“You may tell the Captian I will activate the machine when I do so and not a minute earlier. This may be his ship but I am the mistress of his machines and his speaker for the Omassiah. He will listen to my wisdom or he will be silent in his ignorance,” Sáclair continued to send down frightened looking ensigns to pester the Magos about her progress with the machine. He was clearly eager to wash his hands of the entire bloody affair. His latest messenger was a young boy of around twelve with sandy hair and eyes that were all too interested in all the machines for Kerrigan’s liking. Though his voice carried all the sounds of respect his mouth moved over the words as though he was unaccustomed to humility. A common curse of the privileged children of the command staff destined for command positions.
Considering her own relative failures with the machine, Kerrigan was at the verge of conceding defeat herself. Unfortunately she had given her word she would manage to get it working and the value of her word was about the only currency she still had to her name. It would not do to lose that as well as her position on the Oita Forge World. She did truly miss Oita but it would not have done to simply forego what she believed for the benefit of political expediency.
But this task of the machine spirit, Curse of the Eye this damned task was infuriating. It made no sense. It was in none of her texts, none of the manuals of doctrine. None of her ancient books of scripture, by all accounts the damned machine spirit had just made the thing up. It was in none of the coded languages of the machine, it was none of the secret words of worship. It was not a command code in any languages she understood and it was not a reference to any passages of the holy texts of consultation.
Her servants and attendants scurried around, feverishly flipping pages and consulting data slates. Machine Spirits developing these sorts of irregularities was not uncommon, especially in the most venerable and sophisticated of them, but it was always damned frustrating.
It was there, mocking her and thumbing its nose at her because of how clever it was. She looked back at the boy still standing and looking up at the data terminal of the great machine in wonder, “What are you staring at boy?”
The boy flinched as though scalded, “Nothing mam’ its just,” the boy hesitated.
“Just what?” She looked at the boy pointedly. She had no patience for any more interruptions from an impetuous child. She even lacked patience for one wearing the crest and silks of Sáclair, one of his nephews no doubt. She was a Magos of the Adeptus Mechancius, not some traveling performer from the ship’s markets to do tricks for his amusement. Her mechanical voicebox crackled with rage as she rounded on the child, “Does Sáclair have some additional message that I need to hear or are you just adding your personal opinions on the secrets of the machine?”
Everyone in the room froze and looked at the boy. It was quiet enough to hear a pin drop. In a tone of dangerous calm Kerrigan asked, “What do you mean boy?”
“The answer mam’ its 1113213211. It's a riddle they use to train children being prepped for the surgeries used to control the Endless Bounty. The Endless Bounty she likes riddles mam’ and we’re trained to know every one of them. You never know when she’ll decide that she needs you to prove yourself worthy of her. I’m honestly surprised that none of the people sent down to deliver the message told you,” Kerrigan’s grip on the delicate tool in her hand was causing the handle to bend and indent under the force of her augmentic grip. The boy, clearly unaware of the dangerous line he was walking continued unabashed, “I suppose they assumed you already knew. People do tend to think you and the Inquisitor know everything, but I suppose nobody but the Emperor can,” he bit his cheek, “And honestly mam, uh, that is Magos,” he’d caught a sight of the tool in her hand, “You’re a little scary.”
Kerrigan rounded on the boy, propelled forwards on her mechandrites till she was looming over the now petrified child. She bent down within inches of the child’s face, her augmentic features terrifying. She stared straight into his eyes and began to laugh with joy as she lifted the child up into her arms and hugged him, “Child you have just done more than you can possibly imagine.”
She turned to her startled attendants, “Well? What are you waiting for? Hurry up! Enter the code and activate the machine. Daul has waited long enough for us to do our jobs.” The attendants and lesser priests jumped into action, fiddling with dials, tapping at keyboards, and chanting soothing songs of computation. Kerrigan’s cheeks crinkled up into a remnant of a smile, “And for you child I have a special reward.”
The boy looked back at her as though he’d been brought to the foot of the chopping block only to be told that not only was he not to be sentenced death they intended to knight him. He sputtered a bit and said, “Reward? You mean to give me a reward?”
“I reward cleverness child, one should always reward cleverness. I intend to make you one of my apprentices,” The boy’s eyes widened in excitement, “Yes child I do mean that. I will teach you the sorceries of the machine if you prove yourself able. You’ve already proven to have a deductive mind and a great deal more cleverness than wisdom. I can work with that. Now tell me your name.”
“Abbas Sáclair,” the boy said in a guarded fashion, as though afraid to admit who he was for fear that the great present would be taken away. It made sense, as the bastard son of one of Nathaniel Sáclair’s concubines he would not sit on the great throne himself but would always be constantly being groomed for a position he could never have. Well his role in the Adeptus Mechanicus would be all his. Kerrigan smiled, “Well Abbas, you are now my apprentice. Your first job is to stand silently with me and watch me activate the void shields to protect us from the radiation it will put out.”
Abbas stood straight as a board next to her, quivering with pride. Kerrigan shook her head, he would have to learn to curb that enthusiasm or he would go mad from exhaustion. She suppressed a chuckle remembering her own enthusiasm as an apprentice whilst activating the commands that caused a domed void shield to flicker into life around the great double-headed eagle sitting on the circle of obsidian in the center of the room. It was magnificent to see the machine in action, there were so few teleporters in active service on any ship smaller than an lunar class ship, powering them simply took too much energy for the smaller ships to handle. Activating the one on the Endless Bounty had taken altering the generators to output more energy enough that it bordered techo-heresy. Were it not in the service of activating such a wondrous machine Kerrigan would have been loath to do it at all. Now that the machine sang and hummed with activation she smiled to herself as the chorus of singers chanted in melodic tones of binary.
She typed on the data pad and entered the crystal with the information about the sub-dermal locator beacons inserted into all of the Lionhearts as well as Daul. They appeared as bright orange dots flashing on her screen. Most of the dots were on ships heading back to the Endless Bounty but there were two clusters of orange dots still in the city. She focused the great machine on those two clusters of dots and thumbed the runes of activation. The room filled with a great hum of the machine and a bright flash of light in the center of the room on top of the obsidian slab.
Two rather haggard and war worn looking groups of Lionhearts appeared in the center of the room blinking in astonishment next to a substantially less surprised but no less relieved looking Daul. Dorn, as always, just looked clueless. Falin pulled up his gun in surprise and fired wildly at the shield. Danzig batted his gun away and screeched at him. Kerrigan smiled, the void shield would have protected her but she appreciated the effort. She tapped on the intercom, “Is it safe to let you out or are you going to shoot at me again?” She didn’t wait for a response before thumbing the deactivation rune for the shields, “You’re welcome by the way.”
Daul batted away the frustrated motherings of Cairn over his torn eye and approached Kerrigan, “The beautiful Magos Frist, your timing is impeccable as always. May I bother you to activate a channel to the bridge? I have need of you again,” Kerrigan put her hands on her hips and her face crinkled in a smile, “Magos I would love nothing more than to exchange our usual pleasantries but this is urgent. Faust has another ship.”
Kerrigan’s joking demeanor dropped entirely she shrieked for her attendants, “Holonet-link! Now!” She turned back to Daul as two of her attendants rushed forwards pushing a thin sheet of black glass
“One burning thing after another I swear,” she muttered darkly as she eyed the look of undisguised hero worship Abbas was eying the Lionhearts with.
The sheet of black glass flickered and the image of Sánclair’s face appeared. He eyed Daul with mild surprise and then smiled, “So that’s what Kerrigan’s pet project does! On my ship? There is one installed on my ship. How wonderful. Oh Hildy I take back all the nasty things I said about what you bring onto my ship. It isn’t even the anniversary of my ascension. ”
“Captain, now is not the time,” Daul tried not to enjoy cutting Sánclair off, “Faust has a ship. I don’t know how or what type but we need to blast it to hell before it can take off.”
“Another ship? Hildy you do need to fire whoever is in charge of getting your military intelligence on Faust. He truly is dreadful at his job,” Sáclair’s ruff had been torn in the earlier battle but he still managed an over dignified flourish of his silken coat and lace cuffs before continuing, “Yes Hildy I will fix this problem for you but I want you to resolve the issue of our four fingered friend and his hounds in my brig.”
Daul bit his tongue keeping his retort in check, now was no time for a fight, “Fine. Whatever you wish just blow that ship to hell.”
“I promise to do everything in my power to kill it,” Sáclair ended the connection on his end and watched the image of Daul wink out of existence. The Inquisitor really did have Horus’ luck, a teleporter of all things. Still if the Inquisitor intended to keep the teleportation machine it would mean better business for the bounty. Provided of course, the Inquisitor ever allowed the Endless Bounty to go back to work. Damned oath of service and damned honor keep him. He looked up to Donat, “Well? How much of a charge have we built up in the forward lances?”
“More than enough now that the shields are down sir.”
“Well then there’s no use in waiting, fire, fire everything we have.”
“Of course sir.”
Bright streams of laser fire burst from the forward lance batteries, crashing into the city and cracking the already pockmarked and damaged dome. The force ruptured the top of it into shambles. The modified atomics rocketed down into the colony and burst in bright plumes of fission and death. The bounty fired off four salvoes of laser fire and atomics. The skies of Belzafest boiled and churned around the explosion like the eye of some great storm.
“Tell the Inquisitor that, once again, I’ve cleaned up his mess Sácomer. And do try to emphasize that I would prefer he not make a habit of it.” Sáclair stood up and stretched, “I daresay it will be nice to get some sleep after all this.”
“Sir you’re going to want to interface with the ship,” Donat was looking over the readouts from the servitors scribes again, “You’re going to want to do it now sir.”
Donat, never one for joking or exaggeration had gone white as a sheet, “If you insist Donat, but I must sleep eventually.” He nonetheless did grab for the silvery filament as fast as possible and fix it into the socket. Who was he, after all, to discourage his crew from helping him do exactly what he wished to be doing. Throne it was glorious to be part of the ship, to be large. It was fantastic. He throttled down on his emotions and soaked in the information around him, not just the sensations of the ships systems.
There was the space around him, the minefield in the distance, and beneath the planet. The city was a swirling mass of atomic death. Nothing could have survived. No that was wrong. The same sense of deep nothingness, the missing space, the absence of matter was sitting in the middle of the explosion. An inky black nothingness the size of an apocalypse class cruiser rouse out of the mass of rolling clouds and took to the stars.
Throne almighty help him he had to fight that, he could not let it escape. Damn his confidence and damn his word. Burn it all, it would have to do. It was suicide but it would have to do. He could only hope this would earn him his place with his predecessors or kill him and his ship in the process and resolve the issue to everyone’s satisfaction, “Get the sanctioned psychers attached to the gun batteries, as many as were left over from the last try. No more, we can’t risk more and I doubt they’ll have issue finding the damn thing.”
It was as nightmarish and alien as any ship Sáclair had ever seen, almost tyranid-like in its architecture. In addition to the back spidery spines that had flared from the smaller ship its crablike midsection fed into a thick section of mottled fleshy tentacles that circled what Sánclair could only assume was a weapons array of some sort. It sat in the distance, flexing its tentacles and spines like some great predator of the ancient seas of Terra. Sánclair swung the bounty round and gave the order to fire, but the weapons of the bounty seemed infinitesimally too small to damage that the great ship. The ship apparently agreed, it ignored the efforts of the Endless Bounty entirely. It loomed in the distance, impassively taking what the bounty tossed at it. It slowly turned at faced the planet. The mass of the great tentacles hanging from its spidery form pulled away from its front and Sáclair registered a monumental buildup in energy.
He flinched and tried to fly away to a safe distance but was a second too late. A stream of bright orange energy swept towards the Endless Bounty. Sáclair gritted his teeth and waited for the incoming embrace of death. It never came. The wave of energy swept past the Endless Bounty entirely and collided with the planet of Belzafest. The sweeping waves of unease that Sánclair associated with the plunging into warp space started to overcome Sánclair. He checked the condition of the ship’s Gellar Fields just to make sure, though he doubted they would do any good in protecting the ship from whatever warp devilry Faust had planned.
Sácomer’s face hardened and he yelled to Sánclair, “Sir, we must move destroy that thing, that monstrosity.”
“Mr. Sácomer?” Donat’s emotionless face eyed Sácomer, “What do you mean for us to do?”
“We did ram the last one sir.” Sáclair bit back the urge to shout. It would be like a minnow trying to ram a swordfish. The glowing orange energy fired by the ship had bored deep into the planet and had caused great cracks and fissures to form at it slowly imploded on itself. The astropathic choir started to scream and their handlers had to quickly intervene to stop them from opening their own veins. Sánclair watched in horror as a great rift in space opened where the planet used to be. A thought occurred to Sánclair and he activated the hololithic connection to Kerrigan’s workshop a second time, “Inquisitor. I need your help.”
Daul, half covered by the powered armor the Skitarii had been aiding him in removing popped into the view nearly instantly. Apparently he understood how desperate Sáclair was to admit he needed anyone else’s help, least of all Daul’s. “Yes Captain what do you need?” the Inquisitor batted Gazan away from the half finished stitches covering the left side of the his face and tried to ignore the Skitarii as he proceeded to remove his left pauldron.
“Faust is known for his forays into xenotech but what of the other heretical arts. Has he been known to consort with the forces of Chaos?” Sánclair deeply hoped he was misinterpreting the facts. He would give near anything to be misinterpreting the facts.
The Inquisitor flinched as Gazan pulled the stitches tighter on his face than they necessarily needed to be. He muttered something that sounded distinctly like sadist. Gazan ignored him entirely and saw to his forehead, “We damn well can supect it now. It feels as though I’m being spit in half. Captain,” he winced in pain, “shoot the damn ship, ram it, plead with it, but do not let it get away,” the Inquisitor doubled over and the astropathic choir wailed again in horror and pain, “I need, I need to sit down.”
The hololith flickered out even as Sáclair yelled, “No Inquisitor wait!” Sáclair swore and turned to the only person who didn’t seem to be in a state of panic, Zorn Calven. The Navigator stood at the head of the navigators staring out at the rift in mild amusement, “Navigator would you care to shed some light on what is going on?”
The navigator slowly rubbed his pale skeletal fingers together and clicked his tongue on his teeth. He giggled slightly as he said, “It’s a flow, a current… no, not a current. It’s a tidal wave of warp along which to travel, the idea is twisted, brilliant but evil. The mass of the planet is being used to tear a path to wherever it is that the other ship is going. Wherever that is must be astronomically far away.”
“Farther than I can calculate sir,” Navigator Calven seemed excited by the prospect, “Perhaps farther than mankind has ever been.”
The massive ship started to rocket forwards at surprising speed towards the tear. As did the Endless Bounty much to the surprise and chagrin of it’s Captain. The rift was pulling at the bounty with surprising force. Navigator Calven might think it a tidal wave but to Sáclair it couldn’t help but feel like quicksand. Moving away from the rift felt sluggish and painful. It tore at the ship’s hull and engines and only slowed their descent into the rift. Sáclair closed his eyes and tired to ignore nagging voice of caution in his head as he drove the bounty through the rift right after Faust’s ship, “It looks like we’re going on an adventure lads.”
The deep plunging sense of driving the ship through the rift was exactly the same as normal warp travel, but never in his life had he experienced as turbulent of a warp flow in his life. It was rushing, churning, frothing, and seething mass of nothingness lined with fangs. Simply keeping up with the massive shape of Faust’s ship in the distance was straining the engines beyond what was safe to use within warp-space. It was something neither Sácair nor any of his predecessors could remember experiencing. He eyed the rear weapons of the ship warily, fearful that they could fire on him at any moment. Fearful that he could not fire back without compromising the power supplies to the Gellar Fields, he was full of nervous energy. So focused was he on the ship in front that he did not notice the danger approaching from behind.
Sácomer screamed, “The mines sir! Deactivate the shields! The mines!” but it was too late. Pulled in by the inexorable gravity of the rift a stream of Oita make mines streamed towards the bounty. Sáclair screamed as they burst near the Endless Bounty tearing into her engines and crippling them. Reports flowed in from all sections of hull breaches and isolated failures in the Gellar Fields. Sáclair listened to the reports of system damages and casualties through a haze as he watched Faust’s ship disappear into the distance. He ignored the sounds around him and consigning himself to the shame of failure as the Endless Bounty drifted helplessly in the warp. He wondered if his ancestors would ever let him forget the shame.
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