Monday, January 7, 2013

Writing: Only War, Chapter One, Part 2

The following is Part 2 of Chapter One of my novel submission to Black Library, entitled Only War.  

Chapter One, Part 1 is located here.

A flicker out of the corner of Nomu’a’s eye snatched his attention, but before he could turn his head the car was violently rocked to one side.  A flash of white light and a deafening explosion assaulted his senses, and Asal grunted when his head was slammed into the window.  The car crashed back to the ground, and the driver cursed.  He threw the shift into reverse, jerked the wheel over, and jammed his foot on the accelerator.  Nomu’a was thrown forward onto the floor of the vehicle.  Another explosion went off, and shrapnel thunked into the car’s armor, one fragment hitting the rear windshield and starring the glass.

The two Arbites squad cars jerked to a halt.  Martel jumped out, snatching the combat shotgun from its rack on the car door.  A pair of rockets fired from the building had bracketed the ambassador’s car, which was fortunate to have avoided a direct hit.  It was weaving erratically on the road, damaged but still intact.  Panicked citizens were running in all directions.  Barton had already taken up position behind his car door, pumping suppressive fire from his combat shotgun up at the building.  Troopers Xavian and Winn were also out of the car, Xavian with his shotgun, Winn with his repeating grenade launcher.  Twenty meters ahead, Squad Torbrin was already deployed and returning fire.  

Martel sprinted to the sidewalk, looking to take a position in the recessed entrance of an hab-block.  In his way a stupefied onlooker stood gawking at the building, too shocked to seek cover.  Martel smashed the butt of his shotgun into the side of the man’s head, knocking him out of the way.

He reached his destination and peered out from behind the stone wall.  As he watched a blind-fired rocket soared out of a fourth floor window, wildly inaccurate.  It slammed into the building several meters away from Martel, spraying his squad and the armored car with chunks of stone.

“Winn, krak the front of that building!” Martel yelled over the noise.  

Winn was only too happy to oblige.  Hefting his grenade launcher, he fired a staccato of krak grenades, sweeping the building from left to right.  His first shot went right through a window, detonating and blasting it outwards a gout of smoke and debris.  Each subsequent shot impacted the wall and exploded, punching huge holes in the stone facade, causing showers of pulverized stone to rain into the street.  Clouds of dust quickly obscured the building’s fourth floor, but the Arbites continued to pump shotgun rounds into it.  

“Torbrin, continue supression, Squad Martel is going in.”

Nomu’a’s car crashed into a utility pole, denting the rear.  The pole toppled ponderously, but the driver threw the car back into forward gear and it lurched forward again.  The violent maneuvers hurled Nomu’a back into his seat, and he caught a glimpse of the scene out the window.  Civilians running in terror.  A well-dressed man in a pool of blood.  Arbites taking cover and firing shotgun blasts upward.  A woman clutching her mangled leg.  

Something fast hit the front of the car.  The front windshield shattered into a million sparkling pieces.  Someone screamed.  A sheet of pink flame rushed into the cabin, and then vanished as quickly as it came.  Nomu’a was thrown into the back of the front seat, and he instinctively clutched at it.  The car’s engine was on fire, the hood ripped to shreds.  The driver was dead: his face, neck and chest punctured by dozens of metal fragments.

The car’s momentum carried it forward until it crashed into a stationary vehicle and came to a halt.  Nomu’a could hear more screaming now, and the reports of the arbites shotguns, but it all sounded oddly far away.  Por’ui Asal was lying awkwardly against the car door, and Nomu’a could see that much of his scalp was lacerated, indigo blood streaming down his face.

Nomu’a grabbed the door handle and yelped as knives of pain jabbed his wrist.  He twisted and grabbed the handle with his other hand, then whacked the door with his lower leg to get it to open.  The first try failed, the second, harder, succeeded.  Reaching in, he grabbed for Asal and began to pull him across the seat, trying hard to ignore the agony of his wrist.  He got Asal to the door and then out onto the street, and dragged him away from the burning wreck.  

A rocket had finally hit the ambassador’s car, but Martel couldn’t worry about that now.  His job was to kill the shooters and restore order.  He signalled to his squad and they ran across the street, boots crunching on bits of stone and shattered glass.  Reaching the hab-block’s front steps, they burst into the vestibule, guns at the ready.  The squad went at a steady pace to the nearest stairwell, keeping close together, each sweeping his sector with his weapon.

Trooper Barton led the way, his shotgun aiming high as he smoothly climbed the stairs.  As he approached the third floor, the stairwell door opened and a frightened looking man burst in.  His jaw dropped at seeing the four heavily armed arbites coming at him.  Barton reacted instantly, planting the muzzle of his shotgun on the man’s chest and pulling the trigger.  The deafening shot blasted a fist-sized hole through his body, sending a thick splatter of gore onto the door and into the hallway beyond.  The man collapsed in a heap, the surprised expression still on his face.

Martel shook his head at the corpse in disgust.  “Idiot,” he muttered.  “Go,” he said, indicating with his shotgun, and the squad continued up the stairs.  They reached the fourth floor, and spilled into the hallway, two men covering each direction.  

“Squad Torbrin, Squad Martel is on four, beginning sweep,” said Martel.

A double mic-click confirmed the acknowledgement.  The sounds of gunfire outside ceased as second squad held their fire.

At Martel’s signal the squad began to move down the hallway.  The interior of the hab-block had suffered.  The ceiling was cracked, and chunks of plaster littered the floor.  One of the doors on the street side of the hallway had been blown inwards off its hinges, the result of a krak grenade detonating inside.  The air was filled with a haze of plaster dust and smoke.

“Door,” said Martel, and the squad followed him into the room with the blown out door.  Winn, his grenade launcher slung, had his autopistol out, keeping watch on the hallway.   Martel and the others cleared each room with practiced efficiency.  Other than shredded furniture and belongings, it was empty.

They proceeded to the next door, this one closed.  Martel, Barton, and Xavian stacked outside the door, and Winn stood opposite.  Winn readied a frag grenade.  Martel nodded.  Winn kicked in the door, tossed in the grenade, and dodged out of the way.  The grenade went off with a bang, and Martel charged into the room, sweeping his combat shotgun left to right.  Barton and Xavian were right behind him, covering their own sectors. This one was also clear.  

Returning to the hall, Martel pointed with two fingers to the next door, the last but for the door to the stairwell at the end of the hall.  The squad stacked up again outside the door, and Winn readied another grenade.  Looking at Martel, Winn pulled the pin and nodded.  

A spray of bullets holed the door, and Winn was down, the primed grenade falling out of his hand.  Seeing the grenade rolling on the floor, Martel didn’t have time to think.  He stepped past Winn’s fallen form, scooped up the grenade, shouldered open the door to the stairwell, and flipped the grenade down the stairs to detonate a second later.  Martel turned back to see Winn, saved by his body armor, half-sitting against the wall and emptying his pistol into the door.  Just as the slide locked back on the last round, Xavian was there hauling him out of the way.  

Barton was already firing at the doorframe, one shot for each hinge.  A fourth shot took out the lock, and the door slowly toppled inward, landing with a creak and a thud.  Barton and Martel waited for a moment, and more autogun fire slammed into the far wall and doorframe, sending little splinters whickering through the air.  The instant the burst ended, Martel and Barton whipped into the room.  Both of them saw the target at the same time, a unkempt man with an autogun, standing at the far end of the room.  His body from the chest upwards simply exploded into gore as their booming shots tore him apart.  

“Reloading!” Barton shouted, putting additional shells into his smoking gun’s internal magazine.

A gunman took the opportunity to stick his head out from one of the other rooms, but saw Martel and ducked back.  Martel pumped round after round into the wall until the gunman’s body thumped back into view, oozing dark blood.

They walked down the hab-unit’s hall, stepping over the body.  Reaching the end, they moved into the last room without a pause, guns ready.  The far wall had multiple holes blasted into it, and the ceiling and interior walls were a shambles.  A pair of rocket launchers and ammunition were strewn about the room, covered in debris.  

As they went in, a large man leapt out at Barton.  Martel couldn’t assist; he had his own target to deal with.  Dead ahead, a man faced him, an autogun aimed at his head.  Martel already had his gun up, and they both fired at the same time.  The gunman missed.  Martel did not.

Martel’s shot caught him in the gut.  The man reeled backwards, dropping his weapon.  He fell against the window, reflexively grabbing at the frame, trying to prevent himself from falling out.  Martel was already there.  He jammed the muzzle of his shotgun into the man’s face and fired, raining a shower of brains and skull fragments onto the street below.

He spun around to see Barton wrestling with his opponent, a huge brutish man, a head taller than either of them.  The man had both hands on Barton’s shotgun, and was wrenching it around, smashing Barton into the walls and furniture in an effort to get him to let go.  Barton was trying to knee him repeatedly in the groin, but was off balance and his strikes were weak and off target.

Martel couldn’t use his shotgun, so he let it go to dangle in its sling and grabbed the power maul at his side.  He thumbed the power switch, and the maul came to life, its head crackling with blue sparks.  Grasping the handle in two hands, he leapt in and brought the maul diagonally downward with all his might, aiming for the man’s head.

The maul’s head flashed as it connected at the base of the huge man’s neck, crushing his spine.  His head flopped obscenely and he tumbled like a rag doll.  Barton jerked his shotgun away as the dead man collapsed.

Martel met his eyes, smiling grimly.  


In the distance Nomu’a could hear sirens wailing.  Asal was conscious, but immobile.  Nomu’a cradled Asal’s head in his lap, shock preventing him from doing anything but watch.  Asal’s eyes were filled with terror.  He was gasping frantically, his breath coming in shallow squeaks.  Nomu’a just stared at him.  Blood was soaking through Asal’s robes, and more began to well up from his mouth.  He began to choke on his own blood, and his head and neck began to spasm, the rest of his body still and limp.  The spasms began to subside, and with them, Asal’s attempts to breathe.  Eventually they stopped completely. 

More armored squad cars had arrived on the scene, tires squealing.  Heavily armed arbites raced to get control of the area, some of them heading into the buildings, others taking up positions in the street.

His mind numb and confused, Nomu’a looked up and saw an arbites arbitrator looking down at him.  “Secure the xeno,” the arbitrator ordered, and a pair of troopers came over to Nomu’a, their weapons ready.  Their eyes were hidden behind the visors, but their distaste was evident.  Each one took up a position near him, standing so they could both keep an eye on him but also watch for threats.

Within minutes several medicae vehicles arrived, and the medics poured out and began to take care of the human wounded.  For several minutes none of them gave Nomu’a a second glance.  His wrist was beginning to throb, and his face felt on fire.  He touched his face, and instantly regretted it.

With the arrival of the arbites reinforcements, order was restored quickly.  After a few minutes an arbitrator carrying a power maul had come out of the nearby hab-block, and spoke to a small group of medicae and his subordinate arbites.   Eventually he glanced over to Nomu’a, recognized him, and headed over.  Flipping his power maul up so the head rested on his shoulder, he stopped and looked down at the tau diplomat.  “Fortunately for you, xeno,” Martel said with barely concealed sarcasm, “whoever was trying to kill you blew it.”

Stay tuned for Part 3...