Pushing my way through the crowd attempting to board the tram I’d just stepped off of I managed to make my way into Hab A45-21 and seeing it for the first time the only word I could use to describe it was… revolting. Bulkheads and passageways packed with vendors shouting in a dozen alien languages I did not recognize selling all manor of illicit goods, the smell of refuse and sweat mixed together with the coiling stench of some form of fried vermin common in this part of the station. In the larger spaces though the haze, if one looked close enough, you could spy that someone had taken the time to paint a lovely skyscape onto the ceiling, but overtime it had degraded from neglect and was stained black with smoke. Street urchins ran back and forth from alley to alley, twice I was forced to snag hold of one attempting to lift something from my person, and I even spied a group of xenos brazenly marching through the bizzare like they owned the place and I nervously tightened my grip on my holstered laspistol as they passed. Throne I wanted off this station as soon as my task is complete.
Checking my timepiece to make sure I was not late for the appointment I hurried my steps. Stepping though one final bulkhead I entered a larger space I can assume was originally some form of warehouse which had been converted into something akin to a city block, complete with prefab buildings and streetlights. Moments later I approached my destination, a club of the name “Wander-Lust” displayed on a large lit sign next to a pict of a woman, nude save a voidsuit helmet, sitting sidesaddle on an Imperial Cruiser. The muffled thumping of loud music reverberating though the walls. With a sigh I steeled myself and pushed thought the doors.
Inside it took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dim lighting. The air was thick with lho-stick smoke and multicolored lights flashed to the music. On several raised platforms generously proportioned women danced in various levels of undress as patrons sat in small groups drinking and conversing amongst themselves. By the standards of what I had encountered so far the establishment could be considered fairly civilized, if a but low class and unhygienic. I was apparently drawing some attention standing by the door as I noticed the man behind the bar gesturing to me and two large men that looked as if they would have been more comfortable in body armor than suits approached me from behind a veiled archway.
“Lord Tew is expecting you,” the one to my left said lifting the veil-cloth.
“This way please,” grunted the other a drawled as he walked though the doorway. Judging by the size of the men and the way they slurred their words I assumed Low Gothic was not their first language. Up a flight of stairs I was led onto a private both on a balcony overlooking the club where I was greeted by the man I was sent to meet, Thomas “Tew-teeth” Tew.
Clearing my throat I began my practiced speech, “Its a pleasure to meet you, Lord Tew, I represent-”
“I well aware of whom you represent,” the man interrupted me. He stood, tall and lean in an overly ornate suit with some form of fur shawl draped across his shoulders, smiling wide showing off a mostly toothless grin save his two front teeth. He took my hand in a firm handshake and I noticed his arm appeared to be mostly bionic. “Please, we can skip most of the formalities. Call me Thomas.” He continued seating himself again in his plush leather winged chair and gesturing for me to to the same across from him, “After all, I would make a poor Info-broker if I didn’t know who was coming and going on this station. Drink? The amasec tastes of grox piss but its still leagues better then the rot gut we brewed in the backs of our Chimeras when I was in the Guard.”
“Er.. no thank you. Perhaps a recaf if you please I still have a long list of duties to attend to after our meeting.”
“Ah, of course.” Thomas acknowledged as he rose his bionic arm and snapped his fingers. A woman wearing a rather revealing outfit came though the door and after he whispered something into her ear she nodded and left. After a few awkward moments of silence she returned carrying a tray with our drinks and placed a steaming cup on the table in front of me. Taking a sip I could not help but look down in surprise noting that it was spiced exactly as I like it. Thomas smiled knowingly at his small display of information gathering as he smugly sipped his iced liquor. “On to business then?”
“Oh, yes,” I said, clearing my throat once again as I set down my cup. “Do you have the information my Lord asked for?”
“Of course, he was most generous in his payment so I was extremely thorough with researching and assembling those dossiers.” Thomas pulled out a data slate and passed it over the table. “But…” he paused, reaching down and pulling out a thick physical file and slid that across as well. “Considering how much your master paid, and that I would like to continue our professional relationship, I will make one late entry with my personal recommendation.”
Looking skeptically at the file, I shook my head and slid it back across the table. “Thank you, but I’m sure the files you prepared ahead of time will be enough for my Lord and-”
“No,” He interrupted me again, sliding the file back. “I was asked to acquire information on the best free agents in the sector and I’m forced to admit I only learned about this last one rather recently and was unable to add him to the file.”
“I’m sure whoever this file is on is fairly good, but I assure you my lord only-”
“Wants someone good with a gun? Ha, This is Footfall lad. Everyone here is good with a gun. That waitress that brought us our drink is probably a better shot then the both of us.” Thomas laughed. “No, if you were simply looking for someone like that you wouldn’t have come to me. Your Lord is looking for someone greater than that. Someone that’s more than just a hired gun.” He pointed at the file looking at me rather sternly, “And that man is the best option. Period.”
Once again I glanced at the file. Opening the cover I picked up a few small picts and examined them. The first showed a narrow faced man with chiseled cheeks and short cropped gray hair. His face was weathered with age and a crisscross of scars. He wore a grim expression, black and stoic, save his eyes, there was something about the look in his eyes. The next showed ranks of men standing at attention in what looked like some form of Guard uniform wearing heavy greatcoats, helmets and rebreather masks with one off to the side circled.
“Alright,” I looked back up at Thomas. “Who is he?”
With another satisfied near-toothless smile Thomas leaned back in his seat and sipped his drink. “The information’s all there, but I can give you the shorter version. His name is 327.” He started and noticing my confused look he chuckled quietly, “No, seriously. Far as I can gather that is in fact his name. Though I believe most people that encounter him are calling him “The Krieger” or just “Krieger”. He’s ex-Guard, as you can tell… well, technically.”
“As far as the Guard is concerned he’s dead. Far as he’s concerned he’s active, but an independent unit.”
“Why is his name a number though?”
“Oh, right well see, he comes from a rather unique planet called Krieg, hence the alias. Far as I could gather he’s the only one from Krieg to make it into the Expanse.” Thomas paused to take another sip, “Once upon a time it was a lovely Hive World until secessionists seized the planet and declared independence. Loyalists responded with atomic force turing it into a man-made Death World, and even then it still took about 500 years before the planet was returned to the Imperium. After the atomic purge and subsequent centuries long civil war Krieg was left unable to produce anything useful to export save one thing: soldiers.”
“No planet in the Imperium outproduces Krieg when it comes to training and tithing troops. Administratum reports I’ve been able to acquire put that number somewhere around 50 million fighting men and women every sol standard year” Thomas stated rather flatly.
I balked at that statement, if that number was true that would mean in 10 sol standard years Krieg would produce more soldiers than the entire population of many Imperial Worlds. “How… how do they manage to create that many people in such a short amount of time, and on a Death World even?”
“That, alas, is one thing I was unable to find out. There are many theories; cloning, accelerated growth chems, other more heretical practices, etc. The only solid bit of info I was able to find is that it is a closely guarded secret that only the officials on Krieg and the High Lords of Terra have declared that anything stopping Krieg from producing soldiers is heresy.”
“Krieg treats the men and women it produces as a Forge World would treat munitions and they are only assigned a serial number of sorts in place of a name. It is also rather common for Krieg to change their names as they serve in the Guard to reflect their status in the regiment.” Looking down into his now empty glass, Thomas raised his hand and waved over to the waitress for another drink.
“How do you know so much about these Krieg if none ever make their way into the Expanse?” I inquired.
Taking his new drink from the waitress Thomas turned back to me and continued, “I was not always the successful business man you see before you. When I was serving in the Guard my regiment served along side a Krieg regiment, The Death Korp of Krieg 665th Infantry regiment under Colonel 665. Dower lot they were, barely spoke even when spoken too and never took off their rebreathers. Made the rest of us look bad they did,” He sighed. “They never questioned orders, never ran from the enemy. Not a single Krieg was executed by the Commissars the entire time we were deployed together. With an almost fanatical fervor were they willing to throw themselves straight into the most hazardous and dangerous war zones. Apparently for the Krieg, to die in the service of the Throne is the greatest reward and are more than willing to throw themselves for the chance at that reward.”
“So, now that you know who the Krieg are, Its time I actually explain who Krieger 327 is.”
“He started his career in the 1224th Infantry Regiment, one of twenty eight Death Korp regiments serving in the 327th Krieg Siege Army attached to the Curdall Crusade set out in 801.M41 to push The Enemy out of the Havan System in the galactic north of the Segmentum Pasificus. The Crusade started off on a rocky start when on the Hive World of Elix Prime three Warlord Titans of the Legios Manus Deus turned traitor and setting off the main reactors of the Hive they were protecting destroying most of the Imperial landing force. The 1224th was planetside when the reactors exploded but were thankfully far enough away from the hive to survive the initial blast. He earned distinction as his unit was instrumental to holding back the Chaos counterattack as surviving Imperial forces were being evacuated off planet, particularly when a lucky mortar shell bulls-eyed his platoon’s Command Salamander, killing the Watchmaster for his squad… think a Sergeant, and he was forced to take take command of his unit.”
“327’s career only picked up from here, and he continued to earn distinction as the Crusade continued to move through the Havan System. On Syxxol his squad he lead the charge against Fell-bishop Kutho’s Citadel. On Imporri 327 was the one to slay Norron the Thrice Damned. He for 5 years he served as Watchmaster of 1224th elite Grenadier squad, The Siege Breakers, on hundreds of combat missions, and survived where Grenadiers usually suffer a 70% casualty rating due to the dangerous missions they are assigned.
“On the Hive World Prima Logus, 327’s unit was first to tunnel into Capitai Hive and discovered thousands of Loyalist refugees hiding among the ruins. For his actions evacuating the survivors and personally setting the charges to collapse the tunnel on the pursuing heretics he was awarded the Star of Terra, which he denied.” Thomas paused a moment to let that set in.
“He- he turned down being rewarded THE Star of Terra?” I stuttered in shock.
“Twice,” Thomas continued. “They tried to award it to him a second time when he successfully trapped and and destroyed an entire Super Heavy division belonging to Heretek-Lord Mak Turren when he collapsed a tunnel network his unit had been digging under no-mans land for months. He finally accepted the third one after personally saving the life of Warmaster Shorrin from a Greater Deamon of Khrone by throwing a demo charge into its open mouth as it grabbed him. The only reason he accepted the third was it was a direct order from the Warmaster himself.”
“I hope this helps paint a picture for you of what I mean when I say 327’s the best option. He’s not just someone good with a gun, he’s an Emperor Damned hero.”
Digesting the information placed in front of me, I looked back down at some of the picts each depicting various scenes of valor across dozens of worlds. “How did he make it into the expanse?”
“Well, after earning a list of awards and dedications longer than you are tall, in 823.m41, was made Colonel of the 1224th as the 327th Siege army was deployed onto the Forge World Faiths Foundry, a planet tidally locked around the its star so one side was boiling hot while the other froze. The invasion was pushing on the main foundries in the habitable ring when the Ork, Waaagh Grummkilha, took advantage of the fighting and launched its own invasion of the planet. After a fierce naval battle, Imperial forces were forced to evacuate the system all but stranding the 327th Siege army on the surface.”
“Stranded and locked in a three way conflict, the 327th retreated to a defensible position in the mining facilities on the far side of the planet. For ten years they held that frozen patch of dirt, weathering all manner of attack as they constructed a massive network of tunnels and trenches effectively turning that entire half of the planet into one massive fortress. It was actually thanks to Rogue Traders, hired by the Crusade, that kept up a semi steady supply chain, offering what support the Krieg army needed.”
Thomas sighed heavily and sipped once more, wetting his throat. “It was in 833.M41 when a Rogue Trader came with orders form the Crusade, ‘Unable to allocate forces to retake planet. Exerminatus approved, Survivors are to redeploy at own discretion’. At this point the 1.5 million Death Korp soldiers deployed were reduced to only around 1200 individuals with 327 having assumed overall command of the survivors. Using the network of thermal tunnels dispersing heat from the sun-facing side of the planet to the rest of the planet the Krieg had placed a complex of atomic weapons over the many years of occupation in case such a situation arose.”
“I’m told that from orbit the resulting wave of explosions was spectacular to behold from high orbit.”
“Left to their own devices, instead of settling down and retiring, or turning mercenary or privateer, the survivors continued to act as Guardsmen, moving from system to system fighting the enemies of the Imperium. The Krieg mentality of, if you can not leave the battlefield under your own power then you were not worth saving, eventually caused casualties to grow until their numbers dwindled lower and lower and now only 327 remains. Even alone, he continued to fight in the name of the Emperor, and eventually found his way into the Expanse.” and with that Thomas finally stopped talking and downed the rest of his drink.
“Why did he come to the Expanse?” I ask.
“I can only make assumptions at this point” Thomas replied with a shrug. “Perhaps he is looking for a place to die so that he may join his brothers and sisters in whatever awaits him after death.”
Looking once again at the file and several of the picts, I looked back up at Thomas and asked, “So if we were to attempt to hire this Krieger, where would he be located?”
Thomas smiled triumphantly, “I’m not exactly sure about that either. I can tell you he is on station though and if I were to make an educated guess… Well, the Hab-gangs have been avoiding Hab C25-5T4 recently after a series of nasty attacks leaving their numbers rather reduced so I would check there.”
After a moment I considered what he had said, “Thank you for your information, Lord Thomas. My Lord with be in touch if we need assistance in the future.” I reached forward and took the file, this seemed to please Thomas. Standing, one of Thomas’s men stepped forward to lead me out. Before I stepped out though, Thomas coughed to attract my attention.
“If you do manage to hire him let me give you a few pieces of advice for dealing with the Krieg. Do not attempt to take off his mask, make sure to give him permission to speak or all you will receive are silent nods, and remember to heed his words when he does speak, for though his words will be brief and blunt they will carry great weight.”
“Earn his loyalty, let him fight the enemies of the Imperium, and uphold the Emperor and his faith, and he will throw himself on the line of fire to protect you. However…” Thomas paused, just a second, “Cross him, conspire with The Enemy, blaspheme his faith and the Emperor, and he will come down on you like an orbital barrage for fanaticism is great in this one… Best of luck to you” and with a final wave he turned and I was pulled down the stairs and pushed out the door. I looked down one more time at the file and quickly pulled out my vox as I made my way to the tram.