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The Prodigal Son


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#1 Luddite

Luddite

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Posted 05 March 2009 - 06:38 AM

 

 

1

‘Be still boy and listen to me closely’, the lofty old man whispered through clenched teeth to the towering youth before him.

The youth, a colossus of muscle, already slick with sweat and oil in the oppressive heat calmed his physical preparations and glared down at the old man. He only half-heard as his mind raced with endorphins for the coming storm.

‘Kurus! Listen carefully! This is your last trial. All eyes are watching and…’

‘You worry too much Sinnessaar’, Kurus interrupted.

‘NO!’ The old man snapped. ‘Listen. You’re not expected to win today. There’s doubt you’ll survive. Take this’.

Sinnessaar Wissen took up the solid hand of the youth and slipped a slim silver ring onto his finger.

‘This is of Jokaero design. It will help’.

Kurus Von Sachen regarded the small band, turned his gaze to the glinting spectacles of his mentor. He saw there a strange expression; Wissen looked uncertain.

‘Good luck boy’, he croaked as he swirled out of the dusty chamber in a hurried puff of grey robes.

Kurus’ mind raced as the servitors wrapped his naked fists and feet in linen bands and fastened a loin cloth with a tight leather strap. The soft day-light lamps filled the thick air with a brooding ambience, an unnatural even glow.

A guard appeared at the doorway, sweat dripping from his chin and staining his scarlet shirt black. He bowed curtly and hesitated slightly as the massive bulk of Kurus turned to face him.

‘It’s time sir’, he offered firmly.

***

Kurus strode out from the shade of the cavern mouth onto the scorched rock plain, flexing his fists and narrowing his eyes against the blasting light. The heat took his breath and immediately flexed his bowels. He could feel his sweat evaporate. He gazed up at the surrounding rock face, a towering red wall, jagged and burnt. There, at the carved gallery aperture of the counsel chamber, his father gazed down from the shade. Kurus raised his fist in salute.

‘Magnificent isn’t he’, Sinnessaar muttered, half to himself.

‘That he is’, responded Demeter Von Sachen, not breaking his gaze from his son below. The bulk of the man still ribbed through the layer of fat that hung uncomfortably off his muscle and he stood an easy head above the old man’s fezza cap.

The assembled coterie used glasses and scopes to more closely view the coming action. Demeter needed no such enhancements and stood a rigid black edifice, resting one hand on the lintel of the rock aperture. He raised his hand in acknowledgement of his son and stepped back into the shade.

‘How will he fare Wissen’? Demeter asked idly.

‘He averages four magnitudes above all the metrics we have my lord’.

‘That’s not what I asked‘, the giant turned to meet Sinnessaar’s glassy gaze.

‘This is the final test, a test of crisis and resolution. Kurus cannot…uh…should not be able to beat the antelion. The test is to realise this, and to seek an impasse or escape’.

‘Are we teaching him to fail as his final lesson then’? Demeter growled.

‘No, the lesson is that victory must be constantly redefined. A slavish devotion to the path towards a goal will not suffice for the task ahead, as it did for the tasks you were made for. He must understand that there are some times, some situations, some challenges against which there can be no victory’.

‘And if he fails to learn that lesson quickly Wissen’?

‘The antelion will devour his flesh my lord’. A ripple of disquiet flooded the chamber.

The voxophagus of Magos Tessala Shefra clicked briefly, modulating her voice to a perfect pitch. ‘This is the closest we have come to perfection Demeter. Are we to risk that now’?

‘We must Tessala’, the brute lord responded. He avoided her gaze, though he could feel the heat of it searing his flesh. ‘There is too much at risk to send him out unprepared’.

***

Kurus sprinted to the nearest outcrop, bounding up the jagged nest of spires. Sweat and dust filth caked him and stung his eyes.

The antelion clattered forward across the bare rock, its mandibles snapping viciously.

Sucking hard at the baked air, Kurus scanned the ground for an advantage. There was nothing but bare rock and cracked rubble. The huge bulk of the insect beast loomed up at him, its forelimbs raking at the rock he clung to. Its foul brown chitin head, eyeless but alive with flailing antennae hissed and clacked its mandibles like a razor vice. Kurus shifted position, scaling further up the rock tower. He batted away an antenna that found its mark and the antelion snapped backwards, cowing its head.

Kurus seized the moment and leaped down from his vantage. Springing from his crouch the bulky figure sprinted away towards a boulder island nearby. The antelion thundered after him, its clawed legs scratching for purchase across the rock. Kurus vaulted up onto the smooth surface of the closest boulder and scrambled quickly further up. The antelion scrabbled and hissed, struggling to gain a grasp after is prey.

Kurus’ throat rasped. His head pounded. For two hours now he’d danced with the beast and no opening presented itself. There were no evident weapons but pebbles to throw. The creature’s form and defences had stopped him grappling or striking it firmly. He could feel dehydration burning into him now and knew that time was running out. The claw gouge on his left thigh was also dulling him, although his blood had long clotted the wound closed. He crouched at the apex of the boulder tower and watched intently as the beast struggled ever closer. Its footing slipped and flailed across the curved rocks, but it was steadily finding grip in the grit-filled crevices and clefts.

Kurus’ mind raced. He could see no options for besting the beast. It held all the advantages, and Kurus’ concluded that he would die very shortly. He couldn’t believe this was his father’s intent, so what was this test? Perhaps the test was to realise the situation was hopeless? If so there must be a way to avoid it. The plateau edge! The rock plain ended at a plateau edge over to the west. He’d inspected it earlier and marked that the fall would injure him severely, but was survivable. The beast could not, and driven by instinct would not, follow. He could see no other options.

The antelion hissed and scrabbled upwards, its antennae raking and tasting his flesh. Kurus leapt and bounded down onto the rock plain and sprinted towards the cliff drop.

Suddenly the beast was on him, bowling him over into the grit and skidding past him, its six hooked feet scrabbled furiously as it turned in on him, maw snapping. Its forelimb caught him and pinned him to the ground and for the first time, fear flooded across Kurus. He grunted and rocked, trying to free himself from under the beast. He could feel its bulk crushing down on him and as its jagged razor mandibles thrust in for the kill he swung his fist in final desperation. Kurus struck its head firmly and Wissen’s ring blasted a burst of concussive force that splintered its carapace and pulped its cerebral innards.

Thick, viscous ivory gore glutted and oozed out of the fractured hole as Kurus withdrew his fist and kicked off the collapsed goliath. For long moments he lay in the dust, his eyes clenched tight against the sun, his pain and exhaustion. Finally, the youth hauled his shattered bulk up and raised his gore-crusted fist.

In the gallery above, the waves of tension spilled into gasps of applause as the antelion collapsed. Tessala let up her grip from the lintel, her knuckles still white, and clapped rapturously.

Demeter stood impassive throughout. Over his shoulder he spoke quietly to Wissen.

‘He’s not that strong Sinnessaar. What did you do’?


***

Kurus floated at the edge of consciousness. He could feel the dry prickle of reprocessed air and the subliminal thrum of distant engines. He lolled his head and failed to focus on the voices.

‘How is he Tessala’? Demeter’s voice was basso, calm and uncharacteristically warm.

‘He is fine. The wound has healed. The micro-damage from the dehydration has been repaired. His neural patterns have been unusually active, but we’ve induced torpor to aid the recovery’. Her voxophagus clicked softly in the pale blue light of the medical chamber.

Demeter noticed that she unconsciously touched and stroked the inert Kurus during her medical ministry. He cupped her shoulder in reassurance.

‘He has worse ahead of him. I’m sending you. I can’t think of anyone better to care for his needs than the one who gave him life’. They smiled briefly at each other and Tessala touched the back of his hand softly.

‘I will wake him in one hour. He will be ready for the journey then’.

‘Good’, patted Demeter. ‘We’re briefing at the command table in a few minutes. Finish up here’.

***

‘So Sinnessaar, how’d he do’? Demeter demanded, sat to attention with his left fist resting on the holo-table cowling.

‘The final trial was successful after a sort my lord. Kurus survived, but his performance was not optimal. He took forty eight minutes longer to assess his primary option than we expected. I’ve reviewed his debriefing responses and it seems he was simply unwilling to contemplate a ‘no win’ situation’.

Sinnessaar tapped the control blisters. The holo-table played a fragmented collage of images concerning the final trial. The vast orange globe of Hisperus IV slid slowly across the vista-windows against a star-pocked vacuum above.

Tessala entered the command chamber and took a seat next to Demeter.

‘His performance was impaired only by inexperience’, Sinnessaar continued. ‘He has rarely been presented with the option of failure. While this reinforces an achievement attitude and all the associated benefits of such, it ill-prepares him for the inevitable failures he will meet. This is not Adeptus Astartes training; we need him to be more flexible than that’.

Demeter shifted uncomfortably, scratching the scar across his jaw line. ‘Is he ready then’?

Sinnessaar thought deeply for a moment, his companions drawn in imperceptibly by his hesitation. ‘Yes. Yes, I think he’s as ready as he will ever be. Further training will only begin to instil complacency’.

Demeter sat back against the rigid high chair and turned to Tessala with eyebrow raised in enquiry.

‘Kurus sustained significant injury to the quadriceps of his right leg, serious dehydration with associated micro-damage and various minor cuts and abrasions’. Her modulated voice belied the simplification of medical terminology and masked her evident concern. ‘He has fully physically recovered’.

‘Excellent’, stated Demeter, tapping the table before him, unable to repress his relief. ‘We’ve received word from the Falicus Astram that they’ll be in orbit within two hours. I’ve purchased the vessel and stocked its crew for Kurus’ tasks. You two will accompany him’.

‘Agreed’, conceded Sinnessaar, ‘he will need our continued guidance. We’ll transfer to the new vessel immediately upon its arrival’.

***

Kurus hunched over one elbow, watching intently as the lush emerald globe of Sarida Majoris slid silently across the viewing windows of the command deck. Servitors chattered quietly from their trenches and in the pilot well at Kurus’ feet, Cora Zondarem exchanged clipped information with the planetary orbital traffic control.

‘Report pilot’, barked Kurus.

‘We’re green on the screens boss’, she chirped, spinning her chair round to sprawl casually at the black-clad commander.

Kurus regarded her lithe figure, zipped into a skin-tight indigo-grey jump suit. Her wild matt of maroon hair lay crushed beneath the vox-net, but still gave her vibrancy matched by a ready smile. Kurus shifted, unsettled by Cora’s informal nature. He had little experience of women and if Cora was typical he could see they were to be a trouble for him. He rubbed his knee to relieve tension at her informality, and considered that he would expect more reverence from someone about to manoeuvre 87,000 tons of star ship into an orbital dock. No doubt his father has chosen her for her abilities.

Hesitantly, Kurus asked, ‘green…green on the screens…is that good?’

Cora swivelled her pilot chair back and forth slowly, picking idly at her nails. She stared coyly up through her fringe and smiled.

‘Yeah, that’s good. We’re on a short stack so it should be a few ticks before we can make ingress. The machine spirits are doing their spooky thing so approach vectors and docking guides will automate across the board. No worries if they screw it up though, I’m on the stick for those last minute nudges. We’ll be right as, boss’.

Kurus frowned at her, partly in annoyance and partly in an attempt to decipher her colloquialisms.

‘Very good’, he confirmed partly giving up, and reclined into his command throne. Stroking his chin, he turned a glance over his shoulder to Sinnessaar ensconced at an observer station. The wizened face perched over a rigid grey body. The two men met a flicked gaze. Sinnessaar was evidently worried.

Cora watched the exchange and smiled to herself, returning to her pict-plates at a ready prompt from the traffic control. She exchanged confirmations and activated the docking thrusters; the brief flare rocked everyone back slightly.

‘Don’t worry folks we’re down the well. I’ll not dent your lovely ship. You might want to check on Recter though, he don’t look too good’. Cora never broke her attention from the data-picts of the descent to the dock.

Kurus swung his throne about and regarded Recter the navigator. From the Asmacan navigator family based out of Des Haress-las, he came with excellent recommendation, and in any case Kurus’ father had used navigators from that family for many years.

Right now, Recter looked in trouble. Prostrate, he seemed to be fitting. Tessala was already out of her observation seat. Recter’s flabby frame juddered rigidly. His thick, sweaty neck was ridged with tightened tendons, evident even through the layers of fat. His material eyes locked open, staring blindly in terror. His third eye, deep and black, swirled with an inner azure light that leeched out into the musty air about him. Tessala shuddered and fought a dreadful feeling of falling as the light scraped across her flesh.

Quickly she unfastened the navigator’s crimson robe. From her sleeves, beneath her hands, two slender mechadendrites snaked out, bristling with medical diagnostics probes.

‘How is he?’ Kurus barked.

‘He has suffered temporary abnormal electro-physiologic synchronization of neuronal activity across his brain. I have administered a sedative to shut down his neural activity and allow the seizure to pass. He should recover fully, but I will take him to the medical chamber now and keep him under observation for the next twenty four hours’.

Tessala summoned two medical servitors and left the command deck with the prostrate navigator. Kurus quietly scheduled a maintenance check on the Geller field emitters.

The dock pylon loomed into the vista windows as Cora guided the Falicus Astram gently in for the final yards. A distant rumble jolted the ship to a rest as the docking anchors fastening in place along its flank.

‘Bullseye!’ Cora shouted, punching the shut-off protocols and swivelling her chair wildly. ‘It’s OK everyone, no applause needed. I know you’re all in awe of me!’

She ripped off the vox-net and jumped up in her well, stretching the tension out of her stiff limbs. She dropped her arm behind her head and transferred her weight, rocking her hips side to side.

‘So then boss, what now?’ She grinned at Kurus’ scowl.

‘Sinnessaar, we’ll need access to the planet. I’ll leave that to you’, Kurus ordered.

‘Yes my lord’, Sinnessaar regained his composure, rose stiffly and headed for the docking tunnel.

‘Now’, Kurus spoke firmly, ‘you take your rest here, while we head down to the planet. I need you up here’.

‘You need me down there!’ Cora protested. ‘Who’s better here than me on a stick eh? Who’ll make a better drop ship pilot?’

Her hands were at her hips now and a solid gaze pierced into him. ‘Look I don’t know what you’re up to. I get this contract to fly this marvellous new ship with a promise of…well…an offer I can’t refuse. I’m not a damned star shuttle, and I’m not going to be left up here with the servitors when you need me down there, got it?’

‘And what if something happens to you down there?’ Kurus stated, struggling to keep his calm in the face of such insolence. ‘Who will fly my star ship then?’

‘Nothing’s going to happen to me down there’ Cora flinched slightly. ‘Why? Is something likely to happen to me?’

‘Maybe’, Kurus pressed, emboldened by her sense of doubt.

‘Well, that’s just a risk I’ll have to take! Really boss, do you want to trust the servitors to get you in and out of where you’re going safely? You need me on that drop ship’.

Kurus shifted in his seat, his black leather jack squeaking across the hum of the servitors maintenance chatter. He mulled over what he expected down on Sarida Majoris. Would he need a skilled pilot on the ground or would the servitors suffice?

‘Very well Cora, you’re on the drop ship’.

She grinned excitedly, and gathered up her gear from the pilot well.

‘OK, so what’re we up to down there?’

***

Rain battered the tin-cloth marquee incessantly, filling the warm air with a sticky fug.

‘So what is it?’ Kurus asked flatly.

‘It’s not what we’re searching for, that’s for certain’, Sinnessaar replied.

Mikas Tolbek stood over the artefact inspecting it closely with a steel probe. The thickset fellow mumbled and muttered to himself beneath his plaited beard, and scratched his head through his battered slouch hat.

‘Well’, Mikas added, ‘I’ve no idea what this thing is’.

Among them all, filling the slatted camp table, a strange object glared quietly. Caked in red clay, it was evidently metal of some kind. From a bulbous central block, approximately a foot across, spines of varying thicknesses and lengths protruded in all directions. Patterns and markings reminiscent of those used by the Adeptus Mechanicus covered its surface and although it appeared robust, it was no heavier than a child’s pass-ball.

‘What else do we have Mikas?’ Kurus enquired, scratching the insect bites across his ribs under a loose, damp cotton shirt.

Cora hung on a tent lintel near the door and stared absently at Kurus’ taut torso. She licked the damp air from her lips. ‘We didn’t have anything yesterday and we don’t have anything today, except that thing. I’m bored boss’ she whined, ‘can we go into town tonight? Get cleaned up; see a bit of the local nightlife. C’mon, it’d do us all good!’

‘Quiet Cora!’ Kurus snapped.

He addressed Mikas again. ‘What about the stone block fragments? Do they presage something more substantial?’

‘No…no…come with me’, Mikas stated absently, heading out into the rain, not awaiting a response.

The gathered group stood at the edge of a deep gouge in the forest floor. Rain soaked the group and the dozens of servitors labouring around the excavation. A water pump chugged merrily at the lowest point of the site, disgorging water out of the excavation and down the slope.

‘See there; and there; and there?’ Mikas pointed, stroking his sodden beard, ‘we’re down to the bedrock across much of the sight. The fourth extension has expanded out from the coordinates you gave me beyond reasonable variations or mistakes. We’ve found nothing since context six, which ended two yards down. As you can see, the bedrock’s at four yards. Whatever you’re looking for, it isn’t here’.

The group paused and absorbed Mikas’ words as the rain pattered off their hats.

‘The construction blocks were mostly found at context five. They suggest a structure of course but they are so sparse that I don’t think this is the sight of a building or settlement’, Mikas continued.

‘What are the blocks made of?’ Sinnessaar queried quietly.

‘Ah, well; that we do know, its Chalcedony Silicate. It’s not native to the local conditions, but I’d need to see planetary geological maps to locate its source, assuming it’s not from off-world of course’, answered Mikas.

The group fell silent again. The rain pattered.

Sinnessaar struggled to one knee and took up a handful of excavated clay, similar to that caking the strange object in the tent. He played the clay through his fingers feeling its texture; lost in thought.

‘Mikas, do you have micro-chem testing equipment among your stock?’

‘To test what?’ The burly fellow responded, trudging through the mire to join Sinnessaar.

‘The fabric of this clay’.

‘No, I’ve nothing like that but the Magos might, up on the Astram’, Mikas offered.

‘Tessala?’ Sinnessaar raised his eyebrow curiously, ‘no, no, she’s Biologis Genetor, she’ll lack the skills. That said, I may be able to use some of her equipment to improvise a solution’. He trailed off into thought extrapolations.

‘Biologis Genetor?’ Mikas enquired. ‘That sounds a bit fleshy. I thought the Adeptus Mechanicus dealt with machines?’

‘Well, from their perspective, living creatures are machines of a sort. Tessala’s a genetic engineer mainly, although she’s also obviously a skilled medical practitioner. In fact she’s responsible for…well…she’s…yes’, rain dripped from the old fellow’s nose. He raised himself slowly to his feet groaning all the way, and stared up at the deep grey sky through the rain.

‘Pretty too’, Mikas ventured.

Sinnessaar paused while he reconciled his thoughts and registered Mikas’ comment. ‘She’s pretty. Yes’. He smiled. Tessala was older than Demeter, and Sinnessaar was a young man when he met Demeter. ‘She’d like it if you told her that’. He smiled wryly.

Mikas and Sinnessaar wandered off into discussion. Kurus became distracted and stalked uncertainly towards the excavation, staring into the trees around the vehicle muster zone. Something seemed amiss.

‘So boss’, Cora sighed, swinging herself loosely, ‘where are you from?’

Kurus narrowed his eyes through the far trees.

‘You look a bit like a Cadian I once new; it’s not Cadian is it? Boss? Boss!’

‘What Cora!’ He snapped, making her jump.

‘Hey! There’s no need to be like that, I’m just making conversation!’

Kurus, stared at her and his decision snapped.

‘Everyone! Pack it up! We’re done here!’ He barked orders at the servitors who set about gathering up the equipment and striking camp. Mikas and Sinnessaar headed for the marquee and packed away their equipment and artefacts.

Servitors fired up the trucks and they belched acrid black smoke in protest.

Kurus emerged from his tent, a pistol strapped to his thigh and vox-wand at his mouth. It crackled static.

‘We’ve still no vox-signal in here’, he cursed, throwing the wand into the dirt in frustration.

Already two trucks were packed with equipment and servitors. Mikas and Sinnessaar were struggling into the back of the third truck and Cora was exchanging positions with the drive servitor. Kurus clambered into the cab next to Cora.

‘What’s going on boss?’ She was obviously confused and agitated.

‘Time to go that’s all’, he lied. ‘Get us to the drop ship as fast as you can’. He grabbed her arm and fixed her gaze, ‘don’t stop for anything you got me?’

‘OK’, she nodded, fear now welling in her.

The trucks bounced off along the forest path, bucked and thrown about over tree roots and depressions. Kurus dragged open the tin-cloth window at the rear of the cab. On the truck cargo bed, under the tin-cloth covering, Mikas and Sinnessaar clung on for dear life amid a mess of rattling crates and tumbling servitors.

Cora threw the truck along the forest path, slowing periodically to allow the following servitor truck to catch up. They quickly reach the fork beaten into the earth, one branch heading into the local settlement, the other off to the drop ship landing area. As Cora rolled the truck over the crest and down towards the landing ground, an open topped terrain car emerged from the town road. Shadow figures clung to the car, one stood braced against the roll bar.

The heavy crack of gunfire spat from the terrain car raking the flank of Cora’s truck. She yelled in terror as the truck shuddered at the impacts.

‘What are they firing for!’ she screamed.

‘Just keep you foot down!’ Kurus yelled and he drew his pistol, punched it through Cora’s side window and squeezed off a stream of auto shells. Again the dull crack of gunfire exploded across the truck flank.

Kurus knelt up in his seat, braced against the cab roof an reloaded his autopistol. Three large holes exploded in the truck’s engine cowling. Fragments shattered the windscreen.

‘What on Terra are they firing at us?’ Cora yelped.

‘It’s a damned bolt gun’, Kurus growled. ‘Everyone alright back there’, he yelled into the cargo flatbed.

‘No’, Mikas replied in a cracked voice.

Kurus thrust his head and shoulders through from the cab. A headless servitor lolled nearby. Mikas looked up, tears of terror streaming down his face.

‘It’s Sinnessaar! He’s all over the damned seat here’.

Mikas was wet with blood and gore, his hands pressed firmly across Sinnessaar’s stomach.

‘I don’t know what to do! His guts are all over the floor’.

‘Sinnessaar!’ Kurus screamed. ‘Sinnessaar! Damn you old man, hang on!’

He looked out through the rear tin-cloth flap and watched the third truck erupt in flames. It skewed off into the undergrowth, struck a tree and flipped, blocking the track. He slumped back into his seat.

‘Drive faster’, he growled at Cora.

She glanced across at him as the truck bounced over a rise.

The truck idled and steamed in the shade under a landing leg. The engines of the monolithic drop ship rumbled into life, stripping leaves from the trees to its rear in a furnace of tethered thrust. The vast brick of steel and brass dominated the clearing.

Cora leaned into the rear of the truck, horror stricken. ‘The engines are still cycling through the start-up. Two ticks we’ll have the cargo ramp down. We got the vox-link up to the Astram; Tessala’s readying the medical facility. How is he?’

Kurus looked up at her, fear in his eyes and gore slopped all over him, ‘he’s not good. We need to get him in a tank now. Those bolt guns make a mess’.

In the distance, the sound of terrain cars cut in across the bustle.

‘Mikas, take over here. Keep pressure on it. Cora, get that ramp down now!’

Kurus, drew his autopistol and leapt from the back of the truck, pacing with purpose out towards the oncoming vehicles. He narrowed his gaze. Two terrain cars bounced and yawed across the grass towards the trucks. Kurus counted six men clad in mahogany brown battle suits.

He levelled his pistol and took careful aim at the driver of the left car. Calming the rage, he squeezed the trigger. The drivers face burst and his car flipped flinging the two other occupants to their death.

Bolter fire stitched across the grass towards Kurus, blowing up wet clods and ripping past his knee.

‘Kurus! Come on!’ Cora yelled. He turned to see the trucks rolling up onto the cargo ramps, bounced out of his firing stance and sprinted towards the drop ship. Bolts whipped the air around him as he dived onto the closing ramp.

As the pressure seals hissed shut, the engines flared and juddered the ship aloft.

***

Cora rested her head on the ceramic shower wall and let the steaming water wash the filth of the forest from her. She watched a bug desperately failing escape the water splashing down the waste grille.

Six years she’d been plying the trade lanes of Hadasaus Sector, pilot of a bonded trade freighter. She’d read the adventure picts and enjoyed the stories of derring-do since childhood. Ferrying iron scrap and myco-protein loads back and forth was not what she’d dreamed of doing with her life.

So when this strange, exotic fellow had offered her pilot of a free enterprise vessel and promised to recommend her for a rogue trader license upon completion of the contract, she didn’t think twice. The life of adventure she’d always dreamed was offered, wrapped in a bow.

She realised that tears were bleeding into the shower water and every fibre in her body trembled.

Adventure, she’d realised in the last few hours, was neither glamorous nor fun.

***

‘How is he?’ Kurus fretted, exhaustion wracking his spirit.

‘It is too early to tell. He has suffered major injuries to his intestines and liver. His left lung is perforated. He has lost a significant amount of blood and suffered extreme shock. He will be lucky to survive this, but is in the best place to do so. More serious are the injuries to his spinal column. He has lost the integrity of most of his lumbar vertebrae. Even if he survives, it is very unlikely that he will walk again; not without the blessings of the Machine God.’ Tessala touched young man’s elbow tenderly.

‘Come now, young man. Sinnessaar is in the best care he could hope and I am sure he would not have you brood over him like this. Go and freshen yourself up. Clean off the dirt of that place. I have the galley servitors preparing a proper meal for us this evening.’

***

Kurus paced the opulent banquet hall, hands on hips, watching the star field fall gently by the vista window. Plush velvet-clad servitors busied themselves preparing the table for the evening meal. It had felt good to wash off the forest and shave properly for the first time in six weeks, but now refreshed his mind raced.

They’d been careful, but not careful enough it would seem. The assailants weren’t law enforcement or they tried to make arrests, so who were they? Was the task compromised? What should he do now? He needed to talk with Sinnessaar.

The chamber’s glass doors parted silently and Mikas strolled in, pulling the collar of his dress suit uncomfortable. Kurus regarded the thickset fellow curiously. He’d only seen the man in field clothes or research robes. Now here he was, braided beard and hair well combed, black tail coat, scarlet cummerbund and cravat. He considered Mikas at that moment to be the least comfortable looking person he’d ever seen.

Mikas faltered upon seeing Kurus, swung his arms tensely and fiddled with his sleeve.

‘Evening sir’, he greeted, trying a light tone to try and lift the brooding atmosphere.

‘Please, call me Kurus’.

Mikas spied a decanter on the sideboard and leapt at the distraction, ‘a drink sir…uh…sorry Kurus?’ he poured out two generous glasses of brandy and proffered one. Kurus took it and politely sipped its warm, sweet contents.

Silence descended on the chamber a both men rocked back an forth, avoiding each other’s gaze.

‘I uh...’, stammered Mikas.

‘So what…’, started Kurus over him.

Both men rushed and stumbled to allow the other to speak until finally Kurus took the floor.

‘So…uh…how long have you been an archaeologist?’

Mikas gulped down the rest of his brandy and decanted another. He offered Kurus a refill that was refused.

‘Well, that’s difficult to say really. Uh. All my life I suppose. My parents were both scholars, you know, on Chassa Mundi; that’s my home world. They were both part of, uh, both had strong affiliations with the Administratum and worked in the regional antiquities archives you know. So I suppose I was brought up around museums. I never had the temperament for research though; I’ll do it, but I’m not at my best in the labs, so field work was something I sort of fell into. I quite enjoy it really; you’re always on the go you know, out in the open air, always something different happening…yeah…so…’.

Both men fell silent again.

‘Uh, what about you sir, where are you from?’

Kurus sipped his brandy, ‘I was born on Hisperus IV’.

‘Oh?’ Said Mikas, dryly.

The men fell silent again. Mikas wandered over to the vista window.

‘I spend most of my life staring at the earth beneath my feet you know. Digging reduces your world view to a few feet of mud. It’s good to take a look at the stars every now and then, eh? I mean, imagine how many of those points of light out there have planets round them; planets teeming with humans; planets that have hosted countless cultures past and present. I wonder how long we’ll all last’

Kurus stared out blankly at the stars and muttered, ‘I wonder’.


Cora watched the two men chatting silently through the glass door. She tugged the hem of her gown bodice and flattened her stomach, arching her back to find a better fit in the dress. Her hair tickled her cheek as it steadily flopped out of her attempt at dressing it formally.

Though her thoughts still troubled her the resolve to move on was greater. She caught herself in a mirrored facing plate and checked the deep emerald velvet gown one last time. She played her hand across the embroidery bodice; it looked fine and that reassured her.

With a sigh, she summoned her spirit and strode confidently into the banquet chamber

Kurus and Mikas both turned to greet Cora and stood agape, momentarily stunned by her appearance. She bobbed coyly, her hands at her back.

‘Evening sirs’, she smiled.

‘G..good evening Cora’, Mikas blundered. ‘A drink! Can I get you a drink?’ He marched to the brandy decanter and eagerly poured out a fresh glass and a refill for himself.

Cora swayed over, her feet kicking out the front of her dress, ‘cheers Mikas, I do mind if I don’t’. She took the glass and gulped it back.

‘Ooh! That’s the good stuff isn’t it? Fill it up, there’s a good fellow’.

She noticed his beard braiding and stroked the silky bush. ‘That suits you’, she grinned, ‘and the suit! Well, aren’t we making the effort tonight?’

Mikas pulled at the collar strangling him again, ‘aye, I thought it’d be appropriate. Not really me though. I can make an Al-Lachie suit look like sackcloth’.

‘Don’t do yourself down Mikas, you look good!’ She tugged his lapels together and brushed off his shoulders. Mikas blushed and drained his glass.

Kurus watched perturbed as Cora pawed at Mikas. His stomach churned, hoping she wouldn’t turn her attentions to him.

Suddenly everyone became aware that Recter Asmacan stood in the doorway. The squat figure bulged beneath his sumptuous crimson robe. His hands were crossed within his sleeves and the cowl hung low, shadowing most of his face.

‘Good evening Recter’, Kurus stated formally, raising his glass.

Recter bowed.

‘Would you like a drink?’ Mikas offered; already at the decanter.

The navigator raised his hand to interrupt, ‘just water please’.

‘Water? Oh. OK. I think there’s some he…ah yes here we go’.

Recter padded over to the sideboard and took the glass.

Cora approached, ‘how are you feeling now?’ She placed a hand at his shoulder and he recoiled sharply. From the cowl shadow he met her gaze all too briefly. Cora stepped back slightly, seeing in his lidded eyes a deep connection of understanding and pity. It confused her and she moved away towards Kurus.

He dressed from the recoil, ‘I’m sorry, please forgive me, I don’t like to be touched’. He’d seen into her soul at the contact and knew her better in that moment than she knew herself. He despised himself for it.

He continued, ‘i’m well thank you Miss Zondarem. Magos Shefra is a physician of great skill. The journey was…troublesome…and I was forced to expend more effort than is safe. We met a vicious aetheric-isopycnal fluctuation. The Gellar field buckled slightly and, well, we are all here’. His voice was soft and tepid, almost whispered.

‘Thanks to you then’ Interjected Mikas loudly, ‘everyone, a toast to our valiant Navigator!’

Glasses and congratulations were raised in response.

‘Have I missed something?’ Tessala queried, clicking softly in the warm ambient gold-light.

The Magos stood framed in the doorway, a slender tower of porcelain flesh, stark in a black cotton kimono. Vibrant viridian embroidery covered the garment with glowing symbols and patterns of the Machine God and at her breast was pinned a small enamel icon of the Adeptus Mechanicus. Her long white hair fell perfectly about her shoulders, framing piercing blue eyes against her pale translucent face.

‘We were just appreciating Recter’s excellent efforts on the last Warp jump’, Kurus stated flatly.

‘Yes. A most extreme occasion for you sir’, she addressed Recter, who had shrunk back against the wall. ‘I trust your ailments are healing well’.

‘Yes, thank you Magos Shefra’, he whispered.

Her eyes flicked slightly and the servitors finished their preparations, the table was now set with an exquisite silver service and adorned with flowers.

‘We are all here, excepting Sinnessaar of course. The food will be along shortly. Shall we be seated?’ At her word, the servitors made ready the chairs and everyone sat in a great rustle of formality.

‘Can’t wait’, said Cora, ‘I’m so hungry I could eat a scabby rat’.

Mikas bellowed laughter, his cheeks made scarlet beacons shining from his bushy hair. Kurus’ face cracked with a chuckle of disbelief. Even Recter and Tessala smiled wryly.

A hubbub erupted over the table as bread and wine were delivered, jests and small talk exchanged and the formal setting became more comfortable. A servitor quartet, seated behind a recessed curtain struck up a lilting baroque sonata.

A series of amuse-bouches and antipasto courses passed quickly and with wine flowing freely, belts were loosened and collars unbuttoned. Cora abandoned her hair pins completely and let her maroon matt bounce free.

Mikas swilled the dregs of his latest wineglass, sat back to stifle a belch and steady his head. He wiped his mouth and beard with the ivory napkin at his knee and turned across to Tessala.

‘This silverware is beautiful Tessala. If I’m not mistaken, iss very old in’t it? I mean, it ‘as a lovely pattern; so perfect, almos’ geometric. It reminded…reminds me of some of the material I’ve seen from work on Eustis Majorus. Perfect mathematical patterns’. He took up his cutlery again as a spiced beef course was brought in, ‘ooh, lovely’.

‘Yes. I’m afraid I’ve no idea where it came from. Kurus’ father acquired it many years ago’, responded Tessala.

‘Kurus’ family is still on Hisperus IV aren’t they? I mean, that’s where you’re from isn’t it?’ Cora piped up, flicking her enquiring gaze from Tessala to Kurus and back.

‘Yes’, stated Kurus, ‘that’s my home world’.

‘What’s it like?’ She pressed.

‘Hot’, Kurus countered. The table quietened down as the unspoken questions were skirted around.

‘Are you from there also Tessala?’ Cora diverted.

‘No, I am not from there, but I have lived there for the past two decades’.

‘What’s it like?’ She pressed again.

Tessala smiled at Cora’s persistence. The urgency of youth always amused her. ‘As Kurus says, it is hot. Hisperus IV is a harsh desert world of few people. Mostly the local population lives in cave complexes to shelter from the sun. The surface is given over to creatures far better suited to the environment’.

‘Sounds terrible’, Mikas slurred. ‘I’m from Chassa Mundi, a lovely, cool marsh world…’ he tailed off into another glass of wine.

‘So how do you know each other?’ Cora enquired.

Tessala paused, glancing at Kurus. ‘I have known Kurus all his life’.

‘She’s like a mother to me’, Kurus added.

‘Do you…she’s not your….how is your mother?’ Cora continued.

‘He never knew her Cora my dear; she died shortly after he was born. I have been with the household of his father since that time’.

A polite lull descended. Cora reached out across the table and squeezed Kurus’ hand, ‘I’m sorry‘.

Recter Asmacan pecked at his beef and watched the exchange from his cowl shadow. The thoughts and emotional waves of the gathering washed over him. Mikas’ emanations in particular were troublingly random, fuelled by the emotional turmoil wrought by inebriation. Kurus and Tessala were not lying, but they were definitely concealing a great deal. His paranoia raked at him. The foul, sibilant voice tongued at his mind.

‘Tessala and Sinnessaar are my mentors and guiding counsel; they have been all my life’, Kurus responded, not pulling his hand from Cora. He watched her slender fingers play lightly across his knuckles, and noted how hers appeared no more than a child’s against his.

His brow flexed in puzzlement. Her touch was so soft yet it fired in him feelings like electrical discharges. Did Cora possess some psychic power? How could the merest touch illicit so intense a reaction?

‘Sinnessaar is improving his condition by the hour’, Tessala reassured, sensing the worry in Kurus. ‘I suspect he will make a full and prompt recovery. That said, it must be realised that there may be lasting injuries. I am preparing a remedial program to address those challenges’.

Cora squeezed Kurus’ hand tighter, seeing the relief in his face, before withdrawing across the table as the next course was served.

‘That’s excellent news’, breathed Kurus, ‘I don’t know what i’d have done…well…we need him. When will he be back to his old self?’

Tessala raised a hand in caution, ‘that will be some time, and as I said I doubt he will fully recover. However, if the current treatment proceeds as expected he should be functioning within three to five days’.

‘Days!’ Spluttered Mikas. ‘Days? I can’t b’lieve that. I ‘ad ‘is bits in me ‘ands. It was all over the truck. Days?’

‘Mikas!’ Snapped Kurus.

‘So where do we go from here?’ Cora moved on from the flashpoint, flicking her hair subtly at Kurus. She smiled in frustration as he regarded her impassively.

‘We have the artefact. It’s not what we were expecting to find, but it’s all we have. Mikas, tomorrow you and I will begin research on it. Sinnessaar will join us when he’s able. Cora, Recter; you will take us to a safe orbit around the outer planetoid of this system. I need time to determine the next move.’

The evening continued pleasantly for hours after the last course and everyone retired exhausted. Mikas was carried to his suite by two servitors.

***

Sinnessaar hobbled back from the bench, the support braces jerking clumsily.

Cora leant over to Mikas and whispered, ‘he’s still not too steady on them things eh?’

Mikas leant back, his arms folded as he leant against the laboratory wall, ‘he’s got the wrong type of ganglions apparently’.

‘Ooh, that sounds painful!’ Cora and Mikas giggled and sniggered. Kurus glared at them.

‘OK’, Sinnessaar boomed, bringing the room to attention. ‘Watch carefully’. He flicked a switch on a nearby control box and a disc-insulated emitter pylon, pointing at the artefact, hummed ominously.

Tension filled the room. Nothing happened.

‘What?’ Said Cora.

All eyes turned to Sinnessaar who stared back. ‘Oh yes! Sorry everyone’, he flicked another switch and the chamber light flipped to ultraviolet. Suddenly, the artefact burst into a brilliant swirling aquamarine glow. Energy fields danced and lashed about visibly.

‘Wow!’ Hissed Cora.

Talessa wept at the sheer beauty of quantum fractal patterns.

Sinnessaar switched the light back to normal and turned off the emitter.

‘You see’, Sinnessaar continued, ‘by bombarding the artefact with eigenstetic radiation, it generates a dynamic quantum field’. He grinned like a child.

‘So?’ Cora asked.

‘So what?’ responded Sinnessaar.

‘So what does that mean?’ added Kurus.

Sinnessaar stared at Mikas who stepped forwards away from the wall, ‘we don’t know’.

The room perceptibly deflated.

‘But we’ve got enough now to try out the next set of experiments’, Mikas continued, ‘our tests have shown that the clay we recovered from the site was thick with Chalcedony Silicate dust’.

‘The same material as the stone fragments we recovered right?’ Kurus interjected.

‘Precisely. That artefact was also covered with it. It’s reasonable to assume that this mineral and the eigenstetic radiation are therefore linked to the artefact in some way. That’s speculation though as we can’t find any residual trace of that radiation in the stone recovered’

‘Tell me about these next experiments’, Kurus pressed.

Sinnessaar picked up a Chalcedony Silicate fragment. ‘We need more of this’.

***
A bitter gale whipped across the desolate scratch-grass plain. Black pebbles clattered under the beige vegetation, displaced up the slope by fierce anabatic winds.

‘You certainly picked a dreadful place to try this one out’, screamed Cora, clinging tightly to warm herself despite the bulky frost coat. A swarm of servitors bustled about the final preparations. Before Kurus, there stood a substantial Chalcedony Silicate archway. Encased in the lintel sat the artefact, and behind, pointing directly at it, the eigenstetic radiation emitter.

‘Forth time lucky!’ Mikas jested, holding his mitten-swathed thumbs aloft. Frost ringed his beard.

‘What if this doesn’t work old man’, Kurus cried to Sinnessaar.

‘Then we try another way’, came the croaked response. ‘I’m positive this artefact is the key’.

Mikas returned from checking the generator, having cleared the servitors out of the way. ‘OK we’re ready to go’, he screamed. ‘Fire it up Sinnessaar!’

He steadied himself against the buffeting gusts, took up the control box and flicked the emitter switch.

Instantly, the pebble black slope behind the archway disappeared, to be replaced by the image of a stone faced chamber. The four stood aghast and then broke into a frenzy of joy, shouting and laughter. Sinnessaar lost his footing and fell.

Kurus’ elation ended quickly, before the others. He glared at the image.

‘Shut it off!’ he shouted, scrambling over to Sinnessaar and punching the control box wildly. The emitter shut down and the image vanished.

Everyone sobered immediately.

‘What! Cried Cora and a panicked look took her face.

Kurus took up a vox-wand, ‘Recter, get down here’.

A response crackled over the vox, ‘Uh…me? W_y? Is th_re a pr_blem? Can I he_p from up here?’

Kurus shook his head in frustration. ‘Cora; get the drop ship up there and bring that Navigator down, right now’.

She headed off immediately, muttering. Sometimes she though he could be so rude. Would a please or thank you hurt so much?

***

Recter struggled across the pebble slope up from the drop ship landing ground. He huddled under a bulbous long coat and glanced about nervously.

His flabby jowls dripped sweat as he reached Kurus’ side.

‘Right everyone, are we all set for activation? Recter, tell me what you see. Is this a Warp gate?’

Sinnessaar fired up the emitter once more and the image of the stone faced chamber reappeared. Recter staggered backwards and stumbled over. Agony seared across his face as his third eye pulsed. His hood and cowl flopped free and his thick sweaty face shuddered in the frost.

‘Recter! What is it?’ Kurus bellowed. ‘What do you see?’

Recter grimaced at the image, prostrate on the ground.

‘Shut it off!’ He squealed.

Sinnessaar shut the emitter down and they assembled around the stricken navigator.

‘What was it?’ Cora reassured. ‘What did you see?’

‘It’s not a Warp gate. There’s no aspect of the Immaterium present there’.

‘So what is it?’ Demanded Kurus.

‘I…I…don’t have…there aren’t words to describe it. It’s…I don’t know…a bend? A distortion in the Materium reality? I don’t know. But there’s no Warp presence there, that much I do know’. Tears stained his face and spittle spattered onto his cheek.

‘Good. Thank you Recter’, Kurus rose from his crouch. ‘Cora, get him back up to the Astram’.

‘Mikas; round up all but one of the servitors and get yourself back to the ship with them. I don’t want any more casualties than necessary if things go wrong down here’.

‘Casualties? What are you talking about? I’m not going to…’

‘Just get back to the ship’, Kurus snapped.

Sinnessaar and Kurus watched the others struggle down the frozen slope.

‘You shouldn’t talk to them like that Kurus’, Sinnessaar stated. ‘We need them’.

‘I know’, Kurus conceded. They stood in silence for a few moments. ‘Fire up the emitter old man’.

***
The servitor shimmered and juddered violently as it passed between the upright pillars. The shimmering stopped suddenly as it stepped steadily into the stone chamber beyond. Sinnessaar and Kurus watched intently as it wander about, touched the walls and eventually returned to the archway.

Once again it shimmered as it passed through, back out onto the black frozen pebbles.

Both men inspected servitor for damage. It seemed perfectly fine, except for a light coating of silica dust.

‘That’s it Sinnessaar, I’m next’.

The old man pulled back his thick grey hood and scratched his wrinkled chin. Kurus could feel his mentor’s intellect racing.

‘This is a big risk my boy’, he cautioned.

Kurus looked into the gateway, stared and Sinnessaar and dropped his gaze to the pebbles, pacing uncertainly.

‘It’s got to be done’, he said, immediately kicking up a mess of pebbles and his bolted through the archway. The howl of the wind ceased immediately and the freezing whip-air was replaced by a stale, musty fug of damp rock.

Kurus turned back to see a shimmering vista; a frosted Sinnessaar; and beyond down a broken slope, the glinting brass adornments of the drop ship.

The chamber vaulted above some thirty yards at its apex, and the capstone was carved with a strange icon. It meant nothing to him. An ambient, diffused light filled the air, apparently emanating from small, dull studs patterned about the walls.

To his left, a recess framed a tunnel that led away into the diffused light. Kurus threw off his mittens and frost coat, and drew his autopistol, flicking the safety catch off.

Steadily he crept along the tunnel. Quickly, he was surrounded by the ambient light that obscured both the path ahead and the path behind. The tunnel itself vaulted perhaps twenty yards above and widened so that he could not touch both walls. Aside from his footsteps and anxious breathing the place was silent.

At intervals, a cartouche stone jutted out from the wall, bearing another symbol. Kurus stopped before one and squatted down to think. He pondered the path ahead and the path behind. He stared at the symbol. It did not resolve any meaning from his memory, but as he viewed it, he realised it, like all the other stones, was not mortared in place.

He holstered his pistol and set about the stone. His fingers bled with the effort, but finally the stone broke free. He hefted it over his shoulder and staggered back to the gateway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



#2 Redeucer

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Posted 06 March 2009 - 10:00 AM

OK, Lud.  I'm waiting for the rest of this one.  Looking forward to seeing what happens next.



#3 Luddite

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Posted 06 March 2009 - 10:31 AM

Redeucer said:

OK, Lud.  I'm waiting for the rest of this one.  Looking forward to seeing what happens next.

What do you think so far?



#4 Redeucer

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Posted 07 March 2009 - 12:58 PM

Luddite said:

Redeucer said:

 

OK, Lud.  I'm waiting for the rest of this one.  Looking forward to seeing what happens next.

 

 

What do you think so far?

I like the story line a lot.  Kurus seems a little short on personality, patience...social skills in general.  I'm looking forward to seeing how he develops.  I get the impression he has had little to no interaction with the real world and so am looking forward to seeing how he grows and matures.  I'd like to take a look into the background and see what they were trying to accomplish with the genetic engineering of him though.  A new super Astarte?  Next evolution human?  What?  I get the feeling it will be revealed eventually.  I'm curious to see where it goes.  I have some thoughts and ideas and want to see if I'm even close.

The writing is really good.  I've read published books with less skill than you have, Lud.

The story line has me interested.  I'd like to know what sent them on this quest to dig this item up.  What are they looking for?  Once again I think the information will come, I just like a little more up front.  Or maybe it would have flowed better if it started with digging the item up (that way the how and why of it could be established later), the antelion would have been a flashback (so that once again it can be developed as the story goes on).  The missing chunks of time between scenes are I think are the only things that bother me.  It breaks up the story flow and continuity.  I would have thought somewhere between the antelion test and when the object was discovered the reason for looking for it in the first place would be given.

There you go, Lud.  Hope this is helpful and not hurtful.



#5 Luddite

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Posted 07 March 2009 - 01:17 PM

Redeucer said:

 

 

 

Redeucer said:

 There you go, Lud.  Hope this is helpful and not hurtful.

 

 

 

Its certainly not hurtful Redeucer!  All criticism, especially constructive, is useful and most welcome.

I think you're right on the time-leap thing.  There needs to be a bit more exposition inbetween scene-jumps.  I guess i'm sort of influenced by the way films cut from scene to scene, with essentially 'clean breaks'.  I don't think it works on the page though so i'll have to look at that.

I think you've assessed Kurus well.  He's supposed to be 'too specialised'...bred for his purpose and therefore socially inept.  Cora is the juxtaposition to this of course and how he develops there is, as you say, potentially intriguing.

Forshadowing the artefact, and putting the training scenes in flashback makes good structural sense too.

I've got a clear idea where the story arc finishes, but i've become slightly bogged down in how i want to get there!!!  I'd really like to get this story finished and i've been struggling with the next passages for some time...4 drafts so far have been abandoned.

 

The writing is really good. I've read published books with less skill than you have, Lud.

Thanks! 

Modesty forbids me agreeing of course, but i try to write what i'd like to read...and i do get frustrated when i read published stuff and think 'ooh, that writing was a bit clumsy', etc.  Personally I think i get a bit 'over descriptive' occasionally, and i really try to wind that flaw in.

 



#6 Mgoines

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 04:08 PM

wonderful story! excellent writing that grips you and makes you want to read more! hope to see more from you soon!



#7 Luddite

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 07:29 AM

Glad you like it!

I'm working on the next installment now.

Lets see if the story goes where you think it might...



#8 Luddite

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 03:15 AM

OK, here's the next installment...

___________________________

 

The stench of burned steel filled the docking bay on the Falicus Astram as the drop ship engines cooled and crackled. Servitors bustled about, securing auspex and fuel lines and checking the brass-clad machine for surface damage.

 

Cora stomped down the alighting ramp, her arms swinging wildly as the slope took her and the others off-balance and forced them to jog a little.

‘I know Mikas! All I’m saying is it wouldn’t hurt him to be nice every now and then. Did you hear the way he spoke to me?’

Mikas struggled under the weight of the frost coat over his shoulder, and steadied himself after stumbling off the end of the ramp.

‘I know Cora, but don’t let it get to you. He’s a troubled young man I think. He doesn’t seem to understand how rude he is. You can see Sinnessaar’s dismay when Kurus says these things. I think he understands at least’.

Tessala slid gracefully off the end of the ramp, seeming almost to float beneath her red robes. She moved off to chatter with a nearby servitor, issuing instructions in a short binary burst. Her gaze never left Cora. Their eyes met and Cora snapped.

‘Tessala! What’s wrong with Kurus? Why does he speak to me like that?’

Tessala raised her slender palms to calm the bouncing anger before her.

‘I know Cora, I’m sorry. Kurus doesn’t mean these things. He was raised in a small community and is used to a way of addressing and being addr…’

‘DON’T give me that Tessala!’ Cora wagged her finger ruefully. ‘I don’t care what he’s used to. Politeness is no cost for untold gain’.

‘I know Cora. I’ll…’

At that moment, the dock vox-link chimed open and Recter Asmacan’s voice crackled and echoed, ‘Magos Shefra, we have word from the surface. You are requested to return urgently. There is a medical emergency’.

***

Sinnessaar heaved Kurus’ bulk over onto his back. His eyes widened with fear and distress as the felled giant juddered and convulsed on the black pebbles. Kurus mouth frothed and his skin cracked, caked in a white jagged dust of silicate shards.

‘Kurus!’ The old man shouted, trying to reach the youth through his distress and the biting wind, ‘hold on boy, the drop ship’s here’.

Pebbles scattered up the slope from the drop ship’s heated down-blast as it yawed and bounced to a halt on the surface depression below. Sinnessaar could see the alighting ramp already open and a swarm of servitors flooded out with Tessala at the head of the phalanx. The medical servitors clambered on all fours up the fluid pebble slope trying desperately to keep pace with their Magos as she ascended gracefully.

‘Stand aside Sinnessaar’, Tessala intoned softly, her modulated voice cutting easily through the wind.

The old man stumbled away, his place taken by a crowd that chattered softly to each other. A forest of triage assemblies ensconced Kurus’ prostrate form as he was transferred to a suspensor gurney.

Tessala assessed Kurus intently, the attendant crowd moving in concert with her will. Suddenly the gurney elevated and the servitors ushered the patient down the slope towards the drop ship. Tessala followed, turning to meet Sinnessaar’s gaze.

‘He’ll be fine’, she reassured.

Sinnessaar struggled to his metal feet, rubbed his frosted mitt through his hair beneath his furred hood and organised the remaining drudge-servitors to gather up the equipment. He wandered over to the grey stone block Kurus had dropped as his stumbled back through the gateway, and regarded the symbols upon it coldly.

***

Sinnessaar and Mikas hunched over the illuminated table in the committee chamber and debated the information laid out before them. The doors chimed softly and Cora wandered in, rubbing her temples free of stress.

‘Cora’, Sinnessaar greeted, ‘the translation went smoothly?’

‘Sure did old man’, she smiled, swinging her arms loose and rolling her neck. ‘The solar winds were a bit rough on entry, though’.

‘Is that why we had to move off the orbit?’ Inquired Mikas.

‘Yeah, the shielding would have held but its best not to risk it. Plasma blooming can fry the auspex arrays, and you don’t want to know what can happen if you get a leak into the thruster exhausts’. She approached the table and poured herself a drink of water as she spoke.

‘We’ll give it about twenty four hours before returning to ‘pebbleville’, assuming we need to?’

‘I think…’ Sinnessaar’s comment was cut off as the doors chimed open again and Kurus strode up to the table.

‘Welcome back sir’, Mikas beamed. Sinnessaar smiled his greeting also.

‘Kurus’, Cora greeted coldly, her face starched and her eyes never meeting him.

Kurus smiled, ‘its good to be back. Nothing too serious Tessala tells me, just some dermal abrasion from that silicate dust. She doesn’t think it’s caused any serious injury’.

He frowned slightly at Cora’s reaction to him. She seemed more distant than usual. He presumed she was preoccupied or exhausted from the recent Warp jump. He tried to make eye contact but she didn’t respond.

‘So!’ Kurus slapped his hands together, ‘what have we got?’

The group took up seats around the holo-table and Mikas punched up the pict of the stone Kurus had retrieved.

‘This is what we’ve got so far’, Mikas began, scratching his shaggy hair. ‘It’s an isosilicate rock of granulate granite, probably some form of grey titanite. Its thirty two by thirty two by sixty four centi-units and appears to have been worked by some method unknown to us. Even under microscopic examination there’s no surface evidence of how it was worked’.

Mikas paused, and noticed Cora trying to not glare at Kurus.

‘So’, enquired Kurus, ‘what about the markings?’

‘Yes’, said Mikas, ‘well…um…there’s very little like them in any culture I’m aware of’.

‘Sinnessaar?’ Kurus raised his brow at the old man and accepted with silent thanks the glass of water Mikas poured him.

Sinnessaar puffed himself up as he pressed back into the tall chair. A quiet descended over the room as they waited for the old man’s wisdom.

‘I’m not sure what the cartouche says’, he began slowly, ‘but I’m sure I’ve seen the script before’.

He glanced at each pair of eyes boring into him, the discomfort of expressing what he knew muscling itself out through his attempts to remain impassive.

‘This script is alien. Eldar probably’.

‘But it’s beautiful!’ blurted Cora. ‘How can something made by an alien be so exquisite? Especially the Eldar, I mean I’d heard they are nothing but degenerate pirates!’

‘Aye’, agreed Mikas. ‘I can’t see that myself. I mean the forms are very similar to the early scripts of the Proxima Centauri 3rd Dynasty’.

‘Never the less, this script is Eldar’, Sinnessaar asserted. His confidence in his assessment grew in the saying. He watched closely as Kurus reclined, stroking his chin in contemplation at the revelation.

‘Then we have to turn it off the ship!’ Mikas blustered and flourished at his hasty conclusion. ‘Do you have any idea of the penalty for possession of alien artefacts? I had a colleague who dug up a pottery sherd over on Cassis Alaba. The local Minister declared it an alien artefact and he spent four years doing hard labour in the local penal quarry. We’ve got to get rid of it!’

‘No’, Kurus barked. ‘This simply raises the stakes’.

‘Raises the stakes?’ Bellowed Mikas. ‘Raises the stakes!’ He stood sharply, slamming his palms onto the holo-table. ‘I don’t think you fully understand the…’

‘Sit down Mikas!’ Snapped Sinnessaar. ‘Kurus is right. This simply adds a layer of complication we weren’t anticipating. This was actually always a possibility, just one we were hoping to avoid’.

‘Complication?!’ Mikas frothed as he returned uncomfortably to his seat, ‘what do you mean this was always a possibility? This wasn’t what I signed up for’.

‘You are being well paid for your expertise Mikas’, Kurus reminded quietly. ‘A far better salary than I believe you’ve received for any other position?’

Mikas glared at Kurus.

‘And think of the opportunities Mikas’, Sinnessaar added. ‘Financial recompense is always useful, but I think I know you well enough now. I think you’re like me, and this line of research could well be very interesting’.

Mikas pulled at his hair, and wracked his ambivalence across his face.

‘But think of what will happen if we’re caught!’ He whined.

‘Who will catch us?’ Queried Kurus.

Cora’s heart raced. All her life she’d dreamed of gaining the charter. She’d heard stories of those blessed with the right to travel beyond the Imperial borders, to treat with aliens. She’d longed to be part of those stories, but now, faced with the reality of the alien the saturation of her culture and its hate of the ‘beasts beyond’ vied for her attention.

‘Nobody will catch us’, she found herself saying, ‘I’ll make sure of that’. Cora never took her gaze from the glowing holo-icon as it slowly circled before them.

***

The grey planet rolled across the bridge vista-screens as the Falicus Astram nestled into orbit once more.

‘OK boss, auspex readings show only residual fallout from the solar storms. We should be safe here for the next forty-eight hours at least’. Cora glowered up at Kurus whose view was fixed on the planet below.

He noted the harsh tone in her voice with puzzlement.

‘Very good Cora’, Kurus replied. ‘Sinnessaar, prepare the landing crew. We’ll head back down immediately’.

As he barked out his orders, Cora stomped off the bridge. Kurus watched her go, before turning to Sinnessaar, ‘there’s something up with her isn’t there?’

Sinnessaar nodded.

‘Well? What is it? I can’t have an emotionally unstable pilot’.

Sinnessaar remained impassive, rubbing the tension out of his hands. ‘Tessala tells me that you upset her down on the planet. Apparently she felt you were rude to her. I presume she still hasn’t forgiven you’.

‘Rude to her? When?’

‘I’m not sure’, responded Sinnessaar, ‘but perhaps you might like to make a peace offering? Apologise to the girl’.

‘Apologise? For what?!’ Kurus looked genuinely astonished.

‘Because, as you say’, Sinnessaar smiled wryly, ‘we can’t have an emotionally unstable pilot’.

Kurus hesitated, licking his lips and flexing his fingers around the arms of his command throne. He’d rarely felt apprehension as keen as he felt it this moment. He launched himself after his pilot before his nerve broke.

‘Cora!’ Kurus called after her down the plush corridor towards the descent tubes.

Cora stopped with her hands on her hips and turned to meet him, a scornful glare screwing across her pretty face.

‘What?’ She barked, taking Kurus aback.

‘Look, Cora, I just wanted to…you know’.

‘What?’

‘I just wanted…well… I just. Look I’m sorry ok’.

‘For what?’ She stood resolute, her gaze pushing Kurus’ eyes to stare anywhere but at her. He hadn’t expected that response.

‘For…you know…upsetting you’.

Cora sucked her teeth, turned and resumed her angry stride towards the descent tubes.

‘Cora, wait!’ Kurus faltered after her. ‘Damn you Cora Zondarem! Wait when I tell you!’

Cora came to attention and raised a mocking salute, ‘yes sir, Captain Von Sachen sir!’

‘I said I was sorry Cora. What more do you want?’

‘You don’t even know why you’re apologising to me do you?’ Kurus could see Cora’s eyes welling as her voice quivered.

‘Yes I do. I upset you’.

‘Fine!’ Cora snapped. ‘Apology accepted’.

With that she stormed off into the nearest tube and dropped to the accommodation deck below.

Kurus paced the corridor flexing his fists. His confusion was making him angry and he cussed under his breath as Sinnessaar and a flock of servitors marched by.

‘The boy has to learn’, thought Sinnessaar.

***

Once more the vicious ice-wind of the black pebble planet whipped across their faces as Kurus and Sinnessaar stood before the archway. The eigenstetic radiation emitter had been established once more and the vaulted chamber shimmered between the gateway pillars.

Tessala’s medical team stood ready in a nearby tin-cloth marquee, firmly weighted and sealed against the howling weather.

Kurus stepped across the threshold into the vaulted chamber once more. The diffused light from the wall studs blanketed him in a comforting glow, and carefully the giant youth discarded his frost coat. Taking out his autopistol he stalked off down the corridor. The feeling of unease he’d endure on the previous foray, seemed strangely absent and Kurus actually found the place familiar now. He stopped at the hole in the wall where he’d extracted the cartouche stone, and fingered the recess gingerly.

The still, silent air cloyed at him, but he felt now that it beckoned him on. Kurus advanced. As the light obscured the path behind, somehow he felt now it lit his way forwards. He checked his chronometer, to see that he’d been walking down the passageway for over 200 ticks.

The only sound here was what he brought with him, but ahead he could feel the silence was expanding; then suddenly he was in a large cavern. Perhaps four times the volume of the entrance chamber, the cavern shared the same architecture and vaulted to a capstone 120 yards above.

The floor of the cavern stepped gently up to a central plinth where, nestled on a dais stood a large stone polyhedron, perhaps as tall as Kurus. He holstered his pistol and cocked his head, straining to take in the full majesty of the elegant form. It seemed angular yet smoothed and graceful in one form, and each of the ten facets was adorned with carved symbols like that on the cartouche he’d retrieved earlier.

Kurus approached and gently plied his rough fingers across the polished grey stone. Somehow he felt that he could understand the symbols better by touch, and traced their elegant forms, fascinated that they led his touch so effortlessly. The symbols traced a pattern that led to the equator of the form, and where the base of each facet meshed with the others, there sat a smooth, ovoid depression.

All his life Kurus had been preparing, training, learning. He had never felt as relaxed as he did at this moment. His mind all but emptied, and only the sensations of the warm smooth stone under his fingers filled his consciousness. He felt calm, serene, light in spirit and form. The iron cables of his muscles felt more like silk strands. He smiled.

As he slowly circled the edifice, his vision resolved to the outer wall. In the far corner, a new form caught his eye and he wandered lazily towards it. Stood there, bathed in soft light stood a statue. Its form seemed human, or at least humanoid, and it stood impassive, arms at its side. As he approached it seems to have the form of a lithe suit of armour. Its morphology slender, it possessed a short body and long limbs. Where he expected a helmeted face though there was a blank form, egg-like, rising to a fluted stone plume. The head was far larger than appropriate for the body yet he marvelled at the perfection of the proportions. In the soft light, the statue was bone white. It drew Kurus in and his reached out to touch its arm. It felt like warm aluminium, and he recoiled surprised. This was no statue.

He paced gently left and right, dancing about the figure as he would an armed adversary. Though it did not move, he felt that the blank face followed him about the cavern. He found its empty gaze strangely comforting.

Kurus let out a soft chuckle and scratched his head absently.

Then his gaze panned across each wall in turn. An elegantly decorated ledge flowed out at waist height. Fluted teardrop finials dropped beneath, not quite reaching the floor. Across the upper ledge a band of carved symbols drew his eye lightly along their length and as he gazed, the top slab of the ledge softly grated back into the wall.

Kurus approached.

All along the ledge ringing the room, the receding slab revealed richly coloured ovoid crystals each nestled in a depression similar to those on the central polyhedron. Gingerly, Kurus took up a crystal and rolled it around his hands. It felt impossibly smooth and he noted that the grease of his fingers left no impression on it. A deep sea-black, he held it up to a wall stud and the light seeped through revealing a sumptuous emerald hue. The object felt warm, inviting, and the giant youth had to fight a sudden urge to rub the crystal on his face. He could feel a desire to curl up with the gem. Kurus began to hum a lilting tune beneath his breath. Its surface felt like glass, but the crystal was as light as plastic.

He retrieved another, this one deep ruby in hue. Then a thought occurred and Kurus moved quickly to the polyhedron. Carefully he placed the emerald crystal into a depression there, and as he rested it, he felt a slight pull, like a strong magnet took it from his grasp. Suddenly light flashed from the gem, a flickering plate of green light that resolved like an old moving pict-image. A collage of symbols and images scrolled across the protected light plate and Kurus marvelled with incomprehension at what he was seeing.

Quickly he pulled out the emerald gem and replaced it with another. Again a light plate projected more symbols and images. He tried more gems. All offered up their secrets to his uncomprehending eyes.

Kurus’ senses returned, and hurriedly he stuffed a collection of gems into his empty knapsack before loping back to the gateway.

***

Mikas hugged himself against the biting wind as he oversaw the last servitor push a suspensor gurney holding a storage crate back out of the gateway. He cleared the drudge-servitors out of the way and Tessala and her medical team prepared to attend Kurus as he returned also. Shortly he came into view through the shimmering portal, and fell into a juddering fit amid a cloud of white dust as he returned to the frozen pebble slope. Medical servitors attended and took him back to the drop ship.

Mikas struggled over the Sinnessaar. ‘That’s it then. The last of the crystals have been retrieved’.

‘Yes’, shouted Sinnessaar through the gale, ‘I’ll get this emitter assembly packed away. You head back to the ship with Tessala’.

Mikas stumbled off down the slope as Sinnessaar watched. The servitors packed away the equipment and man-handled it down the slope as the old man surveyed the ice-whipped terrain. Aside from the now inert archway they’d constructed, there was still no indication of any other life on this frigid rock.

Events had taken a dangerous turn with the discovery of what they’d come to call the Eldar library. He’d always known Demeter’s plans were hazardous, but Sinnessaar had not foreseen this. Humanity had spread across a million worlds and numbered in the countless billions; a vast ocean that they were but a teardrop within. Such was their quest hidden from view, but despite this he had no doubt that someone in authority was tracking them. His injuries on Qalaxatel had confirmed that.

But now, they would be exposing themselves far too much. Engaging with the alien would see them move into much shallower water. They would be easier to spot, and Sinnessaar feared this. Their crimes were already sufficient to warrant the death penalty. He fought to hide his concerns and staggered off down the slope.

***

Refreshed with a simple meal of cold meats, potato and fruit pie, Kurus and his crew adjourned to the committee chamber. Even Recter had agreed to join them, curious to view these strange artefacts retrieved from the planet below.

They settled at the glowing holo-table in a hubbub of after-dinner jollity, but all fell silent at the collected samples of ovoid gems laid out before them. Kurus sat back and watched intently as everyone took up and examined the objects. An air of awe pervaded the chamber and Kurus became aware that he too had taken a gem and was playing absently with it on the table.

Only Recter did not touch them.

‘It’s beautiful’, cooed Cora as she stroked her red gem. She rolled it in her hands, rubbed it across her cheek, breathed deep of its strange resinous odour.

Mikas studied his in silence, a worried ambivalence twisting his face. But as the light from the table below oozed through the azure object and played across his eyes, a sense of wonder filled his heart. Cora was right, he thought.

Sinnessaar scrutinised his emerald object coldly. He knew what was to come and it tarnished the wonder the others were feeling.

Tessala tasted hers with mechadendrites. Such exquisite chemical bonding had rarely passed her senses, but more, she could feel something almost organic in its nature. Her modulator clicked involuntarily as she sighed in pleasure.

Raster glared at the object before him. His flabby face twisted in horror. He could feel the life energy leeching out of the gems, and it was inhuman. He could feel the Warp-bond of psychic residue. He could sense the patterns of perception so more intense than any human psychic lattice he’d experienced. Like the terrors of the Warp, these small, innocuous jewels had life.

He stared at the jewel before him when a voice whispered softly, ‘ahh, a plaything!’

Raster jolted and recoiled startling the others. Mikas dropped his gem to the table and pushed it away, and the others put down theirs, a collective concern drawing their attention to the navigator.

‘Are you ok Raster?’ Inquired Cora, concern furrowing her brow.

‘I’m fine Miss Zondarem’, he responded, regaining his composure and adjusting his crimson hood.

‘Master Von Sachen, these objects are cursed’, Raster continued. ‘You must remove them from the ship’.

‘Really?’ Kurus retorted, somewhat surprised, ‘I find that hard to believe’.

He took up his gem and rolled it about in one hand.

‘They don’t feel cursed to me, quite the opposite in fact’.

‘Yeah’, interjected Cora, ‘they feel lovely, warm, sort of comforting’.

‘Trust me’, implored Raster, ‘nothing good will come of these foul artefacts’.

He rose sharply and bowed curtly, ‘forgive me Master. To be in their presence is painful to me. I will be in my quarters when needed’.

‘Please Raster, take a se…’, Kurus was cut off mid-sentence by Sinnessaar’s gesturing.

‘Thank you Raster’, continued the old man, ‘please take your leave. We’ve no wish to cause you such distress. We’ll take your concerns under advisement’.

Raster glared at Sinnessaar, gave a curt bow and left the committee chamber.

The remaining assembly stared at each other disconcerted.

‘He’s right’, said Sinnessaar, ‘these objects are a curse for us, but not I think in the way Raster means. These are Eldar in origin, and it would seem they hold the information we have been seeking’.

‘So how is that a curse?’ Asked Cora, now fondling her gem once more.

‘Don’t say it’, cautioned Mikas, fearing to hear the old man express the thoughts Mikas didn’t want to think.

Kurus interrupted, ‘because we’re going to have to find someone who speaks Eldar’.

Mikas winced.

‘No Kurus’, Sinnessaar responded, ‘we can’t risk the information being misinterpreted. We’re going to have to find an Eldar willing to help us’.

‘Madness!’ Shouted Mikas. ‘Where are you going to find such a thing? Great throne old man, we’re in enough trouble as it is! Just having these things on board is enough to get is a death warrant on any core world’.

Sinnessaar presented his palms to urge Mikas to sit down, ‘Mikas, I know this. Please, sit d…’

Mikas threw up his hand dismissively, ‘no! This is too much!’

He slumped to his seat, sweat attesting his fear, ‘ah, why am I concerned? There’s no such thing anyway. An Eldar willing to help us? Nonsense!’

‘There is always a way Mikas’, Kurus responded calmly. ‘Sinnessaar, you know where we can contact an Eldar don’t you?’

A silent anticipation fell like a blanket across the table.

‘No’, replied Sinnessaar softly, ‘but I know a man who does’.

***
 



#9 Luddite

Luddite

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Posted 13 March 2009 - 04:50 AM

And...the next installment!

 

__________________

 

‘I’m still mad at you’, Cora stated coldly. A wry smile crept into the corner of her mouth, but stood beside her Kurus didn’t see it. They both stared up at the exquisite amber gas giant as it slid gracefully across the viewing vista.

 

‘Still?’ Replied Kurus. His hands flexed around the brass railing he rested on. After all these months, Cora still baffled him.

‘He’s so gullible’, Cora thought, surprised at the confusion she’d become accustomed to recognise in his tone. He just never seemed to learn.

‘But I saved you’re life’, Kurus said flatly.

‘Yeah I know, but I’m still mad at you’.

They stood in silence, letting the rhythmic thrum of the Falicus Astram’s engines serenade the view before them.

Kurus rubbed the fresh scar on his chin.

‘How long until the rendezvous?’ Kurus asked, mainly to change the subject.

‘Should be any time now’, Cora responded. She glanced at Kurus and smiled at his obviousness. ‘They are overdue, but this far out on the fringe, we have to expect some variation. That’s assuming they made it of course’.

‘Yes’, agreed Kurus thoughtfully. ‘I’m sure they’ll have made it. Admiral Epirus has long held the Trade Charter, and Sinnessaar tells me he’s a man to be trusted’.

They watched the gas giant in silence again.

‘What did I do?’

‘Eh?’ Replied Cora.

‘To make you mad this time. What did I do?’

Cora shot him a cold glance, then suddenly shouted, ‘there! A ship! Another! Another!’

Kurus focussed where Cora was pointing. A fleet of ships were fast approaching from the system edge. He took up a vox-wand, ‘Sinnessaar, they’re here. Prepare the drop ship, I’ll meet you on the bridge’.

***

‘Cora, report’, Kurus barked.

‘Sixteen ships, all larger than us. The flagship is the largest vessel at the centre of the shoal’.

Kurus reviewed the data transmitted to his command pict.

‘That’s a battleship isn’t it?’

‘I think so, but I’m not sure what class. It’s huge though, easily twelve times our displacement, and our auspex is registering multiple weapon systems’.

‘Is it Epirus?’ Kurus barked.

‘Aye sir, the hails identify this as his fleet. We’re cycling through the protocols at the moment’, Cora corralled the flight servitors and collected the data streams.

‘We’ve got a vox-pict transmission’.

‘Put it through Cora’. Kurus glanced at Sinnessaar, perched tensely in his gallery seat. He nodded reassuringly to the boy.

The bridge vista flickered and the view of the gas giant disappeared, replaced by a green-hued image. The imaged face loomed over the bridge, dwarfing the crew of the Falicus Astram in the same manner that the Admiral’s fleet dwarfed the ship itself.

‘Captain Kurus?’ the craggy face enquired.

‘Aye’, replied Kurus, resting on his elbow and trying to retain his composure.

‘I am Herald Aluta. I speak for Admiral Epirus’.

‘Greetings’, Kurus offered.

Herald Aluta remained disconcertingly impassive.

‘Admiral Epirus wishes to extend his respects, and invites your delegation to meet with him aboard the Tutus Viator immediately. He also wishes to extend express greeting to Sinnessaar Wissen’.

‘We’ll be pleased to accept his gracious offer’, Kurus responded, ‘and Sinnessaar Wissen offers his thanks also’.

Herald Aluta continued, ‘we have despatched a shuttle to collect your delegation’, and with that, the vox-pict signal shut off.

‘The shuttle’s inbound’, reported Cora, ‘I’ve diverted it to the aft airlock’.

‘Sinnessaar, you’ll accompany me over to the flagship. Cora, hold the ship in relative orbit, we’ll be back as soon as possible’.

‘Oh no you won’t!’ Stated Cora indignantly. ‘If you think I’m staying here, when there’s a chance to meet a real life Rogue Trader you’re very much mistaken Kurus Von Sachen!’

She stood, hands on hips in her pilot pit, the resolution in her face brooking no argument.

Kurus glanced at Sinnessaar, who shrugged his shoulders and smiled. Kurus flicked the internal vox and stated calmly, ‘Tessala, you’ll be taking the bridge while we’re over on Epirus’ flagship’.

Cora’s smile beamed as she untangled herself from the operations cabling. ‘I’ll wear that red frock I picked up on Pilaster!’

***

Epirus’ shuttle soared gracefully towards the Tutus Viator. Its guest suite was a vision of unrestrained luxury, dressed with the finest porphyry, painted black alabaster statues, and sumptuous velvet. The gold plated servitors attended their charges effortlessly.

Kurus stood at attention before the baroque vista screen, his black dress-coat framing his muscular bulk in crisp lines. He had neatly slicked his white-blonde hair and enhanced his emerald eyes with anti-glare lenses. He supped sparingly on the Sappery wine he held in a fluted crystal glass.

Sinnessaar’s tall frame rested neatly on the edge of a pillowed Chaise Longue. His quality grey robes echoed those he once wore with the Administratum and a black felt fezza cap perched neatly in his wrinkled forehead. His brass spectacles hung from his nose in the affected scholastic style and he refused all offers but a cool glass of water.

Cora flowed about the suite excitedly, marvelling at the majesty of the décor and adornments. Her maroon curls were restrained with a gold hairclip that struggled at its task. Her deep crimson dress of thick velveteen swirled about her gracefully. Cut in the Ventenian Style, the dress covered her flesh completely, even her hands and neck, leaving only the face framed against a scarlet frill. She had accented the cloth with a simple gold pendant at her neck and a delicate chatelaine at her hip.

She joined Kurus at the vista screen.

‘Magnificent isn’t it!’ She gasped, as the shuttle travelled along the length of the Tutus Viator. The vast ship was overwhelming and more so at this close range. The gothic adornments and gargoyles that studded its surface only added to the breathtaking scale of the vessel. The Imperial architecture easily distracted the viewers from the deadly weapons nestled among the buttresses.

‘Indeed it is’, whispered Kurus.

He turned to regard Cora and marvelled at her beauty.

‘You wear that dress well Cora’, he stated. ‘Sometimes I think you belong in surroundings such as these’.

Cora grinned at him, ‘aww, thanks boss!’

Kurus frowned at her coarse tongue.

‘I’m still mad at you though’.

‘Perhaps a little less so than usual?’ Kurus ventured.

Cora embraced his elbow with both arms, ‘perhaps’, she smiled.

The shuttle rolled gently towards a bay on the dorsal spine of the Tutus Viator, offering the viewers a glimpse at the aperture about to swallow them. It appeared as a great metal maw had opened in the flank of the beast.

The shuttle echoed as the docking clamps secured it in place and the bay lights sparked to life. The unmistakable hiss of the bay pressurising filled the background and shortly the onboard servitors ushered the guests towards the exit stairs.

Kurus led the way and soon he, Sinnessaar and Cora stood on a tessellated marble deck plate surrounded by servitors that busily attended the cooling shuttle. The three stood agape at the ornate wall pillars, and exquisitely painted friezes.

Suddenly, out of the shuttle’s vented steam a delegation led by the familiar gaunt face of the Herald Aluta emerged. Aluta was dressed in a simple burgundy robe, adorned only at the breast with a heraldic symbol of embroidered gold.

‘Welcome to the Tutus Viator’, he greeted firmly with a curt bow. ‘Admiral Epirus has asked that I make you comfortable. He will attend you at his earliest convenience. Please, follow me’.

And with that Herald Aluta turned and strode away through the flanks of gold servitors that made an entrance corridor for the guests.

Kurus shot a worried glance at Sinnessaar as they followed. Cora bobbed along excitedly.

Herald Aluta led them through a series of exquisitely decorated corridors, past glass walls that revealed rooms filled with what appeared to be bustling dignitaries, or service rooms, or busy salons. The journey took in several elevator rides that ascended the massive superstructure they’d marvelled at on the shuttle journey.

Finally, Aluta stopped at the open doors of a plush reception chamber. Kurus and his party entered to be immediately greeted by servitors who offered refreshments.

‘I will inform the Admiral that you await his presence’, stated the Herald, remaining at the door, ‘he is most keen to speak with you’.

Before Kurus could respond, the Herald retired in a swirl of servitors, and the glass doors closed silently.

Their suite had a large vista screen and Cora immediately skipped over to take a look out.

‘Look! You can see our ship from here’, she exclaimed excitedly. ‘This ship is a marvel isn’t it? And that Herald chap seemed nice’.

‘I don’t like it’, said Kurus flatly. ‘Something seems wrong here. Who were all those other people? I mean, why…’

Sinnessaar calmed him with a gesture, ‘Kurus, don’t worry. Your father knows the Admiral personally. He’s someone we can trust. He has no love for the Imperium at least, and besides, we need his help’.

‘That’s what I don’t like old man’.

‘Oh, you two and your schemes!’ Exclaimed Cora. ‘Look if you’re not going to let me in on them, I’ve told you before, don’t discuss them in front of me. You know how annoyed that makes me! I mean I know we’re here to see if he knows any Eldar that might help us, but I still don’t know why’.

She stared at Kurus and Sinnessaar, and realising once again that the pair weren’t going to enlighten her, she wandered over to the buffet table laid out with mountains of food.

‘Ooh, strawberries!’

***

Raster hovered along the suspended gantry over the main cargo hold. He paced uneasily along the steel mesh walkway. His skin itched and he was sweating despite the cool atmosphere. He tried not to glare at the small pile of crates nestling under a tin-cloth tarp below, but he was looking at nothing else.

‘Mustn’t’, he muttered.

‘Why not?’ It whispered.

‘Don’t say that, you know why’.

‘Them? They’ll never know. Think of the exquisite agony. Cast them adrift!’

‘No! Silence! Torment me no more!’

The sibilant voice in his head hissed a throaty chuckle as it receded to the umbra of his consciousness.

The navigator choked back a retch and stared in horror at his flabby knuckles bleached white by his grip on the gantry handrail. He broke his finger lock, forcing it to open against the pain of his muscles, and wiped his brow dry on his crimson sleeve.

‘Why does my neck ache?’ He groaned. His teeth felt soft as he tried to bite away his fears. With a cotton kerchief he dabbed his eyes dry and blew the snot and drool from his face.

He could feel the dread in the air. So many ships nearby that were fresh from the Warp overwhelmed him, and like a child awaiting chastisement, he floundered helpless.

‘No. No, no’, he convinced himself, and suddenly craved company.

***

Mikas paced absently across the observation level behind the bridge command throne. His mind was not with his body but out in the void darting among the fleet of ships that surrounded them. He counted sixteen vessels of various displacements but none as small as the Falicus Astram’s modest 87,000 tons.

Most were constructed in the Gothic style and the massive flagship was an exquisite example of the form. Several were in the Milleri form, which was popular in the 38th Millenium. Two were of a form Mikas didn’t recognise, strangely elegant like vast iron fish, complete with fins. Eye-like markings completed the image and made him smile.

Common to all however was a crust of damage and wear that attested to ships that have seen much of the void and the Warp. The crust, perhaps no more than a perception, seemed to unify the fleet into a whole image.

Mikas approached the command throne and rested an arm on its back. He leant over and pointed to the fish-like ships.

‘What are they?’ He asked.

Tessala, sat rigid in the command seat, a perfect image of poise and grace, a porcelain statue clad in deep blue and framed with rod-straight white hair. She paused for a moment before replying, ‘I am unsure. They do not appear to conform to any Standard Template Construct of which I am aware. They are most intriguing’.

‘They look like fish’.

‘Indeed they do. They do not exhibit the pleasing geometric solidity typical of our blessed vessels. I would surmise that they are some older form, perhaps even a local variant constructed from a lost template. I would be most interested to study them further’.

Mikas frowned, ‘I thought you were Biologis Tessala. Why would you be interested in void ships?’

She turned neatly in the large seat and regarded Mikas curiously. He caught her deep azure gaze and saw there a playful amusement.

‘Tell me Mikas, you are an archaeologist yes?’

‘Aye’, he confirmed, smiling uncomfortably through his beard.

‘And as an archaeologist, do you restrain your interest to one subject?’

‘No of course not’, he conceded merrily.

Tessala returned her gaze to the vista-screens, ‘well then’, she concluded, ‘I may not mirror Magos Chattan’s focus, but I am Mechanicus’.

‘Magos Chattan?’ Asked Mikas lightly.

‘Who do you think keeps this vessel running?’ Tessala retorted.

The bridge doors chimed open and the pair turned to regard Raster as he entered the command centre. He seemed hurried.

‘You alright Raster?’ Mikas said, ‘come to take in the view?’

‘I’m fine thank you Mr Tolbek’, the navigator responded softly, scampering to his navigator chair and huddling there like a man before a fire on a frosty night.

Mikas and Tessala exchanged a surprised glance.

‘What do you think of Admiral Epirus’ fleet Raster?’ Tessala enquired as she swivelled the command throne towards him, ‘magnificent is it not?’

From beneath his sweat blackened hood the navigator scanned the ships drifting past in the void. Their surfaces seemed to crawl with horror. He focussed on one apparition skittering along the spine of the Tutus Viator, a mass of flailing flesh hooks.

In his mind he recited the rites of clarity and repeated within himself, ‘they are only after-images’.

‘Yes, magnificent’. He rocked gently on his chair. ‘They are old, and have become the Warp’.

‘Eh?’ Responded Mikas, somewhat taken aback.

Raster composed himself slightly, ‘nothing Mr Tolbek, just a Navis saying’.

‘Do you know the navigators on that fleet Raster?’ Tessala asked.

‘No’, he responded sharply, catching his throat with phlegm and stifling a cough. ‘No, I don’t. I know of them though; they are of the Al-Hajj Marthans, a peripheral grouping in the Magellan faction’.

‘A good sort?’ Asked Mikas.

‘I suppose’, responded Raster, attempting to suppress a flinch as a smaller ship crossed the vista nearby and a ghostly fanged maw darted towards him. ‘They were involved in the Yala Kantra Schism between the Magellan and Farsi lines. I understand they lost some key contracts in the vendetta, and their patriarch’.

‘Is your family in a faction?’ Tessala asked softly.

‘Yes’, said Raster, darting a pained glance at her, ‘all navigators are, well most of us. The Asmacan’s are a minor branch of the Coteaz faction, based out of…’ he winced, ‘…Des Haress-las. We’re mostly content to ply the smaller contracts. They are generally lower risk, although reap fewer rewards of course’.

‘Well’, purred Tessala, ‘I hope we rewarded you adequately for this contract?’ She smiled warmly.

Raster frowned, missing the jest, ‘yes, I’ll honour that contract as signed, although these alien complications are a cause for concern’. There were protocols within the Navis Nobilite of course, but involvement with aliens outside of a legal Trade Contract would not reflect well for him or his family.

‘Couldn’t agree more’, said Mikas, ‘really Tessala, we’re making the rope to hang ourselves with on this one. Why are we pursuing this insane course?’

Tessala remained impassive, ‘gentlemen, I appreciate your concerns, but we are following the path where it leads us. Believe me when I say that none of us would choose to do this, but we have a task to complete, and if that task means we must breach the conventions, or even the laws as laid down, then we must do so’.

‘Yeah, but when I signed on for this…’, Tessala cut across Mikas.

‘When you signed on for this Mikas, you were well recompensed and made fully aware that this turn of evens could be possible. As I recall, you raised no objection at the time’.

Mikas huffed and stroked his beard in contemplation.

‘Yeah but if I’d known we were going to be breaking laws that would get us killed, I’d probably not have signed on’.

Tessala reclined into the throne back and looked up at Mikas across her shoulder, ‘yes you would Mikas, and for all your bluster you are as keen to see where this path leads as any of us on this ship’. She smiled up at him warmly.

‘Ah, perhaps’, he conceded. ‘So are you going to tell us what we’re actually up to with all this?’

‘No’, she stated flatly, returning her gaze to the vista screen, ‘not yet’.

***

‘No I won’t’, Kurus protested, ‘I can’t! I don’t know how’.

‘Come on!’ Cora beamed, ‘listen to Sinnessaar’s wisdom. It’s not difficult, and it’s not like anyone’s watching’.

Cora pulled on Kurus’ hand to drag him to his feet, surprised at the sheer, solid, unmoving bulk of him.

‘Cora, I’m not dancing with you. I just don’t know how’.

She released his hand and placed hers on her hips.

‘Kurus Von Sachen, this is no way to treat a lady!’

‘Come on boy’, Sinnessaar goaded, ‘Cora’s right, you should…’

At that moment the glass doors to the suite opened and a troupe of servitors entered, followed by Herald Aluta.

‘Please accept my sincere apologies for the delay. Admiral Eprius will receive you now. If you will follow me’.

The ascent lifter hummed quietly as the party shifted uncomfortably in silence. From the time it was taking Kurus guessed they were heading for the top of the superstructure. Finally the lifter cushioned to a halt and the gilt doors slid open to reveal a large chamber every bit as luxurious as the rest of the décor they’d seen.

A large oval vista screen dominated the far wall and revealed the amber gas giant as a backdrop to the drifting shoal of ships. The chamber itself was a kaleidoscope of baroque gilt-work, ornate statues of cherubs and mythical heroes. A large marble table nestled in one corner, guarded by high-backed leather chairs. Plush recliners of red leather nested around casual tables or haloed secondary vista screens. A long bar staffed by servitors, and well stocked with refreshments held court to the left of the lifter column.

‘Please, make yourselves comfortable’, Aluta gestured for them to enter, ‘Admiral Eprius will join you shortly’.

The three exited the lifter and Aluta closed the gilt doors. Sinnessaar gathered drinks for each and they took a bench seat before the oval vista screen.

Cora brushed herself down, picking off stray fluff. ‘How do I look?’ She asked nervously.

‘My dear, you look exquisite’, replied Sinnessaar, ‘you were born to these surroundings weren’t you?’

The lifter doors opened and in strode a tall, commanding figure. His finery echoed the blue brocade uniforms of the Imperial Fleet, but meshed with it an intricate patterning of braids and fabric. Beneath the high-collared frock-coat, his chaleco and breeches were a sumptuous ivory, again exquisitely embroidered. Neck lace and polished black calf boots finished his trim figure well.

The man’s face was broad and direct with a solid brow that cast his piercing eyes in shadow. A long, flamboyant wave of black hair, flecked with grey at the temples, swept back from his face lending a leonine aspect that gave him an air of energy.

He carried a slim black cane, topped with a large sapphire, and wore a large ring on his left index finger, but otherwise remained unadorned by jewellery.

The group stood to attention, regarding the Admiral with awe as he strode up to them with purpose in his demeanour. He held out his cane that was taken by a trailing servitor, and disrobed his frock-coat with a swirl, that was similarly removed.

‘Welcome to the Tutus Viator my old friend’, he opened his arms to Sinnessaar and the pair embraced like lost brothers.

‘Its good to see you again Thaddeus’, Sinnessaar replied.

‘May I introduce Kurus Von Sachen’, he gestured to Kurus who stood in rigid formality, offering his hand in greeting.

Thaddeus Eprius took the giant youth’s offer and shook it vigorously, ‘a pleasure to meet you young man. Von Sachen? I knew a man by that name once’.

‘He’s Demeter’s son’, offered Sinnessaar.

‘Really?!’ Eprius chuckled, ‘never thought those animals had it in them!’

‘And who is this vision?’ the Admiral said, taking up Cora’s hand in a formal kiss.

‘This is Lady Cora Zondarem’.

Cora curtsied coyly. ‘A pleasure to meet you Admiral’, she said.

‘Be still my heart’, Eprius smiled, ‘such treasure is rarely found among the all the stars beyond’.

Cora blushed, more embarrassed than flattered, although she did see in him a brutish charm, pleasantly at odds with the refinement of his dress.

‘So friends, we are well met. Please do not stand on formality. Sit, sit, and we will talk of cabbages and kings’. Epirus snapped his fingers and servitors filled the casual table with refreshments as they took recliners at the main vista screen.

‘So tell me Sinnessaar, how is that old rogue Demeter?’

‘He’s well Thaddeus. He sends his compliments’, Sinnessaar replied, glancing at Kurus uncomfortably.

‘Are his brethren still hunting him?’ Epirus laughed.

‘It would seem so’.

‘Well, such is the life of a librarian eh? Still I’m surprised to hear he started a family, I thought they couldn’t’, he leaned over and slapped Kurus’ knee.

‘Still the acorn fell close to the tree with you eh, young Kurus. By the stars, you’re your father’s son and no mistake! It’s like looking back in time, eh Sinnessaar?’

‘Indeed’, confirmed the old man uneasily. ‘Thaddeus, I’m aware we’ve diverted you so I’ve no wish to detain you longer than necessary. Perhaps we could discuss the business at hand?’

The Admiral laughed without mirth, detecting Sinnessaar’s discomfort, ‘yes, perhaps we should’. Epirus reclined on his elbow and crossed his legs, supping brandy steadily from a golden goblet.

‘So old friend, what can I do for you?’

Kurus interrupted, ‘we have a difficult, and indeed delicate request to make of you sir. A request that we hesitate to make in light of the prevailing opinions across the Imperium. Sinnessaar assures me however, that you may be open and in a position to help us, given your extensive and unique experience’.

The Admiral drew deep from his goblet. ‘Aye, his father’s son’, his commented quietly.

Sinnessaar sat back slightly and regarded Kurus with satisfaction.

‘Admiral Epirus, we understand that as a holder of the coveted Trade Charter you will have contacts beyond the borders of the Imperium. You will have contacts that will include relations with alien breeds and cultures’.

‘Your understanding is correct’, Epirus encouraged. His eyes flicked briefly to meet Sinnessaar’s.

‘We have need of such contact’, Kurus continued, his voice or bearing never wavering. ‘To be precise, we have need of contact with an Eldar, preferably a scholar of some nature, assuming they have such things’.

Epirus placed his goblet on the low table before them and shifted in his seat, to bring his attention forward, his elbows resting on his knees. He spoke low, in conspiratorial tones.

‘This is no small thing you ask young man’, he intoned gravely.

‘We recognise this sir. The Imperium does not look favourably upon…’

‘The Imperium be damned!’ The Admiral bellowed, whipping his hand dismissively. ‘The Imperium holds little sway out here, and less so on me. That is not the problem with this request’.

The Admiral stood suddenly.

Kurus rose sharply to meet him, taking Sinnessaar and Cora by surprise.

‘I know this is much to ask Admiral’, Kurus continued, steely determination pulsing from him, ‘so know that I do not ask this lightly’.

The Admiral nestled his hands at his hips and hung his head in contemplation as he paced before the vista screen.

‘Star’s end Sinnessaar you said in your message this was serious’.

He paced again, eying the old man and Kurus in deep contemplation. Cora’s face was a paste of shock and apprehension that cut through his racing thoughts like a razor.

‘I can’t express the costs this will incur’, he stated flatly.

‘Whatever it is, we can pay’, Sinnessaar responded calmly.

‘Really?!’ Epirus responded, slightly shocked, ‘I doubt that’.

Sinnessaar retrieved a small data slate from a hidden pocket in his robe, stood and presented it to his old friend.

Epirus activated the slate, and glanced over the flickering screen. Cora watched slack-jawed as his faced turned from concentration, to satisfaction. The Admiral flicked off the slate, pocketed it, and looked Kurus in the eye.

‘Very well young man. I think I’ll be able to help you. I can provide the contact you seek, but I can’t guarantee their reaction, nor that they even offer the aid you seek. The Eldar are inscrutable beyond my capacity to express’.

‘None the less, we must deal with them’, replied Kurus. ‘Thank you for this aid Admiral’.

‘They are fickle Kurus. Don’t trust them’.

‘I will take your wisdom with me sir’.

‘Wisdom?’ Epirus chuckled. ‘Young man, even the wisest of us doesn’t know how it feels to be a fool, and if you ask me, this is the errand of a fool you embark upon!’

Sinnessaar offered his hand in thanks and the two men shook.

‘Are you sure about this my friend?’ Epirus asked tenderly.

Sinnessaar nodded.

‘Well then. I’ll make the arrangements’.

***
 



#10 Luddite

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Posted 16 March 2009 - 01:38 AM

Next installment

______________

 

The luxury shuttle rolled in towards the Falicus Astram, and as one of the Admiral’s ships slid past. The small size of Kurus’ ship made it feel somehow that they were descending into it.

 

The journey back had so far passed in stilted silence, with Cora, Kurus and Sinnessaar stood watching the vista screen.

‘Your dad’s a librarian?’ Cora piped up, trying to bring levity to the room. She was still bursting with glee at the experience aboard the Tutus Viator and was puzzled by the atmosphere on the shuttle.

‘Silence Cora!’ Sinnessaar barked, making her jump with shock.

‘What did he mean old man?’ Kurus growled.

‘Not now Kurus’, Sinnessaar chided.

‘Not now?!’ Kurus exclaimed, his teeth gritted, barely restraining his anger. ‘Why not now? What did he mean, calling my father an animal?’

‘Kurus, please, not now’.

‘Then when?’

Cora backed off slightly. She had never sensed Kurus in such a rage and he suddenly seemed terrible, a coiled spring of vicious violence. Sinnessaar appeared amazingly calm for one who was evidently the target of that violence.

‘What did he mean he thought my father couldn’t have a son?’

‘Kurus, please, there are many questions to be answered but now is not the time’.

‘Who are my father’s brethren? Why would they be hunting him?’

‘Kurus!’ The old man barked, ‘that’s enough now! Remember your training! Remember what’s at stake!’

Kurus grabbed the old man by the chest of his robe and with one hand lifted him clean off the floor.

‘Kurus!’ Cora shouted in surprise, cut off by Kurus’ rage.

‘What is at stake old man? What haven’t you told me?’

Kurus choked in pain and surprise, ‘calm down Kurus, please, there will be a time for you to know. There will…please…put me down, you’re hurting me’

Kurus dropped Sinnessaar, and backed off, the pent up rage making him flush and red. His breathing rasped through gritted teeth flecking spittle onto his chin.

‘Please Kurus, calm yourself. There will be a time to learn these things. A time for your father to tell you his secrets, but that time is not now’.

Kurus backed off and paced like a predator around the chamber. Finally his rage burst out and with a thunderous, steel-hard punch he smashed a marble statue to fragments. With the release he seemed to calm a little, ripping open his dress-coat and running his hands through his slick blonde hair.

Sinnessaar’s heart raced as his terror subsided. He would have to speak with Tessala. They needed to make some changes.

Kurus slumped onto a plush bench, his head in his hands. Cora came and sat next to him, a handkerchief at the ready. He looked up at her surprised as she took his wrist.

‘Look what you’ve done’, she said as calmly as she could muster, ‘you’re bleeding now’.

She dabbed away the blood, and was surprised to see it already clotting.

‘You’ve probably broken some bones here too. We’ll have to get you scanned when we get back on board’.

She glanced at Sinnessaar who was adjusting his robe across the chamber, and only one thought occupied her mind; ‘what have they done to him?’

***

Sinnessaar took the glass of cool water offered by Tessala and they both sat at her leisure table in the Magos’ personal suite.

‘How is the boy?’ Sinnessaar asked.

‘He has fractured the third and fourth metacarpals of his right hand. There are also compression fractures of the hamate and triquetral bones in his wrist, with of course associated soft tissue damage. The ulna shows some stressing but nothing serious’, Tessala replied coldly.

‘That’s good. Nothing that won’t heal’.

The pair stared at each other through the soft aquamarine light.

‘He attacked you’, stated Tessala.

‘Yes’, replied Sinnessaar quietly. ‘We knew the meeting with Epirus might cause some issues. I don’t think it’s be too bad’.

‘But he attacked you Sinnessaar. Remember what happened with eight and nine?’

‘I do, but you’ve scanned him yes? There’s nothing the neurochemistry to suggest similar instabilities is there?’

‘No there is not’, confirmed the Magos.

‘Look, he’s just angry that’s all. He’s trusted us all his life, and he doesn’t have the emotional ability to deal with what he perceives as out betrayal’.

Tessala frowned, ‘betrayal? That is a strong work Sinnessaar. I do not think we have betrayed him’.

‘I agree, but he may not see it that way. I’ve spoken to him and explained things at length. He’s expecting that Demeter will have a ‘father and son’ talk when we return to Hisperus; explain all the questions he has’.

‘You think this will be enough to retain control of him?’ She continued.

Sinnessaar scratched his gaunt chin and sipped his water. ‘I do. Of course, we may have to adjust his dosages’.

‘I do not want to do that as well you know. His endocrinal systems are delicate enough. And we do not really want to suppress his inherent qualities do we?’

‘You’re right Tessala. How are things progressing with that?’

‘We’re approaching five years on the accelerated growth programme, so his cervical progenoid will require removal in the next six to eight weeks. I will schedule it in to one of the regular monitoring sessions. He will never know’.

She sipped her black tea, evidently rapt in thought.

‘Sinnessaar, is there any possibility that we could return to Hisperus in that timeframe? I would prefer to not have to keep the gland in storage on this vessel’.

‘No, we can’t’, responded the old man flatly. ‘You have storage facilities on board, so they’ll have to do for the time being’.

‘He’s magnificent’, Sinnessaar chuckled quietly, ‘such strength, such focus, such rage. All he lacks is the proper mental discipline to really channel it’.

‘We have done what we can with the training programs we have. Without the monastic life and appropriate continual socialisation, we always knew this might be a problem’, Tessala responded. ‘It will likely be some time before we return to Hisperus then? Perhaps I should speak with him? Offer him some palliative information, some candid titbits to arrest his anxiety at being ‘betrayed’?’

The pair sat in silence watching the stars slide by beyond Tessala’s vista screen.

‘Perhaps’, Sinnessaar said quietly. ‘Don’t tell him too much though, we might lose him’.

‘It was good to see Thaddeus again’, the old man continued, ‘he hasn’t changed one bit’.

***

Even in the prickly cool air of the cargo bay Kurus steamed with heat. He had roped off a large area to the rear, laid a blue kota mat, and had the servitors rig up some glow lamps.

He rested on his haunches, concentrating on the bead of sweat straining to drip from his nose. He focussed on complete stillness, on regulating his breathing that strained to fill his blood with oxygen. His muscles burned, the pain stabbing at his mind to throw him off balance.

Be calm. Breathe. Be empty.

Kurus felt his hearts flutter as he calmed them and energy flooded back to his limbs through the void of his mind. There was nothing but the sweat droplet. In it he could feel a whole universe of possibility played out across the millennia.

Be passive.

Kurus drifted his focus slowly to the rough texture of the sharkskin grip of his razor sword. He could feel the nerve responses crawling up his arms to describe to him the exquisite rasp on his skin, to explain the way it will move and stick against his flesh.

The blade hummed in the ether, the cool metal back of its tip quivering a hair’s length from his forehead.

The calm exploded. Without thought, with only his muscle memory to guide his action, the young giant vaulted into a series of thrusts and strikes. The blade, an extension of his empty will, whirled and sliced the reprocessed air with lethal speed. His body moved in perfect concert, each strike made with exquisite form from a flawless balance. Each block he made was as impenetrable as iron. Each strike made a killing blow.

As his body moved in perfect, practised, vacant harmony his mind raced like a caged predator.

What did the Rogue Trader mean by calling his father an animal? Who were his father’s brethren? Why would they be hunting him? Would they come after Kurus? Was his father really a librarian? What did he mean that looking at him was like looking at his father? ‘His father’s son’? Of course his was his father’s son! Why was Sinnssaar so uncomfortable talking about his father? What was the old man not telling him? What was Tessala not telling him? Why would they not tell him? What had Sinnessaar given the Admiral to gain his compliance so quickly? Why had he lost his temper?

Suddenly his consciousness snapped. His final strike, a blow to the throat from a kneeling stance, slashed him back to reality. The blade held rigid began to quiver imperceptibly as the agony of his over-worked muscles flooded his mind. Sweat poured from him, sweet and stinging.

He stood slowly, exhaustion fighting to drag him to the mat, and settled into a neutral defensive stance. His concentration and focus returned and he flourished the razor sword in the final ‘hawate’ before neatly returning it to the scabbard at his hip.

He finished the ‘kota’ with a shallow bow and padded off the mat to a bench nearby to towel himself down.

Cora hugged her knees in the shadows on top of a large cargo crate and watched Kurus candidly. His bare torso ripped with iron corded muscle and he moved around the blue mat with a strange grace. He grunted with each swing as the blade he wielded moved faster than she could see. He seemed to dance in perfect balance and even from the distance of the shadows she could feel that each strike would kill its intended target. The display of sheer power, precision, and martial skill at once entranced and disturbed her.

Kurus swirled about the mat for what seemed like an age before suddenly stopping. He twirled the sword one last time and replaced it in the scabbard, then left the mat to wipe the sweat away from his steaming flesh.

She hugged herself more tightly, then dropped her feet over the ledge of the crate and rested on her hands.

Her movement caught Kurus’ attention, but he made no reaction. He unbelted the sword and placed it carefully on the bench.

‘Been there long?’ He enquired, never looking up.

‘No. Not long’, Cora lied. ‘You’re very good’, she continued, ‘very fast. It’s like a dance’.

Kurus raised his gaze through his brow and their eyes met. He was surprised to see fear in Cora’s eyes. Or maybe it was something else.

‘The Lamha kota? Yes, I suppose it is like a dance. It’s more for training and display really. Too energetic for real combat’.

‘What’s on your mind Cora?’ Kurus enquired, busying himself with his wind-down.

‘Nothing’, Cora replied defensively, ‘just thought you might like some company, that’s all’.

‘Why would you want to be in the company of someone you’re afraid of?’

‘I…I’m not…afraid of you Kurus! Well, maybe a little. I mean, after what happened on the…’

‘So you’ve come here because you need to talk about it, is that it?’ Kurus interrupted coldly, his steely gaze now fixed on her. Cora closed up, hugging her knees again.

‘No!’ She protested, ‘but I thought, you know…that you might…’

‘Might what!’ He snapped.

‘That you might need to…you know…talk. About what happened’.

‘No’, Kurus stated uncertainly.

Cora dropped to the deck and brushed herself off. ‘Well, if you ever need to, you know where my cabin is’. She turned to leave the cargo bay.

‘It’s just…’ Kurus blurted, catching himself and closing up again. Cora stopped and wandered back towards the halo light around the kota mat.

‘It’s just’, Kurus continued. Cora could see the turmoil writ across his face and hurried her pace to him. As she approached, the sheer animal sweat and haze of body heat nearly overwhelmed her. Kurus stuffed his equipment into the canvass training bag aggressively.

‘It’s just that I’ve done everything I’ve ever been asked to do. I’ve trained, and learned and prepared for this task my whole life. My father, and Sinnessaar, and Tessala, are all I’ve ever known. This task is all I’ve ever looked forward to. And then…’

Cora touched his iron arm tenderly, his sheer presence intimidating her, making her feel fragile.

Kurus pulled away sharply, ‘forget it!’ He growled. He took up his filled bag and the razor sword bundle and stormed off across the cargo bay.

Cora recoiled, feeling the sudden hostility, and watched him march away. She shrunk to the bench and huddled into herself.

Heroes, she decided, like adventure were very different in reality.

***

‘How are you feeling?’ Tessala enquired, removing the monitoring catheters from Kurus skin.

‘A little groggy, but I’m fine’, he rubbed his aching neck and frowned at the small, tender scar he could feel just below his hairline.

‘What’s this?’ He asked.

‘There was a small growth on you skin. I took the opportunity to remove it while you were under’.

Kurus stared at Tessala’s impassive porcelain visage. She betrayed no emotion or nuance that he could perceive. ‘Really? Nothing serious I hope’.

‘No, not at all, but I felt it was best to take precautions. I have tested the growth and it was benign’.

‘Can I see it?’ Kurus asked casually.

‘No, I’ve destroyed it already’, Tessala replied.

Kurus dropped to the warm floor of the medical bay, rolled his shoulders and flexed his back. ‘So, how am i?’

‘You are in perfect health young Kurus. The hand bones have healed well, and that Achilles tendon strain you picked up is all but gone’.

‘Good’, he replied, climbing into his cotton trousers and linen long-shirt.

‘However, that is not what I was asking Kurus. How are you feeling?’

Kurus stared at Tessala, recognition finally passing between them.

‘About what?’

‘You have not had an outburst since returning from the Admiral’s vessel?’

‘No’, he replied, averting his gaze to the floor.

‘I know it is difficult Kurus, it is for us also. Your father has much to tell you when we return, and I know he intends to. It is his wish to tell you the things you would ask of us’.

‘Please Tessala, its fine, I understand’, he lied.

‘No Kurus, let me finish. There are things Sinnessaar and I would love to tell you, but they are things for your father…well…I know it is hard now but it will all become clear once we return home’.

‘I know Tessala, really. I’ve apologised to Sinnessaar. I was wrong to let my rage get the better of me’.

Tessala busily stowed the medical equipment she’d been using as they talked, ‘I know, he…’

Suddenly the medical bay door chimed open and Mikas stumbled in holding his cheek, ‘Tessala, have you got anything for a toothache? I’ve got a right pain…ooh…sorry, didn’t interrupt anything did I?’

‘No’, replied Kurus, ‘I was just leaving’.

The youth rubbed his neck as he headed for the galley.

***
 



#11 Luddite

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Posted 17 March 2009 - 05:33 AM

Kurus strode onto the bridge and took up his seat at the command throne.

 

‘How are we doing?’ He asked brusquely.

‘We’re on long stack twelve descending into the orbital dock Tropic View. Should be about six hours before we make the bay’, Cora responded efficiently. She busied herself with the fine controls of maintaining the descent in line with dozens of other star ships, all of varying size.

The bridge vista screen was alive with activity. Endless traffic sped by, and great beaded lines of star ships radiated away from the orbital platforms. Among the great shoals waiting in high orbit the sanctioned drop ships, maintenance tugs and customs cutters whorled and darted about their business.

Against this hubbub, the glowing backdrop of the hive world Meggido spread its great light trails and patterns across its surface and up to the void in great spires of orange. The sheer mass of humanity was palpable even through the void and the assembled crew of the Falicus Astram stared in awe at the sheer beauty of the scene before them.

‘You wouldn’t think there were this many ships in the whole Imperium would you?’ Whispered Mikas.

Tessala smiled wryly.

‘Are they still refusing us drop ship access to the surface?’ Kurus asked Sinnessaar over his shoulder.

‘Yes’, replied the old man, ‘only members of the Adeptus Terra are granted that access here it would seem. I’ve tried to begin the necessary administrative processes for descent to the surface, but they are even denying that until we dock’.

‘Fine, we have time’, Kurus replied. ‘Is the baggage prepared?’

‘Yes’, said Sinnessaar, ‘distracted by the brute form of a Mechanicus gun cutter that slid by before them.

‘How’s Raster?’ Asked Cora.

‘I have sedated him’, replied Tessala, ‘he is quite comfortable down in the medical bay. It would seem so many ships fresh from the Warp in one place was too much for him to bear’.

Hours passed until finally the Falicus Astram descended to dock at the designated bay on the orbital dock Tropic View. Cora cycled down the power and navigation protocols, and ordered the engines to be shut off before joining the rest of the crew at the fore airlock.

The transfer hall of the Tropic View was a broiling mass of humanity swarming between great towers of luggage. Direction and instruction boards flashed and flickered, a confusing mass of information in High Gothic, Low Gothic, the local dialect, and several other languages common to this sector.

Kurus led the party steadily towards what appeared to be the transfer desks for passage to the surface, before they squashed against the knot of people queuing to do the same.

‘This is insane!’ Cora screamed over the deafening roar of voices and announcements in the hall.

‘This is a hive world’, commented Mikas ruefully, stroking his beard in apprehension.

‘Everyone, give me your documents’, Sinnessaar insisted, collecting up the various forms of Imperial identification offered. He was adorned in his finest Administratum robes, the black fezza cap, affecting a jaunty angle beloved by the experienced bureaucrat.

‘What are you doing?’ Mikas shouted as he handed over his documents to the old man.

Sinnessaar did not answer as he pushed himself away through the crowd. The others shrugged at each other as he disappeared from view.

Perhaps an hour later they had taken up seats on their baggage had not seemed to move. Kurus had become increasingly uneasy. He was sure there were uniformed men taking an uncomfortably close interest in him. Suddenly, Sinnessaar reappeared through the wall of sweating, agitated and bored bodies.

‘Gather your gear’, he roared, ‘come on, we’re through’.

Hastily they collected their cases and pushed through the crowd towards a large gated arch. The yellow neon sign above flashed a bold text they did not understand, but as they passed through the crowd blessedly fell away. They all sighed at the relief from the crushing press of bodies, and rubbed the ringing from their ears.

Sinnessaar gathered them to the side of the wide grey carpeted transit tunnel and handed back their documents.

‘Right, here are the tickets for the surface shuttle. It leaves in thirty minutes, so we’d best hurry’.

‘How’d you manage that Sinnessaar?’ Marvelled Mikas. ‘I thought we were there for the day for sure!’

Sinnessaar smiled and tapped his nose. They hurried down the tunnel.

The surface shuttle was cramped a dilapidated as the party nestled into their seats. As it descended from the Tropic View Tessala realised its wasn’t just the leather seats that were threadbare. She could feel the engines shuddering and grinding as the aging and poorly maintained power turbines rattled against the strain. She gripped the arm of her seat, unsure that they would make it down in one piece.

Cora gabbled to Mikas excitedly as they strained to see the hive spire they were heading to through the tiny vista port. Kurus shifted uncomfortably, crushed into the seat that was far too small for him. After only a few short minutes the message chimed across the passenger cabin that they were approaching the Spire Phasdivum landing platform thirty two.

Kurus rubbed his knees as they stood in the reception chamber. The shuttle lifted off silently beyond the sealed vista dome, and Cora giggled as the pilots evidently struggled with some vicious cross-winds. The other passengers bustled through the final transfer checking desk.

‘Well!’ Cora slapped her hands together for emphasis, excited at the prospect of spending some time off the ship, ‘what are we doing now?’

‘This far up the spire, we should find some decent accommodation’, Sinnessaar explained. ‘I think I can see a likely candidate just over there’. He pointed at a baroque-fronted hotel across the bustling plaza beyond.

***

‘Three days!’ Cora exclaimed, as she lounged on the plush sofa of the entertainment centre in their luxury suite. Mikas flicked absently through the viewing options on the media screen.

‘I know Cora, you said’.

‘Three days we’ve been trapped in her. I want to go out and see the city! That’s it!’ he slapped the sofa as she leapt to her feet, ‘I’m going out and I don’t care what they say’.

She swept her hair back into a tail, took up her shoulder bag and flounced out towards the hotel suite door. Mikas watched her go, enjoying the sway of her green suede skirt, and entertaining idle thoughts of relieving his boredom with her.

Kurus entered from the dining chamber, where he, Tessala and Sinnessaar had been in quiet discussion for many hours.

‘Where’s Cora?’ Kurus enquired.

‘She went out’, responded Mikas absently, paying undue attention to the images flickering across the media screen.

‘Out? Where?’

‘I don’t know. Out of here’.

‘Why didn’t you stop her?’ Kurus asked anxiously.

‘I’m not her keeper Kurus’, Mikas responded, ‘she got bored and went out’.

Kurus grabbed his beige crop jacket from the wall hanger and headed purposely for the door.

‘When did she leave?’ He called back at Mikas.

‘About five minutes ago, came the reply.

Kurus stepped out into the plaza, busy with the arriving and departing knots of people and their baggage. He scanned the crowd briefly, noting two provost stations. There were a series of other accommodation hostels and hotels, a ring of eateries on the mezzanine floor above and a row of market stores across the rear facing. Kurus raised himself above the crowd on a light post and scanned for a familiar face. He saw none, craning his neck for a better view. Suddenly just entering a descent lift he caught the matt of maroon hair through the field of heads.

Kurus stormed through the crowd, dodging and weaving towards the lift tube that descended to the level below.

Kurus stepped out of the lift amid a spilling crowd, and scanned the scene before him. A luxury parade of stores lit like an avenue of crystal, sparkled and dazzled the senses. Lilting choral music piped across the hubbub, and a soft perfume filled the air.

A green iron buttress vaulted away to the ceiling nearby, its pierced fill offering a ladder up. Kurus climbed to get a view cross the scene and scanned the crowd for Cora. The swelling mass of shoppers and strollers were an evident throng of mismatched humanity, drawn from worlds across the Imperium, they sported all manner of styles and luxuries. They were an interstellar community in the vaulted heights of the spire.

Kurus spotted Cora at the window of a nearby clothing store, and made his way through the crowd with haste. He slowed himself at the disapproving glares and muttered comments of the assembled nobility and wealthy elites he flowed past, not wishing to attract the attentions of the provost.

As he ascended the viewing steps to where Cora was admiring the finery beyond the glass, he could see she was talking to two young, burly, but well attired men.

‘Cora’, panted Kurus, feigning a lack of breath, ‘there you are my dear’.

‘Kurus?’ Cora exclaimed, somewhat surprised and concerned to see him.

He scanned the faces of the two men as she spoke his name. Though they tried to hide it, he could see a flash of recognition in their eyes.

‘This is Willem Harcourt, and James…um…Mayview?’ She checked with the youth who nodded agreement.

‘Yes, James Mayview. They were about to accompany me on a promenade along the vista walk over their’. She grinned at Kurus hopefully. ‘Would you care to join us?’

‘My apologies gentlemen’, Kurus said, ‘I’m afraid we have to be going’.

He grabbed Cora’s elbow and gently pulled her away from the two men. His eyes met the man introduced as Willem Harcourt and in them he saw glassy indecision. Kurus tensed almost imperceptibly, flexing his fists, and setting his jaw.

James Mayview responded, ‘My apologies sir, we meant no offence. We merely wished to escort the lady on a pleasant walk to view the cloud fields out to the west’.

‘Kurus!’ Cora protested, whipping her arm away.

‘That won’t be necessary’, Kurus stated coldly, ‘but thank you anyway’.

The men backed away from Kurus’ gaze, and Harcourt glanced across the crowded avenue. Kurus followed his glance and saw a large cloaked figure watching the engagement from afar.

The two men bowed a shallow curt bow and moved off through the crowd.

‘Just what do you think you are doing?’ Cora seethed through gritted teeth.

‘Come on Cora, we have to get away from here’, he responded, ‘we’re being watched’.

‘Don’t be silly!’ She protested, as he steered her back towards the lift.

‘Quiet!’ Kurus snapped. ‘The cloaked figure over there’.

Cora followed Kurus’ eyes and saw a large figure moving away quickly.

‘Who is he’? She asked as Kurus guided her into the lift.

Back in the hotel suite Kurus gathered everyone at the dining table.

‘Right everyone, Cora’s already told you, but there is a group of people watching us. They’ve been out there ever since we docked with the Tropic View I think, and now they know my name’.

‘And mine’, piped up Cora.

‘Mikas, Cora’, continued Kurus, ‘ I know you’ve felt like prisoners here, surrounded by such sights outside, but this is the reason I wanted us to remain here. I suspected this’.

‘So, what now?’ Asked Sinnessaar.

‘We know there names too’, offered Cora, ‘perhaps we could find out where they are?’

‘They are unlikely to have used real names Cora’, Kurus responded, ‘but perhaps it’s worth looking at. Sinnessaar, can you do some digging, see if those names crop up in any local systems?’

Sinnessaar nodded his affirmation.

‘We’re ready to begin the expedition, but I think we’ll delay until Sinnessaar completes his investigation’.

The old man headed out to the media system while the others assembled took a break and gathered refreshments. Kurus headed to his sleeping chamber and returned shortly with a large case.

He slapped it onto the dining table and popped the lock-latches. Within were a series of weapons. Cora and Mikas stared at them wide-eyed.

‘We’ll be heading to the lower levels of the hive’, Kurus began, ‘so you’ll need some personal protection. Here’, he continued, passing pistols around, ‘these are las-pistols. They’re simple, easy to use, won’t jam on you and should drop whatever you hit. They also have a lot of shots which will be important where we’re going. We’ll be away from supply lines for some time I suspect’.

Cora handled hers gingerly, feeling its light weight and comfortable grip. It seemed to fall into her hand naturally. Mikas held his practically, opening the venting chamber, and checking the power laspack. He slapped it back into the butt, and checked the weapon was made safe.

‘You’ve handled a pistol before?’ Kurus enquired.

‘When I’ve had to’, replied Mikas. ‘Sometimes fieldwork takes you into dangerous territory. I’ve shot a few lizards, nothing serious’.

‘Well, here’s hoping you won’t need these’, Kurus continued. ‘If there’s any trouble, leave it to me. These are just in case’.

Tessala didn’t take a weapon. Cora handed her a pistol.

‘No thank you dear’, she said, her voice modulated to a soft tone, ‘I will not need such things’.

Cora shrugged.

Sinnessaar returned from the media suite and shook his head.

‘Sorry Kurus, there’s nothing on those names. There are surveillance systems but their output is code-locked by the Adeptus Arbites. I couldn’t break through’.

‘Then we go blind’, Kurus responded grimly. ‘Everyone be careful. Talk to nobody you don’t have to, and stay alert’.

They each took up their backpacks and readied themselves for the journey.

‘Where are we going?’ Asked Cora.

‘Down’.

***

‘It stinks here’, complained Cora quietly.

‘I know’, agreed Mikas, ‘but I think its only going to get worse’.

The group crouched among the massive rusted piping, getting welcome respite from the wall of bodies bustling past.

‘Eat your rat’, instructed Kurus, smiling wryly.

‘Rat’, cursed Cora, ‘surely we could find something better!’

‘There’s mould-weevil’, replied Sinnessaar, ‘or corpse starch’.

‘Eeew…’, Cora screwed her face up in revulsion as she bit into the burned rat on her stick.

Mikas pointed to a nearby stall, strips of meat sizzling over a hot plate, ‘you could try some of that. He claims its beef’.

They all eyed the fat, filthy vendor suspiciously.

Kurus returned to his rat, ‘unlikely’, he commented.

The heat was oppressive and the stench of unwashed masses mingled with rotting plaster and rusting metal.

Sinnessaar wiped the grease on his filth-crusted canvas coat, and splayed out a paper map he’d purchased.

‘Seven days now, and according to this, that tube ramp over there drops us down into the upper levels of the underhive’.

Mikas slapped the hand of a filth-crusted urchin away from his rat.

‘Get out of it you dirty beggar!’ He hissed. The skeletal boy scampered off through the throng across the metal plated courtyard.

They each braced themselves as a deep metallic rumble suddenly echoed through the walls. None of the denizens of this place seemed to react.

‘I’ll never get used to those’, grumbled Cora, wiping greasy rust flakes from her hair. ‘Seven days to get this far. How much further to our destination’, she asked, chomping the tough rat meat in her cheek.

Sinnessaar glanced at Kurus, ‘I’m not sure. We’ll need to get a map once we enter the underhive. This one doesn’t go any further’.

‘At least those people don’t seem to have followed us’, she offered optimistically, shaking her head in response to a cobweb itch.

‘Don’t be too sure’, Kurus cautioned. ‘We’ll need to be even more vigilant once we descend’.

‘Kurus is right’, agreed Mikas, ‘I had a friend who worked on some excavations in an underhive once. According to him, they are usually lawless hell holes’. He swigged the last of his water to wash down the rat. ‘We’ll need to keep an eye on the locals down there I suspect’.

‘We’ll need to stock up on water again too’.

There was a collective murmur of agreement.

‘It’s been a good journey so far though’, said Cora.

Again there was a murmur.

‘Except the quake up in the recycling levels’, cautioned Mikas, ‘that was pretty rough’.

‘Aye’, agreed Kurus, ‘it certainly loosened the bowels’.

Cora slapped him playfully, ‘eew! Not while I’m eating my rat thank you’.

They all laughed, the levity lifting them out of exhaustion.

‘I still think it was better than the meat market up on level four sixteen’, countered Sinnessaar.

Mikas laughed heartily, ‘aye some of those pigs looked very long to me’.

Cora and Sinnessaar laughed knowingly.

‘What do you mean?’ Kurus responded, with a baffled look.

‘But I did rather enjoy the hydroponics terracing on that detour we took around the ruptured power centre. It was good to see natural light again, and some of those vegetables were huge!’

Mikas chuckled, ‘aye, you can’t beat a huge vegetable every now and then’.

‘Mikas! For goodness sake’, Cora nudged him coyly.

‘Actually, I might have a huge vegetable here in my po…’

‘That’s it’, shouted Cora and launched herself at Mikas wrestling him to the ground. The others belly-laughed and pelted the wrestlers with rubbish.

‘Right’, concluded Kurus, ‘I think its time we moved on. Tessala, check out that access shutter. Sinnessaar see if you can acquire a map of the levels below. You two, we’ll see if we can purchase some food and water for the next stage.

They zipped up their backpacks and headed off into the bustling market courtyard. After a short while, they congregated at the access shutter that capped off a tunnel descent into the underhive.

‘What have we got?’ Kurus demanded.

‘Our informant was accurate’, responded Tessala, ‘this access way is neither guarded nor permanently closed off. It is however locked with a fractal seal, which I presume is the reason it is considered secure by the mid hive authorities’.

‘Can you open it?’ Kurus pressed.

‘Yes, the coding is complex and mutable, but I should be able to decipher it and release the mechanism. It is heavily rusted, but not enough to hold it closed. The only factor is time, and I cannot estimate how long that will be’.

‘Get started’, ordered Kurus, turning to the others. They offered up their open back packs, stuffed with wrapped rat meat, tinned fruit, some fresh vegetables, and even a box of sugar sweets. They had also gathered a good stock of water that weighed them all down heavily. It was all slowly turning purple from the purifier sticks they’d all dropped into their supplies.

‘Map?’ Kurus asked.

‘Only this’, said Sinnessaar, offering up a stained cloth covered in scrawls. ‘It’s supposedly an old map of the three levels below this one. The chap I bought it from claims to have been down there in his youth. Apparently those levels were clear of too much trouble’.

‘We have to assume that information’s out of date’, stated Kurus.

‘Agreed, and I wouldn’t rely on this map either, but it’s the best we have’.

‘OK, while Tessala works on the lock, let’s get out of this bustle and study the map’, Kurus ordered. The group moved into the space by the jutting access cover, hunched down around the map that Sinnessaar laid out.

Several hours passed and although Kurus and Sinnessaar continued to memorise and discuss the data on the rough cloth, Cora and Mikas had long since lost interest and took to watching the seething mass of people about them.

‘Could never live in a hive’, Mikas said. ‘It’s just awful. Hot, no real light, terrible food, relentless crowds and a lack of privacy that makes me shudder’.

‘Agreed’, stated Cora. ‘I mean look at that man over there! He’s relieving himself into a drainage grill in front of everyone. It’s just not civilised!’

‘I don’t understand how these places work either’, continued Mikas, stroking the grit out of his matted hair. ‘I mean, how does the food make it down here? It’s been three days since we saw daylight up on hydroponics’.

He retrieved a bright red vegetable from his pack and held it in a steeple of fingers before them.

‘I mean, how does this get down here, and remain so fresh? I can’t believe this many people’s needs are met by the local food production systems either, so I guess there’s a lot imported. How does that make it down here?’

Cora shrugged. ‘Best not to think about it Mikas’, she responded absently. ‘However it happens it does seem to work’.

‘What makes me wondered’, she continued, ‘is what do all these people do?’

‘Well, we passed those manufactories a few levels up’, responded Mikas. ‘I presume they work there’.

‘It’s been surprisingly peaceful so far though’, suggested Cora. ‘I’d heard these hives were hotbeds of crime and violence’.

‘Yeah, although I think we’re likely to see more of that in the levels below here. Don’t worry Cora. When the trouble starts, just find a safe place to hide’.

‘Are you going to be my guardian in powered armour?’

‘No, responded Mikas, I’ll be right beside you. Kurus will protect us both!’ He beamed a smile and Cora joined him.

‘There’s less of you to hide now anyway’, Cora jested, patting his stomach.

‘Aye, I’ve had to tighten my belt two notches since we started this little expedition. I think it’s the lack of alcohol’, he smiled.

Suddenly a ring of steam hissed from the access cap. It creaked and squealed a metallic protest as the circular cap swung slowly open for the first time in an age. Curious locals stopped in their tracks and watched in amazement.

‘Right, lets get going before the locals lynch us’, said Kurus.

The cap juddered as it reached the fully opened position above, and the hubbub of the crowd dulled as more stood to watch.

‘Everyone set?’ Asked Kurus as he checked his own pack and exchanged reassuring glances with everyone.

A wet ‘crack’ pierced the hum, followed immediately by a whipping hiss.

Mikas collapsed immediately amid a mist of blood.

‘Mikas?’ Cora screeched.

Three more hissing dry cracks burst on the metal wall behind them, a fragment slicing the back of Cora’s hand.

Before she could react, Kurus had dropped to one knee and levelled his laspistol into the crowd.

Time turned to treacle as she watched his pistol flash three times, the lime-white beams lancing into the chest of a man dressed in a mahogany brown battle suit. The assailant crumpled like a marionette with its strings cut, and with a jolt time returned to normal.

‘Everyone, down the tunnel! Now!’ Kurus barked.

Tessala and Sinnessaar disappeared, but Cora dropped to Mikas screaming, ‘Mikas, get up! Come on!’

He lay crumpled on his back, quivering. Blood spattered from his mouth as he sucked through the wet gore for breath. His glassy eyes darted about in panic and shock and his hands jolted in spasms.

Kurus grabbed Cora by the strap of her pack and with a swift move threw her down the tunnel. She struck its sloping side and slithered away out of view.

Two more bulky figures emerged from the crowd, adorned in mahogany and brandishing ugly bolt pistols. Their barrels flared and hissing streaks cracked around Kurus as he hefted Mikas onto his shoulder. He turned and fired a volley of lancing green into the crowd towards the attackers before vaulting through the looming iron cap. It was slowly closing over, and as he stumbled down the tube way, the cap clanged shut behind him.

The access tunnel descended a short way onto a rough iron platform where the others waited. Panic and fear masked their faces in the half gloom. Tessala left the control panel and pushed her way to Mikas as Kurus laid him on the deck.

Mikas gargled and groaned. The Magos was suddenly surrounded by snaking biologis mechdandrites that assessed, sampled and administered frantically. She turned him onto his front to find the bloody entry wound. She cut away the backpack and cotton shirt to reveal a tattered wound large enough for a fist to enter, just below his shoulder blade.

‘Help him Tessala!’ Cora screeched, held back by Sinnessaar. Kurus knelt by the Magos, keeping one eye on the access way and his weapon at the ready.

After long minutes, she sat back on her haunches. A mechadendrite needle snaked into his blood-slicked neck and fed a clear morphia liquid into his system.

‘He’s not moving!’ Cora exclaimed. ‘Help him!’

‘He is dead’, stated Tessala coldly.

‘No! He can’t be!’

‘The explosive bolt shredded his left lung, punctured his heart, and perforated his diaphragm and stomach. There also seem to be fragments in his oesophagus and up near his…’

‘Tessala!’ Sinnessaar interrupted, ‘that’s enough’.

‘Even with a full medical suite, I would not have been able to save him. The damage is too severe’.

A stunned silence descended on the group, only the background thrum of the hive about them impinging on the shock.

‘But he was just there!’ Cora shouted. ‘I was just talking to him! He can’t be gone!’

She dropped to her knees and shook Mikas by his shoulders. ‘Wake up! Wake up!’

‘Not like the entertainment picts is it?’ Kurus stated bitterly, before striding back up the access tube.

Sinnessaar moved to the handrail along the edge of the deck plate and peered out into the gloom of the chamber below them. A rickety stairwell descended to what appeared to be a raised network of iron walkways that connected a series of corrugated dwellings. A confused mass of buttresses, pillars, stanchions, and makeshift props vaulted to the ceiling above and a web of ad hoc power cabling threaded through the chaos like the rigging of a primitive sailing ship.

The old man took out a scoping picter auspex and scanned the way ahead in detail. He tried to shut out Cora’s sobbing.

Kurus jogged back down from the closed cap, ‘we have to go. I think they’re planning to blow the door’.

He opened Mikas’ backpack and began to decant the food and water into his.

‘Here, take this’, he offered what would fit to the others, who filled their packs also.

Cora responded in stunned silence, tears burning bright fleshy streaks through the grime on her face. Kurus took Mikas’s laspistol and tucked it into his belt.

‘The way down is over here’, offered Sinnessaar, and the group moved off.

‘Wait!’ Cora exclaimed. She scrambled back to Mikas and took the ring he wore on his left index finger.

‘Cora! Come on!’ Kurus shouted.

‘Wait’, she replied feebly, ‘w..w..we can’t just…we can’t just leave him here. For the rats’.

‘I agreed’, said Kurus, ‘but what can we do? Come on, we have to get going’.

Sinnessaar cupped Kurus’ shoulder and whispered, ‘she’s right, we can’t just leave him to fall into enemy hands’.

Kurus nodded, and they returned to the deck plate.

Sinnessaar leaned over the railing and pointed straight down, ‘there, directly below us. There’s a chemical pool own there. It might not be the best way to lay him to rest, but it should keep the rats off’.

‘O…o…ok’, agreed Cora.

Kurus lifted Mikas’ body and dropped it into the darkness below. They heard a distant splash, waited for a moment and then moved on.

As they four jogged along the bouncing, rickety walkways, hollow eyes stared out at them from the shadows. Flickering volt-lamps and burning braziers cast their shadows like ghosts up into the rafters above.

***

‘A tin of fruit’, Cora stated flatly.

‘That’s it?’ Kurus asked wearily, ‘that’s the last of the food?’

‘Yep’, she replied, dropping her head between her knees as she reclined against the shattered rockcrete slab that held the rubble off above them in the deep gloom.

‘We’re down to the last bottle of water too’, Sinnessaar stated.

‘How’s the cut?’ Kurus asked.

Sinnessaar rubbed the makeshift bandage on his forearm. ‘Not too bad’. He took out the bulky auspex scanner and flicked on the screen.

‘According to this, the destination is about a mile over that way’.

‘Through Skraver territory’, Cora sighed. ‘It might as well be on another world’.

‘Our options are reducing by the hour’, agreed Sinnessaar. ‘Unless we find a route around, we’re going to have to make out way through’.

‘We tried that’, protested Cora, ‘and look what happened’.

They all tensed and shrunk back into the recess as a vicious growl sounded in the darkness beyond their low-light lamps.

Kurus scratched his head, picking flecks of filth from his greasy hair. He suddenly became aware of a pair of eyes staring out of a dark crevice above them. He whipped out his pistol with a jolt, surprising the others, but a pair of palms offered up before the eyes.

‘Friend! Parlee, parlee!’ the face whispered. Kurus lowered his weapon.

A small, skeletal figure unfurled itself slowly from the crevice above, descending into the recessed shelter to join the group. Dressed in a loose-fitting tattered leotard tied it its waist with a slim cord, the only possession it carried was a small blunt knife. It appeared to be a young man devoid of flesh and caked in rubble filth. His head was badly shaved bald and his blue-white skin dotted with sores and scrapes. He seemed an apparition, a living corpse.

‘Piet’, he offered his bony hand in greeting. Kurus shook it, engulfing the youth in his bulk.

‘Kurus’, he responded.

‘Through the Skraver caves you go?’ Toothy youth queried quietly.

Kurus nodded.

‘Piet knows ways. Piet helps’.

‘Why?’ Enquired Kurus, cautiously.

Piet grinned and hissed a laugh through his teeth.

‘You gives Piet fings’.

‘What do you want?’ Kurus asked.

‘Foods’, he replied pointing at the tinned fruit, ‘and rollings wiv her’.

He leered at Cora.

‘Foods’, Kurus restated, ‘and this’. He held forth Mikas’ laspistol.

‘Deal!’ Piet said quietly.

‘After we get through the Skraver territory’, Kurus promised.

‘Deal’, Piet agreed, a disappointed look on his face.

‘Yous following’, he continued clambering up through the rubble.

‘We’ll never get the backpacks up through there’, Cora said. She looked at Kurus. ‘We’ll never get you up through there’.

‘Piet’, Kurus called up and the spidery boy dropped down again.

‘What?’

‘We can’t follow you up through there. Do you know any other ways?’

Piet eyed them suspiciously, before hissing a laugh again.

‘Yous too big. To old! Piet knows other ways through pipes. Yous following’.

He scampered off across the rubble and the party followed as quietly as possible. Sinnessaar struggled behind and Kurus stopped regularly, calling Piet back.

It was not long before Piet led them to a rusted pipe, perhaps a yard across. The party removed their backpacks and squeezed in after him. Even through this pipe Kurus struggled, his massive physique barely squashing in.

It was the longest two hundred yards they had yet travelled down the hive and more than once panic set in. Kurus was stifling a scream of pain and cramp at the effort of forcing his bulk through when they fell out into a collapsed cavity of steel and rockcrete.

Piet crouched on a jutting girder and giggled at the four figures as the heavy a collective sigh of relief from the pit below.

‘Scums’, Piet hissed in delight, clapping his hands together in a jerking glee. ‘Piet is better’.

As he recovered, Kurus looked up at their skeletal guide and asked, ‘where to now Piet?’

‘Across the hangers’.

Kurus scrambled up out of the pit and over the lip the ground dropped away hundreds of yards below. The far wall of the depression was alive with life and hearth fires. It appeared to be the side of a housing block sheered off at an angle and rendered into a cliff of boxes, each now occupied by humanity. A multi-levelled network of walkways and platforms suspended from above or propped on pylons from below stretched across the void connecting the community to various access points.

‘Skraver city’, hissed Piet. He clambered up towards the cracked ceiling and beckoned them to follow. Stretching across the height, partly hidden among a mass of hanging debris and cascades of filthy water, a-framed girders offered a precarious bridge through the gloom.

‘I can’t make that’, puffed Sinnessaar.

‘I’ll carry you’, stated Kurus. ‘Here, he pulled out a rope rig from his back pack. Everyone, tie yourself to me. If you fall, I’ll catch you’.

Drained empty of thought or question, they tied themselves to the young giant and clambered up onto the hanging girders. Sinnessaar fell immediately and hung suspended from Kurus’ bulk. For hundreds of yards Kurus struggled across, eventually carrying both Sinnessaar and Cora until finally they dropped onto a ledge beyond.

Piet squatted with his arms stretched out across his knees and watched the broiling mass in the firelight below, while Kurus, Cora, Sinnessaar and Tessala collapsed in a shattered heap, gasping for breath, their muscles burning.

Kurus rose first, took a last sip of water before distributing what remained between the others.

‘That way. Safe now’, Piet gestured. ‘Give Piet fings’, he demanded.

Kurus handed over the tin and the pistol, and Piet clambered back across the girders with his prize.

Cora sat up and untied the rope bonds.

‘I thought you were going to kill him Kurus’, she stated wearily.

‘I should have’, he responded dryly. ‘We could have used that fruit. Sinnessaar, how are we?’

The old man rubbed his sore ribs, bit raw by the rope, and fired up the auspex. ‘The site is close now. Lets hope the information on this location is accurate’.

‘I’m sure the Admiral wouldn’t cross us’, Kurus affirmed.

The group followed the ledge into a collapsed tunnel that staggered away through a mess of rubble down towards an open sump. A filthy pool that gave off an acrid stink tinkled in the gloom as various falls of liquid splashed their way down from above.

Sinnessaar checked his auspex. ‘This is the location’, he whispered, hushed by the cavernous atmosphere of the sump.

‘Good’, Kurus echoed as wandered aimlessly, staring up into the inky cracks above. ‘Set it up’.

Sinnessaar retrieved a small bone white device from his pack. He unbound it from the silk covering and glared at its elegant form. Gently he placed it on the ground and depressed the small stud on its upper surface. The stud blinked slowly with an ice blue light.

‘What now?’ Cora whispered.

The four stared at each other through the pensive umbra.
 



#12 Demo

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Posted 23 March 2009 - 11:10 AM

I'll just chime in here and say that I've enjoyed this immensely. So far you have IMHO managed to avoid the curse of excessive info-dumping, something that's far too common in fanfics, yet there are enough tidbits for us to start piecing together what's going on. Mikas death was unexpected, for a while it seemed like you were hinting at a burgeoning relationship between him and Cora, which could have been interesting (especially Kurus reaction). But I guess that's not happening now.  And Kurus turning out to be something like a highly illegal astartes clone was not unexpected. He does'nt seem to have a Black Carapace though, so I guess he won't be running around in marine power armour any time soon? But then again, given the nature of this mission that would probably be rather unwise.

Keep 'em coming.



#13 Luddite

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Posted 23 March 2009 - 01:05 PM

Cheers for the feedback Demo

Demo said:

I'll just chime in here and say that I've enjoyed this immensely. So far you have IMHO managed to avoid the curse of excessive info-dumping, something that's far too common in fanfics, yet there are enough tidbits for us to start piecing together what's going on. 

Interesting comment.  I agree and have tried to 'drip feed' the story through the natural progression of whats going on, rather than falling back on too much exposition which is as you point out, rather dull.

So what do you think is going on? 

Demo said:

Mikas death was unexpected, for a while it seemed like you were hinting at a burgeoning relationship between him and Cora, which could have been interesting (especially Kurus reaction). But I guess that's not happening now.  

Indeed, that was toyed with for a while, but was never going to happen really.  I agonised over thwich character dies at that point, and finally the hammer fell on poor old Mikas.  Wierd really since hes the character i personally identified with the most!  Hehe...

That said, theres a fair bit left unwritten so far so the hairy chap might make a reappearance in a flashback now and then...

Demo said:

And Kurus turning out to be something like a highly illegal astartes clone was not unexpected. He does'nt seem to have a Black Carapace though, so I guess he won't be running around in marine power armour any time soon? But then again, given the nature of this mission that would probably be rather unwise.

Indeed.  Its not really that sort of story.  In fact, rather bizarrely for a 40k tale, its remarkably light on actual violence don't you think?

What do you think of that?  Does it lose something essentially '40k' for the lack of power armoured killers and chain fists? 

Demo said:

Keep 'em coming.

Will do.  I'm on a bit of a hiatus at the moment (painting up my Saxons for Warhammer Ancient Battles).  I'm also doing some research for the next chapter as i'm not really an 'expert' on these pesky Eldar...i want to get them right, with the right feeling of 'alien'...the first few drafts have been scrapped as i didn't like the way i imagined them...watch this space though...



#14 Demo

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Posted 24 March 2009 - 04:18 PM

Luddite said:


So what do you think is going on?

Oh my, I think I might have spoken too soon. It's early in the morning here and I'm suffering from coffee deprivation, so this is probably not very coherent.
Kurus father, obviously a former member of the Adeptus Astartes (possibly a psyker? he was mentioned as being a 'librarian'), has somehow managed to get into a position of authority without being exposed for what he is. He has spent considerable time (decades at least, possibly centuries) putting his plans together, and has gathered an impressive array of allies to his cause. A high ranking adept, a Magos of the AdMech and he has also had contact with a Rogue Trader (and former admiral in the Navy?). Admiral Epirus knows Sinnessaar well, and he knew Kurus father too. They are all connnected to each other, which again makes it clear that whatever "Demeter Von Sachen" is doing, he has been doing it for a very long time and has created an extended network of allies and contacts. He has also amassed considerable wealth and power (only the rich and powerful can casually buy starships and deal with the Navis Nobilite, not to mention setting up an illicit cloning program).
But why? If Demeter really was a marine librarian, it's not too farfetched that he might have stumbled over knowledge and secrets that are considered heretical but hold promises of great power to those who posess them. It could have been that pursuit of forbidden knowledge that eventually forced him to flee his own Chapter (they couldn't have parted on amicable terms, as they are still hunting him). So he leaves and strikes out on his own, sets up his own power base and creates Kurus to use as a proxy in his quest to find whatever it is he is looking for. As this has turned out to be something related to the Eldar I'm thinking...maybe something to do with the Black Library? If knowledge is power, then the Black Library is the ultimate price after all.
Of course, this will probably turn out to be wildly off the mark...

Luddite said:


Indeed, that was toyed with for a while, but was never going to happen really. I agonised over thwich character dies at that point, and finally the hammer fell on poor old Mikas. Wierd really since hes the character i personally identified with the most! Hehe...
That said, theres a fair bit left unwritten so far so the hairy chap might make a reappearance in a flashback now and then...

Really? At least his death has made sure he won't become a Mary Sue character then.

 Luddite said:


Indeed. Its not really that sort of story. In fact, rather bizarrely for a 40k tale, its remarkably light on actual violence don't you think?
What do you think of that? Does it lose something essentially '40k' for the lack of power armoured killers and chain fists

I certainly don't think so, since I'm of the opinion that the 40k-verse has more to it than Dezmondesque 10 foot giant super soldiers slaughtering their way across the stars. Secret societies, forbidden knowledge and ancient things best left undisturbed are, to my mind, just as much part of the setting as the more iconic über marines. The latter just get more screentime because they happen to appeal to GW's marketing demographic, which mostly seem to consist of teenage boys with too much spare cash and time on their hands (I should know, I used to be one of them).
It might be light on violence, but when it happens it's swift, messy and brutal. And that's the way it should be IMHO. In that regard Mikas sudden death was very good. It just serves to illustrate that no one is safe. Stories with protagonists who wade effortlessly through wave after wave of bad guys without a single scratch just aren't very interesing in the long term. If the outcome is never in doubt there's no tension and no reason to care.

Luddite said:


Will do. I'm on a bit of a hiatus at the moment (painting up my Saxons for Warhammer Ancient Battles). I'm also doing some research for the next chapter as i'm not really an 'expert' on these pesky Eldar...i want to get them right, with the right feeling of 'alien'...the first few drafts have been scrapped as i didn't like the way i imagined them...watch this space though...

Yeah, seeing Eldar portrayed as a bunch of arrogant humans with pointy ears tacked on (or even worse, enlightened and benevolent good guys) is rather galling. 'Getting into' the mindset of an alien culture isn't an easy thing to do. I don't think you will be committing those particular crimes though. I'm looking
forward to to your take on them.
 



#15 Luddite

Luddite

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Posted 30 July 2009 - 06:51 AM

 OK, long time coming but here's the next installment...

 

‘How much longer are we going to sit here?’ Cora whined. ‘It’s been hours! This heat is killing me!’

Kurus wiped the sweat from his brow, hoping his irritation with Cora would wipe away as easily.

‘We stay until we get what we came for Cora’, he stated wearily.

‘It’s not happening’, she retorted. ‘Whatever it is, we’ve wasted our time down here. If we head back now, we should…’

‘We should what?’ Kurus cut across her curtly.’ We should what? We’ve no water and no food. We’ve expended all the energy we have getting down here. Sinessaar won’t make it back across the girders. Mikas gave his…’

The memory cut Kurus’ anger short, and twisted his face with guilt.

‘What about those people back there in the cavern?’ Cora countered. ‘They must have supplies. Why don’t we go speak to them? They could help us.’

‘Cora!’ Kurus growled, jolting to his feet in a steam of sweat. ‘We are here. This is where the path has taken us. We wait, and that’s an end to it’.

Everyone sat again, an uneasy exhausted hostility broiling between them in the stifling sump-fug.

‘Is there any more water?’ Sinnessaar croaked.

Nobody answered. Kurus inspected his empty canteen.

The gloom flickered. Over near the blinking artefact a dim azure light began to dance across the surrounding rubble. As they watched, a silent ice-white light shuddered into existence, shrouded in a pulsing aquamarine umbra.

A dull silence drowned out the acid falls and distant rumbling of the hive, pressing on their eardrums and throbbing through their sinuses. Cora’s eyes watered and prickled. Sinessaar’s nose bled freely. Kurus backed away instinctively, wincing at the stabbing pain behind his ears.

Tessala rose gently to her feet, entranced by the glow. Her form slowly mutated into a horrific cloud of snaking tendrils, probes and auspex pods. Her eyes glowed blue in sympathy with the emerging light and whispered litanies of Omnissial ecstasy fluttered from her chattering voxophagus. Her hands upraised and flexed, grasping at the ephemeral light patterns that danced before her.

Suddenly, with a muffled pulse, the light flashed across the whole sump, stripping away the gloom and filth with a startling brilliance. The wave front washed across Kurus in an instant, and as it raked his skin he felt every follicle bend to its pressure. As he languished in the momentary sensation of falling the light washed back drawing him off balance towards its origin. Kurus leered and hung in the frozen light. He glanced at Cora who wavered with her head back and her eyes closed. She groaned softly.

Nausea gripped his throat as Kurus realised there had been no silence. The air thrummed at his senses and split with a burnt crackle. The scintillating white core before him enlarged, pulse upon pulse, to a shard of brilliance that stretched impossibly from the below the ground to the lofty heights above. It spread across reality like cracked glass. The umbra about the shard swirled into a vibrant turquoise frost that bathed the chamber. Energy discharges crackled between the light-shard and the sump surfaces.

The four stood enthralled as the illumination seemed to settle in place. Cora flashed an excited smile. Sinnessar mopped the blood from his face. Tessala recovered her composure and retracted her appendages.

‘It’s beautiful’, whispered Cora in a drunken sway.

As they watched, dark shapes began to bob in the shard, lancing shadows out into the sump. The shapes quickly coalesced into a form, and that form grew larger.

‘It’s a man!’ Cora stated, suddenly realising the image before them.

‘No. Its not’, stated Kurus flatly. His hand rested tautly on his holster.

Suddenly the light breached and the glowing shapes became a form with startling clarity. From the shard stepped a tall figure; humanoid but impossibly lithe, like a man stretched and distorted.

Kurus squinted at the creature’s face, a grim parody of humanity, with pinched features across a smooth pale frame. Finial ears sat flush to its head, merging into its tightly bound hair that vaulted above in a cascading top knot. Most unsettling of all were the eyes; shining black beads set wide across the face that lent a final veneer of disquiet. It seemed a carved icon of lifeless marble more than living flesh and Kurus could see nothing familiar, nothing understandable in the creature’s expression.

His gaze danced across the figure to take in its intentions but he found no clue in its stance, no raw comprehension in its physicality that might inform his response to it.

The figure stood adorned in layers of flowing robes and wrapped cloth. In the turquoise glow, strange and disturbing images and sigils cascaded down the figure’s robe. A fluted staff, topped with an icon of painful geometry, nestled gently in the fingers of its left hand.

The creature met Kurus’ gaze and an age passed as the two glared across the sump. Kurus saw nothing, felt nothing from the figure. Had it been a statue he would have felt more connected, buts is black eyes were empty pools.

Finally, the figure spoke, a powerful, fluctuating tone filling the air and startled Kurus visibly.

‘Oh’tcha’.

Kurus glanced at the others uncertainly.

‘Greetings’, he responded, slipping his hand away from his holster.

The creature’s face remained a mask.

‘Tl’u ma elpham’, it stated, its head tilting slightly. It blinked.

‘I’m sorry’, Kurus replied, ‘we don’t understand’. He flourished his hand about his ear unconsciously.

‘Eth y bekh ma mon-keigh’, it responded. It blinked pointedly. ‘My word of you tongue is problem. Will come?’

‘You speak High Gothic?’ Kurus smiled, surprised. ‘Greetings, I am Kurus’.

‘Glee tings. I am Ahlya Tey Hlham’hmal Lo Alaitoc’. The creature raised its free hand in a delicate posture as it spoke.

‘Ah Leeah Tay…what?’ Kurus struggled.

The creature blinked.

‘Ahlya. I am Ahlya’.

‘Greetings Ahlya’, Kurus continued, trying to stifle his scowl. ‘This is Sinnesaar, Tessala, and Cora’.

‘Glee tings’, the creature said, returning its hand to its side.

‘We understand you are an associate of Admiral Eprius?’

‘Yah’, Ahlya responded, ‘Hltlahhl Epirus is know to us’.

‘The Admiral said you could help us’, Kurus continued.

‘You want?’ Ahlya responded.

Kurus squinted at his effort of comprehending how the creature spoke with such volume while barely moving its thin mouth.

‘We have a store of objects from your people. They contain information. We want you to tell us what’s in them’, he pressed cautiously.

The creature’s hand slipped more tightly around its staff but otherwise it made no visible reaction.

‘I do this you return objects’.

‘Agreed’, Kurus stated firmly. ‘We’ll also tell you where we found them’. He glanced at Sinessaar who rustled in discomfort at the bargain.

‘Yah’, Ahlya replied flatly.

The creature gracefully dropped to its haunches, holding its knees tight, and took up the bone object before it on the floor. Kurus and the others watched intently as the creature manipulated the object in one hand, deactivated it and slipped it beneath its robes. It stood without effort, returning to its former stance and blinked.

Behind, the shard slowly dimmed. The turquoise glow dissipated and the sump-gloom returned. The base rumble of the hive and the splashing acid fall framed the uneasy silence.

Tessala stepped forward to Kurus’ side.

‘Greetings Ahlya Tey Hlham’hmal Lo Alaitoc, I am Magos Tessala Shefra of the Adeptus Mechanicus Departmento Biologis. Welcome to Meggido’.

‘Glee tings Magos Tessala Shefra of the Adeptus Mechanicus Departmento Biologis’, Ahlya responded. ‘What is Meggido?’

‘This world is Meggido. It is a human hive world within the Imperium’.

Ahlya craned up at the ruined architecture above and about the sump.

‘Human. Yah’.

Ahlya gave no expression that Tessala could discern.

‘Ahlya, we have a vessel in orbit where we have the objects Kurus spoke of’.

‘We go’, Ahlya said.

‘Yes’, responded Tessala, ‘but we are near the bottom of the hive. Above us, the city extends nearly ten miles. We have no way to return. We expected…actually, I am unsure what we expected…from you’.

‘You have vhal lh-to for vessel’.

‘Vallatto?’ Blurted Cora, who had slowly drawn in to stand beside Kurus.

‘Dhe. Vhal lh-to’, Ahlya responded. Ahlya’s hand traced a strange gesture.

‘Al tl’u ma…where is vessel?’

‘In orbit’, confirmed Tessala.

‘Fah, fah, fah. Where is vessel?’

‘Coordinates?’ Cora interjected. ‘You mean coordinates?’

Cora retrieved a data slate from her thigh pocket and brought up the location data of the Falicus Astram. She offered the slate to Ahlya.

‘Here. Our ship is here’.

The lithe figure took the slate and regarded the flickering ruby screen intently before rotating the device itself to inspect its form. Cora took it back gingerly and deactivated the screen.

‘We go’, Ahlya stated firmly.

Ahlya stood resolute in the gloom as the exhausted humans gathered their remaining possessions and assembled ready for the long trek ahead.

A sanguine glassy blister on the stranger’s staff began to glow brightly. Kurus started and shook his head as his vision blurred and reality lost its edges. He motioned to speak, but no sound would come. His senses distorted and his head filled with concussive pain. His giant frame staggered back but he felt no movement in his limbs. In his stillness he felt himself bob and yaw like a boat adrift and at the mercy of an ocean. About him the blurred figures of his companions seemed to waver and judder.

Suddenly the disorientation ceased. Cora yelped, startling Kurus to life. The sump-filth was gone and in its place the plush surroundings of the banquet chamber aboard the Falicus Astram coalesced.

‘What?’ Cora stuttered.

Ahlya stood before them resolutely calm, and blinked. The staff blister dimmed away.

‘Teleportation’, fluttered Tessala in awed astonishment. ‘Such precision!’ Her auspex tendrils lapped at the quantum residue before it faded completely.

Kurus squeezed his fists tight, draining his angry surprise and indignation away.

‘Thank you Ahlya’, he mustered through knotted jaws. ‘Cora, get us underway. Sinessaar, arrange quarters for our guest’.

***

Recter hunched behind the corridor bulkhead, his flabby seat floored on the hard carpet and his knees brought up to his chest. His crimson cowl shadowed his face and he picked excitedly at the hem of his Magyar sleeve.

‘No!’ He giggled, flecking spittle across his hands. ‘No, I told you! We mustn’t. Not again.’

His mind throbbed with effort as the Navigator struggled to keep at bay the alien energy filling his Empyrean senses. He had spent the morning in self-abuse, unable to contain the debased emotions the Eldar beast elicited from his subconscious. His sibilant angel had been quiet for once though he could feel it brooding in the darkness at the edges of his mind. It almost felt like a coming storm, or a predator stalking him through the umbra. He didn’t like it.

Instead his mind had been wracked by cascading thoughts of lust. Lust for flesh; lust for food; lust for sensation; any sensation. His loins were bruised and deep slices crossed his torso. His throat rasped with stomach acid from his copious vomiting. He had been glutting and purging but still could not sate his hunger. Had it not left his gut, the wine and amasec would be splitting his head now.

He chattered and gibbered as his senses swept over the stones once more. Though it pained him, he could not resist. The Eldar was a different matter. Like a child afraid of his father’s wrath his mind darted and danced away from this alien presence. There was power like raw Warp in it and he feared his mind would finally shred there.

Through the kaleidoscope of horror that lurked about him, Recter focussed his attention on a beacon of humanity. Strong, warm, raw emotion throbbed out and as he latched on to it, tears welled down his clammy cheeks.

‘Cora’, he burbled, clambering to his feet. Wiping the fluids from his face he lurched towards her chamber.

Cora sobbed and huffed quietly as she watched Mikas on the pict-screen. Days before planet-fall at Meggido they’d decided to take a tour of the accessible reprocessing chambers, treating it as a holiday. It has been a great way to unwind from the long journey and Cora had laughed more than she could remember for years.

In the short months they had known each other Cora had grown very fond of Mikas. The others seemed unconcerned with his loss so she kept her composure around them, but here in her chambers she could release her grief. She needed a hug and wished Mikas were here.

The soft door chimes cut across her indulgence and Cora hurried to compose herself.

‘One moment’, she called, drying her face and buttoning her blouse. She slipped into her house shoes as she bustled towards the door.

‘Recter! What brings you to my door?’

The short flabby figure, shrouded in crimson, shuffled uneasily and picked at the rubber door seal.

‘Can I come in?’ He asked, brusquely swerving past into Cora’s room.

‘Well..I…’, she protested, ‘I suppose so’.

Recter perched on the edge of her recliner, gnawing at his fingernails. In the soft light Cora could see the sweat bead on his hands. She also saw the blood.

‘I’m sorry Miss Zondarem. I had to come. I can feel you, you see’.

‘Feel me?’

‘Your pain. Your grief. Your loss. It’s overwhelming’.

Recter spoke without regarding her, rocking gently in his seat and sucking spit across his teeth.

‘I just wanted to come and see if you are alright’.

‘Um…I’m fine Recter. I’ll be fine’.

‘I know you needed him Miss Zondarem, Mr Tolbek I mean. His loss has left you alone hasn’t it? Exquisitely alone. Empty. Isolated’.

Recter rose from his perch, juddering and tumescent beneath his robes. His stubby fingers reached out towards her and Cora recoiled. Recter seemed almost animal to her. His cowl slipped slightly revealing a wet grin. No, not a grin; a foaming leer.

‘My dear, I feel it in you; the pain of loneliness. The selfish, maudlin, morose grief! How dare he die! How dare he leave you when you needed him so!’

Recter pinned her against her bureau, corralling her, but so careful not to touch. She could feel the prickle of his close presence just beyond her flesh. She could smell his spiced breath and sweat musk. His leer seemed distorted, his teeth sharp. And from beneath the cowl an azure glow raked across her, filling her whole being with a terrifying sense of falling.

‘Recter, stop! You’re scaring me!’ Fresh tears stained her cheeks as she pushed hard against the oak behind her to escape his attentions.

‘Scaring you? My dear, you have no idea. If I wished I could show you horrors that would stop your heart!’

Recter drew away back across the room, and headed for the door. He stopped and glanced over his shoulder, a single eye glinting at her.

‘I came here to offer my condolences; to give my sympathies and should you need it, a shoulder to cry on. This is how you reciprocate?’

Cora shivered as her endorphins and emotions swirled out of control.

‘Let me tell you Miss Zondarem. If you think you’ve suffered loss? If you are afraid? If you feel alone? You are wrong. A time is coming and you will look back on today and long for its return. Von Sachen has sealed the fates of all with that abomination’.

Cora curled on the floor sobbing as the Navigator padded out of her chamber.

Recter hobbled quickly down the corridor towards his own chambers, dodging a sanitation servitor.

‘I told you’.

‘Stop it! I shouldn’t have said that’.

‘Yes you should. You felt it didn’t you? Delicious was it not?’

‘No! I went to help’.

‘You know that’s not true. You went to feed’.

‘No. What are you?’

‘You know’.

The sanitation servitor quietly watched the babbling figure shuffle away.

***

He could feel age wracking him now. Since the injury Sinnessar had increasingly felt his decrepitude and degradation despite the ministration of the geriatric nanites in his blood. His bones had long settled as he lay face down, naked on Tessala’s treatment table. He felt tired and impossibly relaxed.

Medical instruments whirred about him and the clicking of Tessala’s attention to his spine links played a strangely satisfying melody over the Lailan Aria lilting in the background.

‘My dear Sinnessar, you are not falling asleep are you?’

‘Mmm?’ croaked the old man, ‘no not really. How are the implants?’

‘The humeral actuators suffered minor stress fracturing but that is easily repaired. The neural interfaces at the lumber region also suffered dislocation, particularly with the sciatic nerves. It is nothing that cannot be repaired. In fact I am almost finished’.

‘Good’.

Tessala’s mechadendrites probed Sinnessar’s biological telemetry as she worked. The Magos marvelled at his condition. The geriatric nanites he had implanted were of inferior design but he remained remarkably well despite their deficiencies and his age.

As she worked in close on his spine links she continued, ‘has there been any meaningful contact with the Eldar since it came aboard’?

‘No. It hasn’t yet left its chambers. Kurus spoke briefly yesterday morning and I understand it wished to prepare for the Warp journey. It said we will meet once the journey is complete’.

‘I see’.

Sinnessar began to rise to his elbows, the better to talk.

‘Please Sinnessar, remain prone. I am almost finished’.

The old man laid flat once more and continued, ‘they seem to dislike the Warp, these Eldar. Do you remember that curio Caleb Fayd kept on the Gethsemene?’

‘Yes. Do you think our guest will react so poorly?’

‘I hope not’.

‘That said Sinnessar, I must confess to being less than fond of Warp travel. Being in close proximity to Recter with the treatment he requires is most disturbing’.

‘I’m sure it is, but is it the Warp or Recter that disturbs you?’

They both chuckled.

‘That is it. The repairs are complete. You may dress now’.

At a thought Tessala withdrew the medical instruments. Sinnessar groaned as he slid off the table and dressed.

‘Have you seen Cora?’ He asked, buttoning his robe.

‘No’, replied Tessala idly, ‘have you?’

‘Not since she set the servitor net to take us out of the system to the jump point’.

‘The galley servitors have been taking food to her chambers. Perhaps I should visit her?’

Sinnessar brushed down his chest to flatten his robe into a better fit.

‘Perhaps. She was close to Mikas. Maybe we should get Kurus to speak with her?’

‘He needs to practice difficult social situations’, Tessala pondered. ‘Yes, I will ask Kurus to speak with her’.

***

Colour has form. Sound has form. Humans perceive it as an unconscious resonance of the order of reality. In the vast cavern of the Falicus Astram’s main plasma drive this natural resonance was held in contemptuous contradiction. The blue hues of ice and cold held no association. Instead the ice-blue glow of the plasma engines filled the air with a stifling heat. Yellow lamps competed where they could, in the gloomy recesses of the labyrinthine pipes, or the sumps and shielded access tunnels, but they were candles against a sun. The mind shattering din of mechanisation held no association either. Instead the eternal, penetrating thrum of plasma power, the piercing crackle of energy discharges, the deafening hiss of gas venting and the throng of countless workers brought comfort and harmony to the servants of the great engine. The din that would cause insanity brought only pleasure to the ranks of the engineers. Even on a ship as small as the Falicus Astram the workers were dynastic. The confines of the engine room were all they had ever known. It was all their ancestors had ever known.

Magos Alfa Chattan sat erect at his command throne. A web of telemetry cables penetrated him and his glass eyes flickered as the mass of data filtered through his brain.

The engines sang their quiet song to him. Propulsion systems hummed, atmospheric processors lilted, communications architecture chattered like excited children. Through it all like the soft babble of a cool brook, the multitude of servitor minds and subordinate voices mixed with the data interface inputs to smooth the cacophony into a symphony. Like a maestro, Chattan orchestrated the marvel of the Omnissiah and his world moved to his thoughts.

A discordant note struck him suddenly.

Chattan rose sharply to his feet, the tangle of cables jostling and rolling about each other in protest.

‘What?’ He asked firmly, confused.

The bustle of management staff and committee-servitors on the grill platform about him stopped in shock. The Magos rarely spoke. He had no need to.

‘Holy en-Djinn Magos!’ Exclaimed Engin-Seer Binas, ‘is there an error?’

Chattan glared at the Tech Priest, his lenses flaring and the telemetry tubes shivering in consternation.

‘No. No error’.

In Chattan’s mind, the inharmonious voice grated. Its organic countenance jarred against the blessed data streams of his consciousness.

‘The Gellar generator’, it whispered, ‘check it. Strengthen it’.

Chattan stepped forward slightly, away from his throne and towards the bank of control tables surrounding the throne platform. The assembled tech-court backed away as one, surprised and cowed at the Magos’ motion. Chattan caught himself and faltered.

‘Binas!’ He barked, ‘divert maintenance teams to the Gellar Generator. Check it. Strengthen its output’.

Engin-Seer Binas glanced nervously at the assembled command coterie. All were shocked that the Magos issued the orders with his flesh. Direct cogitation control was innate to them.

‘Yes Magos’, the Tech Priest responded curtly. The commands transmitted through the data net and instantly the work began.

Magos Chattan gingerly resumed his seat at the throne as the disquiet subsided amid the thrum of activity once more. Within sixteen ticks he was aware that the Gellar Generator had been operating with a hidden feedback fault. The corrections would increase the Field strength by one fifth.

***

Cora finished the meal at her table, and swilled the last mouthful down with a sharp citrus soft drink she had grown to like while on board. Tessala insisted everyone drink it to ward off Void-wasting. Entertainment media droned in the background, half watched. She chuckled at the comedy show, and felt grateful for its distraction. The automated journey would soon complete and she would need to take the pilot chair for the Warp-transit. That bastard, Recter would be directing of course so she needed all her strength to work with him.

Her chamber door chimed softly, and she gathered the silk house robe about her.

‘Who is it?’ She called softly.

‘It’s me’, Kurus replied. His voice seemed curt and forceful, but a little uncertain.

‘One moment’.

She gathered up the dinner plates, tidying them on the service tray, quickly lit the scent-oil burners, shut off the media screen, and tousled her hair.

The door slid open and Kurus started slightly to find Cora greeting him with a broad smile. He frowned slightly. It looked painted on.

‘Can I come in Cora?’ He enquired softly.

Kurus was dressed in a satin hanfu of rich plum hue, patterned with ivory flowers that tapered from his left breast to his knee. Cora could smell the sweet orange scent and damp hair of a man freshly bathed. As he passed, she noted that his white-blonde hair was freshly cropped.

‘Ah, you’ve eaten’, he stated. Cora sensed disappointment in his bearing.

‘I was going to invite you to the banquet chamber for a meal’.

‘Sorry boss’, Cora replied. She wasn’t sorry at all.

Kurus slapped his thighs uncomfortably and glanced idly around the room. He noticed picts of Mikas and Cora half hidden on the bureau. He sat on her recliner in the warm amber glow of a reading light and regarded Cora firmly. She swayed across the room towards her cabinet and poured two glasses of drink. She drank deeply from hers as she sashayed across the room to hand Kurus his.

He raised his hand to refuse but Cora’s gazed stopped him.

‘Drink it’, she instructed. ‘Its Pomacian brandy, you’ll like it’.

Kurus took the glass and sipped the sweet liquid. Cora was right.

‘I’ve got some seed cake around here somewhere’, she commented idly.

‘That would be nice’, Kurus affirmed.

Cora retrieved the cake from her table and curled up on the recliner next to Kurus. He took a piece and consumed it with gusto.

‘Very nice’, he mumbled. Cora wiped sticky seeds from his chin with the edge of her pink robe.

‘We haven’t seen you for a while’, Kurus stumbled.

Cora stroked the glass stem, her gaze fixed firmly on it. Even Kurus noticed her pointed attempt to avoid eye contact.

‘No, I needed some time’.

Cora fell silent. Kurus didn’t know what to say to fill the void, but felt that he should respond. He began several sentences, none of which made it to the first word.

He raised his arm across the back of the recliner and Cora snuggled into him. Kurus was hard and male, more than any man she’d met, and it filled her with comfort. They sipped their brandy.

‘You loved Mikas?’ Kurus asked gently.

Cora shifted upright and tucked her ankles in beneath her.

‘Yes. No. I don’t think so. Of course I loved him, but not in that way’.

Kurus frowned. He had never spent much time in the company of women; none in fact now that he thought about it. There were concubines back on Hisperus IV of course, but these were perfunctory couplings at best; a way for him to relieve his tensions. He had certainly never considered talking to any of them, enquiring of them. They were simply another part of his physical regime.

Cora was the first woman he considered that he had known. The only women in fact, except Tessala, and he realised that he enjoyed her. She was wild and unpredictable. She seemed impenetrable, irreverent, free and unknowable. She spoke in riddles, and not just semantic riddles at that. She said one thing and meant another. He lied, but she deceived.

She frustrated him and confused him. At times she even angered. But strangely Kurus found himself liking her. Now on her recliner, in the moment, he found himself wrestling with unfamiliar feelings. Her few words about Mikas drew out of him the feeling that he wanted to protect her, to take away her pain. He wanted her to be happy. He wanted her to be the carefree nightmare he met all those months ago. And he hated Mikas although he couldn’t think why.

‘Not in what way?’ Kurus asked hastily.

‘You know, that way’.

‘Lust you mean?’

‘Damn you Kurus! Are you even human? Sometimes I think you’re as dim as Tessala’s servitors!’

She thumped his chest lightly.

‘Mikas was a good man Cora. He was very good at his job’.

‘Yes he was a good man. The kindest I’ve met’. Cora drained her glass.

‘He reminded me of…’ she trailed off.

‘Who?’ Pressed Kurus.

‘Someone I knew’.

Cora rose in a fall of pink silk, padded over to the cabinet and refilled her glass. She initiated the media-vox and soft canticles filled the background. She returned with the bottle, refilled Kurus’ glass and nestled in again.

‘Look Kurus, I know why you’re here’.

‘You do?’

‘Yes. We’re nearing the Warp-translation point and you need your pilot back’.

Kurus shifted uncomfortably and wondered with annoyance how she seemed to see into him. Perhaps she’s a psyker?

‘No, we just hadn’t seen you in…’

‘Don’t lie to me Kurus! It’s fine. I know I have my duties, I just needed some time to mourn that’s all’.

Her voice cracked a little, ‘Mikas and I were close and I miss him terribly, but I’ll be fine. Really I will’.

Kurus sighed, ‘very well it was a concern of mine, but please believe that I was concerned about you. You did seem to need space which is why we left you alone’.

‘Thank you Kurus. You don’t have to stay you know. I’m sure you’ve got other things more important to tend to’.

‘I have’, Kurus replied flatly, ‘but if you don’t mind, I’d rather stay here with you for a while’.

They smiled at each other.

‘Is that the first time you’ve teleported?’ Cora asked.
 

 



#16 Luddite

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Posted 04 August 2009 - 12:29 AM

Sinnessar idly surveyed the vista screens and external auspex telemetry as the command deck bustled about him. The Warp-translation point was busy with hundreds of ships dispersed across the region. Regularly new ships appeared while others disappeared in blinking flashes against the inky star field. Local system destroyers and customs frigates swam between the shoals surveying arrivals for warp-corruption, and clearing ships for ingress to Meggido. Most of the vessels were massive bloated bulk freighters, maintaining a constant supply between the hive world and its surrounding web of support systems.

 

Sinnessar paid more attention to the people around him. Kurus had briefed him on the meeting with Cora, but seeing them together for the first time since then gave him cause to note. There seemed a forced formality between them, and Kurus surreptitiously held his glance on the pilot longer than before.

More of a concern the old man sensed open hostility from Cora towards Recter. The Navigator was always troubling, and even Sinnessar indulged in cruel jesting about the abhuman mutant, but Cora emanated an aura of barely contained hate. Something serious had happened between them he concluded.

He opened a vox-channel to the Eldar’s quarters to let the guest know that they were about to enter the Empyrean. The alien acknowledged flatly.

‘Vector seven seven’, Cora stated in clipped tones. ‘Gellar field coming online. Translation in two ticks. Navigation control transferring to Navigator station…now’.

The star field flickered and began to fade.

‘Vista shielding lowering now. We have achieved translation’.

‘Affirmed’, stated Kurus.

Recter let out a squealing whine and wriggled in his seat as an azure haze enveloped him. His forehead opened its deep black eye and the Navigator peeked out into the Warp. As ever, the Warp glared back.

Shining through the chaos stabbed a single point of static light. The maelstrom raged and flailed about it but could not obscure the blessed Astronomican. His vision translated through his interface and Recter fed directional telemetry into the pilot gimble pict-slates.

Cora struggled to keep the ship on the designated bearing and quickly switched control to the servitors. They gasped and chattered at the influx of data, but quickly settled into their familiar routines. They lacked Cora’s response times and struggled with the highly complex finesse required for fine manoeuvres, but they could maintain basic piloting and navigation for months. In the Warp, Cora relied on them.

Recter felt the switch from the hate-soaked pilot to the dullness of the servitor net with some relief. The Warp itself was enough raw emotion for him to handle. Although he still flinched and yelped like a whipped dog at the timeless tempest his mind opened to, the usual assault seemed lessened to him. Either the Empyrean realm they were travelling through was unusually quiet, or the Gellar Field was holding back the tide more effectively. For a briefest moment the Navigator considered that perhaps his own strength and talent had improved, but he dismissed the thought angrily. He did not wish to consider the possibilities of how this might have occurred.

Time became meaningless to the Navigator while open to the Warp so that a journey of months could seem the briefest effort, yet a journey of days could drag for aeons of time. Realspace became nothing but a dream, the merest glimpse of moments beyond the periphery of his vision.

Recter felt the catheter-fed nutrient liquid course into his veins. He felt his filth exit his bowel to be taken away by waste tubes. He half heard the muffled dim of activity on the command deck. And all the while, the soul-rending horror of the Warp probed and stabbed at the ship like a mountain falling through him.

Then Recter felt a blinding flare of savage terror, a boundless well of lust and hate and ecstasy. It was inside the Gellar Field.

***

Tessala held Kurus at bay with her raised hand.

‘What’s going on down there?’ The blonde giant bellowed as his frustration and uncertainty disturbed him into anger.

‘Kurus, please’, Tessala reassured, ‘the security drones have everything under control. Our guest is safely contained within its chambers. Whatever it is doing, there is nothing to concern yourself with’.

Further down the corridor, nearer the Eldar’s quarters Sinnessar was conducting auspex scans. He’d already set up strange glowing tripods outside the chamber doors. He hobbled close to support Tessala.

‘She’s right my boy. We’ve seen this before. Don’t worry, we have…’

He was drowned out by an unholy cacophonous scream and the sound of breaking furniture from within the sealed chamber.

‘That’s it’, growled Kurus, pushing past Tessala. Sinnessar caught his wrist and Kurus paused.

‘It won’t do any good boy’, the old man stated firmly. ‘The Eldar has sealed the chamber from within. We couldn’t get in without cutting through the walls anyway’.

‘What?’ Kurus grimaced, his surprise and indignation coursing strong.

‘These Eldar are foul creatures’, Sinnessar continued. ‘They are close to the Warp. We’ve seen it before, a long time ago. I’ve established Gellar Field boosters to contain any breach, but this thing is likely to continue its rage for as long as we are in the Empyrean’.

‘Believe us’, Tessala added, ‘we are better off with it confined’.

Kurus relented visibly although his tension still corded his muscles. He paced back and forth, fuming and muttering.

‘How long before we reach the gate world?’

‘It is not easy to state Kurus, as you know’, began Tessala.

‘Best guess!’ Kurus shouted.

The Magos remained serene in the face of his fury, ‘Given the time elapsed and our expected arrival date, I would estimate we have another four days in the Warp’.

‘Four days is too long’.

‘The Eldar will likely be similarly affected while we’re in the Warp’, Sinnessar stated, ‘so getting us to the gate world will…’

‘Shut down the Warp Drive. Get us back into Realspace’, Kurus growled.

‘But we still have four days to travel’.

‘We need that xenos scum in there to read these stones’, Kurus stated resolutely. ‘If we carry on like this, it’ll destroy itself or the ship. Drop us out of the Warp. NOW!’

Tessala bustled away to carry out his orders.

‘Kurus, we’ll still have to get to the gate world if we’re to honour the agreement’.

‘Who said we’ll honour that?’ Asked Kurus coldly.

***

Kurus stared absently at the empty star field beyond the banquet chamber vista window. He had dressed in a formal Terran frock coat of finest ebony suede. The high drop collar irritated his ears and restricted his view, but it leant his already impressive height a noble aspect and he felt it appropriate for the first formal meeting with the xenos creature. Simple polished brass buttons and braided trim provided a military aspect so fashionable among the Imperial nobility.

‘Very impressive’, Cora smiled softly as she joined Kurus at his elbow.

The giant peered down at her absently, barely registering her through his thoughts.

‘Thank you’, he responded curtly. Cora had made an evident effort with an exquisite Caiphan hue-gown. Woven from lume-silk, the sumptuous dress glowed with a soft ivory sheen that lit her visage like an angel. She had even managed to restrain her buoyant curls into a back-knot that framed her face like a halo.

‘Stunning’, Kurus stated flatly.

Cora grinned.

Sinnessar entered the banquet chamber quietly, besides the soft clicking of his paraplegic exoskeleton. His slenderness and age was lost beneath the formal Administratum robes. The layers of progressively dark grey eventually gave way to a slender tabard of plum that complemented the burgundy stovepipe fezza cap. His hands were tucked within his Magyar sleeves in the serene restrain of a Master of the Administratum.

‘How is it?’ Kurus queried absently.

‘Tessala has treated its wounds. They were minor’.

‘Good’, replied Kurus. He returned his gaze to the star field. ‘And Recter?’

‘He will recover. Apparently his lysosomes became rather too active and he started to digest himself’.

Sinnessar quietly noted the scornful glance from Cora.

‘Our guest should be along shortly’, Sinnessar continued.

At that moment, the glass portal swished open once more and Tessala entered, dressed once again in her black cotton kimono embroidered with vibrant viridian glowing Machine God symbols. She halted at the doorway and brought the room to attention.

‘Friends, may I introduce Ahlya Tey Hlham’hmal Lo Alaitoc’.

The slender Eldar entered the room, stooping slightly through the portal. It stood taller even than Kurus though lacked anything like his bulk. The creature was dressed in a simple white robe that shimmered in the chamber light like wet rubber, but flowed and floated like chiffon.

The pinched flesh of the Eldar’s face showed a small pink gash above its left eye.

‘Good evening’, it spoke in perfect, even High Gothic tones.

The assembled humans failed to stifle their surprise.

‘You speak High Gothic?’ Kurus asked.

‘Yes. May I offer my apologies for my seclusion? I required mental preparation for your method of travel. I took the time to appraise myself of your language. Magos Shefra was kind enough to provide educational facilities and cultural media’.

‘You can learn a language in a few days?’ Cora exclaimed.

‘Yes. Our linguistic capacities are surprisingly similar and with appropriate cognitive conditioning, it is a quality that I suspect our species share’.

‘We thank you for honouring us with your effort Ahlya’, Sinnessar interjected, ‘and indeed for your aid in the task we require of you’.

The alien bowed hesitantly.

‘I must apologise for the damage to the quarters you provided me. Unfortunately I did not react well to the close exposure to the Empyrean’.

‘Please, it is of no concern’, Tessala reassured. ‘In fact please let us apologise for the pain our method of travel has caused you’.

Kurus regarded the formalities with growing impatience but was content to let his aides conduct the preliminaries.

Cora glanced nervously at Kurus for reassurance and approached the Eldar hesitantly. Her heart pounded to be in such close proximity to a xenos breed. These beasts had populated the stories of star-pilotry that had enthralled her and plagued her dreams from childhood, and now her she was, finally in the presence of a living horror.

She offered up a flute of pink carbonated wine, curtseyed and stated warmly, ‘welcome aboard Ahlya’.

The Eldar took the vessel, raised it to its shallow nose and blinked. The assembled humans raised their glasses expectantly and the Eldar reciprocated uncertainly. It winced as it took a draft of the prickly liquid and felt the hot flush of alcohol burn its throat.

The meal passed well. Tessala had instructed the servitors to approximate Eldar food from the details provided by their guest and the small talk had been light and good natured. Kurus noted that the Eldar remained inscrutable, and though its speech was now fully understandable any nuance of mood or tone from body language or inflection was elusive.

The main courses had passed now and coffee, sweets and cheeseboards replaced the repast as the lights dimmed two tones. Cora broke off her quiet discussion with Kurus and turned to their guest.

‘So Ahlya, I just can’t figure it out’.

‘What?’ the pale figure responded.

‘Are you a man or woman?’

Sinnessar nearly choked on his cheese. ‘I really must apologise for my companion’s…’

‘Oh tish Sinnessar!’ Cora cut across him. ‘It’s a valid question, and I’m sure Ahlya won’t be offended!’

The Eldar reclined against the high backed chair, its face remaining an expressionless mask. The party hushed at the pause in response, Sinnessar’s cheese knife clinking on fine china cutting through the tension.

The Eldar blinked passively.

‘It is difficult to say from your perspective Cora. I suppose, perhaps, you might call me a woman, although in my tongue I am fal’hyllatalam’che’.

‘I though so’, exclaimed Cora. ‘You’re just so graceful, so serene and feminine. I was sure you were female’.

‘Fall-atall-amchee?’ Struggled Sinnessar. ‘What does that mean?’

‘There aren’t words in your language to express it. I supposed ‘child bearer’ might be close in your understanding’.

‘Why is my gender important?’ Ahlya enquired.

‘It isn’t’, Sinnessar responded, attempting to smooth over his perception of informality and inappropriateness.

‘It is!’ Cora retorted. ‘In human societies, generally the women are superior to the men’.

‘Now Cora, you know that’s not true’, Kurus responded. ‘Men are generally faster, stronger, and more dominant than women’.

‘Well, yes, as brute beasts, men win hands down! But women are responsible for civilisation. And lets not forget, we have the babies!’

‘Not always’, Tessala offered slyly.

Cora faltered as the thought tripped up the debate.

‘It seems to me’, Ahlya interjected, ’that the human biological duality is a necessary interdependence’.

The humans considered her words, suddenly aware of the potential argument they were starting. The impassive Eldar continued.

‘You need each other in a fundamental symbiosis. Perhaps understanding that and accepting the strengths of the other is something to consider?’

‘Indeed’, responded Sinnessar, ‘your words are wise Ahlya’.

‘What’s it like among the Eldar?’ Cora added.

‘Each is valued for their quality. We do not divide by gender, nor consider that our biology has characteristics in the way you do. My quality is presumably why you have requested my aid’.

‘Yes’, Kurus stated firmly. ‘In fact we were hoping you could start work tomorrow morning. We’ve dropped from Warp to allow you to do so in peace’.

‘I was wondering where we were’, stated the Eldar.

‘Nowhere’, Cora snapped aside at Kurus. ‘We dropped out of Warp four days from our destination’.

‘Really?’

‘We were concerned for your welfare’, Sinnessar interjected. ‘With four days to go, we felt it best to give you some relief’.

Ahlya made no response.
 



#17 Luddite

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Posted 14 August 2009 - 02:50 AM

The grey and tan orb of the planet hung brooding in the vista screen of the Infinitio Secuutus. Clinat Geyebel reclined in the leather throne of the command deck; the ruby red of the silent running lux-bars shrouded him in a comforting gloom. The elderly Interrogator stroked his wispy white beard pensively as he sat amid a cloud of telemetry and data light that flickering from his command pict-screens. The cogitators chattered softly, burying the distant hum of the engines.

 

Geyebel wasn’t happy. Warp travel was unpredictable of course, but the quarry should have arrived by now. This prey was elusive. The debacle on Kanadas Secundus, followed by the failure on Meggido irked him. He was not used to communicating such inefficiencies to Inquisitor Crowe and was beginning to feel his master’s annoyance.

The blood recovered from Meggido led nowhere, even with Geyebel’s expert verispex skills. They’d identified Mikas Tolbek and traced him to his home world. The short time spent in the mosquito-infested marshes on Chassa Mundi had not only been unproductive but very unpleasant. Records of Tolbek did not track off world, and the trail went cold. Geyebel’s cogitators failed to identify the name from Administratum data-spires, and his contact net knew nothing of the fugitive.

The Interrogator’s concentration was disturbed as the access door to the rear hissed open and sharp blue light lanced in about him. A tall, corpulent figure bustled and squeezed past into the auspex station.

‘Here you go sir’, grated the phlegm-choked voice of the figure as he handed a tall glass of hot lemon-fragranced water to the Interrogator.

‘Thank you Graym’, Geyebel replied gratefully.

Henrick Graym shifted his bulk into the seat, trying to find some comfort. He smoothed his grey Administratum robe down across his vast gut, flattening the folds that had risen up around his collar and dabbed the sweat from his rheumy eyes. He retrieved his hands from beneath the over-long robe sleeves and flicked on the pict-slates at his station. They flickered and chattered as the auspexia came online.

‘Anything?’ Graym enquired emptily. He didn’t expect that there was.

‘Nothing’, Geyebel replied. ‘Either our contact isn’t as reliable as we thought or there’s been a compromise. They should be here by now’.

Graym reviewed the telemetry and data streams briefly.

‘It’s a little early yet to abandon things’, Graym continued. ‘They could have hit a Warp eddy, suffered engine problems, um…’

‘Or they could be not coming’, retorted the Interrogator.

‘Yes, that’s an option. However, our contact in the Coteaz faction assured us of his reliability. He knows full well the trouble he’s in I think. I can’t see him betraying us, not when he considers what’s at stake’.

Geyebel sipped his hot lemon and considered the Administrator’s words.

‘Of course you’re right Henrick’, he affirmed. ‘We have to assume something’s gone awry’.

The pair settled in to watching the view beyond the vista screen.

‘Has Tumblety finished the preparations for the watching station yet?’ Geyebel asked.

‘Nearly sir. Apparently the surface is a wind-blown ice bowl and he was concerned that the temporary shelter wouldn’t hold up. He had the servitors strengthen the cross struts. Also the holo-field generator isn’t designed for the temperature tolerances required so that’s been hardened. He should be ready to go when we orbit over the drop site’.

‘Good’, Geyebel confirmed. ‘Once he’s back on board, we’ll drop back to the edge of that ion cloud. Have the servitors ready to move us in the moment the Falicus Astram comes into view.

***

Ernst Tumblety scattered a wash of black pebbles as he hit planetfall from the drop ship access ramp. He barked orders at the servitors unloading the watching station crates. His vox-caster crackled and he took up the handset, flicking the channel open.

‘Tumbl_ty, ho_ is it d_wn there?’

He pulled down his ice hood to shield himself from the biting wind.

‘Sorry sir, reception is terrible down here’, he shouted. ‘What do you want?’

‘Ju_t che__ing re___tion. Will th___ be any pr__le_ with the orbit__ upl__k?’

‘What!’

‘W_ll there __ an_ pro__em with ___ or__tal upli__?’

‘No!’ He lied and shut the vox-channel off.

‘Problem? Yeah the problem is there’s no way we’ll get any uplink through this’, he growled to himself heading off towards the navigation servitors. Even his bulk and muscle struggled to make headway through the howling gale, and Tumblety bent almost double at times struggling to get around. The bleached beige scratch-grass whipped at him and surface pebbles rolled in the wind like stones carried along a river bed.

Angrily Tumblety snatched the auspex from a confused servitor. It staggered away from him trying to keep its balance.

‘Gimme that!’ Snarled Tumblety redundantly. ‘Right. Where are we?’

The auspex pinged and flashed as it sought its direction from the planetary magnetic field. Finally its bearing resolved and showed the destination six hundred yards to the west, up an imposing slope.

‘Figures’, Tumblety spat.

‘Right you lot, get this gear up that slope. Now!’

The servitors bumbled about following their orders resolutely and soon had the shelter established at the designated site. Tumblety left them to their tasks as he scrabbled down the slope towards the target structure. Two huge stone uprights supported at large lintel that squatted resolute against the winds. His auspex registered the material as Chalcedony Silicate, a non-native rock. It also picked up trace amounts of eigenstetic radiation. Tumblety recorded the findings and returned the scanner to his belt.

He stared at the structure for some time, taking in its clean, fresh form. The angles were still sharp and it appeared newly machine-constructed. He stumbled closer across the black fluid pebbles and stroked its featureless surface. It resonated with deep cold even through his thermal mitt.

A servitor teetered unsteadily towards him. In a guttural monotone it addressed him.

‘Assigned tasks are complete master’.

Tumblety glared absently at the slave. Its pistons steamed to keep it upright against the buffeting and its bare face and fingers were blackened with frost damage.

‘Excellent’, he finally responded. ‘Get everything together and back on the dropship’.

The servitor lagged behind as he scrambled back up the slope to prime the monitor-servitors and establish the holo-field. He clicked on the vox-wand.

‘Tumblety to Geyebel, establish’.

A static pause eventually broke with the response. ‘Y__ Tum___ty. How a__ thin__ down the__?’

‘Everything is ready. I’ll be in orbit in thirty ticks’.

‘Go…’

Tumblety shut off the voxcaster before the response came through. The cold had bitten his usual belligerence into a truly foul mood.

***

Sweat sprayed from Kurus as he danced through the final stances of the ‘kota’. His mind was empty of will and free from the distractions of though. His body flowed without effort, straining at the limits of his musculature, flooded with chemistry and primal memory.

The giant found himself switching from the ‘lesh’ attack sequence, to a ‘poco’ kneeling defence. He surprised himself as his body followed its natural motion and as his consciousness returned he smiled in satisfaction.

He stood with a ‘hawate’ flourish and returned the razor blade to its scabbard. His hands stayed rested at the scabbard, loosely gripping the sword hilt as his mind drifted through dream and thought, and settled occasionally on the tickling trickle of sweat under his clothing.

A soft padding of feet joined him across the kota mat. Instinct took him and the sword ripped from his hip slicing through the air. Its tip stopped a hair’s length from Cora’s throat and she yelped in surprise and terror. Then a deep dread hit her stomach as she met Kurus’ gaze. His eyes were empty. He seemed not to even recognise her. Suddenly his expression changed and Kurus retuned to his face.

‘Cora’, he stated calmly, withdrawing the sword to a centre defence.

‘Kurus, i…’ Cora started.

‘Do you know what this is?’ Kurus interrupted, focussing on the sword.

‘A…a…sword?’ Cora answered. She backed away slightly, confused and uncertain.

Kurus glanced at her impassive.

‘It is privilege’, he responded.

‘It is the dominion of the master. It is the upper hand. It masters all things. It is not reason, it is the final word. No gospel, no crown, no province, no truth, no law can establish or endure unless the sword sanctifies it. When the sword speaks there is no argument’.

Slowly, gently, he returned the blade to his hip once more. Kurus turned to face her, pulling free his jack to reveal the sweat-glint of his corded chest.

‘Remember that Cora’.

She frowned.

‘Kurus, Sinnessar has called us to the Committee chamber. The Eldar has finished her research’.

‘Finally’, Kurus growled.

***

The warm glow of the committee chamber filled Cora with excitement. The pict-wall flashed and swirled with a collage of text-streams and images.

Tessala hurried to her seat and Ahlya finalised her briefing preparations to the assembled humans. A torrent of impatient expectation poured across the chamber at the Eldar who gently fingered the collection of seeing stones on the table. Fourteen days had passed and the humans had become restless.

‘I apologise for the delay’, Ahlya blinked impassively. ‘There has been much information to decipher, and there remains much more. I do believe I have distilled the core information from the repository however’.

‘Excellent’, Sinnessar interrupted loudly. He surprised himself more that the others, and waved his hand in apology.

‘The information related to a time in our history that we rarely speak of. A time before, by your reckoning, your Imperium was formed.

The audience hushed and shied back in their seats palpably uncomfortable at the revelation.

‘Such knowledge is forbidden!’ Cora protested.

‘Please, proceed’, Sinnessar encouraged the Eldar.

‘Yes young Cora, among my people also such knowledge is guarded. I am a scholar of times past and what I have seen in the last few days has been difficult to accept. It contradicts our accepted view of that time’.

Ahlya switched the random pict displays to a sequential data presentation that followed and supported her as she recounted the information she had uncovered.

Hours passed, and with each revelation the audience became more subdued and less credulous.

‘Obviously, I have translated and transferred all this information to your data storage cogitators’, Ahlya finally concluded her briefing. The chamber was silent.

Sinnessar shifted uncomfortably, ‘i…i…find that difficult to believe. What you have told us is literally not credible’.

‘Not credible!’ Kurus blurted. ‘It’s nonsense! It cannot be!’

‘I agree’, stated Ahlya flatly, ‘but that is what the stones contain. I find the information as problematic as you, but the codification is authentic. These are records from that time it seems, although I would need better reading tools to fully verify them’.

Sinnessar reviewed his notes as the others rubbed the tension from their bodies in disbelief.

‘So, can I just run through the main points again’, the old man began, ‘just to get things clear in my mind?’

Ahlya blinked.

‘You are saying that before the Imperium, mankind and the Eldar race were allied; that the two were engaged in a program to bring psychic enlightenment to human beings. Am I correct?’

Ahlya blinked.

‘You are suggesting that our Holy Emperor was engaged in a program of eugenics to weed out undesirable mutation and foster desirable mutation in humans, and that this program was conducted in conjunction with the Eldar’.

Ahlya blinked.

‘You are also suggesting that the increasing psychic potential of Humanity caused instability among the Eldar psykers that led to the downfall of your race and the creation of the Eye of Terror’.

Ahlya blinked. ‘I am not suggesting nor am I stating any of those things, but that is what these records contain. I find them as unlikely to be true as you evidently do’.

‘This is nonsense’, Kurus barked. ‘This is obviously nothing but the lies and falsehoods of the xenos breed. This line of inquiry has been a waste of our time!’ He threw his dataslate across the table in disgust and frustration.

Ahlya blinked.

The chamber fell into brooding quiet. Only the soft pulsing of data-streams and clicking of cogitators filled the tempestuous void. Cora caught Kurus gaze and shuddered to see it was fixed on the Eldar. His eyes were empty rage as they had been on the kota mats.

Tessala broke the silence. ‘Ahlya Tey Hlham’hmal Lo Alaitoc, we thank you greatly for your time and effort in this matter. The artefacts of your people are of course yours to retain. We will continue the journey to the gate world as promised’.

‘Thank you’, replied Ahlya softly.

Kurus stormed out.


***

Five days had elapsed before the Falicus Astram translated out of the Warp and a further two days in Realspace to reach the gate world. The tan orb shone in the vista screen as Cora nudged the starship into high orbit. She cycled down the holding protocols and glanced up at Kurus on this command throne. He had been in foul humour since Ahlya’s briefing and seemed no better today. Cora had avoided his chambers and spent her time in music and valaay dancing. She was frustrated at how out of practice she had become.

Kurus vaulted to his feet and marched off the command deck. As he passed he growled at Sinnessar.

‘You’ll lead the escort’.

Tessala paraded slowly along the dorsal observation deck with Ahlya. They stopped and regarded the cold tan planet hanging in the void beyond.

The Eldar sported fresh wound dressings expertly administered by the Magos.

‘Thank you once again for your attentions’, Ahlya stated. ‘The journey wasn’t quite as arduous as before’.

‘Yes’, Tessala responded, ‘we were able to increase the strength of the Gellar field at the last stop. Our Navigator benefited also. He is still recovering in the infirmary however’.

‘Navigator? Yes, I have sensed him. Tessala, it is not my place to speak but you are aware of his troubles aren’t you?’

‘Troubles?’

The Eldar began a leisurely pace once more and Tessala followed.

‘He is not human is he?’

Tessala thought for a moment, ‘the Navigators are humans of a sort. We of the Adeptus Biologis classify them as peri-human due to the stable genetic deviation’.

‘He is a dark soul then. There is something about him that is…I don’t have the word in your tongue. We would call him ‘suht’. Perhaps ‘other’?’

‘Really?’

‘Yes. He is shrouded in the Empyrean. My vision of him is clouded by it’.

‘So it is with the Navigators’, Tessala responded, hiding her concern behind perfect vocal modulation. She could not decide if her concern was greater that Recter might be a problem or that the Eldar spoke like a psyker.

They strolled some more.

‘You have packed your possessions and the stones?’ Tessala enquired. ‘We shall have our servitors take them down for you’.

‘Thank you Tessala. I am looking forward to exploring the chambers you discovered on the planet below’.

Sinnessar entered the observation deck and approached swiftly.

‘Ahlya, it’s good to see you have recovered quickly. I trust the Warp journey wasn’t too traumatic for you?’

‘Thank you Sinnessar. As I was explaining to Tessala, the journey was much smoother than expected’.

Sinnessar gave a diplomats smile.

‘We are ready to drop to the surface if you’d like to follow me’.

On the command deck Cora fed instructions through to the flight servitors and wrapped up the final transfers to leave them secure. Her mind was on the dropship journey to the surface below. It had been difficult last time and she was mentally preparing for the trial again.

The ambient auspex readers registered a brief blip and her attention snapped back to the task at hand. She recalled auspex control from the servitor-net and fired up the active scanners. Off near the southern polar sector a large ion storm raged. It was nothing unusual and had been registered and filed from the previous visits.

Again a sensor blip flashed briefly from the cloud. Cora scratched her forehead and winced as the active scanners swept the region without success. The ion-soaked region disrupted the auspex readings. Cora pulled up the stored telemetry on the two blips and ran them through clarity filters.

She frowned.

The vox-net crackled open. ‘Cora, get yourself down here’, Kurus’ voice buzzed through the grille.

‘Coming boss’, Cora responded absently.

She resolved the object as much as possible. It appeared to be a large mass of some sort holding a stationary orbit in the cloud. She sat back and blew her fringe in confusion.

Cora bounced up the alighting ramp of the dropship trailing a large arctic coat.

‘About time’, growled Kurus.

‘Kurus!’ She protested. ‘Look I spotted something on the auspex…’

‘Never mind about that now, just get this damn ship down there’.

Kurus stormed off leaving Cora in a confused and angry daze. She stomped up to the pilot cabin and fired up the engines.

Tessala staggered into the cabin bracing against the bulkhead to keep steady. The dropship bucked and yawed violently.

‘Is there a problem Cora’, she stated exasperated.

‘Yeah, the cross-shear is vicious’, Cora responded through gritted teeth. She fought the controls desperately as banks of lights flashed at her and alarms sounded softly.

‘The wind is much fiercer than last time. I’m struggling to keep our attitude stable. Hold on, we’re dropping now’.

With a grinding thud, the ship hit the black pebble surface straining the landing stanchions to their limits. Tessala fell and Cora let out a terrified yelp. Recovering her composure quickly, she opened a vox channel.

‘Sorry everyone; bit of a rough ride in’.

Tessala clambered to her feet.

‘Are you injured Cora?’ she enquired.

‘No I’m fine’.

‘Then I will check the others’.

Down in the passenger gallery Kurus, Sinnessar, and Ahlya picked themselves up and checked for injuries. Aside from a bruise or two they were fine. Everyone assembled at the airlock and donned the frost coats. Ahlya wrapped herself in a thick white knee-length poncho. A gang of servitors joined them with the stone crates, shelter packs and the eigenstatic generator. The party set off into the scratch grass and iced pebble-sea of the gate world.

Their journey upslope to the gate seemed short as they struggled against the frigid biting wind.

‘It’s much worse than before!’ Cora shouted, huddling her furred hood about her frozen cheeks. Nobody answered.

They reached the gate and established camp quickly while the servitors set up the generator under Tessala’s instruction. It took much longer than expected as the wind whipped at them and took off anything not tied down. Even sound was stripped away and lost in the deafening howl.

Cora staggered into the reinforced tin-cloth shelter and sighed at the respite it offered. A mist of breath and body heat filled the shelter as Kurus fired up the plasma heater.

Even Ahlya seemed to have lost her composure in the conditions. Cora hugged herself and danced over to the fire chuckling away her stress.

‘It’s cold’, she affirmed.

‘Indeed’, responded Ahlya.

An uncomfortable silence fell on the shelter. Kurus left, muttering something about helping Tessala.

Cora pulled Sinnessar aside for a quiet word.

‘Sinnessar, I tried to speak to Kurus back on the ship but he wouldn’t listen’.

‘What about Cora?’

‘The auspex on the Falicus Astram picked up something odd in orbit. It’s probably nothing; just background debris, but I’m not sure. We didn’t register it on our previous visits. I think it could be another ship’.

The old man frowned. They glanced at the Eldar who appeared not to have heard their conversation, being preoccupied with peering from the shelter at the archway nearby. Ahlya stepped out into the tempest and disappeared.

‘Really?’ He responded. ‘You think it might be an Eldar vessel?’

‘Could be. I mean, how else is Ahlya getting offworld? We can’t just leave her here can we?’

‘How did she get onto Meggido?’ Sinnessar responded.

Cora thought for a moment, ‘good point. Actually I never thought to ask her’.

‘We never had the opportunity’, countered Sinnessar. ‘For what we’ve learned I know as little about our xenos companion as I knew in that terrible hive sump a few weeks ago’.

The shelter bowed and creaked as a particularly strong gust struck it. The access cloth cracked and whipped violently. For a moment Cora and Sinnessar gasped as the pressure sucked the air from their lungs.

‘I know what you mean’, whispered Cora. ‘And there have been strange things happening since she came aboard. Kurus hasn’t been the same. I know he’s normally moody but really he’s been impossible this last week or so. And I’ve not been myself. I’ve been dancing again, for the first time in years. I just couldn’t resist the pull. It was like I needed to do it and all I had in my head were images of my father from when I was a child’.

‘Really?’ Sinnessar asked, surprise in his tone.

‘Yes, and Recter’, she faltered. ‘Well, Recter has never come to my chamber before’.

‘What did he do?’ Sinnessar insisted in evident concern. He caught Cora’s glance briefly and saw much there that troubled him.

‘And tell me this Sinnessar, why are we all down here? Who’s up on the ship right now?’

Realisation hit Sinnessar hard. He barked at a nearby servitor that hastened its task in setting the vox uplink.

‘Recter, this is Sinnessar. Is everything alright up there?’

Nothing but static answered.

Kurus burst in.

‘A ship’, he stated grimly, making for the weapons crate to the rear of the shelter.

‘What ship?’ Asked Sinnessar. Fear and excitement wrapped his voice.

‘I don’t know. It dropped the other side of the slope’.

‘Is it Eldar?’ Cora asked.

Kurus halted, apparently taken aback by the question. His confusion cleared and he resumed his preparations.

‘No it’s Imperial. Looked like a piranha class gun cutter but I can’t be sure’.

He shouldered an autogun and threw a similar weapon at Cora. She caught it and glared at him in shock.

‘Let’s hope we don’t need these’, Kurus stated. ‘The gate’s open and the xenos breed is through. Get this lot packed up old man, we’re leaving’.

Tessala focussed her distance lenses to the crest of the slope and filtered out the wind distortion. She could see figures moving on above, inked out against the stark grey sky.

Ahlya returned through the breech and oversaw the transfer of the final crates. She approached the Magos who turned and refocused her eyes with a whirr.

‘Thank you Mon-Keigh’, the Eldar stated. ‘You may close the gate when I am through’.

She reached a slender finger out towards the crest. ‘They mean you harm. You should leave now’.

Tessala watched the Eldar leave, and at a thought the servitors shut down the gate and began to dismantle the equipment.

Kurus joined her with his weapon ready.

‘Who are they Tessala?’ He asked brusquely.

‘We have to leave’, the Magos stated, turning to oversee the servitors.

Kurus squinted through the frost. Twelve figures clattered down the slope in a cascade of pebbles. He recognised the mahogany battle suits and thought immediately of Sinnessar. All but one carried squat carbines that Kurus knew were bolt guns. The other carried a rifle of some kind.

He turned and made his way quickly towards the shelter, grabbing Tessala by the elbow on the way.

‘Come on! Leave this gear! You’re right, we have to go. Now!’

Cora and Sinnessar emerged from the shelter and Kurus bellowed at them to run. He turned and saw the rifleman halted and aiming down at them. Time slowed as Kurus raised his autogun. He could feel his panic rise as he knew he wasn’t quick enough. He’d made a bad choice. He’d suppressed his combat reactions to gather up his crew. He knew the rifleman would get a shot.

Cora jolted at the blur as Kurus moved almost quicker than she could see.

Kurus dropped to one knee and nestled the autogun butt into his shoulder as he registered the flash from the rifleman. His autogun barked and two mahogany soldiers dropped. One was the rifleman. A smaller group of figures slipped into view over the crest behind the soldiers.

The crew was running. Kurus could feel it. As he turned to join them he saw Sinnessar stumble. Blood spewed from his mouth and the old man went down.

Time caught up with Kurus again.

‘Sinnessar’, he whispered. ‘No!’

The others stalled.

‘Go!’ He screamed at them, pulling the old man over his shoulder. He was a dead weight and lolled like a rag doll. His mobility implants froze and blood covered his chest.

Cora skipped backwards and fired off a spray of bullets. They found only air.

Tessala staggered towards Sinnessar and was pushed away by Kurus.

‘Go!’ He screamed again.

The soldiers advanced on them quickly, and bolt shells now ripped the air about them. Ground strikes sent exploding pebble shards flying like grenade fragments.

Even carrying the weight of the old man Kurus kept pace with his companions, although they had nearly reached the dropship now and he still had ground to cover.

Suddenly Kurus felt hot shards rip through his shoulder. The shards had come through Sinnessar and he stumbled dropping his burden onto the iced pebbles. He rolled round and let off another controlled burst. The closest mahogany soldiers fell, one without a head.

Kurus grabbed Sinnessar and heaved him up. The old man’s head lolled. Kurus saw no life in his eyes.

‘No!’ He whispered.

Through the welling tears Kurus could see more soldiers approaching. The bolt shells threw up splashes of stone and he could sense them getting more accurate as the killers closed their range. He rose to his knee to defend his position and dropped two more. A bolt shell ripped through his coat sleeve and air-burst just behind him.

Kurus’ mind emptied as did his gun magazine. He dropped it and drew his pistol.

The soldiers had stopped advancing and taken firing positions. Behind them Kurus saw another wave coming on. Fire and manoeuvre; these men were professionals. He focussed his peripheral vision to seek cover and found none. With Sinnessar he wouldn’t make the dropship. His position was hopeless and he knew it.

He took one last look at the old man and ran.

The dropship lifted off almost before Kurus had closed the alighting ramp. Tessala ripped his coat off and ministered to his wounds as the young giant slumped onto a passenger bench. He dropped his pistol loosely at his feet.

He met Tessala’s metal eyes, with his red with grief.

‘I left him mother’.

Tessala worked in silence.

***

Tumblety swaggered over to the body and watched the dropship struggle away from the surface like a thrown brick. The backwash from its engines blew brief, welcome warmth across the valley.

‘How are we?’ He asked through his vox tac-net.

‘Seven down sir. Three fatal’.

His glared down at Sinnessar.

‘What about this scum?’ He growled at his combat medic.

The mahogany-clad medic’s narthecium flashed and hissed as he assessed his patient. He called over a suspensor gurney from the trailing servitors before standing to address his commander.

‘He’s alive sir, but only just. Two bolt shell hits have torn him up pretty bad but he’s crammed with enhancements and I think they’re sustaining him. He won’t last long though unless we can get him to the infirmary’.

‘Do it’, Tumblety growled.

As he turned away he whispered under his breath, ‘then Geyebel will make him wish he’d never survived’.

The turbulence died off as Cora hit the upper atmosphere and flight trim restored as she punched out into the Void. Exhaustion and terror crushed at her focus and she trembled with her endorphin overload. She raked the black with the auspex, searching for the gunships she knew would be there. The Falicus Astram hung like a bright jewel, right where she left it. The auspex pinged back another ship, down near the ion cloud. It registered Imperial form and output telemetry but broadcast no identification. Incredulously she scanned no other presence and flared the engines towards her ship.

The mystery vessel rolled and slowly veered course towards her position as Cora brought the dropship in hot to the Falicus Astram’s docking riser. She’d barely cycled down the power levels before she ripped off the command cables and scrambled down to the passenger section.

‘Sinnessar. Where’s Sinnessar?’ Cora gabbled, recoiling at the answer she feared.

Kurus looked up, his eyes confirming her fears. She bit her lip and steadied herself on an iron buttress, too shocked to cry.

Tessala busied herself with the servitors and equipment that hadn’t been left on-world. She broke off as Cora entered.

‘Cora, what is the situation? Are there attack ships inbound?’

Cora’s face welled. She seemed lost.

‘Cora!’ Tessala barked urgently, her voice modulated to greater volume without effort. ‘We still need to get out of this. What is the situation?’

‘I didn’t scan any attacks inbound, although the Imperial ship is on an intercept’.

Tessala’s eyes flickered briefly as she interfaced to the engine room. Even on the dropship they felt the plasma drives of the Falicus Astram throb in preparation.

Servitors opened the alighting ramp and continued their unloading duties. From the docking bay outside, the hot wash of burned metal and ozone caught them all.

Kurus paced uneasily.

‘Cora, get up to flight. Get us underway before they can block us off. Tessala, come with me’.

The three stumbled down the ramp past the bustling engineer-servitors.

Suddenly Kurus froze. From the shadow of the exit ahead two mahogany-clad warriors emerged in a firing stance. At this range they couldn’t miss. A clattering of readied weapons caught his attention on the catwalk above and from behind, the soft padding of cautious approaching warriors made his heart sink.

Past the warriors in the doorway a large figure waddled into the deck lights. Almost as tall as Kurus, the figure was evidently corpulent and struggling under his own weight. His bald pate glistened with sweat and his grey Administratum robes stained dark in patches of perspiration. As he approached Kurus met the stranger’s rheumy eyes and grimaced at his shuddering mass of flab, helped along by a walking stick of exquisite design.

Puffing and wheezing, Henrick Graym wiped the sweat from his thick brow as he shifted himself into a les painful stance. Sweat beaded from his bulbous nose and he felt faint from the effort of walking.

‘Good day’, he offered in a thickly moist Low Gothic tongue. ‘Please, drop your weapons. No sudden movements mind. I’d hate to have to do the paperwork on such an unfortunate failure to retrieve you alive’.

‘Who are you?’ Kurus asked, placing his autopistol on the deck at his feet.

‘Administrator Henrick Graym of the Emperor’s Holy Orders of the Inquisition. I trust you’re aware of us?’

Kurus, Cora and Tessala blanched visibly.

‘Interrogator Geyebel would like a few words with you’.

Graym’s face split in a pallid fleshy grin.
 



#18 Luddite

Luddite

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Posted 19 August 2009 - 12:38 AM

Cora’s head pounded. Sharp pain stabbed behind her eyes. She could feel drying drool pinching her chin. Her neck and shoulders ached and pain crawled up from her wrists bound to the back of the chair. She forced open her eyes and the world focussed into a Hessian patchwork of dim light that seeped through the sack over her head.

 

She groaned involuntarily and her head lolled back sending lancing discomfort from her neck. Her face was moist and stifled with the damp fug of her own breath. Her buttocks were numb but she could still feel the hard metal seat beneath.

Suddenly blinding light flared into her as the rough cover was yanked from her head. She shook her disorientation clear and the chamber slowly resolved. The room was small. She sat on a simple iron chair at a similar table, and beyond it a bulky door marked the only evident exit.

To her right stood a burly man clad in mahogany. His face was shadowed by a padded visor and he held a short brutal studded stick. He exuded controlled violence.

At the table sat a small stout figure with a thick jowly face. Age scored his visage and a wispy white forked beard jiggled slightly as he scribbled on a dataslate before him. Sweet lemon steam rose from a ceramic mug beside him and opposite that, filling much of the small desk stood a portable cogitator. Its lens-screen flickered in sympathy with its chattering.

The elderly man finished his writing, took a sip of liquid and sat back. His fierce green eyes bored into Cora who had tried unsuccessfully to wipe the drool from her face with her shoulder.

The seated figure indicated to the guard who approached swiftly and released the manacles from Cora’s wrists. She gasped in relief and rubbed her wounds nervously.

‘My name is Clinat Geyebel’, the seated man began. His voice was soft, yet insistent. It carried an easy authority of one used to command. ‘I am an Inquisitorial Interrogator. Do you know what that is?’

Cora shook her head in denial.

‘I’ve heard of the Inquisition’, she offered.

‘Everything you’ve heard is a lie’, Geyebel continued.

‘I am here to ascertain what you know, nothing more. Your cooperation will be to your benefit I would suggest. Are we going to be able to maintain a civilised relationship?’

Cora nodded. Something about his eyes terrified her. Though he smiled slightly and seemed jovial in tone those eyes sliced into her like knives.

‘Good. Tell me about…’

‘I didn’t know about her!’ Cora blurted. ‘I was just hired as a pilot that’s all. I had no idea what they were going to do. They never told me any of the plans. I just flew the ships and drove their vehicles!’

Geyebel paused for a moment, ‘You didn’t know about whom?’

‘Ahlya. The Eldar’, Cora snapped out petulantly. Waves of self loathing washed over her. She felt like a little girl confessing to her father that she had broken a treasured ornament. The words pushed themselves out of her almost without conscious thought.

‘Ahlya. The Eldar’, Geyebel repeated slowly. ‘So you have had some contact with a xenos breed then?’

‘Yes. No. Well, yes, but not really. She was only aboard a few weeks and we didn’t really see much of her. She couldn’t cope with the Warp travel you see. And then she left when we got back to the gate world. I don’t know where, I think back through the gate.’

‘Gate?’

‘Yes, we made…they made a gate you see. Well, Sinnessar and…Sinnessar did…and…’, Cora trailed off. She desperately wanted Mikas. He’d make everything right again.

‘What was this gate?’

‘I don’t know really. It opened up a door to somewhere else. Mikas tried to explain it to me but I didn’t really get it. He said it was like the Warp but different’.

‘I see’, encouraged Geyebel. The cogitator of the desk chattered softly. ‘Who is Mikas?’

‘Mikas Tolbek. He was an archaeologist. And he was my friend. He’s dead now’.

‘I’m sorry for your loss Miss’ Geyebel peered at his dataslate to feign the need for a reminder, ‘Miss Zondarem’.

Cora glared at the old man.

‘Who is Sinnessar?’

‘Why are you asking me all these questions?’ Cora’s wits were starting to return. To unburden was a catharsis of sorts but quickly she was becoming emboldened to close up. She glanced at the burly guard who glared back.

The old man stroked his beard absently.

‘I’m simply trying to understand what’s been going on. You are aware that it is forbidden to consort with xenos breeds?’

‘Yes’, Cora hung her head as she answered, peeking back up at his reaction.

‘I understand that you were not responsible for that of course, but nevertheless such exposure is likely to have corrupted you. You must understand this is likely to attract correction. Cooperation with me will ensure leniency should you find yourself in a position of being prosecuted for that criminal association’.

He smiled.

‘Miss Zondarem. Cora. I’m trying to help you here, but I can’t do that unless you help me’.

Cora scowled.

‘Who is Sinnessar?’

‘I don’t really know who he is. I think he’s Kurus’ mentor. I met him first on Hadasaus Prime. He was looking to procure a pilot for a five year engagement, possibly longer. The money was much better than what I was being paid at the time. Its through him I met Demeter Von Sachen’.

Geyebel shifted in his seat slightly.

‘Really? And who is Demeter Von Sachen?’

Cora scratched her head. Her hair was dirty and itched terribly.

‘Kurus’ father I think. They never really talk about it, but I’m pretty sure he is. And I think Tessala…uh…Magos Tessala Shefra is his mother’.

‘Kurus, yes’, Geyebel mumbled.

‘Kurus is?’

‘Our captain’, affirmed Cora. ‘He runs things, well mostly. I get the feeling he looks to Sinnessar for many things’. Cora stopped cold.

‘He looked to Sinnessar’, she corrected. Pain wracked her face at the memory. ‘He’s dead too now. Sinnessar. Your men murdered him. Come to think of it’, Cora animated, ‘it was your men that crippled him on, ah, what was the name of that world now? Where we found the weird spiky ball thing?’

Cora stood and angrily jabbed her finger at the old man.

‘You crippled him there didn’t you? You damn knaves have been trying to kill us all for months!’

The guard grabbed her and forced Cora back onto the seat with a painful jolt. She shrugged him off impotently.

‘Please Cora you must understand. It is not our actions that…’

‘Did you kill Mikas?’ Cora snapped. ‘On Meggido did your men murder Mikas?!’

Geyebel sat back and glanced away briefly.

‘You did didn’t you?! He was a good man! An innocent man! We had to throw him into an acid pit! I loved…you killed him’. Tears streamed down Cora’s face though she did not sob or quiver. Pent up grief and rage welled in her ambivalence.

‘We’re done for today’, Geyebel stated firmly. He shut off the cogitator and took up his dataslate. ‘We’ll talk again when you’ve calmed down Cora’.

Geyebel and the guard left the chamber. Cora had never felt so alone.

***

Graym padded into the briefing room and placed his bundle of dataslates on the table. The chamber was mercifully cool and Geyebel was resting against the far wall, evidently lost in thought.

‘How’s it going?’ Graym enquired as he eased himself onto a chair with a wince.

‘Hmm?’ His master murmured absently.

‘With the questioning? How’s it going? Any progress yet?’

Geyebel visibly snapped out of his thoughts and joined the Administrator at the table.

‘Fine actually. Miss Zondarem has been highly cooperative, but I fear she has little to actually say. She is however providing useful context for questioning of the others’.

‘And Von Sachen?’

Geyebel sat back, evidently troubled. ‘That young man is a considerably harder shell to crack. He has resisted even the medium applications’.

‘Even the water techniques?’ Graym retorted in surprise.

‘Yes’, replied Geyebel flatly. ‘I suspect we will need to apply something more persuasive. However, this morning I have the first session with this ‘Magos’ Shefra’.

‘Indeed she’s a puzzle is she not sir? I’ve not met an un-augmented Magos before’.

‘Nor I Henrick. Are you sure the auspexia were correct?’

‘Yes sir. They’ve been checked and validated. She is simply human’.

‘This troubles me’, replied Geyebel. He rose and headed down to the cells.

The journey through the labyrinthine corridors of the Infinitio Secuutus took Geyebel little time and he traversed unconsciously, lost in the uncertainties of the coming session.

He gathered a cogitator and dataslates on his way and soon found himself sat at a table in a sparse chamber. Before him the serene porcelain figure of Magos Tessala Shefra rested. She seemed to be haloed by the interrogation light.

He indicated for the mahogany guard to remove her hood and bonds. As the guard did so, he felt a soft scratch on his wrist and rubbed it absently as he returned to his post.

‘My name is Clinat Geyebel’, the interrogator began. His soft insistence was tinged with the merest hint of hesitation though not enough to compromise his authority. ‘I am an Inquisitorial Interrogator. Do you know what that is?’

‘Yes’, replied Tessala calmly.

‘Everything you think you know is a lie’, Geyebel continued.

Tessala smiled briefly.

‘I am here to ascertain what you know, nothing more. Your cooperation will be to your benefit I would suggest. Are we going to be able to maintain a civilised relationship?’

‘I suspect we are’, Tessala replied coldly. Geyebel suppressed a frown.

‘Good. Tell me about the Eldar’.

Tessala reclined in her hard iron chair.

‘What Eldar?’ She toyed.

‘The Eldar you have been travelling with. Tell me about it’, he restated firmly.

Tessala’s eyes narrowed slightly.

‘Everything I think I know is a lie’, Tessala responded absently. ‘That is an interesting assertion. Are you sure that is the case?’

‘What do you mean?’ Geyebel responded.

‘Are you sure that it is I who are misdirected by lies?’

‘Explain’, stated Geyebel. He girded himself for the usual stream of deceit he expected from those he interrogated.

‘The Imperium is built on lies my dear Interrogator. Actually that’s not quite true’, Tessala corrected. ‘It is built on a distortion’.

‘Really?’ Geyebel encouraged. The desk cogitator chattered softly through its recording protocols. It was, however, recording nothing.

‘Yes. Really’. She smiled. ‘You see, the Emperor’s vision for Humanity is not the Imperium. The edifices that have been built in His name are a corruption of His divine will’.

‘Really?’ Geyebel continued. ‘Why do you say that?’

‘I say it because it is the truth. It is the truth that you refuse to see. It is the truth that has been rising, inexorably, since the schisms and cults that grew out of the Administratum thousands of years ago coalesced into the Adeptus Ministorum’.

‘The Emperor’s Holy Ecclesiarchy is a lie?’

‘No precisely. Although there is much in the Creed that is outright fiction it is for the most part a distortion’, Tessala corrected calmly. ‘It is a distortion of His will for our race. Do you really think He intended for us to be crushed under the weight of superstition and ignorance? Do you really think He intended for a man to oppress his fellow man?’

‘What I think is not at issue here is it?’ Geyebel countered.

‘Is it not?’ Tessela retorted. ‘You, for example, think that you have captured my friends and I’.

‘And I haven’t?’ Geyebel enquired. He could feel a measure of bravado suppressing a twinge of uncertainty.

‘No you haven’t’

‘What has happened then?’

‘You have been following us for some time, have you not?’ Tessala asked. ‘We knew this. We suspected your allegiance and we knew that confrontation was inevitable. We therefore required an engagement that would allow us to learn of your identity and intentions without compromising our activities’.

‘I see, and you did this by allowing us to capture you?’

‘Yes’.

‘So you are not my captive?’

‘No’.

Doubt took him briefly, but the Interrogator shook it off.

‘Well then, I think that’s all for today. We will resume tomorrow’.

Geyebel rose, gathered up his notes and made for the chamber door. It didn’t open.

‘Please Interrogator, sit down’, Tessala stated softly. The mahogany guard stood impassive.

Geyebel took out a small vox-wand, ‘Graym, there’s a problem with…’ static crackled from the communicator. The Interrogator swirled round, anger flashing across his face.

Tessala smiled.

‘No answer?’

‘Guard! Restrain her’, he barked.

The guard did not move.

‘Guard!’ He shouted.

‘You see my dear Interrogator everything you think you know is a lie’. Tessala rose and swayed over to the guard. She stroked a slender finger across his impassive chin. She could feel the neural control nanites she’d injected delight at her touch.

‘You know that you command this ship. This is a lie’. She smiled coyly at him. ‘Please, sit down’.

Geyebel drew a compact laser pistol and aimed it at her face. The burly guard moved to stand between them. Tessala peeked over his shoulder.

‘You know that you command your crew. This is a lie’.

‘What have you done?’ Geyebel growled in dread at the answer.

A flailing cloud of mechadendrites lanced out of Tessala and stabbed through the walls with a shower of sparks into the power and data conduits hidden there. Her visage fluttered as access and cooling vents opened across her body. Her eyes glowed deep sapphire and the chamber filled with a quiet cacophony of raw power.

‘Liitle man!’ She boomed, her voxophagus amplifying the volume to shake the very air. ‘I am Magos Tessala Shefra of the Adeptus Mechanicus. This vessel is mine’.

‘Impossible!’ Geyebel whispered. ‘Our scans showed none of this’.

‘I am an expression of the Blessed Omnisiah! I have built angels of flesh! I am an avatar of the En-Djinn. Your auspexia are slaves to my wil’, Tessala stated flatly.

A slender snake of metal, pulsating with needles and surgical cutters caressed the Interrogator into his seat. Fear stripped all resistance from him as the horrific image on Tessala revealed herself like a spider at the centre of an iron web.

The chamber door hissed open and Geyebel glanced over his shoulder. Magos Dar Kalte entered, his six legs stalking along the floor and walls. A nest of mechadendrites writhed like hair from his equine head.

‘Kalte!’ Geyebel exclaimed.

Tessala and the Magos of the Infinitio Secuutus screeched at each other in a brief binary exchange.

‘Please do not blame dear Kalte’, she purred. ‘In a very literal sense and in a way that I am afraid you cannot understand, he cannot resist me’.

Shock and panicked disbelief distorted Geyebel’s face.

‘You see little Interrogator man I am now linked into every system on this ship. It obeys me as your fingers obey you. You and your crew are at my mercy’.

‘What do you want?’ Geyebel stuttered.

‘Answers’, Tessala stated flatly. ‘And when I have them, my friends and I will be leaving’.

‘Answers to what?’

Tessala smiled, ‘good, then let’s begin’.

***
Kurus woke slowly. His throat and nose still prickled with the irritations of forced water. His chest ached with bruising and his thighs burned with lactic acid residue from the stress positioning.

The vicious neon light of the chamber gave him a stabbing headache and his eyeballs shuddered imperceptibly. It has also kept his sleep light and he felt utterly drained.

Suddenly the cell door hissed open and a soft ambient glow seeped into the stark shadow-less light. No guard came and the corridor beyond thrummed expectantly.

Kurus ventured up cautiously into the grilled corridor and faltered at the stale musk of the air. Yellow lux-bars bathed the passageway and pulsed towards a far door. Two guards lay collapsed on the grille distorted and still. Kurus checked one and regarded the blue puffed face idly. These men had suffocated.

He followed the direction that the lux-bar pulses indicated and wound through a maze of empty corridors, chambers and walkways, occasionally ornamented with blue-faced bodies. Finally he stepped out onto an expansive flight deck where Tessala and Cora were waiting.

‘What’s going on?’ He asked, wincing with pain from his chest.

‘Its good to see you’, Cora responded. Her face was wet with tears and relief.

‘We will be leaving shortly’, Tessala stated, indicating the idling shuttle nearby. ‘We are just waiting for…ah, here he comes now’.

They all turned to regard the suspensor bed being escorted onto the flight deck by medical servitors.

‘We are just waiting for Sinnessar to join us’, she concluded.

Kurus and Cora gawped in shock.

‘He lives?’ Blurted Kurus.

Cora laughed and squealed in fatigued joy.

As they bustled aboard the shuttle Tessala moved off to meet a squat crimson figure flanked by two armed guard servitors.

‘Interrogator Geyebel’, she greeted, ‘I would like to thank you for your hospitality’.

The old man quivered in impotent rage.

‘Magos Kalte is under instruction to keep your ship locked here for fourteen days. Thereafter he will return command control to you’.

She could see the hate lancing from him.

‘Be thankful’, Tessala continued. ‘You could easily not have survived this encounter. I have kept you alive because I require you to deliver a message to your Inquisitor Crowe’.

She closed in and whispered in his ear.

‘Tell him that if he truly values his responsibilities; if he truly loves the Emperor; if he is a man of honour and wisdom; then he will stop pursuing us’.

With that Tessala headed for the shuttle.

***
Kurus wandered into the warm blue light of the medical chamber. Tessala looked up from her medicae station as the young giant approached the suspension tank. Sinnessar floated within, contained in the viscous blue and shrouded in a web of tubes, cables, catheters and probes. Everything below his ribcage was missing and his eyes drooped in unconsciousness.

‘How is he?’ Kurus asked, tracing his fingers across the glass of the tank.

‘He will live’, Tessala responsed. ‘I can keep him sustained here, but we need to return to my facility on Hisperus IV. He requires significant implantation to remain viable and that is beyond the capabilities we have here’.

‘How long before we reach there?’

‘Cora assures me we will make planet fall within fifty days’.

‘The old man will survive that long?’

‘Oh yes’, reassured Tessala as she approached, ‘he is quite safe here in the arms of the Omnissiah, I just cannot restore what has neccessarily been removed without further equipment’.

They stared at Sinnessar through the glass as his convulsed slightly.

‘He is dreaming’, Tessala stated. ‘I am introducing psychotherapeutic imagery to ensure that the procedure does not damage his mind more than it has to’.

The Magos placed her hand gently on Kurus’ shoulder.

‘How are your wounds my boy?’

He glanced at her, ‘they’re fine. Nothing really. It will be good to see father again’.

‘Yes, we have much to discuss. The revelations of the Eldar were significant and I am sure that Demeter will have some insights on what is required next’.

‘How is Cora?’ Kurus asked.

‘You have spent time with her’, Tessala responded, ‘how do you think she is?’

‘An enigma as ever’.

Tessala grinned. ‘Yes, an enigma! Indeed she is. She seemed to suffer little physical damage from the interrogations, but I am not sure as to her mental or emotional state. She seems to have coped well’.

‘She seems to hide it well’, Kurus countered.

‘Really?’ Tessala enquired. ‘What makes you say that?’

Kurus didn’t answer.

‘Do you think that what the Eldar filth said was true?’ Kurus asked.

Tessala wandered away to tend to a pict-monitor and adjust Sinnessar’s medical feeds.

They gazed at each other for longer than was comfortable.

‘Well?’

‘Truth is subjective, you know this Kurus’.

‘Yes, but from your subjective position, was what it said true?’

‘That is a difficult question to ans…’

‘Just tell me!’ Kurus snapped.

Tessala considered carefully before responding.

‘I suspect that there may be some truth in what it said’.

‘Which parts?’

‘Kurus, we have ancient tomes that hint at a link between the Eldar and Humanity before the Imperium’.

‘Those texts are questionable. Heretical even’, asserted Kurus.

‘Yes’, Tessala responded, ‘they are. They may be lies, but that means they may also be truth. And remember that heresy is only defined by its exclusion from orthodoxy, and orthodoxy is also subjective’.

Kurus considered the reminding words of the Magos.

‘And of the other things the breed spoke of? The Emperor’s twisted eugenics program? Humanity’s involvement in the Fall of that breed?’

Tessala did not respond.

‘They cannot be true’, Kurus asserted.

‘No, they cannot’, Tessala reassured.

The chamber fell silent but for the soft wheezing and rhythms of the medicae machines.

‘You have said nothing to Recter?’ Tessala enquired, to distract Kurus from his brooding.

Kurus glared at her, ‘no I’ve said nothing to that maggot’.

***

The heat blasted Cora’s face and she perspired immediately. The thick suede bolero jacket and tight leather utility suit were a mistake she decided. They walked brusquely across the baked rock of the landing plateau in a haste to reach the shade. Once there Cora gasped at the relief from the burning tightness on her face, but groaned that the heat did not subside. Even the breeze burned.

They slowed their pace once in the shadow and from the gloom beneath the jutting red rock above, a gathering of people approached.

Kurus stopped and prompted by him so too did Cora and Tessala.

‘How do you find Hisperus IV?’ Kurus enquired quietly.

‘It’s hot!’ Cora gasped obviously.

Kurus chuckled.

The group approached; a gaggle of burgundy and grey. At their head a massive figure, taller and broader even than Kurus awed Cora. She caught herself gaping and snapped her mouth shut.

The towering mass was dressed in flowing black linen that was pulled tight over a sculpted musculature that was beginning to spread fat. Blonde hair slicked back away from his face meshed with dreadful scars. He reminded Cora of an older Kurus.

‘Father’, Kurus said in subdued greeting.

The man regarded the youth and nodded. ‘Welcome back Kurus’, he greeted coldly.

‘Come Tessala’, he instructed, turning away in expectation. The Magos followed.

As they moved away Cora looked up at Kurus, ‘that was your father?’

‘Yes’, stated Kurus flatly.

They stood in the baking shade in silence. An Administrator approached to usher them to their quarters.

Demeter reclined on the balcony that overlooked the Shattered Plain far below. A hot sirocco whipped past the open rock-face and stripped the sky clear of even the wisps of clouds. He sipped a cool jasmine tea and regarded Tessala as she entered and sat opposite him.

Moments passed as they took in the scene.

‘How have you been Demeter?’ Tessala enquired.

‘Well. Your staff tell me my ossmodula is destabilising which is making my joints stiffen’.

‘Yes, I will attend to that tomorrow. It is a simple gene-therapy‘.

‘You have returned earlier than anticipated Tessala. I trust it is good news?’

‘It is mixed news Demeter. Sinnessar requires extensive care and I could only give that here. I have already begun the preliminary preparations’.

‘Yes. Sinnessar. I really didn’t expect to lose him’.

‘You haven’t yet’, Tessala responded somewhat surprised.

‘How did Kurus perform?’

‘As well as expected. The emotional and social problems were less severe that we anticipated, although his aggression levels required significant suppression’.

Demeter squinted into the glare, ‘unfortunate. He requires the monastic disciplines to control the effects of his genetic enhancements. I trust the chemical substitutes were adequate?’

‘Yes. The socialisation with Miss Zondarem seems also to have been particularly successful, and indeed may have mitigated his aggression somewhat. That said he still falters in his interactions with her’.

Demeter chuckled, ‘yes, humans are very difficult to relate to; particularly females. They lack focus or clarity. I do not envy the boy’.

Tessala listened quietly before offering, ‘as we suspected, Inquisitor Crowe still pursues us. His men are responsible for Sinnessar’s condition’.

‘Crowe? Yes. He’s persistent I’ll give him that. Any sign of the brethren?’

‘Mercifully there were none’.

Demeter gazed out at the sky, seemingly lost in thought, ‘probably the Inquisition keeping them away. Those blind fools do have their uses I suppose’.

‘We have some progress on the investigations though’, Tessala stated softly.

‘Good’, replied Demeter.

‘We met with Epicurus and he put us in contact with a very helpful lead. An Eldar that was able to translate some data-artefacts for us’.

‘Epicurus?’ Demeter growled. ‘How is that old scoundrel?’

‘Fine’, Tessala replied, ‘although he may have sowed the seeds of a problem with Kurus’.

Demeter glanced at Tessala briefly, ‘Kurus will be no problem. I will speak with him. The Eldar are liars and deceivers. You know this Magos. They’re word is not to be trusted! Why did you engage the service of such filth?’

‘I agree Demeter. We must treat their intelligence with caution, but it is very interesting’.

‘Where are these data-artefacts? I will view them myself’.

‘We no longer have them’, Tessala replied.

Demeter scowled.

‘But we do not need them’, Tessala continued, ‘the Eldar provided us with the translated data. I also extracted the files this xenos breed tried to keep from us, and these files are the most interesting for they offer us the chance to verify the veracity of its claims’.

‘Explain’, Demeter stated brusquely.

‘Much of what the Eldar told us confirmed our other research and the verified data from the brethren‘s archives. It seems that before the Imperium Human and Eldar were closely tied and that we had some part in what they call their ‘fall’. The Emperor it would seem was attempting a convergence of the psychic qualities of Humanity with the Eldar’.

‘The xenos data supports this?’

‘It does. Additionally it speaks of a different intention by the Emperor for the future of Humanity’.

Demeter stood and wandered over to the balcony edge.

‘Such is certain. This cannot be what we have fought for over so many millennia. I will not believe the Emperor wished this on his children’.

Tessala joined him. Demeter remained with his gaze fixed on the horizon.

‘And these files the xenos tried to hide from you? What is therein?’ He asked.

‘They speak of an Eldar construction designed to suppress, or perhaps regress, the translation is unclear, human psychic developments. It seems they intended to make us into Nulls’.

Demeter turned and glared down at the Magos, ‘and this construction survives?’

‘It would seem not. Apparently it was fragmented and lost before the Imperium, but the notes made by the Eldar suggest that some pieces have been found’.

Demeter paced in thought for long moments. Tessala watched impassively.

‘Tell me Tessala, how are the Martian plans for non-Warp travel coming along?’

‘Demeter, you know the authorities on Mars have no such plan’.

Demeter managed a begrudging grin.

‘I could just extract your secrets directly Magos’, he threatened playfully.

‘My mind is open to yours’, Tessala offered. They both knew Demeter’s skills could not penetrate the logical maze of her cogitation-enhanced brain.

‘The next path is laid before us then’, Demeter stated firmly. ‘We will recover these fragments for analysis’.

He thought for a moment before adding, ‘if they do as the evidence suggests then it seems our path will take us to end on Holy Terra’.
 



#19 Luddite

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Posted 02 February 2011 - 04:12 AM

OK, it's been a while since i posted on this but i've advanced the story a bit so here's the recent work on this.

_______________________________

 

 

 

Kurus perched on the stone bench and stared out across the Shattered Plain. The evening had cooled the air to a simple heat and painted the sky in breathtaking purples and crimsons. The red rock was stained ebony with shadow and the amphitheatre cliffs were coming alive with the croaking and winged tumult of dusk flyers. An ornamental brazier burned and threw flickering light across the rock plateau.

 

Kurus has always liked this elevation. The winds were weaker and the stars seemed closer. He always felt calmed here even during the most stressful training of his upbringing.

Demeter emerged from the stairwell hewn down into the rock floor. Like Kurus he had dressed in cool linen.

Kurus stood and the two met at the rock ledge. Together they stared out at the glorious night, neither wishing to begin the emotional melee.

‘Tessala informs me that you have built quite a friendship with this Cora person’, Demeter began with a distracted sigh.

‘I find her challenging. I’ve grown to enjoy her strangeness’.

Demeter didn’t understand and kept silent.

‘Tell me about my mother’, Kurus pressed coldly.

‘Your mother?’ Demeter was not reading Kurus and the question surprised him. ‘Your mother died giving life to you’.

‘I know this. Tell me about her’.

Demeter thought for a moment, ‘there’s not much to tell really. She was a fine woman’.

‘In what way?’

‘What?’

‘In what way was she a fine woman?’

Demeter did not answer.

‘Where was she from?’ Kurus pressed.

‘Cadia if I recall’, Demeter responded uncertainly.

‘You aren’t sure?’

‘Yes. Cadia. She served in the 566th Rangers there’.

‘Did you love her?’

Demeter remained silent.

‘What was her name? What colour were her eyes?’

‘Ask the damned question!’ Demeter snapped.

Kurus faltered, struggling with his frustrations. He could feel himself losing control of the situation as he always did with Demeter. He didn’t know what question he wanted to ask. Demeter sensed the hesitation.

‘We never knew your mother’, he stated grimly. ‘You were left with the Schola Progenium, a war orphan. Your mother was a private in the 566th Rangers on Cadia. That’s all we know’.

Kurus reeled as if physically struck by the words.

‘We enhanced you; trained you; nurtured you for greatness’.

Demeter turned his gaze on the boy and Kurus saw there a softening of the iron within.

‘Kurus, the fact is it matters not who your mother was. She died a hero at the Cadian Gate and from that time you were fated to service in the callous embrace of the Adepta. Had we not rescued you, who knows where you would have ended your days? Some far-flung, pointless war zone? Rotting in the dusty halls of an Administratum Archive? Even condemned to the living hell of the servitor?’

Demeter slapped his hands onto Kurus’ shoulders and shook him steady.

‘Son, we are your family. If you need a mother then you’ll find none better than Tessala’.

‘You call me son? You are not my father!’

‘I am, in a manner of speaking. You see, your enhancements come from me. My genetics are meshed with yours, along with the enhancements you have been blessed with, and you are a part of something larger because of it. But more than that, I have raised you. The bond of family is more than blood’.

‘Part of something larger? Is this the brethren that Epicurus spoke of?’

Demeter released the youth and moved to the balcony ledge. He turned his back on Kurus and clasped his hands behind him.

‘Yes’.

‘And who are the brethren? Who, what, am I part of?’

Demeter glanced back, ‘it is not time for you to know this Kurus’.

‘Damn you!’ Kurus flared. He advanced a step and clenched his fists. Demeter turned slightly in amused surprise. ‘The Admiral said these brethren would be hunting us, and you still deceive me. You still withhold these things! How am I to prepare…’

‘Still your tongue boy!’ Demeter bellowed. Kurus backed away as the air around Demeter seemed to darken and throb.

Tension fogged the scene and ugly confrontation roiled between them. Slowly both backed down little by little.

‘Kurus, it is not for deceit that I withhold this from you. It will be a heavy burden and now is not the time for you to carry it. You must remain clear, focussed on the task at hand’.

‘And if these brethren come for me? What then?’

‘They will not’, Demeter reassured. ‘You are pursued by a lesser predator. While the light of the Inquisition is on you, the brethren will remain in the shadows’.

‘Epicurus called you an animal’, Kurus stated. He did not hide the hurt in his voice. ‘Are we animals?’

Demeter raised and eyebrow, ‘do you think you are an animal?’

Kurus slumped to the stone bench and rested on his knees.

‘Sometimes I feel it. Sometimes I am blinded with anger. Sometimes I see nothing but prey, like the people about me are something else’.

‘Yes’, Demeter assured, ‘you will find that. Have you been maintaining your meditations?’

‘They don’t help’, Kurus protested.

‘You need battle son. It is the essence of us. We were bred for it. We were bred to be the Emperor’s war dogs and that is something we cannot escape. I am sorry that you have been laboured with lesser tasks for now, but there are other forms of battle to fight and this is one’.

Kurus looked up at Demeter expectantly.

‘Carry on!’

‘Another time son. For now there is much to be done. The Eldar information has confirmed much of what we already knew and now we have new paths to follow. There are further xenos artefacts to recover and study. Tessala is working on the restoration of Sinnessaar. You should prepare yourself for the next journey’.

‘Why?’

‘Why what?’

‘Why should I? I’ve done everything you ever asked of me, and here now you ask me once again to do your work. Why should I?’

Demeter considered for a moment, ‘because our work is vital. It must be done. And’, Demeter paused, ‘because I say it must be done’.

‘I’ve seen much since I left here. It is not enough for you to say a thing and for me to do it. Not any more’.

‘Are you disobeying me boy?’ There was deep threat in Demeter’s voice.

‘No’, Kurus stated defiantly, ‘I am questioning you. I will do this thing for you but I want to know why. What artefacts am I to recover? What do they do?’

Demeter paced absently considering the youth’s words. He scratched his cheek scars.

‘Kurus’, he began thoughtfully, ‘what is the Imperium of Man?’

Kurus paused. The question confused him.

‘Why is that relevant?’ He retorted.

‘It is the question at hand my son. It is the purpose of my life, my quest. It is the task that I raised you for. I am old and I suspect that time will take me before I can complete what must be done. You must take up my banner when I fall, so I ask again. What is the Imperium of Man?’

Kurus considered the question for a long while.

‘I can answer from the text books and from the scriptures, but I suspect they are not what you mean’.

Demeter regarded the youth proudly. His mind seemed to have grown impressively.

‘What then do I mean?’

Kurus’ mind wandered back to lessons concerning the meanings and origins of things. He drew the slender dirk at his hip and its polished blade glinted in the brazier light.

‘What is this?’ He mused half to himself. ‘It is a blade, yes. But what is it really? It is a thought. It is an intention made real. It was a dream until it was made real by will; the will of the maker to produce a worthy object. It is the will of the wielder to use it. Intention. Will’.

‘Go on’, Demeter encouraged.

‘The Imperium is like this blade. It is an act of will, of collective will. It is the will of Humanity to make the means to maintain itself and survive in the grim darkness’.

‘And do you think that this collective will is the will of the Emperor? Do you think it is His will that Humanity lives as it does? Do you think the Emperor intended that Humanity should live in fear; in ignorance? Do you think He intended that man would oppress, exploit and kill each other?’

Kurus did not respond.

‘And so, you will recover these xenos artefacts’.

‘Father, I have one more question’, Kurus stated flatly, ‘When were you a librarian?’

Demeter laughed out loud.

***

A lattice of light danced and oscillated across the tiled roof of the pool chamber. The glittering blue illuminated mesh mesmerised Cora as she floated on the surface of the pool. The cool water caressed and lapped at her as she floated slowly, aimlessly, near sleep.

For the first time in as long as she could remember she felt utterly calm. Her mind drifted along paths of no consequence and half remembered joys.

A shadow loomed across the ceiling and Cora righted herself, treading water. Kurus entered the swimming chamber. He was dressed only in a loincloth and as he moved in the cool light his musculature pulsed like liquid iron. He placed a dataslate on a wall-bench and his loincloth fell away as he released the hip tie. His vast bulk barely disturbed the surface as he dropped into the pool and came to the surface like a sea-beast.

He rolled from back to front as he swam in languid circles around Cora. She twirled in the water, her eyes fixed on him.

Kurus disappeared from view and Cora panicked slightly, darting about for his return. He surfaced at the far end of the pool and swept his blonde locks from his face. Casually he drifted to Cora until they were close enough to feel the water rush from each others movements.

‘You took the tour out to the condenser fields this morning’, Kurus stated.

Cora bit her lip playfully, ‘yeah?’

‘How was it?’

‘Hot’, she smiled. ‘I hate this world’.

Kurus frowned.

‘But I love this pool’.

They gazed at each other for long moments as they bobbed.

‘What’s on the dataslate?’ Cora asked.

‘Payment from my father’, Kurus responded. ‘At least the honouring of his promise. It seems Tessala’s report of your service impressed him’.

‘And did my service impress you?’

‘No. You’re a terrible pilot and a constant irritation’.

‘Oh really!’ Cora squealed, splashing water over him. Kurus disappeared again and surfaced quickly at the far end of the pool. He ascended the steps and took up a linen wrap to dry himself.

Cora swam to the opposite end and exited.

Kurus regarded her naked form curiously. She was slender and lithe with the hint of a curve at her hips. Even wet, her hair bounced free. She took up a wrap and covered herself slowly.

‘Dinner is at nine tonight’, Kurus called before padding out. His eyes stayed on her as he left.

Cora took up the dataslate. It held the contact details of Admiral Epicurus and a letter of recommendation from Demeter.

***

Dreams of swimming filled his consciousness. Dreams of floating in the embrace of a womb, of endless contentment and of pleasure and happiness were all that he could remember. Those dreams receded and rising to a crescendo the horror of a primal scream dominated all and burned away those comforts like a vapour. Sinnessaar realised it was his own scream that disturb his tranquillity.

His eyes jolted open and the water of his memory quickly focussed into the soft ambient light of a medical facility. He recognised the pervading scent of scorched rock and spiced sweat and memories of his past life flooded in. He grunted and struggled in panic as he found himself bound.

Tessala loomed into view, ‘there, there Sinnessaar. Relax. You are fine now. We are on Hisperus IV. You have been restrained for your own safety. How are you feeling?’

‘Let me up!’ The old man gasped.

‘Yes. Please relax and I will free the bonds’.

Sinnessaar sat up and stared down at himself in horror. A construct of pistons and plate, cables and wire approximated where his body should be. He stared at the flesh of his hands incredulously.

‘What…what have you done to me?’

‘We saved your life’, Tessala responded.

‘Saved my life? By turning me into a damned servitor?!’

‘You are no servitor Sinnessaar Wissen! I have given you the blessings of the Omnissiah and through them you will thrive. Your flesh was destroyed by the Inquisition and I have rebuilt you. You will find in many ways you are better than before’.

Sinnessaar swung his new legs from the bed and stood rigidly. He swayed and jerked.

‘Control will come’, Tessala reassured.

Suddenly a thin snake of metal whirred out and juddered about, knocking over some instruments on a nearby table.

‘What the Throne is this?!’

‘That’, Tessala stated, ‘is something I think you will enjoy find very useful’.

It retracted swiftly and the dermal plating snapped shut giving Sinnessaar a smooth form of dull metal.

Demeter entered the medical chamber.

Sinnessaar hastily grabbed a robe, feeling suddenly exposed.

‘Ah, Sinnessaar my old friend! So good to see you on your feet again’.

‘Not my feet’, the old man grumbled.

Demeter chuckled, ‘no perhaps not’.

‘How is he Tessala?’

‘There is some physiotherapy that will be needed, and practice to get used to the neural interfacing but he will be fine’.

‘He…is standing right here!’ Sinnessaar protested.

Demeter smiled, ‘getting yourself shot once is careless. Getting shot twice is unforgivable!’

‘Really? And how many times have you been shot?’

‘Good point Sinnessaar. Get better. We have much still to do. This delay to indulge your respite here has already cost us ground on the Inquisition’.

‘Give us another seven days and we will be ready to leave’, Tessala confirmed.

Demeter turned to exit, but stopped and said over his shoulder.

‘Good to still have you with us Sinnessaar’.
 



#20 Luddite

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Posted 02 February 2011 - 04:13 AM

Cora settled into the pilot well aboard the Falicus Astram and cycled up the Warp translation protocols. They had made good progress out of the system and a jovial mood was over the crew. She felt invigorated by the respite on Hisperus IV and emboldened by Demeter’s payment. Life was good, she decided, as she passed navigation control over to the servitor net and Recter.

 

Even Recter couldn’t spoil her mood today, and she banished thoughts of him before they became a brooding cloud.

As the Navigator merged into a blue glow, Kurus exited the command deck calling everyone to follow to the committee chamber.

They settled around the holo-table as servitors provided refreshments and Tessala brought up displays and data streams.

Cora reached across and squeezed Sinnessaar's hand. A dimensional holo-graph of the planned route flickered into view at the pict-plate and Kurus began the briefing.

‘The information we gleaned from the Eldar sources has been normalised with our existing knowledge and it seems that we are still on the trail of Eldar archaeotech. Our destination is Pandora, where we should be able to recover something of significance to take us further towards my father’s goal’.

‘What is that goal?’ Cora asked.

‘Demeter has yet to reveal that’, cautioned Tessala. ‘Kurus, I suggest we divert the route at the second drop, and stop off at Ironpound’.

‘Why?’ Kurus enquired.

‘I have contacts there. We will be able to acquire a phalanx of skitarii. I think they will be useful if we should encounter the Inquisition again’.

‘Skitarii?’ Cora enquired.

‘They are the soldiers of the Adeptus Mechanicus’, confirmed Tessala.

‘We will also be able to source a replacement to our little problem’, she continued.

‘What little problem?’ Sinnessaar said quietly.

‘That treacherous maggot Recter’, Kurus growled.

‘What?’

‘Someone let the Inquisition on board and it wasn’t Magos Chattan. Rector’s only alive because we need him until we find a replacement. Yes Tessala, we’ll divert to Ironpound’.

***

The command deck hummed with routine as the blast shields rolled off the vista windows and the translation back to Realspace completed. Cora took control to mesh in the system-ingress telemetry from the customs station. The Falicus Astram swam between the titanic bulk freighters like a pilot fish in a pod of whales. Cora swept the vessel past the ventral vane of a colossus promethium tanker. Even Kurus gaped in awe at the sheer vastness. The Adeptus Mechanicus icon across the vane dwarfed their ship.

Once free of the shoals at the ingress station and locked into the stream of ships heading to Ironpound, Cora transferred control to the servitor net.

Recter quivered in his Navigation seat, blood seeping from his flabby nose. The reinforced Gellar Field once again had saved him from the worst excesses of the Warp. It was not going to save him from Kurus.

The giant leapt from his command throne and crossed the deck in a bound. Before anyone could react, Recter was hauled from his chair and slammed against a bulkhead.

‘You treacherous scum!’ Kurus growled.

Recter yelped in astonishment and whined at the pain of Kurus’ grip.

‘What…what do you mean? I’m no…’

‘Shut up!’ Kurus slapped the Navigator across the face with his free hand. ‘You betrayed us. You sold us to the Inquisition. You nearly cost Sinnessaar his life. You got Mikas killed’.

With a twist, the Navigator flew across the command deck and smashed into the far wall. Kurus vaulted after him and was there before he could recover from the impact. The giant dragged him up like a child dragged a rag doll.

‘You’re a dead man Asmacan’.

‘No!’ Pleaded Recter. Azure light seeped from his third eye and spittle flecked from his desperate, panicked face. ‘Please! It wasn’t me. I had no choice’.

‘You had no choice!’ Kurus bellowed. ‘Of course you had a choice! You could’ve chosen loyalty but instead you chose the way of the traitor’.

‘No I didn’t. You don’t understand. Please, let me explain’.

‘Kurus’, Tessala barked. Her voice filled the command deck with almost painful volume. ‘Put him down. Let him speak’.

She hid her annoyance that Kurus had moved too soon. They had not secured a replacement Navigator yet.

Kurus threw the flabby figure to the floor and Recter scrabbled away in a heap of crimson robes. Azure light crackled from his skin. From the floor, soaked with sweat from the Warp journey and the current panic, his gaze darted between the hard faces glaring down at him.

‘Please, please, let me explain’.

‘We’re listening’, Tessala said flatly.

‘You don’t understand. I’ve not betrayed you because I hold no loyalty to you. I cannot. I am Navigator. My loyalty is first and only to the Navis Nobilite, to my faction and family. Fealty is vital to us, but we owe it not to those that hire us. It is one of our most basic tenets’.

‘You sold us...’, Kurus growled, advancing, a pistol now in his fist.

‘Kurus!’ Tessala snapped, staying him with a gesture.

‘Please, I’m sorry. My bond to you is one of employment only. I am here because you contracted me, nothing more. My instructions come from the Coteaz Council, and I cannot disobey’.

‘And what were their instructions?’ Tessala asked.

‘They were very clear. I was to cooperate with the Inquisition. To send them locations, travel plans. Any other details they requested. Please. I’m sorry. Because of my loyalties I had no choice. I never wanted anyone to get hurt, and I never…’

Recter was cut short as Kurus kicked him across the face. The Navigator recoiled in cloud of blood. He yelped and sobbed pitifully.

‘Please, have mercy! I was only…’

Kurus grabbed the prostrate Navigator by the collar, pinning him down and placed the autopistol to his forehead.

‘Kurus!’ Tessala warned. ‘Leave him be. He’s right, he had no choice. We’ll put him off the ship on Ironpound and…’

Suddenly Rector’s shoulder burst in a cloud of burned blood. The blinding flash of the las-blast threw him from Kurus’ grip. All eyes turned to Cora. She stood with the laspistol gripped in both hands and a steely gaze fixed on the Navigator. The pistol flared again.

‘Cora!’ Kurus whispered.

The pistol flared once more and she dropped her hands to her side. The weapon fell limply to the floor.

‘I’d suggest we dispose of that in the plasma furnace’, she stated calmly. ‘We wouldn’t want the Navis finding out that we killed him’.

‘Cora!’ Kurus stated in amazement.

‘What?’ She responded coldly.

‘I’ll ensure the paperwork is in order to show that Recter Asmacan was left on Ironpound’, Sinnessaar added.

***

Demeter watched the auspex screens closely in the cool emerald gloom of the tactical centre. Servitors and attendants bustled about their duties.

‘Shall I sir?’

‘No’, Demeter instructed. ‘Let them land. Send a descent protocol and set them on the western platform. Keep the defence laser online. I’ll meet them myself’.

It was a hot day even for Hisperus IV and the air shimmered in protest. The dropship rested on the rough flat rock platform as Demeter’s servitor crews went about their programmed duties to minister to the new arrival.

Four figures approached across the rock, resolving in the haze. Demeter stood resolute as they closed. A stout burgundy figure with a wispy beard led the way. At his shoulder, clad in ebony armour, a bald warrior swaggered purposefully. His scarred face proclaimed his experience. Flanking them, two ebony soldiers, sporting bolt guns, stayed back to cover the scene.

Demeter reached into their minds and in an instant knew everything about the strangers. Interrogator Clinat Geyebel had been a fool. His pride and fear of failure had angered him after his encounter with Tessala, and this had clouded his judgement. He had not transmitted details of his actions or investigations to Inquisitor Crowe. It was poor judgement that was going to cost his life.

‘Welcome to Hisperus IV gentlemen’, Demeter welcomed. The blasting heat was evidently causing his guests discomfort. ‘Please, follow me’.

The Interrogator did not move.

‘We are here to speak with Demeter Von Sachen’, Geyebel stated.

‘I am Von Sachen, and this is my world. Please let us adjourn to more pleasant surroundings’.

They moved to a shaded reception chamber, open to the landing platform. Servitors provided refreshments that were declined.

‘You are Demeter Von Sachen’, Geyebel confirmed.

‘Indeed, and you are?’

‘My name is Interrogator Clinat Geyebel of the Most Holy Emperor’s Orders of the Inquisition. You, Demeter Von Sachen, will come with us’.

‘No’, Demeter replied flatly, ‘I will not’.

‘Please do not force us to become unpleasant’, Geyebel suggested. ‘We simply wish to ask you some questions concerning the…’

‘No’, Demeter stated again.

The two ebony guards raised their bolt guns at the bald figure’s gestured instruction.

Demeter regarded them casually. Both suddenly rose from the ground and juddered like marionettes. Blue flame like a blowtorch jetted from the cracks in their armour as they incinerated from within. In moments their ashen forms collapsed to the ground.

Demeter stood curtly, ‘gentlemen, please come with me. There is something I think you should see’.

He strode out from the shade and gazed into the sky. Shocked, Geyebel and Tumblety followed and gazed skyward also.

Demeter took a vox-wand from his belt and said softly, ‘execute’.

A towering lance of blinding tangerine light vaulted from an unseen silo nearby, disappearing into orbit. The bright flare of the Infinitio Secuutus burst in the sky as the defence laser obliterated the Interrogator’s ship.

Demeter turned his gaze to his stunned guests.

‘I’m afraid, gentlemen, that your investigations are done’.

Tumblety drew up his bolt gun and let off a burst of lethal fire. Demeter stood not ten paces distance, yet every shot missed. Tumblety's skin blackened suddenly and split like rock over magma. Blue flame jetted from the flesh-cracks and he fell in a cloud of his own burnt dust.

‘Why?’ Geyebel stuttered. Sheer terror took him and he relieved himself as he backed away involuntarily.

‘Because Clinat Geyebel, I am going to kill your Most Holy Emperor’.

At Demeter’s thought, the Interrogator became cinders.
 






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