Indeed, there was a control terminal on the interior side of the Category C bulkhead that Dragon had breached so that the Captain could slip through. The Old Man approached the terminal, slinging his weapon over his shoulder and locking it into the magneto clamp on his tactical vest. Taking a closer look at the terminal; pretty standard bulkhead access security terminal - which on an brand new Imperial Warship like Historia, was pretty difficult to overcome unless you had the credentials. Authentication was performed off-site, remotely via the ship's security mainframe; so the only way to hack it open would be to spoof the system into believing you had the cryptographic key. Fortunately, for the Old Man, CoRE had been rather busy using data from Amiori on Historia's security algorithms; the fruits of said labour being implemented into most of Dragon Team's, and the Captain's, personal computing systems.
Not wasting any time, the Captain disconnected a small device from the nano-polymer sheath on his right forearm and slotted it into the biometric key scanner on the terminal. The holo-display on the terminal flickered momentarily before displaying a form of debug read-out, with biometric code flashing over the screen several times a second; CoRE's program doing its job. Moments later, the biometric interface pulsed green with the words "ACCESS GRANTED" displayed on the holo-display for a moment, before the terminal turned off entirely; the sound of electronic humming was replaced by Category C Actuators rotating into position to motivate the several ton bulkhead into an opening position.
The Captain returned the device to its holster and drew his carbine once more, holding it steady as the bulkhead slowly receded into the overhead port; revealing a cramped compartment beyond it - four corridors lead off into more Category C bulkheads, each with an illuminated sign above them; indicating these were unpressurised maintenance access ways. The captain cricked his neck slightly, he was getting old, and this wasn't his idea of how he would be spending his old age, still, it had to be done.
Assuming the topology provided by CoRE was accurate, Maintenance shaft 1A should run the length of the ship's spine - some two and half kilometres, from the bow to the stern, with various access ways, and of course, sealed compartments with blast-resistant bulkheads separating them. Atmospheric pressure was not a requirement of automated repair drones, so these sections lacked even basic environmental support systems - something the Captain wasn't too concerned with given his augmented body and almost fully cybernetic subdermal structure and respiratory system. Being a little bit uncomfortable was part and parcel with skulking around the underworks of an Imperial Dreadnought, after all.
Reaching for his visor, the Old Man pulled the eye-guard down to cover half his face and detached a rebreather from his tactical vest - which was linked to a compressed military-grade oxygen supply system. Placing that into the intake valve on his face mask; which rotated and locked into place with a metallic click. The Captain took a deep breath into the rebreather, to test its functionality; the cold and somewhat metallic taste of synthetic oxygen was contrast to the relatively comfortable almost-earth environment maintained on Imperial Warships in crew compartments, but definitely better than cold asphyxiation of vacuum.
The process of depressurisation would require the Category C Bulkhead from which he just came through to be sealed, as the maintenance shaft access bulkhead disengaged. Such a de-pressurisation would be somewhat 'bumpy' as these compartments were not routinely designed for organic crewmembers - such was obvious by the lack of any railed walk-ways or deck guards. The Captain, however, wasn't particularly concerned, as he had no intention of walking nearly two kilometres along the spine of the ship when other means were available.
Dragon team kept their weapons trained as the Category A bulkhead lifted; revealing the transit hub compartment beyond. On first inspection, the compartment looked like yet another abandoned section; for a few seconds Commander Kasake squinted, turning his visor's optics and heads up display to analyse the surroundings for anomalous activity. There were several elevated platforms surrounding two large magneto-rails leading off into the spine of the ship's transit way, upon each platform; a magneto tram was docked, apparently loaded full of supply crates.
It wasn't long before the flash of FIMD fire blossomed from beyond the bay; magnetically-assisted projectiles arced overhead, impacting on the other side of the bulkhead compartment that Dragon was stationed in, flashes of superheated metal and debris raining down near the Semper Marines. Kasake didn't get a lot of time to identify the threat before he instinctively took cover; a bullet narrowly missing his helmet as it ripped into the crate he was taking cover behind.
"Contact, ahead, near the trams!" He exclaimed, feeling the weight of his MX10 rifle, ensuring the targeting optics were linked with his helmet's heads up display. "Give 'em hell, Dragon!" he shouted again, rising out of cover with conviction; only taking a few seconds to release half a dozen three-round bursts in the direction of the Imperial marines.
Moments later, Dragon team opened up with their own weapons; laying down a volley of suppressing fire that pockmarked the cargo trams with scorched impacts from Team Alpha's 10mm FIMD projectiles; momentarily silencing the Imperial response.
"Alpha, keep them pinned. Cover our approach. Beta, you're with me." Kasake calmly ordered as Alpha team withdrew their suppression fire to swap magazines. Flicking his HUD into broad target mode, he vaulted the crate and sprinted beyond the bulkhead with precision, followed closely by two armoured marines from Dragon's Beta team. The Imperial forces quickly identified the Sempers' advance and opened fire at the Dragons.
Blue-green muzzle flashes erupted from near one of the cargo trams, instantly sending tracers towards the Sempers; Kasake's armour was hit several times on the shoulder and arm, forcing him to drop from a sprint into a roadie-run, hugging the ground as he let off a few rounds to cover his advance; his suit's heads-up-display chiming with impact alerts. The other two marines returned fire, unsure if they had effect on target, they followed Kasake, who slammed his armour into a reinforced cargo crate before the access stairs to the nearest loading platform. FIMD round impacts peppering the crate as the enemy maintained suppressing fire; despite precision fire from Alpha Team about fifty metres behind Alpha, beyond the Cat A bulkhead.
"Target down." A Semper Marine marksman from Alpha Team announced calmly over the communicator. "Tagged and Bagged", he announced again as green-blue muzzle flashes erupted from Alpha's position - covering the besieged Beta team who was essentially pinned down by this point.
A momentary break in the incoming fire from the Imperial marines gave Commander Kasake and Beta team enough time to briefly survey the situation; using the high-power optics of his armour's visor, he identified at least two dozen Imperial marines, though not Crimson division, holding a fortified position about twenty metres in front of an almost fully loaded magneto tram. More regulars? He thought, where were the elite counter-boarding Crimson marines? Something was off. In the few seconds exposed from cover, before being suppressed by FIMD fire, the Semper Commander formulated a plan to cause a particularly large disruption for the Captain to sneak onto the Command deck in the fray.
"Beta, we're going to blow that tram, ahead, about forty metres. They're entrenched; two squads, standard weapons - they're regulars, not crimson. Let's roll out the party for these amateurs." The commander ordered, as Beta team's two marines nodded in acknowledgement.
"You hit, sir?" one asked, looking at the slightly deformed scorch-marked impact on the Commander's left shoulder guard.
"No pen." The commander replied shrugging it off. "Judging by the impact force, they're using squash-head munitions; but don't get cocky, because that gets you killed!"
Kasake looked over to Alpha Team; whose longer-barrelled MX10 weapons protruded slightly from their defensive position, the occasional muzzle flash letting a few rounds down range in response to incoming fire from the Imperial marines.
"Alpha, we're going to blow the tram. I need you to provide precision cover from your position until we're in position then advance into the bay and mop up any stragglers that decide to chance it after we ruin their day." He ordered sternly, ejecting a partially emptied magazine from his weapon; returning it into his waist tactical holster, and replacing it with a fresh one, which clicked into place behind the bullpup-design's hand grip. "Any questions?" he said, looking back to Beta team, as another few rounds impacted over head.
"Negative, sir!" The marines replied, checking their own weapons; careful not drop any spent magazines.
"Let's go then!" Kasake replied, shifting his position to the edge of the crate as Beta's marines followed suit. Alpha team had begun laying down a volley of long-range suppression fire; silencing the Imperial forces' entrenched position. It was likely the Imperial marines had an almost limitless supply of munitions from that cargo tram, so it was important to rely on accurate, short bursts on target for Dragon team- their own ammo reserves being depleted rapidly.
Kasake emerged from cover gently, hugging the side of the crate as Alpha team's rounds found their marks on another Imperial marine officer who's face essentially collapsed in on itself in a spray of blood and skull fragments; these soldiers were not wearing heavy armour, which only furthered the Commander's suspicion about something being 'off' with the entire situation here. Still, there was no time to discuss it; for whatever reason, the Historia's crew had evacuated the ship before Dragon had landed, leaving only a few marines behind to apparently secure cargo.
Beta team manged to advance relatively unnoticed along a row of empty cargo crates about twenty or so metres below the elevated platform deck where there Imperial marines had pushed reinforced containers over to form make-shift barricades; behind that, the cargo tram levitated silently a few inches over the magneto rail, ready to depart at any moment. Of course, that tram likely contained a whole bunch of munitions and supplies the Imperial commanders felt quite sensitive about - all the more reason to turn into molten slag. That, of course, would create quite the commotion, and a commotion was exactly what the Old Man needed to infiltrate the command deck unnoticed.
Ronin had no qualms with the somewhat intense pain of freezing vacuum on his exposed skin; which iced up as moisture in his external dermal layer solidified. It wasn't his first time being spaced; that's not something one really forgets, of course, so the experience wasn't new to him but he did flinch slightly as the pain plateaued. His reinforced sub dermis layer was particularly resistant to extreme conditions, but if the Old Man wanted a face left, he'd have to move this along a bit.
Climbing onto one of the cable containers - a hexagonal nanopolymer pipe that likely contained data processing elements to various ship systems - he shuffled a couple dozen metres over the piping that was suspended in the centre of the access way. Of course, there were no foot-plates or catwalks, just pipes and the freezing cold vacuum of space. It had occurred to the Captain that when Historia was hit with the initial electronic warfare attack from Pathfinder; the resultant system reboot would likely have disabled automated repair systems - including autonomous drones - that used these very arteries to reach remote parts of the ship extremely quickly since there was no resistance in vacuum. The magnetic support rails along either side of the compartment reinforced this idea; maybe hitching a ride wouldn't be a bad idea.
The Old Man managed to haul himself about another fifty metres atop the hexagonal cable vessel, before he hit the jackpot. About every hundred metres or so along these depressurised service tunnels was an inset docking facility for exactly one such autonomous repair drones, luckily for the Captain, this one was sat neatly in its cradle which was retracted into the bay on the other side of the tunnel, illuminated only by a dim-red running light. The Captain's optical enhancements on his visor provided effective low-light vision so he had no trouble in identifying the craft. The issue would be how to activate it, and then, how to 'ride' it.
Considering how CoRE's algorithm had essentially infilrated the Historia's entire system when Pathfinder dropped them off; it wouldn't be much of a jump to assume the program still had some basic access to the dreadnought's automated internal self-repair systems. Indeed, what better way to ride two kilometres of frozen vacuum than on the back of a magnetically accelerated repair drone heading for the command deck because the system told it to do so.
Not one for thinking too much about his 'crazy plans' as his daughter often described them, the Old man shifted over the side of the cable vessel, analysing the gap between the twenty metre or so drop to the bottom of the tunnel, and the inset dock with the repair drone. Luckily for the captain, the magneto rails weren't kept in a powered state, so actually crossing the gap wouldn't result in a catastrophic electromagnetic failure of his cybernetic systems, which would not only hurt, but also take a long time to recover from. The gap between the captain and the repair dock was about ten metres; the drone itself was barely two metres wide; able to access essentially any part of the ship's internal maintenance structure to apply macro and nano-scale assembly repairs directly using its extensive array of onboard repair tools.
Unwilling to chance it, the Captain brought up the remote electronic system integration feature of his customised heads up display; targeting the drone's internal electronic systems. Normally, this would fail miserably since the onboard computers would only even consider remote access if the endpoint had valid credentials; lucky for the Captain, CoRE's program had provided just that as the Historia's mainframe rebooted.
It wasn't long before his HUD chimed a confirmatory tone and highlighted the drone on the augmented-reality visor; a list of various data points filling the side of his vision concerning the drone's onboard system capabilities. The Old Man was somewhat surprised by the ease of commandeering an Imperial repair drone, but didn't really take too much time to think of the intricacies of CoRE's program, or the data provided by Amiori - the ship's former captain - that it relied on. Working as intended was good enough for him.
Indeed, after inserting the necessary commands, the drone sprang into action; the dual mechanical arms equipped with myriad repair tools and macro/nano-applicators retracted from the chassis as the docking clamp lowered it into the centre of the inset bay, before pushing it out on a telescopic rail, rotating the drone into position as to be released into the tunnel. Although the maintenance shafts were depressurised, they did have artificial gravity - a side-effect of the sheer power of the Dreadnought's gravimetric generators, and the lack of any need for counter-gravimetric systems in the maintenance shafts.
Not wasting any time being satisfied with his new ride, the Captain leapt from the cable vessel and landed on top of the drone's chassis; the craft shifted slightly, moving from side to side as the overhead crane let out a slight metallic groan. It wasn't' first-class, but it'll do, the Old Man clutched a pair of sensory protrusions on the drone's front, and braced himself for what was likely going to be a very fast ride.
By the time the Imperial marines pegged Beta Team; they had already approached within a few metres of the central ramp to the first elevated platform; which provided a small but incredibly important piece of tactical cover. Kasake and Beta team dropped to a crouch as the gunfire shifted towards their new position, however it would then cease almost immediately after. The commander's helmet's audio receptors picked up human voices from over the ramp; but was unable to identify their words over the sporadic gunfire aimed at Alpha team; who didn't hesitate to return fire.
Kasake raised his fist to gesture to Beta's two marines to hold position as he peered over the ramp's crest, his heads up display quickly identifying several Imperial marines retreating from their makeshift fortifications, firing a few rounds at Alpha team to cover their withdrawal. Alpha's reply dropped one of the marines, who fell to the deck, dropping his weapon with an agonising scream.
"They're moving out, we don't have much time". The commander said, looking to Beta team. "Now or never!" He exclaimed, cresting the ridge as the two power-armoured marines followed suit; their weapons trained with precision as they carefully advanced.
"Alpha, move up. Repeat: Alpha move up, they're bailing." The commander ordered over the communicator, zeroing in a retreating Imperial Marine in this heads up display crosshair, squeezing the trigger gently - a trio of FIMD rounds sent down range dropped the Imperial marine instantly, penetrating his light armour with a spray of crimson-red blood. The sound of FIMD gunfire slowly transitioned into the mighty roar of the magneto repulsors on the tram starting up as the last of the marines climbed aboard, hitting the deck quickly as they did so - knowing full well they were outmatched.
"Fuck it, Dragon, light that thing up!" Kasake ordered, firing off a few more bursts towards the tram.
Alpha team had begun advancing into the tram station; firing precision bursts towards the withdrawing Imperial troops as they did so, but it wasn't enough to stop the tram from slowly accelerating along the magneto rails towards the tunnel exist terminal; which receded into the overhead port, opening the way for the two-carriage magnetic train to blast into the tunnel at incredible speed.
"Goddamnit!" Kasake exclaimed as Beta Team vaulted over the makeshift barriers the Imperial regulars had left behind; the tram nothing more than a slowly fading light in the tunnel ahead. The marines levelled their weapons, but Kasake gestured to lower them. "No use. That plan's cold. We need to find out what was going on here, split up and scour this platform. I'm going to ask our friend over here a few questions..." The commander ordered, looking over to the fallen Imperial marine who was laying lifeless yet still showing vital signs on the Commander's heads up display.
Beta team's marines nodded in acknowledgement and began to use their augmented strength to break open the remaining containers, searching for any clues as to what the Imperial troops were moving off the ship, or why the Sempers hadn't encountered any major resistance despite landing on an imperial dreadnought. Alpha team crested the ramp onto the platform, two armoured marines taking up positions either side of Commander Kasake who knelt on the ground next to the injured imperial marine, balancing his rifle stock-down on the deck with on hand as he did so.
"We've got a breather". He remarked, nudging the fallen soldier with his other hand, trying not to apply too much pressure with his armour. "You alive, son?" He asked, his voice heavily modulated from his helmet's audio systems.
The fallen marine gasped for breath sharply, rolling over onto his back to face the 7-foot tall, half-ton armoured super soldier standing over him. Almost ignoring the fact that he was in enemy captivity, the marine removed his light helmet, casting it aside and clutching the side of his abdomen in pain.
Kasake took a moment to assess the situation. Judging by his uniform, this was an Imperial conscript, likely from the Core Systems, a young man - maybe in his early twenties. Unlikely a hard-core brainwashed brute that pissed out Imperial propaganda, yet almost certainly implanted with compliance augments. The notion was something Kasake never liked, and one of the reason why the EPF never took Imperial hostages: compliance augments were believed to have a form of QEC-net interlink to the Aquarian Naval Command in Lorentis, potentially be able to transfer very simple, yet extremely sensitive, data remotely and completely undetected. As such, the best option for Imperial prisoners is a shot to the brain, fast and painless. By the book, there was no other way, but Kasake had other ideas.
In the time taken to rustle this guy up and get some data out of him, he could have transmitted data of unknown nature to the Imperials, but would good woulda few qubits of data be if they could somehow squeeze valuable tactical intel out of this unlucky fellow>
"Hey, you. Look here." The Commander spoke sternly at the fallen marine, who seemed alarmed by the blood on his hands after clutching his wound, but eventually looked up to the commander nervously. "Why don't you co-operate with us and tell us why Navy regulars were moving all that cargo out of our way, and laying out a goddamn red carpet on an imperial dreadnought? You should think very carefully about your options, given your circumstances - maybe I would be inclined to apply some medical treatment to that wound of yours, it looks rather serious."
The marine looked up to the other two power-armoured soldiers, loosely holding their weapons towards the wounded man. He looked back to the Commander, opening his mouth as if he was about to speak, but he did not utter a single word. Instead, he spat blood on Kasake's visor an gave a pained look of disgust.
One of Alpha's marines instinctively raised his weapon to the fallen marine's head, but Kasake placed his armoured hand on the barrel and lowered it, wiping the blood from his suit visor with the other, before standing; swinging his rifle back into position.
"That's a shame." He spoke again, subtly, drawing his sidearm and levelling it with the wounded soldier's forehead. "The one thing I don't get about imperials, is the willingness to do the Aquarian empire's dirty work, without any form of doubt or remorse from one's own conscience."
"Doing one's service to one's state is admirable, but showing no respect for your enemy is unforgivable. Part of me wants to believe that the implant they forced into your skull changed who you are, young man. But we both know that's not the case. You're just human, aren't you?" The commander said again, holding the MX4 pistol level to the wounded soldier's head, in one hand, while standing over him.
"It's such a shame." He said again softly, pulling the trigger. His suit's augmented gyros absorbing essentially all of the weapon's significant recoil as the blue-green muzzle flash erupted from the barrel, putting a neat inch-or-so hole in the soldier's forehead, and splattering the deck behind him with brain matter and blood. Strapping the sidearm back into his armour's tactical waist-holster, he slung his rifle over his shoulder and turned to face Beta Team's marines, who had essentially emptied every one of the crates the Imperial troops had left behind.
"You got anything for me?" He asked, gesturing for Alpha to follow him up to the top of the elevated platform where the tram had been docked.
"Negative sir. Few cases of unused four to eight millimetre ammunition, couple cases of biomedicinal gel packets and about a dozen carbines, Imperial pattern - navy versions." One of the marines replied, gesturing to the opened crates, kicking a couple of the weapons along the deck to reveal the rest in the container.
"So just mil-grade supplies?" Commander Kasake asked, approaching the platform's edge. "Doesn't add up. They were evacuating the ship. But why, one team of Sempers enough to scare off an entire dreadnought's marine regiment? If that were the case we wouldn't be losing this goddamn war".
"Right, I would love to stop and do an inventory on these supplies, but we have other priorities - Dragon, take what you can use and form up, we need to establish contact with Captain Kociero and warn him that he's likely walking into a goddamn trap."
Continued in Part 5