Tobias placed a hand against the bulkhead. Though he would never openly admit it, he had a deep respect for engineers. Tobias let the vibrations travel from the metal along his arm and infuse his body.
In a flight of fancy, he imagined himself as one with the drop-ship. It may have been fanciful, but he enjoyed the imagery.
“LISTEN UP!” The order swept down the hold like it was supposed to.
Tobias reluctantly removed his hand, slipping his armoured gauntlet back on. His day dream slipping sadly away, he turned his attention back to the assault commander.
“Most of you know the drill by now, but for the new slime balls amongst us” The commander laughed harshly “Here it is again, without the aid of pictures. We drop next to the hospital, grab what we can, load up the cargo ships and then leave. Not hard is it? If you can’t manage that, don’t bother getting back on.”
Many had expected Tobias to take the role of assault commander. When he was younger, that had been his aim. Now he was older, wiser as well, he hoped.
Promotion in the fleet was through dead mans shoes. If the individual in the chosen position still happened to be alive, no one cared unduly if you helped them on their way.
The previous commander of Tobias’s squad was about as psychotic as they came. No-one was sure if he had got his promotion. As a result, the position he vacated was left unfilled for several weeks. If their erstwhile commander failed to get promoted and managed to stay alive, no one wanted to be in his old job when he came back.
When it was universally accepted that the old commander had either succeeded, or was space debris, there followed a sharp and brutal ascension.
The current commander, at three weeks, had lasted longer than the previous five. One of whom had lasted barely ten minutes. The squad, at present, was the closest it would ever be to stable.
Tobias surfaced fully out of his reverie. The new commander was still speaking.
“Luxury items are still permitted, along with personal items, as long as they are of small nature.” There was a cheer which Tobias refrained from joining “Pets are still banned on pain of death.” There was a resounding boo which Tobias joined in with.
One of the few decent perks of the job, as far as Tobias was concerned, was pets. If on your travels, you happened to spot a male or female that took your fancy, you could take them back on board as a ‘pet’. When you got bored of your pet, or it developed ideas above its station, you simply put it in the nearest airlock and hit ‘cycle’.
This was fine, until one of the pets turned out to be a Vindacre assassin. There then followed a rather lengthy search and destroy which resulted in almost crippling damage to the ship and vast reduction in crew size. Not to mention being hounded by an Imperial flotilla intent on wiping out the fleet.
Eventually the annoying pet was caught and put down. With the loss of their beacon, the Imperials soon lost track of them. Since then, no pets, to which as everyone agreed, was a bit of a bummer.
“You all have a list of what we need. Anyone I catch slacking will be left behind. That’s if I don’t shoot you first.” He pointedly looked at a few individuals. One of whom looked at the floor nervously.
Tobias couldn’t blame him. Even if he worked like ten men, his chances of getting back on the shuttle were slim. If your face didn’t fit...
The craft started to buck slightly as it entered the utter atmosphere. Somewhere, someone started humming. After a couple of seconds there was a bang that sounded remarkably like a mark eight combat helmet hitting the bulkhead. The humming stopped.
The ambient air pressure changed. Tobias swallowed to ease the pressure on his inner ear. The air inside the shuttle started to heat up. The high temperature outside, due to friction from atmospheric resistance, permeating through the hull. It would get hotter yet, as insulation was not a priority on assault shuttles.
Tobias knew from experience, that parts of the inner bulkhead would soon get to hot to touch.
The noise steadily built to a painful crescendo, they were close now.
There was a sudden jolt and the drop-ship tilted to one side. The sound of air rushing past the hull replaced with that of something else.
Rubble and reinforcement beams.
It was standard operating procedure to land on buildings. Buildings could not withstand the weight of drop-ships, let alone one on full entry burn. What they did do was cushion the landing like a collapsing spring. Absorbing velocity, which they would otherwise have to loose with thrusters, consuming valuable fuel as they did so.
The pilot deftly corrected the adverse yaw as she continued to smash through floor after floor, slowing slightly each time.
There were other advantages to the technique. Just before they land, drop-ships make easy and tempting targets. Being surrounded by a collapsing building was a very effective shield. The dust cloud was good cover from view and the spray of rubble from the down draft, ensured no welcoming committee was alive, or in a fit state to contest their arrival.
With a jolt, Tobias’s jaws snapped shut as the craft came to an abrupt halt. He cursed his inattention; glad his tongue had not been between his teeth.
Hitting his harness release the same time the doors sprung open, Tobias wasted no time getting outside.
A perfectly clear area surrounded the assault craft, swept clear of all loose debris by the thrusters. The hull pinged as it cooled down.
Well drilled and experienced, each went to their designated positions, securing the drop-ship perimeter.
Above the rising dust cloud, what was left of “Emperors Vengeance” was flaring spectacularly through both thermo and meso spheres, caught by the planets gravity well.
Training his sight on movement, Tobias relaxed his trigger finger as the settling dust shifted to reveal a survivor of the buildings collapse crawling away. Ammunition, like most of his equipment, came out of his own pocket, as it did with every raider.
The target did not justify the expenditure.
Behind Tobias, the main doors of the drop-ship cranked slowly open. A Squat modified rhino eased down the loading ramps.
The ear bud of his radio cracked annoyingly with white noise. Without taking his gaze from scanning the devastation before him, Tobias fine tuned the com-unit till it stopped crackling.
The disembarked rhino revved its engines and dropped its ‘V’ shaped dozer blade as soon as it was clear of the ramps.
Keeping the throttle high, the driver aimed for a dip in the rubble rim. The rhino hit the rubble barrier at speed. The noise of rubble impacting the armoured blade, drowning out the roar of the engines. Spraying rubble to either side in a wide arc, the driver increased throttle to keep up the momentum.
The order came to move out. Tobias quickly checked that all his pockets and pouches were fastened securely, and then took his place in the squad. As Tobias jogged behind the trailblazing rhino, another negotiated the ramp.
The second rhino was devoid of a blade. Like the first, it also had been heavily Squat modified. Working to specifications and needs of the fleet, the Squats had taken a rhino chassis and increased its length by almost one hundred percent. Greatly increasing its cargo carrying capacity, it allowed for the fitting of larger and more powerful engines. It also benefited from a larger fuel tank.
The fleet paid for such work, by supplying the Squats with mechanical equipment, medical supplies, manufacturing machinery and occasionally, luxury items. Luxury items consisted mainly of strong spirits and wine you could run an engine on. No questions were asked, no answers were given.
Sometimes the fleet took on Squat contracts to explore or reclaim space hulks, or recce new planets thrown out by the warp.
Their target had been left relatively untouched by the initial aerial bombardment. Not always the case as gunners had a marked tendency to get carried away.
A large crowd had gathered under the large red Aquilla at the entrance gates.
The lead rhino never slowed as it ploughed into, then through the crowd.
Tobias and the rest of the jogging troops kept to their pace, increasing their alertness for trouble, as they ran down the cleared road. The following rhino deliberately veered off the cleared path, the driver adding to the carnage and terror.
The plough equipped rhino reached the main doors to the hospital. Its cleated tracks digging into the road surface, as it spun round ready for the return journey. The crowd at the front gate had got the message. Those still alive were fleeing as fast as they could run or crawl.
The transport rhino pulled up. Tobias opened up the back, pulling out suspension trolleys. Keeping the last trolley for himself, he pulled out a piece of tattered paper with a list of required goods.
Time was of the essence, the list prioritised for wealth and ease of collect-ability. The trolley hovering behind him, Tobias was one of the last to enter the hospital.
The token security guards lay dead at the foyer entrance, along with a few staff who hadn’t obeyed instructions fast enough.
Tobias liked hospitals. They were almost always laid out identically to each other, no matter what planet they were on. This made them much easier to pillage. He headed towards the trauma department. A couple of others were headed that way as well. Tobias was not worried about them getting there first. They were not likely to be after the same items as he was.
Occasionally he passed a dead member of the hospital staff, who had either not got out of the way fast enough, or done something stupid enough to warrant terminal attention.
The dispensing chemist was exactly where he expected it to be. He swung his rifle round and shot the lock out. Kicking open the door, he pulled the sled in behind as he entered.
Two terrified pharmacists stared at him. He waved the rifle barrel in the direction of the door.
“OUT” He commanded.