STALKERS & HUNTERS
An elite strike-force, the Adeptus Astartes must be prepared for a myriad of foes and battlefield conditions. This includes providing dedicated anti-aircraft support for their planetary landings, battle groups and firebases. The Space Marine Chapters employ their own anti-aircraft tanks in the form of the Stalker and the Hunter, unwilling as they are to rely on the air cover provided by the fallible warriors of the Imperial Guard and Imperial Navy. Crewed by Space Marines and armed with some of the most powerful and effective surface-to-air weapons produced by the Imperium, each is capable of tearing Dakka Jets and Helldrakes from the air in hails of hammering fire or clouds of burning light.
Both the Stalker and the Hunter are relatively recent additions to the Space Marine Chapters, having only been in service for the last few millennia. Before then the STC used to create them had been lost for an age, though tales of their glory in battle lingered still among the armies of the Imperium. Indeed, even though surviving examples of both tanks were vanishingly rare when the Chapters were formed, Roboute Guilliman wrote of their use in the Codex Astartes. The Ultramarines Primarch spoke of casting a sword across the sky, that the enemies of man might be forced to walk upon the earth.
Extensive tactica on air defence became a vital part of Space Marine doctrine, and when a Chapter makes a planetary bridgehead Hunter and Stalkers will be the first on the ground to scour the sky of the enemy in all directions. This allows heavy aircraft like Thunderhawk Transporters to be brought down from orbit swiftly under cover of heavy fire. Any aircraft brave enough to try and make a sortie against a Space Marine landing zone will be met with a storm of ground fire, the air alive with explosive shells and twisting, jinking missiles. Few but the most skilled pilots can hope to survive long against this concentration of anti-aircraft fire, and even those that manage to hit their targets seldom live to break off and head for home.
The secret of both the Stalker and the Hunter’s effectiveness lies not in the construction of their guns and missiles; these tools of destruction having long been within the grasp of the Techmarines and the Adeptus Mechanicus. Rather, it is their ability to track and engage fast moving aerial targets that comes from the surgically altered brains and neural interfaces of their servitor operators. Since the time of the Space Marine Legions, the armies of the Imperium have employed weapons capable of knocking out ground attack aircraft, from the multi-barrelled Hydra to the Whirlwind Hyperios. Even individual soldiers have access to flakk missiles, giving them the chance of taking down a flyer. What all of these weapons lack are the blessed targeting systems of the Hunter and Stalker. The hard-wired brains of the servitors, combined with the reflexes and combat experience of the Space Marine crews, make these tanks far more deadly than weapons that merely hurl shells and shot into the sky alone.
The servitors must be specially chosen, their brains possessed of a mental agility in life that is then repurposed in near-death. These withered gunners are often chosen from failed Chapter initiates should they be too damaged to become Serfs, either those crippled during their training or that have rejected the sacred implanting processes. Chapter serfs can also find a place as a target-servitor, if they show promise and serve well, earning the right to accompany the Chapter into war. In both cases, the brain, and as much of the head and torso of the initiate as possible, will be salvaged so that he might serve the Chapter in another way. Techmarines will then spend long hours suturing the servitor into the tank, or encasing it into a skyspear missile. Where possible, the servitor’s limbs are used to operate controls and weapons, but most importantly their brain is linked into the augur arrays of either missile or cannon. The process is not always successful and many servitors may die before one merges with the tank’s machine spirit, creating a deadly symbiotic relationship.
Augmented by the servitors’ brains, the Hunter and Stalker are both able to carve their way through enemy defences, whether they are the crude chemical counter-measures of an Ork Dakkajet or the sophisticated electronic bafflers of a Tau Sun Shark Bomber. It is perhaps the spark of faith and duty that endures within the withered brain of the servitor which drives the weapon on, causing a skyspear missile to unflaggingly track an enemy aircraft no matter how the pilot twists and turns, or the storm cannon to track its target unerringly, striking at its weak points.
The value of a Stalker servitor conclave cannot be measured as one might measure the worth of a bolter or lascannon. To a Space Marine Chapter, a worthy Stalker tank and its crew are a revered and precious relic, honoured for their glorious history and every foe they have sent flaming to the earth. Over long centuries of war and countless battles, Stalker and Hunter tanks will develop their own personalities as the memories and faint psyches of the servitors bleed into their machine spirits. The tanks will begin to display almost human emotion; flying into a rage of firepower and death against hated foes or suffering from a plague of mysterious technical problems if neglected by their company. The Space Marine crew of a Hunter or Stalker learn to placate the spirit of their tank with solemn praise and deep respect, lest it fail them in battle. The cold, dead eyes of the servitor conclave might seem empty and vacant, though the battle-brothers know living souls lurk behind those lifeless orbs.
Groups of Stalker and Hunter tanks will also form a bond, their machine spirits and servitors displaying a shadowy reflection of a Space Marine’s own sense of duty to his brothers. A Stalker might specifically single out enemies that target tanks from its armoured company, even against the directions of its Space Marine crew, its guns taking bloody vengeance upon the aggressor.
Based upon the ubiquitous Rhino STC, the Stalker incorporates additional armour and a twin Icarus storm cannon array. With a high sustained rate of fire and the guidance of the servitor conclave, a Stalker can track multiple targets through the sky, each of its cannons filling the air with deadly shells. Unlike the Rhino APC upon which it based, the Stalker’s main compartment is given over to augur-cradles for its two servitor gunners and racks of ammo bins connected to the cannon array by snaking mag-feeds. Where most tanks carry dozens of shells for their main guns the Stalker carries thousands, so that it might keep up constant unrelenting fire into the sky.
Major Space Marine deployments usually include the use of Stalkers, the anti-aircraft tanks protecting orbital beachheads and covering armoured advances. Even a single Stalker can bring down a squadron of enemy fliers, while several in close support are able to send up an almost impenetrable curtain of fire.
The Stalker incorporates heavier armour than a Rhino, space that would be required for transport given over to thickened ceramite plates and reactive shielding. Much of this additional armour is placed above the crew compartment and around the servitor conclave, giving it additional protection from aerial assault. The shell around the servitors is sealed from the outside, and thrice-blessed by the Chapter’s Techmarines before battle. A Stalker can suffer a direct hit to its ammo store from a superheated round or plasma bolt and detonate in a fireball of twisted metal and shrapnel, but the servitor conclave will survive. The Space Marine Chapter can then extract the servitors and implant them into a new tank, their duty not yet done.
Stalkers incorporate stabiliser jacks, which extend from the edges of its hull, steadying it for sustained fire. Once a good firing position is found the crew will ‘plant’ the tank using the jacks, allowing it to maintain a steady aim amid the kick of the storm cannons and cascade of shells. They are also useful when fighting on broken battlefields, or in low-gravity environments, where finding a level platform for the tank is impossible. The crew will use the jacks to lock the tank onto any surface that is available, be it the twisted hull of a ship, the rubble choked slope of a ruined hive or even the gnarled and twisted vegetation of a cursed xenos swamp. When the tank needs to move rapidly the jacks carry explosive drill-tips, a keyed rune from the crew blasting the vehicle free and throwing the jacks back into the hull with a dull crack.
Stalkers are not only used against flying targets, but at times are also pressed into service against earth-bound foes. Their fearsome rate of fire combined with heavy explosive shells goes some way to make up for the limitations of targeting enemies on the ground. Even without the accuracy of a Predator tank or Devastator Squad, a Stalker can suppress enemies of the Chapter, its indiscriminate stream of fire blowing ragged chunks from their cover and forcing them to cower from the hammering boom of its guns.
Every Stalker tank is a prized part of its Space Marine Chapter, a venerated weapon with a long and glorious history. Every campaign and conflict see the shell of the tank battered and repaired; and the crew of battle-brothers will inevitably change, but the machine spirit and servitor conclave endure. In time, the withered minds of the servitors will develop their own quirks, as will the machine spirit; favouring certain foes, displaying ghost-like memories of past combat and raging against the enemies of the Imperium.
Deathless Saint of Days
Spite of Prometheus
The Hunter is a variant of the Stalker, using the same chassis and fulfilling a similar battlefield role. Whereas the Stalker is armed with twin Icarus storm cannons, the Hunter carries a single skyspear missile launcher. Far more deadly against a single target than the storm cannons of a Stalker, the skyspear missile is capable of bringing down almost any flyer known to the Imperium. The true danger of the missile, however, comes not from its armour piercing warhead but its unerring guidance system. Each missile houses the brain and spinal column of a savant-servitor, a blessed servant of the Chapter that has given his life so that he might guide the missile’s righteous anger.
Hunters are usually only deployed if the Space Marine Chapter expects to face heavy flyers or concentrated air assault. The hail of shells from a Stalker is usually enough to keep most enemy aircraft at bay, though when getting a kill is an absolute priority the Hunters are brought forward. However, each skyspear missile is a sacred relic in its own right, and the Techmarines of the Chapter do not sacrifice them lightly, trading each one for an enemy heavy aircraft. Indeed, the brainstem and cranium of a dedicated savant-servitor is the most vital part of the missile, the neural crown feeding his faithful thoughts directly into its augurs. Thus the more pious the savant-servitor, and the more dedicated his mind to the task of seeking out the enemies of the Emperor, the better the chance the missile will strike home.
A single Hunter can prove the bane of large enemy aircraft. From Tau Barracudas to Eldar Vampire Raiders, a single missile is usually all it takes to knock one from the sky. Beasts and Daemons are equally vulnerable to the skyspear, a missile able to blow a flaming hole through the heart of a Bloodthirster or winged Hive Tyrant. These are the high value, high threat targets its crew seek out, honouring the savant-servitor and giving it an end worthy of zealous furore.
The Hunter also employs more mundane high explosive missiles so that it might preserve its skyspear savant-servitors for worthy targets. Against ground targets the tanks can lay down a salvo of missile fire turning a wide area into a firestorm in seconds. Though it lacks the sophisticated and sacred technology of the skyspear savant, each missile is more than capable of smashing its way through enemy armour and roasting the crew within.
The ammo store of the Hunter is divided into the skyspear savant missiles, each one encased in its own munitorum shrine-case, awaiting the moment it will be released into the foe, and clips of explosive ordnance. Each clip holds three missiles, and an auto loader is able to draw them from the racks and feed them into the launcher in a single smooth motion. Each of these three missiles bears a psalm of vengeance inscribed in red wax by one of the Chapter’s Techmarines, its hate-filled words a curse upon the enemy it strives to destroy. When the burst of missiles is fired, the wax melts into streaming crimson and the curse is given life.
The Hunter has a glorious history even in the relatively short time it has served within the armies of the Adeptus Astartes. In the millennia since the rediscovery of its STC, the Hunter has made millions of confirmed kills, bringing down a myriad of enemy flyers against every major enemy of the Imperium. These renowned feats are not attributed to the tank alone, but to the individual skyspear savant-servitors. A savant that relentlessly seeks out its target and scatters it flaming across the sky has earned his place as a hero of the Imperium.
Javelin of Faith
Lance of Fire