Titus Harcourt clung to the battered concrete remnants of a building, pressing his body as flat as possible as the bone-rattling noise of a massive Ork vehicle threatened to overwhelm his senses as it passed. The titanic combustion engines of the thing belched toxic smoke from un-muffled exhaust stacks in great black gouts, driving it through the city indiscriminately. If the driver gave any care to where the vehicle went, he gave no sign, since the fifty-ton cylinder of steel driven before the massive battlewagon crushed any conceivable obstacle and Harcourt somehow doubted the thing was capable of steering much anyway.
So close did the mammoth war engine pass, that Harcourt looked up and saw the dozen or so orks hanging from its side in enough detail to make out facial scars and freakishly primitive augmetic implants that, by all appearances, should have long since killed their owners. One ork, he noted, had its ears attached to its head with broad iron staples, the like of which might have held shingles on houses. For the tenth time that day (night?) Harcourt again prayed the creatures wouldn't see him, knowing full well that the automatic weapons and heavy blades they carried were not for show.
Though some orks did look his direction, none of them raised alarm. The battlewagon passed, and the cacophonous racket of its engines slowly died as well. Harcourt muttered a prayer of thanks to the Emperor and, begrudgingly, offered a silent thank you to the Tau engineer who designed the stealth field that had, thus far, kept him so well concealed. The battlewagon had been the closest call yet, and still none of the greenskins had been able to spot him in the shadows while the Tau technology blurred his outlines and camouflaged him with his surroundings.
Still, just because he had survived ten close calls didn't mean he'd make it through the eleventh. His luck, not to mention the field's battery packs, couldn't be infinite. Sooner or later an ork was going to spot him, and when that happened he was good as dead. He had to find this gargant, and quick.
That, of course, was the whole problem. One would think that finding a mountainous war machine would be relatively easy, but the chaos that enveloped the ork city, not to mention its complete lack of logical civic planning, meant that Harcourt had become completely, thoroughly lost. He had often tried scaling some of the taller buildings to get his bearings, but the number of orks in bizarre flying machines or attached to rockets (a fact he still found hard to believe) had increased to the point where he found the risk unacceptable. The only thing was that he was running out of ideas.
Harcourt scurried across the 'street', which was to say he hopped across the path of destruction left by the battlewagon and scurried into a large pipe on the other side that appeared to lead through yet another titanic pile of rubble. If the pipe ever served a practical purpose-like waste removal or water transport-it was long since lost now. Its insides were hot as blazes and dry as a bone, but it was dark and kept him out of sight. With the Tau 'blacksun' filter in his goggles activated, he was fairly confident he'd see any orks before they saw him.
He had scarcely gone fifty meters before that notion was quickly proven wrong. From around a corner, not more than an arm-length in front of him, a tiny grot with his hands clutching something shiny popped out in front of Harcourt. The creature saw him immediately and, squealing like a piglet, turned to make a run for it. Harcourt, all devotion to stealth temporarily lost, shot after him.
The grot was short enough that he could stand in the tunnel and run full tilt, but Harcourt was significantly stronger and had longer arms. He charged around the corner, head down, and lunged after the creature. He caught it by the ankle. It screamed again and quickly leaned down to bite him on the hand. Its tiny, needle-like teeth pierced his glove and tore into the soft flesh between his thumb and forefinger, but held on with a roar, knowing full well a cut-up hand would be the least of his problems if the little thing escaped.
Harcourt brought his other hand up to punch the grot in the side of the head. His first hit didn't shake it free, but the second jab knocked it into the wall. While it was still dazed, he seized it by its grubby, rag-like shirt and pounded it against the wall. The little thing's body went limp like a rag doll.
Still holding the grot tightly, Harcourt checked to see if it was alive. It was, and it had a lot to say. "No splatta Creepa! No splatta Creepa! You biggun ded shooty nob, ya! No splatta Creepa-he gotz lotta loot. Teef! You wanta teef? Creepa know lotz! No splatta!"
After taking a moment to parse through its strange accent, Harcourt was surprised-no, horrified-to discover he could understand it. "Shut up, or you're dead!"
The grot wailed. "NOOO! No splatta Creepa!"
Harcourt banged it against the wall a few times more. "Shut the hell up!"
The thing-Creepa, apparently was its name-went limp again. Harcourt kept both his hands fixed tightly around its shoulders, holding it's feet off the ground. His first instinct was to just dash the wretched xeno's head open on the closest piece of jagged metal, but, in thinking about where to find a piece of jagged metal, something occurred to him. "Hey!" He shook it, "Hey you, Creepa!"
Creepa looked up, and managed a grin of yellow, jagged teeth beneath its disproportionately large green nose. "You no splatta Creepa?"
"Hell yes, I splatta Creepa!"
Creepa wailed and squirmed. "NOOOOO!"
Harcourt banged the thing against the wall some more. It's melon-like head made a 'pong'-ing noise with every hit. "Why shouldn't I, Creepa? If I let you go, you're gonna go get some of your buddies and splatta me!"
Creepa hissed out a snicker, but was thoughtful enough to add. "No, no-Creepa good grot. Creepa forget efferyfing!"
"Bullshit-you're lying." Harcourt put a hand on the grot's throat and applied enough pressure to show he wasn't kidding.
"Creepa give you teef!" it croaked.
Harcourt shook his head. "Don't want teef!"
"Anyfing! Anyfing! Pleez no splatta me!"
Harcourt grinned and loosened his grip a little. "Well, there is one thing I'm looking for... "
The grot nodded frantically. "Anyfing! Creepa know all kinds of good loot!"
"Well, not loot, exactly." Harcourt said. "You know the gargant they're building?"
Creepa's eyes widened, "Gar-gant? You mean Big Gork?"
Harcourt shook his head. "No, bigger than that. The biggest thing ever."
"Ya! Ya! That's Big Gork!"
"Okay, fine then. You take me there."
The grot's smile vanished. "Big nobz there sayz nobody goes to Big Gork but reel Boyz. They splatta us!"
"Let me put it to you this way, Creepa: either you bring me there and you might get splatta, or you don't and I splatta you right now."
Creepa didn't have to think about that one very long. "You let me go first!"
"In a minute, but first... " Harcourt fished around his harness for something he could use to keep the grot from running off. All he came up with was the laser-pointer. Figuring it was good as anything, he pulled it out and pointed it at Creepa's head. He was pleased when Creepa flinched. "You see this?"
"No! No zap Creepa! You promise!"
Harcourt grabbed hold of the back of Creepa's rag shirt. "You try to pull away from me, and I'm going to shoot you in the head, got it?"
Creepa growled at this. He tugged a little when Harcourt set him down, but Harcourt pressed the 'barrel' of the pointer into the base of his neck when he did, and the grot immediately relented. Satisfied, Harcourt said. "Right-off we go." The grot led on, grumbling things under his breath that Harcourt was sure weren't flattering.
Harcourt had himself a guide.
* * * * * * * *
If Creepa knew where he was going, it was impossible for Harcourt to tell. All he could do was threaten and occasionally beat the grot when he did anything suspicious, and hope for the best. Bizarrely, Harcourt got the sense that Creepa was pleased with this treatment. The little beast even began to knuckle his forehead when Harcourt gave orders, which made him more uneasy than anything else.
The further they went into the Ork settlement, the more densely populated it became. Orks of increasingly larger sizes could be found building, testing, and carting weapons to and fro in virtually every lane, alley, rubble pile, or abandoned bunker in sight. Creepa, with an expertise born of a lifetime of cowardice, led Harcourt through tangled mazes of abandoned piping, through forgotten tunnels and mines nearly ready to collapse, and through heaps of trash so pungent and fetid that even the grot felt the need to retch. Harcourt again found himself blessing the Tau engineer who designed his respirator, since without it he was fairly certain he would have succumbed to the overwhelming chemical stench and poisonous fumes that poured through most of Creepa's favorite 'sneaky-wayz.'
Finally, after hours of crouched wandering, the two of them came out atop a concrete slab that at one point had probably served as a landing platform, but was now so littered with the charred remains of what had been either a rocket, an airplane, or some twisted ork combination of both that it was no longer usable. Creepa tugged Harcourt to the edge of the platform and pointed. "See! Big Gork!"
The sight before Harcourt's eyes was so awesome and terrifying that he found himself standing up to get a better view. The gargant was bigger than he had imagined, which made it so huge that he had a hard time comprehending the mechanical beast as real. Defended on three sides by gigantic, arched blast shields that stretched almost four-hundred meters into the air, the Ork war machine-temple was the size of a small mountain. Its armor plates were meters thick and painted in garish colors that stunned and offended the human eye, and were inscribed with the crude, brutish glyphs of the ork language. Bristling from almost every square meter of the gargant were loopholes through which artillery pieces of every size, shape, and description--from small-caliber autocannons to gargantuan bombards that looked like they could fire shells the size of Leman Russ Battle Tanks-pointed out over the whole of the settlement. For every gun there was a horde of orks and grots to service and supply it. Over the monstrous vehicles ponderous, bloated girth crawled thousands upon thousands of orks carrying shells and equipment to their respective guns, and these hordes were overseen by towering ork bosses and nobz that dwarfed their smaller cousins and who, themselves, seemed to number in the hundreds. At the gargant's apex crouched the thing's command deck, fashioned in the image of a leering ork head festooned with fangs and tusks which were, themselves, crude missiles and rockets. In summary, Harcourt gazed upon an engine of destruction that, he was forced to admit, humbled even the Titans of Mars.
After staring for a good while, Harcourt found his voice. "Emperor's teeth! If that thing moves out of here, it will level the whole damn city when it goes." It then occurred to him that the number of orks climbing inside the beast and the urgency of the Tau mission could not have been a coincidence; they were getting ready to move out. An ork 'waaaagh' was preparing to launch.
That's when he realized he had lost track of Creepa. Swearing, he spun around to look for him, and spotted the grot dancing in plain sight of a passing buggy full of orks that was driving along a road just beneath them. "Hey! You boyz! Uppa here! Dis git is gonna smasha Big Gork!"
"Dammit!" Harcourt swore one of the orks aboard the buggy swiveled the mounted, twin-barreled cannon his direction and opened fire. Large caliber slugs thunked and panged off of the debris nearby, and he hit the deck. He knew, at that very moment, a half dozen orks were running up the slope, heavy bladed swords and axes at the ready. With Creepa revealing his position, he doubted the stealth field was going to do him any good and, as if matters couldn't get any worse, he was still completely unarmed.
Made bold by the advancing orks, Creepa produced a small knife from somewhere and jumped at Harcourt, yellow teeth bared. Harcourt caught him by the head and threw him to the ground then, placing a boot on the grot's chest, twisted the knife free and whirled to face the first ork.
The hulking green alien opened with a wild swing with his crude falchion meant to take Harcourt's head off his shoulders. Harcourt ducked and thrust the knife into the beast's belly, which elicited no reaction whatsoever. The iron-tipped boot of the ork caught Harcourt in the chest, knocking him over backwards onto a sharp piece of metal debris, which cut into his right shoulder. The ork pursued his advance, and stood over Harcourt with his weapon raised.
Harcourt's death, though, was forestalled by the fact that the 'covering fire' from the buggy never stopped, and the ork over him was struck with a pair of rounds that took off both his head and weapon arm. Rather than falling down, though, the headless, one-armed ork charged off in another direction, slamming straight into another of his fellows. The pair of them fell down grappling, with the one-armed, headless ork managing somehow to get the better of the uninjured one.
Leaping to his feet, Harcourt darted away from another two orks, one of which had a semi-automatic pistol which he aimed at Harcourt, but which blew up in his hand before a shot could be fired. Searching frantically for a weapon, Harcourt came upon a discarded ork 'rifle' approximately the size and weight of a heavy stubber. Hefting it, he managed to get off a burst at point-blank range at another ork who was about to cleave his skull in two with what appeared to be a tire-iron. The rounds punched through the ork's crude armor and caused it to topple backwards and back down the slope it had come from.
Still, two more orks closed the distance with him-one who was missing a hand from his exploding sidearm, and another who was twirling a block of concrete on a chain. The one-handed one lunged at Harcourt, but he managed to stuff the stubber in its face as it came and blew off its head. This time, the decapitation stuck and the ork collapsed, but he didn't have time to revel in his victory before the concrete block-and-chain slammed into his wounded shoulder, knocking him head over heels. The ork tugged the makeshift flail back and began to spin again, advancing on Harcourt and laughing madly. Harcourt scurried backwards, still ducking and weaving to dodge the incoming fire from the buggy, whose operator was clearly now shooting at everyone involved in the fight, ork or not.
The ork swung the block-and-chain at him again, and Harcourt narrowly avoided the blow, this time cartwheeling awkwardly into another pile of metal shrapnel. The jagged edges cut through something vital in the Tau suit, and Harcourt's stealth field flickered and died. Ignoring the probably fatal loss of his camouflage, he grabbed a blackened metal pipe the length of his arm and threw it at the attacking ork. It hit the beast in the legs, causing him to trip and release the spinning concrete block too soon. Instead of flying at Harcourt, it struck the ork in the back of his own head. There was a sickening 'squelch', and the ork fell over dead.
With no more orks immediately attacking, Harcourt took his bearings. He could hear the shouts of alarm and guttural war cries of more orks nearby closing on their position-the alarm was raised. If he was blowing up a gargant, it had to be now. He cast about for the laser-pointer, but it was nowhere. "Dammit!" he swore.
Harcourt turned to see Creepa, the laser pointer in hand, pointing it directly at him. He still thinks it's a gun! Harcourt thought and, realizing what was behind him, he ducked just as the grot pulled the trigger. In that instant, two-hundred meters distant, a pair of innocuous red dots appeared on the side of the gargant the orks called 'Big Mork'.
Though Harcourt didn't know it, the target designator in Creepa's hands read the telemetry and structural makeup of the gargant in a fraction of a second and transmitted that information via the emergency transponder in Harcourt's suit to a tight formation of twenty-four Tau heavy bombers.
Using the data received, the Tau bomber wing was able to coordinate a hundred different firing solutions through the dense smog-cover the orks had established over their base and, without even a single eye on target, launched an array of heavy cruise missiles, each guided by an AI drone, to the target.
Creepa, who was at first wholly disappointed at the complete lack of noise made by the git's kustom laza shoota, was suddenly overwhelmed by an aerial bombardment the likes of which he had never imagined possible. Nearly one-hundred seeker missiles streamed out of the sky and, with unerring accuracy, wound their way past the gargant's blast shields to strike the hull of the metal monstrosity. Grouped into fours, the first missile would hit and do little but dent the gargant's armor, but then the second would hit nearly the exact same place, and then the third, too, so that, finally, when the fourth struck, it penetrated deep into the interior of the war engine. Though the bombardment lasted less than a minute, the destruction was total. Ammunition stores within the gargant ignited, setting off secondary explosions that swallowed thousands of orks in their aftermath and which, in turn, ignited more explosions until, at last, the reactor powering the gargant itself was compromised. The earth shook, and every ork in the Green Zone wailed at the death of their God.
Harcourt marveled at the devastation with the rest of them, but only for a moment. He'd seen a coordinated Tau airstrike before, and he didn't have time to reflect on the peculiarity of his being the one that called it in this time. He knew that the Gargant was probably going to meltdown and explode in a giant cloud of radiation, and he wanted to be very far away when that happened.
He left Creepa with the targeter, and ran for the buggy down below. It was his one ticket out of here, and he wasn't going to let it get away.
To Be Continued...