In the darkness of the shattered building, Captain Newman cursed under his breath and holstered his laspistol. Leaning up against the wall, he cautiously brought his fingers up to his left shoulder before wincing in pain, and they came away dark and sticky. The medical orderly, sweating profusely, fussed over him, hurrying a field dressing into place while the two surviving Tallarn Guardsmen carefully brought the field gun to bear on the wall corner from which the enemy would most likely appear.
He could hear their engine now - a lighter tenor sound to the bass rumblings of the tanks he was used to. It was close, but there was enough time to take stock and make a decision.
The pickets had made contact with the enemy just before dawn, with power armoured infantry spotted moving into the ruins, and at least two APCs advancing between the rubble. As they refused to answer to the encrypted codes of the day, Newman had ordered a general advance on the remaining industrial buildings to take control of the remaining technology within, with orders to engage at will.
While this might have seemed strange in any other battlefield without identifying if the unknown Chapter was loyalist or renegade, the local situation was confused at best. A number of nominally loyalist chapters had been operating in the area independently, and more than one had not been at all shy at engaging fiercely with Guard regiments who got in the way of their own, unknown objectives.
As expected, they had been met with Marine resistance, although both forces had been cautious, avoiding the risk of over-commitment. It had become confused early on as Newman's command Chimera had exploded in a fiery wreck, although he hadn't identified which of the enemy's anti tank weapons had done the deed. The explosion had cost him the lives of both of his assigned bodyguards, which made him nervous, although the rest of his squad and staff officers had managed to scramble from the wreckage, mostly due to the bravery of the bodyguards in pushing everyone else clear before seeing to their own safety.
He ran the numbers in his head - his force had been light on armour and air defence from the start - relying on the Imperial Navy assigned back up and the Storm Troopers held back to grav chute in to get them out of trouble. The enemy force was heavy on it's air support - the Warrant Officer assigned as his Naval liaison had managed to achieve their delayed arrival with a Thunderbolt intercept, but the ship based long range support was never going to do anything significant on the field - that was for the Valkyries operating from the Naval base planet-side.
Both his Commissars remained inconveniently alive, so a withdrawal would have to be carefully justified. The conscripts had confirmed securing a working targeting array from one of the buildings, but the platoon's first squad had reported that enemy fire had prevented them finding any working technology in the main workshops. The enemy had clearly secured some barrels of some kind, which he suspected to be Prometheum, but he had suspicions it might be leaking given the cautious distance even the armoured super human giants were keeping from it. He had also been able to see military supplies piled up in the entrance of what remained of the Administratum building, but the open fields of fire had prevented anyone from managing to investigate if they were of any real worth.
So, while in a practical sense, both sides had managed to obtain something of value, it was something that could easily be spun as being in favour of the Guard. Losses were moderate on both sides - he'd lost his staff officers and the regimental standard to a combination of small arms fire and a strafing run from one of the Marine escort fighters - neatly avenging itself on the Naval liaison who had delayed its arrival in the battle. Lieutenant Worthington was unharmed, but every squad in third platoon had taken casualties - but none had wavered, which spoke well of them - not even the conscripts had lost their nerve.
The Storm Troopers had not been so lucky - despite giving the enemy squads a serious mauling, it had not been enough and the counter assault had wiped them out. There were only a few of the Veterans who had deployed by Grav chute from the Valkyrie, either - an unlucky landing had left them in the open and cut to pieces on open ground before the few survivors had managed to hole up in the cover provided by some murky lake. The Valkyrie itself was also fine - all missiles expended, but undamaged.
Among the Marines, there were only a few of their line infantry left standing - if somewhat gingerly near some leaking Prometheum. If the second Lieutenant from the 9th Jovian Artillery hadn't managed to get his face shot off by a bolter while trying to get a better line of sight for strikes, perhaps something could be done, but as it was, they weren't going to be brought out in a hurry. The engine noise reminded him of the armoured APC that was intending to disgorge more super human killers near him soon.
If any of the Demolisher's crew had survived its eventual wrecking, they were on his list for a medal - the central advance of the Marines had been stalled almost entirely through their efforts in taking out first the APC, then causing its occupants so many casualties that their lone survivor had actually withdrawn from the field - something Newman had not seen in his career to date. The enemy's fire support team had certainly gained a couple of serious injuries - a couple would probably need a medic before they would see the field again.
First squad's failure to gain additional supplies would certainly be mitigated by their lucky downing of the second Marine escort flyer. Their weapon's specialist would likely see a medal if he was still alive over there. But still, the first escort and the heavy flyer were still active - due to come back for a second pass any time soon.
And that was it - decision made. He touched his comm bead.
"All units, this is Captain Newman. As ordered, we have obtained supplies from the area. Worthington, have the Whiteshields pack that targeting array up double time. Withdraw in close order, Ratlings and second squad to provide covering fire until the array is clear."
A pause. Then, as expected...
"Withdrawing, Captain?" The metallic sound of Commissar Van Saar's vox unit crackled in his ear. Private channel, thank goodness. He thumbed over to the direct link.
"The hostile forces have heavy air support, and it will be coming back. Our colleagues in the Navy have done an admirable job, but they are outfitted for downing light fighters. We've been lucky to do as well as we have so far."
Another pause, but not long enough for the Commissar to question further...
"To sacrifice our lives now would be wasteful, and throw away the gains we have made in blood. That would be criminal."
When the reply came, it was not the voice he expected. Older, still clipped and precise - perhaps more disturbing with the lack of the metallic tone of the hive-born Commissar's vox.
"As you say, Captain. This material must be safely returned to headquarters, and we cannot hold back their aircraft."
Newman exhaled slowly, and pulled himself upright, nodding to the three men with him to start quietly picking their way through the twisted metal and lumps of plascrete, back to their own lines.