The device towered like a great black monolith in front of me. Strange that a menial such as myself was asked for, and stranger still that Magos Feynman wasn't doing the asking. It was even larger up close than I would have thought, and even though it was covered with runework and covered in purity seals I could not shake the uneasiness I'd felt ever since I'd come aboard.
"Halt and be identified." The voice would have been barely understandable by most people, but between my years within the Adeptus and enhanced hearing I could understand Brother Salvatore quite well. Unlike myself he was a traditionalist amongst my order and as such was blessed with a multitude of mechadendrites limbs fused to his body.
Even without these he is quite large, and in spite of having no true emotions he seems almost eager for combat and I didn't want to give him an excuse to use his right of summary judgment on anyone not supposed to be here. "Acolyte Malak Falco." I held my hands wide and stood still for him and spoke with even tones. "I am here on orders of Magos Torvhal."
Salvatore stood there muttering something in the acrid Machine Language which I could not decipher. more Machine Language burst from his Vox before he stepped to one side. "You may enter Acolyte. Ave Machina."
"Ave Machina." I pulled the hood of my robes up and entered the Device with my head bowed in reverence while chanting praise to the Omnissiah as I had been instructed beforehand.
Down a dark corridor that led me deeper inside I heard an answering chant. Even with my enhanced vision the light given off in the nave was feeble and left everything clouded in shadow. At the control pulpit stood Magos Sagen who nodded acknowledgment of my presence.
"You may seal the holy nave Acolyte Falco." His voice, unlike Salvatore's, was carefully crafted and shaped to inspire awe and reverence at each word. Even the unimportant ones like 'the' 'to' 'and' 'so' 'on'. With the nave sealed the mass begun. I cannot divulge the details, however I will summarize.
The sermon focused on the dangers of heretek and the false truths it holds. His voice rose and fell in waves, first condemning everyone in attendance for failing to do more than keep the Imperium from falling apart and at the same time praising us for keeping the light of knowledge from going out. It was a strange sermon, as it held much emotion and emotion is anathema to what the highest of our order demands from us. Still, when it concluded and we were offered communion I felt proud to be in attendance and was grateful that there would be mass held inside the device every day until we reached our destination.
After mass I was in the process of tending to an auto-scribe that had, according to the administratum that was charged with its use said it had seized an hour earlier and the few rites of reparation and appeasements she knew failed to please the machine's spirit. True it was low on the priority list, but when I had been taken aside by another in the Imperium that everyone seemed to either ignore or make light of I felt that my duties would allow for taking a few minutes to lend my opinion.
"You don't know how much this means. Datum does not copy itself and it feels like half the ship is getting a copy." She looked overworked and nervous, which didn't seem out of place given the penalties for failure potentially being monumental if her superiors were in a foul temper or the datum critical for the ship's operation.
I would have asked why she didn't have a servitor tasked with copying the datum, but then I thought she might have been ordered to do this as punishment for some prior transgression. So I kept my mouth shut as I followed her, though I did note that her robes did not entirely conceal a very fit and fine figure beneath. Strange that one with few physical demands would keep in shape, but one never knows what He may require of us. What? I notice these things. I'm a loyal member of the Mechanicus, but I'm still well aware of my base humanity and unlike those higher in my order it still has an affect on my thought processes.
I was led into what might have once been a spacious work area now filled to bursting with scrolls, printouts, and a slab of a desk that the auto-scribe lay with its inner workings exposed. I looked from the inactive machine to the woman babbling apologies for anything she might have done wrong.
"It is alright." I tried to keep my tone reassuring even though I was somewhat annoyed at how a few of the arms were positioned. Subtle signs like misaligned arms and too much paper in the feed gave good reason for me to think she had, even if unintentionally, mishandled the device and so angered the machine spirit enough to stop functioning out of spite.
My meager roll of tools, sacred oils, and incense spread out to one side of the device and as my mind focused itself on the ritual of repair I felt the rest of the world recede. My training took hold and my movements became crisp precise things following each portion of the ritual almost without any thought on my part. It pleased me when moments like this happened, as they were rare and represented the sort of peace I cannot find elsewhere in my life.
When I was finished I handed the woman a sheet of parchment inscribed with whatever was in the machine's cognitor.
"Emperor bless you." I swear she was in tears. I saw her, and by the grace of my eyes I saw the brief outline of a man standing in the gloom. It was only a glimmer before there was nothing but I knew what I saw. In a panic I fumbled for something to use as a makeshift weapon since I knew the laspistol tucked inside my robes couldn't be gotten to fast enough. The woman started babbling in a panic when she saw a bolter level at my head as the rest of the man flickered into visibility.
Strange that when I had every reason to believe an assassin was about to take my life the only thing I could think was that the bolter needed cleaning and its sights were slightly misaligned. "Speak one word of this. Raise your voice in any way when you answer me. Even look at me wrong and in the Emperor's Name I will end you. Do you understand?" As if the threat of a bolter round to the face wasn't intimidating enough he showed me his signet bearing the inquisition's seal.
Could it have been faked? Probably, at least the cosmetic parts weren't hard to duplicate, though if it acted in the same skeleton-key fashion that would have made duplication infinitely harder. Oh and that's if one sets aside the whole notion of what happens if you're caught impersonating an inquisitor. That nightmarish thought, which lasted only the briefest of moments, brought the chances of this being somehow less lethal and deadly earnest than I thought to less than zero percent.
I nodded, what else could I do? Tell the man, thickly built and perhaps even larger than Brother Salvatore, to step out an airlock into the Warp? He holstered his weapon and looked the both of us over. "Thank you Miri. go watch for any approaching."
The woman nodded once before practically bolting from there. The hard gaze was then turned fully on me. "I have no reason to believe you or Magos Feynman are heretics." Good news. "Most of the others techpriests that came with you I believe are." Not good news. "You will help me find out what they are up to." That sound I just heard must have been my chances of surviving making a running leap down a bottomless pit screaming the whole way down.
I'd seen her face before but couldn't place her name or function. That I could recognize her as female at all meant she was of the same lowly status I was. That familiarity nagged at me as I blocked, twirled, and counter-attacked my way through our mutual workout. It also got me knocked on my head a few times, but I've taken worse lumps so ignored the pain as best as I could once we cleaned and changed into utility robes.
I was one of several dozen tasked to aid in repairing one of the auxiliary subsystems of the ship. I could go into detail of what this piece of ancient and holy machinery did, but most reading this wouldn't care or know what I was speaking of without twenty thick volumes of reference material so I'll skip the details. My role would be minor, as I was not privileged enough for the actual rites. However to allow for the main ritual to take place several others had to be preformed in sequence and that was sufficiently vital yet trivial to have me involved.
Other acolytes were involved, the mystery woman from my excresize period included. The Emperor apparently has a sense of humor in giving me continued exposure to a trivial, yet unignorable, puzzle while I was in the middle of both routine vital tasks, not to mention an inquisitor wanting me to act as spy against a coven of heretics from my own order.
My duties as spy and informer for this mystery inquisitor involved, at least at first, only noting what I had seen and heard during my normal routine; including those things I have skimmed or outright skipped in this document because of their sensitive nature. For a few days this seemed to be enough and I was glad of it. Unfortunately he insisted I start nosing around, asking questions, and in general attempt to find more than I could passively. Naturally there was a bit of a problem to this since my sudden change in patterns would be noted.
He told me to do as I was told and reminded me, forcefully, that were I to be questioned his presence here was to be kept secret. This he emphasized quite effectively by rattling off the things that would happen to me if I somehow survived and the things that would happen to my family if I didn't.
Inquisitors are cheerful friendly folk aren't they? Anyway the days after were spent jumping at every sound, shadow, and even at nothing at all in several cases. I was fortunate in that the whole population of Lady Alithea was on edge and a collective bundle of nerves. Murmurs and whispers of the navigator feeling some wrongness beyond what was normal within the warp. When I'd passed this along I was ordered to go take a closer look at The Machine.
"Are you sure that's wise? I mean no disrespect but I'm sure my luck has been pressed enough as is." Hard to both be submissive and show resolve. Harder still when you're confronting somebody that could give summary judgment and dump me out the nearest airlock, or into a furnace, or something just as terminal if I had become a liability.
Instead of threatening he smiled at me. "I'm glad you have sense enough to worry Malak. What I'm asking of you is deathly dangerous, and I wouldn't ask if I felt it wasn't absolutely nessicary to stop this madness I've been sent to root out." Grim face with more than it's fair share of scars and a bionic eye looked back at me.
"I don't doubt that, but what if they already know they're being watched?" I tried bringing the point up because it had been bugging me for the past day and a half. What if they knew they were being watched and tried to further hide their doings. I couldn't fully articulate the notion, and can't even after later reflection while writing what would later be included this manuscript.
The Inquisitor eyed me carefully before quoting scripture, or at least appearing to since I wasn't familiar with the verse. "Though he is crafty and sly the Heretic will always reveal his misdeeds in the end." With that he was gone and I had work to do.
My implants served me well in my task of getting access to the Machine. I know not what caused Brother Salvatore to leave his post, but as soon as I was sure he was away I made my move and did not stop moving until I heard voices. It was fortunate that I had piping and wire to hide behind, though I dare not think how unsafe my hiding position was in those tense moments, as otherwise it is likely I would've been found out by the dozen or so gathered there.
Moments like these make me wish I had better standing with my order as the group spoke in the Holy Machine language. There was little movement and the sounds carried no emotion. Even though my eyes could see well beyond the limits of human eyes I could only make out that there were people there and little of individual detail.
A flurry of movement and one of those in the room jerked then went limp. I wondered if I saw some sort of falling out, or possibly a failed attempt at recruiting another to their cause. Whichever the case I remained still until long after they'd gone. I was tempted to see what Salvatore made of their procession but decided the risk of discovery made it not worth the trouble. Instead I went past the nave into the heart of the machine.
I was alone in the heart of a strange device built for a purpose only Throne knew at that point. There I saw men and women covered head to foot in tubes, wires, and other apperati. I knew they lived only by their faint murmured prayers. All of them faced me with heads bowed and eyes closed. All save for one barely recognizable face. My mind wanted to refuse the very thought as it formed.
"No." I hadn't realized I had spoken until after, and found I couldn't make myself stop.
"No." Louder, more of a sob than intentional word. I reached to the now painfully familiar man in front of me. "No... No." Unbidden and unwanted memories flicked through my mind summoned only by my own subconscious rather than some form of witchcraft.
The man's eyes opened and his sightless gaze locked on me. Hello my brother. We have much to discuss.