Vultures of the Imperium
13/04/2011 in Warhammer 40K
Uglys, the Vultures of Beligarso
* * *
-Tradition Beligarso word of insult
~ I ~
“Put up alongside that building and float around it,” said the gunner.
“We’ve got to be quick, we’re getting some interest from the west,” returned the pilot over the intercom, even though he sat above and behind him.
“I just want to have a quick look,” the gunner replied.
The pilot maneuvered his Vulture gunship up near the towering, ruined building. The building was abandoned and derelict. The late day sun reflected off the few pieces of glass that had managed to survive the war, in the reflection the pilot caught a quick glance of his aircraft.
An Imperial built Vulture Gunship, this one belonged to the Imperial Guard Regiment of Beligarso. Built around a single powerful vector engine the craft had a strange and awkward appearance – buzzard-ish, like its namesake. The duel-canopy cockpit hung low, there the gunner and pilot sat. The wings hung out and drooped down, they draped like limp wings and ended in large, heavy-duty landing skids. Another pair of stabilizer fins sat behind and below the main wings. The H-shaped tail wings protruding from behind the engine assembly provided the craft with great stability.
Vultures were atmospheric gunships with vertical take-off and landing properties, thus giving them great maneuverability and air-agility. Capable of quick acceleration and a rapid rate of a climb Vultures could get in and out of tight spots, which is why they often accompanied Valkyrie air assault carriers. However, their primary role was close air-support for infantry, and they preformed that role admirably.
While not much to look at, Vulture’s had enormous firepower and a reputation for durability. Mounting five weapons, four under the wings and a heavy bolter under the nose – slaved to the gunner’s position. This particular craft mounted two huge autocannons close to the fuselage and a pair of deadly rocket-pods. When a flight of Vultures appeared above the enemy and showered them with everything they had, many ground-based soldiers would cheer and wave them on, commenting on how the Vultures either found the something dead, or made it so.
A brief flash showed the craft’s dark green paint job and a hand-painted logo on the side, an angry-faced sun with muscled arms wielding a heavy bolter while smoking a huge cigar – the word, Sunfire, scrolled underneath the icon.
Above the icon, stenciled under each canopy was a name, the forward hatch read Sgt. Sun, the rearward read Lt. Jonah. White skull emblems, kill markers, were painted the side of the cockpit, four under Sun’s name, and eight under Jonah’s.
Jonah crept the craft forwards, peeking just the nose around the building. While wearing their flight helmets they could only hear a small amount of noise from the huge engine a few meters behind them, though they could feel the force, the energy, it created. Sun looked left and the nose-mounted heavy bolter slaved to his helmet-mounted gunsight followed every move of his head.
“Got something,” he said, the heavy bolter roared and vibrations tickled the crewmen’s feet.
On the pilot’s wraparound console were dozens of controls, dials, handles, screens and read-outs. Four peddles were underfoot. One screen followed the pict-zoomer mounted next to the nose-gun. In the high-resolution, black and camera feed, Jonah watched as the huge bolter rounds punched into a cluster of figures. They blew apart.
Flying at hundred and fifty feet, he pulled the craft out from behind the buildings, presenting it fully. Sun sent another flurry of bolter rounds, this time destroying an overturned vehicle and whoever was sheltering behind it.
Now that he was between the two towering buildings he moved forward slowly, cautiously, traveling at twenty miles per hours, angling the nose of the craft downwards. Sun’s head travelled left and right and so did the heavy bolter, tracking for targets. While swift, agile and certainly deadly, stealth was not a part of the Vulture’s arsenal. The craft’s powerful VTOL motors blew dirt, debris and grit for hundreds of feet. The sound created by the massive engine would be deafening and heard from up to a mile away.
“It’s getting tight in here, what do you think?” Sun asked.
“Like you said, let’s just have a look,” Jonah replied.
Caution was advised when navigating in tight corridors like Sunfire was in now. Standard operating procedure was that Jonah used the craft’s powerful autocannons to deal with any threats that appeared in front of them, while Sun would hunt for anything that suddenly leapt out and attacked from their blindsides. If all else failed, the craft enjoyed a rapid forward acceleration and of course, the ability to fly straight up, backwards, or sideways.
Suddenly there was a lot of movement at the end of the road. A vehicle, maybe a truck or top-less lorry, flashed at the end of the street. It turned and powered at them. Jonah pulled the trigger; the twin-linked autocannons blasted the street briefly before he corrected the angle. The first rounds struck the engine block, fist sized holes appeared on the hood, smoke and fire burst from under the chassis. Glass shattered as the rounds crept up into the cabin, the driver was liquefied. The flatbed, filled with weapon waving figures, exploded in a hail of blood and body parts. The vehicle swerved and slammed into the building.
A quick beep over the aerial auspex indicted a nearby airborne contact. Beyond the building’s end lazily drifted another Vulture. Its nose-gun turned, spat three feet of fire and sent a blast of bolter rounds at the rear of the big truck. As the old saying went, ‘Kill it twice, just to be safe.’
The vox crackled, “Ugly Four.”
“Go ahead, Ugly Five.”
“That’s a pretty tight fit, Ignis.”
Jonah and Sun watched the other Vulture hover to a stop at the mouth of street, then slowly rotate in a 360 degree turn, checking for targets. The logo-icon showed a warhammer imposed on an Imperial prayer-book – Thor’s Faith was stenciled into the hammer’s head. Melville and Caldwell’s bird.
“Sure is,” Jonah replied.
“What do you think, area clear?”
“Yeah, Ugly Five. Looks like the scum have moved off. I’m going to check the western approach of Toolmen’s position. Care to accompany me?”
“Will do, Ugly Four,” Melville replied.
Melville finished his rotation and rose to five hundred feet and angled to accompany Ugly Four.
Jonah tipped the nose of his bird down, shifting the craft to almost vertical. He turned his head to look out of the tinted canopy and slowly rotated the craft 180 degrees. The pressure wave of the engine broke nearby windows and rolled dead bodies down the street. He righted the nose and rose to five hundred feet and set off west.
That maneuver, which Vulture pilots called a ‘head-topper’ was a difficult move to pull off at the best of times. However, between two buildings that were barely wide enough to fit the Vulture in the first place, pulling of a head-topper and maneuvering his craft with balletic ease demonstrated Jonah’s talent at handling gunships.
Some might have thought he was showing off, he was alright with that.
~ II ~
Captain Toolmen’s position was deep in a cluster of low-level buildings, a small temple at the heart. Most were ruined, torn apart by artillery and bombs. A perfect place of his infantry soldiers to set-up and block any enemy forces of getting to near the temple. Above the temple floated two Vultures, moving in small loops, ready to strike out with lethal force at a moment’s notice. Further out two more Vultures flew large loops, strafing and blasting any targets which presenting themselves. Above them still were six Valkryie transports flying in a holding pattern. Jonah and Melville had drifted off as active hunters, seeking targets of opportunity. Though, it seemed the targets were slim on the ground at the moment.
“Ugly Four, Ugly Five take up station on the west end,” voxed Ugly’s Squadron commander Captain Flem O’Davies, “They’ve started taking fire and they’ll be needing you in a few moments.”
“Yes, sir,” voxed Jonah and pulled his craft around and dropped altitude.
“Balor,” he said over the intercom, “get ready to go hot, I’m piping in ground unit vox.”
“No problem, I’m already there,” Sun replied.
He toggled a switch and suddenly the vox speakers in his helmet crackled with half-a-dozen voices talking – infantry units calling out to one another, seeking clarification or explaining ramifications. Remembering his briefing he knew third platoon would be holding the west-end, he selected the correct frequency and called out, “Boots three, Boots three, this is Ugly Four.”
A gruff voice replied back, “Don’t call me Boots, bird-brain.”
“What you gonna do about it, ground-pounder?
“A world of hurt, boy, that’s what.”
“I AM a world of hurt. Where do you want me?”
“Hold,” he said, and after a long pause, “we’re talking sporadic fire. But it shouldn’t be long before the Foe wakes up and realize what we’re up too. Until then just drift and kill, I’ll shout if I need you.”
“Solid Copy,” Jonah said then added, “Boots.”
He looked down and saw a line of green-clad infantry hunkered down behind broken walls or metal debris or in bomb holes. Some looked up, shielding their eyes, some waved. Jonah shook the craft slightly, making the wings tilt back and forth quickly. He was waving back.
He drifted at fifty miles per hour, cruising. Occasionally Sun would spot something that took his interest and the nose-gun would spit fire. More and more las-rounds and tracer rounds whipped around. A few even pinked off the hull. Small arm fire would not harm the craft, but any larger then a rifle was worth avoiding, or destroying. Jonah tripled his speed, and began to move into hunter-kill mode. The big engine hummed louder and the ruined landscape shot by quickly. Sun found more targets. The bolter was rarely quiet for more than a few seconds.
“Ugly Four!” snapped the vox, “Air-support, ninety meter north. We’re taking heavy fire from a long retaining wall. We’re unable to bring any guns to bear.”
“Roger, on it.”
Sunfire banked right and accelerated even further. Coming at the parallel angle to the target gave them a perfect kill lane. Dozens of mud-dark figures hunkered down behind the wall, massing for an attack. Sun strafed something to their left, whatever it was, it exploded violently.
“Rockets out,” said Jonah, and five pairs of rockets spat for the pods under the wings. When they struck the ground they were spaced about fifty feet apart, so the blast zones just overlapped, creating near perfect line of continues explosions. The rockets exploded with deadly force, shrapnel and fire destroyed the figures lurking behind the wall. Jonah flew through the dark smoke, leaving huge swirling patterns in the air.
Roaring over the wall, Jonah spun Sunfire around and surveyed the scene, his pass had blown the smoke away and he could see some things moving around behind the wall. They roared back for another pass, this time the autocannons left a perfect marching line of destruction. Not much was left after his second pass, even the retaining wall was destroyed, gaping section at regular intervals. Banking up and away they made a long loop. Sun’s head swung back and forth, Jonah keeping an eye on the auspex and an ear to the vox.
Captain O’Davies was not impressed with Toolman’s speed and in a series of four-letter insults and references to the infantry captain’s mother he made his feelings known. Toolman’s reply was equally unbecoming of an officer.
Over the intercom Sun said, “Nose is down to fifty percent.”
“Yeah, I see that,” Jonah said, tapping the ammo counter, “Slow down on the hosing. We’ll need those rounds if the pukes take much longer.”
“Longer? What are they doing, having a tea break?”
Jonah laughed, “Yeah, no doubt.”
“It’s getting heavy up here,” Sun said seriously.
“Yeah,” Jonah replied and looked at the city below them. Indeed it was getting heavy, every minute they were in the air more and more fire was being drawn towards them. Lasbolts and tracer rounds streaked the sky, the number of smoke tails generated by hand-held rocket launchers were increasing worryingly. It wouldn’t be long before one of them took a hit. Slowly, but surely, the Foe was rallying. Their forces where mustering to expel the Imperial invaders.
~ III ~
The mission was a snatch and grab. Dufor was a large town, deep in the enemy occupation zone, though largely ignored during the uprising. Not known too many, Dufor also the home to one of the greatest holy treasures on the planet. At the shine of His Golden Zenith, the small austere temple above which Ugly Squadron now patrolled, was the Cloth of Sebastian Thor. Supposedly, in ages past it was the very cloth the great warrior-philosopher wore around his waist when he reclaimed this world, Morgan’s World, in the name of the Emperor from the Ecclesiarchy traitor Goge Vandire during the Reign of Blood. It was said he took the sash and wrapped the wounded arm of a very dear military aid – Morgan, for whom the world was named.
The Great Foe, Chaos, planted the seeds of hate in the heart of the planetary governor and he corrupted the army commanders, who in turned corrupted the many officers. Without warning the army rose and turned on its own world. The tainted soldiers screamed, Blood for the Blood God, Skulls for the Skull Throne, as they destroyed all before them.
Only the island nation of Pirotta, geography distance, economically poor, and politically inferior, held out long enough for the Imperial Navy to arrive. A dozen fully-fledged starships and dozens of troop-stuffed transport crafts came to their salvation. The Imperial Navy fleet arrived and, with the help of the local star fleet, who did not turn from the Emperor’s Grace, secured the near-space around Morgan’s World. Afterwards they immediately launched hundreds of Lighting air superiority fighters and heavy, thuggish Thunderbolt atmospheric fighters. They relentlessly destroyed every craft that took to the skies and within weeks they dominated the planets airspace.
Then came the ground forces.
First the penal legions of Cestus Vale, who suffered horrific loses, but found their redemption through sacrifice. After the convict-conscripts managed to create a tenable pocket, two Beligarso units, the 75th Air-Assault Regiment and the 99th Aviation Regiment, arrived on surface and consolidated a secure and permanent position. The main fighting forces on the planet were three regiments of Cex soldiers. Short and squat the dark-skinned soldiers from the moons of the Cex mining colony were grim and skilled fighters. They took over front-line duties from the Beligarso elites and the air-assault soldiers retired to the rear.
From there they would fly out in their air transports; capturing critical locations, destroying ammo depots, and assist the Cex ground assault by surprising the foe with the suddenness of their arrival and their determination to complete their mission objectives. The Navy’s fighters turned their attention of the Morgan’s traitor armor. With the help of squadrons of gunships they were quickly destroyed.
That was six months ago, and the fighting had been hard.
Every day and night, dozens of crafts from the 99th were running attack sorties. The gunships were a terror to the enemy, and a compliment to their lethality that the Khorne cultists soon began to fear the very sound of the powerful engines. The dark green Vultures hunted in packs, armed with an assortment of weaponry that allowed them to deal with anything short of a Titan. They would appear, unload with bolters, autocannons, lascannons, rockets, and missiles, then disappear as quickly as they had arrived, leaving confusion, disarray, and death. In their time planetside, Jonah and Sun had flown over a hundred sorties and the six gunships of Ugly Squadron had nearly a thousand combined.
Cults of Khorne were not known for their subtly and concern of the esoteric artifacts of the Imperium, nonetheless, once the Imperial commander, the Beligarso-born Carinonova Draco III learned of the Cloth of Sebastian, he wanted it retrieved immediately. He tasked the Beligarso air-infantry Colonel to bring him the Cloth.
The mission plans called for one company of the 75th’s finest, Toolman’s crack stormtroopers, to land and secure the temple and it immediate environs. It came as surprise to many when the Valkryies found the streets to narrow to land and the stormtroopers suddenly found themselves abseiling down quick-ropes instead of running down the ramp. While Toolman’s platoons set up a perimeter, the venerable Dios and a team of specialist, veterans and Ecclesiastic representatives landed and sought the Cloth itself. One hour, Colonel Dios had said in the pre-mission prep. One Hour.
The mission had taking a lot longer than planned. Already they had been on site for the better part of forty minutes, and still no sign of the Cloth of Sebastian.
~ IV ~
“Ugly Four,” came a voice, “Blocker Two. Fire support!”
“Give me coordinates, Blocker Two,” Jonah replied calmly and banked right, angling for the units holding the northwest corner.
“Fire support! You need to take out that building!” Blocker Two yelled, and Jonah could picture in his mind the officer looking at his craft and pointing at the building he wanted destroyed.
“Coordinates, Blocker Two, coordinates. I need you tell me what to shot at. At least describe your target.”
“Gray building, sixty meters in front of my position. Half the left side is gone.”
Jonah scanned, all the buildings were gray and ruined, “Blocker two, you’re going to have to mark the target.”
He waited a few moments for a reply. “Watch for smoke,” it came over the vox.
Below a soldier hefted a grenade launcher and the explosive flow high and far, entering a building though a hole on the second floor. Within moments blue smoke was billowing through broken windows and missing walls.
“Got ya, Blocker Two. Keep your head down.”
Jonah came up fast and angle for the building, he could see pin-pricks of light and lines of tracers whipping from the building. Most aimed for the soldiers on the ground, though some were aiming at him. He pulled up hard, flaring hard. He leveled his craft and let loose with the autocannons. Dozens of explosive rounds pummeled the building as he sweep the craft back and forth across the front face. He could not hear the destruction, but he could see it. The building was simply chewed apart in a hail of explosives and rock-dust.
Another line of explosions erupted over the building. Another Vulture had joined in, Ugly Six. The front half the craft was painted with a huge, snarling mouth – bright, white teeth to consume the enemies of Mankind. Mauler’s Mouth. Between the two gunships, within moments whoever was in the building was dead. Both Vultures turned their guns on the buildings next the mauled one, and repeated the procedure.
“Whoa!” screamed Jonah suddenly and jerked back on the flight stick. A rocket had passed within a meter of the cockpit. Sun’s helmet snapped round following the smoke-tail back to its point of origin. A tongue of fire spat from the nose-bolter.
“You alright, Four?” voxed Ugly Six.
“Yeah, we’re good, watch yourself Wind,” he replied to the other pilot, and then signaled all six crafts of Ugly flight. “Uglys, heads up. Ground mobiles have rocket-launcher. Extra caution advised. The Emperor Pro …”
At that moment he saw another flash point, watched the lazy smoke trail of the rocket lengthen quickly. Tracing it with his eyes he saw the rocket strike Mauler’s Mouth on one of the tail-booms.
“Six is hit, Six is hit!” Jonah shouted over the vox. He watched Six get shoved hard, the aircraft swinging around and buck like an angry horse. Though the nose-gun continued blasting away, the gunner, Weaver, had kept his cool and his mind on his task. The craft was smoking and rattling violently as it banked up and away.
“Six, what’s your status?” roared O’Davies.
“Wait!” The pilot replied tensely, fighting hard to get his craft under control.
“Wind, speak to me!”
“Wait, damn it!” the pilot snarled, then replied more calmly, “I think I’m alright. Lost some flight control, Mauler’s shaking hard, but I think I’m alright.”
By that time Jonah had circled around hard and lined up the building were the rocket had come from. He sent a hail of a dozen rockets. The building suffered his wrath and collapsed, a wave of dust and rockcrete spilling out.
Jonah voxed the ground units, “How was that, Blocker Two?”
“Majestic, Ugly Four, I’ll keep your number handy.”
“You do that,” he replied and set off to get a better look at Ugly Six’s damage.
~ V ~
Based on a Standard Template Construct the Vulture was designed to take a heavy licking and keep on kicking. All systems had a redundant back-up, and often those back-ups had back-ups. The craft was designed for rugged, hard use and could operate without oil for an hour, fly without hydraulic fluid, the ailerons could be operated by hand toggles, the gunner could fly the craft should the pilot be incapacitated, and there were a dozen other clever life-saving systems. They were also designed survive crashing landing if the worst should happen. If the aircraft managed to land belly down the reinforced cockpit and impact resistant seats would absorb the brunt of the impact, many crash survivors got away with only broken legs or shattered vertebra back rather than death.
“Wind, your left boom is heavily damaged, you’re leaking fluid and smoke. I don’t know how it’s still there. You should get back to base.”
“I second Jonah, return to base Ugly Six, my orders,” came O’Davies voice, his craft Big One, skimming along nearby.
“Copy that, returning to base,” Wind said, and angled his craft away to make the hours flight back to their aviary at base Veritas.
“Captain what’s the hold up?” Jonah asked, watching the departing Mauler’s Mouth leak a thin line of smoke. He prayed to the God-Emperor that Wind and Weaver make it back. It would not be the first time a wounded craft attempted to return home only to develop catastrophic mechanical problems.
“I’m not sure. It seems there was Foe in the temple. Dios had to clear out before he could secure the objective.”
“Out the window, Jonah. Returning to pattern Bravo Gladius, stay vigilant.”
“Emperor’s light to you, sir.”
“You too, Jonah.”
~ VI ~
The minutes ticked by and the ground teams suffered ever increasing pressures and the causalities mounted. A dozen had been killed and twice that wounded. Some units began to lose effectiveness. Two blocking units had to give ground and fall back to tighter positions. Normally, the well-armed Valkryries would assist in the patrolling the skies, their man-operated, door-mounted heavy bolters particularly useful in getting into tight spots, but Dios had ordered them to stand-off, not wanting to risk them being damaged or downed.
One hour and twenty-seven minutes into the mission the vox crackled, “All units, objective secured, began extractions routine.”
Jonah smiled and made the sign of the Aquila. He saw Sun do the same. They were both pleased that an object of one the Emperor’s saint was safe in their hands.
Extraction called for the gunship to make fast loops, three in moving in each direction, to attack the perimeter as the infantry fell back into the temple grounds. The transports would land, everyone would load up, and then the Valkryies would be shepherded away by the Vultures.
Keeping to a tight flight path and fly at three hundred miles per hour was difficult. Sun had an especially difficult time attempting to line up targets. He would just shot were he anticipated targets and hope for the best. Jonah would volley rockets at the main intersection with the same idea.
Extraction went well, considering the haphazard way the stormtroopers reboarded their transports. The transports landed, one after another in the plaza in front of the temple, and the troopers raced aboard, the craft took off before the ramp was shut. Then another would repeat. One Valkryie was struck by a rocket and disabled. The blast also killed the pilot, though the co-pilot and the two door-gunners survived, the ladder using plasma grenades to slag the craft into an unusable pile of melted metal. They jumped aboard another craft. The conditions aboard the other five were tight and uncomfortable, particular with the dead and wounded. Sixteen Beligarso Stormtroopers were killed, and another thirty wounded. They did not leave anybody behind, not even the dead.
The blocking units had a difficult time holding the streets, but battle inside the temple had been desperately trying. In the ugly cross-fires and claustrophobic interior Dios had lost half is team, including Major Sardak, the most loved officer in the air-assault regiment. Sardak died as he touched the very Cloth itself, a bullet exploding his head. His blood soaked into the Cloth, adding to the revered artifact’s sanguinary history. His cruel death whipped the snatch-team into a killing frenzy.
The recovery of the Cloth of Sebastian would become a piece of regimental legend, another honor marker on their battle standard.
~ VII ~
When they were a few miles away from the Veritas, a flight of Thunderbolts joined them and escorted them the final leg. The radio crackled with excited chattered, rumor was there were medals, promotions, rewards waiting for them. Once over base Veritas, Jonah circled over their allotted aviary, glad to see a dark green Vulture parked there. Mauler’s Mouth had made it back, after all. That was reward enough for him. Sunfire set down beside the other crafts of Ugly flight.
Jonah and Sun ran through the ritual of deactivation and the thanking of the machine spirit that lived in the aircraft. The canopy popped open with a hiss and he slipped his helmet off, feeling the hot, wet air against his face. The smells of hot metal, promethium fumes and bolter cordite struck him hard. The pilot let out a long sigh and Sun’s hard face looked back, he half-smiled and nodded. Jonah smiled back and leaned forward to pat him on the shoulder, “Emperor bless, Balor,” he said.
Sun Aquilaed himself and climbed out. Jonah did that same.
Ground crews were trotting out to them.
Once on the ground they heard a great cheer and looked across the tarmac, seeing the Valkryies mobbed by base staff, ground crew, and Beligarso soldiers. An elderly man walked off the craft, holding the Cloth high. The crowd roared with excitement. Overcome with a religious fever, they screamed and danced and prayed to the heavens.
Sun squinted and said, “Does this mean the 75th gets the credit again?”
Jonah looked up at the taller man, “Don’t they always just.”