After scattering the Ork orbital forces and getting permission from the Angels Numinous to descend to the planet, we discussed how best to proceed.
One of their Sergeants declined our offer of orbital fire support, but was otherwise uncommunicative.
Walker didn't want the Captain anywhere near that planet and I saw her point, but Marcone was resolute and also with good reason.
So we dropped down into the atmosphere aiming to land close to the Explorator Vessel the Golden Phoenix. I let the Captain take the final guidance systems and we smashed into the rock. The gravity was a pleasant 0.6Gs and although the heat was punishing, my recently acquired pressurised carapace was enough to keep me comfortable.
We explored the ship only to find that the logs had been wiped, four of the crew were killed on impact and the vessel was missing a chimera transport out of its rear hatch.
The survivors had set out towards the hills that the Astartes were actively defending. However as we were about to set out, there were signs of a metal form over the crest of the hill near the ship. The drop pod was destroyed in a missile barrage and there was a monstrous juggernaut of scrap metal there, an Ork vehicle called a Killer can, in a crude humanoid shape, it had weapons attached to every part of it. A buzz saw on one arm and a heavy flamer on the other, whilst the chest had numerous weapons protruding from the mouth of a skull and even more crowded the head.
We fired back with Krak grenades and I even managed to sneak around it. Walker managed to blow off the Heavy Flamer and disable one of the chest mounted weapons, whilst the Captain organised the security patrol. Unfortunately the missile barrage destroyed the cover that two of them were hidden within and the shrapnel killed them. Finally just as we had the beast on its last legs a Space Marine gunship flew low and destroyed it in a blaze of missiles.
The fight had attracted a large mod of dozens of Orks who were closing fast, so we broke away and rather than follow the Chimera tracks directly, we snuck off to the side and parallelled the last known direction of the tracks. Gears managed to surprise by being quite savvy about the lay of the land and we followed him through a series of gullies.
We identified ourselves to the Marines (although they were unhappy with our presence) and we proceeded past them without much incident for over a kilometer until we came to the foothills. We passed several of the Astartes in golden power armour with jet-packs as well as several regular squads and some black clad ones with Jetpacks, that Marcone mentioned were called the Death Company.
It was starting to get quiet until we approached a large crater ahead which orbital Augurs had indicated was a large crashed ship of troop transport size.
Near the edge of the crater, a squad of marines beckoned us over and told us firmly that the explorators had not gone that way, regardless of the tracks and that the crater was a prohibited area. We would be shot if caught going there.
However it was clear our path lay in that direction, so as soon as they departed (apparently certain that we would not disobey) we proceeded into the crater, where we saw the ruined vessel. Gears dated the vessel as being ancient, possibly pre-Horus Heresy, over 10,000 years old.
Next to the vessel was an abandoned Chimera, almost certainly the one used by the Explorators, although there were some spent bolter casings around the area, there were no bodies or signs of injury visible. Next to the chimera was a recently opened hatch.
Inside was little more than a long corridor-like airlock, with a door leading into one of the main holds.
What was inside was enough to turn my guts to water. Gears identified it as a live and active Forbidden Atomic, rigged with sensors, failsafes and all manner of sensitive triggers. Without any means of disarming it or bypassing the room, we were stuck to the short corridor, which led us to ponder the mystery before us.
The Explorators had come here and left, but the Chimera was not big enough to carry the atomic weapon, so it was placed here by the Astartes. However it was very difficult to understand their motives for destroying such an ancient and thus valuable ship.
There was a wall panel, behind which was one of the primary cogitators, an ancient design of legendary compactness and power.
Gears attempted to interface with it, but was almost pushed out by a sense of religious awe. I figured that I might be more resilient to such awe so I plugged in instead, stood my ground and boldly announced myself, hoping that my similarly archaic Mind Impulse Unit would help ease compatibility issues.
The cogitator questioned my trespass, but eventually identified its self as the Furious Assault, a Blood Angels combat transport. My bravado evaporated when I realised what I spoke to. It appeared to be a fully sapient Abominable Intelligence, but at least this one seemed to be of a purely mechanical nature. Simply the most advanced machine spirit I had ever encountered.
Gears helped patch me through the AI to the Captain who spoke with the authority needed to get negotiations off to a good start.
The AI had mentioned that there had been humans among the crew and we wondered if the human lifesigns that we had seen in the surrounding hills were in fact ancient survivors of this crew.
We lacked the tools needed to disarm the bomb and being able to reason out the fact that the Angels Numinous had set the bomb, the Furious Assault determined that it would be wise to allow them to detonate the bomb as planned.
We agreed, but still needed to find our missing explorators. The only other option was to seek out the humanoid heat signatures in the hillside caves. However before we did so, Gears managed to persuade the Captain to allow him to extract the Cogitator, with permission of the Machine Spirit within. It took longer than the hour that the Captain allowed, and we were increasingly nervous, but after nearly 90 minutes Gears had managed to extract the cogitator.
We were about to load it onto the Chimera, when humanoid figures crested the hill. Pale and nude wielding strange green-tinted knives they lept forward, but the Captain was concerned about alerting the Astartes to our presence, so ordered melee weapons only. The things were vicious and for the first time in ages, I drew my power-sword in anger. They cut down two of our security team and injured another before the Captain and Walker were able to deal with them.
Their bodies showed fangs and reddened eyes, twisted mutations and their knives were reminiscent of the eldar monstrosities we discovered previously, crystals of solidified warp energy. The Captain asked for a few samples to be taken and we would leave as soon as the wounded and dead were aboard.
Not wanting to spend a moment more than absolutely necessary in that accursed crater we loaded up the Chimera, and now knowing what to look for found the remains of blood that had been licked off the bare stone of the crater. The creatures were clearly abhuman or corrupted beings descended from the crew of the Furious Assault and we would need to track them to their dens if we wanted to find the missing explorators.