Here's a piece of mine which I submitted into (and took first place in) an unofficial competition on the Black Library Publishing forums. So, without any further ado, I shall dig into the underhive and pull out the tortured, venomous psyches that prowl within...
Imperial Gothic: Hive Ganger
Kay ran, a constant string of profanity cycling through her mind. Every other step, every time she pushed forward with her left leg, her pistol pressed an ‘L’ into her side. Her breath came in torn, ragged gasps, slicing through her teeth and dry mouth. Her eyes were wild and her shoulder-length black hair whipped across them. A glance over her shoulder told her all she needed to know—that they were still right behind her.
She was afraid. Afraid for her twin, for both her brothers—but mostly just afraid of what Chesken's men would do if they caught her. She dove between two ancient dumpsters into an alley and bit her lip in pain as one of her feet landed awkwardly and twisted. She gasped, and stumbled on.
The alleyway twisted and turned several times before branching off in two directions. She could see the end of one—a scalable wall. The other vanished deeper into the hab-block’s darkness. She made her mind up and sprinted down the shorter route. As she hauled herself up the fence, the metal slats groaned and dug into her palms.
Kay hopped the top, and saw too late the waiting figures behind. She cursed and kicked out, sending one man away clutching at his face. Hands grabbed at her and she punched, bit and kicked frantically. She grabbed the autopistol from her belt and fired upwards once, wincing from the explosive echo.
It had the desired effect, though. The three men, one clutching his nose, staggered backwards. Her heavy breathing was the only noise for two seconds.
“Put your hands above your head,” she said. “I don’t want any quick movements.” Grimacing, the thugs did as they were told.
Something clinked faintly above her.
Kay spun too slowly and was knocked flat by the weight of a pursuer who’d climbed the fence. Her vision spun, gradually clearing with her pinned to the ground and her face pressed against the ground. Her pistol rested a dozen feet away and her arms had been wrenched up behind her back. It hurt.
“What have we here?” breathed a heavy, alcoholic voice behind her, “a little rat who took summat? Well, we normally squish little rats right away, but I think that this time, we’re gonna have a little fun first. Besides, we got somewhere to take you afterwards.”
“Get off me, Chesken,” Kay hissed. A blow to the head made everything jerk painfully.
“You boys are pathetic,” growled her captor—Chesken. “You can’t even catch this little tekko.”
“Boss,” came a muffled voice—the man with the broken nose, Kay assumed—“she had a gun!”
The fence rattled again as the second of her pursuers jumped over.
“Then why din’t you keep her from using it?” growled Chesken angrily. “Now we’re gonna have the Arbites descending on us in minutes.
A new sound—shifting trash at the mouth of the alley. Another pair of boots scuffed into view.
“Excuse me, but what’s going on here?” asked a new voice.
“Nothing of yer interest,” spat one of the goons surrounding her.
“Ah, I see—just some back-alley fun with a helpless girl?”
Chesken released her and stood. Kay began to pick herself up slowly and cautiously.
“Ain’t I seen you before?” Chesken asked. “I have. I have, I know it. Now, I’m gonna give you one chance to take those words back, ‘cause I know you aren’t from around here-”
Cracking lasfire seared the air. Kay dove to the side and curled into a ball as bodies thudded to the ground. Then, as suddenly as they started, the las-shots stopped. She hesitantly uncurled and looked at the five bodies. One was still alive and whimpering. A last, hissing crack sounded out and silenced him. Curses and came from behind the metal slats of the fence, and Kay heard several gangers fleeing.
The newcomer stood in the mouth of the alleyway, alone and unharmed. He wore regular enough clothes—nothing that would attract undue attention, at least—but stunk of soap and hygiene. He had a sandy mop of well-trimmed hair and he carried his ornate laspistol loosely.
“Are you all right, my good lady?” he inquired, stepping over Chesken’s corpse and offering her a hand up.
She stood without his aid and backed away cautiously.
“Why’d you do that?” she asked. “You had no reason to-”
“Would you rather I hadn’t?” An amused smile touched his lips.
“But where are my manners?” he asked. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Corlain D’Jeres – an offworlder, as you may have guessed. You have me at a disadvantage.”
She bristled, but the corpses beneath their feet spoke too much to be ignored. Besides, it was the least she could do to repay him. Of course, he’d probably demand payment in some other manner.
“Kay,” she said, brushing her hair back. “I’m Kay.”
Corlain nodded slightly, holstered his pistol, bent down to retrieve her autopistol—and went down as she kicked him in the neck. In half a second, Kay had his arm twisted up behind his back. In another, she had her own ancient autopistol pressed to his temple.
“Ah,” he said, wincing, “I suppose I should have expected this.”
“Damn straight,” Kay breathed as she took his laspistol out of his holster with her free hand. She fished his knife out of his belt. “You’re quite an idiot, aren’t you”
Corlain nodded slightly in agreement.
Kay went through his pockets efficiently, but found nothing but a few spare credits and link. She shook her head in disgust—some people just weren’t worth the time.
“Wait,” began Corlain, earning a twist on his wrist and getting his face shoved into the ferrocrete.
“Look,” hissed Kay into his ear. “I don’t want your input. I don’t want your blather either. In fact, you helping me out back there is the reason you’re not in the same predicament as them while I do this. I see no reason to let you talk.”
Corlain sat still for another few seconds. Eventually he drew a breath and spoke.
“You really are an idiot, aren’t you?”
Kay retraced her steps with trepidation. Corlain was walking in front of her, both of his hands clearly visible by his sides. The site of the botched deal had been cordoned off by the Arbites, so she went to the nearest safe house in the hope of finding her brothers. She shouldn’t have—after all, she was dragging this dead weight along with her—but she had to know how they’d done.
She knew that something was wrong the moment that she stepped onto the hab-level. All three of Hecho’s children were out in the corridor. Hecho only made them play outside when he wanted to protect their innocence, and these were children growing up in the slums.
Well, it was that and the bloodstains.
She told Corlain to stand off to one side where she could see him and approached the children. Three year-old Telick saw Kay first. He began to tug on his older sister’s hand silently until Jaina turned.
“Kay!” cried Jaina, limping quickly forward. Her leg had been twisted by some defect, so she wore it in a brace. “Kay! Tem and Shem are here, with Papi! They want you soon as you arrive! Shem was hurt!”
“Take me there,” Kay said, her fear spiking. She glanced meaningfully at Corlain and he fell in step beside her.
Jaina stood on tiptoe and knocked several times on a small faux wood panel set into the door. There was a shuffling behind it and the panel was pulled away. A pair of eyes surfaced from the darkness within.
“Papi,” Jaina said, “It’s Kay! She’s here.”
The door swung open and Hecho beckoned her in.
“Who’s this?” he asked, blinking, as Corlain followed her in.
“Just-” Kay sighed. “Just nobody, okay. Don’t bother yourself, Hecho.”
“No, no, Kay,” the informant said, stepping back through the unlit gloom of his front room, “you don’t get it. I need to know who comes here, and that they’re safe and accounted for. Whose house – whose house is this?”
“Hecho, don’t freak on me. Stop spazzing out. You don’t have to worry. Think of him as a new client, okay? He’s just an offworlder.”
“Kay!” cried Hecho, pacing back and forth and rubbing at his receding scalp. “Get a grip! You’re putting me in danger here. Who lives here? Whose children live here? Not yours!”
He exhaled forcefully and rubbed his temples.
“Throne above,” he continued, “This isn’t worth your lining my pocket. Today’s been the most hectic day this year. First your hulking twin drags in Shem bleeding his life out and now I have to put up with-”
“Shut up.” Kay’s voice had an edge. “What's happened to Shem?”
Hecho fluttered his hands and drew backwards.
“I’d better show you—come on, they’re in the back room.”
The informant fluttered away through the house, muttering to himself. Kay followed. Corlain looked around for a second before shutting the door and trailing after them.
Shem was on a table, crude wrappings around his chest. Three red marks were seeping through. Temils sat beside him holding his hand and using a cloth to dab blood away from his mouth, laughably large to be playing the nursemaid. Kay bit her lip and inhaled.
“How is he?” she asked.
Her twin looked up quietly—more than enough words for her to understand. She blinked furiously, trying to avoid tearing up. Hecho looked around uneasily.
“We need to get him to a Medicae,” Hecho said softly, “or he hasn’t got the chance of a ship in the Warp without a Geller shield.”
“Who’d take him?” snorted Temils hoarsely.
Hecho drummed his fingertips on his lips nervously. He drew a breath, hesitated, then spoke.
“The only slum-doc near enough that doesn’t ask questions is Spyder, and he charges—Warp, he charges about three limbs. And he’s several miles away.”
“Spyder?” Temils asked. “Isn’t he-”
“Yeah, a coghead,” replied Hecho. “He got kicked out of the AdMech, but he used to be a Biologis. He specializes in—well, you’ll see. Anyways, he takes in those who can pay. Though you’re still three miles from his shop.”
“We can pay for a ride with what I got off Chesken and his men,” Kay said.
“You killed Chesken?” asked Temils. Kay pointed to Corlain, who nodded slightly. Her twin sighed.
“Who is this, anyway? Never mind, introductions can wait. That double-crossing bastard had it coming.” Temils paused. “I don’t know if we have enough saved up for this, though. How are we going to pay?”
“With this,” she said, taking a small package from inside her jacket and throwing it beside Shem. The reason Chesken and his men had chased her so far. A full kilo of Spark, one of the most powerful hallucinogens in the underhive.
They hopped from the speeder-cab and carefully eased Shem out. Hecho had stayed at his hab—as was to be expected—but Kay hadn’t let Corlain out of her sight. She had given Corlain’s story to Temils in the cab.
Spyder’s decrepit single-story workshop was surrounded by flickering street-lumens, giving the workshop’s open garage door the impression of a looming mouth and casting long shadows from the piles of rubble surrounding the building. Corlain paused at the opening to the garage as Temils and Kay, carrying their brother, caught up. A lumen strobed behind them, distorting the heaped boxes and stacked detritus.
“Are you still sure you should do this?” Corlain asked, looking around at the apparent squalor.
“Unless you have a better idea,” Temils growled. Corlain shook his head.
Kay hoisted Shem’s chest up a bit in her arms. Temils gently shifted his grip, taking the entirety of Shem’s weight. Kay looked appreciatively up at him and turned away. She fingered through a pile of wiring and twisted metal scraps. She pitied the Machine Spirit from whatever that had been.
“Hello?” she called, “Spyder?”
A clattering crash behind her made her spin. Corlain looked up sheepishly, a mess of heavy metal rods at his feet. A few remained neatly stacked on a table beside him, but most had fallen. Kay shook her head.
A rectangle of light opened at the far end of the garage, silhouetting an indistinct figure.
“What is this?” came a curious voice. “Intruders?”
“Are you Spyder?” Kay asked cautiously.
“No, not Spyder, not here. Master Spyder is inside. I am Theris, his assistant. Do you have an… appointment?”
“No, no we don’t, but-”
“Without an appointment the cost is double.”
“We understand, Theris. Our brother’s been shot, and we need Spyder’s help to save him.”
“Ah, ah… I understand. I shall lead you to Master Spyder. Come. Follow.” The silhouette pulled away from the doorway.
They picked their way across the floor, aided by the new light cast from inside, until they mounted the set of steps and got inside. The small, diminutive Theris bowed out of the way and eased the door shut behind them. He walked to their front and led off into the barren hallways, pacing ahead of them and occasionally stopping to let them catch up. While waiting, he stared back to look at Shem with his odd, pale eyes.
He led them through a maze of bleached corridors, eventually bringing them to a room that actually resembled a doctor’s ward—though its contents were another matter. Corpses hung from the walls, strange bionics grafted into puckering seams. One wore a smooth metal plate in the place of its face, and limp, swaying mechanical tendrils sprouted from another. One had a bionic hand and eye, and a fourth had some sort of metal ribbing poking through the skin of its chest. More bodies lay out on racks, carefully draped in plastek sheets. In one corner, what had to be a child’s body lay on a gurney, its cold, necrotic flesh stiff and still. A red-robed man who Kay assumed to be Spyder was turned away from them, bent over another bed. A pair of blue feet stuck out into their line of sight.
Theris turned to them, his eyes flickering back and forth. He licked his lips several times before speaking.
“Do not interrupt Master Spyder,” he said cautiously. “The master is working on new servitor chassis.”
“I don’t care what he’s doing,” growled Temils, though he was slightly pale from the sights of the room. “My brother is dying, and he’s a damn sight more important than some corpse!”
He lay Shem down on an empty gurney with a gentleness that contrasted his heated words.
“Don’t worry,” said the man working at the body, “I’ll be right there with you. Theris, I need a container for—ah, good. Freeze this while I see to our guests.” The man turned and deposited something into Theris’ waiting hands. The corpse stared emptily at the roof, its forehead open to the air.
“What,” said Spyder, sounding slightly annoyed upon seeing their expressions, “it’s only a frontal lobe.” His face was covered in puckered scar tissue, one eye socket a gaping hollow where the Mechanicus had torn out his implants.
“My brother was – shot,” Temils began.
“Yes, yes,” said Spyder irritably, “I heard you the first time. News travels fast; I heard what happened to Chesken, too. Now, can you pay?”
All right, you can take it off,” Kay said wearily. Bartering a fair price in that madhouse had been an exhausting ordeal. Corlain reached up and pulled the blindfold down past his chin. He looked around with mild interest.
“So this is your home? Your apartment? Not too much here.”
He was, indisputably, correct. Half-eaten pre-packaged rations and wrappings were scattered about. Inhalers, a testament to Shem’s habit, littered most flat surfaces. One corner had a small stove and a basin to act as a kitchen and another held the plas-sealed pisspot. A single door led to the two bedrooms.
Upon arriving, Temils had slumped through the flat and lain on his bed. Kay peered in—he was still there, fully clothed, staring at the ceiling. She shook her head.
“Corlain,” she said. “Come here—your bed will be through here and in the next room; Shem’s bed. Only tonight, though. He’ll hopefully be… he will be back soon.”
Corlain followed her through the room where Temils lay and into the next one. The small, grimy window in Shem’s room was crusted over and hadn’t been used in years. Through it, the faint light of the evening setting on the Mass Lumens shone through. Needles and inhalers were scattered across the bedside table in the small room. Corlain looked around with raised eyebrows.
“You’ll sleep here. I still don’t trust you, so I’m locking the door. Don’t try to come out in the night. It’s a ten-story drop out the window, and besides, the window’s jammed shut. You won’t be able to open it without breaking it, and we’d hear that. Don’t try to go anywhere in the night. I’m turning in soon—do you need anything else? Hydration tablets or something?”
He waved her away, shaking his head slightly as he sat down and tested the springs on the bed.
She went to the washbasin in the next room and used the recycled water to wipe the grease from her hands and face.
Hecho fiddled with the light. He couldn’t afford to buy a new one, no, nor even a new lumen-strip for it. He was too deep in debt already. He kept twisting this one this way and that, hoping to get a few more hours of light out of it.
He still was shivery from the day’s excitement. The Vutch family was close; they hung together and floated, barely. Like him, in a way. He hoped that the twins could survive the loss of their younger sibling—the boy might not be dead yet, but Hecho had been the one who’d bound his wounds. He had seen his fair share of injuries in his life here, including the one that had taken his missus. The boy… well, the Emperor himself would have to give a merciful miracle for him to survive, and Hecho had only seen one kind of Emperor’s Mercy this deep in the hive.
It was a testament to the hive, to what it did to people that he had to keep begging Spyder for little Jaina's medicine. He'd pay some, borrow some to pay some, almost pay his debt off—and her medicine would run out. That damn sicko kept him in this poverty and misery more out of malice than profit, Hecho was sure. He couldn't exploit this slummer any more, though. He'd have his debt cleared for once and for all for this.
He shook his head—partly at the lamp, but mostly at the thoughts running through his head. What would happen would happen. The lamp was a lost cause, anyway. What was it that made him hope that he could fix it? He was no coghead.
Perhaps that was just the way humans were—flawed into hoping that their brother could survive a clip to the chest, or hoping that they could find a woman that wasn’t a strung-out junkie to help raise the kids. Hope that his babygirl could get better again. Hell, it even seeped down to the lamp. Sometimes, he thought, humanity might be better off without that painful hope.
Spyder hunched over the table. Beneath him, under his scalpel's precise slices, the boy's flesh blossomed; a beautiful flower. Delicate petals spread to reveal a brilliant, vermilion center. Nectar welled around his fingertips and trickled down the patient's side.
Theris was whistling to himself and carting the fresh corpses of Chesken and his men around the laboratory. The off-key notes jarred Spyder's concentration. Spyder snapped at the assistant, who quailed, and then he went back to his work.
Spyder was not a normal man, that he knew. He was one of the few who truly exalted in perfection—using newer methods to accomplish tasks with the devotion of the ancients. Everything these days was mass produced, shoddy, and overrated. His clients valued him for his standards—or rather, the fruit of his standard of work—but his art did not come cheap. He was a smith of the flesh, and he delighted in his calling.
He had a long night ahead of him. He made a fractionally deeper incision, and a smile twitched at the edges of his face.
The Mass Lumens powered up, as usual, far too early. Kay yawned and reached over to shutter her small window. She rubbed her eyes and sat up. Shouldn’t Shem already be—Shem. The fog of sleep around her cracked and fell away.
“Tem,” she said softly, “we have to get up.” Her twin mumbled something and turned over on his own bed.
“Temils,” she said, louder. “We have to go see Shem.”
He woke up at that thought, too. He sat bolt upright and looked around with wild eyes. Then a semblance of control descended again and he shook his head.
“Spyder wanted us to come back at Half-Shift,” he said, collapsing back onto the bed. “That’s a third of the day from now. We don’t have to get up yet.”
“Still, I’m awake now, thanks to you. Let’s get dressed.”
Neither of them could fall back asleep and they knew it. Life in the hive had seen to that. They got dressed quickly, putting on their dusty over clothes and strapping on weapons. A timid knock on the door broke them from their normal activities.
“Hello?” came Corlain’s voice, muffled by the door. Temils cast his gaze briefly to the door and snorted. Kay wearily straightened and pulled the buckle on her belt tight before moving forward to unlock Shem’s door. Corlain came out timidly.
“Grease up your tag-along and see if he needs anything,” Temils said. “I’ll make us some hate-gear.”
He smirked at Corlain’s confusion and left the room.
“H-T, G-I-R” said Kay wearily. “Hydro Tablets and General Issue Rations crushed together and washed down with some shoca juice. Tastes like something from a grox’s rear, but we won’t need to eat or barely drink for the next shift and a half.”
“Hydration tablets?” asked Corlain. “Those things kill you—kidney failure.”
“So?” grunted Temils from the next room. He was accompanied by the stove's clicking. “If you don’t use them you get killed by thirst or tainted water.” Corlain licked his lips for a second, searching for an answer—and changed the subject.
“I didn’t even know you two knew your letters,” he said as he accepted a tube of scraper-grease from Kay. “I thought that wasn’t common down here. I haven’t seen many written signs, I know that.”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Kay. “It’s one of the few things our parents did for us before they died.”
She began rubbing her own grease onto her exposed skin, darkening it for the day so that she wouldn’t stand out in the murk of the underhive and so her pores would be clogged with the stuff, preserving precious sweat. She wasn't too liberal, though—copious acne and fainting from overheating were the grease's undesirable side effects.
“So…” said Corlain hesitantly as he smeared his forehead, “I heard your brother through the door. We have some time to kill before Spyder wants us back?”
“Until Half-Shift, yeah,” Kay said.
“Right, then. I think that—remember the contacts I promised I’d get you connections with?”
Kay nodded, snorting again at the memory of his idiocy.
“Anyways, I think that one of them had a protection deal with Chesken. I saw him coming by for his cut last time I visited—he recognized me before I shot him, remember? But two of Chesken’s men got away, plus the any of the ones that…kept your brothers busy. Can’t we see if my contact knows where they are? I’m personally curious as to why they broke your deal.”
Kay nodded grudgingly. She had expected to spend the next third of the day pacing around in the apartment, but this sounded better.
“Why not?” she said. “We’ve got a score to settle. I’m beginning not to regret hauling your sorry arse up here.”
“Sounds all right to me, too,” came Temils’ voice. They looked over to see him leaning in the doorway. “Sounds fine. But when you’re done asking them whatever you intend, I get to have a turn. And I don’t have any questions.”
“Come out, you backstabber!” Temils roared. He shoved open the door at the back of the garage and slammed it into the wall, making it shake on its hinges.
Theris, Spyder’s diminutive assistant, came running along the corridor.
“No!” he cried, wringing his hands, “You must not! You must not come now! The master is not ready yet!”
Temils picked him up and slammed him into the wall. He drew his autopistol and stuck it to Theris’ head.
“Take me to him,” Kay’s twin growled dangerously. The small man froze, eyes twitching, and nodded. Temils let him down and he scrambled back, keeping his hands in sight. He scurried off down the white corridor, Temils right behind him. Kay and Corlain followed them into the workshop.
Again, they walked through the labyrinthine corridors—but this time, with weapons leveled. Kay had even returned Corlain’s laspistol to him. He had insisted upon coming with them to do this.
Her senses, heightened by nervousness, picked up strange smells wafting from the branching corridors and faint skitters behind the doors that they passed. Her heart was pounding and she struggled to keep her breathing level. She had been in shootouts and fights before, of course—she wore her own scars, just like everybody else this low in the hive—but going up against somebody like Spyder was something altogether new.
And it had to be done.
Theris slowed and paused ahead of them by a door. He glanced back fearfully at Temils and nodded. Kay’s twin stepped forward, quickly closing the gap between the two of them and cracked Theris atop the head with a heavy blow. The assistant collapsed, unconscious. Temils kicked the door in, and all three of them burst in.
Kay nearly gagged. On a shelf front of her, floating in a jar of preservatives, sat Chesken’s head. The skin had been filleted and sliced until he was barely recognizable, but the las burn on his cheek was still visible.
New bodies filled gurneys and were draped with sheets, but the faces of two were visible, and she saw enough to know that they were all Chesken’s men. One appeared to have been dismembered, and another was hooked up to a variety of machines – despite the fact that he was obviously dead. As before, corpses were hung from meat hooks on the walls and splayed in contorted positions.
Spyder himself labored in the center of the nightmare, bent as before over a prone body. He straightened and turned as they burst in.
“Ah,” he said, the skin around his empty eye socket puckering together slightly. “You are early.”
“Why?” growled Temils, leveling his autopistol.
“You shall forgive me,” began Spyder slowly, “for my exhaustion. I received quite a shipment from my contact in the Arbites last night. I have a deal with Forensics, you see. I get what they don’t need. I’ve been up all night working on your brother and ensuring that these new bodies didn’t go… stale.”
“Why!” roared Temils stepping forward, “Why’d you pay Chesken to bring in our bodies!”
“Now now, Temils,” said Spyder placatingly, taking his scalpel and placing it at the throat of the body upon which he was working—Shem, Kay realized with a start, “It would be a shame if anything happened to your brother. Just sit and listen a while, please.
“Why, you ask? I may have been thrown from the Mechanicus for my work, but that is only because they cannot abide individuality. You see, Temils, I am an artist. I have an underground reputation for the best work in the hive. Let us say, for example, I receive an up-hive commission for a trio of specialized servitor—but not the type they mass-produce for the Administratum, you see? I could just send them the bodies of several of the homeless, plucked off the street by Theris. Wouldn’t that be doing the hive a favor, really?
“But no, that would not be proper. My commissioner would upset to receive three starved, drug-addled chassis. I must select from the strongest, those that will last in their changed state the longest. And who would miss a few, small-time peddlers who care about nothing but themselves and they’re next cut?” Spyder shook his head almost sorrowfully and rested his hand on Shem’s head—shaved bald now, and marked by stitches and seams. Her heart went cold—what had been done to her brother?
“Poor, poor Hecho,” continued Spyder. He seemed almost oblivious to them, now. “He only sold you out to save his daughter. His groveling amuses me—but I am not cruel. I shall allow him to keep her and love her for another year. Cherubim must, after all, be taken from a select age range.”
“But now, as time constrains my schedule, I must cut our wonderful discourse short. I’m afraid I must inform you that your younger brother passed beyond critical condition before you even brought him here and I was forced to begin rendering the operations of servitor-conversion to prevent his death. My client would be less than pleased if I could not deliver the whole set.”
Spyder jerked swiftly to one side, breaking the trance that held them. He vanished behind a counter laden with canned organs before they could react. Kay started as most of the bodies hanging from the wall jerked into activity, flailing like mannequins until they dislodged themselves from the meat hooks upon which they hung. Their cybernetics glinted.
Temils spat a curse and ran toward Spyder’s hiding place. Kay leveled her autopistol at the nearest servitor—one only several paces away—and fired. The pistol coughed like a living thing in her hand and the servitor jerked, a chunk of cold flesh blasted from its shoulder. She fired again, shattering a jar behind the corpse, and again. A hole appeared in its pale chest with the faintest of sprays of jellied gore.
It moved fast after recovering from its initial drop and closed the gap between them swiftly. She fired one more shot before having to try to dodge its flailing fists. She was too slow and the clammy, frozen limbs pistoned into her stomach, knocking her to the floor. A descending white fist filled her vision and she twisted away. It cracked into the ferrocrete floor beside her.
She jammed her pistol into the servitor’s face and fired a fifth shot. One of its blind, creamy eyes vanished in a spray of solvents. It crashed down, lifeless, atop her. The bullet holes that riddled it were leaking a clear preservative.
She pushed it to one side until its weight trapped only her legs. Corlain stood over her, firing into the oncoming servitors. She sat up and added her own pistol to his. In addition to one that he had already dropped, a third servitor collapsed onto a gurney and a fourth was knocked to the floor, its legs jerking as if in some insane dance. Temils swung a pole with several I.V. drips hanging from it and knocked a fifth to the ground.
A servitor with a bionic arm tackled Temils from behind. Kay shrieked in rage and yanked her legs free. She scrambled up and ran to assist her twin. Another walking corpse stood in her way. She snarled and fired her pistol at it—but was rewarded only with a click that stopped her dead.
She stumbled backwards as it came at her and thumbed the release on the autopistol’s ammo clip, her free hand scrambling at her belt for another. A cold fist hit her temple and she stumbled again, disoriented and nauseous. More heavy blows knocked her backward, despite her feeble attempts to defend herself. All that her blurry vision could register was the pale figure of the servitor in front of her.
Then it was literally torn in half. Cold viscera splattered her front as loud gunfire washed through the room. She looked blearily around. Black-clad figures in carapace armor were storming through the door, bearing boltguns and combat shotguns. Arbites, Kay’s battered brain registered. She fell to her knees.
More bolter fire and the loud, echoing coughs of the shotguns filled the room with their cacophony. Eventually, they were replaced with crashing boots, clattering carapace, and shouted orders. She saw Temils and an Arbitrator dump an infuriated Spyder in front of Corlain. Something was different about Corlain now; the way he stood, perhaps. He had always stood like an underhiver before. As she faded into unconsciousness, she heard him speak—again, in a voice different than what she’d heard before.
“Ex-Magos Biologis Theryl Spyder,” Corlain said, “By the authority of His Holy Inquisition, you are under arrest.”
“Don’t worry. Your brother’s fine. He got a nasty concussion—he’s in a bed down the ward. Hasn’t woken up yet, but the good Sisters assure me that he will.”
“So you can afford a place like this—oh, yes. Right.
“A weird thing to consider—I tackled one of His Holy Inquisitors to the ground.”
“Hah – me? No.
“I’m not so exalted myself—more of an assistant to an assistant. An Explicator, the title is. I do His Lordship Thresh’s dirty work here—torturing people, going planetside, that sort of thing. In fact, His Lordship isn’t even in-system. Right now I’m just working for one of his many Interrogators, Kellius.
“I’ve only seen Lord Thresh a handful of times in the decade I’ve worked for him. He’s certainly impressive, though.”
My head still can’t process all this. You’re legends, things to fear as a bedtime story—and then you descend to our level and show an interest in cleaning out the slums? I just—never mind. It’s hard to explain.”
“We get that a lot in this line of work.”
“Don’t patronize me, Corlain.”
“You’re right in a way though, Kay. We couldn’t give a damn about a few scummy slum-hivers with no future. Let the Sisters Hospitaller care; it’s normally far beneath our scope.”
“Thanks. I feel so valued.”
“Ha. Sarcasm—what else should I have expected from a nineteen-year-old?”
“You’re not thir—right. Local. Sorry, I’m used to switching systems often enough that I default to Terran Standard. Thirteen-year-old then, if you wish.
“Anyways, Kay. We don’t care. Spyder knows something though, and we try not to raise too much of a fuss, so we needed to take him in as quietly as possible. Well, in a sense. If he gets officially arrested, it’s much simpler to make him vanish. Less paperwork, and those watching him won’t know what happened.
“Still, your street cred has been ruined. You’ll be known to have worked with the law.”
“What? I didn’t ask–”
“And I didn’t need to.”
“Shut up, Corlain.”
“I’d be happy to give you a job myself. The Inquisition always needs muscle, and you’ve proven yourself smart enough not to get your head kicked in right away.”
“Temils will like it. But—this is a request? I was under the impression that wasn’t the way you worked.”
“It normally isn’t. I feel that I owe it to you though, really.”
“I…ok. Honestly, I knew that Chesken was setting you up–”
“Quiet – let me finish. We’d been keeping tabs on whomever Spyder was in touch with. When you got away, I saw an opportunity to get on your good side.
“You lost a brother and your illegal business is in shambles. Why not just get out of this decrepit, gothic hive and see the sun? Visit other worlds? Throne, it’s better than anything else you could do with your life – stopping heretics and all that. You up for it? You could get away from the hive for once and for all.”
“Screw the Throne-damned hive and screw you, Corlain. I can’t believe this. I - Throne damn it! I’m joining the Guard.”