Following the successful bombing of an approaching Ork armoured vehicle force without taking any losses themselves, the crews of Griffon Squadron are in high spirits. They eagerly await their next mission in the briefing room, ready to prove themselves again.
The excited chatter, laughter, and boasting stopped as soon as the commander entered the briefing room, but the electric atmosphere lingered. All crews turned their attention to the front of the room where the commander now stood, as the holomap beside him flickered on to show the location of their next mission.
“Crews,” the commander began, his serious tone indicating his immunity from the contagious excitement in the room, “this is Ork Mektown. It’s a settlement that was constructed over the past couple of days, mostly by the Ork mechanics. You may or may not know that while the Orks are crude, brutish and stupid, there are some among them who seem to possess a basic intelligence and knowledge of technology. It is they who construct the weapons and vehicles that the Orks use to wage war. Obviously, they don’t compare in complexity or reliability to the munitions from our own manufactorums, but they can still be dangerous.”
Farnam, the co-pilot of Griffon 2 leaned toward his pilot, Linden, and whispered, “Not to us, apparently.” Linden suppressed a snicker, making into an innocuous throat-clearing noise, so as not to draw the attention of the commander, who continued speaking.
“Our initial question was why they built the settlement here. There appeared to be no strategic value in its placement. It was the site of a major battle 18 months ago, so perhaps they were drawn by the scrap metal, which they often hammer together to make vehicles. But then, a recon mission got close enough to get this picture.”
The image of the holomap faded and was replaced by a grainy picture of what appeared to be a strangely misshapen building, or possibly a large rock outcropping or hill with squared edges and long, bent protrusions sticking out add angles near the top. The picture had clearly been captured at a distance, with magnifiers applied, but some other interference was obscuring details of the object.
While the crews squinted at the image, or cocked their heads to the side to make sense of it, the commander went on. “We believe it is a gargant- a huge Ork war machine that was destroyed in battle in this location. If they make it operational, it will chance the balance of power in this sector. I’ve been told that we do have a counter to this. In fact, we have a plan in place to become the ultimate military power in this area, but we need more time to prepare, and we need that monstrosity destroyed before it becomes fully operational.
Jansen, pilot of Griffon 1 and squadron flight leader, lifted her hand and spoke: “What is the scale of that thing? Why isn’t there a clearer image?”
The commander turned his head to look at Jansen, who immediately and involuntarily shrank a little under his gaze, although the expression on his face hadn’t changed. “Recon crews reported strange electronic and magnetic interference when they approached. The Ork Meks create machines that they don’t understand and can’t control. The effects can be unpredictable, so be wary. As for the size…” he paused and let out a short breath. Just for a moment, his face softened and his eyes lowered, as if thinking back on his own past, and processing the memories he found there. But that expression passed in an instant and he continued: “The previous war was fought on an epic scale. The forces that clashed here were enormous. The weapons that both sides brought bought immense and powerful. This is the Orks’ greatest tribute to their gods. As our own God-Emperor is manifest in the titans of the Adeptus Titanicus, the Orks believe that these gargants are temples to their war-like false gods. If you are going to bomb this thing, you need to go in at altitude. We’re sending Griffons 1, 2, and 4. Griffon 3 will remain here so that we still have an operational bomber in case the rest of the Griffons are shot down and lost.” The Griffon crews all looked around at each other, their previous eagerness rattled somewhat. One member of Griffon 3 looked as though she were about to protest, but quickly thought better of it and just gave side-eye looks to the other crews instead.
“And escorts, sir?”, Jansen followed up, not yet wanting to process the enormity of what she’d just been told.
“The only operational pilot from Reaper Squadron will be with you, plus a transfer from 541 Squadron. They were able to spare a single Thunderbolt, but more are on the way. Gentlemen…” The commander indicated to the back of the room.
Daran, pilot of Reaper 4, and with Reapers 1 and 2 having been shot down and currently missing, the only operational member of Reaper Squadron, stood. He knew that he would be flying escort on this mission, but hadn’t know there’d be another. And a Thunderbolt pilot no less! Judging from the short murmur that went through the crews seated in the room, they were impressed as well. They were all rookies in this sector, and hadn’t flown alongside Thunderbolts, but they had heard the plane’s reputation for being hardy fighters, slower and less maneuverable than the Lightning, but tougher with a heavier armament. As Daran looked over at the new pilot who also stood, he wondered how the newcomer fit in the cockpit. Like the plane itself, he was a stocky man, wide at the shoulders, and well-muscled. Daran himself, like his aircraft, was slim and sleek, as were most pilots he’d seen and flown Lightning training with. Is that how they choose which pilots get assigned to which squadrons? He wondered how much room there was in a Thunderbolt cockpit, and if he would find it luxurious. For a moment he thought back to the dormitory box he slept in as a recruit at the Schola Aeronautica. Would this pilot have fit in one of those? Daran was suddenly pulled out of his reminiscence as he heard the commander voice: “Dismissed!”
“Look at the size of that thing!” In the cockpit of Griffon 2, Linden and Farnam exchanged incredulous glances. The monstrosity they were approaching was as tall as some of the administorum buildings in Parnassus Prime, but unlike the buildings with their sweeping arches and glorious spires, this things was boxy and square, its front festooned with massive gun turrets and with a large and crude metal caricature of an Ork’s head on top. Jutting from the “shoulders” of the war machine were armatures that ending in large cannons. They were probably too slow and cumbersome to bring to bear on the approaching aircraft, but they looked as though they could wreak massive destruction to buildings or ground forces. At the base, there appeared to be massive tracks, like those of a tank, but these were open, with huge links littered around on the ground. Linden could make out tiny figures running around and climbing across the lower portion of the gargant.
From Griffon 1, Jansen looked over at Griffon 2. She was flying close enough on their wing that she could see the pilots through the canopy window. “We were warned. The commander doesn’t exaggerate. It appears to be immobile. Though, I don’t figure it could move very fast anyway. Let’s start by taking out some of those gun turrets, so we can get bombs on this thing without getting shot up.”
Suddenly, another voice cut in over the vox. “This is Reaper 4. We have incoming Ork aircraft.”
“This is 5414. I see them. Three effbees and two dakkas. Commencing attack run.”
Daran watched the nose of the Thunderbolt erupt as the autocannons and lascannons mounted there fired. The Thunderbolt sported the same lascannon armament as the Lightning fighter, but also carried rapid-fire cannons, having two weapon systems mounted on the single craft where the Lighting and Lightning Strike had only one. The firepower paid off, as the cannon fire chipped chunks of metal from one of the flak guns mounted on the front of the gargant, the lascannons ripped a hole right through it. Seconds later, the Hellstrike missile 5414 had also launched followed, slamming into the same gun platform and annihilating it. The explosion burst forward from the massive chest of the machine, spraying debris and Orks across the desert in front of it.
Griffon 2 also launched Hellstrike missiles, scoring a hit against another of the gun platforms, but with much lesser effect. The metal superstructure blocked much of the force of the explosion against the gun platform, but right next to Griffon 2, Griffon 1’s nose gunner, Enki, targeted the same platform, finishing it off with the twin beams from her lascannon.
Griffon 4 also unleashed its Hellstrike missiles, damaging yet another large turret on the hulking Ork machine, but were unable to put it out of action. And now that they were in range, the great machine fired back. All of the remaining operational guns lit up, filling the sky with all manner of bullets, cannon shells and chunks of metal, all rushing towards the oncoming Imperial craft. Most of the spray went wildly into the air past the bombers, save for a few rounds that struck Griffon 2. Linden, Farnam and the crews were jarred suddenly, and Linden fought the controls to maintain course as holes were ripped through some of the control surfaces on the wing, even as incoming fire ricocheted off the armoured plating surrounding the cockpit. Although her plane wasn’t hit, Jansen realized that a burst of shooting aimed at Griffon 2 might also catch her as well, so she turned away to approach from a different angle.
Daran turned Reaper 4 toward the Gargant, determined to disable a turret in order to help protect the bombers before he took on the incoming fighters. He triggered his multilasers, launching a burst of beams at his target, but just as they were about to slam into the guns, a blue light flashed in the air in front of the Ork turret, and his shots dissipated. “The target is shielded!” he called into the vox. “The other attacks got through, so, it seems the shields are only working intermittently. Let’s kill this thing before it becomes fully operational!” Before he could fire again, his plane was rocked by impacts across the side of the fuselage. He reacted quickly to avoid most of the damage, tilting his Lightning to the left. This move brought his attacker into his field of view: it was the Tusked Raider, as the crews and techs around the base had begun calling him. The same plane that had shot down all of the bombers he was escorting on the bridge-busting mission was back. Beside the infamous Ork plane was another dakka, who also opened fire, but missed Daran’s plane completely. Daran executed a sharp hook maneuver to get out of the dangerous forward fire arc of the fast Ork craft and bring his own guns to bear on them. Either unable to follow his manuever, or simply ignoring him for bigger targets, both enemy fighters shot past and honed in on different members of Griffon Squadron. As the unnamed dakka closed on Griffon 4, Daran realized that it was his best target, and slid to the side, using his rudders to swing his nose around. Just as the Ork jet fired its guns into the Imperial Marauder, Daran fired as well. The Ork pilot lined up well, and Daran could see the weight of its firepower strike the large bomber, blowing chunks from the fuselage and engine cowling. Daran didn’t manage as well, and his own multilasers cut through the air over the Ork cockpit. Gritting his teeth and offering desperate prayers to the Emperor, he thumbed the button on his control stick to launch his Skystrike missiles. He had seen so many launched, but so few actually hit their target in the missions he’d been involved in, and there was near blasphemous talk about the cause of such inaccuracy and miscalibration, whether they be by incompetent tech and munitions crews, or the dark gods themselves.
But this time his prayers were answered, as the missile flew straight into the Ork jet just below the cockpit and exploded, disintegrating the craft from within, leaving nothing of the plane but debris trailing through the air.
“Thank the Emperor!” Daran yelled, after disabling his vox so that his near-scream of joy and relief wouldn’t deafen the others on the channel. He glanced around quickly to locate the Tusken Raider, to see that it was accurately firing on Griffon 2. Even from his location in the airspace, Daran could see puffs of black smoke popping from the port engines as the bullets from the Raider penetrated the plating along the bomber’s wing. And just beyond, two of the Fighter Bombers were lining up to also fire on Griffon 2. Daran realized he couldn’t get close enough to open fire before the Ork would, who had already brought his plane in close. Orks’ firepower was heavy but short-ranged, so they liked to get as close as possible before they opened fire, but Daran still didn’t have a chance to get there.
“This is 5414. Griffon 2, I’ve got you covered.”
At the sound of the voice on the vox, Daran looked even further out and saw that the Thunderbolt had appeared behind both of the Ork planes. Even as the two closest Ork craft fired their dorsal guns at him, putting significant holes in the tail fin, the pilot of Squadron 541, aircraft 4, kept level and fired his guns.
The lascannon tore a trough down the side of the fuselage of the plane closest to Griffon 2, then a second later, autocannon shells penetrated the already-weakened armour, blowing the dorsal gun and cockpit out from the inside. The wings folded down from the fuselage and tore free, as the wrecked remainder of the craft dove under Griffon 2 and plummeted into the ground below. Not satisfied with one spectacular kill, the Thunderbolt pilot launched his Skystrike missiles, not at the other Fighter Bomber, which was too close for the air-to-air missiles to lock and track, but at the Tusked Raider. Could it be? Was this new pilot going to finish this Ork scourge of the sky? Daran held his breath as the the two missiles streaked across the sky toward the infamous enemy, then continued past it to explode harmlessly 200 metres behind it.
“Aaaargh! Why?” This time, Daran forgot to disable the vox, and his following curses assailed the ears of everyone in the group.
From the cockpit of Griffon 1, Jansen voxed her crew. “Bombardier, get ready. I’m going to climb over the gargant, and you drop everything we’ve got.”
“Hang on Captain, ” her co-pilot Harkel cut in, “there are some strange lights flashing below us. What do you suppose it is?”
“Doesn’t matter to me, because we’re climbing above it, and then we’re going to pulverize it.” Jansen pulled back on the control column, which shuddered suddenly and wrenched itself from her hand. Warning lights flashed as Harkel grabbed his steering column and tried to pull it back in order to maintain the climb as they hurtled toward the midsection of the looming Ork Gargant.
“What in the Emperor’s name…” Jansen muttered. The compass spun and all of the other instruments on her dashboard and Heads Up Display suddenly shut off, then restarted, but with impossible readings. “What is going on?” Despite both pilots hauling back on the controls, their large plane pitched forward and began to dive.
“Griffon 1, what is happening?” came the voice of Rhees from Griffon 4.
“I don’t know, Griffon 4. We’re trying to correct. Our instruments are going haywire!”
“Our CommNav is picking up weird energy reading from you. He says it’s localized to you but traces to the ground.”
“Those flashes,” Harkel said through gritted teeth, “an Ork weapon?”
“Probably! Stop trying to climb, and turn to port! We’re not going to get over it so we’ve got to go around it!”
As the bomber was suddenly pulled down out of the pilots’ control, both the tail and dorsal gunner called out in alarm and frustration, as they had been firing at the Tusked Raider who had flown past the rear of the plane. The sudden movement had thrown off their aim and all of their explosive heavy bolter shells flew out into clear sky.
Meanwhile, the remaining Ork gunners on the giant machine itself were focusing their aim. Two heavy cannons launched explosive shells into the air around Griffon 2, some of them exploding into black clouds of metal shards around the Marauder, but one of them found the already stricken engine, which exploded under the impact, tearing off the wing and sending the bomber spiralling toward the ground.
While swerving to avoid a collision with the gargant, Griffon 1 was tagged by one of the opportunistic gunners on the Ork machine. In spite of being so close, the damage was minimal, and the plane stayed in the air. The remaining gun platform also fired, but not at Griffon 1. Jansen traced the line of fire with her eyes as it streamed out toward the Thunderbolt as it flew past. Pieces of metal tore loose from the stocky plane as the Ork ammunition ripped through it. The starboard engine ignited, and the right wing separated from the fuselage, just as the cockpit also disintegrated. The ruined carcass of the Thunderbolt fell from the sky, still being torn apart from the nose as the autocannon ammunition ignited in a series of rapid explosion, each of which shed more debris from the airframe.
“Reaper 4! The Raider is on you!”
“I see him, Griffon 1, but I can’t shake him!”
Rhees watched as the infamous Ork piloted his fighter across the nose of his bomber and past the tail of Griffon 1, to close on Reaper 4. “Get ‘im! Take ‘im down!” he yelled in to the vox, and his own dorsal gunner and Sharnus in Griffon 1 tracked the the yellow plane across the sky, hosing it with heavy bolter shells. The streams of rocket-powered explosive bullets crossed in the air, but not one of them could catch the nimble and quick Ork craft. The Ork pilot spun his plane to avoid the Imperial attack, straightening out at the last second, and opening fire on Reaper 4.
From his cockpit, Rhees saw what Reaper 4 was trying to do. The Lightning’s wings dipped slightly to the left before pulling hard over to the right, meaning to fool the Ork pilot into thinking he was going one way before switching to the other. Whether the Ork knew what was happening, or didn’t even notice the trick and just leaned on his firing button, Rhees didn’t know. The sheer weight of firepower that launched from the nose of the craft meant it didn’t matter. Rather than twin streams of ammunition, the Ork weapons, probably hastily aligned, fired a cone of shells and bullets that Daran couldn’t avoid. The tail fins were obliterated, a was a chunk of the left wing tip. For a moment, it looked like Daran was going to be able to guide the wounded plane to the ground as he dipped and banked, but another section of the wing tore loose and it flipped over and nosed straight down.
“Eject, Reaper 4, eject!” Rhees was willing the cockpit canopy to blow out, with Daran’s seat following behind it, to carry Daran to safety. For a full second the plane rocketed toward the ground before the canopy did come loose and Rhees was relieved. But that didn’t last long as Daran’s ejection seat did not follow, and Rhees realized that what he saw wasn’t the ejection mechanism blowing the canopy out of the way, but it simply coming loose and tearing away under the damage and G-forces acting on it. A second later, Reaper 4 slammed into the desert ground, and the Tusked Raider had earned another kill.
Stunned by what he’d just witnessed, Rhees lost his situational awareness for a moment and was surprised by the warning lights that suddenly flashed in front of him, and the sound of bullet impacts against the fuselage of his plane. One of the Fighter Bombers was still tracking him and had unloaded a burst of fire into his Marauder.
Meanwhile, Jansen had managed to regain some of their altitude and was turning to make another attempt at a bombing run on the gargant. As she approached to get into position, every gun emplacement on the gargant identified her craft at the most dangerous target and fired her way. The hailstorm of fire surrounded and enveloped Griffon 1. The sound of the impacts ringing against the armour plating of the cockpit suddenly reminded her of the unnecessarily percussive and heavy music that her nose gunner, Enki, would listen to during their recreation time. She’d claimed it was popular on the Hiveworld where she was born and grew up, but it had reminded Jansen of multiple different calibre heavy weapons simultaneously firing against the walls of a steel fortress. She’d not realized how apt a comparison it was until now, and she smiled at the memory, in spite of the situation they were in. Then suddenly, it stopped, and they were still flying, with only few new holes to show for the hell they had just flown through.
“This is it,” she called to her crew. “We’ve got one chance. I’m going to make a close pass and try to get us over the top of that thing to drop our payload.” With that she throttled up and drove straight for the towering machine’s head. She pulled back on the control column for her climb, when once again, the whole craft shuddered and the instruments shut down. “No, no, nononono!” she cried out, wrestling with the controls in disbelief.
“No time, just turn!” yelled Harkel, and the two of them turned the craft sharply, twisting the bomber to an almost 90 degree angle, the right wing pointed at the ground and the top of the left one pointing at the sky. The bottom of the Marauder almost grazed the huge, grinning metal head that sat on top of the huge box that was the body of the machine. As soon as they were past it, Jansen leveled them out. From the rear she could hear the tail gunner pouring heavy bolter shells into the metal monstrosity they’d almost collided with, and then Sharnus joined in. Neither reported causing any damage, but at least they could hope they killed a few of the Ork crew.
Just then she spotted the Tusked Raider approaching from the side and slightly above. With the dorsal gun focused on trying to damage the gargant, Sharnus hadn’t seen the fighter coming in, and was doing nothing to deter it. All it had to do was dive to level with them, and they’d be easy prey for its forward arsenal that had devastated so many Imperial craft already.
Suddenly the open intake nose of the Raider pitched up and the jet was flung upwards further into the sky. As it rose, Jansen could see the torso and arm of the pilot lean over the side of his cockpit, shaking a fist at someone on the ground below. Jansen breathed out in relief as the Ork’s guns were now ineffectively pointed away from her plane.
The Fighter Bomber attacking Griffon 4 fired again, blowing a hole though the left wing. The dorsal turret fired back, now that the Tusked Raider temporarily was no longer a threat. Bolter shells exploded along the fuselage, but no serious damage was inflicted.
As that Fighter Bomber’s own dorsal turret fired wildly in Griffon 1’s direction, Rhees pointed his craft once again toward the gargant. With just the two of them left, and both seriously damaged, they might not be able to finish it off. But if he could give his gunners a shot to destroy more of the weapon platform, they might at least make it out of here alive. He didn’t even have to tell his nose gunner, Asarn, his plan. He was already targeting and firing at one of the flak cannons that adorned the gargant. The las beams drove into the structure next to the cannons, melting supports and metal plating, but doing nothing to lessen the firepower.
“I say we get out of hear, Griffon 1. We’re outgunned, and too damaged to last much longer.”
“Acknowledged and agreed, Griffon 4! Return to base.”
Just then, an explosion in the sky beside them rocked Griffon 4, the air to their left suddenly dominated by a massive black cloud. “That was close! Griffon 1-“. Rhees’ sentence was cut off by another blast, this time to their right, as Griffon 1’s engines, caught in a spread of bullets and shells from the gargant, ignited and exploded, engulfing the bomber in flames as pieces of its wings trailed behind it. Before the ruined Marauder reached the ground, it exploded again as the fuel reserves and unexploded bomb loads it was carrying detonated.
Rhees turned his plane and throttled up, getting out of range of the deadly gargant guns and heading back to base, while the Ork planes behind him did victory loops and rolls. While he recounted the losses in his head, he realized that he’d never even know what the Thunderbolt pilot’s name was.