The glitter of city lights sparkled below them, distant enough to be on another planet. Able tried to forget that they were about to launch themselves out into the midnight air with nothing more than a fine rope to keep them from plummeting down into that distant world. He’d done several planetfall drops from Valkyries, but his experience with rope work was limited to clipping himself in to precarious vantage points in the odd city fight he’d been called to. Abseiling down a hundred meter high dam in the dead of night was a new experience and, in spite of Folorn’s assurances that their equipment would get them down safely, he was riddled with doubt. So many things had gone wrong for them on this throne-forsaken planet that he was growing increasingly pessimistic about their chances of getting out of this alive, let alone completing their mission. How in a hundred hells were they supposed to ‘extract’ the elected head of the Castellon magistratum? This sort of an operation ought to be one for a damn army, not a small band of misfits of whom, in the small time they’d spent on this world, two had spent days on the brink of death. Indeed, Able was certain that Lazarus was still in no fit state to be here with them, but the Preacher had insisted, claiming the Emperor would protect him from all harm. Because, of course, that had worked out so well for him at the naval base.
The railway tracks hummed with sudden energy, and a few seconds later a cargo train clattered past them at breakneck speed, out over the dam and into the darkness on the other side.
“Let’s move” The muffled voice of Folorn, the mysterious sniper with the even more mysterious rifle, stirred Able from his thoughts. “We’ve got half an hour before the next train, don’t waste it.”
It took them ten minutes to reach their destination, a rail on the maintenance walkway just like a hundred others they had passed. Folorn, not even looking over the side to check his calculations, smoothly clipped himself in and vaulted over the handrail, landing with his heels hanging over the abyss.
“There’s a service hatch halfway down that leads to a network of tunnels, they’ll get us inside without the guards on the gate being any the wiser. Just do what I do, and I’ll see you down there.” With a powerful leap he disappeared backwards over the edge, the whine of rope slipping over metal fading into the darkness with him.
Lazarus, who had been carefully watching every move Folorn made, confidently clipped himself in and scrambled over the railing, hitching his robes up to his thighs to do so.
“By the Emperor’s will I’ll see you there, brothers!” He exclaimed, a smile on his face in spite of the grievous wounds he must have still been suffering from, as he too, disappeared into the dark. Krell was next, clipping himself in and climbing the railing with a grunt. He leaned back bodily, testing his weight against the harness and grapple; then, without a word, stepped backwards, release’s the catch and vanished. Enoch followed, saying nothing. It seemed to Able that the Psyker was deliberately avoiding his gaze as he stepped backwards over the edge. He wasn’t entirely surprised, after what Krell had told him outside the cafe that morning. Whatever the chip was in the Arbites’ head there was a similar one in his own, and he’d resolved to force Octus to remove it as soon as possible, whatever it took. Krell had been acting strangely for days now, and Able was fast becoming certain that the device was more than just a communicator. He had no idea what the mechanicum were capable of doing to a man’s mind with their machines, and if Octus could somehow control Krell remotely they were all in serious danger. Able couldn’t even share his fears with the others thanks to the damned chip in his own head; though, luckily for the rest of the group, it didn’t seem to be affecting his own behavior. At least he would be keeping an eye on Krell, no one else seemed even slightly perturbed by the situation. But then, of course, they wouldn’t, they were civilians in a warzone, children cast out into the jungle with no idea how much danger they were really in. He’d seen the perfidious claws of the enemy claim the most dedicated of men, all because they thought they were untouchable, and while he was forced to work with Octus and his people to maintain their cover, he had no intention of trusting the slippery tech-priest.
As he started clipping himself onto the railing Able looked down at the four ropes that had been attached before his, and leaned back to test his weight against the grapple. Suddenly, before could step back over the edge the world went white, a bright flash that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere, assailing all his senses at once. Able threw his arm over his eyes with a yell of pain and pulled himself sharply back to the railing. He held them shut tightly for a few seconds, then gingerly lifted his head and opened one eye, keeping the other closed to preserve his night vision in case whatever the flash had been happened again, but he saw nothing. Turning frantically he looked out over the city, then down at his hand gripping the steel rail of the walkway, but there was only darkness. Carefully he climbed back onto the safe side of the railing and knelt, feeling the cold, comforting solidity of the grated walkway below him, his shoulder pressed reassuringly against the fence. What had happened to his sight? Could Octus have activated some secondary functionality of the chip, attempting to sabotage his descent? It was the only thing that made sense, in the confusion of the flash he could easily have missed the catch on his belay and fallen to his death and, worse yet, none of the others would have realised that he’d been murdered. It was the perfect setup: in such a dangerous situation no one would even think to suspect Octus’ hand in any mishaps, in fact, Able considered, he wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d somehow sabotaged the rest of the team as well. As he sat, considering his options, his vision slowly began to return. Before long the lights of the industrial districts of Castellon glittered once more below him, and he could see the guard post at the bottom of the dam bustling with sudden activity. Could it have affected them too? Perhaps it wasn’t directed purely at him after all, but then, what on Terra had it been?
The rest of the group were invisible in the darkness, so Able pulled the visor down from his helmet and activated its night vision mode. It took a few seconds to find them, three figures perched on a small shelf, about a hundred meters below. He looked again. Three? Where was the fourth? Looking closer he noticed the distinctive robes of Lazarus, splayed out across the platform around the preacher’s prone figure. Something was seriously wrong. Eventually he made out the other figures on the scaffolding, Enoch and Folorn, so where was Krell?
“What was that?” Folorn’s voice crackled over his radio.
“I told you we weren’t any good at climbing” Able heard Enoch reply over his radio “It appears we didn’t all make it down. Apart from Able, who apparently hasn’t attempted it yet”
Lazarus still wasn’t moving, and Krell nowhere to be seen. Was Enoch saying that they’d lost two men on a routine abseil? This was insane, that equipment was supposed to be foolproof, and now good men had died for no reason.
“Able? Are you coming?” asked Folorn
“After that? no” Able snapped back. “I thought this equipment was supposed to get us down there safely. Apparently it’s just killed two people. I’m not coming down there if it’s going to get me killed.” Something had to have gone wrong with the harnesses, there was no other explanation. But they had bought it that very morning, the only people who had access to it since then had been their own group, surely none of them would have sabotaged their own equipment? Especially if they knew it would get them killed. Unless… Unless the chip in Krell’s head had even more control over him than they had possibly imagined. What if Octus could force him to do things and make him forget he’d ever done them? And of course, if Krell happened to die in a tragic accident he’d never even get a chance to realise there were gaps in his memory. Something had to be done about Octus.
But right now, they had a mission.
Able unclipped his harness from the railing and started walking back to the cliff top. A voice, clear as day despite the distance, sounded in his head. This time he was sure, It hadn’t come from his earpiece, but from somewhere inside. It was Krell, he was alive, but in bad shape.
“Octus, I know you can hear me. I need you to find Krell.”
“One moment. Yes, I’ve got his location, I’ll send it through to your visor”
Able activated his earpiece, trying to raise Frags. Of Octus’ cell she was the only one he felt was remotely trustworthy, perhaps Octus hadn’t been able to subvert her as he had Boldon. It took a few seconds but eventually he was able to connect.
“Able? What do you want?”
“Frags, I need a favour…” He swiftly considered the situation. It wouldn’t be enough to wait outside, with Lazarus seriously injured and Krell missing Enoch and Folorn would be on their own. He was going to have to find a way into the mine.
“…Make that two favours”