The Greater Good
The prisoner dug her nails into her palms while prayers spilled from her lips. No substitute for a scourging needle, barbed cilice or neuro-gauntlet, but there was not pain enough to atone for her failure.
The cell was bare white and uncomfortably humid. Perhaps this was a side effect of the energy field in which she is suspended, weightless; the prisoner did not know.
They had taken her weapons - even those concealed within flesh-pouches - shaved her hair, removed her bionic eye and fingers. Though she could feel the implant-blade within her arm, somehow they had paralysed the neuro-junctions that allowed it to glide free with a single thought.
There was no way to measure of how long she had been kept there, no windows to judge the passage of time. Perhaps a week. Perhaps less.
Too often, her mind strayed treacherously to her old life, to the cloister, to the prayers and the rites, the days before her vision and before her death-vow. The scholar-soldier, the warrior-priestess. She had answered to a different name then until she had stood before the statue of Saint Silvana, seen a vision of the Saint wreathed in argent flames.
It was difficult for her to remember.
She took her vow, watched from the sidelines as she was declared dead and handed over the Adeptus Mechanicus for reconstruction and conditioning. They would have mind-wiped her entirely but for the decree Canoness Lucille issued that she not forget a single word of praise to Him-On-Earth. Then, when she was ready, turned into the Emperor’s own dagger, they gave her a mission. One death to turn the tide of a war.
And she had failed.
The cell door hissed open and two guards entered, training their pulse carbines on her as they did so. There were another two outside the cell and gun-drones bobbed up and down the corridor. The aliens took no chances with a prisoner as dangerous as her.
Another entered behind them, standing a full head taller than the guards so that its face was almost level with hers. It carried a case of some description and two drones floated noiselessly in its wake.
The newcomer turned and muttered something to the guards. They exchanged a glance before reluctantly raising their carbines and exiting the cell.
The alien bowed its head respectfully towards her. Its face was more expressive than the dour Fire Caste guards she was used to, and it wore an omnipresent smile that did not sit well. She wondered if the alien had practised this expression for the express purpose of interaction with mankind.
“Greetings, human. My full name is Por’el N’dras Kunas’ro Elan’cha, but I admit that’s something of a mouthful. You can call me Ro’lan.”
Her mind raced. Por. Denotes Water Caste. The diplomats, ambassadors and merchants of the Tau Empire. This man –or woman - seemed as slippery as their Caste’s name.
“I suppose it would be too much for me to expect your name,” it continued with a theatrical sigh.
This alien spoke Gothic flawlessly, magnificently informal and without even the hint of accent, but presumably this was only to be expected of such a high-ranking adept of the Water Caste.
She had not meant to respond. Look not upon the alien, listen not unto the alien, speak not unto the alien! Yet what where such sins compared to her failure?
“Anathema. Meaning accursed, loathed, excommunicated or damned. Not a particularly... cheery moniker. Why do you bear such a name?”
“I am Anathema. I renounced my former name; the woman I once was is dead. I attended her funeral.”
“I serve Him-On-Earth, xenos filth, and I would sacrifice anything for Him.”
The dark eyes sparkled for a moment.
“I know exactly what you mean, Anathema. You are one of the Imperium’s living-weapons. You were to complete your mission and then take your own life.”
Anathema did not reply. The alien seemed to enjoy the sound of its own voice too much to stop in any case.
“You know, the duty of my Caste is also our curse. We must understand every race that we encounter, to see how they may best serve the Greater Good, how they might be convinced to see the light of our cause. A side effect of spending a lifetime understanding other races, seeing things through their eyes, through their alien perspective, is an affinity towards them. Unlike most of my kind, I can see things to admire in your race. You are courageous. Loyal, for all your morbid superstition and blind hate. It is a shame the majority of you are so hostile towards us... But perhaps, in time, this may be remedied."
“Such conviction. I do not mistake it for ignorance, as so many do. Nonetheless, it did not serve you well. Aun’vre Mon’savon lives.”
The alien paused to regard her now, scrutinising the set of her shoulder, the hard line of her jaw and the furrows in her brow. Ro’lan took an almost scholarly interest in her hatred before he spoke again.
“As I understand it, your people have an extremely poor tolerance of failure.”
“We are not all cowards and weaklings, alien, willing to excuse laxity and leniency. If you had not imprisoned me I would have taken my own life myself.”
“I have little doubt of it, judging from what we found on you. We recovered some very impressive artefacts. The Tau Empire considers your Imperium technologically backward - you pray to your machines and denounce innovation as heresy, after all - but though you equip your soldiers with little more than toys, the equipment we found on you... Our scientists are very eager to reverse engineer it. ”
“Thieves and scavengers,” she muttered.
“Better than carrion, Anathema.”
Ro’lan opened the sealed case as he spoke. It was filled with a variety of strange instruments for which Anathema could see no obvious function, though she could see, dimly, where this dialogue was headed.
Her eyes flickered to the drones. One trained weapons on her, turning slightly with her every movement, while the other merely idled above its master, a variety of spindly probes and sinuous appendages trailing beneath it.
“You have no doubt guessed why I am here, Anathema. Our scientists are even now unlocking the secrets of the weapons you carried, but we are not content with that. I am here to unlock the secrets in your mind.”
Ro’lan reached for one of the curious devices on the table before him, and Anathema felt a lurch in her stomach. It was not fear, she was sure. All fear had been burned away by faith, pain and the cold hands of the Mechanicus. Fear was just another emotion she had long-since forgotten when she swore her death-vow, when she made the covenant of blood in the temple of the Blinded Saints.
“I am aware your mind will have been hypno-doctrinated and psycho-conditioned so that you will be physically unable to divulge information when exposed to simple physical pain; regrettably for the both of us it is far from the first such mind I have faced, and I have learned ways to bypass your conditioning, ways that your Imperium could not foresee.”
“Your Empire preaches peace and enlightenment, but when the olive branch does not suffice how readily you reach for the spear. You have condemned mankind for our cruelty and torture, and yet now you gloat of your prowess with a scalpel. How can you countenance such hypocrisy?”
“Quite simply, Anathema. I believe, like you, that I serve a higher purpose. It is not enough for me, for us, to tear the truth from your mind then cast whatever pitiful, broken creature remains aside. That is the way of mankind, blinkered as you are by hate and prejudice. I promise this, Anathema - when I take your secrets, you will give them to me willingly. The Tau’va – the Greater Good - must be shared with the people of the universe whether they accept it or not.”
Last edited by Eremite; 08-28-10 at 06:49 PM.