Monday, 13 April 2009

The Space Squids

Usually whilst I'm on holiday I like to write as much as humanly possible (in fact, Commanding The Kingfisher was mainly written on a trip to Scotland way back in 2005). This time round, though, I spent most of my typing time either working on my thesis or proof-reading my first novel (more on that later in the month, hopefully), so the only thing new I managed was the first piece of background for my Space Marines chapter. I showed you their colour scheme a while ago, which has now been slightly re-jigged (photos of the first couple of models as soon as my camera returns).
"A battle-brother must welcome combat on any terrain. From swampland to savanna, desert to jungle, and from sea to sky to space. The enemies of the Emperor must know that there is no place to hide, merely a thousand alternatives as to where they will meet their end." - Roboute Gulliman, Codex Astartes.

"Once a year, regular as you like, them haughty Ultramarines arrive in orbit, dive into the sea, and start knocking the stuffing out of the local fellsharks. What's the use in that? I've fought in three dozen wars in this blighted subsector, faced off against howling Orks and shadowy Eldar, but not once in my years of service has a fish picked up a chainsword and gone for my throat." - Colonel Vertelli, Isokan 3rd.
The problem with becoming the perfect warrior is that there exists no reliable metric by which perfection can be measured. Success, certainly; that is defined in terms of casualties caused, engagements won, and, with luck, by not dying at the end of the day. Perfection is something different.

How does one define perfection? Does it require the mastery of a single discipline, or competence in multiple fields? A man is not an Eldar, Emperor be praised; we lack the near-immortality required to master each form of combat one after the other. Nor do we need fear casting our nets wide. The Eldar may know in their rotten souls that to choose from two options is to always choose the most pleasurable one, but the children of the Imperium are made of sterner stuff. For the superhuman warriors of the Adeptus Astartes, all that need be considered is how to dedicate each day to the pursuit of becoming a more proficient killer.

Still, though, choices must be made. The Codex Astartes is quite clear; the Space Marine must face his foe on a thousand different battlefields, and defeat him on every one of them. Such perfection lies beyond a human lifetime, even one enhanced by the arcane genetic techniques of a chapter's apothecaries. To excel at one kind of combat is to neglect all others, but to learn to fight on a hundred surfaces is to risk being beaten by one hundred different kinds of specialist.

The Codex Astartes teaches, almost above all else, that a chapter must be independent. The arrival of companies from other chapters in one's battlezone is either fortuitous, or a commentary on the seriousness of a current engagement, but that is all. Indeed, how could Guilliman's masterwork speak otherwise? After the darkness and destruction of the Horus Heresy, in which misplaced loyalty to the tainted Warmaster had dragged fully half the Space Marine legions into chaos and damnation, nothing was more important than promoting independence at the expense of tactical co-operation.

Roboute was a tactical and strategic genius, but he was not a prophet. In the centuries since the Second Founding, events have made clear the drawbacks to the Primarch's approach. The Age of Apostasy demonstrated the difficulty in dealing with Imperium-wide rebellion when no obvious authority existed, and the Badab Uprising proved that it was still entirely possible for multiple chapters to mutiny against the Imperium given the right circumstances.

Despite these incidents revealing problems with the approach in the Index Astartes, few chapters have attempted to strengthen ties with their fellows. As a general rule, any chapter arrogant and indiosyncratic enough to flout the Index is unlikely to welcome closer relations with their fellows.

Such was the situation in M.38 when the Krakens of Greyjoy were founded, named after the giant sea-creatures that inhabited the deep oceans of Greyjoy, a hive world deep in the Ultima Segmentum. Given the world of Four Feathers, in a neighbouring system to Greyjoy, from which to recruit, the Krakens never even began construction of a fortress monastery. Their first Chapter Master, Hector Rekasson, refused to allow his nascent army to engage in combat of any form for an entire year, trying the patience of several governors of nearby worlds and attracting the unwelcome interest of more than one Inquisitor. If this discontent troubled Rekasson, there was no sign. Perhaps he knew nothing of it, for those first twelve months in which the chapter were ostensibly operational, Rekasson was locked within his quarters on the chapter's only battle-barge, the Intractable, with naught within but a sanitation cubicle and a copy of the Codex Astartes.

Precisely one year from the maiden voyage of the Intractable, Rekasson emerged. He addressed the brothers of the Krakens of Greyjoy chapter in a fleet-wide broadcast. The Codex Astartes, he told them, was a book designed to limit the fallout of treachery. For those whose loyalty was unquestionable, the tome was to be honoured, not to be followed blindly. The future of the Imperium lay not in a thousand bickering tribes, but in a finely-honed million-strong army. While total integration of the loyalist chapters was impossible, it was time for each of the thousand armies of the Astartes to become part of a greater whole. And the Krakens would lead the way.

Beyond a small facility to deal with potential recruits to the Chapter's 10th Company, the Krakens built almost nothing on the surface of Four Feathers. Instead, they toured the Segmentum, taking every opportunity to fight underwater, and training in deep space in-between. Rekasson's dream was to lead the Imperium's greatest aquatic fighting force, a deeply specialised chapter that could sweep all before it deep in the sunless oceans of the galaxy. In this way he offered his answer to the dilemma of perfection. Let the Ultramarines or the Imperial Fists attempt to be all things to all men. The Krakens of Greyjoy would forgo ninety nine battles out of a hundred, if that last skirmish brought them glory.

Though none in the chapter would admit to it, there is some evidence to suggest that in their first 150 years of existence, the Krakens fought fewer engagements than any other chapter. What they were happy to discuss, however, was their massively high success rate. On the forge world of Folstoii, the Ork Warboss Slitjaw attempted to circumvent the overwhelming defences of the mighty spires by constructing fleets of submersibles with which to destroy the power-lines which snaked towards the sulphur fissures in the world's ocean floors. The Krakens annihilated every single enemy vessel within twenty-four hours of their arrival in-system. When the eel-like Z'Cex took up residence in the purple oceans of Karranac, terrorizing the peoples of that world's narrow archipelagos, Rekasson and two hundred of his battle brothers exterminated their deep-sea hives within the space of a month, a feat which astonished the White Panthers, who had been fighting to reclaim Karranac over a month.

Whilst many might be happy to make this choice of quality over quantity, however, it is not a decision that the war-torn Imperium can well afford. The enemies of man attack unceasingly from all directions. What good is the efficient destruction of one alien force if fifty more await their chance to strike? Aquatic combat was a rarity; the Z'Cex were a minor race when compared to the Tau, or even the Tarellians or the Hrud, and few other species were any happier fighting underwater than was humanity. It became increasingly plain that the idiosyncracies of the Krakens would not be tolerated indefinitely. Inquisitorial investigation was threatened, a process that might conceivably lead to excommunication.

Whether or not Rekasson would have backed down is something historians will never know. The stand-off between the Krakens and the larger authority of the Imperium was broken when Hive Fleet Kraken entered the Milky Way. The Tyranids were an enemy able and willing to adapt to any conceivable battlefield. Whilst one set of hideous biological constructs rampaged across the land, fin-tailed raveners and jet-propelled hydrogaunts filled the oceans, consuming all in their path. The skill-set of Rekasson's chapter went from being ludicrously specific to endlessly useful. It is claimed by some that the Krakens of Greyjoy fought more battles in the five years following the new Hive Fleet's appearance than they had in the rest of their history combined.

As such, their reputation began to change. Across the Eastern Fringe, the people of sea and shore offered up prayers for deliverance to Rekasson and his Chapter, even after the Chapter Master himself died on the unlit seabed of Shelah, atop the body of the largest Hive Tyrant ever witnessed. Word of mouth spread that only one force could save humanity from the pitiless horrors that lurked in the deep, waiting to strike.

Although still known officially as the Krakens of Greyjoy, by the early years of the 40th Millennium no-one on the Eastern Fringe was particularly keen to use that name. Instead, across the Fringe and beyond, the chapter had become known as the Space Squids.

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