Manticore reborn, p.1

Manticore Reborn, page 1

 

Manticore Reborn
 


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Manticore Reborn


  DURHAM RED

  MANTICORE REBORN

  The helot reached for her wrist with its one remaining hand, but it wasn't strong enough. Red ripped back, coming away with a handful of flesh and metal hoses. The worker sank to its knees, spitting blood and breath from the wound, and twisted away onto the deck.

  Red dropped the handful next to the convulsing worker, then turned to see the bald woman trying to get the hatch open. "Oh, for sneck's sake!"

  She walked quickly over to the hatch, grabbed the woman's shaven head and bounced it off the metal. The Iconoclast sagged like a loose sack, crumpling among her own robes.

  DURHAM RED

  -Peter J Evans-

  #1: THE UNQUIET GRAVE

  #2: THE OMEGA SOLUTION

  #3: THE ENCODED HEART

  #4: MANTICORE REBORN

  #5: BLACK DAWN

  JUDGE DREDD FROM 2000 AD BOOKS

  #1: DREDD VS DEATH

  Gordon Rennie

  #2: BAD MOON RISING

  David Bishop

  #3: BLACK ATLANTIC

  Simon Jowett & Peter J Evans

  #4: ECLIPSE

  James Swallow

  #5: KINGDOM OF THE BLIND

  David Bishop

  #6: THE FINAL CUT

  Matthew Smith

  #7: SWINE FEVER

  Andrew Cartmel

  #8: WHITEOUT

  James Swallow

  #9: PSYKOGEDDON

  Dave Stone

  JUDGE ANDERSON

  #1: FEAR THE DARKNESS - Mitchel Scanlon

  #2: RED SHADOWS - Mitchel Scanlon

  #3: SINS OF THE FATHER - Mitchel Scanlon

  MORE 2000 AD ACTION

  ROGUE TROOPER

  #1: CRUCIBLE - Gordon Rennie

  STRONTIUM DOG

  #1: BAD TIMING - Rebecca Levene

  FIENDS OF THE EASTERN FRONT - David Bishop

  #1: OPERATION VAMPYR

  #2: THE BLOOD RED ARMY

  #3: TWILIGHT OF THE DEAD

  THE ABC WARRIORS

  #1: THE MEDUSA WAR - Pat Mills & Alan Mitchell

  #2: RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINES - Mike Wild

  To Dave, Lee and Tracey,

  The Addington Crew:

  One day you'll read one.

  Durham Red created by John Wagner, Alan Grant and Carlos Ezquerra

  Special thanks to Dan Abnett and Mark Harrison for character and continuity of the Accord

  A 2000 AD Publication

  www.abaddonbooks.com

  www.2000adonline.com

  1098 7 65 4321

  Cover illustration by Mark Harrison.

  Copyright © 2006 Rebellion A/S. All rights reserved.

  All 2000 AD characters and logos © and TM Rebellion A/S. "Durham Red" is a trademark in the United States and other jurisdictions. "2000 AD" is a registered trademark in certain jurisdictions. All rights reserved. Used under licence.

  ISBN(.epub): 978-1-84997-070-9

  ISBN(.mobi): 978-1-84997-111-9

  A CIP record for this book is available from the British Library.

  No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.

  This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

  DURHAM RED

  MANTICORE REBORN

  PETER J EVANS

  The Legend of Durham Red

  It is written that in that year of 2150, the skies rained down nuclear death, and every family and clan lost father and brothers and sons. The Strontium choked our beloved homeworld and brought forth mutants, squealing and twisted things.

  Yet such mutants were not weak things to be crushed underfoot, for the same radiation that had created them warped their bodies, making them stronger than any normal human. They became hated and feared by all, and were herded into ghettos and imprisoned in vast camps. There they plotted rebellion and dreamed of freedom amongst their own kind.

  Some, it is told, were able to escape from the shadows of ruined Earth, to join the feared Search/Destroy Agency. They tracked wanted criminals on worlds too dangerous for regular enforcement officers. They became known as the Strontium Dogs.

  The one they call Durham Red became an S/D Agent to escape the teeming ghettos of her devastated homeland. Shunned even by her own kind because of a foul mutant blood-thirst, she soon found that her unsurpassed combat skills served her well as a Strontium Dog. The years of continuous slaughter took their toll, however, and the tales relate that in the end Red willingly entered the deep sleep of cryogenic suspension, determined to let a few years go by without her.

  All know of the unexpected twist that the legend took. Her cryo-tube malfunctioned. Durham Red woke up twelve hundred years late.

  While she slept, the enmity between humans and mutants had exploded into centuries of total war, leaving the galaxy a shattered shell, home only to superstition and barbarism. Billions of oppressed mutants now worship Saint Scarlet of Durham - the mythologised image of Red herself! The bounty hunter from Milton Keynes has now become almost a messiah figure for mutantkind - and a terrifying blasphemy in the eyes of humans.

  Half the galaxy is looking to her for bloody salvation. The other half is determined to destroy her at any cost. The future is a nightmare, and Durham Red is trapped right in the middle of it...

  PROLOGUE. 627YA

  The bridge was on fire. Lucius Verax could smell the stench of burning plastic, the raw, acrid stink of melting insulation and deck plating. Whatever had struck the heavy cruiser Redeemer had done so with enough force to rip a hole clear through the command tower, and secondary explosions had hammered into the bridge from all sides. By the smell of ozone and roasted human meat, Verax knew that one of the core power feeds must have been sheared.

  He sat up, shakily, trying to ignore the hot sparks of pain dancing through his chest. For a moment he wondered if he was blind, his eyes destroyed by a flash fire or light from the power feed's discharge, but then he put his hand to his face and realised that his eyelids were glued shut with blood.

  There was a dreadful noise all around him, a thunderous gonging that made it difficult to even think.

  From what he could hear past the gongs, the bridge was in chaos. There were screams on all sides, shouts of pain and fear, and the thick, choking moans of the dying. People were running past him, boots heavy on the deck, and someone to his right was shouting over and over for a damage report. Verax heard the hiss of fire extinguishers, the crack and spark of shattered electronics, and below that, the deep, vibrating groan of a starship deck being stressed by forces it was never built to withstand.

  One of Verax's sleeves was hanging off at the shoulder. He tore it free and used the cuff to wipe the worst of the blood from his eyes, finally getting them open, and blinking furiously to clear the blur in his vision. He felt a warm trickle of fluid above his right eyebrow and dabbed at it with the torn sleeve, noting with some surprise that the fabric came away glistening red. There must have been a sizeable gash in his scalp somewhere, to have bled so profusely.

  Light and shadow played in his vision, little more than watery blocks of colour. He blinked again, cursing under his breath as he wiped his eyes, and gradually the scene around him began to resolve.

  A patch of wavering yellow light to his left shrank into fire and vapour: two of his officers were wielding canisters of flame suppressant, trying to douse the flames with clouds of freezing extinguisher. At least three of the workstations along the port wall were destroyed, burned and split from the explosion. There was
a twisted, smouldering object in one that might once have been a human being.

  Verax stood, pulling himself upright on the arm of his control throne. "Sanicus? Where are you?"

  A young woman darted over to stand before him. He didn't recognise her, couldn't have named her if he'd tried, but the rank pips on her jacket told him that she was a junior officer, a midshipman.

  The woman stood stiffly to attention. "Commander Sanicus is dead, sir."

  Verax nodded dully. His vision was still only partly clear, and his head was pounding. The impact of the mutant weapon must have knocked him senseless. "Dead?"

  "Aye, sir."

  "What's that noise?"

  "Damage alerts, sir."

  Verax took a deep breath and shook himself. There wasn't time to stand here like a fool, no matter how hard he had hit the deck. He had to regain his wits, and fast. "What's your name, girl?"

  "Midshipman Seela Tertius," she replied. There was fear in her voice, but she was hiding it well.

  "Very well, Seela Tertius, here are your orders. Get me a trauma kit, find the most senior officer still on his or her feet and bring them to me, and then shut that bloody racket off."

  "Thy will be done." The girl raced away.

  Verax manoeuvred himself around into the command throne and dropped back into it, wincing as a ripple of pain shot through the sides of his chest. He'd broken ribs in the attack, that was certain.

  The gonging died away, taking with it several lesser rackets that Verax hadn't even noticed until they were gone. The shouts and screams remained, although the fires had been brought under control. Verax knew his duty was to get back to his feet, bring the bridge back to order and continue the fight, but his head wouldn't stop spinning. He'd be no use at all until it did.

  Tertius scrambled back to his side, bearing a trauma kit. Verax used some antiseptic wipes to clean his face and eyes, while the girl filled a pressure syringe with war-balm, injecting him in the side of the neck.

  The balm raced through Verax like a clear mountain stream, freezing the pains in his chest, wiping the grogginess from his mind. He closed his eyes for a second, just to let the last dregs of the impact wash away. "Midshipman, I asked you to find me a senior officer."

  "I'm sorry, captain. No bridge crew above my rank survived. Until we can regain access to the rest of the tower, I'm your most senior officer."

  He looked across at her and gave her a grim smile. "Consider yourself promoted."

  It took some time to get even narrow band communications back on line. Verax's primary concern was making sure the injured were treated, if for no other reason than to stop their cries distracting the rest of his crew. The damage Redeemer had taken to its command tower had effectively trapped everyone on the bridge, but the repair helots were already clearing the shattered compartments below. It would only be a few hours, they had assured him, until the way was open.

  For the moment, Verax ordered the command tower's devotional chapel to be used as a temporary infirmary, and had the worst of the injured moved there. Some insisted on staying at their posts, and Verax didn't deny them. He needed everyone.

  He also needed information, and orders. The surviving sense-engine operator was tasked with giving him the former, but the latter could only come from one place.

  Some of the newest Iconoclast vessels were fitted with holographic communication chambers, although Verax had never seen one. Rumour had it that the new dreadnought class killships would have completely holographic instrumentation, but those awesome machines were still years, if not decades, away from service. Redeemer still relied on flat screens to display information to the crew, just as they had since humankind had regained the stars. Verax's comms chamber was ringed with video panels of the most traditional kind.

  Several of the screens weren't working. The blast that had wrecked Redeemer's bridge had taken down part of the ceiling in the comms chamber, and Verax had to step over several pieces of shattered gantry and dislodged plating before he could get to the controls.

  The screens showed static for a few seconds, until the quantum link established and an image of Fleet Admiral Deodatus fizzled into view. Deodatus was a skeleton of a man, immensely tall and thin, a total contrast to the stocky Verax. "Hail, captain," he said, as the static cleared. "It's good to see you in one piece."

  "I'm in better shape than my ship, fleet admiral. Whatever the mutants threw at us, it struck like the wrath of God."

  "What's your status?"

  "As far as I can tell, not good." Verax had been given a partial damage report by Midshipman Tertius just before going into the comms chamber, but it was fragmentary at best. Too many parts of the ship were still cut off. "We've lost primary power, which means the lasers are down and the main drives are at reduced efficiency. There's no contact from the torpedo rooms on the port bow, nor from the port hangar pod. As it stands, we've got no way to dock any of our fighters. As soon as the general comms are back up, I'll instruct them to berth with other ships if they haven't already."

  Deodatus frowned and his gaze dropped. "That may not be so easy, captain. We've been unable to make contact with most of the ships in your battlegroup."

  A cold knot of horror began to grow in Verax's belly. "How many?"

  "We've heard from Gideon, the Magnificat, and the Benedictus. Vespasian reported in with serious reactor damage, but then their comms went offline ten seconds before we picked up a neutrino flare. That's all."

  Verax reached out to the comms control panel to steady himself. Four ships out of a battlegroup of twenty-eight, and if Deodatus had picked up a neutrino flare it could only mean that Vespasian had gone nova. Fleet headquarters was on Bacchylus, ten light-seconds from the battle site.

  Four ships left. Thousands of Iconoclasts dead. "I had no idea. I thought Redeemer must have taken an unlucky hit."

  "From what I hear, Verax, you were the lucky ones." Deodatus looked to one side, nodded to someone outside the video pickup's field of view, and then returned his attention to Verax. "Give me your report, captain. What hit you?"

  "I'm not sure, fleet admiral." Verax shook his head in exasperation. "We don't even know where it came from - the first we heard of it was a proximity warning, but we saw no jump flares. It turned up out of nowhere."

  "A Tenebrae vessel?"

  "It has to be. They attacked us without provocation."

  Deodatus nodded to himself. "Go on."

  "The battlegroup had dropped out of superlight in the Kentyris system. A regular patrol, that was all. We'd heard reports of pirates operating out of Kentyris Secundus. I had my sense-operators on full alert, looking for any unauthorised traffic. If there had been a jump-point, fleet admiral, we would have seen it."

  "Your conclusion?"

  "They were waiting for us."

  The fleet admiral nodded his agreement. "I'll petition his holiness for a series of punitive strikes. Let's see how strong the Tenebrae stomach is once we start razing mutant cities. In the meantime-" He stopped abruptly.

  Verax realised that Deodatus was looking past him. He turned to see Tertius standing in the hatchway behind him, a slender silhouette in the light from outside. "Forgive me, captain," she stammered.

  "I'm assuming it's important."

  "Sir, the primary power core is online. We have comms, and access to tactical sense-engines."

  "Good work, Commander!" Then she stepped forward, into the chamber, and Verax saw the expression on her face. "What's wrong?"

  "The enemy, sir. It's attacking the planet."

  The bodies had been cleared from the bridge by the time Verax got back, but their stink was still in the air. In a way, he welcomed that. It would be a continual reminder of what he was up against. He went straight to the command throne and sat down.

  Tertius took up position at his side. "Sense-operator," she called. "Full tactical display!"

  "Your will." The operator worked at his board, and a moment later the viewscreens around the bridge walls
sequenced into life, surrounding Verax with stars.

  He turned his head left and right, gauging the situation instantly. Kentyris Secundus, a human colony of some thirty million people, filled the screens to port. To starboard, splinters of bright metal, surrounded by identification graphics and vector markers - the last remnants of the battlegroup. And dead ahead, drifting a thousand kilometres above the planet's surface, was the dark mass he had spotted in the few seconds between the proximity alert and the blast that had holed Redeemer's tower.

  "Enhance view, centre screen," growled Verax. "I want to see that bastard's face."

  A grid appeared around the attacker. Verax found himself leaning forward, half out of the throne, hands clenching in anticipation. "Come on," he breathed. "Show yourself..."

  The grid expanded, dragging the attacker's image forward in a rush. Verax flinched as it billowed to fill the screen - a rounded, nearly spherical mass of glossy black metal. It was hard to see in any detail. The shell of it was so dark, so gleaming, that the ship appeared to be nothing more than a vague series of reflections. There was a hint of panelling, of complexities beyond what Verax could actually see, but they were only suggestions. The machine was as unknowable and as distant as a thunderhead.

 
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