Note: These are my raw, typo-ridden, synopses, written at the beginning of the project before being approved by the editors, and therefore aren’t descriptive of what actually happens in the final books. Also, these synopses were sent to editors at Black Library with whom I had an established relationship; if you are sending a synopsis to a publisher, I strongly recommend you spell check first!
This is how it all began…
SYNOPSIS FOR LAST CHANCERS NOVEL
By Gav Thorpe
Mix of Dark, Deadly, Bloody and Redemption, Salvation, Saviour, etc.
Dark Saviour, Bloody Redemption, Deadly Salvation…
When Colonal Schaeffer is set one of his deadly missions, he must find the most able fighters to fulfil it. He has several methods, depending on how long he has to complete his mission. If he has only a short time, then he’ll just grab the most capable looking prisoners from the cell and head off. If he has more time, as in this case, he’ll start with a whole regiment of scum, drag them through a few wars to see who are the natural survivors (or Emperor’s chosen as he prefers to see it) and then, knowing his got a band of the toughest, meanest fighters around, he’ll go for the big one. He has done this several times, and this novel is the tale of Kage’s experience of this. The novel will chart Kage’s participation in a series of battles, as the numbers of the Last Chancers are gradually thinned down to just a few of them. When Schaeffer is happy, he leads them on the final mission, which in this case is the storming of Coritanorum, the rebel citadel in the first Kage story ‘Last Chance’. This does not necessarily mean the end of Kage stories, as you will see from the Epilogue. Note that these take place just after the events of ‘Deliverance’.
Of course, the main aim of Deadly Redemption is to give the reader a rip-roaring action story. During its course, it will examine a number of things: why the Imperium is mankind’s only hope of survival and the massive breadth of organisations and cultures that make it possible; why a man would want to join the Imperial Guard; the basic instinct for life and survival that is common in everyone; why the supreme sacrifice is often necessary for humanity’s continued survival. It also examines how, in an Empire spanning a million worlds and countless billions of people, a few brave souls really can make a difference – every effort counts. It will chart these through Kage’s experiences of life in the Last Chancers, and his contact with other Last chancers, during which his feelings and attitude to the ‘greater galaxy’ will be changed as he learns more about it.
Although overall the novel projects a very bleak life in the Imperium – near unending misery, danger and deprivation for most – it also shows that this truly is a time for heroes. The characters are brutal and unforgiving, but so is the world they live in. None of the main characters are particularly likeable or even worthy of anything but contempt, but it is this gutter filth that saves the day in the end…
Kage’s aim all the way through the novel is the basic instinct of survival. However, as he is informed about the wider picture, he realises his place in the greater scheme of things. He will face enemies on the battlefield, antagonism from within the Last Chancers, and ulitmately the fact that Schaeffer is absolutely correct – his actions have made him a traitor to his race and this is his last chance for redemption.
On reflection I’ve decided not to go for an out-and-out episodic format. This is for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the plot that I’ve devised takes place in a relatively short time-frame, so the stop-start of the episodic format isn’t probably necessary to make jumps in time. Secondly, as another Imperial Guard story, a non-episodic format will help to make the novel different from ‘First and Only’ and the other Gaunt’s Ghosts novels.
The novel will be written as a fairly continuous narrative. Communications extracts between Schaeffer and an Inquisitor inside Coritanorum, discussing the progress of the mission will break the story where it is needed to move the time-frame along outside the narrative.
The Starting Characters
Kage: Kage is our protagonist. He is definitely not a hero, although he isn’t a total anti-hero in the classic sense either. For much of the story he is an unrepentant murderer, a liar, a manipulator and only concerned with his own survival. Getting drafted into the Last Chancers is probably the worst thing that could have happened to Kage, as he has a very acute sense of survival – one which doesn’t include bouncing from one warzone to the next. He is constantly on the lookout of a way to escape the fate Schaeffer has in store for them. In fact, Kage has always been looking to escape from something, as will be revealed within the story. He is also bad-tempered, intolerant and fairly free with his fists.
On the plus side, Kage does have a great deal of personal courage – if there is no choice but to fight, he won’t run away from it for the hell of it. He has faith in the Emperor, although he is not particularly devout. Deep down he would like to have a cause worth fighting for, something he could devote his life to, but he’s never found anything he values more than himself yet. In this respect he sees Schaeffer as something of a role model – he is envious of Schaeffer’s commitment and purpose, although he would never admit this even to himself. In the way of such things, this admiration for a man who is trying to get him killed is flipped into a hatred for Schaeffer which Kage has built up himself. At the end he realises that the cause he looked for had been given to him by the Imperial Guard and he had thrown it away, and that the Last Chances give him a chance to get it back.
Schaeffer: Nobody is quite sure what drove Colonel Schaeffer to form the Last Chancers, and what keeps him there. Schaeffer’s faith in the Emperor is total and unconditional, it is his faith in the rest of mankind that is sorely missing. He genuinely believes in his self-imposed mission to ‘save’ the souls of the misguided sinners he takes to battle. It is true that he doesn’t care whether they live or die, but he cares very deeply about what they do while they’re alive and the manner of their death. He sees very clearly that every life not given in the service of the Emperor is wasted, and he tries very hard to make sure that the scum under his command (and he has no illusions to the fact that they are utter scum) earn their right to humanity once more. He is not a charismatic leader, but he is a brilliant judge of men, which gives him an unerring ability to manipulate them into doing what he wants them to do. He sees his mission as appointed by the Emperor, that he is part of some great divine plan. Who knows, maybe he is…
There are many rumours about Schaeffer. He is certainly an extraordinary man. He is somehow blessed by fate to walk through some of the worst battles the galaxy ever seen without taking a scratch. However, when the big mission comes, he almost invariably ends up critically injured – like he saves up all his luck for the final battle. Then, when he’s burnt, scarred and broken, he’ll disappear for a while before emerging again totally unscatched. How this might be is explored by the characters in the novel.
Kronin: Kronin is the other Lieutenant who survived the fighting in Deliverance. He was caught stealing from an Ecclesiarchy shrine and then torching the place. He is a nervous, jittery man, who to this day can’t quite understand how he got caught up in this whole mess. To make things worse, fighting the Tyranids has driven him completely over the edge once and for all. As he defended the shrine in the central keep, he was badly wounded. When he woke up, he claimed the Emperor had visited a great vision upon him. Since then he has only ever spoken in lines quoted from the sacred texts of the Ministorum. This is all the more strange for everyone since no-one can recall him ever having a copy of the Litanies of Faith, let alone reading them… Kronin was actually one of the first Last Chancers of this ‘tour'; he’s been there even longer than Kage. Kronin serves to remind Kage of what’s going to happen to him if he doesn’t go out soon – there’s plenty of stories around of other guys wigging out completely and killing themselves or going totally mental in the middle of battle and getting blasted to pieces. Since Kronin’s unfortunate turn, Kage has actually been keeping a weather eye on Kronin. First and foremost this is to make sure the mad old Lieutenant doesn’t do anything that might shorten Kage’s odds of survival, but also because Kage wants to pretend that if he does go over the edge then there’ll be someone there who’ll look out for him.
Rollis: Everyone hates Rollis, and with good reason. He’s a Traitor, through and through. He turned his whole Company over to the Dark Eldar during a battle in order to save his own skin. While Kage might approve of the sentiment, he certainly doesn’t approve of the methods. Everything that goes wrong gets blamed on Rollis, with fatal consequences for him as it turns out. Rollis, and everyone’s attitude to him, keeps Kage’s own self-preservation instincts in check. In the same way that Kronin represents one of the possible fates awaiting Kage, so does Rollis if Kage ever steps too far over the line drawn by common humanity.
Franx: Franx was once a Major in the Imperial Guard, but ended up in the Last Chancers after inciting two companies to rebellion against their senior officers. He can’t be blamed really – the soldiers had been on half rations for a month and were ordered to march across freezing ice wastes to assault an enemy bunker complex. Franx led the men as they stormed the Officers’ camp in search of food. Franx is always a bit of a troublemaker, although he was a career soldier he has become very disillusioned with the Imperial Guard. He’s of the opinion that he’s been stitched up, and they’ve stuck him in the Last Chancers to keep him quiet.
Linskrug: Formely Baron Linskrug of Korall, this ex-noble was never in the Imperial Guard. He was caught selling his farmer tenants to slave traders. While slave-trading is not illegal on Korall, Linskrug did not have an official licence for slave trading, and his political opponents pulled strings to have him removed. They would have prefered to have had him executed (the standard punishment for such a crime on Korall) but unfortunately an ancient law protects any Korall nobleman from such a fate. They did their next bext thing and used their connections with the Imperial Commander of Korall to get Linskrug drafted into the Last Chancers – a death sentence in all but name. Linskrug has not taken kindly to this turn of events and is a bitter man, forever dreaming of getting out and returning to Korall to confront his enemies. His rough life with Kage and the others, and the needs of survival, have knocked any snobbishness out of him, and as he is actually quite a competent soldier; he and the other Last Chancers have a degree of respect for each other, even Kage.
Gappo Elfinzo: Gappo was an Ecclesiarch Preacher attached to the Imperial Guard, attending to their spiritual needs. However, it was during the bloody fighting on the Cardinal World of Mindos that he suffered a crisis of faith. While his fellow men died in droves battling against the alien Korogans to protect the Cardinal Palaces, the Cardinal himself was having men executed for not attending mass and acting in a proper manner for a place of worship. Gappo denounced the Cardinal and the Emperor, and was found guilty of heresy. Gappo now firmly believes that individual men make their own destiny, that there is no greater power controlling their lives. He and Kronin are now constantly at one another’s throats. Kage finds the whole business amusing – if each man is responsible for his destiny, then Gappo screwed up in a major way to end up in the Last Chancers…
As new characters appear in the plot, I’ll introduce them and their relevance (or lack of it!) to Kage and the story.
Part One – Leaving Deliverance
Short opening para of Inquisitor staring at a smashed stasis tube, its contents obviously absconded.
+++What is status of Operation Harvest?+++
+++Operation Harvest beginning second stage as scheduled++
The novel opens as the 13th Penal Legion prepare to leave Deliverance (there’s about 200 of them by now), with Kage kicking seven shades out of a Guardsman from the relief force, cheered on by his fellow Last Chancers. As a Master Sergeant intervenes, the Colonel turns up as well. Kage explains that the Guardsman had called the Last Chancers worthless, saying they should have all died in Deliverance if there was any justice. Having just helped bury one hundred and fifty eight of his fellow Last Chancers, Kage didn’t take too kindly to this. Kage expects some kind of gruesome punishment from Schaeffer, but instead the Colonel just nods and walks off [Schaeffer’s glad that Kage and the other men are again taking pride in their achievements].
As they embark on the shuttle taking them back to the prison transport that serves as their home between battles (normally carries a good few thousand convicts but now the Last Chancers are spread over a dozen large cells, the rest is empty), some more of the characters are introduced. Kage talks to Franx about the Sergeant’s escape attempt just before the battle for Deliverance [introducing Kage’s own ardent desire to get out of the penal legion], and they end up talking about Kronin. Gappo butts in as well, saying that anyone who believes in the Emperor is mad. This part establishes their ship-board routine of being locked up in a big cell together, the bickering and in-fighting and so on. It is also here that we describe the effect of warp travel on the passengers – the nightmares, the oppressive atmosphere and tension. Kronin keeps going off the rails, screaming about daemons after his soul; Kage keeps having twisted dreams of his life back on the hive world before he joined the Imperial Guard, that sort of behaviour.
Part Two – False Hope
In the darkness a Tyranid hive fleet gildes effortlessly through the wreckage of an Imperial flotilla, a few of the hive ships already breaking down and digesting their smashed hulls and the dead crew.
+++Operation New Sun in place, ready for your arrival+++
+++Operation Harvest preparing to progress to next stage+++
+++Only the insane can truly prosper+++
It’s with a mixed sense of relief that they drop into realspace again. After all, it can only mean a week or so and then they’ll be in thick of battle again. The Last Chancers have been called in to investigate the Jungle Deathworld of False Hope – contact has been lost with the small outpost and the Imperial authorities suspect that it may have been overrun by a Tyranid swarm. This is where Kage (and through him the reader) learns that a sizeable hive fleet (Hive Fleet Dagon) has been busily munching its way through the area, a splinter that was broken off after Ichar IV. Part of its scout fleet was destroyed in Deliverance, but the main body is still heading in the direction of the densely populated Typhon Sector.
When they make planetfall in the settlement they find everything deserted, but with no signs of battle. It looks if everybody just upped and left, leaving in good order. They then find one ‘survivor’ holed up in the research centre – Lieutenant Hopkins. He tells them that the settlers were led away by the outpost commander, Captain Nepetine. Nepetine claimed he had found a better location for the outpost, and everybody followed him into the jungle. When asked why he didn’t go as well, Hopkins tells him that he was one of Nepetine’s aides, and that the Captain had been acting strangely for a few weeks. There was nothing to suggest that there was anywhere better than where they actually were. At the time that everyone had left, he had been in the infirmary recovering from a does of virulent local ‘flu. They also find a number of strange seed pods liberally scattered around the settlement, all of them seem to be empty.
Using Hopkins as a guide, they head off after the inhabitants. It is about a week’s journey, losing more Last Chancers along the way to predators, swamps, voracious insects and so on. Franx contracts a lung-rotting disease that leaves him permanently half-crippled, but he survives as Kage and the others drag him thiough the green hellhole. They come across a mountain valley, what Hopkins refers to as the Heart of the Jungle. It is indeed the thickest mass of vegetation they’ve ever seen, and it takes them a whole day to reach the valley floor. Just before they’re about to set camp they come across a massive growth of trees and vines. Working their way inside the Last Chancers find themselves in a virtual catacomb of branches, trunks and labyrinthine creepers. They push deeper and come across a wide chamber. Around the ‘walls’ of the chamber, they see about two hundred people entwined within the branches. Some of them are withered corpses, others not far from dying. Those that are still alive are writhing in torment, the plant slowly leeching their life from them to sustain itself.
The horrifying plant then attacks them, creepers snaring through the air, fanged leaves slashing at them. Fighting it seems futile, for every bit they chop or blast off, another bit grows. As more Last Chancers become trapped or killed, Kage finds himself fighting back-to-back with Schaeffer. It is then that Schaeffer spies the uniform of Nepetine, and it seems his body is well nourished rather than a husk. With Kage, the Colonel fights his way through to climb up to Nepetine. The Captain opens his eyes, and begins to talk to them. He tries to convince them that to fight the god-plant is pointless, that they should give themselves to it, become part of the immortal life that existence within the god-plant offers. The air is full of musky spores and pollen from seed pods like those found in the encampment, acting as a psychotropic on Kage until he is about to let the tendrils wrap around him and take him into their leafy embrace. He manages to shake off the alien influence, and he and Schaeffer, along with most of the others, attack Nepetine, one of them making the deduction that the human has somehow become the creature’s brain.Then the Captain’s body explodes, blown to pieces by frag grenades planted by the Colonel. Kage and the other survivors are dropped to the floor and must get out as the plant lashes out in its death throes. Schaeffer orders them to abandon the Last Chancers who have succumbed to its malign influence. As they leave False Hope in the shuttle, with Hopkins the only survivor from the outpost, Kage looks down and sees the Heart of the Jungle withering and dying with unnatural speed.
Back on board ship everybody’s very shaken up by the experience – there’s some weird shit in the big bad galaxy and no mistake! Matters are made worse when Schaeffer disappears on a fast transport, leaving the Last Chancers wondering what the hell is going on. It’s not long though before he comes back, bringing two new Last Chancers with him – Loron and Lorii.
Loron and Lorii: Loron and Lorii are the two strangest people Kage has ever met. They are near-identical twins, though Loron is a man and Lorii a woman. They are near-albino in their paleness, with white hair and piercing blue eyes. They are both strangely androgonous, though Lorii still has enough womanly curves to arouse Kage’s interest until he sees her gouge out the eyes of one of the others after he looked at her while she was undressed – strangely, after that he loses interest… They keep themselves to themselves, and rumour is rife. Some reckon they must be latent psykers, after all everyone has heard about ‘twin telepathy’ and they certainly look like mutants. Kage manages to sneak a look at the details and finds out that they were chucked out of the Imperial Guard for disobeying orders. He finally manages to get Loron to talk a bit, and it turns out that Lorii refused an order to retreat from an assault because Loron was left behind. She was discharged, and Loron insisted that he go with her. More fool you, Kage thinks.
Part Three – Bad Landings
There are now roughly fifty Last Chancers left, more of a platoon than a regiment now. While their starship takes on supplies and crew at the orbital base of Hypernol, Schaeffer takes the Last Chancers to a penal establishment on a nearby moon, to incarcerate some of them who he says have not come up to scratch and have wasted the opportunity he has given them. Kage starts getting edgy, as he is beginning to realise that he prefers the fighting, even in suicide missions, to being stuck in a cell for the rest of his life, or maybe just shot or hanged. He is coming to the conclusion that he likes life in the Imperial Guard, because he is good at fighting and his self-esteem is swelled by the fact that he can use those skills for the Imperium. Unfortunately, Kage’s thoughts are interupted when the shuttle’s engines cut out and it crashes into the moon’s surface several miles from the prison colony. The Techpriest pilot is almost killed in the crash, and rapidly dips in and out of consciousness.
The moon has no breathable atmosphere (although it does have air pressure) and so it seems that they’re trapped there. Upon investigating a little further, they realise they’ve crashed through the surface of the moon into a network of underground tunnels. Some of them set to work trying to jury-rig the shuttle from scattered bits of know-how gleaned during the pilot’s cognitive moments. It is then that they come under attack. Swarms of insect like creatures, no bigger than fist, swirl out of the tunnels and start chewing through the shuttle’s hull. There are some rebreather masks, but they’re only good for a half hour or so before they need recharging from the shuttles air filtering systems – not enough to reach the penal colony. If the aliens manage to chew their way through too much of the shuttle, they’ll all choke to death.
Kage offers to lead a small party to drive off the aliens, and gets out of the shuttle with a couple of flamer teams. They’re not particularly dangerous individually, but they threaten to swamp the Guardsmen with their number, constantly chomping away with their mandibles. Finally the flamers do their trick and the beasties are fended off. Kage decides that they can’t keep fending off attack after attack (it’s obvious the critters will be back for more food later) and so they follow the insects back to their lair. They’ve only got a few minutes left on their rebreathers and the others want to turn back. But Kage is adamant – they kill the lair now. The come across an enourmous chamber full of eggsacs and such like, with a dog-sized queen insect in the middle of it all. That’s when they find out they’d only been fighting workers up til now! The soldiers come streaming out of sided tunnels, vicious poisoned horned things that stand as high as the waist on many jointed legs. They flamer and frag what they can, before having to retreat back to the shuttle. The air is getting really short and there’s one more wave of creatures coming towards them. Kage grabs the flamer himself and tells the others to get inside and leave him their rebreathers. Even swapping from breather to breather he passes out after a couple of minutes, using steady bursts of flamer to keep the creatures at bay. As he’s losing consciousness he feels himself dragged back on to the shuttle and hears the roar of plasma engines lifting them out of there.
With a bit more air to breath he soon comes round and finds that they’ve managed to patch up the shuttle enough to get them to the penal colony. From there it’s just a small matter of commandeering one of the base’s shuttles to get them back into orbit. Kage notices that Schaeffer didn’t leave anyone behind, or pick anyone up, despite the fact that they actually managed to get to the prison in the end. He asks Schaeffer what’s happening, why aren’t they getting reinforced, but Schaeffer refuses to tell him what’s happening.
Part Four – Treachery
A group of Imperial commanders are in a command room of some kind. They are discussing how the enemy grows nearers and nearer, but not to worry because a help is on the way.
+++Operation Harvest entering final stage. What is status of Operation New Sun?+++
+++New Sun entering pivotal phase. Operation Harvest must be completed as soon as possible, time is short.+++
+++Will make all speed for New Sun location+++
Kage witnesses a massive argument between Schaeffer and the ship’s Captain. They’ve been ordered to divert course to the ice world of Kragmeer to help stop an Ork invasion. The Colonel says he has much more urgent duties to attend to, the Captain claims that it’d be more than his life is worth to ignore a direct command from the sector Admiralty. In the end, the Captain just pulls rank, and tells Schaeffer that on his ship, he decides what they do. If the Colonel doesn’t like that he can get out of the nearest airlock now… The Colonel is not best pleased, but as the captain rightfully pointed out, there is nothing he can do – as a Guard officer he has no rank over a Naval captain.
And so it is that Kage and the few dozen surviving Last Chancers are headed towards Kragmeer. However, they do not have a smooth journey. As they jump into the Kragmeer system, and rendezvous with other elements of the Imperial fleet, they are set upon by Eldar pirates (Dark Eldar). Kage watches the space battle for a while through one of the massive armoured windows before he and the other Last Chancers are mustered to repel a boarding attack. The Dark Eldar warriors come alongside and cut through the hull, hundreds of their warriors pouring onto the beleaguered imperial vessel. They try to hold them off but are slowly pushed back along the corridors. A big fight breaks out in one of the shuttle bays, and the Colonel orders the doors sealed. The Colonel, Kage and about thirty others manage to get clear first. The Dark Eldar are about to break out, and if they do they’ve got an almost open route to the bridge (it’s only a small transport, relatively speaking). Schaeffer orders Kage to blow the loading bay airlock, blowing everybody inside into the vacuum, including the Last Chancers. For Kage this is too much, being ordered to kill his own comrades. Eventually he gives in though, as the Colonel points out that they’re all lost if the Dark Eldar capture the ship, including Kage. This isn’t an easy process, it involves a dozen of them turning at a massive crank, and Kage has to persuade some of the others who got out to help him blow their comrades into the void… After the furore is over, Kage sees the Colonel disappear with one of the ship’s scribes. Kage later gets a glimpse of the Colonel putting his stamp to a large pile of parchments before being herded back to his cell [sowing the seed for the posthumous pardons that are revealed later].
Everybody is deeply suspicious about the Eldar attack – how they knew exactly where to go and how to get there. This is further fuelled by a chance comment from the Colonel – ‘Once a traitor, always a traitor’. All thoughts turn to Rollis, and during the next sleep cycle, Kage and some of the other Last Chancers confront him. He pleads his innocence, but everyone’s blood is up. Rollis takes a swing at Kage, and before anyone quite realises what is happening, everybody starts pitching in, beating Rollis to death. When ‘morning’ comes Schaeffer comes in to find Rollis’ body tied to the cell bars with cable torn from the wall, the word ‘Traitor’ scrawled across the wall in Rollis’ blood. Nobody quite knows who was responsible for that final act, but Kage notes a strange look of satisfaction in the eyes of Loron and Lorii. Once again, Kage expects some dire response from the Colonel, but he doesn’t even order Rollis’ body cut down. The Colonel later confides to Kage that he strongly suspected Rollis was involved with the attack somehow, but even he has rules to follow and he couldn’t prove anything. A jury of Rollis’ peers seemed the best option…
Part Five – Cold Steel
There is an argument between an Imperial Guard general and a Naval Admiral. Each claims that his organisation and forces will be the one to stop hive fleet Dagon. The subject of Coritanorum arises, and some of the politics about it being the bastion of the Typhon sector and why the Navy can’t bombard it into oblivion are raised here.
+++Operation Harvest near completion+++
+++Good. I expect you soon+++
Despite their unexpected losses (there are 28 of them left), the Last Chancers are pitched into the war for Kragmeer. Two underground bases on the blizzard-shrouded world have already fallen, and a third is about to be over-run. In order to halt the Orks’ advance across the barren tundra, the Imperium is pulling its forces out of the next base on their route, Outpost Theta, to regroup for a more solid defence at the next base. The Last Chancers, along with another penal legion, are to be thrown in the way of the Ork advance as they attempt to pass through the mountain range that runs the length of the world’s equator – a rearguard to buy the next base time. They’re all convinced that this is really the last one, since they have no radio communications to call for reserves or relief, it truly is only them between the bases and the Orks (the extreme atmospheric conditions makes all long-range communications impossible except by Astropath).
Things don’t go so badly though; the Ork attacks are lacklustre, and they appear to lack much of their heaviest equipment and vehicles. It’s while fighting one of the greenskins that Kage has a revelation. He manages to despatch an Ork by gutting it after making a faint with his pistol. In a sudden moment of realisation, he sees that the Ork attack is merely a diversion – the main force has circumnavigated them. He tells his theory to the Colonel who agrees with him, and the Last Chancers must try to outrun the Ork horde so that they can warn the next base that they don’t have the time they thought they did They leave the other penal legion behind so that they Orks don’t realise their ploy has been worked out.
They reach the base just in time, leaving exhuasted and frost-bitten Last Chancers to drop along the way. The base is besieged by the Orks, but Schaeffer is determined that he won’t get penned in for a long battle – he has far more important things to do it seems. He musters the Last Chancers to break out and get to the shuttle pad, disobeying a direct order from the base commander in doing so (Schaeffer claims over-ruling orders from a higher authority) which they succeed in doing [this shows that the Last Chancers are something special, not just another penal legion].
Part Six – Typhos Prime
Another fruitless infantry assault against Coritanorum is hurled back by heavy casualties.
+++Operation Harvest complete. Preparing for commencement of Operation New Sun.+++
+++There can be no more delays. New Sun must go ahead on schedule or all will be lost+++
The Last Chancers finally arrive at their ultimate destination – Typhos Prime, capital world of the Typhon system. The world is in utter disarray. A rebellion by the high Imperial Guard command has left the sector disorganised and demoralised. The rebels hold the near-impregnable fortress of Coritanorum, the nerve centre of the Imperium’s military might in the Typhon sector and seat of the planetary government. For several years armies loyal to the Emperor have dashed themselves against its massive walls to no avail. With the slow but steady appraoch of hive fleet Dagon, the situation has become highly perilous. The ancient base has never fallen in its six thousand year history, and the Imperial Guard will not let the Navy bombard it into fragments (and this would probably take a good fifty years or so anyway, because the citadel is so well protected). The Imperial Guard of Typhon are under ancient treaty to never leave Typhus Prime while Coritanorum still stands, which means they’re very reluctant to have it destoyed (they’d be shipped off to other warzones if that happens). It is also a matter of honour – Guard fix Guard mistakes. Kage is doubtful what difference the surviving twenty Last Chancers can do when there are already tens of thousands of Guardsmen on the planet.
At the frontline, one more newcomer is introduced to them – an ex-techpriest called Gudmanz.
Gudmanz: Gudmanz was caught selling technology and armaments to human pirates raiding Imperial convoys. Who knows what dire promises and bargains had to be made to get him from the Adeptus Mechanicus, who are notorious for punishing those who wrong them (where do you think all those servitors come from?). Kage’s opinion is that the Techpriests are very sensitive to those who would bring disrepute to their closed order, and their power would be shaken if it were known that members of their organisation supplied arms to anti-Imperial forces. Schaeffer sent Gudmanz straight to Typhos Prime because he cannot risk him being killed before they reach Coritanorum – he is the only man he has with the technical skills required to complete the mission. He is a sorry, broken man. With all his bionics except a single nerve plug removed, his body is a near-constant mass of scars. He will not live much longer without the aid of the artificial devices that sustained him to his old age, and he feels blind and impotent without his many enhancements. He is actually looking forward to death, but cannot bring himself to end it.
Schaeffer leads the Last Chancers past the current frontline, towards a position only a couple of miles from Coritanorum, as part of a general attack. However, as they advance forwrad, they are caught in a strafing run by rebel aircraft, killing more of them and cutting through the Mordians accompanying them. Kage is also hit and goes down. The wound isn’t too bad at all, but he plays dead, realising this is the best chance he has ever had to escape – as the other Last Chancers charge off towards the shelter of the trenches, Kage snatches a uniform from a dead Mordian and heads back towards the Imperial rear enclave.
We all know what happens next – ‘Last Chance’. It may need a little bit of re-working, but not much.
Part Five – New Sun
The Inquisitor is fleeing through a twisting series of tunnels, pursued by some vicious and agile assailant, who he only manages to evade by leading it through a blast door and then rolling back underneath as it slams shut.
+++Commencing Operation New Sun+++
+++I look forward to seeing you+++
Having been recaptured, Kage, along with the other Last Chancers, is told Schaeffer’s plan. There’s only seven of them left now – Schaeffer, Kage, Loron, Lorii, Linsburg, Kronin and Gudmanz. They will infiltrate into the city-sized rebel base and then overload its plasma reactors to destroy it from the inside. Schaeffer asks for volunteers, much to everybody’s amusement and amazement. Only Gudmanz takes up the Colonel’s suicidal offer. It is then the Schaeffer shows them the Imperial Pardons that have been written out for them, and Kage realised that the Colonel has been writing pardons for every Last Chancer who died. Schaeffer gives them the choice – they can follow him into Coritanorum and if they survive, the Pardon won’t be posthumous. Or they can decline, in which case they’ll be handed over to another penal legion to serve for the rest of their life. Linsburg jumps at the chance – he’ll have no chance of reclaiming his power if he’s dead, he tells them – while he’s still alive there’s still hope. Kage is sorely tempted – after all, walking into the most heavily guarded citadel for a thousand light years in every direction doesn’t really fit in with his philosophy of self-preservation. As he watches Schaeffer tearing up Linsburg’s Pardon, he realises that this is actually the only way he’s going to escape. That piece of parchment represents the rest of his life, stretching away into old age, rather than snatched moments of peace and safety in an ongoing war which will seem him die painfully on some field of battle that he’s not even heard of yet. He tells Schaeffer that he’s going with him, and suddenly everybody else is ‘volunteering’ too.
Schaeffer tells them why they have been chosen – that they haven’t been subjected to random carnage for no apparent reason. They have all displayed the necessary skills and mental aptitudes for this mission. On Ichar IV and Deliverance they showed they could face the utterly alien horror that is the Tyranids and stay sane. On False Hope they showed physical endurance and the ability to resist alien influences. They showed their innate discipline in following Schaeffer’s orders to blow the airlocks when fighting the Dark Eldar, while sheer cussedness and determination was needed to make the forced march across Kragmeer – that’s why anyone who quit was left behind. He explains how he rigged the shuttle engines to fail over Hypernol, to test their resourcefulness, although he never expected there to be aliens living underneath the moon’s surface. Most importantly, he tells them, they are the most hardened fighters he has ever seen. And it’s true, Kage realises as he looks around him. Everyone of them is a real tough hombre, you can see it in everyone’s eyes.
The Colonel leads them to a point not far from a secondary gatehouse – a sort of postern gate. There are quite a lot of rebel forces there too, outside the walls, and Kage can’t see how seven Guardsmen, no matter how hardened and survivable, are going to get through. A big artillery barrage starts up, working its way along the rebel battleline, and the Last Chancers are joined by someone else – Lieutenant Striden.
Lieutenant Striden: Striden is actually a Naval Lieutenant, a Ground Observation Officer for the massive battleship Emperor’s Benevolance. He is probably the most insane person Kage has encountered – when Striden first appear, he tells them that his the observation officer for their artillery support. They all stand around expecting the usual huge cannon fire, and then suddenly the Emperor’s Benevolance opens up from orbit. Immensely destructive would be an understatement, and its targets are only a hundred yards away! While everyone ducks and dives for cover, even the Colonel jumps into the safety of a communications trench, Striden just stands there in the howling gale of plasma, torpedo and laser fire laughing his head off… In fact he’s so mental, when one of the Last Chancers lets slip that they’re heading into Coritanorum to blow it up, he insists that he comes along! Schaeffer has little choice but to let him – he’d probably only tag along anyway and give them away to the enemy . He’s actually been so close to so many naval bombardments he’s been totally unhinged and thinks that the Last Chancers would be a bit of a welcome break.
With the rebel forces in their way utterly devastated and scattered, it’s straightforward for the Last Chancers to storm the few guards left at the entrance and gain access to the citadel. Inside they realise it really is a city – they come across normal Imperial citizens going about their daily business and find out that they believe it was the Imperium who started the war – the military command merely responded to an invasion by the Imperial Guard [this is actually true – when the threat within Coritanroum was uncovered the first Imperial response was to take the citadel by force].
They make their way through the gargantuan miltary base, disguised variously in civiolian clothes and rebel uniforms, with Gudmanz interfacing with the data system to guide them, until they reach the primary plasma reactor chamber. Along the route, it becomes more and more obvious to Kage why they could never take this place by pen assault – even if you could get an army inside, its twisting layout would mean the attackers would pay with blood for every inch of corridor and room retaken. In the plasma chambers they meet Inquisitor Oriel.
Inquisitor Oriel: It was Oriel who first discovered the threat posed by Coritanorum – that is to say, Coritanorum has fallen under the sway of a genestealer cult (actually it was he who accidently let a Genestealer loose in the citadel and failed to hunt it down). This would be bad enough at the best of times, what with the break in sector security and all the rest. However, with the approach of hive fleet Dagon things became much, much worse. Firstly, the psychic beacon broadcast by the Genestealers will attract the Tyranids to the sector, and the capital itself. Secondly, when they over-run Corintanorum and absorb the cult back into the hive mind the fleet will learn the exact details of the sector’s defences – fleet and Guard dispositions, Adeptus Mechanicus weaponshops and everything else. It would be impossible for the Imperium to hold them off if they knew the intimate structure of their defence strategies. Oriel messed up at first by requesting the citadel be taken by force. Now he realises that it must be destroyed, because even the loss of its important facilities will be nothing compared to the damage done if it were taken intact. Working from inside the citadel he concocted operation New Sun – the detonation of the plasma reactors – and this fitted right into Schaeffer’s ball park. Now the Last Chancers must succeed or the whole sector is all but doomed…
They fight their way in and have to hold it while Gudmanz deactivates the safety protocols and automatic shutdown mechanisms, which takes a couple of hours. With the reactor ready to mainline soon it’s time for the Last Chancers to get out of there, although not without a fight. They’re about halfway out again when, during a firefight, Gudmanz ducks into a terminal alcove and realises that there’s a secondary failsafe system – if they don’t deactivate that as well then the resultant blast will be fairly minor. It’s just then that they run into the first bit of weirdness… Until now they’ve just been fighting rebels, but amongst the next lot are some strange looking fighters, who they first take to be Guardsmen. When the Last Chancers refuse to go back for the secondary failsafe, Oriel explains just how important it is that Coritanorum is destroyed. Even Kage, the most selfish of them, can see the logic of it, and suddenly he finds that he’s actually looking forward to the prospect – not only will he get a pardon, his conscience can be clear; he’s done his bit for the Emperor and humanity and he’ll be a hero (albeit an unsung one). This realisation strikes Kage rather hard and he’s actually keen to get on with it – that purpose he’s been looking for has been handed to him on a platter.
[During this part, Gudmanz adds to Kage’s speculations about the Colonel with random and often nonsensical talk about genetic-engineering, stem cell therapy, cloning, cybernetic organisms and other mad scientist stuff that might explain the Colonel’s ability to withstand horrendous amounts of danger unscathed]
They manage to get to the secondary failsafe chamber with four of them still alive (Oriel, Schaeffer, Kage and Striden). Without Gudmanz they’re at a bit of a loss as to what to do, until Kage points out the old Last Chancers adage ‘if in doubt, shoot it’. Consequently they trash everything in sight, and sirens start shrieking and all the rest. Time to make a speedy exit for the Last Chancers.
The only way they’re going to be able to get out is by nicking a shuttle – considering how Kage started in the Last Chancers, the irony is not lost on him (if you remember, he was trying to stowaway on a shuttle leaving the prison planet). On the way Schaeffer has to head off to rescue Striden who gets trapped by closing bulkheads. Sod this, thinks Kage and continues for the shuttle. It is then that he comes face to face with the purestrain stealer. To say that Kage is scared would be a gross understatement. This thing just stalks round a corridor and they stop, facing each other two yards apart. Kage can smell it, hear its breathing. He looks into its alien eyes, and suddenly the Genestealer is trying its hypnotic gaze. He;s entranced and the Genestealer moves closer, mouth opening to reveal the ovipositor. Kage desperately tries to break his mind free, and he remembers Last Hope and the Heart of the Jungle. He is filled with a revulsion for all things alien, and then he remembers Ichar IV. He recalls the piles of bodies, the forests stripped to rocks and buildings crushed underfoot by massive bio-titans.
‘Frag you!’ snaps Kage and, of all the things he could do, punches it squarely on the jaw, knocking it to the ground. The ‘stealer springs up and is about to tear him to pieces when bolter rounds explode off the corridor wall. The ‘stealer turns tail and flees, and Kage turns to see Oriel, smoking bolter in hand. Kage is just coming down with serious amounts of shock now (being face to face with a stealer is about as close to death as you can get without actually being dead!), he cant stop shaking, he’s a total mess. He then pulls himself together and hears Oriel babbling about how he can’t let it get away again. Kage doesn’t really register what the Inquisitor is saying, and sets off for the shuttle terminal.
Kage finds the shuttle pad, still with two shuttles on the deck. He manages to overpower the pilot of one of them and is about to make an unceremonious blast off when he sees Schaeffer with Striden. The Colonel’s missing one arm below the elbow and he’s covered in blood – his own for a change. They’re about to get cut off by enemy soldiers unless Kage helps them out. He’s all for leaving them there for a moment, until he realises at the last moment that Schaeffer’s still carrying the pardons in his coat. Cursing wildly, he throttles down the shuttle and heads off to help them. They manage to break free back to the shuttle, but Kage won’t let either on board until he has the Pardon in his hand. Oriel turns up just as their ready to go, and Kage stops him on the boarding ladder. Kage has worked out that Oriel was somehow responsible for starting the whole thing and he kicks the Inquisitor off the ladder. They blast off just in time and are racing for safety when the plasma goes up in a huge detonation. Kage isn’t sure, but he thinks he saw another shuttle heading in the opposite direction just before the meltdown.
Epilogue – According to the Colonel, Kage has paid the Emperor back for his crimes, he is a free man again. His wrict manacles and broken off and they offer to erase the 13th Penal Legion tattoo from his arm. Kage thinks about it, but then decides that the Colonel was right all along. He needed his Last Chance. He decides to keep the tattoo as a reminder not to screw up again. Kage can’t believe he’s actually free, he goes and celebrates in style, his last sight of the Colonel is that of him being ushered into a very strange looking vehicle by a bunch of Tech-priests [try to evoke some MIB style hush-hush and all the rest]. Happy ending.
I don’t think so… Kage gets drunk at the camp and gets into a fight with some Typhon Guardsmen. They’re cursing penal legionnaires as traitors who should be painfully executed [just like at the start…]. After all, Kage has just blown up their base, the symbol of Typhus Prime, and now they’re all going to be shipped out to Emperor knows where, away from their friends and their family. Enraged that they have no respect for the dregs of the galaxy that have just saved so many of their worthless hides, and unable to tell them what was really going on, Kage ends up pulling his knife and gutting two of them. He legs it and collapses in a drunken stupor. When he wakes up, with a hangover all the way from the Eye of Terror, he finds his pardon torn in half. Totally he confused, he rolls over to see there’s a familiar shadow looming over him, ice blue eyes glinting dangerously. “It’s your choice, Kage,” the Colonel says. “I can shoot you now, or I can give you one more last chance.”
So, what has actually happened is this:
- Inquisitor Oriel uncovers the presence of a Genestealer Cult in Coritanorum.
- He orders a full scale attack by the Imperial Guard to attack the citadel before the ‘Stealers gain too much power, but he is too late and the attack initiates a full scale rebellion.
- Upon learning of the approach of hive fleet Kraken (a smaller fragment called Dagon after Ichar IV), Oriel realises just what a threat is posed by the cult in Coritanorum. However, he has several years with which to settle matters (Hive Fleets moves slowly), and formulates Operations Harvest and New Sun with Schaeffer.
- Schaeffer is to form a new 13th Penal Legion, a full size regiment at the start. As the time for operation New Sun approaches, he thins down their numbers to find the best fighters and survivors. This includes Ichar IV and Deliverance, to test their mettle against the alien Tyranids, and to show those who will survive what is at stake if the Tyranids are allowed free rein in Typhon Sector.
- As the Tyranid fleet approaches, the Last Chancers travel towards Typhus Prime, still being ‘culled’ in battle.
- Once they reach Coritanorum, their numbers are sufficient to infiltrate Coritanorum under the cover of a massed attack by the Imperial Guard regiments. Infiltration is the only possible course of action – a larger force would have to fight its way through to retake the citadel and that has already been proven impossible.
- The Cult is destroyed with the destruction of Coritanorum and the Last Chancers (just Kage and Schaeffer in fact!) are disbanded once more. Kage blows it again and ends up back where he started…
Part Approx. Word Count
Leaving Deliverance 10,000
False Hope 12,000
Bad Landings 9,000
Cold Steel 10,000
Typhos Prime 12,000
New Sun 30,000
And as an added treat, here are a few more titles that were suggested:
[Kage’s] Last Chance
[The] 13th Legion
Trial by War
Crimes against Mankind
I might have to use ‘Trial by War’ on something else, I really like that one…