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#1 Karmatech

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Posted 27 November 2008 - 12:28 PM

Hey all,

after reading some of the great fiction posted here and at Dark reign I was keen to have a try.

This is a first stab at a detective-noir style short story, with a particular style.

Comments and suggestions encouraged...

 

[beginning]

'Blinded by His light'

 

chop – chop - chop

Massive overhead fans kick up litter and debris. It dances in the grey semi-darkness that is simulated night in the hive. The dark walkways and ladders are otherwise quiet. Apart from the civic lighting the most obvious source of illumination is the imposing Magistratum building. The lit doorway occasionally disgorges a fresh foot patrol, and receives a weary one as it returns. Hovercars stop and exchange drivers, before heading back out into the hive.

Nearby a gang of rats scavenge in a broken waste-recycler.

I take the Lho-stick from my mouth and artfully flick it at the leader, burning his ear. The pack run squealing. A faint smile at this victory against the decay of society is a luxury I can afford.

The street lights shimmer off my bald head, and glint off the brass augmentic eyes. Everything else is black. Black shoes, black pants, black shirt, black jacket, black skin. My eyes had also been black, once, long ago. My first priority is to light another Lho-stick, inhale deeply, and ready myself for another shift.

Before another mood swing hits I start walking. A Magistratum officer waves as I approach, but his hand drops when he recognises me, and his 'Hello' gets chopped off at just "Hell...' I have no idea who he might be, or even who she might be, tucked under all that armour, and I don’t care.

At the doorway I pull out my Magistratum ID and flash it at the scanner, and somewhere hidden from view gun-slaved servitors relax their trigger fingers.

The lift is out again, which is not unusual. Chief Letac likes to keep his officers fit and this is a cheap way to do it. Shame if you come back from a shift injured. I stomp up the stairs, neither graceful nor clumsy, all the way to the eight level. My lungs are burning, and I’ve left a couple of dead Lho-sticks on the stairs on the way up. Despite being rather lean, physical exercise doesn't agree.

On the eight floor I attempt to slip into the Crimes Resolution Office undetected, but this never works. Somehow I just seem to attract attention. A few people pause mid-sentence, then finish up quickly and move away to work on something else, and the clacking of keyboards subsides for just a moment, and then returns. Crime never stops so the Magistratum beleive that neither should they. They just like to take a breather every now and then.

The heat of upper Taris can work up a thirst, so at the re-caff dispenser I make a cup with two whiteners and three sweeteners, just the way the Emperor intended.

'Ascensione!' A demanding bulldog voice from behind, 'What in hades are you doing here?'

I turn and smile at Deptuy Chief Krebs, then take a long draw on my Lho-stick, before finally answering, '...working.'

Krebs’ normally flushed skin turns another notch of red. 'Don't get smart with me. I don't care who you are,' he roars, 'And I don't care how many cases you've solved. When you work here you are under my jurisdiction and you report to me.' Technically none of this is true, but I am happy for him to look like he’s in charge. It would be even better if he believed what he said, but he doesn’t. Truth is, I think I scare him.

'Apologies, Deputy Chief,' I acquiesce while using a silk kerchief to wipe my brow. 'Investigator Regis Ascensione reporting.'

Krebs steps forward until he is completely in my face. 'We both know you're not Magistratum,' he whispers with a tortured hiss, 'so I dislike it every time you use that title. You didn’t earn it.'

With a nod I concede the point. 'Okay. But do you think it wise to tell everyone who I really am?'

Krebs holds his ground for a while, then backs off slowly. He looks around the room at his people, who in turn look to him for assurance that he is in control. 'Get to work, Ascensione, without another word. Standard procedure. Live cases first. None of that Dead-case stuff that you seem to get off on.' Krebs pivots and walks into his office, still smouldering.

My first reflex is to shrug, not for effect, but because I'm genuinely bemused by what had just happened. No one wanted me here, but yet today's verbal abuse was more that the usual, and it seemed pointed. After a quick look around the office to see who is watching I stroll over to the stack of case files, re-caff in hand, Lho-stick in mouth, and do the usual. With barely a glance at the white sleeved jackets of the Live cases, and a brief flick through a few of the grey Cold cases, I carefully go through the black jackets of the Dead cases.

The whole office is hushed, half expecting Krebs to come at me again, but he is keeping to his office as he does when he feels impotent.

Possible suicides, potential double-murders, a suspected mass-murder, and one suspected-arson. The last gets my attention. Although no expert I know that arson is fairly easy to uncover. Maybe on low tech worlds there is still some room for error, but on Tarsus the auspex of the Machine God reveals all.

The date on the case is extremely recent. It isn't even a day old. It shouldn't be a Dead case. Why would someone try to bury this, and just as importantly was I meant to find it?

The only details are the sketchy report of the patrol officer who called the fire in, and the fire warden who put it out. It was an abandoned fab-block up near the hiveskin, a cheap derelict place, and maybe the sun would have scourged everything if the fire hadn't.

The simulated night inside the hive is timed to match the actual nights of Scintilla, so luckily it is still dark. Still time to visit the scene. The case file goes into my coat.

On the third floor, the home of the hovercar patrol, the staging room goes quiet.  They know what to expect and had probably been hoping to avoid it tonight. Nistan, the Duty Sergeant, comes towards me with his arms out in a gesture of reasonableness. He stops trying when he sees my palm in his face; I'm not a very reasonable person.

'I need a car. Who's going out?' No one answers so I read the names off the duty roster on the wall, as Sergeant Nistan glowers all the while. Werner and Cain, no. Jericho and Midas, no. Silvanus and Atilas... I get a feeling in my gut; I have a hunch about this one ... 'Yes. Dust off in five.'

'Now wait a minute!' Nistan interjects. I feel kind of sorry for him.

'Take it up with Krebs if you have a problem.' Not that sorry.

 

Twenty minutes later I kick Atilas out of the front of the hovercar and wait as he squeezes into the back. It had taken that long to buy a fresh pack of Lho-sticks. Atilas and Silvanus can't decide if they should be angry, so the hovercar sits on the road in front of the Magistratum building, not moving. No one speaks. I think they're using the silent treatment. I know how to wait.

Silvanus cracks first, 'So do you want to just sit here all night or should I just drive around?' she asks sarcastically.

I punch the address from the file into the hovercar's cogitator and the quickest path shows up on a map as a fluorescent green line. 'Drive… and Silvanus?'

'Yes, sir.'

I take a good slow drag on the Lho-stick. 'Come on. We're in a hurry.'

Silvanus steps on the acceloratrix with all her 70 kilograms, plus armour that probably weighs the same again. The hovercar rises and lurches away. It is the most enjoyable feeling.

Being driven by someone else is the only way to travel, in a hovercar of course. I have always hated spaceships...

[to be continued]



#2 Evilscary

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Posted 27 November 2008 - 09:28 PM

Very nicely written so far!

A few points I'd make, although there not criticisms, more observations:

- Your initial description of the main character seems a bit sudden and brief. Also, how does he see light reflecting off his own bald head? Also, I am to take it from the description that he's black, as in of African descent, or that he has black-dyed skin?

- You've done well with words like acceloratrix, but i feel you maybe need to 40k things up a bit. I know myself from writing 40k fiction that it's hard adding 40k elements to a scene, but a few gargoyles and a bit of low-gothic slang sometimes help establish setting.

I look forward to the rest!



#3 Insequential

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Posted 27 November 2008 - 11:45 PM

Evilscary said:

 

- how does he see light reflecting off his own bald head?

 

 

LOL! The classic trap of the perspective/tense that I decided to experiment with.

Evilscary said:

 

Also, I am to take it from the description that he's black, as in of African descent, or that he has black-dyed skin?

 

 

Yeah, he has 'dark skin', and I'm imagining a Midas Betincore type figure from Eisenhorn. I guess any distinction of being 'African' would be totally lost by the 40th K.

Thanks for the critique (such a misunderstood word).

The first-person/present-tense didn't jar you? Some people pick it up, but I'm kind of hoping I can pull it off without anyone noticing.

 



#4 Luddite

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Posted 28 November 2008 - 01:13 AM

The first-person-present-tense was noticed.  

Its a brave thing to do as writing effectively in 1st person is exceptionally difficult to do.

The advantages of that approach are that the author can give and immediacy to the character, and fully explore and reveal the inner-most thoughts and feelings of the character.  Its therefore most effective when used in ghost stories or horror fiction, where the emotional impact of events can be key.

Of course it brings with it an array of disadvantages.  By going first person you restrict the entire story to the single perspective of the main character.  Therefore most standard literary narrative devices become impossible, which is why third person is the 'standard' to allow a complex story or narrative to be related through multiple viewpoints.

Personally i don't mind first person perspective, but the present tense is jarring, to me at least, and is a clunky device that for me acts as a barrier to engagement with the story.  But that's just me.  I'd be interested to know why you chose this writing form?

 

A few comments on the writing directly:

Some minor typos (e.g. 'On the eight floor I attempt...', should be 'on the eighth floor...' etc.), but that's no big problem. 

'Magistratum'?  This is a local law enforcement authority?  I don't recognise the reference.

I also agree you need to '40k it up' a bit.  You refer to keyboards, cars, hovercars, spaceships, etc.  All very generic and contemporary.  I'm sure you could cloak these thinks in 'Gothicky' terms. 

There's not much of a story presented yet, so it's difficult to comment on any narrative aspects, but i presume this is 'page 1', so more to come?



#5 Evilscary

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Posted 28 November 2008 - 02:34 AM

Luddite said:

'Magistratum'?  This is a local law enforcement authority?  I don't recognise the reference.

 

It's an Abnett-ism. Magistratum are local law enforcement just below Arbites in authority. They tend to take a more investigative line than Arbites.



#6 aethel

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Posted 28 November 2008 - 02:59 AM

Insequential said:

 

The first-person/present-tense didn't jar you? Some people pick it up, but I'm kind of hoping I can pull it off without anyone noticing.

I didn't find the first person jarring at all.  You have an excellent style going there.  I think you acheived the detective noir feel you were going for.  Your prose is well constructed and your description clean.   Stylistically, I was quite impressed.

I do agree with the previous comments about it needing a bit more 40k flavor, and that obviously, we'll have to wait and see where you're going before we can give feedback on the story!

Luddite- Magistratum are local law enforcement.  They are mentioned a few times in DH core book.



#7 Luddite

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Posted 28 November 2008 - 03:05 AM

aethel said:

Luddite- Magistratum are local law enforcement.  They are mentioned a few times in DH core book.

Ah, nice one.  Cheers.  I tend to refer to them as provost, so i sort of overlooked that reference.

Magistratum, to me conjures images of a judiciary, rather than a constabulary function...



#8 Karmatech

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Posted 04 December 2008 - 04:05 PM

Here is an update. As you might tell from the writing it follows a present/past pattern.

Hope it feels mroe 40K'ed up ;)

 

********************************************************

 

'Blinded by His light'
 
 
chop – chop - chop
Massive overhead fans kick up litter and debris. It dances in the grey semi-darkness that is simulated night in the hive. The dark walkways and ladders are otherwise quiet. Apart from the civic lighting the most obvious source of illumination is the imposing Magistratum building. The lit doorway occasionally disgorges a fresh foot patrol, and receives a weary one as it returns. Hovercars stop and exchange drivers, before heading back out into the hive.
Nearby a gang of rats scavenge in a broken waste-recycler.I take the Lho-stick from my mouth and artfully flick it at the leader, burning his ear. The pack run squealing. This victory against the decay of Imperial society is celebrated with a faint smile.
 If someone was with me, if I wasn’t alone, they would see the street lights shimmer off my bald head, and glint off my brass augmentic eyes. Everything else is black. Black shoes, black pants, black shirt, black jacket, black skin. My eyes had also been black, once, long ago. My first priority is to light another Lho-stick, inhale deeply, and ready myself.
Before another mood swing hits I start walking. A Magistratum officer waves as I approach, but his hand drops when he recognises me, and his 'Hello' gets chopped off at just "Hell...' I have no idea who he might be, or even who she might be, tucked under all that armour.
At the doorway I pull out my Magistratum identification and flash it at the scanner, and somewhere hidden from view gun-slaved servitors relax their trigger fingers.
The lift is out again, which is not unusual. Chief Letac likes to keep his officers fit and this is a cheap way of doing it. Shame if you come back from a shift injured. I stomp up the stairs, neither graceful nor clumsy, all the way to the eighth floor. My lungs are burning, and I’ve left a couple of dead Lho-sticks on the stairs on the way up. Despite not having an ounce of fat on my body, physical exercise doesn't agree.
I attempt to slip into the Crimes Resolution Office undetected, but this never works. Somehow I just seem to attract attention. A few people pause mid-sentence then finish up quickly and move away to work on something else, and the clacking of cogitator interfaces subsides for just a moment and then returns. Crime never stops so the Magistratum believe that neither should they. They just like to take a breather every now and then.
The heat of upper hive Taris can work up a thirst, so at the re-caff dispenser I make a cup with two whiteners and three sweeteners, just the way the Emperor drinks it.
'Ascensione!' A demanding bulldog voice from behind, 'What in hades are you doing here?'
I turn and smile at Deputy Chief Krebs, then take a long calming draw on my Lho-stick, before finally answering, '...working.'
Krebs’ normally flushed skin turns another notch of red. 'Don't get smart with me. I don't care who you are,' he roars, 'and I don't care how many cases you've solved. When you work here you are under my jurisdiction and you report to me.' Technically none of this is true, but I am happy for him to look like he’s in charge. It would be even better if he believed what he said, but he doesn’t. Truth is, I think I scare him.
'Apologies, Deputy Chief,' I acquiesce while using a silk kerchief to wipe my brow. 'Investigator Regis Ascensione… reporting.'
Krebs steps forward until he is completely in my face. 'We both know you're not Magistratum,' he whispers with a tortured hiss, 'so it really irritates me every time you use that title. You didn’t earn it.'
With a nod I concede the point. 'Okay. But do you think it wise to tell everyone who I really am?'
Krebs holds his ground for a while, then backs off slowly. He looks around the room at his people, who in turn look to him for assurance that he is in control. 'Get to work, Ascensione, without another word. Standard procedure. Live cases first. None of that Dead-case stuff that you seem to get off on.' Krebs pivots and walks into his office, still smouldering.
My first reflex is to shrug, not for effect, but because I'm genuinely bemused by what had just happened. No one wanted me here, but yet today's verbal abuse was more that the usual, and it seemed pointed. After a quick look around the office to see who is watching I stroll over to the stack of case files, re-caff in hand, Lho-stick in mouth, and do the usual. With barely a glance at the red sleeved jackets of the Live cases, and a brief flick through a few of the grey Cold cases, I carefully go through the black jackets of the Dead cases.
The whole office is hushed, half expecting Krebs to come at me again, but he is keeping to his office as he does when he feels impotent.
Possible suicides, potential double-murders, nothing unusual yet, a suspected mass-murder, and one suspected-arson. The last gets my attention. Although no expert I have heard that arson is fairly easy to uncover. Maybe on low tech worlds there is still some room for error, but on Scintilla the auspex of the Machine God reveals all.
The date on the case is extremely recent. It isn't even a day old. It shouldn't be a Dead case. Why someone would try to bury this is a mystery. Just as importantly was I meant to find it?
The only details are the sketchy report of the patrol officer who called the fire in, and the fire warden who put it out. It was an abandoned fab-block up near the hiveskin, a cheap derelict place, and maybe the sun would have scourged everything if the fire hadn't.
The simulated night inside the hive is timed to match the actual nights of Scintilla, so luckily it is still dark. Still time to visit the scene. I trust my gut on things like this. The case file goes into my coat.
On the third floor, the home of the hovercar patrol, the staging room goes quiet. They know what to expect and had probably been hoping to avoid it tonight. Nistan, the Duty Sergeant, comes towards me with his arms out in a gesture of reasonableness. He stops trying when he sees my palm in his face; I'm not a very reasonable person.
'I need a car. Who's going out?' No one answers so I read the names off the duty roster on the wall, as Sergeant Nistan glowers all the while. Werner and Cain, no. Jericho and Midas, no. Silvanus and Atilas... I get that feeling in my stomach again; I have a hunch about this one ... 'Yes. Dust off in five.'
'Now wait a minute!' Nistan interjects. I feel kind of sorry for him.
'Take it up with Krebs if you have a problem.' Not that sorry.
Twenty minutes later I kick Atilas out of the front of the hovercar and wait as he squeezes into the back. It had taken that long to buy a fresh pack of Lho-sticks. Atilas and Silvanus can't decide if they should be angry, so the hovercar sits on the road in front of the Magistratum building, not moving. No one speaks. I think they're using the silent treatment. I know how to wait.
Silvanus cracks first, 'So do you want to just sit here all night or should I just drive around?' she asks sarcastically.
I punch the address from the file into the hovercar's cogitator and the quickest path shows up on a map as a fluorescent green line. 'Drive… and Silvanus?'
'Yes, sir.'
I take a good slow drag on the Lho-stick. 'Come on. We're in a hurry.'
Silvanus steps on the acceloratrix with all her 70 kilograms, plus armour that probably weighs the same again. The hovercar rises and lurches away. It is the most enjoyable feeling.
Being driven by someone else is the only way to travel, in a hovercar of course. I have always hated spaceships...
 
 
 
The psykoauspex tester squealed like a rusty door being closed. My parents stood up in horror, not sure whether to comfort or kill me.
‘He’s a psyker,’ said the man from the black ship flatly, ‘not an alpha level, not even beta, but you did the right thing informing me. We’ll have to take him away and test him. Find out how bad it is. You know what I’m saying?’
My parents nodded dumbly. The man stood up. ‘You say nothing major has ever happened? I think it’s safe to leave him here overnight while the ship is being refuelled. Just don’t get too attached.’
I heard every word he said. What I didn’t know was that he talked that way because there was every likelihood the memory would be purged. What’s the point in mincing words? Why waste a kindness?
‘Will we… ever see him again?’
‘No. Probably not.’
‘What will happen to him?’
‘Depends,’ said the man. ‘The usual result of testing is insanity and transportation.’
‘Transport? To the Golden Throne?’
‘Yes. Unless he’s very lucky.’
When the black ship left the next day with me on it.
 
 
 
Most of the trip is spent in elevators. The hovercar uses ground effect for lift, so its altitude is almost non existent. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t need the hovercar. I just wanted some company.
It doesn’t take long for Silvanus and Atilas to start talking, and pretty soon they are all but ignoring me. Another side effect of my condition, or maybe compensation for it? They talk about pict shows they have seen and songs they have heard, about family developments. No one in a hive talks about the weather.
Their talk lulls me into a kind of stupor, threatening to surface some painful memories, but I’ve learned through meditation that only by accepting pain can it be dealt with. My psyche is like the hiveskin. It needs to be scrubbed clean by the sun’s rays every now and then. Trying to avoid this painful act only makes it worse when it inevitably happens.
Once in the upper hive the hovercar travels up ramps and over bridges spanning perilously long drops. The upper hive is broiling with heat and the sun hasn’t yet risen. The drive seems to take forever. I drift, then think I see our destination. I nudge Silvanus in the rib with my elbow to get her attention. ‘Over there.’
She nods and turns to hovercar towards a stack of abandoned fab blocks that lie just beneath the hiveskin. Why would anyone light a fire here? Why some anyone report it? And why in the name of all that’s holy would anyone bother to put it out?
I get out of the hovercar and am assaulted by the heat. Even worse is the humidity, the rising stink and sweat of a billion souls. I gag but my throat is so parched nothing comes up.
Silvanus and Atilas stay in the hovercar, keeping the recycler running, as I search the fab block. The embers are still smouldering. There is no mistaking the date of the report.
On the top floor, in a room with several holes in the ceiling, I see the sky and it is turning red and blue. The walls of the room are blackened, but on closer inspection I notice that there is no structural damage. The blackening was done by some kind of focused heat source. Like a flamer. There’s only one group I know of who make a habit of towing flamers around.
The walls and floor of the room start to glow, and in the instant before the sun hits like a fiery tornado the room is lit up like the Throne of Terra. In that moment I see some kind of writing underneath the scorch marks, blacker than the damage that covers it. Symbols that have never been recorded in any human language.
The light becomes intense. My augmentics shut off for their own protection. The source of the heat is enough to guide me the opposite direction. Awkward, banging into red hot walls, I make it to the nearest stairwell, hands up in front of my face and using the leather arms of my coat to feel my way.
Down I go, both hurrying and uncertain, until the heat subsides enough to allow me to rest against a wall. Eyes are still inoperative. I force myself to keep going, all the way to ground-level. Outside the building the roof above me groans and roars as panels expand and press against each other. Steel metal ribs squeal as they rub against steel metal plates. Squealing like some creature spawned of chaos. The sound is maddening.
‘Magistratum,’ I bellow. ‘Officer needs assistance.’
There is no response. ‘Oh, for the love of…’
Suddenly, someone grabs my arm and drags me in an unknown direction. I hear a hovercar door open and I’m pushed through it and collapse onto polymer covered seats. My benefactor follows me in, but sits elsewhere. The hovercar door slams shut.
‘Drive, drive, drive,’ Atilas yells, and the hovercar lurches away again.
No one talks. We ride under radiant rooftops until we are back where the air is only stifling.
‘I need assistance.’
‘Are you burned? Do you need a medicae?’
‘No. I need a techpriest.’
 
 
 
Back in the mid-hive. We find a building that bears the sign of the Machine God. Inside, I am charged a hundred Thrones before they will even look at me. I pull out my Magistratum badge, but it doesn’t impress them. I feel I have no alternative but to pay.
Warm human hands, Atilas and Silvanus, pass me over to hands that are cool and made of metal. With precision is the only way to describe how they handle me.
The next time I see is in a stark-lit workshop filled with devices I can’t fathom the function of.
‘My eyes. They have never done that before,’ I lament.
‘What function have they never done before?’ wheezes an ancient machine-woman through a respirator, as she applies finishing repairs by my augmentics.
‘Cut-off when overloaded. I was in the upper hive. Got caught in direct sun.’
‘Your true flesh did not malfunction. Ocolus-pattern cognitoauspex have no overload function. They may obscure for as long as required, but they do not cease to function.’
‘Huh?’
‘Let me re-submit. In lay-machine terms, it wasn’t the sun that stopped your eyes from working.’
As soon as she’d said it the realisation struck. It was something I’d seen.
 





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