The waiting is the hardest part.
Whether it's waiting to drop, waiting to fire, or just waiting for rations, I hate it. It gives my mind too much time to create. Right now, it's changing every jolt of the Thunderhawk into an engine failure, every sick look on the young scout across from me into a failing implant, and every pinch of my harness into a cascade failure of equipment that will lead to my body hitting the surface of this Emperor-forsaken planet at ten times terminal velocity. I know this is foolish, I have faith in my brothers and in myself, but I still think these things. Perhaps my conditioning hasn't fully taken root.
I've almost finished the sacred rites of initiation into the Dark Angels. Over the six years since I was taken from Juxios III, a kid too smart to belong and too ruthless to be left alone, I have endured pain, learned the skills of warfare, and been reborn in faith and loyalty to my chapter and Emperor. But as I see Sergeant Terathel's grizzled face, at peace in the midst of his young charges, I know that I have many years to go to achieve the sort of tranquility of confidence he carries so easily.
Sitting across from me, Scout Jullos, no more than fifteen and on his first operation, finally pukes. I knew he hadn't received Lyman's Ear yet. The liquefied chunks of food fly across the cabin in the freefall of our descent, and I have to jerk my head to the side to avoid being hit. The stench of his last meal is bitter and powerful. 'Damn it, Jullos, I told you not to eat before you left!', I shout across the cabin at my team member.
With a slightly green look of shame on his face, he starts to answer before Sergeant Terathel's smooth voice cuts him off. 'I told him to eat, young Kinop, and he obeyed. If both of you were focusing more on the upcoming operation, and less on yourselves, perhaps you would both be more at ease!' The sergeant heaved himself to his feet, his hands bracing himself against the strange upwards pull of our decent through the atmosphere. He looked down the length of the jump corridor at his squad. 'Prepare yourselves, scouts! We deploy in thirty seconds!' As if to answer him, the gunship leveled off, and gravity returned with a lurch, and the deployment ramp at the rear of the corridor dropped, revealing a swirling darkness of moonlit cloud. I scrambled to my feet, and affixed my breather into place. A final check on my jump-rigged bolter, and I snapped my eyes into the glowing amber light next to the ramp.
Sergeant Terathel's voice came into our earpieces. 'Once out the door, power down your comlinks. There is to be no transmissions once on the surface. Dark Angels, REPENT!'
'FOR TOMORROW YOU DIE!' we shouted in unison. The light flashed green, and we dashed through the doorway and fell into the swallowing night.
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A final headcount. My entire team was here, four other green breastplates becoming a shining black in the faint light of the forest clearing. Jullos, the young puker. Hybert, who arrived upon the Rock with me, carrying his heavy bolter. Ginea was already scanning our rear through the enhanced optics of his sniper rifle, and Losacan had finally come up to the group. I turned and signaled to Sergeant Terathel my fireteam's readiness. He pointed a gloved hand at me and motioned ahead, into the forest. I advanced, taking my team into the lead. Sergeant Terathel and the other fireteam took up the rear as we penetrated into the teeming forest.
The heretics apparently had not yet emerged to full rebellion at this point, and were still relying upon the forest to shield them from the planetary governor's forces. I find it odd that Space Marines had been called upon to destroy a simple rebellion that has not even completely taken root. Normally this would be a matter for the Inquisition or the Arbites, but the Dark Angels had been sent instead. And the very forest the heretics relied upon to hide them away also concealed the retribution that my brothers and I carried to them.
As much as I tried to remain totally focused on the teeming night around me, my mind began wandering again. The few sounds that the wedge of scouts behind me made were masked from the world by the screeching of night animals and the rustle of the plants I don't think anyone but an Adeptus Astartes would have been able to detect them. The miles passed under my feet, as the years had passed since I'd been brought to the Rock. I thanked the Emperor again for the chance to serve him like this if not for the Dark Angel selection team that was on my planet, I could have easily been serving in a penal legion.
During my schooling, I had been very successful in the learning arts, and pitifully inept in the social ones. I had watched the bitterness and envy grow in the children who had thought themselves my peers, and I learned to avoid the minor torments they had laid in my path the fouled meals and casual shoves simply taught me to be more aware.
When I overheard five of the dumbest boys in my Scholarum loudly describing how they would beat me into the dirt in the fields of amaranth that surrounded our building, I made other plans. By the time the Preacher of the Scholarum found me, two of the boys were unconscious, and the others were scattered about the grounds, moaning and bleeding. I hadn't meant to permanently harm them, but after one died, I was called before the Arbites. I denied nothing, and explained to them how if I had not acted with the vigor that I had, the five would have simply attacked me at another time. The Arbites threw me into a cell to decide my fate. The next day, two giant men that I later learned were Space Marines of the Dark Angels took me from my cell to their ship. Apparently they had heard of the ambushes I had laid for the bullies, as well as my reasoning. Astartes must be intelligent as well as fierce and they felt I had displayed both.
By morning, the black outlines of the heretics' complex appeared through the trees ahead of us. It was a simple group of low, flimsy buildings without even a fence to surround them. Their gray, prefabricated sides were worn and in the process of being overgrown by the surrounding groundcover. However, a wide swath had been cut around the buildings, clearing open fields of fire from which the low, earthen bunkers scattered about the perimeter could pour rounds into anyone attempting to assault the complex. Examining the bunkers through my magnoculars revealed two men in each, mostly smoking some kind of drug and casually leaning against the heavy bolters jutting out from the low openings.
Sergeant Terathel crawled up to my position, the smell of the loamy earth heavy about him. I turned, muttering, 'Brother Sergeant, I have three of the heretics' fighting positions in my sector, two men with a heavy bolter in each. I've identified three different sentries walking among the buildings on apparently random patrols, all armed with autoguns. I have been unable to identify a likely command post.'
The sergeant scowled, warping the heavy scar across his forehead. 'Any possible officers or leaders?' he asked in his incongruously musical baritone.
'Negative, Brother Sergeant.'
'Very well. Instruct your scouts to suppress the fighting positions on my signal, and engage any targets who pose an immediate threat. Do not fire upon any leaders or officers, but make all efforts to take them alive.' He started crawling back, his grenades and other equipment dragging along the ground.
'Brother Sergeant,' I urgently whispered, and he stopped, his gray eyes looking back at me, bright against the dark camouflage paint. 'Does this mean we will assault the complex?'
Sergeant Terathel's eyes smiled, though his mouth did not. 'I'll let you know later, Scout Kinop.' He disappeared back into the forest as I turned back to inform my team, wondering about his enigmatic answer.
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I'd seen the guards change out of their bunkers twice since we'd arrived at about four hour intervals. I've learned that it is best to know your enemy's habits, but I still hate the waiting this involves. These chumps were not terribly observant I saw another squad of Dark Angels scouts setting up across the clearing from our position, one of the three others that were dropped into the forest. Of course, I knew what to look for, and my eyes are far sharper than those of the heretics. Still no excuse.