Following a failed bombing attack against key bridges, Command have discovered an Ork reinforcement convoy and are sending Griffon Squadron in again to destroy it. They’ll be escorted by members of Reaper Squadron, who are worried about the fate of one of their own, Janek, who was shot down in the previous mission and is now missing.
Once again, the Marauder bomber crews of Griffon Squadron sat silently in the briefing room, each of them trying to deal with the swirling maelstrom of emotions in side them: fear, excitement, trepidation, anger, doubt. As much as their instructors and flight trainers had tried to drill it into them, they were not ready for the reality of actual combat. Three bombers had just been lost on a previous mission, and now they were being prepped for their own first combat mission against an enemy that wanted to destroy them. The thrill and pride of doing the Emperor’s will and destroying the enemies of mankind that was foremost in their hearts and minds during training was now being overshadowed by the actual possibility of death.
At the front of the room, the flight commander continued: “We didn’t hit all of the bridges in the agricultural sector, but we achieved our desired effect anyway. The Orks are avoiding the agri sector and are speeding across the desert in a large column. They are heading for an encampment here.” With the last sentence, a section of the holo-projected map on the wall beside him turned from blue to yellow. “Two Marauders from Griffon Squadron will intercept them and destroy as many of them as possible. Get them while they are in the open and vulnerable, and we’ll be saving the lives of our ground troops later. You will be escorted by a single Lightning Strike Fighter, Reaper 4.”
“And 1. Also, Reaper 1,” came a voice from the back of the room. The bomber crews all turned to look at the source of disagreement. Sagna stood against the wall, her eyes as icy as her voice. “I’ll be escorting this mission.” The commander and Sagna locked eyes for what seemed like an eternity to the rookie crews in the room before the commander eventually said “Very well, Flight Leader, it’s your call. Any questions?”
“Where is Janek, Reaper 2?” Sagna asked immediately. “Has he been found?”
“Reaper 2’s beacon signal stopped transmitting 3 hours ago, and we have very few resources to spare in a rescue operation. Either he’ll make it back or he won’t,” came the commander’s reply from the front of the room.
“And what of this ‘Tusked Raider’ as he’s being called, who supposedly shot down three of our aircraft in the last mission?” Sagna continued, speaking over the last word of the commander’s reply. There was a pause before the commander responded to this one.
“Orks are brutish and stupid, and their aircraft are fast, but don’t maneuver well. In addition, they are difficult to distinguish from one another. There is no chance that a single greenskin pilot is that good, and our losses were due to overwhelming enemy numbers and firepower. Dismissed!”
The bomber crews all stood and left the room, their minds trying to focus on their tasks, but Sagna walked past them to the front of the room and stood silently in front of the commander, who stared silently back at her until the briefing room door closed.
“How did you hear about the Tusked Raider?” he asked quietly, his voice barely above a whisper.
“I know people in other departments.”
“I’m not giving up my comrades to be mind-wiped, turned into servitors, or killed. Just tell me what we’re up against.”
The commander paused before lowering his voice even further, to a whisper. “There is a Dakkajet with a glyph on its wing that looks like two tusks, and apparently, it did account for three of our losses in the last mission.”
“Including Janek?” Sagna’s voice dropped to match the commander’s in volume.
“I honestly don’t know.” He then raised his voice to a stern, admonishing, near-shout. “And if you ever question me, or countermand my directions again, I’ll have you shot!”
It might have just been a performance for anyone listening in, but Sagna knew it wasn’t.
“This is Griffon 1. Targets spotted.” In the distance, the pilot of Griffon 1 could see the dust plumes being kicked up behind the mass of Ork vehicles as they sped across the flat desert.
“Noted, Griffon 1.” Sagna replied. “No enemy aircraft in sight. I’m going to get a shot at some of those Orks before any air cover arrives.” With that, she pushed her Lightning Strike fighter into a dive, pushing her airspeed just above the maximum it was designed for. The craft shuddered a bit, but she leveled out as she dropped over a large rocky outcropping that jutted up from the sand. She fired her multilasers, which kicked up dirt and sand around the speeding vehicles, but she couldn’t catch any of them in the burst. Just then, the machine guns mounted on the tops of the war buggies swung her way and opened fire, but they couldn’t catch her craft either. Neither could the anti-aircraft guns that suddenly opened up from the west as Ork forces in the nearby encampment realized the danger, and tried to help their comrades make it safely to the crude buildings that served as their outpost.
Daran’s voice suddenly burst over the vox: “Bogey! One Ork dakka incoming!”
“I see him, Reaper 4,” Sagna replied. “Can you see any markings? Does he have the tusk glyph?”
“It looks like there’s a symbol that has teeth… but the craft has a pointed nose cone. I heard the Tusked Raider had one of those big intakes on the front.”
“Let’s take the filthy xeno down anyway!” Sagna hissed and turned toward the newly arrived craft. Head to head, she and the Ork craft fired at each other, both scoring minor hits, shots chipping paint and ricocheting off plating, but causing no significant damage. Reaper 4, too, turned for a quick shot at the incoming craft, but also couldn’t get his las fire onto a critical part of the plane.
Meanwhile, Griffon 1, skimming the ground, lined up the lead group of warbuggies. In the nose turret of the bomber, Darby triggered her twin lascannons, sending a beam of energy straight into one of the ramshackle vehicles. The resulting explosion threw the buggy into the air, where it cartwheeled, shedding chunks of metal and crew is it tumbled. At the same moment, Hellstrike missiles from the bombers wings streaked into the ground just behind the group of remaining vehicles, throwing a cloud of sand into the air and leaving a crater on the desert floor, but damaging none of the Orks.
Small weapons fired up from all of the closest ground vehicles at Griffon 1. While they weren’t intended as anti-aircraft weapons, but instead for shooting at ground troops, the sheer weight of fire pinging off the hull of the Marauder bomber found a weak spot, and a warning light flashed in the cockpit.
“We have a small fuel leak,” the copilot, Logit, read from the instrument panel.
“Well, let’s see if we can paste enough of these aliens that they can’t fire back at us then!” came the reply.
The designated anti-aircraft emplacements also lit up, sending streams of metal in staccato lines past Sagna’s Reaper 1, while bursts of launched explosive shells also blossomed in the air around her. “There’s a lot of AA fire near the encampment,” she voxed to the rest of the group. “Try to stay out of their range!”
“Reaper 1, there’s another bogey inbound. A second Dakkajet.”
“Roger Reaper 4.” Sagna saw the new yellow aircraft zooming into view and stooped hard to the left to get behind it as it flew straight toward Griffon 1, its guns blazing away. But Griffon 1, with streams of fire streaking past the bomber from the new Dakkajet and ground fire from all directions, did its best to line up a group of Ork buggies while still evading all of the deadly shards of metal being thrown in its direction.
“Bombs away!” called the bombardier from Griffon 1, followed quickly by “Blast it, can you keep steady!?” as the payload dropped short of the target.
“Not if you want to live long enough to try again!’ came the pilot’s response.
“I’m trying again now!” the bombardier yelled back as he released the second bay clamps, dropping another load of ordnance to the ground below, where it exploded in the midst of the swerving vehicles, tossing them into the air, some of them whole, some in pieces. As a single buggy at the far end of the group skidded up onto two wheels, but somehow managed to keep moving, apparently unscathed, its gunner waving a single hand furiously up at the bomber while the driver wrestled with the controls to keep the vehicle upright.
“No you don’t…” the bombardier whispered, and triggered the bombs mounted under the Marauder’s wings. It wasn’t a full payload, like the one remaining in the aircraft’s bomb bay, but it would be enough. And it was, as both bombs landed directly in front of the Ork warbuggy, sending it spinning into a vicious barrel roll above the sand for 40 metres before it crashed back into the desert below and disintegrated.
“That’s a lot of ordnance for one target, Griffon 1. Don’t forget, there are a lot of targets out here. Follow our lead and watch Peller. He just annihilated 2 of the large Ork trucks. That’s how you do it!”
“Thanks, Captain,” came Peller’s voice from the bombardier position of Griffon 4. “I’ll give you some tips when we get back home, Griffon 1”.
Suddenly, Sagna cut in: “That’s him! The new one. It’s the Tusked Raider!”
The newly arrived craft had just made a hard turn to the left and zoomed away, only to flip over and roll back towards them, seemingly intent on attacking the Imperial bombers head on to avoid their tail turrets.
“Wait for me and I’ll cover you, Reaper 1”, voxed Daran from Reaper 4. “I need to form up with you to watch your tail. You’ve got both Dakkas over there.” He watched as Reaper 1 banked away from him, hard, rolling to get as much lateral movement as she could in order to keep the enemy fighter in front of her. Daran also saw the other Ork Dakka make a sharp turn away from him, chasing Sagna, rolling and diving his craft down to her altitude to settle in directly behind her and open fire.
In her cockpit, Sagna was struggling to line up her target as she completed her maneuver and barely noticed the bullets tearing into her wings and ripping holes through her tail fins. She fired her own weapons, not caring about the Ork behind, only the one in front, and then screaming in frustration as the burst from her multilaser went wide of the target and her Skystrike missiles, as had been the pattern so far, failed to lock the target and streaked past the Ork plane, leaving ribbons of smoke to mark the path of their failure.
“I’m back here shooting at ground targets! I can’t get over there to help Reaper 1!” Daran yelled desperately into the vox.
“We’re on it,” replied Griffon 4 as their nose gunner fired the lascannons at the tailing aircraft, hitting it square in the side of the fuselage. The Ork plane wobbled, but stayed in the air directly behind Reaper 1. At the same time, Peller released another load of bombs, destroying a huge Ork battlewagon below.
Griffon 1’s mediocre bombing performance continued, as they dropped their final bomb load onto another squadron of buggies, destroying one at the edge of the formation, but leaving the rest zooming across the desert toward the safety of their base while firing at the hapless bomber, once again finding a weak spot in the engine and igniting it on fire. The dorsal turret gunner fired through the smoke starting to billow from the engine, spraying the air around the Tusked Raider, but couldn’t damage the Ork craft.
Just then, the anti-aircraft emplacements around the Ork encampment opened up on the Imperial craft which had strayed too close and gotten within their range, making them easy targets. Still focused on the Tusked Raider in front of her, and becoming more aware of the urgency of the Ork fighter tailing her, Sagna had no chance to evade the heavy rapid fire weapons that sprayed the sky around her. Reaper 1 rocked to the left under the impacts and Sagna pulled hard on her control stick to try to correct the flight and keep her aircraft stable, but it was no good. With a sickening screech and shudder, the right wing tore itself loose, sending the small fighter into a spin. Straining her arm muscles fighting the G-forces, Sagna reached for the ejector. She knew she only had seconds, but time slowed and it felt like it was taking an eternity to reach slowly toward the button that would get her out of the flaming wreck. She was barely aware of Daran’s voice in her helmet calling “Eject! Eject!” as her fingers found the button and pressed it. The canopy exploded away from the stricken craft, and Sagna’s seat followed it a fraction of a second later, rockets firing to keep her from hurtling toward the ground, and then once a safe altitude had been reached, a second set fired, propelling her toward her home airfield. She hoped that she would clear the Ork vehicles, or at least that they wouldn’t notice and turn around to come and find her.
As she rocketed through the air, she hoped that at least the bombers would exact some revenge and pound the remaining Ork forces into scrap. From her angle, though, she didn’t see the withering fire from the ground shoot through Griffon 1, ripping the large plane in half through the centre of the fuselage and igniting the remaining engines on fire. The Marauder came apart even before it hit the ground.
Away from the Ork encampment, closing in on the rear of the trailing warbuggies, Daran watched in horror as everything unfolded. As Reaper 1 and Griffon 1 went down in flames, the damaged pointy-nosed dakka turned and flew away over the Ork base. Meanwhile, the Tusked Raider turned and got in behind Griffon 4. The Marauder’s dorsal and tail guns fired, throwing out streams of bolter shells at the enemy plane, clipping it across the side of the fuselage, knocking off chunks of plating and a piece of the tail. This wasn’t enough to deter the Ork from going for his fourth kill, as the guns on his wings and bolted to the nose of his craft all fired, devastating the tail section of the bomber. The Ork paused as if to see if he’d killed the Imperial Marauder yet, but the plane kept flying on, even though its dorsal gun had stopped firing.
But before the Ork could fire again, the ground fire which had been so ineffective earlier started again, this time stitching holes through the belly of the Marauder, before a heavy flak shell exploded against the wing, igniting the fuel in both engines. The Ork pulled away sharply as the rest of the plane exploded in a cloud of fire and debris.
The only Imperial pilot left in the area, Daran rolled Reaper 4 and turned for the airbase. He just hoped that Janek had returned, and that Sagna wouldn’t be far behind him.