The platoon snipers were in position, practically invisible in the jungle canopy. The heavy weapons teams were doing final loading checks, autocannons covering the Ork patrol’s approach. It was a pain to drag the huge weapons through the dense jungle, but the Catachans knew from grim experience how Ork armour could be surprisingly resilient. The platoon was spread evenly through the ambush position, with a squad covering the rear in case the platoon needed to make a hasty exit. Colonel Styr ‘Glassjaw’ Ryan nodded to himself, there was nothing to do but wait. He wouldn’t change the deployment even if he had the time.Ryan slid silently through the undergrowth to join the front line, nodding to Captain Reed on the left flank as he took up his position next to Auxiliary Sergeant Gorm. Gorm was an Ogryn, an enormously muscled, pungent smelling mountain of heavily armoured flesh, and he was Ryan’s informal bodyguard. The 22nd Catachan Infantry Regiment, the ‘Blood Wasps’, had ‘acquired’ Gorm and his bullgryn pack when their transport fleet had crash landed on this world. After Ryan had stopped the massive abhuman from snacking on some of the more poisonous native wildlife Gorm had taken it upon himself to ‘protec da kernul’. Ryan had come to trust the Ogryn as much as any of his men, and was continuously impressed as Gorm had adapted to jungle warfare.
‘Fite soon?’ Gorm asked, the metal hilt of his bullgryn mace creaking as his grip tightened in anticipation.
Ryan grinned. ‘Soon buddy, wait for the order.’
Gorm let out a satisfied grunt, shifting the weight of the Chimera door-sized slabshield with his left hand. He might be a bit slow, but Gorm would never disobey an order.
The approaching patrol was much bigger than Ryan’s scouts had suggested. Huge Ork leaders shouted orders in their crude language, punctuating each guttural instruction by smashing armoured fists against thick skulls. Ryan grunted in wry amusement – at least they did some things right. Taking a vox handset from a waiting trooper Ryan gave the order.
Dozens of Orks fell to the first salvo, burning holes appearing where eyes, throats and joints used to be. The autocannons opening up with a steady THUD THUD THUD, the large calibre shells blowing Orks apart before they knew what was striking them. The mob wavered under the weight of lasfire, boyz yelling in confusion as a steady stream of death shot out from the undergrowth.
Just as the first Orks began to turn and flee a huge greenskin appeared, roaring orders and emptying its crude pistol into the first Orks to turn their backs on the firefight. Sparks flew as toxin-coated sniper rounds ricocheted from the beasts’ heavy armour, but rather than flinch the Nob raised one arm that ended in a grotesque fusion of hand and huge metal claw and roared its defiance. The cry was picked up by Ork after Ork, tapping into primal nerve centres, rage quickly overcoming their fear. Ryan swore as the roar grew beyond the Orks gathered in the clearing until the cry drowned out the gunfire and seemed to shake the earth beneath them. This wasn’t a patrol – this was a trap.
The Catachan position had been perfectly camouflaged before they engaged, but it didn’t take the Orks long to make out where the fire was coming from. Spraying slugs randomly into the jungle meant they didn’t stand much of a chance of hitting anything, but the occasional close call forced a Catachan to take cover, lessening the weight of fire keeping the Orks at bay.
Bracing his bolter against the bole of a fallen tree, Ryan began to shoot in small bursts, mass-reactive bolts tearing into advancing Orks. Those that didn’t immediately fall shrugged off the fire in their frenzy to close the distance. There was a tortured shriek as several Orks landed in the clearing. Ryan had seen these Orks before, greenskins who strapped barely functional rocket engines to their backs to be able to land amidst enemy formations. It was a suicidal practice, but as many men had died when the volatile packs had exploded at point blank range as the Orks who used them. The leader of the pack of rocket Orks slammed an armoured fist into the side of the motor on his back, triggering another shriek as he was carried towards the Catachans on a pillar of flame.
Just ahead of Ryan’s position Sergeant Creek’s squad had broken cover to get a better firing position on a group of flanking Orks, and the exposed men received the full brunt of the rocket assisted charge. Several men fell immediately as the Orks dropped on them from above, Sergeant Creek among them even as he turned his chainsword on the Stormboy. Pulling long blades from sheathes in boots and on belts the rest of the squad dived to aid their comrades.
Ryan thumbed the activation stud on his Tuskblade and charged into the melee, swinging the mercury filled blade and relieving two Orks of their heads. He drove the crackling edge of the Tuskblade through the back of the Ork still struggling with Sergeant Creek. As the beast fell he reached down and grabbed Sergeant Creek by the front of his flak jacket, pulling him to his feet.
‘Fall back you idiot! Get to cover!’
As they rejoined the line Ryan spied a group of Orks with jury-rigged flamethrowers sending jets of flame into the air. Before he could order the snipers to redirect their fire the ground began to rumble. Ryan cursed, if the Orks had managed to clear a path for their armour then the platoon would be forced to retreat. While the autocannons were proof against the Orks ramshackle transports, even they would have trouble against the heavier Ork vehicles. What he saw next, he didn’t expect at all.
Digging out of the earth in the clearing that was fast filling up with Orks was an immense creature. It didn’t look at all out of place on the deathworld, the beast was covered in bladed armour plates, with six armoured limbs including a front pair ending in chitinous claws. But as it cleared the pit from which it emerged it opened its mouth to snatch up an unlucky Ork, and Ryan’s blood ran cold. The creature’s mouth distended, revealing a swarm of grasping limbs. Ryan had seen something like this once before when he was just a trooper. He’d seen it right before half of his squad was consumed.
The call came out from the squad at the rear of the position, and Ryan turned in surprise. To his horror he saw a huge serpentine creature slithering through the jungle towards the Catachan heavy weapons.
‘What in the seven hells are damn Tyranids doing here?’ Ryan wondered aloud.
‘I don’t know, sir, maybe if you ask them nicely they’ll tell you!’ Came Captain Reed’s sardonic reply.
Ryan barked a laugh and turned to the autocannon teams. The veterans of dozens of battles had anticipated his order and were already hefting the heavy weapons mounts to aim towards the onrushing Trygon. Ryan thrust his Tuskblade towards the onrushing monster.
‘Bring it down boys! Killshot keeps the head!’
The immense beast covered the distance in seconds and launched itself at the Catachans, but Ryan’s men were throwing everything they had trying to stop the creature. The snipers turned their fire to the Trygon, and it reared up just short of the autocannons clawing at its maw as pinpoint fire targeted its eyes. There was a rattle of explosions as Sergeant Woods detonated the shredder mines the Catachans had laid around the perimeter of their position. The Trygon roared in fury, surging forward to engage the squad. Ryan felt more than heard the whine of charging plasma behind him and he quickly ducked as two miniature suns swept over his head and slammed into the torso of the Trygon. When he opened his eyes the top half of the Trygon was gone, but two of Woods’ squad were down. The veterans lowered their plasma guns, turning their backs on the smouldering corpse to stand with the platoon standard bearer.
Shouts from the flank caught Ryan’s attention, and he watched as a Tyranid Warrior was consumed by flames, the guardsman emptying the fuel flask to reduce the creature to ash. Tyranid leader forms were a bad sign, there was going to be hell to pay when Ryan got back to base and throttled the survey crew. These bugs hadn’t come from nowhere.
As Ryan turned his attention back to the Orks he was confused to see what he thought was a heaving pile of green flesh. Orks launched themselves onto the mound and piled on top of each other, chopping wildly and shooting their crude weapons into the pile, and Ryan realised that the Tyranid bioform that had emerged from the earth must be at the bottom of that heap of Orks. Despite the flying limbs and occasional eviscerated greenskin, the Orks looked like they were having a great time.
The pile began to shudder as Orks continued to swarm, until the massive Ork that had begun the charge emerged clutching the ruined remains of the Tyranid Bioform’s skull in his terrible klaw. Dozens more Orks were swarming into the clearing before making a beeline towards the Catachan position. It was time to leave.
Grabbing the vox handset off a nearby trooper, Ryan had to yell to make himself heard over the firefight.
‘Lieutenant Ramirez! This is Mamba platoon actual, we need immediate dustoff and evac at extraction alpha. Double time lieutenant, or you’ll have my boot so far up your ass you’ll be tasting leather! Mamba actual, out!’
A disturbing hiss and rustle made Ryan drop the vox handset and spin back towards the flank, searching for a target. From beneath the roots of one of the native trees poured a tide of scrabbling screeching death, creatures that were little more than legs and mouths that came swarming towards the Colonel. Ryan gritted his teeth and raised his bolter, the explosive rounds slamming into the onrushing wave of Rippers doing little to reduce their numbers. Just as the first of the ravenous creatures coiled to spring there was a deep bass battle cry as Gorm charged past Ryan headlong into the swarm of Rippers, his maul and steelshod boots slaying dozens of creatures in moments. The Rippers kept coming, but rather than than the sounds of ripping flesh Ryan expected he could only hear the snapping of chitinous teeth as the Rippers tried and failed to pierce the bullgryn’s heavy armour plate.
More Tyranid bioforms were emerging behind the Orkish lines, a menagerie of immense killers that leapt at the clusters of Orks caught in the Catachan’s crossfire. Half of the Orks turned to face the horrifying creatures, rushing to get into combat, but the other half kept coming, screaming and chanting as they closed in on the Catachan position. Ryan was about to order the autocannons to focus fire when he heard Captain Reed’s yell of relief and the rising whine of aircraft engines.
‘Pack it up Mamba, get to that dropship! Drop those damn autocannons, we are leaving! Gorm get a move on, we’re going back to base! MOVE MOVE MOVE!’
Heavy weapons gunners grabbed their lasguns and sprinted into the jungle, the loaders dropping krak grenades down the barrels of the autocannons before making their escape. Snipers dropped from their positions in the trees, slipping out of cloaks of native foliage and breaking down the barrels of their cumbersome weapons on the run. The remaining infantry squads kept firing into the mass of onrushing Orks as they ran from their positions, lascarbines fixed to full auto lighting the jungle in searing red strobes.
Glassjaw pushed up the rear cajoling any trooper that stopped for more than a moment on their way to the transport. The Vendetta hovered over a rise in the jungle ahead, door gunners laying down arcs of fire into the Orks, buying the platoon precious seconds. Just as Ryan dared to hope the platoon could make it out a blur of movement in his peripheral vision stopped him in his tracks. Charging through the dense undergrowth came dozens of six limbed monstrosities, claws flashing in the shafts of sunlight streaking through the canopy.
Ryan cursed, racking the loader on his bolter and standing in the face of the Genestealer charge. Before he began to fire, a squad rushed past him heading for the ‘stealers. Sergeant Woods was yelling over his shoulder as he ripped a line of pins from his bandolier of grenades.
‘Don’t be a grox-brained fool! Get to the bird Styr, if you go down we have to rely on Reed!’
Ryan gritted his teeth as he watched Woods sling the bandolier into the path of the ‘stealers, then draw his fang, firing his laspistol on the run. He turned and headed for the transport, listening as blade met claw and more of his men were lost to this damned world.
As he reached the bottom of the boarding ramp Ryan turned and started yelling for the final few Catachans to break cover for the transport. As Gunnery Sergeant Hart began his retreat there was another howl of battered engines as more rocket Orks dropped in around the embattled squad. Ryan cried out as the Catachans were caught off-guard and cut down by the bloodthirsty greenskins.
‘Colonel we need to get out of here,’ Ramirez’s voice crackled over the internal transport’s speakers. ‘There’s no one left.’
Ryan looked around the transport bay. Troopers were firing their weapons from the side access points beside the door gunners as others tended to the walking wounded.
‘Where the hell is Gorm?’
It was Reed who responded. ‘Last I saw he was mincing those Rippers, sir. Maybe he didn’t hear your order-‘
A monstrous roar cut Reed off before he could continue, and the Vendetta shook as something huge struck the port wing.
‘It’s going to hell here Colonel, that’s a big bug knocking on the door!’ Ramirez sounded strangely calm, even when his bird was seconds from destruction.
Ryan pounded his fist into the ramp close button, savouring the pain in his hand as it drew his focus from the ache he felt inside.
‘Emperor damn it! Fine, Ramirez get us out of here, get us back to base!’
The Vendetta shuddered again as it lifted off, lurching sickeningly as the fuselage took another heavy blow. But Ramirez was an old hand, righting the aircraft as it gained height. Heavy slugs spanked off the armoured troop compartment as the Vendetta cleared the canopy, but Reed’s soft curse was for something else altogether.
‘Better take a look at this Styr.’
Ryan picked his way through the troop compartment to the forward doors. The gunners had slung the heavy bolters, their ammunition canisters were empty and barrels glowing red hot. As Ryan leaned on the frame next to Captain Reed the sight below took his breath away.
Dozens of Tyranid bioforms were engaged in a swirling melee with an endless tide of Orks rushing from the jungle. Nothing else could survive the carnage below, as acid blood sprayed through the clearing and Orks fell to reaping claws by the score. The Genestealers had met the rocket Orks in a blurring combat, swiftly reducing the creatures to green ribbons. Ryan felt some grim satisfaction as a number of the volatile jump packs exploded as they were pierced by rending claws, catching swathes of Orks and Tyranids in each blast.
Someone had screwed the grox here. There was more to this world than met the eye – Orks didn’t organise like that without a leader, and Tyranids in those numbers didn’t just appear. He’d lost too many men on this mission, and there would be hell to pay when they got back to the camp and the remaining augers and surveyors responsible for planet-wide intel gathering.
But as the Vendetta picked up speed and rushed out of the combat zone all Ryan could think was how the hell was he going to get the 22nd out of this mess.