The Night of Comets

A map showing the track of the Arqi cavalry moving to reinforce Camp St. Barbara

My own gaming group has claimed the region known as Interzolia as their Area of Responsibility. We fought our first engagement of the campaign on Saturday night, with Jeff commanding the Northern Federation of Miners (Genestealer Cults, essentially) against my own 64th Arqualan Dromathestra (aka Mechanized Cavalry — made up of a mix of old 40k Imperial Guard, Wargames Atlantic Eisenkern, Anvil Industry, and Reptilian Overlord models).

The scenario takes place as the simmering Blessed Concordance insurgency becomes the full-throated roar of rebellion. The Arqi colonial office in Stellamaris, hoping to delivery a pre-emptive blow against malcontents in the highlands, dispatches part of the 64th Mechanized Cavalry regiment from its base in Lanziago to advance positions at Camp St. Barbara along the frontier. The convoy advances in five separate columns along the strong dashed line seen in the map. An ambush is planned by the Northern Federation of Miners at the first of two crossing of the Whisper River, with a large force of motorized troops secreted in the ruins of the abandoned mining town of Chanticleer.

The ambush is timed to coincide with the boldest stroke of the Blessed Concordance conspiracy: the takeover of Xiandao’s planetary defense installations by fifth columnist infiltrators. With the planets battery of subterranean missile silors and meson beam cannons under their control, they target every satellite and vessel orbiting Xiandao, destroying the Imperialists’ advantages in command, control, and communication in one fell swoop. In what becomes known as the Night of Comets, 90% of the planets satellite network, including the entire GPS system and most surveillence assets, are destroyed.

Unaware that they have been made blind and mute, the Arqi column rolls on to the bridges over the Whisper. There, they are halted by Military Police in the uniform of the Outland Security Service, given the responsibility of patrolling the military roads and securing important infrastructure from bandit attacks. The lead column is informed that a wrecked civilian vehicle has blocked the further bridge and must be cleared before they can allow the column to advance and cause a bottleneck. Unbeknownst to the Arqi, the MPs are rebellious miners in disguise. While they wait for the non-existent wreck to clear, the miners deploy from their dugouts.

Now, on with a bit of indulgent fiction for the introduction! Or, if you prefer, advance directly to the battle report!

Captain Iserto watched another of the fireballs streak across the lavender early evening sky, throwing out orange sparks until it disappeared in a bank of wooly pink clouds far to the west. The motor on his trinoculars whirred to magnify, but no detail of the meteorite could be seen through its halo, and atop his field of vision the liquid prism display blinked out a series of dashed lines, an indication that the target was too far, or too obscured, for his rangefinder. He lowered the binoculars and wondered. 

His executive officer in the vanguard had radioed him fifteen minutes ago, informing him that the MPs had stopped him at the first crossing because of a civilian wreck and that it would be cleared with haste. Well, whatever counted for ‘haste’ among the ranks of the Outland Security Service did not meet the standards of the 64th Arqualan Dromathestra.

The idling engine of his command Lammasu vibrated the armored plates beneath him scarcely less than they would at a cross-country gallop, leaving his lower extremities on pins and needles. Ahead of him, the whole length of the column right up to the 90-degree bend in the road sat similarly stalled; thirteen transports and wagons stewing in their own miasma of exhaust, giving a numb ass to every cavalier in the ansa

The captain checked his watch. It would be sundown in less than an hour and they still had more than 50 miles until Camp St. Barbara. He did not want to be caught out on the prairie long after dark. On his right flank were miles and miles of barren grassland without so much as a scrub bush or a hillock for cover or bivouac, right up until they ran into the naked scarp of the craggy highlands, every boulder of which might sprout a pack mortar or lascannon at nightfall. On his left flank, the sparkling blue blanket of the Whisper River snaked in its lazy course through waterlogged meadows with no good ground to maneuver. And to his rear? To his rear, the exhausted ranks of the colonial lightfoot had fallen out of formation singing ‘The Green Hills of Earth’ in such a sorrowful, pining tenor that the captain almost believed they’d once seen the place.

A rap on metal drew his attention to the hatch beneath him. He reached back and unbuttoned the dorsal loading hatch of the Lammasu, and knew without looking who would emerge.

Char-David Dal’Antaro popped out of the APC with a gasp, his skin gray and clammy. He made a perfunctory salute and then leaned woozily over the side of the Lammasu

“It’s not good being buttoned up in a transport, Sub-Lieutenant,” Iserto told his aide de camp. “A cavalryman will get used to the mingled exhaust and body odor after a few thousand miles, but until then you’re welcome to the fresh air,” Iserto said.

“Very grateful, Tocrator,” Dal’Antaro wheezed. The young aspirant was barely a man at all, had never before been away from blessed Arqualan, and not cut from military cloth by the look of him. But Iserto well knew his father was a Curasor on the homeworld and his family name held a weighty dignity even from ancient days when St. Pactra preached her crusade, and whatever blood flowed his veins had once flowed in the veins of Void Knight ancestors. 

Another fireball sparked and died overhead. “What do you make of those,  Sub-Lieutenant?” Iserto asked.

Dal’Antaro wiped his brow with a handkerchief, folded it, and tucked it back neatly into his uniform pocket. “A meteorite shower, I expect, tocrator.”

“Are you fond of astronomy, Char-David?”

“I can’t say that I am, sir.”

Iserto grunted. “I’m something of a dilettante myself. Began studying the local system when I arrived here on my first posting. We are about a month off from the Saracids.”

Tocrator, you said that I should ask you about anything the men told me that seemed questionable.”

The captain smiled. He knew his cavaliers would take Dal’Antaro for an easy mark, and fill his head full of the wildest yarns and frontier nonsense imaginable. “Go on, Sub-Lieutenant.”

“I must first inquire of you the identity of that burg up ahead, the one cast in shadow?” 

Iserto grunted. “What does the map say?”

Dal’Antaro sighed and flicked away his bodycomp in a gesture of frustration, letting it swing loose on its lanyard until it thumped against the side of the hatch. “I checked, captain, but the blasted map is blank. Faulty GPS signal again.”

“There are such things as paper maps, Sub-Lieutenant!” Iserto snarled. He pulled a folded packet from his satchel and thrust it into his subordinate’s chest. “You had better learn to read one if you are going to be an officer in the cavalry!”

“Yes, sir, very well, sir.”

“It’s not a burg at all. It’s a ruin; was once a factory town called Chanticleer,” Iserto said.

“Yes, tocrator, that’s what the men told me,” Dal’Antaro replied. “And that every man, woman, and child in the town had disappeared one night a hundred years ago, left all the buildings intact, the lights burning, even the machines in their factories. Further, the natives say that peak above it is haunted, that it emits strange music. The colonists were warned not to build in its lee. They say, of course, that the ghosts ate them.”

Iserto regarded his ADC impassively. “That is one tale. Do you believe it, Char-David?”

Dal’Antaro chuckled. “I can hardly credit ghost stories, sir. But as for the rest? A mass disappearance?”

Iserto shrugged. “It’s certainly abandoned, at any rate.”

“The natives of this world are queer people, aren’t they, sir?”

“Very,” agreed Iserto. “But probably no more than anywhere else.”

Dal’Antaro made a doubtful hum. “Back at Lanciago, I heard one say that they were here before any starships landed. But that can’t be true, can it? The Thongorim were the only humans that left earth before the stellar age. There aren’t any gates on–”

Iserto rolled his eyes and let out a long sigh of lamentation. Was the rising generation really so dull and deracinated as this? Did they not know their own legends?

“The Thongorim are the only humans that you know of, Sub-Lieutenant. I can think of a half dozen more. There were humans on many worlds who greeted our forefathers. Xiandao was such a world, though how that can be none now know, for we never found any stargates there.”

A third shooting star blazed and died overhead. “Noy jitat!” exclaimed Iserto, using the strongest native vulgarity he knew. “I’ll be damned if that’s a meteor shower! Are you sure your GPS has a faulty signal, Char-David?” The sub-lieutenant glanced at his bodycomp, but before he could reply the captain barked into his collar microphone, “Radio, command! Switch circuits to terrestrial radio and raise Lt. Vortigo immediately!”

There was a burst of frantic activity inside the Lammasu, the crackle of static, and the staccato beat of gunfire. “Command, radio! Lt. Vertigo’s column reports under attack at the first crossing! It’s the Military Police! They’re being attacked by the MPs! Large mechanized force emerging from the abandoned camp!”

Iserto slapped his aide de camp on the shoulder, whose face was suddenly clammy and gray again. “Be cheerful, Char-David, for you live in an age of legends! The ghosts of Music Mountain have returned to eat our relief column!”

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