++ Personal Notes 71/7173 - Morthen Stroms. ++
By way of a note: Alcohol… Lexicon Categorization: A colourless unstable flammable liquid which is produced by the natural fermentation of sugars and is the intoxicating constituent of Amsec, beer, spirits, and other drinks, and is also used as an industrial solvent and as fuel.
ALL GOOD THINGS come to those who wait.
To Juliana Zadian the good times were few and far between, and the bad times were…well, interminable. If the good times were indeed coming, then they had better come quickly. She felt like she was on the edge of a deep precipice, and one slight roll would mean total oblivion.
She was drunk again, but nowadays she was always drunk. It helped her cope, it helped her forget, and it kept her sane.
Clad in her ubiquitous combat boots, combat trousers and tight-fitting black t-shirt, she lay on a louse-infested mattress in a filthy wet back alley staring up at the stars above.
Well, Juliana, you sure out did yourself this time.
Her head was pounding like the pistons in a Titans leg, and her mouth tasted like… well, like an Ork’s armpit.
It had been two days this time; a mammoth bender of epic proportion that had gone well beyond her usual limits. Now she was finally sobering up and now she would pay the price for her over indulgence.
Damn that Rogue Trader, damn the man. What was his name? Yeah, damn Ewatochi, that slippery amphibian, damn his luck. The cards…
“On your feet citizen and let’s see some identity.” The voice was barely audible and muffled by a face covering, or a visor. There was authority there, a hidden menace, but Juliana ignored it anyway. She turned over onto her left shoulder and brought her knees up into her chest.
She felt the tap on her shoulder and tensed up.
“You cannot sleep here citizen, this is a restricted zone and you have just earned a night in Precinct.”
Juliana knew that whoever was behind the voice was not going to go away. It was the law and the law was unforgiving and uncompromising. She knew that her respite was now over and the full after-effects of her binge would soon kick in. One thing was for sure however, she was not going to be sobering up in the drunk tank with lifes degenerates and inebriates. She would rather face a roll around with a Grox than that.
“Go away’ she spluttered, though she did not know why, “Why don’t you find someone else to hassle”.
The tap again, this time a little harder and with a determined hand.
“You have ten seconds to get to your feet and show me your papers, or you are going down town with me, and that could involve an element of pain compliance”.
Juliana rolled over onto her back and looked up into the bright beam of a flashlight. Her nemesis was clearly silhouetted against the background. She could make out the shape of a helmet and a set of studded shoulder pads belonging to a local Enforcer. She could also make out the long outline of a power maul.
Emperor-damned, why me?
Juliana suddenly felt brave and totally irrational. She somehow decided that this street plodder appeared to be on his own and his body language signalled that he was on edge and nervous.
A novice perhaps?
“Why don’t you go and bother someone else, I’m not doing anything wrong.”
The tap again and the buzz of the power maul being activated. A second tap, harder this time.
“Get to your feet citizen, while you still have the use of your legs.”
The irrational switch in Juliana’s head clicked into attack mode before the rational side of her alcohol-befuddled brain could do anything to countermand it. The possibility of her walking away with a reprimand and a frisk down was beginning to look very remote. It was now the classic fight or flight scenario and there was no going back. She was either going to run for it, or she would be squandering the rest of the day in a holding cell and the possibility of some form of serious injury.
She preferred the first option...
In a blink of an eye she flipped onto her knees and delivered a haymaker into the Enforcement officer’s groin, buckling him in two, his lungs exploding with expelled air. She then brought her hand down on the power maul, knocking it downwards and out of the way.
The Enforcer’s helmet hit the hard road with a sickening pop and Juliana made sure he stayed down with a hard blow between his shoulder blades.
She allowed herself a momentary pause of satisfaction.
Then the world about him exploded in pain and light.
Damn it, he was not alone…
One hour and twenty-two minutes later she woke up slumped in a chair with the coppery taste of blood in her mouth, and acid bile on her tongue. Pain ravaged her body, and as she moved her hand gingerly to her face, she realised that she had a large cut bisecting her right eyebrow.
Nice touch boys.
Juliana knew that she was now in a whole world of trouble. Her malevolence towards authority had now cost her dearly. Now She had to somehow get out of this place, wherever that might be, before the locals looked too deeply into her past. If they found out who she was then trouble was sure to follow. She shook her head.
There was the sound of movement and the click of a door being opened. She looked up, her eyes slowly adjusting to the harsh light from a bank of spots in the ceiling. She was in a small room with a door behind her. A standard mirror window was to her right, and she instinctively knew that she was being watched. She leant back in the chair and then grinned and winked at the window.
To the left of her was a barred rectangular window and a wired off rotating fan.
Despite her condition, she was already formulating an escape plan.
The door opened again, but this time someone entered. Juliana heard low voices and the scrape of wood against metal. An Enforcer pushed past her, dragging a table and a chair behind him. He placed them both in front of her and without even a glance, left the room.
“Am I under arrest?” She asked quietly. The question was pitiable, but what else could she say in the circumstances.
A thick-set investigator sat down in front of her, a typical career man, all sweat and starch with a large midriff that spoke of fast food and convenience. He wore a standard-issue investigators grey suit and a thick red neck tie. Juliana sensed that he was also carrying.
A thirty-four-twenty. Standard Arbites-issue snub-las, and probably a secondary in his sock.
The investigator flipped open a data-slate and grunted. Juliana watched him scan the contents before pushing the slate forward. The man placed a lho-stick in his mouth and lit its end with expert ease. He sneered at her.
“Name?” he asked matter-of-factly.
Juliana placed her hands behind her head, shrugging her shoulders. She gazed at the stained ceiling above. There was a small dark stain near its centre.
Is that blood?
“Name?” The Investigator repeated.
Juliana heard the sound of rubber on plasteel. The Enforcer had not left the room, he was behind her and very close to her shoulder. She leant forward and sniffed the air.
“Is that roll-up legal?”
“Name. What is your name?” repeated the Investigator.
“I wish to exercise my right to silence under the Articles…”
“Name?”, the investigator interrupted with hidden menace in the tone.
There was a pause and the Investigator stared long at hard at her.
“Let me see.” The investigator passed his palm over the reader.
“Petra Eceolaza… narcotics, prostitution. Jerta Cona, three years for larceny, assault and battery, narcotics,” the investigator looked up. “Again… Aneesa binti Taaha, weapons offences, flying without a licence. Ah, here it is… Vittoria Girgenti. It says here… narcotics, resisting arrest, assault on a law-enforcer, plus your little mess around today, which means times two. Oh, and finally, just a minor offence that must have slipped my mind… murder.”
Juliana never moved a muscle, not even a twitch.
The room was now deadly silent. Even the background noise of a busy Precinct House seemed to have gone.
Julian leaned forward. On the desk was a small metallic disc. She tapped it with her index finger and looked up at the investigator.
“This is a vox-thief right?”. The Investigator rolled his eyes. “Hello, hello?” she tapped the disc again. “To everyone out there, and so you are all very clear. I exercise my right to silence under the Articles…”
The blow hit her in the right temple knocking her sideways onto the cold hard floor of the interview room. She was not quick enough to prevent the collision with the ground. Her head impacted against hard plasteel, and pain shot through her like a plasma wave. She gasped, more with surprise than pain. She refused to cry out, even when her scalp opened up like a ripe fruit and blood pooled around her.
“Answer the fuggin’ questions you stupid bitch”, came a brutal voice. Juliana knew instinctively that it was the street-plodder she had dealt with earlier; still sore and itching for some payback. Rough hands pulled her back up onto the chair, and her face was pushed in the direction of the investigator. Juliana opened and closed her eyes. The eyebrow had opened up again and blood was flowing freely from the cut.
The investigator sat slowly back in his chair, arching his fingers in front of him.
“You are wanted in three different sub-systems.”
Juliana wiped the blood from her eyes and shook her head. “I guess I am a might bit popular.” She cocked her head. “Is this standard procedure for Arbites on this dung-hole of a planet?”
“Is that a Guard tattoo?”
The skull and crossed scythes of the Lifeguards. She had always meant to get it removed but just never got around to it. The damn mark had got her into a lot of trouble before, now it could get terminal for her.
Juliana pulled down her sleeve. It was such an obvious move, but she was caught momentarily off-guard.
“I’ve no idea what you are talking about”. The investigator nodded towards her right arm.
“That’s a Guard tattoo, I’ve seen enough of them in my time, so what unit were you with?”
Juliana sat back in the chair and then stretched her legs out in front of her. She contemptuously folded her arms across her chest.
“I have no idea what you are talking about’, she hesitated, ‘Just charge me with whatever it is you are going to charge me with, or let me go.”
There was an imperceptible nod from the detective and the street-plodder pulled Julian into a rough headlock.
“Shall I add deserter to your ever growing list of charges?’ said the investigator.
Juliana chuckled “It’s all fabricated, I am not who you say I am. I am just a lowly distillery worker… from K-District… Shiteville”. Another punch came, a vicious little jab this time, striking her temple. A stabbing pain shot through her head, bringing tears to her eyes. She threw the street-plodder a killing look and spat out a globule of blood.
“How are your nuts, you poxed pussy. I eat babies like you for breakfast”. She was suddenly pushed backwards this time, and this time it was the back of her head that hit the hard floor. She blacked out.
“My real concern here,’ the investigator said. ‘Is not whether you are a deserter or not, it is who you really are, and where you actually come from.”
Juliana took a deep breath and looked up at the bull-neck. The man was staring at her, sweat trickling down his brow. He wore a bored expression on his pale, sickly face.
“That was actually a question”. He added.
Juliana’s head throbbed and blood was everywhere. She was hurting, but she had endured worse… much worse.
“I have the right to legal advice. Get me a Consuasor, or let me go”. It was worth a try she thought. Then she reflected that she could not remember what planet she was actually on and whether her requests were binding here or not.
The investigator smiled “Only citizens are entitled to legal advice on this… planet, but we don’t know who you actually are and according to our records you do not exist, you are an unknown’, he paused and tilted his head to one side ‘and off-worlders do not have the same rights as indigenes.”
The door opened again and another Enforcer entered the room. He bent down beside the investigator and whispered in his ear, nodding towards Juliana as he did so. Words were exchanged and the Enforcer shook his head. The investigator stood up. He placed the data-slate inside his jacket, pointing at Juliana with the other hand.
“You wait here; we are not finished with you yet”.
She spat blood and cracked her face into a smile.
“Like I am going anywhere.”
Endorphin rush: a feeling of exhilaration brought on by pain.
Wait here. What else was she going to do?
She gave a pained laugh which was a last-ditch attempt at bravado.
Well, I am well and truly in trouble this time.
A minute later the door opened again. Juliana braced herself for the next attack that was sure to come. She tensed up her muscles and closed her eyes. Would the blow come from the right or the left? She had already decided that her interrogators had had enough play time for the day. She was in a bad place and was in for a bad time so what the hell. This time she would attack first before they did, she would hurt them before they finished her. She would go down fighting this time regardless of the consequences.
First, she decided, it would be the street-plodder, he would get his comeuppance. Then, if she could, she would take out the greasy investigator, maybe with his own piece. What happened after that was another matter, but she would not go down passively.
The be-speckled investigator did not appear this time. In his place was a robed Adept, with its hood pulled down low over its face. The Adept took up position to the left of the table with its arms crossed across its chest. Juliana hesitated.
What in the Emperor’s name was going on now?
Another man sat down. He was powerfully-built with cropped, dark brown hair and a face criss-crossed with scars. He had a strong chin with a hint of shadow. She could not discern his age, he was probably fifty standard years, perhaps slightly more? His eyes were hidden behind gloss-black eye protectors. He wore a long black trench coat over a body suit of an unknown matt material and what looked like a combat harness of military manufacture.
Juliana could not detect any visible weapons but She noticed that he had a Vox receiver in his left ear.
The new arrival sighed, and then cracked his heavy fingers. He leaned slightly forward and removed his eye-protectors.
What is this?
He had the most dazzling blue eyes she had ever seen. They were piercing but with a warmth behind them. There was wisdom and care there.
The man smiled.
“Juliana Zadian, aged,” he coughed and made an attempt to cover his mouth. He then grinned, revealing a row of immaculate white teeth ‘Native of E’lafpur 7, but spent most of your childhood on Orage Septimus. Father killed in combat, mother killed during an Ork raid, no living relatives…”
“Who the Fug are you?”
The man nodded and the Adept stepped forward unfolding his arms. He placed a large paper file on the table in front of them.
The dark-haired man continued. “Adopted by The Daughters of the Navy, placed in a military Fraternity before becoming a Noviate at the prestigious Muneris Palaestra Schola. Joined the Elite Orage Lifeguards as a pilot, rated top of her class. Ten years unblemished record ‘the man paused and sat back in his chair, rocking slightly. He stared at Juliana through eyes that now looked like dark blue crystals.
‘And there is the conundrum. The last line on the document states’, he studied the data-slate with renewed vigour. ‘It states that you were killed in action.”
Juliana sprang to her feet and then crouched low into an attack stance. Before she could take a further step, there was a grunt and then a pair of heavy hands lifted her up and then pushed her firmly back into her chair. Muscles of iron then held her there, pinning her down as effective as detention irons. The dark-haired man did not even flinch, but a smile broke across his face again. He looked up at whoever was holding her down.
Juliana tried to shrug the heavy hands away, but was pushed down even harder.
“I asked you a question,’ growled Juliana playing for time. ‘Who the hell are you… people?”
“Relax Juliana, relax. We are all friends here.” The man’s voice had a slight accent and was low and… soothing.
She finally managed to lean forward and stared at the man facing her behind the desk.
“Let’s get one thing straight. We are not friends. Never, in all my life, can I ever recall us sharing a drink together, or hanging out swapping war stories”. She leant back, satisfied.
The other man smiled “Sarcasm does no become you, Juliana. But I like sarcasm, I am skilled in its use. Now shall we get down to business?”
“Where is my Consuasor?” She attacked. “I have rights. Get me some legal in here right away.” The other man spread his fingers out flat on the table. She noticed a golden ring band on his right forefinger which bore a dark red ruby. She sensed it was very old.
“What the…?”. There was an icy sensation in her forehead
“Who the Fug is in my head?” She turned on the Adept but realised that it was not it but the man across from her who was skimming her mind. “Get yourself out of my head…”
We will not harm you
“You prefer me like this?”
“Fine.” The man smiled. To her surprise, Juliana felt a heavy weight lift from her shoulders. Not the physical weight that was holding her down, but a physiological weight, and the stress of her incarceration seemed to slowly fade away.
She looked directly into the man’s eyes.
What she saw back was a kindly face, a trusting face. She was being illogical.
“You are not a citizen here on this planet, like the Investigating sergeant said.” The man began. “Off-worlders have no rights here. You are not entitled to a Consuasor or any form of legal assistance come to that. Your future looks very bleak. Assaulting an Enforcer on this planet means five years in a penal colony. That’s five years digging up Thallium to make heat sensors or, bleeding to death in the shower after the sisters get hold of you and use you as a plaything. But you won’t last five years in the colony’s, you’ll last three at the most, before your skin peels away and cancerous growths turn you into…” he coughed. “A puss boil. But more than that, there is the other small matter of the alleged murder on your rap sheet.”
“Maybe so, but you will burn for it anyway.”
The man’s face was that of genuine concern. Juliana looked nervously at the Adept and then tried to turn around again. When she failed for the fourth time, she relaxed her shoulders and tried to smile.
“Are you a Psyker?”
“No I am not. I am far more than that” he said. “Far more than you can imagine.”
“You guys are not the law are you?’ she paused ‘No you are not, and you are not locals either. I smell military all over you.”
The other man grinned. “Very astute Juliana, but we are not soldiers… we are, how do you say, an independent organisation.’ he paused and then shrugged his shoulders. He had evidently made a decision and from this point on, there would be no going back. He sighed.
‘We operate outside the law, and I mean right outside it. So far outside it in fact, that we are technically not Imperium. We avoid the agents of the Imperium whenever and wherever we can, in fact, we avoid everyone. We are, I like to think, a family and we look after our own. I heard about you through my sources. I could do with a pilot like you. You have a rare talent.”
The skin on the back of Juliana’s neck began to tingle, and the temperature dropped a degree. The Adept leant forward and spoke to the dark-haired man across the table. He nodded.
“Juliana. We have not got long,’ he turned to the Adept. ‘Exactly how long have we got Eadfrid?”
The Adepts voice was curiously high-pitched and heavy with accent, “Seven minutes, twenty seconds Boss”
“You have six minutes to make up your mind. Stay here and it’s the Thallium mines on Den-Leb 10, or the electric chair down here. Come with me, with us, and at least you may have some say in how you… eventually die. I will give you anonymity, a new identity even, and you can be whoever you want to be and without any recrimination and without being judged.”
“Five minutes Boss”
The hands on Juliana’s shoulder’s relaxed, and that was all the opportunity that she needed. She was quickly on her feet again.
She had managed to break off a long shard of metal from the base of her chair during her conversation with the man across from her. Now she held it low like a dagger. She turned to take out the guard who had held her down. She would plunge the metal joint into the guard’s throat and take him out quickly. She would then try and take out the dark-haired man across the table. The Adept…
She never stood a chance.
A large fist completely enclosed her hand; and the other grabbed her by the scruff and lifted her high into the air.
“Emperor’s blood!” she gasped through clenched teeth.
“Juliana meet Dombi, Dombi meet Juliana.”
A huge man faced her, but not a man as such, his dimensions were all wrong. He was a brute-looking giant with a fantastic muscle structure squeezed into a formal black suit that strained over his frame. A wide grin crossed his face.
“A bloody Ogryn.”
“And one of my personal bodyguards and my friend.’ The dark-haired man was now next to her, standing a good head taller and twice as wide. He placed a reassuring hand on the Ogryn’s chest. “Put the lady down Dombi, she is one of us now”.
Juliana shrugged her shoulders and then looked at the other man’s offered hand.
“Three minutes Boss.” Warned the Adept.
“I am Morthen Stroms”. Juliana looked at the hand and then studied the Adept and Ogryn once more. She frowned.
“How the hell in the Emperor’s name did you all get in here without being discovered? Where are the Enforcers?”
“Two minutes Boss.”
“They are two minutes away Juliana. Would you like to accept my offer?”
“Good. You have no idea what adventures await you.”
Juliana hesitated for a few seconds, pouring over the last few minutes. She did not relish spending the rest of her days in the mines and a slow death, or frying her brains in the electric chair. If this was a way out, albeit temporary, then she would take it. This crew seemed to know their stuff and this Stroms person was obviously a professional.
I suppose I can try to escape another time, once I’m out of this fix.
Stroms cocked his head.
She smiled and then took Stroms hand and shook it vigorously.
“Sure, I’m in. Nothing ventured, nothing gained as they say. Now, if you can get in here, you can get out…. Right?”