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Chapter Seven: Into the maelstrom

Enemy fire pelted the inside of the downed drop ship incessantly, raining droplets of metal down on its occupants. Sergeant Heller ducked as a bullet ricocheted off his helmet as he peeked out the open door; this was not going to be easy. He took a quick look at his men, fourteen all told, with two of them too injured to move. His fellow sergeant lay in a still spreading pool of his own blood, crushed by the collapse of the rear door. There was a grouping of buildings outside of the left hand jump door, some distance away. It was their only chance.

"Jans! Get me a distance reading on those buildings! Keep your head down!"

Jans crawled rapidly to the other side of the craft, lying low to avoid enemy shooting, if the enemy made one good grenade toss... The corporal hefted his rifle on the edge of the runner and activated its targeter.

"Fifteen meters!"

It was a long run, but they didn't have much choice, staying in the ship would be suicide. A lucky hit could blow the fuel and ammo storage and send them all flying. On the other hand, running across open ground under a hail of fire could kill them all before they made it half way. This was not good. Heller was used to following orders and leading his squad, not taking charge. He had to do something though, or they would all die of indecision. He pointed at Raquad and another specwep, then three of his rifleman, including the two wounded.

"You men, cover us! Keep their heads down! Jans, you stay here and direct fire, the rest of you come with me, we have to make it to those buildings! Whatever you do, don't stop running! Once we hit, secure the immediate area and wait for more orders!... Start shooting!!"

They all nodded affirmatives and the fire team crouched into position, lobbing grenades and snapping off bursts of las fire in the direction of the heretics shooting.

"Get up and go on my mark! ONE! TWO! MARK!!!"

Mickael threw himself out the door and into the smoke created by grenades and heat discharges, quickly followed by the rest of his unit. His feet hit the dusty ground at a full run, las shots and auto gun fire lancing through the cloud of smoke and dirt from every direction, several times missing by mere centimeters. He heard a shout of surprise and pain from somewhere behind him, one of the troopers had not been as lucky so far as he. The enemy position grew nearer with every step, and Heller pulled a grenade from his webbing as he continued forward. There! The low wall of the make shift defenses materialized out of the haze, four traitors firing from behind the sandbags. A large loading door was elevated a few feet behind them and opened into what appeared as a sort of barracks cafeteria. Mickael lobbed the grenade over the wall, and was briefly gratified as the heretics scrambled to it. He was less gratified when one found it, and threw it back. It exploded three meters in the air, sending razor sharp shrapnel raining down on the chargers. Luckily enough, all were wearing their helmets, so damage would be minimal. The same could not be said of the defenders. Heller brought his rifle to his shoulder, with the enemy distracted, he had closed within several feet of the sandbag wall. He let loose a rapid fire burst as one of the enemy rifle men brought his own weapon to bare, brilliant scarlet las fire opened the traitors chest to the world before he could get a shot off. The dead mans head snapped back with the impact and sprayed bright arterial blood across his comrades before Heller cut them down with a sustained burst. His enemy felled, he ejected the empty las clip, and then slammed another home while several more men joined him. Two stood with him in this defense, and he could see four others in a spot five meters to his left. He activated his vox bead.

"Everyone listen up! We'll clear this building, then form up on the south side! We have to silence those hydras or help will never show up!" he turned to his two companions, both men from another squad. Yet they looked at him as they would their own sergeant... "Cover me on the way in. Go!"

Heller jumped up onto the elevated platform with his gun raised. The room was large and square, like all cafeterias across the galaxy, with kitchens, storage rooms, and likely an office or two on the opposite side from them. Long tables were scattered across the room, with several tipped on their sides. His troopers hopped up behind him and moved forward. Together they took a half dozen steps into the room and ducked behind a table. The room was eerily quiet, the thick walls dulling the cacophony of gunfire outside. No enemies were evident; it seemed to have been quickly emptied. He stood, and darted for the next table. His men quickly followed while he covered the opposite wall. So far so good. What he had thought was one large building was actually two separated by what seemed to be a narrow alley. He and his two soldiers were alone here. He started for the next table, nearing the back of the room now. There! A traitor jumped from behind a serving counter and opened fire, his first round caught Heller in the upper chest, spinning him and knocking him to the floor as his return shots peppered the ceiling. Mickael gasped for breath and felt his chest, then sighed in relief. The round had lodged in his carapace. A brief flurry of las shots silenced his attacker, and after the clatter of upturned cooking utensils ceased, the silence returned. He pulled himself to his feet.

"I'm fine, I'm fine. It hit the vest. Lets go."

He headed for the hallway to the right of the kitchen.

"Split off at each doorway and clear the room."

His men went forward, splitting off left and right at the first two doors along the hall. Heller continued forward to the next door. He pushed the door open with the nose of his rifle, and then went inside. It was some sort of food closet, cans stacked high in every corner, nothing to see here. He backed out and was joined by his men. They continued. Next was a kitchen entrance, and one last office type room.

"You two take the kitchen; I'll cover the last room."

They made their way through the door, expertly covering each other as they walked into the room. Heller continued down the hall toward the closed door. It was shut. He tried the handle, but it was locked. He sighed; it couldn't be easy, could it? He pressed his back against the wall opposite, then slammed a foot into the center of the door. It swung open with a shower of splinters as he followed through. Before he could react, the door shot closed again, smashing him against the door frame and crushing his fingers against his armor, forcing him to drop his rifle. Heller yelled in pain as the door opened then crashed closed again, but this time he was ready. As the door came open to slam him again, he surged forward, pushing his newfound opponent against the office wall. They fell back, both surprised, but his enemy had an advantage. He had a gun. The heretic raised a las pistol as both combatants recovered; Heller lashed a foot out, catching the knuckles gripping the weapon with his armoured toe. The heretic howled in pain and dropped the weapon. Mickael lunged for the surprised foe, and swung a punch for his enemies face. His opponent recovered from his damaged fingers quickly, bringing up his arm to block the guardsmens swing, and then returning his own fist towards Hellers stomach, just below his protective plating. The hit caught him full in the gut, and he dropped to his knees. He threw himself at his opponent so that they were both writhing on the ground, hampered by fighting on the ground. Heller rolled on top of his attacker, struggling for the upper hand as his helmet tumbled across the floor. The traitor spit directly at Hellers eyes, momentarily blinding him just long enough for a wild swing of the recovered helmet to catch the side of his head. He hit the floor on his side as his opponent scrambled for the pistol; Mick lashed a foot out, sending the gun skittering across the carpeted floor and under an office chair. He ripped his combat knife from its sheath and jumped to his feet, his opponent did the same. The traitor lunged for Hellers throat in desperation, and got the knife in his gut for all the trouble. The enemy soldier slumped against him, throat gurgling as it filled with blood. The unexpected weight drove Mickael to the desk at the end of the room, where he dumped the dying body off of him and removed his knife. He ran to the chair, dumping it on its side in his hurry, to retrieve the pistol. He spun on his heel and fired four shots into the chest of the slowly rising traitor guard. It slumped back onto the desk, blood spreading across the scattered papers beneath it. The other two burst into the room as Heller was catching his breath, a thin stream of blood trickling down the side of his head. He smiled at them as he tossed the smoking pistol to the ground and wiped his knife clean with a requisition order for canned vegetables.

"Ready to go?"