SERGEANT ZAHARIEL peered intently through the armoured glass of the Rhino's vision slits.
"Keep this thing on course and at full power" he grunted.
"Very well Brother" replied the driver.
Zahariel was worried. The Rhino had traveled forty leagues across the blasted ash wastes of the northern zone. They had been briefed to expect trouble at some point along the journey, but so far all was quiet. The rest of the first squad in the load bay of the Rhino was jittery but tensed for immediate action, bolters loaded, power packs on. It is worse for them thought Zahariel; they can't see where we are. Another Rhino held formation two hundred metres to the right and slightly behind the first, a great plume of ash dust streaming from the tracks of the speeding transport.
The grey light of the short northern day was fast dwindling, to be replaced by the inky black thickness of a long night; the twin moons hung over Antioch Major becoming visible as the light vanished. The automatic sensors turned the blue interior lights to red and display monitors were dimmed to the standard night travel mode's 70%. Proximity sensors were turned to full range — in the hope of giving greater warning of any forthcoming attack. But these sensors can be tricked and are never relied upon.
"Night watch forward". Zahariel's voice crackled over our commlinks. This was the order for a rotation of squad brothers to man the forward compartment and control the Rhino's remote-operated storm bolter. Another brother would man the load bay proximity sensor. The watch will be rotated regularly throughout the long night ahead.
Rhinos, like all Imperial vehicles, are not built for comfort, it is hard for us in the rear to power-down in the bucking, noise filled transport, so we run through our litanies and chant Dark Angel battle hymns. Sergeant Zahariel joins in with us helping to bind together the Battle Brothers. The plasma cannon gunner strips his reserve power unit on the Rhino's floor, every subassembly thoroughly checked, he then starts on his main unit. Another Brother carefully polishes all his bolter shells, convinced they will now fly truer (and as he is the squad's best bolter marksman we cannot disprove his claim).
And still the Rhinos thunder along.
The watch changes, the routine continues within our enforced confine. We notice the ride getting slightly smoother. Zahariel talks to the driver over the commlink. We have evidently moved onto one of the vast crater floors that scar the Northern Waste. The relative change in the vehicles motion comes as a relief in the monotony of our progress. If anything the smoother ground enables us to speed up slightly.
"Isiah, take the watch".
I move forward into the driver's compartment and sit to his right with the storm bolters remote control joystick to my right hand. In front of me is the flickering screen of the forward proximity sensor. The regular sweep of the refresh brings new items into view. I look across at the driver. The red body armour of the Adeptus Mechanicus always takes me by surprise. I admire the singular vision of these highly trained individuals — totally in touch with the vehicles and equipment they are responsible for — almost part of themselves.
"Where are we" I ask.
"About 1 hour to the rendezvous point" came his reply. "Things might start hotting up on your watch," he added with a chuckle.
I turn back to the proximity sensor; adjust the gain and modulation to counter the slightly radioactive rock formation we are travelling over. He could be right. I stand up and put myself into the cupola to look through the vision slits. Everything is a blackish grey, the moons cast a very dismal light across the flat crater floor. To our right I can make out the dim outline of the other Rhino and the dangerous cargo it is carrying. There again he could be wrong.
I return to my position and test fire the storm bolter as regulation dictates: 10 rounds individual fire, 20 rounds automatic, to ensure the ammo belt feeds are not snagged. The gun control works smoothly and with little physical effort thanks to many wheezing power servos and fluid micro-motors. I record the action in the Rhino's Log. Again I peer through the armoured glass before me. Is that something on the horizon? Yes, we are approaching the ridged rim of this sector of crater. I warn Zahariel over the comm-link "Incline ahead. Brace for ascent".
The driver changes course slightly perhaps trying to pick a smoother path as the Rhino lurches upwards clawing for traction on the loose shale of the crater rim.
"Check all arms and be ready for disembarkation," orders Zahariel. I scan the proximity sensors closely. "Target bearing: 7th sector 1000 metres, otherwise all quiet" I report.
"Invictus" [the call sign of the second Rhino] "to Hero" [our call sign] "Report forward movements".
Zahariel replies on a closed commlink channel — I cannot hear his reply. We carry on up the incline of the crater wall then level off, then come to a standstill with the engine still running. The rear ramp opens with a hiss of equalising air pressures and hits the ground sending up a cloud of ash dust. The squad in the back move out in covering order as we have done hundreds of times before, but I remain in the Rhino manning both the proximity sensor and storm bolter.
"Landing site secure. Call in the Thunderhawk".
10 minutes later exactly on schedule the powerful sound of descending plasma drives can be heard — the distinctively aggressive shape of the Thunderhawk detaches itself from the cover of the night and makes its final descent to the surface. Great vortexes of dust thrown up by the down thrust creates an impenetrable cloud that hangs in the air for several minutes after the 'hawk lands.
The 'hawks assault ramp opens and four assault-cannon armed Deathwing Battle Brothers move down to the planets surface. "You have the cargo?" asks one of the Terminators.
Zahariel calls up the second Rhino from its position some 300 hundred metres behind us.
"Isiah, help with Invictus' cargo."
I make my way out of the Rhino and walk to the rear of Invictus. The ramp goes down and Librarian Nehemiah and Techmarine Barzillah meet me.
"Stasis chest secure and force field intact" Barzillah reports.
"Very well — let's get it onboard the 'hawk." We manhandle the crackling ferrocrete box up the Thunderhawk's ramp closely escorted by the Terminators.
"Security-grade Expedia Terminus". Nehemiah hands the force-field generator to the sergeant of the Deathwing squad. "Warp Artefact enclosed".
"FUEL CELLS loaded".
We clamber back into the Rhinos. Mission accomplished.
"Set course for the Dark Fortress" Nehemiah orders, "I will take the lead Rhino".
It has been an eventful few hours. The remnants of the Red Shroud now bound for the strikecruiser [xxxxx] and to the Imperium for further examination. Ahead of us the monotony of the return journey — we are a long way from home.
Imperium Approved: Honoro Legio Dark Angels.
Chronicler Isiah, the 4th Battle Company, Dark Angels.