Another Day in the Sump
Arbite Gaius Maltorian wracked the slide of his combat shotgun, moving carefully through the shattered doorway of the darkened hab-unit deep in the bowels of the underworld below the domed streets of Choral City. Down this far in the under hive there was no such thing as sun light. Only the constant gloomy haze of overhead luminators and glow globes held the stygian darkness at bay. Even then they did a poor job of it. Shadows fell in ragged tears where the wan light didn‘t reach, creating pools of impenetrable black where anything could be hiding, waiting to take his life. “Paranoia is your friend.” The words had been passed on to him by Instructor Klein during the long months of combat training during his enrollment in the schola. They rang true through Maltorian‘s mind as he made his way deeper into hab, keeping him on his toes. He’d seen a lot of things in his thirty years of service with the Adeptus Arbites. It had changed him from the zealous tin boy whose belly had been filled with the fire and brimstone the preachers had planted in him during his formative years in the schola progenium. It hadn’t taken long for the endless stream of death and corruption to take its toll on the last remaining vestiges of his humanity, making him hard boiled and merciless. With a quick shake of his head Maltorian brought himself back to the task at hand, sending old memories scuttling back to the recesses of his mind.
The orders from his superiors had been clear. All arbites were to converge with haste and be prepared for anything. Maltorian had found he was closest to the scene when the patchy vox had come in at the arbite precinct from one of informants hired to keep an eye out in the shady pits of the sub habs. The details had been sketchy. Something about dead bodies and possible cultist activity. The mention of cultist activity had seen to it that the message had been passed up the ranks with haste. The threat of possible heretical infiltration was never to be taken lightly. Too many times the signs had been missed and Imperial worlds had fallen to subversive hands. Snorting at the thought, Maltorian was going to make damned sure that Choral City wasn‘t about to become another cesspool rife with recidivism.
As he entered, the stench of old blood and offal wafted up to greeted him. Once the pungent aroma of death would have made him gag but now, after so many years, Maltorian was immune to it. Subtle hints of rotting flesh permeated through the air, as if their ephemeral scents were overpowered by the heady perfume of spilled blood. Keying his vox, Maltorian reported in. “Maltorian here. No contacts so far. Place smells like a charnel house though. No bodies but grox-cart load of blood and guts. “
The buzzing hiss of static filled his ear, bleaching out the tiny voice on the other end of the vox, turning the reply into a garble of hoots and whines. “Say again. I‘m losing you. What gakk-brained jackass is working the vox? Better not be some damned recruit or I‘ll have your grox-fondling ass!” Maltorian snarled as he rapped the side of his helmet trying to get a clearer signal.
“….aware…new informa….subjects ma…plague…bies”
Maltorian’s heart skipped a beat. Plague. No matter how you cut it, plague was bad…very bad. Even the meanest bastards in the sump feared the plague. Reaching to his belt, Maltorian grabbed his resperex, attaching the rebreather to his helmet. “No sense in taking chances” he muttered to himself aloud, the sound of his voice muffled by the air filter. He voiced a silent prayer to the God-Emperor that it would be enough. The last thing he wanted was body parts falling off at random. Scars were one thing but sump plague had a tendency to necrotize flesh and he was an ugly enough bastard as it was.
The muted sound of banging from the room to his right brought Maltorian around, shotgun to his shoulder. The hairs on the back of his neck started standing up in salute. That meant one thing…trouble.
“Maltorian to precinct. Where’s my damned backup?” Static was his only response.
Sighing, Maltorian slowly made his way to the closed door. He tested the handle with his free hand.
“Brute force time.”
Stepping back to give himself some space, Maltorian brought his foot up and smashed an armored boot into the poorly-crafted fiberboard door, sending broken pieces of wood flying across what looked like a bed room. Broken lumiglobes flickered in the near-darkness of the closed-in room, the strobing effect painting a grim scene of carnage as he entered. Blood covered the walls in streaked patterns, laying in congealing pools on the floor. Here and there, he could make out bloody hand prints plastered across the bed sheets. The rotten stench of decaying flesh was all-pervading. Again the banging sound came, this time louder and more pronounced.
“This is the Adeptus Arbites. Come out slowly with your hands raised. Noncompliance will be met with the use of lethal force” he ordered.
The banging stopped at the sound of his voice. He could hear shuffling coming from the adjacent bathing room, punctuated by the sound of low moaning. He recognized the sound. He’d heard something similar eighteen years earlier when he’d been called in to remove squatters from the power station on sublevel thirty seven. The hairs on the back of his neck were practically dancing as the sump zombie stumbled its way forward, drawn by his voice. His mind raced as he thought back to the garbled transmission he’d received…. “Plague…bies.” Plague zombies… Instinct kicked in as his finger caressed the trigger of his combat shotgun, the barking report filling the confined space with its ear-shattering report. He was rewarded with a gory splatter of brain matter and black blood as the man-stopper round took the head that had once belonged to a woman clean off.
“Maltorian to precinct. Respond. Request assistance. Repeat. Request assistance. I’ve got a zombie here. Someone bring a gakkin flamer. Purgation with fire will be needed. Respond damnit!”
Once again, he found himself greeted with nothing but static. Disgusted, Maltorian killed the vox link and made his way back outside. He stopped by a small table situated by the door he’d smashed his way through and picked up a small pict unit. The expensive piece of machine was out of place this far down in the sub-habs. “Of course, not everyone down here was born here” he thought to himself as he examined it. A lot of good people found themselves in the bowels under the shining lights of the hive city for one reason or the other. On touching it, the pict-caster flickered to life; a small holopic blinked into existence, casting the face of a middle-aged woman a few centimeters above the unit‘s alabaster base. Maltorian placed the caster back on the table, careful not to turn it over. He was about to leave when the pict flickered and reformed.
“Oh gakk…” Maltorian cursed; the wavy picture of a family of five floated serenely in the air before him.
He’d gotten too caught up in the moment and he cursed himself for being so stupid. Sure enough, the sound of shuffling could be heard in the next room. This time it was more than one. How many, he wasn’t sure but now would be a damned good time for backup. He snorted to himself. “It’s always this way.” Reaching down, he thumbed the micro-grenade dispenser on his hip. Taking two mini-frags, he armed them with a quick depression of the activation switch.
“Holy God-Emperor guide my hand….and for the sake of all the bloody saints of Terra don’t let this damned thing collapse on me!” he breathed, praying that the grenades didn’t bring the roof down. With a quick hurl, he tossed the micro grenades through the door, ducking behind a large wooden clothing receptacle for cover. The sound of two dull crumps followed by a wash of smoke and debris filled small room, shaking the hab to its foundation. Moving quickly, Maltorian entered the ruined remains of the central living quarters, his shot gun at the ready. He didn‘t expect much in the way of opposition but it never hurt to be ready…just in case.. Any chance of finding out exactly how many of the gakkers had been killed was out the window, lost in the explosion of hot steel and fyceline. Shrugging, Maltorian walked outside, stopping long enough to dust himself off. The sound of sirens greeted him as he made his way to his bike. He rolled his eyes heavenward and sighed out loud.
“Bloody gakkers are always late….”
The rubble shifted to reveal the mewling form of a child. She squalled, the insatiable hunger inside her driving her to madness. She shouldn’t have been alive… Her body was broken, dried blood covering her scorch-marked flesh. Finding she could stand, the child shuffled slowly off into the darkness, hunting for something to quell the pain inside her….
**Edited for a missed typo**