Porst eyed the caged Inquisitor greedily. He had no great love for the servants of the Empire. They were irrational at the best of times and wildly fanatical at their worst. He could not see fit to bow and prostrate to the cult of the Emperor either, there were days where he frankly doubted that the Emperor was still even alive. The Lords of Terra be damned for all he cared. He took a deep drag from his cigar and stood from his chair, approaching his caged prize, “My employer implied that you would be motivated to follow us but he neglected to suggest that you would try take us on with a one man,” he looked at the servitor, “make that one and a half men. What did you hope to accomplish?. My employer has survived attempts from those who were of greater skill and longer in the tooth with entire armies behind them, let alone one mangy looking servitor.”
The Inquisitor whipped his head around to and yelled to his servitor. The servitor looked up when the garbled sounds came from his master but otherwise continued to stare at the swirling colors of the shield, smiling toothily. Servitors were always unnerving to Porst, perhaps because if he were ever to be caught by the authorities he would be made into one, but this one seemed especially wrong to him for some reason. It was too giddy for his liking, “Inquisitor I am not a complete fool. That field negates any sound you might make, though it allows me to speak mine. A lovely variation of the privacy filter don’t you think? I’ve seen my employer make use of compulsions with a word and a gesture to get men to bring about their own undoing. I’m not about to give you the remotest chance of accomplishing that.”
He took the silver handle offered to him by one of the half-breeds, “You will sit there and behave till my employer returns or I will be forced to ensure that you are properly plaint. I was given the appropriate means to do so.” He pressed a button on the handle and a wave of force shot down from the ceiling upon the Inquisitor driving him to his knees, “You will obey,” he pressed the button again, “or I will make you obey.”
The Inquisitor’s helmet from his face as it cracked under the pressure. A long sliver of metal shrapnel pierced the inner layers of flak to slice his scalp as it burst. A long trickle of blood dripped down the front of his armor from the deep gash along the left side of his face. It would scar, Porst was sure of that.
“Inquisitor fighting it is futile, I’ve already won,” The Inquisitor struggled in the most delightfully futile way. Porst pressed the button again, a damaged section of the Inquisitors armor ruptured and a thin trickle of blood poured down the white of his tabard. Not enough to kill him, but undoubtedly enough to be excruciating. Porst waved his free hand at the large wall of monitors in the front of the room, each showing a different angle of a massive black fleshy hulk with spidery protrusions, “Inquisitor you’ve already lost. My employer boarded the ship and other than those few of us still in the command spire and catacombs we’re already boarded and ready. Your ship in orbit will not pierce our defenses and you are at the mercy of my tender care. Surrender now while you still can.”
The Inquisitor responded with a decidedly course hand gesture unbecoming of his breeding and status. Porst pressed the button again, throwing the Inquisitor to his hands and knees. The half-breeds chuckled darkly; pain fitted their warped sense of humor. Porst walked past the ring of half-breeds, resisting the urge to shudder as he did so.
“It was brilliant of you to commit most of your forces to an assault on the munitions depots while you advanced with your retinue. I must confess I’d expected you to have a substantially larger honor guard.”
Covag, the commander of the half-breed group in the room screeched loudly and spoke in grumbling gothic, “We will have to remove the other soldiers. Father would not appreciate it if we were to give them the chance to interfere with our duties.” Porst rolled his eyes, for all their talk of obeying the father he knew that they were more attracted to the idea of fresh man-flesh than they were to the tasks at hand. The soldiers his employer bred were efficient but at times short slighted and bloodthirsty.
“No Covag I don’t think that’s wise,” Covag’s already warped face twisted into an angry leer. Given the chance Porst suspected that they would have just left the Inquisitor alone in the void shields in favor of going after the meat they were allowed to eat.
Gan Zo, one of the mercenaries in Porst’s company, turned from his consul, “Sir you might want to reconsider that. The level they’re on isn’t a crucial one for us, but there is a subsystem that leads to control of the hangar’s promethium lines. It would be wise to protect that.”
Porst swore, “Very well Covag you will have your fight, but leave half your… men. We might have need of them soon.” Somehow Covag’s toothy grin was even worse than his glare. Half the group followed Covag as he climbed over the balcony and began to lower himself down the side of the building with his taloned hands and barbed tentacles. They made a raucous mess of opening the blast doors, climbing out, and sealing them again behind them.
“Strange creatures but they do their job,” he stared at the Inquisitor’s obtrusive countenance behind the shimmering force field, “Don’t you look at me as though you’re so much better Inquisitor. I know the things you’ve done. I never ordered a planet fragged just because I didn’t like someone on it. Yes, I know about the Exterminatus order. My employer has well connected friends who you’ve substantially angered. You should be thankful for that, you’re worth a great deal more alive than dead,” he sighed exaggeratedly, “Though to be fair not connected enough to countermand your orders it would seem. You have access to a substantially important person in the Imperial Navy don’t you? Don’t bother to try and answer I wouldn’t hear you anyway. Yes you must have one. We shall have to deal with him when we’re done with you.
He walked in a wide circle round the field that trapped Daul, eyeing the power armor in the way one might examine a particularly feisty animal at the zoo and stopping only when he reached the arco-fagellant. He put his hand on Dorn’s shoulder in a mock paternal fashion and chuckled, “I suspect that it’s well within my employer’s power to alter your servitor, repair him even to his previous state. Would you like that?” He turned to Daul and made a deep mock bow, the thick muscles of his neck bulging, “I wonder if you’re little pet dog will bite you as hard when I’m the one who feeds him treats?”
Then as a cold sensation of wrongness swept through the back of his spine he heard a deep grating chuckle in the back of his head, “Tell me Porst does your privacy filter silence my mind as well?”
Porst looked down in horror to the servitor’s body went rigid and the barbed electroshock whips sparked into life. The hand clutching the handle floated through the air as the rest of Porst was turned into a bloody mess. Daul sat safely behind the void shield watching the lasfire flare off it as the half-breeds and human jumped into action to counter whirling and screaming whirlwind of death that was Dorn. Daul stood and he laughed.
Danzig had to resist the urge to jump out of his own skin when a firm hand tapped him on the shoulder. Cairn held out his hand and pointed to the spare power cells on his belt then to back his own robes. The Lionheart opened his mouth to ask what Cairn planned to do with them. He closed it just as quickly when he got a look at the Skitarii’s expression. Skitarii Thross was standing behind him, quivering with rage, and staring at the their attacker with undisguised malice. The mechandrites hanging from his face were still and the fingers of his prosthetic hands clenched and unclenched so hard that the servos inside them groaned and whined with the pressure. The heretic in front of the was a sin against everything the Skitarii held dear. It showed a perversion of the Omassiah on a level transcending description. Indulging his wishes seemed wise.
“Fine, you want my spare ammunition? You can have it. Whatever you’re planning it better damn well work Thross,” Cairn gave him a look that could have frozen a sun and contemptuously snatched the power cells out of his hands. Danzig winced as the augmentic fingers squeezed his hand a bit more strongly than was necessary. It had admittedly not been the most graceful thing he could have said at the time to Cairn. But it was still better to anger the clockwork man into action than to allow Falin’s harebrained plan to become a necessity.
Cairn’s solution was unconventional to say the least. The devotees of the machine god tended to be more blasé about damage to their own bodies in the service of the Omassiah than others would be. When Cairn actually removed his arm at the elbow Danzig was at a loss for words but he supposed it was easier to accept losing an arm when one could simply have it replaced later with a spare. Danzig watched in fascination as Cairn ripped open a side panel of the floor and started to plug wires into the sockets of his detached right arm with all the signs that he considered it to be as mundane as firing a lasgun. Thinner reed-like mechandrites emerged from beneath the beard of tentacles that marked his jaw line. They snaked out and attached wires and circuits in ways entirely beyond his understanding. It was like watching magic being born, fantastic circuit sorcery.
A bright ark of lighting shot out and cracked the wall behind Danzig. The creature, Danzig had long since given up on thinking of it as a man, had started to just lob attacks in the general area of where it suspected the Lionhearts to be. Whatever it was doing with the computers must have been taking up a majority of it’s attentions else it was a truly terrible shot.
Not for the first time that day he considered the sanity of the Inqusitor’s plan. Presumably the Inquisitor had not known about… whatever this thing was. He would not have come down to fight on the planet itself were escape impossible.
At least he hoped the Inquisitor wouldn't.
The Inquisitor’s sense of danger was somewhat warped. The man hadn’t even flinched when they were tagged with anti-aircraft fire during planet fall. It was downright disturbing to meet someone who seemed to actually be as cavalier about death as the Lionhearts pretended to be. Laughing in the face of death was a tactical decision by pretending not to fear anything in a large enough group it allowed them to suppress whatever fears they actually had. Doing their jobs even in the face of Kabalite pirates or whatever else might come their way was crucial. The dry and clinical manner in which the Inquisitor was able to either compartmentalize or ignore fear and confusion was astounding. Whatever else could be said about Daul the man’s blood was made of ice, “Throne protects the man who got in his way.” he muttered.
Cairn shot him a stern glance and Dazig stopped muttering, though his expression was still as sullen. What did the Skitarii expect? Danzig was a soldier. Having to cower in a corner while waiting on someone else to solve his problems was galling. Cairn made an annoyed warbling sound and started to attach the power cells from Danzig’s ammunition pouch to the beveled sockets on his arm. Silvery mechandrite tendrils fed into the sockets between the arm and the cell weaving an intricate web of wires.
It was probably some minor techno-heresy to allow Danzig to watch him doing this. Or not, one never knew with the Adeptus Mechanicus. It might be enough for him to assume that Danzig was unaware of the workings of the great machine spirits for the Skitarii to avoid penance or, worse yet, forcing penance on Danzig. The Ad-Mech guarded their sorceries jealously. A penalty for knowing too much forbidden knowledge could force him into a lifetime of service to the Ad-Mech or a lifetime in a penal legion. He squinted his eyes shut just in case.
When the Skitarii let out a whooping cheer he risked opening his eyes only to shut them abruptly as a blinding flash burst from the bundle of wires. Even behind his lids the flash left a brief afterimage on his retina, “Bastard son of a heretic! Skitarii give some warning!” The Skitarii slapped him with his remaining arm and screeched in binary. Danzig muttered a sullen apology.
As he tried to blink the stars out of his eyes he looked at the damage the Skitarii had done. The ground and walls were scorched from where the burning cables had scored them and a scent of cooking meat wafted from the now dead creature. Its body was twisted and stretched by rigor, the blackened cables and smoking offal leaking out its ruptured guts. Cairn, still missing his arm, approached the data terminal beyond the smoking heap of man-flesh apparently unaffected by the sight or the smell. Danzig didn’t share his impartiality. The smell of it was vile.
Fahal’s sobs had settled to an occasional whimper. Gazan had managed to patch the wound with some synthetic skin and a tourniquet but the stub of an arm still hung limply at his side. His breath was ragged and his eyes were unfocused but that was as much from the painkillers than from the wound itself. Gazan stood up, lifted Fahal to his feet, and helped him to hobble over to Danzig.
Sala’ha whistled and kicked some chunks of meat with his shoe, “The tin man has fangs. What did he do?”
“I don’t want to know,” Danzig bit his lower lip, “And neither do you. After we debrief I want you forget this ever happened. Purge it from your memory. You didn’t see him do it and neither did I for that matter. We’ve got an Inquisitor within shouting distance most of the day, don’t forget about whom we’re talking just because you’re used to seeing him. If he even begins to suspect us of getting close to an interest in techo-heresy or, throne forbid, the Magos it’s more than my life’s worth and damn sure more than yours is. Consider this an order, this never happened.”
Sala’ha looked incredulous but didn’t press the matter farther. Fadir gave a curt nod of agreement. It didn’t take much to convince Fadir to mistrust the Inqusitor. Fadir was one of the many Lionhearts who had been loaned to assist the Imperial Guard in retaking Choros XI. The Imperial Guard, doubting the loyalty of the mercenary band, insisted on placing a Commissar with the Lionhearts. They’d balked at his authority but could do little other than submit to his will. Fadir had lost friends who were just as rebellious as he but lacked his talent for not getting caught. His distaste for the omnipotence and lack of oversight of the Commissariat had transferred over to the Inquisition. The few times Fadir had been in a room with Daul he’d spent the entire time eyeing the Inquisitor’s pistols. People looked at vipers with more trust.
“Clockwork! Can we get this moving? I want to start the shutdown then get out of here. The locator beacons for pickup won’t be of much use if we’re still in a rad-soaked area. I want to be there for dust-off,” Danzig winced at Falin’s tone. Falin was young enough and foolish enough to doubt the wisdom of believing in his own mortality or fallibility. Cairn’s success in killing their attacker as had been taken as a personal insult, Danzig bit back venom and rounded on Falin, “Boy stow it, it will be finished when it’s finished. And if we leave, and I do mean if, it will be when I say so and if I tell you to stand there from here to judgment day I damn well expect you to stand there and do it. No Falin I don’t want to hear it. Stow it and wait.”
Even so Danzig could not help but privately agree that they ought to get moving if for no other reason than to get out of the shadow of the creature’s body. It was damned unnerving. As he watched the numbers on his chronometer rise his sense of urgency rose along with them.
“How goes the recall of our forces Donat,” Sáclair smiled as he downed another glass of aged wine and sipped at the smoke from a pipe fixed to a long hose hanging down from a to an ornate Shisha attached to the back of one of his servitor servants. Being able to attack the city had boosted Sáclair’s spirits greatly, as had the aged talbac in the Shisha. The great hall was still in disarray but the servitors and servants had already started to put things to rights. For all his gripes that they ought to see to critical systems first Sáclair seemed to find the re-hanging of every painting in the hall to be greatly cathartic.
Unfortunately for his second in command this boot in morale invariably meant that it would lead to smoke and drink. Donat coughed and winced at the smoke, or at least as close to a wince as Donat could manage. An issue with a cerebral implant had caused a stroke some year’s back, permanently paralyzing most of his face. Donat hadn’t been an expressive man to begin with so it had taken most of the year for people to notice.
“The troop transports are nearly finished loading sir. It took some doing to get all the ground forces we’d committed to the skirmish, minus those lost in the sortie with Faust’s irregulars, as well as a sizeable chunk of the defense forces but barely enough to compensate for the lives lost,” Donat looked over the many folds of a long roll of parchment as a servitor scribe hastily scribbled out tactical data in shorthand. The data was also fed into the networked data slates but there was a five second lag and Donat was never one to surrender an edge, “Of the ten squads of Lionhearts we’ve accounted for eight. Two are dead, tagged by anti-aircraft fire on the descent, four have been safely recalled and two are refusing to leave till they’ve helped the PDF secure munitions and ammunition on their transports. The PDF has been using Golan class transports for the tanks for centuries but I can hardly blame the Lionhearts for mistrusting the planetborn in knowing the first thing about star flight. Either way we should have everything but the atmospheric flyers running bombing runs out of there and boarded within the next twenty minutes.”
“Make it ten, I want to be done with this damned affair. Stop the bombing and prep stage two. Wait? Golan class transports? Are they taking the entire city with them?”
“Only as much of it as they could carry on their backs, the PDF were loath to leave their families behind. We couldn’t convince them to come along unless we took the women and children as well. We even had a couple regiments refuse to help at all till we agreed to take the children to the ship on the first transports.”
“Where are we going to house them? We’re damn near crewed to capacity.”
“We were crewed to capacity sir, apparently the black ship managed to hit the environmental controls for the level ten foredeck. Once we’ve cleared out the bodies that will make suitable temporary quarters. They’ll be two or three to a bed but I doubt the families will object,” Donat sighed exaggeratedly at Sáclairs incredulous looks, “The Golans aren’t filled to capacity just with the Belzafest citizens Captain, as loath as they were to leave their families they were nearly as incensed by the idea of leaving military vehicles in the hands of heretics.”
“How well equipped were they Mr. Donat?” Sáclair stood up from his throne and took the scroll offered by Donat, “That seems lightly armed, even for a border colony. I don’t recall most fringe worlds having a PDF to speak of but most of them manage to have at least some hydra batteries or a decent core of siege weapons.”
“The city had what you’d expect from a miniscule colony in the middle of nowhere with a decent budget but when they left they only took mostly Salamader class and Chimera class transports, a good number of lightly armored sentinel walkers and around couple dozen Leman Russ. They had difficulty in taking any of the more heavily armed or armored from the city before Faust started taking over, they were too slow for the escape.”
“Sir the weapons are a boon to be sure but we seem to have forgotten something,” Sácomer’s wobbling jowls quivered with confusion, “What of the Inquisitor and Danzig? Mr. Donat’s report spoke nothing of them. What do we know of their progress in the retreat?”
Donat shifted to face the holoithic monitor’s image of the walrus of a man and carefully ignored the look of growing irritation in Sánclair’s eyes, “We’ve found no finite proof that they’re alive or dead yet but seeing as how they were tagged by an aircraft battery it’s not unreasonable to say that some or all of them are dead.”
“I’m not that lucky Mr. Enzo.”
“He’s alive, you mark my words. Even if he weren’t he designed this plan to run the same if he were alive or dead,” Sáclair blew a great ring of smoke, “Hildy is man of commitment if nothing else. No, we continue with the plan. Load everyone back on the ship then charge the forward lance batteries and the fore torpedoes with the high yield atomic charges the Inquisitor brought. I’ve hated having something that unstable in my cargo bay to begin with. Disgusting things, the man seems determined to bring disgusting things on my beautiful ship. Those torpedoes worst of all, I don’t want to even imagine the man that imagined bombs designed specifically to annihilate a hive city. We’re going to burn this city to the ground then salt the earth once Kerrigan activates that contemptible machine.”
“Sir I really must protest! I cannot believe the Inquisitor really means for you annihilate the city he is presumably inside of.” Sácomer looked as surprised as anyone else that he was voicing disagreement with the captain. People who did so did not keep their position long.
Sáclair’s tone took on a dangerous edge, “Protest away Mr. Sácomer. You have your orders. Follow them or step down from your position so I can find someone who can do his job without second guessing me.” Sácomer flinched but said nothing. We will wait for Kerrigan to finish her task. It won’t to us much good to do the job if it’s not done properly. We will wait for her to turn on the array and not a second earlier.
Sáclair’s drank in the colony of Belzafest below him. He smiled wrily and sang an old Damascan love song to himself as he watched status reports of the ship preparing to fire and possibly to rid him of two great problems. Some times life truly was wonderful. One way or another once the torpedoes were loaded there would be an end.