Interstellar space! There is little in the material universe that overawes the human imagination and seizes a human heart like the vastness of interstellar space. Dark, cold and dreary, it lies motionless in deathly stillness yet be the home to a millions terrors that stalk the void. In this sea of deathly solitude, there lie the occasional beacons. These are the star systems that are the light houses of the interstellar sea. Some are young, others old, yet more millennia in age and then there are those that are dying. Many are the scattered remains of once proud star systems now claimed by the cold hand of cosmic death, silently floating for millennia. Ravaged by the greed of sentient races and the cosmic forces of nature, broken in to a thousand fragments but somehow keeping in close proximity as if refusing to loose its identity, these stellar carcasses are known to humans as asteroid fields.
Scattered amongst many such asteroid fields, lies the flotsam of space. The dust of star systems born and now dead intermingled with the remnants of mighty civilizations now long forgotten and the debris of the ever present conflicts that seemed to accompany all sentient races. Such asteroid fields are too numerous to catalogue or document even by the most advanced species. Some such fields gain transient recognition due to their rich mineral content before being rapidly scavenged and then forgotten. Others gain notoriety for harbouring unlawful elements of the closest civilizations, pirate raiders and alien terrors. A few are catalogued due to their proximity to trade navigation routes and thus play their part in astro-navigation. Most are simply ignored.
The Absalom asteroid field was one such region. Its only recognition was its close proximity to a long and rarely used trader route, which had long been superseded by other, safer passages. Larger than most such fields it contained a large number of massive asteroids, some larger than the moon orbiting old terra. The stability of the field made it an ideal location for pirate raider fleets if not for its distance from any inhabited system or important trade routes. Darkness pervaded the entire field, with the star that provided illumination having died millennia ago. Only the rare flash of a lonely trader vessel transiting the warp space to gain its navigational bearings before rapidly entering warp space again provided the occasional illumination.
Erdan Vitelgo looked out through his personal view-port. He had been a space farer for most of his adult life, following his father's footsteps to the stars as a rogue trader. In his long and highly eventful life he had seen many things that had piqued his curiosity and most of them had either resulted in a tidy sum of wealth or had nearly cost the lives of his crew and himself. Now, he was a lot more careful and preferred the quiet voyage of transporting exotic goods for the aristocracy of various planet systems. He had taken this route many times in the past, its isolation being ideal for his purpose. Once again he looked at the Absalom asteroid field. Something in that field always beckoned to him, and each time he had resisted the urge. Now, that feeling was back again with a vengeance. He pondered once again, balancing the opportunity to once again investigate something shunned by most humans, while balancing it with the loss of revenue that his delay would surely cost.
"Astro-navigation is complete captain! Destination co-ordinates punched in and ready. We must make the warp jump within the next ten minutes to keep to schedule"
His navigator had been with him for most of his career as a rogue trader and captain of this vessel. He had ample trust in the old man's capabilities. He must decide now.
"Energy spike in the asteroid field captain" Young Jedar shouted from the sensorium console. "It was there for a fleeting moment and gone now"
"Warp engines on line and ready captain!" The metallic voice of the technomagos came through the vox-caster.
He must decide now. The energy spike meant that his suspicions of all these years were correct, but perhaps this was not the time. He had to deliver his cargo or forfeit his license and likely have a price on his head. Taking a last look at the field, he reached down and punched the console signalling the disciple of the machine god to activate the warp engines. A flash followed by a great panoply of colours and the ship disappeared in to the immaterium, leaving the cold darkness of space to once again blanket the asteroid field.
Despite his misgivings, Erdan Vitelgo was far closer to the truth than he could ever have known. Had he allowed his curiosity to overcome his better judgement and pointed his vessel towards the asteroid field things may have turned out different. He would have first noticed that the details of the largest asteroids in the navigation chart he had bartered from an elder corsair and the readings from his sensorium array did not match. Then he would have noticed the multitude of minor energy signatures and recognized them for what they were, spaceships in powered down mode. The sheer number of the signatures of would certainly have intrigued him enough to bring him silently for a closer look. As he rounded the far side of the asteroid field he would have seen a sight few in the Imperium would have had the privilege of seeing. Then he would have died, along with his ship and crew, suddenly, violently and unknown to anyone but his executioners.
If one were to travel around the far side of the dark asteroid field, Absalom's new secret would hit them with a vengeance. Floating majestically in space, with engines silent and lights off, was a veritable armada of spaceships. Scattered in tactically proficient positions amongst the largest of the asteroids these massive ships hung in space with their engines silent and their cabins darkened. A ring of smaller picket ships remained in place with their prows pointing outwards, ready to question any intrusion. Deeper within the ring lay larger ships. Experienced naval crewmen would identify these as Imperial strike cruisers. They were fast ships with a heavy punch. Closest to the largest of asteroids lay a number of large vessels that dwarfed all others. The close observer would be amazed to find the presence of not one but eight such behemoths arrayed in close order. Space marine battle barges were a rare sighting. To see eight in the same location, especially when they sported two different chapter insignias, was unprecedented. Beyond this awe inspiring might of the Astartes lay the largest of the asteroids. Yet, it was not simply an asteroid, but one with a great citadel built within its core. Docking bays, over-sized warp engines, defensive gun emplacements and landing pads become evident as one got a closer look. The sheer size of its mass dwarfed even the largest of the battle barges. The tallest tower in the edifice of the asteroid sported a magnificent statue of a winged angel brandishing a massive two handed sword. It was the Tower of Angels, the last remaining piece of the planet Caliban. Home to the first legion and now the first chapter of the Astartes! Headquarters of the Dark Angels and the nerve centre for the battle for redemption!
The vast array of space marine vessels constituted the combined strength of two complete chapters of the Unforgiven. The white twin-winged dagger of the Dark Angels chapter and the single black wing and skull motif of the Angels of Absolution adorned the vessels. The dexterity with which the vessels were stationed in space in such proximity to the asteroid field was a reflection of the experience and the expert spacemanship of the space marine crews. Strike cruisers lay berthed in space alongside the battle barges. Destroyers of the Hunter class, and frigates of both Gladius and Nova class ringed the capital ships of the armada in a tight defensive circle. Flights of thunderhawk gunships were deployed in holding patterns guarding all possible approaches, gliding with their engines powered down and using minimum thrusters for course changes. This was an armada gathering in supreme secrecy.