gothik: Yup, the Dragon of Mars. All roads lead to the Dragon... or the three main ones do, at least.
Cadmus Qevpilum looked at the still-distant star, and thought of Sol.
Sol, humanity’s home system, the place where mankind had first lived and thought and dreamt. Sol was relatively young, in universal terms, but still ancient beyond human comprehension. Deep, geologic time was beyond the ability of people to understand in more than a basic and numerical sense. That, fortunately, was enough for all practical purposes.
And yet Qevpilum, an outright philosopher when compared to the other Young Squid but considered a straightforward soldier by most Space Marines, still wanted to understand it. He wondered if any neural bionics could give that ability. It was quite possible; but he had no wish to experiment on himself with such things.
He led a large Iron Hand fleet, now, sharing command with Captain Durun Bylomic of the 31st. It was a comfortable arrangement for both of them. Qevpilum was, officially, in charge of fleet operations and the Iron Hands’ armor, whereas Bylomic had the rest of the ground command. In practice, the two of them collaborated on all parts of the operation.
That operation was an unusual one.
Pyrrhia was a legendary planet in eastern Segmentum Obscurus. Some claimed it was run by abominable intelligences, others that it was infested by Warp-spawned undead. In any case, it was an ancient place, and held abundant archaeotech from both the humans of Golden Age of Technology and xenos of earlier times. Qevpilum and Bylomic were here to retrieve the former and destroy the latter so the Mechanicum’s heretics would not, in their idiocy, use it and doom humanity.
Personally, Qevpilum thought the Mechanicum was probably smarter than that, but desperation could lead even the tech-priests to senseless decisions. And desepration was exactly what those enemies of the Imperium were now feeling. Ferrus Manus himself was leading punitive operations on Mars, with Orth and Rochaar among his main subordinates. A significant portion of the Legion had been sent away, but even half of the Iron Hands was an army to make the stars shake. Qevpilum only worried about the loss of knowledge suffered in Mars’s conquest, for everything else was predetermined. The Primarch was, admittedly, recalling much of the Legion back to Mars, but it had been made clear that this was not an order to be immediately carried out, but rather a tasking after the completion of current missions.
“The Pyrrhian system awaits,” Qevpilum’s lieutenant Tlaar Hemcasi observed.
“It was lost for a long time,” the centurion answered, “as you know. No one knew where it was, which system was actually Pyrrhia. But it seems evident that this is the world we have been looking for.”
“Too easy, in your opinion?”
“I would hardly call an investigation of fifty busy days ‘too easy’, Tlaar. And the Mechanicum has never looked for Pyrrhia before. But, yes, I suspect the search will not end here. This is Pyrrhia, but I am far from certain our mission is that close to being done.”
Hemcasi nodded and departed towards the training decks. This battle barge – Ironsoul
, the Young Squid’s combined flagship – had them in abundance, though more for tank simulations than for personal combat. Bylomic’s own ships glimmered in the distance, as well as those of the mortal auxiliaries attached to the Tenth Legion.
Everything was ready, the board set for the final investigation of one of the greatest mysteries the Mechanicum had ever believed in. Perhaps there was even an intact STC there, one that would allow the loyal portions of the Mechanicum to finally go forward from the peaks of the Golden Age into new destinies. It would, also, be an enormous coup for the Emperor, and settle the Great Crusade once and for all.
But it was also tremendously unlikely, and not even worth dreaming of. Cadmus Qevpilum looked around the fleet again, contemplating the opposite end of the spectrum regarding the success of this endeavor: total failure. Perhaps there was nothing of note on Pyrrhia, and its legendary reputation was but a myth. Or, perhaps, Pyrrhia was real, but was rigged to detonate – and would, upon some human’s unlucky mistake, explode in a way that destroyed the entire fleet. It was not the death that worried Qevpilum about that eventuality, but the complete failure.
Pyrrhia’s star kept on shining in the distance, inconsiderate of the glory or infamy Qevpilum could yet achieve. The Iron Hand thought about his friends – both the Young Squid, and acquaintances in other Legions like Uwix Azhordinocemin (more frequently called Azh) of the Iron Warriors and Durak Rask of the Death Guard, as well as, of course, Dasara of the Emperor’s Children. They were fighting on the front lines of the Great Crusade, crushing xenos and traitors, bringing glory to the Emperor and the Imperium. It was past time for him to join them.
“Pyrrhian Task Force,” he ordered, “sigma-hippo formation.”
The shining ships exploded into movement, and the Ironsoul
itself took its place in the formation, slowly rotating to bring its guns to bear against any potential enemy. There didn’t seem to be any, of course. The stars were silent as ever, and lost Pyrrhia, invisible from so far away, quietly spun around its orange sun.
Qevpilum breathed in, and imagined he was taking in the stardust of the blackness before him, filled as it was with countless candles that, perhaps, seemed to signify hope. To the lower right of his screen, the titanic Cygnus Warp Storm, the most recent and biggest such place to blight and (according to Lorgar’s new teachings) bless the galaxy, swallowed the sky. It was majestic, in its own way, but swirling and illogical. Qevpilum preferred the brilliant clarity of the stars. They were the reason life, and through it any movement in the Warp, had begun at all. Humans, machines, xenos, and ultimately even Warp entities, all owed their existence to the simple process of nuclear fusion induced by gravitational collapse of titanic molecular clouds.
Simple, meaning relatively easy to understand; but far from easy to control. And yet humanity had moved stars, in the time when it had supposedly dwelled on Pyrrhia. Qevpilum watched as the last of the human ships slotted into their positions for the formation.
“Towards the second planet,” Qevpilum said, sending out the course. “Forward! Fire and Iron! For the Emperor!”
And the Pyrrhian Task Force set off, daggers against the immobile stars, piercing the vacuum of the Materium in an arc that would terminate, Qevpilum knew, at Pyrrhia.
Except it didn’t.
An explosion rang out; in the silence of space, all that could be seen was the golden fireball that used to be the Silver Momentum
. Qevpilum gave down slowing orders, scanning the area for more mines. They were there, albeit somewhat cloaked, in an erratic pattern that was impossible to predict. They were, however, few enough to pass through, presumably because other ships had already attempted to enter this place.
More cautiously, the task force’s ships (excepting the two others that exploded from the mines) spread out and continued slowly moving towards the distant world. Qevpilum groaned at having walked right into the trap. Still, if this was all –
Suddenly, the mines ended; and light-seconds later, space shifted, and the stars shattered. Reality had changed. Looking back, the centurion could see space remained the same. As the Ironsoul
coasted to a stop, he ran up a flight of stairs onto the bridge, which was in chaos.
“What happened?” Hemcasi asked him, with an impressive amount of calm.
“Another defense system,” Qevpilum said as his mind processed the basic equations of latter M-theory. “Bizarre as it sounds, someone managed to twist space. And it… it is not simply a matter of a single twist. We are in a labyrinth wherein the fabric of reality has been altered.”
“Can we pass?” Hemcasi asked.
“With difficulty,” Qevpilum said, comparing his options. Only one would allow them to move forward. “I’ll need a noospheric connection to both the ship and the Grand Cogitator. Zerondem,” he ordered his other lieutenant present, “follow me. Your mind’s capacity for calculation is one of the brightest in the Legion, making you the best option to steer the Ironsoul
through this maze. I will assist with ship direction. Hemcasi, tell the other ships to follow us.”
The bridge crew looked around in severe surprise, and in some cases terror. The Grand Cogitator was a monstrous edifice to many of them, a piece of archaeotech that had not been turned on in ten years, since the day it had been corralled the Hrud migration of 992.M30 that had threatened the galactic core – at the cost of the minds of twenty serfs responsible for its upkeep, and very nearly that of Qevpilum himself, who had been plugged into it then. By any measure, it had been a worthwhile sacrifice, but Qevpilum could not prevent his skin, even its metallic parts, from crawling at the very thought of the arcane device.
But there was no choice, and no retreat. So the two Astartes descended to the Grand Cogitator’s chamber, and initiated start-up.
“What are the odds of... most of
my mind surviving this?” Zerondem asked.
“A total of eighty percent, including there and back, would be my estimate,” Qevpilum answered. “Your mind is more mathematical, more capable of managing the Cogitator than mine. But we will not be able to afford an abort, for there will be no way of getting out.”
“Fire and Iron, then,” Zerondem said, as before a battle.
“Fire and Iron,” Qevpilum agreed. “And Brother Venth Zerondem, immediately tell me if you will be able to handle this. If not – ” and his stubbornness would be enough to balance out the initial feeling of being overwhelmed, meaning it would be an accurate assessment – “then we will retreat, because even that is preferable to being lost in here forever.”
The Cogitator whirred into life, even as Qevpilum retrieved the noocables. He put on his helmet, and plugged them in.
For a moment, he was the Ironsoul
, and felt it more vividly than his own body, losing his sense of identity; but the gene-seed of Ferrus Manus reasserted itself, and Cadmus Qevpilum was in control. The ship was still clearer than his own body, but its consciousness was only a glimmer of a machine-spirit, and his was a Space Marine of the Tenth Legion. Cadmus Qevpilum looked, with his own eyes and the lenses of a dozen cameras, at Lieutenant Venth Zerondem.
What he saw caused a feeling of triumph. Zerondem raised the Cogitator’s helmet, the machine fully alive, and placed it on his head; then he passed a cable along his arm, and touched Qevpilum’s helm.
“Is everything acceptable?” Qevpilum asked Zerondem, who was frozen in thought with a smile on his face.
“This is wonderful!” Zerondem exclaimed with childish exuberance. “How could you ever bear to lose this, Cadmus? These towers of thought… these wondrous infinities?”
Ah. It made sense that Zerondem would be the one happy to embrace the Grand Cogitator. “They were darker,” Qevpilum said, “for me than they seem to be for you. Forward, then?”
“Forwaaaard!” Zerondem exclaimed, feeding Qevpilum data in his mania. Qevpilum instantly steered the ship, and the Ironsoul
, and the armada behind it, flew towards the heart of the maze.