she should still…
I quickly move to the rear of the armour, looking at the areas I modified, reworked and welded in order to fit her here, and
Oh Throne, no.
Astacus… What have they done to you?
The servo-arm’s primary actuators have been slagged, reduced to a bubbling steel paste that has dripped down the rear of the armour like melted wax. The synaptic command feeds are similarly ravaged, arterial cabling fused and melted. She smells of ozone and burned plastic. I scan for her machine spirit, but… Nothing. From Mars to Macragge to a hundred worlds and now, she dies here.
At least she did not die alone.
Two minutes thirty until they arrive. Seventeen seconds of power. No gun. No grenades. Not even a combat knife.
Just me, my bare hands, and the Emperor’s Will against however many of the eighty Orks remain after Mathieu’s final rampage.
Defeat may have been inevitable, but revenge is still attainable. Two options. First: run, find cover, and hunt these beasts down, one by one. Scavenge equipment from the ship, see how far I can get before they send me to my brothers. A good death.
But this is no longer about me. Not since Mhark decrypted the hulk’s trajectory. These old Defiant-class cruisers … When the machine spirits become aware that the crew is gone, standard operating procedure is to return to harbour… And the orks have somehow tricked the spirits into thinking they are not aboard. This ship lands on Cadia in approximately two days… And once the Orks are on the planet’s surface, we’ll never get them off.
So: I need to stop this ship now, by any means necessary. The population of a planet is counting on me. Which means the second option.
I turn to the suit of armour, my stomach twisting with guilt. It’s been so long since I just admired it, just for the sake of it. Not looking at the dents and the dings, or worrying about lubricant levels and coupling strength… Just looked at it and saw it for the work of art it is.
This suit – my suit – dates from 843M35. It was created by the then Grand Artificer of Macragge, Adept Robehr and displays all the hallmarks of her own personal idiosyncrasies; everything from the thinner sheaths around the fibre bundles (to allow for swifter haptic response time at the cost of mild overheating when under heavy use) to the ormolu detailing on the underpads that support the ceramite pauldrons. There’s no need for those details to be there; no-one ever sees them except the serfs and servitors, but she put them there anyway, just because she believed in her work: that when the Emperor commanded his Astartes march in the best armour, he meant it.
Five thousand years old, it is a work of the most devoted craftsmanship imaginable. Adapted specifically for me, it includes a full sensorium, analytical suite, and poor, dead Astacus Ares, all to aid me in my duties tending to the machines of the chapter when off-world. Made for the Astartes, rebaptised in the service of the Emperor and Omnissiah both, it is utterly, completely unique. It has prosecuted wars on worlds unnumbered, saved precious human lives, preserved this, our great Imperium. It is the finest, most wondrous armour I have ever – or will ever – wear.
Two minutes and 0.0003% power left.
I begin the work.
Footsteps start echoing off the walls after one minute forty five.
Not bellows? Not the sound of shooting or the clank of axe against axe?
If I were a scout in the chapter, I’d be terrified. I’d wonder what this meant; what strange new breed of Ork charges into battle silently… Especially after earlier, when they roared and screamed, trying to drown us in their green flesh. As scout, I would be confused, unsure, panicked.
But have not been a scout in nearly three centuries, and for all their ferocity, Orks are uncomplicated. They never behave against their baser emotions unless something forces them to. If they are co-ordinating, it can mean only one thing: their Warboss has joined the fray.
And if they are silent? Then their Warboss is a Kommando.
That may make what happens next more difficult.
The steps get closer. Which lets me know that while their leader may be familiar with stealth, its minions are not. In its desire to demonstrate its cleverness, the creature has overplayed its hand.
I know you now, beast.
The steps get closer. The last wire connected, the work is finished. I spend a final second in communion with the machine spirits of Manus Veritas, thanking them for their good service, and praising their warlike nature. They laugh. Even now, in defeat, they only want to kill in the Emperor’s name, and are joyously unfussed about how. Five thousand years of service. Five thousand, and serving the Emperor still. I place a single kiss on the suit and bid the machine spirits all speed to the Throne, then I flee.
But not because of the Orks.
The innards of the nameless cruiser are winding, the blackened gunmetal walls are pitted, dripping with stinking grease and poorly improvised plating, hammered into place by some lunatic Mekboy or other. My heart weeps at the sight of such perfect machinery so grievously wounded; the ship’s engines sing their agonies, their off-note harmonies a testament to the mutilations here.
I don’t have time to leap for cover when the blast hits; even at this distance, the shockwave sends me sprawling to the floor. Smiling, I wish the deceased machine spirits of Manus Veritas well; the screaming of those few Orks who survived the explosion tells me just how many of them my noble suit took when the Power Fist’s field imploded.
A roar, atavistic and primal, echoes all the way from hell and down the corridor to me. Undoubtedly it comes from the beasts’ master, enraged at having been caught in such a trap. My smile broadens at the sound of my enemy’s pain.
Come then, beast. Let us see the which of us now has fury enough to end the other.
I move quickly. My memory of the schema to this class of cruiser is imperfect, but like all structures descending from STC designs, they follow a similar pattern. Dodging through doors, the air is colder on my skin than before. Frost nips at my feet, and the sound of wind howling comes from somewhere.
A hull breach?
I just need to get what I came for, and then…
Ah. Here we are.
The storage locker is protected by some fairly useless datagheists, and I offer up thanks to the Omnissiah for sending me this small mercy. Tapping in the codes of supplication, lights click green and the door slides aside. I search through four crates before I find what I need. It’s a little the worse for wear; the damp atmospherics have corroded the outer shell, but a quick inspection reveals that it’s perfect inside.
No time to waste; I need to get to that breach.
I follow the direction of the wind, the howl turning to a shriek and then a cacophonous reverberation that sets my teeth on edge. Reaching the source of the hellish sound, a safety bulkhead seals my path. Pressing my face to the heavy-gauge glass, I see the sideways spiral of an artificial cyclone; air spins and twists at appalling speed through a pinprick in the metal of the hull. Safety bulkheads have sealed automatically.
Patching in, I commune with the machine spirits inside; they are helpful, smiling at me as they explain in the politest possible terms that the area has been sealed for my safety. I explain I am a repair-servitor, sent to fix the breach. They smile again, asking for confirmation.
Throne on Terra, let these codes work.
I give the authentication sequence used on all Maccraggian vessels, offering up a prayer to the Emperor.
The machine spirits thank me for my codes, and unlock the door, wishing me success in the Omnissiah’s service.
Then there is a blade sticking out of my belly.
“Alright there, Beakie?”
The blade disappears, and I turn to see my murderer. It can only be the Warboss; thick sinews of muscle, like knotted steel, flex underneath heavily stitched brown leather fatigues. Huge blades, each the size of a small sword, their edges jagged and flecked with blood, sparkle in the bilious light. It wears a mask, the eyes gleaming green, a pair of heavy respirator plugs keeping the beast fed with precious oxygen.
“Dat was a clever trick you pulled wiv yer armour, mate. I ain’t never seen a beakie do dat before. Youse almost as kunnin’ as me.”
He stabs me in the gut again.
I grab its wrist as it presses the blade further into me.
“Ya killed my boyz. Ya nearly killed me. Ya gotta die slow for dat.”
I look up into what passes for its face, seeing my smile reflected back in the sickly green lenses.
“After you, beast.”
I hit the bulkhead door release, and the roaring cyclone inside pulls us into the room. The Warboss screams, a hideous, high-pitched wail of pure terror as it tumbles towards the tiny hole that leads out into the nothingness beyond.
Cruisers this size, they can survive a small hole. Anything too large, though, and the bulkheads won’t hold. Anything more than a metre and that’s it: the walls collapse under the pressure and the whole ship goes.
I pull the pin on the meltabomb I retrieved from storage, and offer up my thanks to the Emperor for a death this good.


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