In order to slow the Ork advance, key bridges need to be destroyed. These bridges are in the agricultural sector, a small valley that comprises the only fertile land and vegetation-covered area on Parnassus. Escorted by Reaper 2, Janek’s Lightning Strike Fighter, three bombers approach the target zone.
Three Marauder bombers flew over the landscape, the crews keeping their eyes to the sky, watching for Ork fighters. Griffons 1 and 3 flew low in preparation for the strafing attack against ground targets, while Griffon 2 came in high to avoid anti-aircraft fire and rain bombs on targets. In the dorsal turret of Griffon 1, Prinden gripped the handles of his twin heavy bolters, while his feet worked the pedals, nervously rotating the turret left and right a few degrees as he scanned the airspace above and behind the craft. But currently, the only other aircraft he could see were the two other 4-engines bombers Griffons 2 and 3, the large red griffons on their tail fins bright in the morning sun, and Reaper 2, the sleek Lightning Strike fighter that was escorting them, ready to bring down any threatening enemy planes.
From the nose turret of Griffon 1, Banson had a different view between the two lascannons that jutted out in front of him. He was looking not only for approaching aerial Orks, but also for the ground targets they had been sent to destroy. But he found the ground itself distracting. He’d been stationed on Parnassus right out of flight school several months ago, and all of his flights here had been over the desert wasteland that covered most of the planet. He’d visited one of the three immense cities that were the population centres, and he’d seen the industrial and mining complexes here, but he’d never seen the agricultural sector of Parnassus before. Or any in fact, as he was born and raised on a hive world, living in a huge vertical city for his first 17 years of life before signing up with the Imperial Navy. “It’s so green!” he exclaimed.
“This small valley produces food to supplement the supplies that get shipped in from off-world,” came a voice over the vox. Apparently Banson had spoken with his channel open. The pilot of Griffon 1, Mart, continued her explanation: “We’re lucky the engineers managed to find this area, realize its potential, and bring in some agri-workers. It’s the reason we get fresh food once in a while. I don’t want the Orks to take that away from us, so keep your eyes open and hit your targets. Gunners, keep the fighters off us while we’re knocking out the bridges. There are three main bridges in this area across the waterways. Command is hoping that if we make it difficult for them to get through this area, they’ll find a different route to attack. They’re not smart enough to destroy our food supplies, all they want to do is attack and fight. So today, we’re bridgebusting!”
“Oh, I just know that something good is going to happen!”, Kate voxed from the tail gun.
“Let’s hope that your optimism is warranted, and we have a great mission,” Mart replied.
Suddenly, a new voice cut in: “This is Griffon 3, we are engaging ground defenses.” With that, las beams streaked from the nose of the bomber toward a flak platform positioned beside the large, metal bridge up ahead. A huge chunk of dirt in front of the emplacement exploded into the air, just as Hellstrike missiles fired from their mounts under the wings of Griffon 3 slammed into the Ork guns, sending a fireball into the air. “Woohoo! We just made the airspace a little bit safer!”, came the copilot of Griffon 3 again. “Now let’s get the bridges.”
“Bogeys! We have aerial contacts! Ahead and behind!”
“We see them Griffon 2,” Mart replied calmly. “Reaper 2, there’s one on your tail.”
As two Ork fighters approached from ahead and to their right, their dull yellow fuselages and wings mottled with patches of red and bare metal, a third dropped from the clouds directly behind Janek in Reaper 2.
Janek swore softly to himself then opened the vox channel. “They may be fast, but those piles of junk are barely airworthy. Here’s something the greenskins can’t do…” Pulling hard to the left, Janek put his fighter into a hard stoop, veering left, then suddenly back around to the right, pulling away from the Ork craft behind him and training his nose-mounted guns on the Ork planes zooming in toward Griffon 3. He targeted one of the two and fired his multilaser. The las rounds tore into the side of the yellow craft, opening holes that spewed oil, small chunks of metal, and puffs of smoke. In an attempt to finish the stricken craft, Janek launched his Skystrike missiles, but they just sailed wide of the target, passing through the dark exhaust trail behind the Ork fighter. Unfortunately, this did nothing to deter the closing xeno planes, whose noses and wings erupted with fire as they triggered their own crude guns, sending a storm of metal slugs and bullets into Griffon 3.
The unbelievably accurate fire from the enemy craft found the engines and cockpit of Griffon 3 and punched through the hull and cowling, setting both engines on fire and ripping the pilot and copilot to pieces. The large bomber immediately tilted to the left, nosed down, and exploded against the ground just in front of the bridge it had been lining up to destroy.
“This is Griffon 1. Griffon 3 is down! Let’s hit those bridges and get out of here. We’re taking AA fire, and- Emperor’s teeth!” The sound of static and tearing metal accompanied Mart’s communication as she swore. “That one hit us!”
“I’m hit!” came Prinden’s voice from the turret. “My leg’s bleeding… I can’t tell how bad it is…”
Treppa looked at Mart from the co-pilot’s chair and began to unstrap himself from the harness. “I’ll see if I can get a bandage on him. We need him working that gun.”
“Go,” replied Mart, “then get back here. Another Ork just showed up and I’ll need your eyes to keep track of them all.”
Treppa climbed down from the cockpit and along the gangway to where Prinden’s legs were visible in the seat beneath the dorsal turret. As Treppa pulled bandages from the medkit strapped to the wall, he surveyed the scene. He could hear the wind whistling through the irregular 10cm wide hole in the fuselage as he tore at the leg of Prinden’s flightsuit where, surrounded by a wet stain of blood, an chunk of metal protruded from his leg.
“I can’t pull this out, it’ll just make things worse. All I can do is secure it so it doesn’t move, and get pressure on it to stop the bleeding. Hold tight, this will probably hurt…” As Treppa wound the bandage around the upper thigh, crossing it around the metal shard in a figure-eight pattern, he could hear Prinden wincing in pain. Once he had the wound secured, he reached into the medkit again for a pair of small syringes. “I can give you dolorec to help with the pain, and a stim to keep you going, but you’re just going to have to ride this out until we get back. Hey, if it goes badly and they can’t save your leg, maybe the mechanicus will hook you up with one of those shiny cybernetic legs.”
“Treppa, are you done? We’ve got another Ork inbound!” came Mart’s voice.
“Hang in there, Prinden. We need you doing your duty,” Treppa told the wounded gunner, before turning and climbing back into the cockpit.
Janek steered Reaper 2 to the left to close on an Ork fighter that was maneuvering to get behind Griffon 1. “You’ve got one on your tail, Griffon 1. He’s already damaged. I’m going to see if I can get him off you.”
But before he could open fire, another Ork jet, its nose an open maw of air intake, swerved to directly in front of him, head on. Guns in the wings and mounted in front of the cockpit lit up and Janek’s fighter was peppered with bullets. Warning lights in his own cockpit flashed as damaged sensors were triggered and then overwhelmed. His canopy glass became a mass of silver spiderwebs and Reaper 2 shuddered as a third of the port wind suddenly tore loose and spun off into the sky. Knowing there was no way he would be able to land such a heavily damaged plane, he flipped open the eject mechanism cover and slammed his hand on the button. The canopy exploded away and Janek was pushed hard down into his seat as rockets under the seat fired, thrusting him into the air, above his fatally wounded Lightning. A second later he was slammed sideways as the nav beacon in the seat identified which direction his airfield was and ignited a second rocket in the chair, pushing him toward home and away from enemy territory. There was only enough fuel for a few seconds of flight before the parachute deployed, but the hope was that would be enough to get him out of the danger zone.
Seeing Reaper 2 go down, Pinder swung his turret to bear on the fighter that did the foul deed, but pressing the pedal hard triggered a wave of pain that overrode the meds in him, and his vision swam for a moment. He fired his heavy bolters, sending a stream of explosive shells toward the spot where he though the enemy craft was, but he couldn’t pinpoint it through the dim haze of his blood loss and pain.
In the rear turret, Kate was more accurate, sending her bolter shells roaring into the craft behind them, blowing the nose of the Ork plane off in a shower of debris. The force of the impact and loss of integrity sent the remains of the craft into a flat spin, spraying fuel, metal shards and the pilot out like a pinwheel.
“Nice hit Griffon 1! This is Griffon 2, lining up for a run on a bridge.” Malek, flying Griffon 2 high above the battlefield, put his plane into a steep dive to drop enough altitude to give his bombardier a better shot at hitting the target. “Hold on everyone, we’re not slowing down for this one!” Trying to get closer to the target as quickly as he could, Malek pushed the airframe to and beyond its limits. The crew all strained against the G-forces pressing their bodies, and the plane itself shuddered and shook. Just before Malek pulled out of his dive, there was a loud “POP” as one of the wing flaps tore away and tumbled to the ground below. As they leveled out an Ork plane immediately fell in behind them, and another climbed to meet them head on. Both Ork craft opened up with their vicious forward-facing guns, and the crew of Griffon 2 fired back. The jet behind them wobbled as it was visibly damaged by Griffon 2’s rear gun, but the bomber also suffered significant hits to its wings and fuselage.
“I see a bridge ahead,” Malek voxed to Griffon 1. “We’re going to take it out.
“Noted, Griffon 2. We’ll come up behind you to combine our defensive firepower and put up a shield of bolter fire to keep these green-skinned bastards away from you!”. Mart steered her bomber in behind the other Marauder to give Prinden a chance to target the Orks that were now swarming them both, and to line up a run against the ground defenses.
“What bridge?” Malek’s copilot, Retal, asked from the seat beside him.
“That one,” Malek replied, pointing ahead through the cockpit window. “The stone one.”
“That’s not on the target list.”
“It’s a bridge, dammit, and I’m going to destroy a bridge before we get shot down.”
“It’s got cows walking across it.”
“Bombardier, this is Malek. Target the stone bridge.”
“The little one with the cows?” came the reply.
“Yes!”, Malek said forcefully.
The bomb bay doors opened, and a rack of bombs tumbled down onto the landscape below, annihilating the small stone bridge and every cow within 30 metres, leaving only a series of deep, dark craters along the ruined section of river.
Seeing an opportunity to clear the path to the next bridge, Griffon 1 unleashed its nose lascannons and its Hellstrike missiles on a gun emplacement ahead, blowing it to chunks. But, while flying steady to line up the attack, Mart left the bomber an easy target for one of the Ork jets, who stitched up the side of the Marauder with its cannons, knocking off plating from the fuselage and damaging the cowling on engine 4.
The two Orks that were chasing Griffon 2 at a higher altitude did even better, their combined fire knocking out 2 engines and damaging the airframe which sent the large craft tilting toward the ground, even as the tail and dorsal turrets continued to fire ineffectually, hoping to bring down one of their attackers.
“Okay crew, we’re going to see if we can get one of those bridges on the way out of here,” Mart voxed the rest of the bomber.
“We’re getting swarmed,” replied Treppa. “And that Ork closing on us is the same one that shot down the other 2 Griffons. That greenskin with the glyph that looks like two of their tusks has been having his way with us up here. I’m informing command that we might have an ace to worry about.”
“Go ahead, Treppa. Kate, what have you got?”
“No targets”, came the reply from the tail gun.
Just then, the distinctive loud, deep chatter of heavy bolter fire erupted from above them. Prinden had spotted a target and opened fire. Teeth gritted, eyes squinting against the haze that was threatening his vision, and focusing as hard as he could on the target and maintaining his own consciousness, he held the heavy guns on the Ork flyer, his fingers squeezing the triggers with all of his strength.
A series of explosions erupted across the nose and canopy of the enemy craft, and then the rest of it exploded, showering Griffon 1 with fire and tiny pieces of debris.
But there were still two more, who opened fire themselves. The closer of the two opened a hole in the tail section of the fuselage, just behind Kate’s tail gunner position. The other, with the tusk glyph adorning its wing, delivered a fusillade of fire from the guns in its wings and mounted above its cavernous intake. Both port engines of Griffon 1 crumpled under the impacts and explosions and the large, wounded bomber turned over and plummeted to the ground.
Janek turned and looked back, and up. A bomber had just hit the ground, and now another was tumbling from the sky under the weight of Ork firepower. From where he was standing, he could see several parachutes floating toward the ground, but couldn’t tell who they were, or even which bombers they had come from. He was much closer to home, thanks to his ejection seat, but it was still a long walk back. It would be quicker if an Imperial patrol found him, but he wasn’t counting on that. He only hoped that after he made it back, he would see some of those Marauder crew again. Janek checked his compass and started walking.