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post #11 of 159 (permalink) Old 12-10-10, 03:10 AM Thread Starter
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Discovering an entrance to the underground dig sites proved to be astoundingly easy, even in the dim murk of Belzafest's fog. As a place of great academic interest the leadership of the colony had seen fit to put every possible safety measure in place to make sure that those mining and exploring the surface of the colony could find their way back to safety. The excavation sites were marked with oversized spotlights and bright glow-globes that flashed on the ground for a good hundred meters in a great semi-circle. The entrance was guarded by a handful of pitifully thin looking men wearing rebreathers and holding low caliber stubbers. They stood in a close huddle near to the warmth of an exhaust vent, guns lazily held at their sides.

They were dead before they ever knew it. Five whip cracks of laser-fire sounded and five bodies fell bonelessly to the ground, their eyes glassing over. Sabestan, one of the Lionheart scouts ran forwards though the thick orange smoke and ducked down next to the bodes one by one before clicking his radio twice to indicate that it was safe to advance.

“Hardly quality mercenaries he's been hiring,” Danzig said as they warily approached the entrance to the catacombs, “They didn't even get off a shot.”

Daul kneeled next to one of the corpses and pulled off its rebreather, “They aren't mercenaries, I think they're leftovers from the crew of the ship Faust was commanding when he arrived. Look here, the muscles in his arm are strong but the bones are brittle from years in a zero gravity environment. They shattered from the impact of the shot where on a normal man they would just be seared and burnt.”

“Throne,” Sergei kneeled next to Daul, “He's right. I'll way even money he worked as zero-g welder or the like. I thought the colonists destroyed the ship.”

“The engines at any rate, it would seem that some of the ships crew survived the bisection of the ship,” Daul clicked his tongue pensively, “He's using them as advance guard to figure out where we're coming from. Probably doing vox checks at regular intervals. They aren't here to stop us, just to slow us down and to track our progress. He didn't even bother to give them weapons capable of piercing rudimentary body armor.”

Cairn warbled and frustratedly waved a chronometer.

“Quite right, the more time we dawdle the more time we give Faust to form a counteroffensive,” Daul said straightening up and turning to the sealed entrance to the catacombs, “Danzig if you would be so kind as to open a path?”

“My pleasure sir,” Danzig pulled a long silvery tube out of his bag, fixed it to the side of the door, pressed a red button on the top, then backed to a safe distance. The tube burst in an implosion of controlled heat and fission, leaving a molten pile of slag where once stood a door. Danzig smiled, yelled “For the Emperor!” and led the charge through the new opening in the wall.

The excavation site consisted of a series of subterranean passages carved out of the same silvery crystal as the buildings above ground with many thousands of cross passages. Like the rest of the city it was disturbingly untouched by time and wear but unlike the long since plundered above ground. It was alarmingly well preserved, one would expect an area undergoing such frankly rapid excavations to be a mess of instrumentation and clutter but the tunnels hardly even showed noticeable levels of dust or grime. The passing of centuries had passed apparently without notice helped in part, Daul suspected, by some as of yet undiscovered automated maintenance systems.

The group stopped briefly as the roof shook and debris rained on their heads. Danzig looked up, “ Short range shells?”

“Not ours,” Sergei tapped the rail of the mag train, “Do we have a cart we could use to ride this?”

“And do what exactly? Be all in one place for them to shoot us in a single shot?”

“I wouldn't mind getting Sontián off this leg,” Gazan the medicus of the first squad was wrapping second squad's sniper's leg with a combat dressing, “He's good to walk once the second skin sets but abrupt movement could rupture the seal.”

“I can see that Medicus.”

“And Fabian must have some sort of abnormality in his brain chemistry, he's clearly reacting badly to the morphine,” the aforementioned Fabian was standing groggily to the side blinking incessantly and muttering about a “holy duty.”


“I can't afford to wait any more than I already have Gazan,” Daul said as he hefted the sniper over his shoulder in spite of the burly man's protestations of perfect health and started marching along the path of the tracks, “We need to move quickly or not at all.”

“The man is trapped in a hole on a godforsaken rock for Throne's sake. How much of a time limit could be possibly be operating on?”

“I ordered to total Exterminatus Extremus of this planet in twenty hours by the fifth fleet. It would be unwise to be on the planet when it happens.”

“... that would do it,” Danzig grimaced, “Any particular reason you felt the need to add an additional challenge to this?”

“It would be advantageous to catch him alive but far more still to allow him to live and escape. If he is the real Faust he has incalculable tactical information about the Halo Stars and if not we must determine where he encountered the secret knowledge of the arch-heretic,” Daul paused, “And frankly if we haven't captured him alive in twenty four hours I can't risk the chance that he might succeed at whatever his goals may be.”

The ceiling shook again briefly making Daul's knees feel weak and once again making him grateful that his helmet obscured any expression of surprise or worry, “We can argue about the merits and failings of my decision once we are closer to the central dome. Those shells are getting closer and I'm not sure how stable these tunnels are. We'll follow the mag rail, for now at least, as it must head to a central hub somewhere. It's guarded, no doubt, but I suspect that Faust will have deployed his stronger forces inside the dome itself around the civilian population.”

“Not at the points of ingress?”

“His worry will be more about egress.”

“Where the hell would they go?”

“I doubt the civilians care, the past records of Faust's experiments would tend to indicate that he prefers to have a wide range of genetic templates upon which to conduct experiments. Suffice it to say most of his patients are not willing participants. I suspect that the poison gases of the surface world look pleasant by comparison.”

“I doubt you're speaking metaphorically are you?”

“If this is actually Inquisitor Faust as bad as you can imagine. He was tutored in the flesh-works by the homunculus Coven of the Sightless Eye. If we fail and you're captured I suggest slicing your own wrists, his doctors probably won't be able to stop the death processes and cyanide isn't fast acting enough.”

“Exactly how many people has this Inquisitor killed,” Danzig looked over his shoulder at Cairn as the Skitarii fiddled with a machine on the wall bearing the great cog of the Adeptus Mechanicus. The Skitarii tilted his head to the side with a serious air and a face inscrutable, mechanical tentacles still adjusting and fidgeting. Cairn's memory engrams included very specific eyes-only data on Faust's attacks on the Ad-Mech itself including the destruction of several entire forge worlds. The Machine God's servants had long memories and many well deserved grudges.

“Enough to cause us...no, no! Dorn stand still,” the Arco-flagellant flailed impotently about in a low hanging chandelier made up of find strands of glowing crystal. The snaking crystalline strands had wrapped around the power leads to whiplike chords replacing his hands and were sparking ominously, each spark causing red welts to appear on the otherwise pallid and oily skin of Dorn. Daul sliced the offending cords with one of the razor tipped talons of his gauntlet muttering darkly under his breath, “Insufferable creature, they could at least have left some of your basic reasoning skills. A danger to yourself and others I swear.”

Dorn stared back at with a gormless expression, drooling slightly and apparently only mildly interested in his brief incarceration and subsequent liberation. Even then Daul was reasonably sure the only reason Dorn even looked back at him was a pavlovian reaction to having his owner speak. It was uncommonly stupid, even for a servitor. It was quite likely that an overzealous surgeon lobotomized more of Dorn's brain than was really necessary. He was eternally stumbling into near lethal situations.

“Damned, useless servitor,” Danzig looked at it scornfully, “Why you brought it is beyond me. More trouble than it's worth.”

“You'll keep your opinions to yourself soldier,” resisting the urge to openly agree with Danzig was difficult but it wouldn't do to have the Lionhearts openly mocking a servant of His most holy Inquisition. A fine dust of crystal shook from the roof as another shell hit the roof, shaking the group soundly and causing Sontián to wince with pain from his awkward position draped over the Inquisitor’s shoulder. It was time to move out.

The group moved as silently as they could down the main corridor, sticking close to the tracks of the mag-tram. Daul's armor had been designed specifically with stealth in mind. The thick treads of his armored greaves were created with stealth in mind, soft but durable plastisteel soles muffled his footfalls considerably. Even so he could not help but feel somewhat awkward and plodding as the Lionhearts gracefully slunk forwards in the semi-dark hugging the shadows. Their footfalls hardly even caressed the ground. Every once and a while Cairn would motion for the group to stop at one alcove or another as he consulted with one of the many data terminals the Admech had left along the walls, hoping to find some map or legend by which they might navigate the excavation site with greater ease. The colonists had apparently instructed the machine spirit to secret that information away in the hopes that it might give their PDF a chance to regroup and arrange a counteroffensive but Cairn seemed to suspect that the lesser machine minds of the outer terminals might have escaped the notice of the dome's primary machine spirit. The arcane data spirits of the Machine God were prone to such fickle errors.

As they sunk deeper into the dark tunnels it became readily apparent that Cairn was not the only one to have come to that conclusion. The ground was littered with the irregular clawed footprints of something clearly inhuman traveling in a large group, no doubt the abhuman half-breed soldiers of Faust. Easily as large as the abhuman ogryns and possessed of a deceptively cunning whit the half-breeds of Faust were the things of nightmares. Twisted masses of cruel flesh and crueler spirit, pale shadows of the men they once were. They too were looking for the peripheral logic engines and data ports that littered the walls of the tunnels.

“On the bright side they don't seem to be finding what they're looking for,” Belka one of the burliest of the Lionhearts mused as he shifted the debris of a smashed vid-screen with his boot.

Daul grunted noncommittally as Cairn approached the data port, “It's possible. They certainly might have smashed it in a rage.”

Sergei shot Daul a pensive look, “Might have Sir?”

Danzig pulled a cigar out of his pocket and looked mournfully at the pilot light on Hamman's flamer, before thinking better of it and pocketing it, “Inquisitor if you are going to insist upon being cryptic we're going to be dead and buried sooner rather than later. I hope you'll pardon my bluntness but I while I'm comfortable dying for our cause I'd much prefer to help the other fellah die for his.”

Daul permitted himself a brief chuckle, “It may well be that they're simply sabotaging everything that isn't directly of use to themselves. The destruction is too concise and too clean for me to believe that it was being caused by a rampaging half-man. They went straight for the computers and ignored everything else in the room. They clearly used their rifles rather than their fists, the footprints don't go directly up to the keyboard, and a half-breed in a fury cannot resist the urge for the close kill.”

“Then the data is probably useless?” Sontián asked as Daul placed him back on the ground.

“Haven't the foggiest. Data collection and collaboration isn't my forte and my specialist isn't particularly talkative,” Cairn squawked out a rude string of binary, “And frankly I doubt that Faust would risk giving his half-breeds such dangerous knowledge, he values his own cleverness too much.”

“Seems to be a theme with Inquisitors,” Danzig muttered in an exaggerated whisper.

“If you'd prefer I imitate the Commissariat I could always just shoot you for insubordination.”

Danzig shrugged and looked at Sergei, “I believe he just implied he was going to give me a heretics furlough on the bolt magnet express.”

“Don't look to me Sir, you die and I get an instant promotion. And frankly your quarters are substantially larger than mine are.”

“And my girl is substantially prettier than yours.”

Daul rolled his eyes and focused on the waving mechandrites of Cairn as the Lionhearts broke into another one of their insult competitions. It was about midway through a complex suggestion of an anatomically improbable act involving a goat and Lance Corporal Beau'nal's paternal grandmother that Cairn blurted out a chime of success. After some fiddling with a silvery box at his side engraved with the great cog Cairn nodded to Daul.

“Finally,” Sergei smiled, “If we didn't get to killing xenos soon I was afraid I'd forget how.”

“We should hurry,” Daul said as he checked his chronometer, “Sácomer starts phase two soon.”


“Could you repeat that last order sir? I seem to have misheard you,” Asked a disbelieving Sácomer. The resentment between the Inquisitor and the Captain was the most poorly kept secret on the Endless Bounty but such feuds were resolved with secrecy and guile in the upper class, not force and brutality. To simply have the Endless Bounty bombard the location of the Inquisitor's locator beacon was unthinkable.

Sáclair glowered back at Sácomer, he had never been one for repeating himself, “I need you to fire on the colony on my order. Load the starboard guns with high yield ammunition and warn our birds to stay out of the way. We'll the locator beacon for the Inquisitor and the Lionhearts to get past the jamming signals they're using.”

“Sir,” Sacomer's many chins shook with confusion.

“You heard me order's Mr. Sácomer, either follow them or relieve yourself of duty,” Sánclair looked positively giddy as he sipped at his wine. As the seconds of stunned disbelief and quivering chins passed, the look of betrayed disbelief on the Master of the Watch's face sobered him somewhat, “Calm yourself Sácomer, this is not a betrayal of either your honor or my own we are doing this under direct Inquisitorial orders of Daul himself.”

“Why would he order you to do that? Why would anyone ask for that?”

“I doubt that it was a roundabout suicide pact,” Donat, dour faced as ever, chucked dryly, “He has a plan, damned if I can see what it is. The Inquisitor isn't planning to die now.”

“No,” Sáclair's disappointment filling every word, “I doubt he will. Still, we might get lucky. Mr. Sácomer would you be so kind as to take my ship into range.”

“Yes sir, moving to optimal firing range.”

Sánclair reclined in his throne and sipped at his glass, eyeing the massive hologram in front of him. The green shape of the Endless Bounty shifted slowly above the bright orange sphere of Belzafest. Sánclair's blood boiled and his heart raced, this was the sort of conflict he adored, the adventure he craved. His passive links to the ship hummed with the energies of weapons systems and subsystems activating and calculating and his ears were filled with the sounds of battle chatter over the Vox net. The anticipation for the first salvo on the colony was intolerable.

“He does bring me the most delicious violence,” Sánclair whispered in a voice of meaningful omission as he watched his chronometer count down the minutes.

The seemingly random offshoots of the paths transpired to be part of a greater series of Fibonacci spirals leading to the central plaza of ancient Belzafast. It was in the ruins of this plaza that the colony itself sat, a ten kilometers wide domed city half as tall skyward as it was underground. Now that they had a map finding the core city proved to be astoundingly simple, getting into it proved to be substantially more difficult. As they approached one of the various transport tubes to the city proper the sounds of deep breathing and mewling cries were audible to the enhanced senses built into his powered armor. He hissed out a whispered order for silence and the use of night-vision optics and carefully approached the sound.

The lift tube was in the center of a massive high-ceilinged room littered with workbenches and archeological tools used by the xeno-biologists and xeno-archeologists of the colony. It was doubtlessly where artifacts were examined and cataloged before moving into quarantine in the city above. Faust's forces had smashed most of the machines lining the walls to bits.

Even in the dull green light the half-breeds of Faust were unmistakable as were the dull gurgling whimpers of pain from the man in the center of their tight circle, or rather what was left of one. Large hunks of flesh had been torn from the man's legs and face, the white bone underneath scored with tooth marks. Daul winced; he'd hoped the rumored appetites of the half-breeds were exaggerations. Creatures that preferred to eat their prey alive were terrifying as a concept even when their preferred dish was not man-flesh. The half-breed xenos were as dark and vile as any he'd seen, thick sinuous creatures the size of the abhuman ogryn with crests of bone along their limbs, orange scaly flesh, and a series of whiplike tentacles tipped with venomous barbs. They stood in a tight circle, jabbering and fussing over who got to eat next. The heavy stubbers slung over their shoulders seemingly forgotten in presence of food.

Danzig looked meaningfully at the arco-flagellant. Daul shook his head; the berserker was as likely to kill the Lionhearts as the half-breeds in close quarters. Daul whispered over the vox link, “On three rush for cover, try to encircle them while I meet them head on. Do not try to, Fabian stop! What are you trying to?”

Fabian charged straight at the circle of half-breeds, firing his weapon wildly, and screaming “for the Emperor!” at the top of his voice. His heart was full of the Emperors will and his veins were pumping with morphine.

“Damned drug addled fool,” grunted Danzig, “Nothing for it boys. Get into position and fire at will.”

It was not the organized military assault that Daul had hoped for. He reached out with his mind and willed the half-breeds not to react. Fabian managed to get close enough to hit the half-breeds with a couple of lucky shots before Daul lost control over the group. One fell to the ground bonelessly it's tentacles twitching wildly. The remaining half-breeds, furious at their interrupted meal and fallen comrade, mercilessly brought their weapons to bear on Fabian. The flak armor of the Lionhearts proved inadequate at such a close range. Fabian stumbled and fell, his body broken and bloody.

“Aim for the necks, the bone crests protect the heads,” Daul yelled as he charged forwards. The stubber fire hit his armor at the midriff. It clanged loudly and would no doubt bruise but the armor held. Cairn followed closely, agile mechandrites lifting him over tables and debris, firing a pair of inelegant but powerful las-pistols with mechanical accuracy.

The half-breeds were foul and inhuman, but they were bred for war and death. Their stubbers were the size of small cannons and what they lacked in subtlety they made up for with pure brutality. Danzig screamed, “Get that one!” at large half-breed brandishing a massive chainsaw moments before it cut off Semál's arm at the shoulder. The axe blade, whirring and screeching monstrously, spat up a long gout of blood onto the face of the half-breed that it licked off with relish with a long, snaking tongue. It screamed out a cry of victory before exploding in a cloud of ichors when Verdun hit it in the face shot it with a grenade launcher.

Lasgun fire and the bark of subber rounds echoed thunderously in the hall. Daul grabbed one of the half-breeds and crushed its ribcage with a powerful servo-assisted punch. The disruptive forces of the gauntlet cracked and hissed as they tore apart hunks of muscle and bone. One of the half-breeds pulled a plasma weapon out from a satchel and Daul ducked into cover just as a jet of superheated matter burst past his head, melting part of his right pauldron and damaging the mobility of his right arm.

“Cairn!” Daul bellowed even as a second jet of plasma narrowly missed his leg. The Skitarii, never too far from his Inquisitor master lined up his pistol and fired a single shot between the offending half-breed's eyes before aiming for his next target. Hamman bathed the room with yellow light and the smell of burning flesh as he aimed his flamer at a group of half-breeds taking cover behind a table.

Private Falkan leapt off of a table and onto the back of a half-breed as it reloaded its weapon. The short blade in his hand was more than sharp enough to slice through the carapace of the creature and cut it's larynx, but not before the half breed managed to stuck the Lionheart with one of the venom-tipped barbs along it's tentacles. As the half-breed fell to the ground Falkan's body went into fits. Medicus Gazan rushed to the man's side and started to apply anti-venom and antiseptic gel, stopping only briefly lob a grenade at an approaching half-breed. Sergei took five of the Lionhearts and cut right, covering Gazan as he tried to work on the fallen Lionheart.

Daul was in the middle of it, slicing with the scythe-like claws of his power-fists when he could get in and tossing bolts of psychic energy when he could not. He could feel the rush of lasfire whipping about him at the enemy as the Lionhearts blasted at the foul half-breed soldiers. Then came a cold, horrible empty feeling. A great clawing howl of nothingness screeched at his mind and he tasted blood in his mouth as he approached a large and particularly calculating looking half-breed. A null, thought Daul as he felt his knees give out.

Nulls were a psycher's worst nightmare, even weakly warp gifted individuals would feel mind pain and discomfort as they approached one of the psychically dead. It was unlike the other half-breeds. Its head was wide and its mouth was a long and proboscis out of which hung a tongue tipped with a fine barb of bone. Cairn, seeing his master's distress, fired at the creature only to have the shot stop short as it came into contact with a refractor field, “Kill it. Yelled Daul over the vox link.”

Cairn, fired wildly at the null as it approached Daul, pointlessly firing at its shields as Daul started to feel himself slipping into nothingness. Someone yelled, “Fire in the hole,” and tossed a blue metallic ball at the feet of the null, overloading its shields and ripping its legs to pieces. With a bit more spite than is fitting of a devotee of the Great Cog, Cairn smashed the nulls head with a swipe of a long mechandrite.

Daul, helped by Cairn, got to his feet as the last of the half-breeds fell to the ground dead. Danzig swaggered up to Daul, the cigar in his lips now lit, “I hope you'll pardon the heresy of using a grenade of Tau make to bypass the shields.”

“Noted, and forgiven Danzig,” Daul said looking at the Dorn unit in distant doorway and feeling foolish for having not giving it the order to charge, “How many did we lose?”

“Four, we lost four."

“Five now sir,” it was the voice of Gazan, “I don't know what's in the venom those creatures secrete but my kit isn't doesn't do much more than slow it down.”

“Damn,” Danzig chewed at his cigar, “Falkan was a good soldier.”

“Seems like a lot of soldiers to have at a exit, even when they're expecting trouble,” mused Sergi. His face and uniform had become covered with soot from Hamman's flamer. His wide grin stood out brilliantly against the dark soot, “Why do you suppose they were all here?”

“For the meal I suspect,” Daul walked over to the half-eaten man and bent down to get a better look. He had to resist the urge to cry out in shock as the man's eyes went wide and his left arm reached up to grab at his tabard. His mouth moved wordlessly in a plea for help.

Gazan rushed over in shock, “How on earth is he still alive?”

“I'd always assumed that the claims of the half-breeds eating someone alive to the last bite were rumors. Look at the wounds, the saliva of the half-breeds must be a natural coagulant,” Daul looked down at the man with curiosity, “The femoral artery was severed long ago but there's no pooling at the wound.”

“I can save this man.”

“No,” Daul said as he looked into the Gazan's eyes, “No you cannot.”

“You can't mean for us to leave him like this!”

“We haven't the time to heal him Gazan and even if we did we'd only be prolonging his life by a matter of hours till the fifth fleet came,” Daul said in a detached tone, “No, we're going to find out what we can from this man and move on.”

“Find out what we can? The man is missing his voice box,” Falon said disbelievingly.

“I have no need of speech.”
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post #12 of 159 (permalink) Old 12-10-10, 03:11 AM Thread Starter
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“I have no need of speech.”

Daul looked into the man's eyes and tore into his mind. It was in shambles. The man's world was nothing but pain, betrayal and death. In his agony his conscious mind and his sense of self and had retreated to a dark corner in which to hide, but not far enough. The space of everyone's mind looked different, this man's space was dark and ragged. It was a tortured place. In the middle of a dark void Daul found a huddled man, ragged and bloody. He was babbling incoherently.

“They shouldn't be, nope, can't be. Nope. Not one bit. Smit sees right through them!” He looked up at Daul's astral form, “They aren't right. Shouldn't be.”

“No,” agreed Daul, “They should not. Smit? That's your name isn't it?”

Smit's eyes focused on Daul

“He came, said we had to obey him. But we aren't fools, not going to be taking in by some heretic scum. We showed him, least we through we did.”

“You brought the void shields down on his ship? Soren Faust's ship?”

“That's his name is it? Yes, yes we did. I did. Worked in the dome. My place you see? That's where I worked.”

“I see.”

“It didn't work though, we sent off a request for help before he took over the colony but too late, far too late. You know what he does to people? What he wants here”

“I suspect I do.”

The man cried, “No. No you don't. You think you do. You need to understand. He found it! Knew exactly where to look for it. Where we were supposed to dig for it.”

“For what, exactly?”

“The angel. The thing of beauty trapped in stone. The most glorious thing I have ever set eyes on till the day I go to the Golden Throne in the afterlife. He found it and took it. The Kosh was stolen from where it hid, took him. Wanted his secrets he did. Hid in the dark days from the starfeeders.”

The man's eyes shook and the world of his mind grew darker. He was dying and by staying in the man's mind Daul risked dying along with him, “Smit I need you to focus. Where is Faust?”

“Where do all kings sit? On a throne on high.”

“Smit, I need you to be more clear? Smit?” Smit's eyes closed feebly and his mind fell to shadow. As Daul pulled away from it he felt the icy clawing of death nipping at his skin. He took a deep breath and shook his head to clear his mind.

“Sir? Are you ok sir?” Danzig was looking at him worriedly.

“Fine Danzig, I'm just fine,” the cold fingers still grabbed at his flesh but they were becoming less biting on his skin and he no longer heard the distant voices. He would be fine soon.

“You just stopped moving for and then started to twitch. Gazan wanted to check your vitals but the Skitrarii wouldn't let him.”

“Your concern is noted but unnecessary. Cairn, I need you to upload the schematics for the city into my HUD. We're going to have to split up.”

Cairn agrily warbled out a negative.

“It's not up for debate, someone has to sabotage the plasma reactors and you're the only one I trust to do it without blowing us all to hell. The Lionhearts are more than capable of destroying it but would be hard pressed to do so without causing a chain reaction of some sort by accident. Take Danzig and half the Lionhearts and head to the reactors, that's not a suggestion that's an order.”

“Where you will be taking Sergei and his squad if I might ask sir?” Danzig looked as confused as Cairn as Daul approached one of the many wide domed transport tubes at the center of the room.

“I'm going after Faust.”


Kerrigan was furious. The machine in front of her was a beautiful and elaborate device. It was the sort of machine that few Magos would have the opportunity to work on in their lifetimes and for the life of her she could not figure out what was wrong with it. The power-couplings were in place and properly blessed. The correct incense had been placed at the base of the command consul after the runes of activation had been pressed. Even the proper rituals of cognitive assistance had been done and yet the ancient machine spirit refused to work because she had not answered its riddle.

She could not tell if it was simply the senility of this particular machine or an added security measure but every time she tried to activate the machine it spat back a series of numbers and demanded she input the next in the series.


1
11
21
1211
111221
312211
13112221

}---Input Code---- {

She had tired the command overrides available to her but this was a truly ancient piece of archeotech, in order to appease the spirit inside she would have to answer it's riddle but for the life of her she could not think what to type.

Worse still it was a series six cipher, if she were to type in the wrong answer the machine spirit would shut down and they would have to start the hours long process of activation over from the beginning. Assuming they could start it at all the time for the use of the great machine would long since have passed. But that would be failure. Kerrigan was not about to fail.

“Mistress,” one of her attendants approached her, “We are consulting your personal archives but we are unsure where to start.”

“Don't bother,” Kerrigan's eyes were fixed on the numbers, “I've memorized the lot of them. This is not part of it. It's a puzzle, a riddle.”

“A security measure.”

“I suspect that the machine has grown bored in its long period of disuse. This is its way of appeasing its ego after having abandoned it for so long. It wants an apology.”

“Of course mistress. Do you want us to perform the rites of reuse?”

“Yes, I feel that would be best. The prayer's of cogitation too. It's only a matter of a half hour before Sánclair starts to fire on the city in earnest and must be prepared to use the machine the second the shields fall.”

If it weren't, the consequences would be dire.



Danzig could not stop himself from feeling apprehensive about separating from the Inquisitor. The specifics of the exit strategy had not been made clear in the mission briefing and he suspected that were there to be an emergency extraction it would be those closes to Daul to be rescued. He wasn't even entirely convinced Cairn was human. For all Danzig knew the Skitarii's machine enhanced brains could simply be copied at will and their physical body was simply a shell. Still it seemed unlikely that the Captain would let them die so easily.

Presumably the Skitarii had some form of internal map in his mind that he could consult but the Lionhearts themselves were effectively blind. The colonists had gone through the corridors of the facility and burned the maps off the walls in order to blind Faust, effectively blinding the Lionhearts as well.

“Damned unnerving if you ask me sir,” Fadir said as they passed yet another abandoned building, “I was expecting a real dust up after that first fight but this place is just... empty.”

“It's a service area Fadir,” Danzig shrugged, “I doubt there would be many people other than the tech servitor or odd tech priest at the best of times.”

“Still creepy sir. It's like one of the dead levels of the ship, I keep expecting to get captured by a Bendy at any moment,” Sala'ha eyed the Skitarii with mild amusement, “At least Clockwork seems to be at home.”

Indeed Cairn did seem to be at peace in the mechanical underbelly of the domed city, the sound of pistons churning and the warm fog of steam was making the Skitarii almost chipper, or at least as close to chipper as he ever seemed to get. How the Inquisitor read the Skitarii's emotionless body and stale, mechanical expression was a mystery to Danzig. The Skitarii seemed to have a grasp of humor, though most of his jokes seemed to be private ones only understood by the Inquisitor. He supposed that being a psychic factored into it somehow.

It was unnerving to follow the silent giant. The Lionhearts had to mutely follow Cairn through the winding corridors of the Belzafest domed city and simply trust that he was heading in the right direction. The silent man's mechanical manner and emotionless demeanor was unnerving at best. It wasn't that Danzig disliked the man, but how was he supposed to interact with something so inhuman? Especially in the dull green light of his night-vision optics he looked strange and alien.

“Are we far from the generators?”

Cairn said nothing but warily eyed the narrow corridor in the distance. He nodded but his manner became more cautious and he started to follow what little cover there was more closely.

“Are their any enemies between us and it?”

Cairn took out his auspex and fiddled with it as they marched. Eventually he put it down and shrugged noncommittally as he upholstered his pistols as he nodded at the balcony above the entrance to the main reactor.

“Is that a yes or a no?”

Cairn grabbed Danzig by the collar, yanking him into cover moments before a searing jet of flame shot over his head. The Lionhearts started firing wildly at dark shapes in the distance and rushing for cover. Danzig winced as he hit the treaded ferrocrete on the ground. As Danzig lifted himself off the ground, head still swirling with punch-drunk confusion, he took the time in between violent outbursts of swearing to give Cairn a withering look.

The Skitarii either didn't notice or was too busy firing at the sinewy beasts charging them to care. A set of distinctly canine half-breeds with long, gaunt maws, and talon tipped feet charged the Lionhearts as the ducked to avoid the fire of an small-bore auto-cannon leapt off the second story balcony and rushed towards the Lionhearts. Cairn managed to kill the first with a well-placed shot to the eye but only managed to graze the flank of the second as it vaulted over a chemical vat and started to tear into the exposed flesh of Boalan's neck. An enraged Pilar tried to pry the creature off Boalan but only managed to get a deep slash along his shoulder for his trouble.

“Die you xenos freak,” Boalan managed to gurgle out as he drove his bayonet into the creature’s stomach. The creature ignored its hanging entrails and simply bit off Boalan's head. It rounded on Pilar only to have its head implode under a concentrated blast of lasfire from Pillar’s sidearm.

“Ten hostiles left on the balcony sir,” Farast chuckled as he sighted his lasgun at one of the moving shadows in the distance. He breathed out and fired, the gun bucking briefly with a crack of ionized air. The shape in the distance at which he'd been aiming ceased to move, “Make that nine. Good enough sport for you Fadir?”

Fadir looked up from reloading his own weapon behind cover and flinched when an enemy grenade shot burst against the loading crane he was crouched behind. Shrapnel flew out from the space between the wheels, wedging painfully between his ribs. He spat up a bloody bit of phlegm, “A bit too active for my liking sir.”

Gazan rushed up to Fadir to examine the wound, just barely managing to avoid getting shot himself as he jumped a behind the crane. Danzig lobbed a grenade at the distant enemies as the sound of another dog-beast approached. The creature whimpered and died, some genetic compulsion forcing it to try and snap at the flying ball with its jaws.

Danzig tapped his vox link, “Gazan, how bad is he?”

Gazan had a bedside manner second to none on the battlefield. The man was just as much of an adrenaline addict as the rest of the regiment but his calm and clinical manner didn't change even as bullets narrowly whipped by his head. With nimble fingers and wise eyes he examined the wound at Fadir's side. Gazan smiled at Fadir as he pulled a set of silver forceps out of his bag, “He'll live. This is going to hurt like hell to get out and a doubt he'll be too happy with me for a while,” he smiled a comically exaggerated look of sadness at Fadir, “but as soon as I pull the shrapnel out and dress the wound he'll be fit for combat. He'll be, get down you damned fool!”

Semal never had a chance to do so. As soon as he stood up and started to spin a grenade around in a sling, presumably to lob it up to the balcony beyond, he had been cut down by steady stream of auto-cannon fire. He fell to the ground, his sling falling limply at his side. Wahal barely had time to scream before the two of them burst in a fine cloud of pink mist and shrapnel.

“Throne cursed gun. Skitarri Thross no chance you have any bright ideas to get us out of this mess?”

Cairn looked into the distance and pointed to a spot above the balcony upon which the half-breeds stood. Danzig popped up and cautiously looked down the sight on his rifle and smiled as he tapped his vox bead, “Sala'ha do you read me?”

“Yes sir.”

“Shoot the conduit above that damned fixed gun,” Danzig flinched as another stream of auto-cannon fire raked along the pipes he was ducked behind. The echoing ricochet of auto-cannon rounds was thunderous.

“Not the gun itself?”

“Just do it.”

“Yes sir.”

Danzig shuddered as another salvo of auto-cannon fire raked his position, denting the pipes he was using for cover. He muttered out a brief prayer to the Emperor as the bright streaking light of a hotshot long-las streaked down ten meters of corridor. The conduit exploded in a brilliant shower of sparks and light. Several live wires dropped from the burst conduit, sparking and surging with barely controlled energy. More than enough energy to ignite the ammunition supplies for the auto-cannon. n. The eviscerated charred bodies of the half-breeds flew off the balcony in a syrupy mess of flesh and ichors.

Danzig smiled and turned to Cairn, “You do have a special talent for destruction my friend.”

Cairn simply looked to the destroyed conduit with shame.

--
The main plaza of the Belzafest colony was out of a nightmare. The colonists, what few of them were left, had been cordoned off into slave paddocks made from electroshock cable lashed together around human bones. It served as both a physical cage and a tool of emotional torture. Faust loved such devices. They found several lone half-breed soldiers at the paddocks satisfying their urge for food or their own lust. They were far too concentrated on their own hedonistic debauchery to notice the Lionhearts till it was too late.

Faust's megalomania demanded that he be situated in the most central building of the Facility, of that Daul was sure. He would have it in the center of everything so that he wouldn't have to go to far to reach the slave pens from which he extracted the raw materials necessary for creating and feeding his half-breed army. Not for the first time he worried about his own humanity as he was forced to march past the cheering and pleading slave enclosures on the basement floor of the control complex for Belzafest. These people have no reason to be cheering for me, thought Daul, they'll die in less than a day and their blood will be on my hands, Throne forgive me.

Whatever guilt Daul felt as they passed the ragged and emaciated Belzafest natives in their cages it was nothing compared to the guild of Sergei and the Lionhearts. Every time a mother held our her child begging Sergi for a blessing or to take her child to safety it look a little bit away from the boisterous Lionheart. Daul was eternally thankful that it was in a common Damascan dialect that that Sergi chose to voice his ethical concerns rather than low Gothic. He didn't want to rob these people of their last moments of hope for salvation.

“Sir, can't we at least let them out of their cells?”

Daul shook his head, “We enough problems without worrying about civilians getting in the way or bumbling about trying to help. This group hasn't eaten more than corpse-meal portage in months. Best to leave them where they are.”

“Can't we save any of them?”

“I will not risk allowing anyone infected with the half-breed genes to leave this planet. We have enough natural horrors to be getting on with without manufacturing new ones,” Daul said patiently, “They will all be dead in twenty four hours. We cannot waste more time here.”

“Wouldn't it be possible,” Sergei's teeth ground together with every word, “ To countermand that order?”

“All things are possible under the Emperor's will but not under mine. I will not countermand that order. We are here to do an unhappy task. Let it be.”

Sergei moved in front of Daul's massive armored form and looked straight into the emotionless skull mask's eyes unblinkingly. His voice was one of barely controlled rage and sorrow, “Sir, please help these people. Let me help these people.”

Daul sighed and looked into the hopeful and hungry faces in the slave paddocks. He was their hero; many of them had already started the primarch's blessing. To leave these people would be the act of a monster. “Sergei,” Daul sighed.

The face of Sergi lit up and his smile brightened, but for naught, “Sergei we cannot help these people. It is monstrous to leave them but it is my duty to be a monster if the Empire calls for it. If you need to satisfy your conscience then seek revenge on me later but we cannot be slowed by this now.”

Sergei's face hardened and his smile disappeared entirely. Daul had never been quite so pleased to see a well-armed group of paramilitary heretic xenobreeds. Sergei scowled, “This isn't over Inquisitor.”

“Later Sergei,” Daul focused his frustrations and tossed bolts of psychic lighting into the center of the group. The half-breeds screamed with shock and pain. The Lionhearts opened up with a bright salvo of lasfire, cutting down ten half breeds in as many seconds. However one of the half-breeds, a massive brute bull of a creature simply laughed off the lasfire as it crackled and sizzled against a corona of psychic energies in front of him.

“Spawn of Horus!” Screamed Yonal as he switched to auto fire and started to fire at the creature’s head with a continuous stream of high-powered lasfire. The brute simply laughed and charged with a massively oversized chain blade. Yonal screamed as the blade went for his head faster than he could dodge, but the whirring blades of the sword streaked as they scythed against the closed fist of Daul's gauntleted fist.

The creature yowled in frustration and punched towards Daul's face with its free hand. Daul caught it at the wrist, severing it at the wrist. The creature screamed and howled, wrenching its chain blade free and impotently stabbing at Daul with its venom-tipped barbs.

The creature stabbed and twisted it's bade, wildly flailing it's stump in an effort to blind Daul's optics with it's thick ichorous blood. Daul because quickly alarmed when the stump where the arm sued to be quickly reformed and re-molded into a chitinous tentacle that exuded pale warp fire.

“I've had enough of this. Dercius empower deliver 7-2-2.”

At the sound of the secret command words spoken by his master the previously motionless Dorn leapt into action. He was a twirling mess of hatred and death, his long barbed electroshock whips ripped and tore at the great brute's flesh and burned down to his bone. The brute tried to slice at Dorn with its chain-blade but it kept being parried and dodged by the wildly flailing and erratic servitor warrior.

Eventually the creature took a wild sweep that overbalanced it and Dorn was able to get behind it and hamstring it with wild sweeps from its whips before beating it into a bloody pulp of nothing. As the creature sat on the ground in a bloody mess of it's own blood and viscera Daul yelled, “Scorn is it's own reward.” Dorn promptly regressed to his previous state of inaction even as he rounded on a nearby Lionheart.

Daul walked up to the brute and crushed his head into a pulp before heading towards the massive doors of the central command building, “Hamman, burn it.”

“Don't have to tell me twice sir.”


Selcan Porst was a man built like a stump. He was squat, wide, thick, and covered in knotted bulges of muscle that seemed unnatural on his more subdued frame. While he had no love of cruelty he had no particular qualms with it either, making him an ideal second in command for the mercurial and capricious Faust. As the inquisitor approached the door to the wide spire of the command center he took a long drag of the cigar between his lips and looked to his employer, “I don't think the door will hold him.”

His employer did not respond to him the first time so he repeated himself loudly, “The door won't hold them sir. They're getting in.”

“I heard you the first time Porst.” The tall man behind him waved a pale, nearly translucent hand dismissively not looking up with his work. The silver scalpel in the pale man's hands was still dripping with pale red blood and small flecks flew up and stained Porst's shirt, “He's gotten here faster than expected but not much faster.”

Porst shrugged and tried to ignore the screams of the creature on the table beneath Faust's knife, “Do we proceed with the plan?”

“Of course you will,” the pale man's voice sounded shrill, “Delay him or kill him, but give me the time to launch.”

“Shall I dispose of the specimen?” Porst eyed the cowed and bleeding creature.

“No, if this fails I want someone to understand why.”

“Will he understand?”

“Not now, but perhaps eventually. Prepare Porst, prepare. I must spend more time with our guest before I leave,” Faust looked back at the pathetic and broken creature beneath him, “Pathetic Vorlon slime. You let the universe fall to hell for your arrogance. Now it is up to me to fix your mistakes.”



A/N: Hey! Please review this story; any input at all would be useful. I'm writing this as an exercise to get used to writing novel length fiction but it only really works as an exercise if people tell me what they do and don't like about my stories. `

Thank you for reading :D
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post #13 of 159 (permalink) Old 01-26-11, 05:55 AM Thread Starter
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The exterior door to the command spire imploded under the force of ten kilograms of det-chord. The few seconds of chaos and smoke just barely gave Daul and the Lionhearts the time to rush into cover. Like most facilities in the Empire the spire was not without defenses in case of rebellion or invasion. The walls of grand cathedral of the entrance hall were dotted with a half dozen leering gargoyles concealing a wicked array of lethal turret weapons. The shadowed recesses of the vaulted ceiling flashed brightly as tracer rounds rocketed towards the door. Sandar hesitated as he rushed through the door, fear briefly overtaking him. The momentary indecision was his undoing as his legs were cut out from under him, his kneecaps reduced to nothing. He fell down the stairs behind the door screaming in pain.

“I thought the clockwork man was supposed to have disabled these damn things. They’re linked to the main reactor aren’t they?” yelled Sergei as he batted out a small fire in the dangling silk sash he wore round his waist. He winced at the crack of laser fire from beyond the door. Sandar had taken his own life rather than be found by the half-breeds.

“He must have been delayed. Faust will no doubt have guarded the reactors as well as he’s secured the spire,” Daul yelled back between hurling blots of psychic energy at the leering gargoyles, “We’ll have to assume that the turrets won’t be disabled in time. Try to aim for the power cables feeding into them, sever those and the machine spirits should lose the will to fight.”

“Damned angry spirits they are at that sir,” groused Hamman as he looked into the distance, “Two lift tubes sir.”

“We’ll have to split up, I’ll take Dorn in the one. You take the other. Take this data crystal, you’ll need it to force a manual override of the system so that they can’t force the lift to stop midway.” He pulled out a green crystal from his tabard that Sergi pocketed.

“Both of them seem to be large enough for all of us if we can get to them,” said Sergei as he squinted into the distance. The hall was dimly lit but the distant overhead light of the transport tubes was visible.

“This suit weighs an even two tons, I could not hope for it to lift us all. Come on, we’ll have to continue forwards, turrets or no. Our time is limited and unless I miss my guess Sánclair will be firing in… oh my,” Daul looked at his chronometer, “Cairn not having done his part may yet be a blessing, we’ve arrived late.”

“If you say so sir,” Sergei said as he fired a shot into the mechanical undercarriage of one of the gargoyles. His shot pierced the ammunition feed and burst the turret in a brilliant ball of flame, “All the same I’d rather not be fighting these damned turrets.”

A bright, blinding light flashed as the blast shutters slammed shut on the windows to the command spire. The distant screams of fear from the Belzafest colonists in the slave pens echoed shrilly as the ground shifted and shook. Daul blinked stars out of his eyes and looked back to his chronometer and trying to ignore the sense of dread at being inside of a colony mid-barrage and the screaming klaxons going off citywide, “Better than taking the full force of a bombardment from the Bounty. There’s somewhere we’d all rather be soldier, now hurry up and take these damned things out. ”

The group bobbed and weaved through the various upturned desks, shattered statues, and great stone pillars, firing for the turrets as they went. Daul lost his footing on a loose bit of ferrocrete and caught a head on blast from an auto cannon that burst on his armor. It tore a gaping rent in his chest armor but not the layer of flak underneath. Daul ignored the warning flashes on the HUD in his helmet and tossed a bolt of psychic force at the offending turret. It crumpled and burst.

“Are you alright sir?” Hamman’s voice was strained. The man was always edgy when dealing with something that could not be killed with his flamer.

“It’s a scratch,” Daul said as he pulled a cylinder of sealant out of a pocket in his tabard. Thick foam filled the opening in his armor, quickly sealing itself and forming a bond over the jagged tear, “But I wouldn’t want to take another hit there soon.”

Daul flinched as Vazziz burst in two, showering his armor in a spray of his guts and viscera. There was some xenotech devilry at work, of that Daul was sure. These turrets were far too accurate. The machine spirits of the standard prefabricated complexes used on border worlds were lazy and prone to bouts of mischief. The turrets firing at Daul had been precise and methodical, aiming at the joints in his powered armor where its protection would be weakest, too clever for the more whimsical mass-produced machine spirits.

Yonal screamed as his finger was torn away from his body in a burst of gore. He whipped his rifle up and fired blindly while crying in pain, his rife on full automatic fire. He continued to fire long after he’d managed to destroy the turret and kept pressing down on the trigger after exhausting its power pack. Evaan had to wrestle him to the ground in order to dress his wound and administer a painkiller.

It was then that Daul noticed a turret firing wildly at a bit of stray bit of debris. Of course, it was foolish of him not to have thought of it earlier. The facility, though full of systems fabricated by the Oita Forge would not have been able to afford Oita make for all of its systems. Some bureaucrat had decided to save a sovereign on the defense turrets. It was a damned foolish decision that Daul could be nothing but grateful for, “They’re using basic wide band auspex sensors!”

“Inquisitor if you insist on speaking in riddles and techno-sorcery we are all going to get killed. They’re using what?”

“There has to be an auspex array somewhere that they’re getting data from. Somewhere with a good view of everything, somewhere protected, somewhere that people wouldn’t notice,” Daul turned around and looked up to the keystone of the arched ceiling, “Somewhere that would be damn near suicidal to shoot at.”

Sergi crawled along the ground to a bit of cover opposite from Daul. He flinched when a stray ricochet pinged past his face and nearly jumped when a bit of drool dripped from Dorn’s gormless smile onto his hand. Grimacing slightly he wiped off the spittle on his pant-leg, squinting at the ceiling. Keen eyes darted about in consternation eyeing every angle.

“Suicidal is right sir, shooting that will collapse the ceiling,” he shot Dorn another murderous look as a second great glob of spittle dripped down on his shoulder and muttered angrily in ancient Damascan. Apparently the words for “filthy” and “mutt” of modern Damascan were the similar in both the modern and ancient dialect.

“Only in the entrance hall, if we knock out the turrets we ought to have enough time to reach the lift tubes in time for us to climb in and frankly it ought to cut off reinforcements for Faust. I have no doubt that there are many hundreds more half-breeds still in the city proper. This should serve to stop, or at least slow their advance. Head for the one on the left, I’ll head for the one on the right with Dorn.”

“Mad as all hell you are sir,” Sergei said in a tone of grudging respect, his smile took on the manic aspect that so characterized the Lionhearts and he yelled out to Var in ancient Damascan. Var blinked nonplussed and pointed up. Sergei scowled and yelled back in gruff low gothic, “Yes I damn well know the roof is going to bloody well come down! Just be ready to move when it does.”

Var shrugged and loaded a krak shot into the grenade launcher. It whistled as it shot upwards and collided with the arch, bursting into a brilliant ball of fire. Sergi screamed, “Move,” at the top of his voice even as he lifted his hands in front of his face to protect his face from falling debris.

“Move you miserable lump of a creature,” Daul’s face contorted in frustration behind his helmet as he yanked the servitor along behind him. Dorn had been sanding still, giggling as the two-ton ferrocrete bricks collided with the floor. He continued to giggle midair as Daul heaved him into his shoulders and carry him to the lift.

The doors to the lift slammed shut and echoed with the thunderous crashing of ferrocrete and adamantium in the entrance hall. The lights inside the lift flickered and died before switching to the emergency lights, bathing the interior of the lift in a dull red light. Daul righted himself and rearranged his tabard, eying the wet spot where Dorn had drooled on it with distaste. “Disgusting, positively disgusting, I really must housebreak you Dorn.”

Dorn stared back smiling that disturbingly cruel smile behind his bushy beard.

“Bah,” Daul pulled the data crystal out of his tabard and plugged it into the control panel. The lift’s lights flashed back to white and the tube ground back into motion causing Dorn to shift drunkenly as his servitor mind struggled to adjust to the shifting ground, “I should have left you. It would have served you right, damned creepy beast that you are.”

Dorn looked at Daul with his head cocked at a jaunty angle, his morpha cables flopping down from his helmet and beard making him look distinctly like a deranged spaniel. Daul could just see the listless grey eyes behind the helmet’s visor staring vaguely into the distance. There was a benign innocence in them that belied the cruelty of his smile, but it had been the same in Dorn’s life prior to lobotomy. Perhaps Daul would be lucky and the Emperor would see fit for Dorn to pass into the next life. Daul would certainly not mourn his passing.

He tapped his helmet to activate a comm. channel to the Lionhearts but only heard static. “The thrice damned lift must be radiation shielded. We can only hope for the best… and I’m talking to a servitor as though he were about to respond to me I truly have been spending time around the Skitarii.”

Dorn shifted gently from foot to foot, rocking with the motion of the elevator. He giggled with each bump and made bubbles with his mouth.

“The rubble should slow down their re-enforcements. That’s something at least, the command overrides ought to disable the lifts once we’ve reached the top meaning that they’ll have climb the stairs. Even then they’re going to have to cut through the blast shield on every level to reach the top,” Daul knew it was a terrible habit but he found that talking himself through every aspect of his situation calmed his nerves. He could not afford to let his mind be clouded by adrenaline and the frenzied pumping of his heart.

Dorn gurgled contentedly and watched the buttons flash in time with the rising of the elevator. The relaxed posture of his body clashed noticeably with the cruel smile behind his bushy beard and the dead sightless eyes behind the visor. His bare feet made fleshy scuffling noises on the plush carpet of the lift as he shifted his weight from foot to foot. “That the Emperor has seen fit to save you when all others in my service are long dead is beyond my understanding Dorn,” Daul checked the patch on his side to see if it had burst after rapid movement, “They didn’t leave you enough brains to remember to feed yourself. Then again, I suppose the less of you they left in the better. You are destined to find penance in sacrifice but I suspect that He only wants you to take the parts of you worth having to the hereafter. And there wasn’t much worth sending to him beforehand, not much now either… not really. I suppose you are a test send to me, suffering and frustration to deal with you for the few moments where you’re of any use.”

He glowered at the servitor, “Having to carry you away from a falling ceiling… honestly! I must have a talk with Kerrigan about installing some sense of self preservation in you or I will simply never be able to finish anything for fear that you might die of some foolishness before I’ve decided that you ought to,” he chuckled at his own grim joke. He didn’t find it funny but any verbal cruelty he could inflict on Dorn gave him no small satisfaction, “but at least that damned cave in ought to give us some time to finish our work, the won’t get re-enforcements through till they clear that rubble, Throne willing that is.”

The past three years of his life had been leading up to this confrontation. Now that Faust was just within his grasp he could not help but feel a giddy rush of adrenaline. No, there was no time for that. He could not afford for his mind to be clouded with rage anticipation, he must treat Faust with the same level of clear headedness as any other heretic. Faust was just like any other heretic but Dorn’s issues with him were personal.

Faust’s crimes were without number and his evil without measure but when Daul choked the life out of him with his bare fists in an interrogation cell it would be to avenge a single death. One wholly undeserving the cruel death he received at Faust’s hands. What little of Daul’s household was left after the Tyranid incursion fled to the fortress monastery of his mentor Inquisitor Lord Martin Gaal. Gaal had always been like a father to him and had been the closest thing he’d had to family for some eighty years. So long as his people reached Gaal Daul had no fear that any harm could reach them. He had been mistaken.

It had been foolish to use a military decryption in order to issue orders to his household but he’d been unsure if anything other than a military transmission would reach the planet at all. Faust had followed them to the hive city that held Gaal’s fortress monetary and lain siege to the fortress. By the time Daul reached it the monastery was little more than rubble, only the sub-basement fortress complex remained. Gaal’s soldiers had held it dearly but vainly; Daul found what little was left of Gaal crucified on the great aquilla that hung behind his desk. Faust had piled their bodies haphazardly beneath the crucifix. Gaal had died a hero’s death trying to save the women and children of Daul’s house who’d come to seek refuge.

Faust had intended it to be a warning to those who interfere in his plans.
It had not had the desired effect

“I will see him flayed alive Dorn. I will do things to him that would have made you cringe. I will break every thing about him and turn his life’s work to dust and ashes," he had promised as much as he knelt in the shattered ruins of his former master's household, weeping like a babe. He had little enough joy in his life without losing what little family he could claim. Faust had stolen part of his heart that day and Daul had filled the emptiness in his heart a with cold and brooding malice.

By the time the lift reached the command level of the spire Daul's anger and apprehension had bled away and only the cool determination remained, sharp as a razor's edge. As he stepped out from the lift there seemed only one acceptable outcome, Faust would die. The wretched stench of the half breeds billowed into the lift as the doors opened, strong even through the rebreathing apparatus of Daul's helmet. He exited the lift and his heart caught in his throat, the door to the second lift, the one that the Lionhearts had taken was sealed by a void shield. The command crystal he'd given them had either shorted out or been cracked in the fighting. The Lionhearts would not reach the command level in time, not without a meltagun anyway. He could not affort to wait for them to find an alternate path.

"Can time never be on my side? Emperor grant me grace."

The hallway leading to the command center was long and opulent. Silk tapestries hung from the ceilings in front of each door declaring the outrageously exaggerated family genealogies, histories and, accomplishments of the colonial office holders. The colonial officials had no doubt been the first to die but the elegance of their apartments no doubt suited Faust's ego.

Daul sensed a pair of half-breeds before he saw them in the gloom. They were lurking in the shadows near the door of a luxurious apartment. Their predatory instincts were strong but Faust had not gifted them with an equal measure of common sense.

Daul walked forwards nonchalantly, pretending not to have noticed the two bulky predators slinking behind him. Goaded by his apparent weakness the two pounced, long claws and powerful jaws ready to tear through armor and into flesh. Two brilliant bolts of pure psychic force pulped their heads into mush midair. The bodies fell to the ground and twitched eerily in deat. Dorn followed Daul. The servitor paused only briefly to stare at their twitching corpses, curving his lips in fascination.

The doors to the offices were open. Most had been torn off their hinges by the half breeds during the initial assault on Belzafest. There were thousands of hiding places and though Daul no longer smelled their stink he could not help but feel that he was being watched. It was an eery sensation that prickled along the back of his neck, setting him on edge. The space was dead, dank, and dark. The damaged florescent lights flickered and spat sparks, giving the tapestries the illusion of motion though there was no breeze down the corridor.

Daul broke in to a dead run as he reached the end of the corridor, building up momentum. He struck the rich double doors that lead to the command center with a jarring crash of metal. The doors, already worn from Faust’s assault, bent and crumpled to the side.

They were waiting.

There had to be twenty of them. Twenty of the largest half-breeds Daul had ever seen, each of them sporting eight tentacles covered in barbed spines that coiled and uncoiled around great sinuous arms. They stood in a wide phalanx in front of some dozen or so hard faced men working tirelessly at their data stations. At the center of this cadre, sitting on the plush throne of the colonial governor, was a man in wearing elegant silks and wide brimmed hat, smiling greedily at the sight of Daul. He put a thick cigar to his lips and puffed at aged talbac, "You're too late Inqusitor."

"Not so late as you assume," Daul walked into the command center flanked closely by Dorn. And in a voice full of as much bravado as he could muster as he walked forwards, "You underestimate me. So does Faust. Tell me where he is hiding before I tear it from you Porst."

The man laughed and snapped his fingers; a void shield flickered into life around Daul faster than he could blink. Daul tossed a bolt of psychic energies at the shield that sparked and spattered but did little else, "Inquisitor do you honestly think my employer has survived centuries by sitting around waiting to be cornered? My employer started the preflight checks the second you came out of warp.

Emperor almighty, a ship. The throne cursed traitor had another ship.
--

The deep cavern in which the primary reactor for the city sat made Danzig slightly homesick. The plasma generators that powered the city were massive, larger still than any generators Danzig had ever seen. Pulses of blue-white crackled as they pulsed their way down the hundreds upon hundreds of cables feeding into the cavernous ceiling and the city above.

The air was dry and smelled of ozone and lubricant, and the distant throbbing hum of machines was startlingly similar to the sounds and smells of the facility where the children of Lionhearts received their early training. The children would cry for their mothers at first, the machines were loud and frightening and the dormitory in which they slept was often dark. After a few days with the surly corporal who played nursemaid for young Lionhearts the children soon learned that they feared the unknown sounds and clashes of the machine less than they feared the well-worn switch of Corporal Maziv. He was a hard man but not a cruel man, most of the Lionhearts affectionately referred to the man as “Mom” though none of them dared to do so within earshot of Maziv himself.

As he led the handful of men down the wide stairwell to the command platform that sat above the deep chasm he could not help but hear the gruff voice of Maziv, “Don’t you bother to be falling over the edge now boy. You fall over the edge of a plasma reactor and it’s the Emperor himself you’ll be explaining your clumsiness to. The Emperor don’t suffer wooly headed scrum like you lightly.”

The platform sat hovering above the center of the generator itself, reachable only by a wide bridge lined with thick ferrocrete pillars and steel support struts. In the distance, obscured partially by the glare of the plasma discharges, a lone figure sat at the command consul of the generator, a single man, and no guards.

“Cairn, does that look like a half breed to you?” The Skitarii’s face puckered with concentration as his optics focused and re-focused on the shape in the distance. After a few moments consideration he shook his head, his mechanical tentacles waved lazily.

“Sir,” Fadir was looking at a cracked chronometer with trepidation as he shielded his eyes with his hand, “We’re already behind schedule as is. If we don’t have those generators down soon the plan will not proceed. Our mission is still technically a success so long as Faust dies but I’d prefer not to be in the list of acceptable losses.”

“You think I don’t know that,” Danzig spat on the ground, “Burn me, we’ve got no choice. One half-breed with his throat cut is as good as none at all. If I’m going to end up at the foot of the Throne I intend to say I died doing my duty not lollygagging around like a deckhand on his first shore leave. Fadir, you take point.”

Fadir smiled and slunk forwards. Even with a broken rib he was still the fastest and surefooted of Danzig’s men. He should have been born a cat, at least then he would have an excuse for how his feet never seemed to make a sound no matter how fast he moved or how far he jumped. Sala’ha shouldered his long-las and turned to Danzig in a false whisper, “The boy takes altogether too much joy from his work.”

“And you spend altogether too much time moving your lips,” Danzig said in a surly tone. Fadir did like stealth a bit more than was healthy and he was too handsome for his own good by half. His own unique talent for mischief and caring smile often landed him into trouble, though Fadir would never call it such. More than once the young Lioheart had been near court marshal for having made his way into the bedchambers of the noble ladies of the Endless Bounty. The women of the bounty did seem to have a curious habit of having strapping young soldiers arrested when they were caught sneaking into their dressing rooms then dropping the charges in private after the fact. Danzig sometimes wondered if Fadir found less sport in the women than he did in sneaking past the jealous husbands and angry fathers.

Fadir was a sneaky and unscrupulous bastard but he was Danzig’s sneaky and unscrupulous bastard. He could not help but feel a small measure of pride as Fadir shot forward, leading the silent charge with muffled footfalls. If the man in the chair noticed the six Lionhearts and single Skitarii he gave no notice, he seemed wholly enthralled by the terminal in front of him. He muttered to himself angrily, some in low gothic, some in a screeching language that he’d only ever heard spoken by Cairn. He suspected that the binary was no more cogent than the gothic. Cairn certainly gave no expression that he’d heard anything resembling sense. But the man was clearly in pain, deep pain.

“Turn, spin… it works NO I work It and I are we now, 90% pain pain hurt, am I hurt? No, we are not. But are we a we or am I me? Hurt, now die. But no weapons. I am not the ship, where is the ship? This is not a ship.”

Insane ramblings, he was probably some poor fool that had been captured by Faust. By all accounts Faust took prisoners and the results were often unpleasant and usually irreversible. At least he would be able to put this man out of his misery. Danzig looked to Fadir and sliced a finger across his neck.

Fadir nodded and pulled out a slender knife. Its blade’s silver sheen had been dulled with soot but its point was as sharp as any. Fadir grabbed the man from behind and drove his dagger across his throat as far as he could manage. The man’s head jerked backwards and his body went slack as the blade sliced along his neck. Fadir whooped triumphantly before recoiling in horror as the man started to shift about in spite of his near decapitation. The man’s voice gurgled as his lips tried to make words through his severed voicebox. The near corpse lifted itself on a frame of mechanical tendrils that fed into the ground beneath the chair, fingers twitching and his legs convulsing. The man’s eyes rolled about wildly and his severed flesh was knitted together by bands of silvery black metal and he began to speak in clipped screeches. Cairn froze in horror listening to the screeching binary and for once Danzig was grateful not to understand a word of it.

“Threat assessment, determine… what am I? I am he, machine, pain, bring death, ships weapons. Am I the ship? There are no weapons, a ship must have weapons..”

“Throne Almighty!” Danzig made the sign of the aquilla over his heart and started reciting the chant of unity in his head. He turned to the other Lionhearts all of whom were staring at the rising figure openmouthed, “Don’t stand there like it’s a goddamned holo vid shoot it!"

Woken from their surprised stupor they leapt into action, weapons on full automatic. The air cracked and sizzled with the sounds of laser fire. Bright streams of energy cut into the man but they might as well have been yelling at it crossly for all the good it did them. He simply twitched with each shot, his body filling in the holes with the same murky black metallic substace shouting random phrases.

From his perch Sala'ha got in a good shot to the man's heart. Dark eyes focused on Sala'ha as though for the first time noticing an attack. It's mouth opened wide like a python before belching up a great ball of phosphorescent blue. Sala'ha dodged the ball and ducked behind one of the pillars, swearing loudly as the crates he’d been standing on burst in a shower of white hot metal shards. He rolled back into cover, wincing as shrapnel stung at his back and side.

“Weapons… weapons… I am the weapons!”

Fahal screamed as bolt of lightning shot from the man's hand. The burst deftly tossed Fahal in one direction and his arm in the other. Gazan grabbed Fahal and dragged the sobbing man behind cover. He would need to have it replaced with a prosthetic assuming that the shock or the blood loss didn't kill him outright. By the Throne but how do you kill something that didn't die when you shot it in the blasted head?

Falin pulled a melta charge out of his sachel only to have it grabbed away by Sala'ha. Sala'ha chastised Falin furiously, "Have you lost your wits? We're standing above the Throne cursed reactor core. It does us no good to kill him if we die as well. If you want to die on your own time do so but don't blow me up in the process."

"What else do you suggest we do? If we can't take the reactor down then the Inquisitor's plan fails and we're dead anyway. I say we blow it all to hell, better to die here than be cornered and eaten by half-breeds." Falin's voice held a frustrated resignation that he could not help but feel as well. They had no weapons stronger than a hot-shot lasgun other than explosives and they could not hope to use the explosives without causing critical failure in the reactors. Falin's suggestion was unpleasant but possibly inevitable.

--
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Porst eyed the caged Inquisitor greedily. He had no great love for the servants of the Empire. They were irrational at the best of times and wildly fanatical at their worst. He could not see fit to bow and prostrate to the cult of the Emperor either, there were days where he frankly doubted that the Emperor was still even alive. The Lords of Terra be damned for all he cared. He took a deep drag from his cigar and stood from his chair, approaching his caged prize, “My employer implied that you would be motivated to follow us but he neglected to suggest that you would try take us on with a one man,” he looked at the servitor, “make that one and a half men. What did you hope to accomplish?. My employer has survived attempts from those who were of greater skill and longer in the tooth with entire armies behind them, let alone one mangy looking servitor.”

The Inquisitor whipped his head around to and yelled to his servitor. The servitor looked up when the garbled sounds came from his master but otherwise continued to stare at the swirling colors of the shield, smiling toothily. Servitors were always unnerving to Porst, perhaps because if he were ever to be caught by the authorities he would be made into one, but this one seemed especially wrong to him for some reason. It was too giddy for his liking, “Inquisitor I am not a complete fool. That field negates any sound you might make, though it allows me to speak mine. A lovely variation of the privacy filter don’t you think? I’ve seen my employer make use of compulsions with a word and a gesture to get men to bring about their own undoing. I’m not about to give you the remotest chance of accomplishing that.”

He took the silver handle offered to him by one of the half-breeds, “You will sit there and behave till my employer returns or I will be forced to ensure that you are properly plaint. I was given the appropriate means to do so.” He pressed a button on the handle and a wave of force shot down from the ceiling upon the Inquisitor driving him to his knees, “You will obey,” he pressed the button again, “or I will make you obey.”

The Inquisitor’s helmet from his face as it cracked under the pressure. A long sliver of metal shrapnel pierced the inner layers of flak to slice his scalp as it burst. A long trickle of blood dripped down the front of his armor from the deep gash along the left side of his face. It would scar, Porst was sure of that.

“Inquisitor fighting it is futile, I’ve already won,” The Inquisitor struggled in the most delightfully futile way. Porst pressed the button again, a damaged section of the Inquisitors armor ruptured and a thin trickle of blood poured down the white of his tabard. Not enough to kill him, but undoubtedly enough to be excruciating. Porst waved his free hand at the large wall of monitors in the front of the room, each showing a different angle of a massive black fleshy hulk with spidery protrusions, “Inquisitor you’ve already lost. My employer boarded the ship and other than those few of us still in the command spire and catacombs we’re already boarded and ready. Your ship in orbit will not pierce our defenses and you are at the mercy of my tender care. Surrender now while you still can.”

The Inquisitor responded with a decidedly course hand gesture unbecoming of his breeding and status. Porst pressed the button again, throwing the Inquisitor to his hands and knees. The half-breeds chuckled darkly; pain fitted their warped sense of humor. Porst walked past the ring of half-breeds, resisting the urge to shudder as he did so.

“It was brilliant of you to commit most of your forces to an assault on the munitions depots while you advanced with your retinue. I must confess I’d expected you to have a substantially larger honor guard.”

Covag, the commander of the half-breed group in the room screeched loudly and spoke in grumbling gothic, “We will have to remove the other soldiers. Father would not appreciate it if we were to give them the chance to interfere with our duties.” Porst rolled his eyes, for all their talk of obeying the father he knew that they were more attracted to the idea of fresh man-flesh than they were to the tasks at hand. The soldiers his employer bred were efficient but at times short slighted and bloodthirsty.

“No Covag I don’t think that’s wise,” Covag’s already warped face twisted into an angry leer. Given the chance Porst suspected that they would have just left the Inquisitor alone in the void shields in favor of going after the meat they were allowed to eat.

Gan Zo, one of the mercenaries in Porst’s company, turned from his consul, “Sir you might want to reconsider that. The level they’re on isn’t a crucial one for us, but there is a subsystem that leads to control of the hangar’s promethium lines. It would be wise to protect that.”

Porst swore, “Very well Covag you will have your fight, but leave half your… men. We might have need of them soon.” Somehow Covag’s toothy grin was even worse than his glare. Half the group followed Covag as he climbed over the balcony and began to lower himself down the side of the building with his taloned hands and barbed tentacles. They made a raucous mess of opening the blast doors, climbing out, and sealing them again behind them.

“Strange creatures but they do their job,” he stared at the Inquisitor’s obtrusive countenance behind the shimmering force field, “Don’t you look at me as though you’re so much better Inquisitor. I know the things you’ve done. I never ordered a planet fragged just because I didn’t like someone on it. Yes, I know about the Exterminatus order. My employer has well connected friends who you’ve substantially angered. You should be thankful for that, you’re worth a great deal more alive than dead,” he sighed exaggeratedly, “Though to be fair not connected enough to countermand your orders it would seem. You have access to a substantially important person in the Imperial Navy don’t you? Don’t bother to try and answer I wouldn’t hear you anyway. Yes you must have one. We shall have to deal with him when we’re done with you.

He walked in a wide circle round the field that trapped Daul, eyeing the power armor in the way one might examine a particularly feisty animal at the zoo and stopping only when he reached the arco-fagellant. He put his hand on Dorn’s shoulder in a mock paternal fashion and chuckled, “I suspect that it’s well within my employer’s power to alter your servitor, repair him even to his previous state. Would you like that?” He turned to Daul and made a deep mock bow, the thick muscles of his neck bulging, “I wonder if you’re little pet dog will bite you as hard when I’m the one who feeds him treats?”

Then as a cold sensation of wrongness swept through the back of his spine he heard a deep grating chuckle in the back of his head, “Tell me Porst does your privacy filter silence my mind as well?”
Porst looked down in horror to the servitor’s body went rigid and the barbed electroshock whips sparked into life. The hand clutching the handle floated through the air as the rest of Porst was turned into a bloody mess. Daul sat safely behind the void shield watching the lasfire flare off it as the half-breeds and human jumped into action to counter whirling and screaming whirlwind of death that was Dorn. Daul stood and he laughed.

--
Danzig had to resist the urge to jump out of his own skin when a firm hand tapped him on the shoulder. Cairn held out his hand and pointed to the spare power cells on his belt then to back his own robes. The Lionheart opened his mouth to ask what Cairn planned to do with them. He closed it just as quickly when he got a look at the Skitarii’s expression. Skitarii Thross was standing behind him, quivering with rage, and staring at the their attacker with undisguised malice. The mechandrites hanging from his face were still and the fingers of his prosthetic hands clenched and unclenched so hard that the servos inside them groaned and whined with the pressure. The heretic in front of the was a sin against everything the Skitarii held dear. It showed a perversion of the Omassiah on a level transcending description. Indulging his wishes seemed wise.

“Fine, you want my spare ammunition? You can have it. Whatever you’re planning it better damn well work Thross,” Cairn gave him a look that could have frozen a sun and contemptuously snatched the power cells out of his hands. Danzig winced as the augmentic fingers squeezed his hand a bit more strongly than was necessary. It had admittedly not been the most graceful thing he could have said at the time to Cairn. But it was still better to anger the clockwork man into action than to allow Falin’s harebrained plan to become a necessity.
Cairn’s solution was unconventional to say the least. The devotees of the machine god tended to be more blasé about damage to their own bodies in the service of the Omassiah than others would be. When Cairn actually removed his arm at the elbow Danzig was at a loss for words but he supposed it was easier to accept losing an arm when one could simply have it replaced later with a spare. Danzig watched in fascination as Cairn ripped open a side panel of the floor and started to plug wires into the sockets of his detached right arm with all the signs that he considered it to be as mundane as firing a lasgun. Thinner reed-like mechandrites emerged from beneath the beard of tentacles that marked his jaw line. They snaked out and attached wires and circuits in ways entirely beyond his understanding. It was like watching magic being born, fantastic circuit sorcery.

A bright ark of lighting shot out and cracked the wall behind Danzig. The creature, Danzig had long since given up on thinking of it as a man, had started to just lob attacks in the general area of where it suspected the Lionhearts to be. Whatever it was doing with the computers must have been taking up a majority of it’s attentions else it was a truly terrible shot.

Not for the first time that day he considered the sanity of the Inqusitor’s plan. Presumably the Inquisitor had not known about… whatever this thing was. He would not have come down to fight on the planet itself were escape impossible.

At least he hoped the Inquisitor wouldn't.

The Inquisitor’s sense of danger was somewhat warped. The man hadn’t even flinched when they were tagged with anti-aircraft fire during planet fall. It was downright disturbing to meet someone who seemed to actually be as cavalier about death as the Lionhearts pretended to be. Laughing in the face of death was a tactical decision by pretending not to fear anything in a large enough group it allowed them to suppress whatever fears they actually had. Doing their jobs even in the face of Kabalite pirates or whatever else might come their way was crucial. The dry and clinical manner in which the Inquisitor was able to either compartmentalize or ignore fear and confusion was astounding. Whatever else could be said about Daul the man’s blood was made of ice, “Throne protects the man who got in his way.” he muttered.

Cairn shot him a stern glance and Dazig stopped muttering, though his expression was still as sullen. What did the Skitarii expect? Danzig was a soldier. Having to cower in a corner while waiting on someone else to solve his problems was galling. Cairn made an annoyed warbling sound and started to attach the power cells from Danzig’s ammunition pouch to the beveled sockets on his arm. Silvery mechandrite tendrils fed into the sockets between the arm and the cell weaving an intricate web of wires.

It was probably some minor techno-heresy to allow Danzig to watch him doing this. Or not, one never knew with the Adeptus Mechanicus. It might be enough for him to assume that Danzig was unaware of the workings of the great machine spirits for the Skitarii to avoid penance or, worse yet, forcing penance on Danzig. The Ad-Mech guarded their sorceries jealously. A penalty for knowing too much forbidden knowledge could force him into a lifetime of service to the Ad-Mech or a lifetime in a penal legion. He squinted his eyes shut just in case.

When the Skitarii let out a whooping cheer he risked opening his eyes only to shut them abruptly as a blinding flash burst from the bundle of wires. Even behind his lids the flash left a brief afterimage on his retina, “Bastard son of a heretic! Skitarii give some warning!” The Skitarii slapped him with his remaining arm and screeched in binary. Danzig muttered a sullen apology.

As he tried to blink the stars out of his eyes he looked at the damage the Skitarii had done. The ground and walls were scorched from where the burning cables had scored them and a scent of cooking meat wafted from the now dead creature. Its body was twisted and stretched by rigor, the blackened cables and smoking offal leaking out its ruptured guts. Cairn, still missing his arm, approached the data terminal beyond the smoking heap of man-flesh apparently unaffected by the sight or the smell. Danzig didn’t share his impartiality. The smell of it was vile.

Fahal’s sobs had settled to an occasional whimper. Gazan had managed to patch the wound with some synthetic skin and a tourniquet but the stub of an arm still hung limply at his side. His breath was ragged and his eyes were unfocused but that was as much from the painkillers than from the wound itself. Gazan stood up, lifted Fahal to his feet, and helped him to hobble over to Danzig.

Sala’ha whistled and kicked some chunks of meat with his shoe, “The tin man has fangs. What did he do?”

“I don’t want to know,” Danzig bit his lower lip, “And neither do you. After we debrief I want you forget this ever happened. Purge it from your memory. You didn’t see him do it and neither did I for that matter. We’ve got an Inquisitor within shouting distance most of the day, don’t forget about whom we’re talking just because you’re used to seeing him. If he even begins to suspect us of getting close to an interest in techo-heresy or, throne forbid, the Magos it’s more than my life’s worth and damn sure more than yours is. Consider this an order, this never happened.”

Sala’ha looked incredulous but didn’t press the matter farther. Fadir gave a curt nod of agreement. It didn’t take much to convince Fadir to mistrust the Inqusitor. Fadir was one of the many Lionhearts who had been loaned to assist the Imperial Guard in retaking Choros XI. The Imperial Guard, doubting the loyalty of the mercenary band, insisted on placing a Commissar with the Lionhearts. They’d balked at his authority but could do little other than submit to his will. Fadir had lost friends who were just as rebellious as he but lacked his talent for not getting caught. His distaste for the omnipotence and lack of oversight of the Commissariat had transferred over to the Inquisition. The few times Fadir had been in a room with Daul he’d spent the entire time eyeing the Inquisitor’s pistols. People looked at vipers with more trust.

“Clockwork! Can we get this moving? I want to start the shutdown then get out of here. The locator beacons for pickup won’t be of much use if we’re still in a rad-soaked area. I want to be there for dust-off,” Danzig winced at Falin’s tone. Falin was young enough and foolish enough to doubt the wisdom of believing in his own mortality or fallibility. Cairn’s success in killing their attacker as had been taken as a personal insult, Danzig bit back venom and rounded on Falin, “Boy stow it, it will be finished when it’s finished. And if we leave, and I do mean if, it will be when I say so and if I tell you to stand there from here to judgment day I damn well expect you to stand there and do it. No Falin I don’t want to hear it. Stow it and wait.”

Even so Danzig could not help but privately agree that they ought to get moving if for no other reason than to get out of the shadow of the creature’s body. It was damned unnerving. As he watched the numbers on his chronometer rise his sense of urgency rose along with them.

--

“How goes the recall of our forces Donat,” Sáclair smiled as he downed another glass of aged wine and sipped at the smoke from a pipe fixed to a long hose hanging down from a to an ornate Shisha attached to the back of one of his servitor servants. Being able to attack the city had boosted Sáclair’s spirits greatly, as had the aged talbac in the Shisha. The great hall was still in disarray but the servitors and servants had already started to put things to rights. For all his gripes that they ought to see to critical systems first Sáclair seemed to find the re-hanging of every painting in the hall to be greatly cathartic.

Unfortunately for his second in command this boot in morale invariably meant that it would lead to smoke and drink. Donat coughed and winced at the smoke, or at least as close to a wince as Donat could manage. An issue with a cerebral implant had caused a stroke some year’s back, permanently paralyzing most of his face. Donat hadn’t been an expressive man to begin with so it had taken most of the year for people to notice.

“The troop transports are nearly finished loading sir. It took some doing to get all the ground forces we’d committed to the skirmish, minus those lost in the sortie with Faust’s irregulars, as well as a sizeable chunk of the defense forces but barely enough to compensate for the lives lost,” Donat looked over the many folds of a long roll of parchment as a servitor scribe hastily scribbled out tactical data in shorthand. The data was also fed into the networked data slates but there was a five second lag and Donat was never one to surrender an edge, “Of the ten squads of Lionhearts we’ve accounted for eight. Two are dead, tagged by anti-aircraft fire on the descent, four have been safely recalled and two are refusing to leave till they’ve helped the PDF secure munitions and ammunition on their transports. The PDF has been using Golan class transports for the tanks for centuries but I can hardly blame the Lionhearts for mistrusting the planetborn in knowing the first thing about star flight. Either way we should have everything but the atmospheric flyers running bombing runs out of there and boarded within the next twenty minutes.”

“Make it ten, I want to be done with this damned affair. Stop the bombing and prep stage two. Wait? Golan class transports? Are they taking the entire city with them?”

“Only as much of it as they could carry on their backs, the PDF were loath to leave their families behind. We couldn’t convince them to come along unless we took the women and children as well. We even had a couple regiments refuse to help at all till we agreed to take the children to the ship on the first transports.”

“Where are we going to house them? We’re damn near crewed to capacity.”

“We were crewed to capacity sir, apparently the black ship managed to hit the environmental controls for the level ten foredeck. Once we’ve cleared out the bodies that will make suitable temporary quarters. They’ll be two or three to a bed but I doubt the families will object,” Donat sighed exaggeratedly at Sáclairs incredulous looks, “The Golans aren’t filled to capacity just with the Belzafest citizens Captain, as loath as they were to leave their families they were nearly as incensed by the idea of leaving military vehicles in the hands of heretics.”

“How well equipped were they Mr. Donat?” Sáclair stood up from his throne and took the scroll offered by Donat, “That seems lightly armed, even for a border colony. I don’t recall most fringe worlds having a PDF to speak of but most of them manage to have at least some hydra batteries or a decent core of siege weapons.”

“The city had what you’d expect from a miniscule colony in the middle of nowhere with a decent budget but when they left they only took mostly Salamader class and Chimera class transports, a good number of lightly armored sentinel walkers and around couple dozen Leman Russ. They had difficulty in taking any of the more heavily armed or armored from the city before Faust started taking over, they were too slow for the escape.”

“Sir the weapons are a boon to be sure but we seem to have forgotten something,” Sácomer’s wobbling jowls quivered with confusion, “What of the Inquisitor and Danzig? Mr. Donat’s report spoke nothing of them. What do we know of their progress in the retreat?”

Donat shifted to face the holoithic monitor’s image of the walrus of a man and carefully ignored the look of growing irritation in Sánclair’s eyes, “We’ve found no finite proof that they’re alive or dead yet but seeing as how they were tagged by an aircraft battery it’s not unreasonable to say that some or all of them are dead.”

“I’m not that lucky Mr. Enzo.”

“Captain?”

“He’s alive, you mark my words. Even if he weren’t he designed this plan to run the same if he were alive or dead,” Sáclair blew a great ring of smoke, “Hildy is man of commitment if nothing else. No, we continue with the plan. Load everyone back on the ship then charge the forward lance batteries and the fore torpedoes with the high yield atomic charges the Inquisitor brought. I’ve hated having something that unstable in my cargo bay to begin with. Disgusting things, the man seems determined to bring disgusting things on my beautiful ship. Those torpedoes worst of all, I don’t want to even imagine the man that imagined bombs designed specifically to annihilate a hive city. We’re going to burn this city to the ground then salt the earth once Kerrigan activates that contemptible machine.”

“Sir I really must protest! I cannot believe the Inquisitor really means for you annihilate the city he is presumably inside of.” Sácomer looked as surprised as anyone else that he was voicing disagreement with the captain. People who did so did not keep their position long.

Sáclair’s tone took on a dangerous edge, “Protest away Mr. Sácomer. You have your orders. Follow them or step down from your position so I can find someone who can do his job without second guessing me.” Sácomer flinched but said nothing. We will wait for Kerrigan to finish her task. It won’t to us much good to do the job if it’s not done properly. We will wait for her to turn on the array and not a second earlier.

Sáclair’s drank in the colony of Belzafest below him. He smiled wrily and sang an old Damascan love song to himself as he watched status reports of the ship preparing to fire and possibly to rid him of two great problems. Some times life truly was wonderful. One way or another once the torpedoes were loaded there would be an end.
--
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post #15 of 159 (permalink) Old 01-26-11, 05:58 AM Thread Starter
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The void shields encircling Daul dropped once a stray electroshock flail from Dorn overloaded the power supply. Daul hastily issued the command to subdue the servitor. Dorn jerked to a halt and relaxed back into his state of blissful simplicity.

There were times where Daul envied him.

Dorn had made a bloody mess of things, though he only actually killed a handful of the men in the room. Once the furious servitor had been unleashed in their midst every man had grabbed for his side arm and started firing wildly in the direction of the arco-flagellant. Confined spaces and firearms was a recipe for disaster, one that Daul was very grateful for as he stepped over a bullet-riddled corpse.

A groan came from the ground near to the ornate raised seat in the middle of the room. Daul walked over and came face to face once again with Prost. Porst was using what was left of his arm and his one good hand to keep his guts from spilling on to the ground. Daul smiled grimly, “Clotting accelerants. Very expensive but a good way to keep from dying, that’s good. I need you alive for what comes next Porst. Are you going to tell me why Faust is here or will I have to take it from you?”

Porst spat bloody phlegm up at Daul’s face, “Just do it already Hilder we both know what comes next.”

“To the point as always Porst,” Daul winced to keep the blood out of his eye, “Very well, I haven’t much time anyway.”

Porst curled his lip, shouted, “Burn in hell you bastard,” and then the started to scream. Taking information from a man’s mind psychically was a delicate process. Any mistake would leave the informant crippled, gibbering, simple, or dead. Daul was not worried about mistakes, he tore into Porst’s mind ripping anything that looked remotely useful from it and digesting it wholly. Porst’s thoughts were crisp and orderly in spite of giving him the distinct sensation of filth on the back of his hands. Porst was putting up a decent fight, tossing up walls of extraneous thoughts and disgusting compulsions in the hopes of distracting or delaying him. Daul’s sheer force of will ripped through those walls till he reached a great inky black walled off section of Porst’s mind.

A barrier, put up by Faust himself no doubt. Well, it was too late for finesse.

Daul plowed forwards, tearing though the wall and grabbing as many thoughts and ideas as he could before the walls came crashing down, and Porsts head came crashing along with it. Faust had apparently included a failsafe in addition to his walls. Within seconds of Daul breaking the barrier of his thoughts a fist sized section of the back of the thick man’s head exploded outward. Daul gagged at the recoil from touching a man’s mind in his dying moments and emptied his stomach onto the floor.

He spat to get the taste out of his mouth and looked up at Dorn. The servitor was staring at him with a giddy smile of contentment, “What are you smiling at you vile creature?” he spat again, “Throne that hurt.”

He straightened himself and turned to the armored door just beyond the raised chair, “Come Dorn, I say it’s time we see what’s behind this door that was important enough for Faust’s countermeasure.” He walked forward at a brisk pace, making no effort to walk around the bodies. Flesh and bone crunched satisfyingly beneath his feet.

The door was easily overridden by the security crystal he’d used on the elevator. It opened with a deep whoosh and a thin fog of cold air wafted out. Daul recognized the table sitting in the middle of the room and the hanging tool setup immediately. An imperial vivisection table was difficult to mistake for anything else, especially one with a live specimen strapped to it.

“It seems the Belzafest colonies were not totally devoid of native life after all Dorn,” Daul slowly approached the creature, being careful to keep his distance. Only a fool got too close to an unknown xenos, even one strapped down to a table. Daul prided himself on his knowledge of xenology and xenobiology but could not ever remember hearing tales of this creature.

It had a graceful serenity too it and a dignity in spite of its predicament. Silvery flaps of flesh that might have once been wings were torn to shreds and it’s arms showed signs of recent injury at every joint. That made sense; procedure dictated that any creature taken in for vivisection had to have every tendon in its extremities cut to prevent the specimen from contaminating results by jerking around. This was especially important with sentient species. However it seemed that after the use of the automated systems to disable the creatures arms and wings Faust had gone for the old fashioned touch. A small pile of bloodied scalpels and tools sat on the table behind Daul.

“Strange creature this one,” Daul said as he approached the table. He eyed the creature with mild suspicion then considered the deep pools of blood on the floor and ceiling, “Pity it’s dead.”

“Not dead,” It raised its head sightly, eyeless sockets filled with gauze looked towards Daul, “Not yet.”

Daul’s body tensed and he eyed the tools on the table speculatively. Would he have to use them or would he be able to entice the creature into simply telling him why Faust was interested in the creature? For that matter could he find out what the creature even was? The creature solved the problem for him.

“So full of anger. They young are so full of anger. They ask the how but have forgotten what and why. Do you remember what and why?”

The damned creature was delirious, at least it spoke something resembling gothic, “I only seek Faust the one who did this to you. Tell me where he is and what he looks for you and I will promise you revenge.”

It sighed, “So young. So angry. You have forgotten. He has remembered. Sometimes the mistake is to forget. Ours was not. Ours was to remain. Ours was to remember. Ours was to fail.”

“Where is Faust.” Daul started to circle the table impatiently. Recovering reliable intelligence from a victim of torture was imperfect at best. That was one of the main reasons he preferred to take the information from the minds of others without resorting to it. It left even the strongest in fits of delirious useless ranting.

“One finds now when one finds when and how.” More damned riddles, it was a small wonder that Faust felt the need to slice into the creatures wings so often.

“What does Faust seek?” The knives kept looking better and better to Daul.

“Knowledge.”

“Knowledge of what?” Daul wiped the blood off his face onto the sleeve of his cloak.

“Light and Shadows once fought each other till death woke. The circle was broken and the path led astray. The ones before consumed. The ones after lost. All lost.”

Daul ground his teeth, “Where is Faust’s ship?”

“Where shadows slept, no shadow remains. Deep, deep down. Only light, only me. Only Kosh.”

“Who is Kosh?”

“We are all Kosh.”

Daul grabbed the creature by the neck, “You will speak plainly or you will die. Where is Faust? Where is he right now?”

“You are so lost. The young are lost. All are lost. Pain, loss, you lost him. The loss of family is always hard,” Daul flinched and slammed down on his mental shields as he felt a thin tendril of awareness snaking its way into his mind. It slowed but he could still feel it wriggling in his head.

Daul saw black, “You dare to intrude in my mind you xenos filth?” His hand closed around the creatures neck and head, cutting off the creatures airflow and crushing It gasped and screeched before collapsing in death. As it died Daul shuddered as a warm paternal feeling washed over him and a single word reverberated though his mind, “forgiven.” The creature had truly wanted to die. Far be it from Daul to deny a xenos’ death wish but he was no closer to finding the ship.

A great booming crash echoed through the air. For a second Daul feared that Faust had rigged the command center with explosives till he realized that the roaring rush was the equalization in air pressure between the poisonous atmosphere of Belzafest and the oxygen rich atmosphere within the dome. Cairn had done it. Carin disabled the generators. He could only hope that they were picked rescued before Sánclair deployed the powerful explosives upon the city itself. Rescue depended on Kerrigan’s speed in fixing the great machine. All that was left was to sit and to wait.
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post #16 of 159 (permalink) Old 01-26-11, 06:03 AM Thread Starter
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“You may tell the Captian I will activate the machine when I do so and not a minute earlier. This may be his ship but I am the mistress of his machines and his speaker for the Omassiah. He will listen to my wisdom or he will be silent in his ignorance,” Sáclair continued to send down frightened looking ensigns to pester the Magos about her progress with the machine. He was clearly eager to wash his hands of the entire bloody affair. His latest messenger was a young boy of around twelve with sandy hair and eyes that were all too interested in all the machines for Kerrigan’s liking. Though his voice carried all the sounds of respect his mouth moved over the words as though he was unaccustomed to humility. A common curse of the privileged children of the command staff destined for command positions.

Considering her own relative failures with the machine, Kerrigan was at the verge of conceding defeat herself. Unfortunately she had given her word she would manage to get it working and the value of her word was about the only currency she still had to her name. It would not do to lose that as well as her position on the Oita Forge World. She did truly miss Oita but it would not have done to simply forego what she believed for the benefit of political expediency.

But this task of the machine spirit, Curse of the Eye this damned task was infuriating. It made no sense. It was in none of her texts, none of the manuals of doctrine. None of her ancient books of scripture, by all accounts the damned machine spirit had just made the thing up. It was in none of the coded languages of the machine, it was none of the secret words of worship. It was not a command code in any languages she understood and it was not a reference to any passages of the holy texts of consultation.

Her servants and attendants scurried around, feverishly flipping pages and consulting data slates. Machine Spirits developing these sorts of irregularities was not uncommon, especially in the most venerable and sophisticated of them, but it was always damned frustrating.

1
11
21
1211
111221
312211
13112221

}---Input Code----{
It was there, mocking her and thumbing its nose at her because of how clever it was. She looked back at the boy still standing and looking up at the data terminal of the great machine in wonder, “What are you staring at boy?”
The boy flinched as though scalded, “Nothing mam’ its just,” the boy hesitated.
“Just what?” She looked at the boy pointedly. She had no patience for any more interruptions from an impetuous child. She even lacked patience for one wearing the crest and silks of Sáclair, one of his nephews no doubt. She was a Magos of the Adeptus Mechancius, not some traveling performer from the ship’s markets to do tricks for his amusement. Her mechanical voicebox crackled with rage as she rounded on the child, “Does Sáclair have some additional message that I need to hear or are you just adding your personal opinions on the secrets of the machine?”

“1113213211 Magos.”

Everyone in the room froze and looked at the boy. It was quiet enough to hear a pin drop. In a tone of dangerous calm Kerrigan asked, “What do you mean boy?”

“The answer mam’ its 1113213211. It's a riddle they use to train children being prepped for the surgeries used to control the Endless Bounty. The Endless Bounty she likes riddles mam’ and we’re trained to know every one of them. You never know when she’ll decide that she needs you to prove yourself worthy of her. I’m honestly surprised that none of the people sent down to deliver the message told you,” Kerrigan’s grip on the delicate tool in her hand was causing the handle to bend and indent under the force of her augmentic grip. The boy, clearly unaware of the dangerous line he was walking continued unabashed, “I suppose they assumed you already knew. People do tend to think you and the Inquisitor know everything, but I suppose nobody but the Emperor can,” he bit his cheek, “And honestly mam, uh, that is Magos,” he’d caught a sight of the tool in her hand, “You’re a little scary.”

Kerrigan rounded on the boy, propelled forwards on her mechandrites till she was looming over the now petrified child. She bent down within inches of the child’s face, her augmentic features terrifying. She stared straight into his eyes and began to laugh with joy as she lifted the child up into her arms and hugged him, “Child you have just done more than you can possibly imagine.”

She turned to her startled attendants, “Well? What are you waiting for? Hurry up! Enter the code and activate the machine. Daul has waited long enough for us to do our jobs.” The attendants and lesser priests jumped into action, fiddling with dials, tapping at keyboards, and chanting soothing songs of computation. Kerrigan’s cheeks crinkled up into a remnant of a smile, “And for you child I have a special reward.”

The boy looked back at her as though he’d been brought to the foot of the chopping block only to be told that not only was he not to be sentenced death they intended to knight him. He sputtered a bit and said, “Reward? You mean to give me a reward?”

“I reward cleverness child, one should always reward cleverness. I intend to make you one of my apprentices,” The boy’s eyes widened in excitement, “Yes child I do mean that. I will teach you the sorceries of the machine if you prove yourself able. You’ve already proven to have a deductive mind and a great deal more cleverness than wisdom. I can work with that. Now tell me your name.”

“Abbas Sáclair,” the boy said in a guarded fashion, as though afraid to admit who he was for fear that the great present would be taken away. It made sense, as the bastard son of one of Nathaniel Sáclair’s concubines he would not sit on the great throne himself but would always be constantly being groomed for a position he could never have. Well his role in the Adeptus Mechanicus would be all his. Kerrigan smiled, “Well Abbas, you are now my apprentice. Your first job is to stand silently with me and watch me activate the void shields to protect us from the radiation it will put out.”

Abbas stood straight as a board next to her, quivering with pride. Kerrigan shook her head, he would have to learn to curb that enthusiasm or he would go mad from exhaustion. She suppressed a chuckle remembering her own enthusiasm as an apprentice whilst activating the commands that caused a domed void shield to flicker into life around the great double-headed eagle sitting on the circle of obsidian in the center of the room. It was magnificent to see the machine in action, there were so few teleporters in active service on any ship smaller than an lunar class ship, powering them simply took too much energy for the smaller ships to handle. Activating the one on the Endless Bounty had taken altering the generators to output more energy enough that it bordered techo-heresy. Were it not in the service of activating such a wondrous machine Kerrigan would have been loath to do it at all. Now that the machine sang and hummed with activation she smiled to herself as the chorus of singers chanted in melodic tones of binary.

She typed on the data pad and entered the crystal with the information about the sub-dermal locator beacons inserted into all of the Lionhearts as well as Daul. They appeared as bright orange dots flashing on her screen. Most of the dots were on ships heading back to the Endless Bounty but there were two clusters of orange dots still in the city. She focused the great machine on those two clusters of dots and thumbed the runes of activation. The room filled with a great hum of the machine and a bright flash of light in the center of the room on top of the obsidian slab.

Two rather haggard and war worn looking groups of Lionhearts appeared in the center of the room blinking in astonishment next to a substantially less surprised but no less relieved looking Daul. Dorn, as always, just looked clueless. Falin pulled up his gun in surprise and fired wildly at the shield. Danzig batted his gun away and screeched at him. Kerrigan smiled, the void shield would have protected her but she appreciated the effort. She tapped on the intercom, “Is it safe to let you out or are you going to shoot at me again?” She didn’t wait for a response before thumbing the deactivation rune for the shields, “You’re welcome by the way.”

Daul batted away the frustrated motherings of Cairn over his torn eye and approached Kerrigan, “The beautiful Magos Frist, your timing is impeccable as always. May I bother you to activate a channel to the bridge? I have need of you again,” Kerrigan put her hands on her hips and her face crinkled in a smile, “Magos I would love nothing more than to exchange our usual pleasantries but this is urgent. Faust has another ship.”

Kerrigan’s joking demeanor dropped entirely she shrieked for her attendants, “Holonet-link! Now!” She turned back to Daul as two of her attendants rushed forwards pushing a thin sheet of black glass
“One burning thing after another I swear,” she muttered darkly as she eyed the look of undisguised hero worship Abbas was eying the Lionhearts with.

The sheet of black glass flickered and the image of Sánclair’s face appeared. He eyed Daul with mild surprise and then smiled, “So that’s what Kerrigan’s pet project does! On my ship? There is one installed on my ship. How wonderful. Oh Hildy I take back all the nasty things I said about what you bring onto my ship. It isn’t even the anniversary of my ascension. ”

“Captain, now is not the time,” Daul tried not to enjoy cutting Sánclair off, “Faust has a ship. I don’t know how or what type but we need to blast it to hell before it can take off.”
“Another ship? Hildy you do need to fire whoever is in charge of getting your military intelligence on Faust. He truly is dreadful at his job,” Sáclair’s ruff had been torn in the earlier battle but he still managed an over dignified flourish of his silken coat and lace cuffs before continuing, “Yes Hildy I will fix this problem for you but I want you to resolve the issue of our four fingered friend and his hounds in my brig.”

Daul bit his tongue keeping his retort in check, now was no time for a fight, “Fine. Whatever you wish just blow that ship to hell.”

“I promise to do everything in my power to kill it,” Sáclair ended the connection on his end and watched the image of Daul wink out of existence. The Inquisitor really did have Horus’ luck, a teleporter of all things. Still if the Inquisitor intended to keep the teleportation machine it would mean better business for the bounty. Provided of course, the Inquisitor ever allowed the Endless Bounty to go back to work. Damned oath of service and damned honor keep him. He looked up to Donat, “Well? How much of a charge have we built up in the forward lances?”

“More than enough now that the shields are down sir.”

“Well then there’s no use in waiting, fire, fire everything we have.”

“Of course sir.”

Bright streams of laser fire burst from the forward lance batteries, crashing into the city and cracking the already pockmarked and damaged dome. The force ruptured the top of it into shambles. The modified atomics rocketed down into the colony and burst in bright plumes of fission and death. The bounty fired off four salvoes of laser fire and atomics. The skies of Belzafest boiled and churned around the explosion like the eye of some great storm.

“Tell the Inquisitor that, once again, I’ve cleaned up his mess Sácomer. And do try to emphasize that I would prefer he not make a habit of it.” Sáclair stood up and stretched, “I daresay it will be nice to get some sleep after all this.”

“Sir you’re going to want to interface with the ship,” Donat was looking over the readouts from the servitors scribes again, “You’re going to want to do it now sir.”

Donat, never one for joking or exaggeration had gone white as a sheet, “If you insist Donat, but I must sleep eventually.” He nonetheless did grab for the silvery filament as fast as possible and fix it into the socket. Who was he, after all, to discourage his crew from helping him do exactly what he wished to be doing. Throne it was glorious to be part of the ship, to be large. It was fantastic. He throttled down on his emotions and soaked in the information around him, not just the sensations of the ships systems.

There was the space around him, the minefield in the distance, and beneath the planet. The city was a swirling mass of atomic death. Nothing could have survived. No that was wrong. The same sense of deep nothingness, the missing space, the absence of matter was sitting in the middle of the explosion. An inky black nothingness the size of an apocalypse class cruiser rouse out of the mass of rolling clouds and took to the stars.

Throne almighty help him he had to fight that, he could not let it escape. Damn his confidence and damn his word. Burn it all, it would have to do. It was suicide but it would have to do. He could only hope this would earn him his place with his predecessors or kill him and his ship in the process and resolve the issue to everyone’s satisfaction, “Get the sanctioned psychers attached to the gun batteries, as many as were left over from the last try. No more, we can’t risk more and I doubt they’ll have issue finding the damn thing.”

It was as nightmarish and alien as any ship Sáclair had ever seen, almost tyranid-like in its architecture. In addition to the back spidery spines that had flared from the smaller ship its crablike midsection fed into a thick section of mottled fleshy tentacles that circled what Sánclair could only assume was a weapons array of some sort. It sat in the distance, flexing its tentacles and spines like some great predator of the ancient seas of Terra. Sánclair swung the bounty round and gave the order to fire, but the weapons of the bounty seemed infinitesimally too small to damage that the great ship. The ship apparently agreed, it ignored the efforts of the Endless Bounty entirely. It loomed in the distance, impassively taking what the bounty tossed at it. It slowly turned at faced the planet. The mass of the great tentacles hanging from its spidery form pulled away from its front and Sáclair registered a monumental buildup in energy.

He flinched and tried to fly away to a safe distance but was a second too late. A stream of bright orange energy swept towards the Endless Bounty. Sáclair gritted his teeth and waited for the incoming embrace of death. It never came. The wave of energy swept past the Endless Bounty entirely and collided with the planet of Belzafest. The sweeping waves of unease that Sánclair associated with the plunging into warp space started to overcome Sánclair. He checked the condition of the ship’s Gellar Fields just to make sure, though he doubted they would do any good in protecting the ship from whatever warp devilry Faust had planned.
Sácomer’s face hardened and he yelled to Sánclair, “Sir, we must move destroy that thing, that monstrosity.”
“Mr. Sácomer?” Donat’s emotionless face eyed Sácomer, “What do you mean for us to do?”
“We did ram the last one sir.” Sáclair bit back the urge to shout. It would be like a minnow trying to ram a swordfish. The glowing orange energy fired by the ship had bored deep into the planet and had caused great cracks and fissures to form at it slowly imploded on itself. The astropathic choir started to scream and their handlers had to quickly intervene to stop them from opening their own veins. Sánclair watched in horror as a great rift in space opened where the planet used to be. A thought occurred to Sánclair and he activated the hololithic connection to Kerrigan’s workshop a second time, “Inquisitor. I need your help.”

Daul, half covered by the powered armor the Skitarii had been aiding him in removing popped into the view nearly instantly. Apparently he understood how desperate Sáclair was to admit he needed anyone else’s help, least of all Daul’s. “Yes Captain what do you need?” the Inquisitor batted Gazan away from the half finished stitches covering the left side of the his face and tried to ignore the Skitarii as he proceeded to remove his left pauldron.

“Faust is known for his forays into xenotech but what of the other heretical arts. Has he been known to consort with the forces of Chaos?” Sánclair deeply hoped he was misinterpreting the facts. He would give near anything to be misinterpreting the facts.

The Inquisitor flinched as Gazan pulled the stitches tighter on his face than they necessarily needed to be. He muttered something that sounded distinctly like sadist. Gazan ignored him entirely and saw to his forehead, “We damn well can supect it now. It feels as though I’m being spit in half. Captain,” he winced in pain, “shoot the damn ship, ram it, plead with it, but do not let it get away,” the Inquisitor doubled over and the astropathic choir wailed again in horror and pain, “I need, I need to sit down.”

The hololith flickered out even as Sáclair yelled, “No Inquisitor wait!” Sáclair swore and turned to the only person who didn’t seem to be in a state of panic, Zorn Calven. The Navigator stood at the head of the navigators staring out at the rift in mild amusement, “Navigator would you care to shed some light on what is going on?”

The navigator slowly rubbed his pale skeletal fingers together and clicked his tongue on his teeth. He giggled slightly as he said, “It’s a flow, a current… no, not a current. It’s a tidal wave of warp along which to travel, the idea is twisted, brilliant but evil. The mass of the planet is being used to tear a path to wherever it is that the other ship is going. Wherever that is must be astronomically far away.”

“How far?”

“Farther than I can calculate sir,” Navigator Calven seemed excited by the prospect, “Perhaps farther than mankind has ever been.”

The massive ship started to rocket forwards at surprising speed towards the tear. As did the Endless Bounty much to the surprise and chagrin of it’s Captain. The rift was pulling at the bounty with surprising force. Navigator Calven might think it a tidal wave but to Sáclair it couldn’t help but feel like quicksand. Moving away from the rift felt sluggish and painful. It tore at the ship’s hull and engines and only slowed their descent into the rift. Sáclair closed his eyes and tired to ignore nagging voice of caution in his head as he drove the bounty through the rift right after Faust’s ship, “It looks like we’re going on an adventure lads.”

The deep plunging sense of driving the ship through the rift was exactly the same as normal warp travel, but never in his life had he experienced as turbulent of a warp flow in his life. It was rushing, churning, frothing, and seething mass of nothingness lined with fangs. Simply keeping up with the massive shape of Faust’s ship in the distance was straining the engines beyond what was safe to use within warp-space. It was something neither Sácair nor any of his predecessors could remember experiencing. He eyed the rear weapons of the ship warily, fearful that they could fire on him at any moment. Fearful that he could not fire back without compromising the power supplies to the Gellar Fields, he was full of nervous energy. So focused was he on the ship in front that he did not notice the danger approaching from behind.

Sácomer screamed, “The mines sir! Deactivate the shields! The mines!” but it was too late. Pulled in by the inexorable gravity of the rift a stream of Oita make mines streamed towards the bounty. Sáclair screamed as they burst near the Endless Bounty tearing into her engines and crippling them. Reports flowed in from all sections of hull breaches and isolated failures in the Gellar Fields. Sáclair listened to the reports of system damages and casualties through a haze as he watched Faust’s ship disappear into the distance. He ignored the sounds around him and consigning himself to the shame of failure as the Endless Bounty drifted helplessly in the warp. He wondered if his ancestors would ever let him forget the shame.

--
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post #17 of 159 (permalink) Old 02-07-11, 04:32 AM Thread Starter
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Daul would have gladly slept for a week given the opportunity. His entire body ached. A patchwork of cuts and abrasions covered what little of his body was not bruised. Cairn had all but carried him to his quarters and forced him into bed after they'd managed to strip him out of his armor. His beloved power armor was now little more than scrap.

When Cairn shuffled the Daul towards the inquisitor's chambers Daul had protested vehemently that he could not sleep yet. The security forces onboard would need his expertise in repelling warp entities. Throne forbid they should be boarded by a full Demonic incursion while he slept. The Endless Bounty had been buffeted and bucked around in the warp for a good twenty minutes before they were able to get enough power from the generators to break back into real-space. Twenty minutes was more than long enough for possession and daemonic incursion. There had been scattered cases of sanctioned psychics and crewmen being overtaken by murderous entities but if the initial security reports were to be trusted the immediate threat had been contained.

He needed to screen the entire population of the Bounty for possible demonic possessions. He needed to debrief Sáclair. He needed to do any one of a million tasks running though his head. He very well might not seep that week let alone that month. He could do it, he may die from stimulant overdose but he could do it.

Cairn had listened to none of the Inquisitors excuses. When Daul had tried to lift himself out of bed the Skitarii had simply held him down with his remaining arm and administered a sedative with one of his mechandrites. It was a weaker sedative that Daul would have chosen to use normally, not one that would prevent dreams. Daul was so injured that anything stronger would have been risky.

"Let me up you over-important toaster," he muttered groggily as his vision swam.

The feeling of dread he always associated with falling asleep washed over him and he suddenly felt blackness and the world of dreams. His first dreams were inconsequential nonsense. It was to be expected. His nightmare was always the last of his dreams. Daul walked the shadowed twisting corridors of his dreams staring into bizarre tableaus of near reality, a confusing but comforting nonsense of flight and fancy. He was a novice under the care of Inquisitor Gaal being praised for his research of Imperial history. He was a soldier watching the retaking of Choros IX. He was a proud father staring at a newborn child dreaming of a large family in his estates on Metzik. He was standing next to the Primarchs watching the glories of the great Crusade. He was a young man feeling the warmth of a woman's flesh for the first time. Dreams spun at random, confusing him with their abrupt changes and shifting geometries, truth, fiction and memory churning without cause.

He tried clear his head mind. He wanted to make sense of the memories and fantasies or find an exit. He pleaded with himself as he felt his body shrink and stretch till it was child sized "Damn, not the dream, please don't be the damned dream," but he was unmistakably in the house of his childhood but not the scene of his nightmare. He stood in the kitchen opposite his grandfather watching him carve a bit of wood. He bit his lip and stared at Bast Hilder's friendly face. It had been too long since he thought of that face. It was decidedly odd that his grandfather was in the kitchen but not his mother. The dream usually started with his mother… three years later come to think of it. Bast Hilder died long before his father. The lung disease jokingly called the venerable miner's breath took most men from the mines. It probably would have taken Daul if he'd stayed. Bast stared at him over a set of spectacles and took the pipe from his mouth, tapping the ashes into a stone pot at his side, "Child if you mean to keep staring at me like I've just kicked your pet dog I plan to take it personal."

Daul stuttered, "No it's just I was expecting… It's nothing really Opa," the Metizk world slipped off his tongue for the first time in years not said as a scream in a nightmare, "I'm just surprised to see you. That's all."

"Surprised not to see my damned fool of a son you mean," Bast Hilder packed his pipe with Talbac, Daul's grandfather always had the best Talbac, and rooted around in his pockets for match. He looked up at Daul's terrified expression, "Oh calm yourself boy. No damned fool is going to lay a hand on my grandson. Took me long enough to find what the idiot has been up to but I set things to right. You can see for yourself. Get me those matches off the sideboard would you?"

Daul turned and walked to the sideboard. He grabbed the matches from where they always were on the sideboard next to the change jar. Or rather they were on the side board next to where the change jar had always been. In place of the change jar was a small clear glass aquarium that held a single occupant. Daul's twisted monster of a father sat sullenly on top of a bed of cottonballs and sawdust muttering murderously. When he noticed his son he jumped up, waving his arms and screaming threats. His entire body shook from the effort of waving his arms and his voice was entirely too high to understand a word of it. Daul turned to his grandfather, "Opa how did you… how did you do that?"

"You listen with your ears but never think with your head boy. Didn't I always tell you that you need to shrink your fears down to as big as they deserve to be? My boy's been dead going on a century, shame that, but what he became died with him. He doesn't deserve more of you than that box he's in right now. Don't start thinking otherwise," he looked at the box in Daul's hand, "Now are you going to bring me those matches or are you going to make an old man stand up."

Daul rushed over and handed the cardboard box over to the Hilder patriarch. Bast took the box with hands calloused from years working in the mines and shook it next to his ear before taking out a match and striking it. He lit his pipe and puffed at it contentedly before picking up his knife and whittling the bit of wood into an armored shape vaguely resembling Daul's grown up self, "Sit down child you're hopping about like a startled toad."

Daul sat down with on the stool behind him with such force that it knocked the wind out of him. He tried to articulate exactly how he was feeling into words but all he managed to do was sob a bit and say, "I miss them Opa. I miss them so much. Especially now that… now that he's dead," Daul choked on the name of his most recent loss.

"Can you not bring yourself to say his name child? There's no sense in dishonoring family by forgetting them. He's gone but as long as you love him he's still with you," His face crinked with a kind smile, "Though I'll admit having someone watching over you from beyond is less comfort than being able to hold them in your arms and your eyes, even if they are still in your heart."

"It's just too soon Opa. It just still hurts," Daul felt Bast's hand ruffling his hair in the way he used to hate as a boy, "It never seems to go away. It won't go away not till he's dead," his voice brimmed with hatred, "Faust will die. Faust will die by my hands. I'll make Faust feel the pain he felt, die the death he died. He deserves it. He needs to die."

"That well may be child, that well may be," His grandfather walked over to the kitchen table and started fipping through the pages of a lovewarn copy of the "The Teachings of Sebastian Thor" that his mother always had around till he reached his favorite passage, "Revenge is a task that hurts everyone and helps none. Justice is riteous but revenge will always be torn by spite. Rage is the weapon of the enemy. The enemy will drive you and use you through your rage. He will seek to make you into him. Seek not revenge but find justice for it is in reason and righteousness that we stand in the Emperor's light." He chuckled, "Don't give me that sullen look boy. You well may have to kill him but if you do make sure you do it for the right reasons. Now let's stop talking about this unpleasantness. I've got a century of catching up to do and a whole mess of common sense what needs to get beaten into you again."

It was wonderful to have a conversation with the man again, even if it wasn't real. Daul sat, and listened, and dreamed without fear for the first time since he was a child. When he was woken by Cairn ten hours later he felt calmer and more refreshed than he could not remember ever having been. It was just as well. Cairn's news was decidedly unpleasant. Unpleasant enough to forget that Bast's voice from his dreams was not as he remembered it.

The wine glass flew half the distance of the great hall before it shattered on the floor. None of the servants bothered clean it. They scurried about righting statues and freeing servitors from the rubble. The Hall had taken the worst of its damage to non-critical systems but the damaged pride of Sáclair was mirrored every pane of shattered glass and broken chandelier. The Captain had not slept in thirty-six hours and refused to leave his post for anything, even to sleep. Even his concubines had retreated to their quarters for fear of his mood. The Captian sat on his throne brooding, eying the court beneath him, and shooting murderous looks at anyone foolish enough to make eye-contact.

Everyone capable of assisting with repairs had been enlisted to do. Even the nobility was making a show of scurrying around with reports and data-slates. The queue to his throne was blissfully empty of crewmen. Nobody wanted to give Sáclair even the vague impression they were slacking. His penalties for doing so were decidedly unpleasant. Sáclair had sent the ship's assistant Quartermaster to oversee the servitors clearing bodies from the hold after he showed up late for duty by two minutes.

The only people in the great hall not spending every waking moment appearing as busy as possible were those unlucky few who reported directly to Sáclair. Hakam Danzig, Donat Enzo, Étienne Sácomer, Zorn Calven, Anoosheh Osma and Faest Nor stood in a semi-circle in front of Sánclair. Even the normally jolly Sácomer was in ill humor. He stood sagging from the spidery legs of his agumentic walking frame like a deflated balloon, wobbling slightly with the effort of staying awake. Sácomer had taken the loss nearly as hard as the captain. Sánclair spoke in clipped businesslike tones even as a servant appeared with a fresh glass of wine, "Gentlemen we have all been working non-stop for the better part of the past day. I understand that the past hours have been trying. However, if someone does not at the very least tell me where in the blazes we are I will be irked beyond measure," the jovial tone and forced smile did not match the furious look in his eyes, "It would be unwise to allow that."

Sánclair downed the new glass of wine in a single swig and chucked it into the distance where it cracked on the ground with a satisfying smash. It wasn't fair of him to take out his frustrations on the crew but the voices of his ancestors were in a state of turmoil. The collective spoke to him in a passive state generally, offering words of wisdom at times and sharing their memories when asked. Since the Endless Bounty had exited the warp the voices of his ancestors had gone from a calming voice in the distance to an impossible mess of gibbering words and shouting matches. Those who came before him were terrified, and not without reason. He was fine with their fear but he could have done without their arguments. More than once he'd found himself to be shouting for silence in an already silent room, his attendants eying him with uncomprehending fear. Alcohol dimmed their voices some, and work distracted his mind from their quarrellings. He tapped his hand on the arm of his throne, eying the navigator in annoyance and speaking in a voice dripping with cruel sanctimony, "Well esteemed Navigator? What light does your house have to shed on this situation? You of the most clever house of navigators."

Calven ignored Sáclair's rudeness entirely, "As my Captain will recall I did warn him that the warp tunnel could lead anywhere. As my Captain was told it was beyond the knowledge of any navigator how such a feat could be done or to what purpose it might serve," Sáclair could not help but think of the Navigator's ornate feathered cloak was looking increasingly flammable with each word, "As my Captain will remember it was only the fast thinking of Setvan Illrich of the Navigators that we were able to get enough power from the reactors to escape the warp at all. My captain knows that Navigators Illrich and Zain are overseeing the astropathic choir to seek solutions. My Captain is a very capable man so he has no need for me to remind him of what he already knows."

"So stop wasting my time by talking about what the Captain already knows you translucent, three eyed, toad," Sáclair cracked a smile. Danzig, bandaged and bruised was as loyal to and protective of Sáclair as ever. Sáclair would not have put it past Danzig to punch the Navigator in his third eye given the chance. The sanctimony of the Navigators never sat well with the Lionhearts, "If you've got something new to say then say it otherwise I've been beaten, shot at, stabbed, and burned in the past twelve hours. Every minute you're spending with this infuriating game of words and meanings is a minute me and him," he pointed to Faest, "aren't down in the damned hospital making sure my men pull through."

Zorn eyed Danzig loftily but said nothing in response, not to avoid angering the soldier, the navigator knew too well the Lionheart would never willingly allow harm to befall an navigator, but for fear of the Chief Docere Medicus. Medicus Nor would stitch Zorn's mouth shut if he believed that it would speed up his ability to go back to his beloved hospital a second faster. The navigator curled his lip but continued as though there had been no interruption, "In short Captain we are somewhere beyond the galactic rim. We cannot find any consistency to the stellar geography matching the areas mapped by the navigators."

Donat blinked, "What of the Astronomicon? Has the choir recovered from the unpleasantness and found it yet?" Sáclair sighed, Donat was a faithful second in command but an unimaginative one. The idea that there were great sections of uncharted space beyond the light and grace of the Emperor was something that no amount of proof could convince Donat to believe. He would obey but he would not believe. Sácomer required far less proof of their circumstances. Sáclair had never taken the larger man for a fatalist but Sácomer's blind panic was obvious. It wasn't beyond belief, Sácomer had a keen mind in spite of his foppishness and blubber.

"Lieutenant Enzo if you insist upon living in a fantasy world I cannot be blamed for your ignorance," there should be a law against the level of smugness in the Navigator's voice. He would have to confer with the ancestors later to see if there is an existing law he might repurpose to that end, "We are beyond the limit of the Astronomicon's light. If that means we are simply at the extremes of where Solar Macharius' armies refused to go or are in an entirely new galaxy remains to be seen. The Astropaths had to be forcibly stopped from killing themselves from the shock of losing its light. I suspect we well may have to kill the ones who have gone mad from the shock anyway. This is not some spatial anomaly we can simply coast through. We are truly in the rough," his voice became clinical and he pulled out a small hololithic projector and held it up. A small swirling mass of stars appeared with a red dot at the galactic southern edge, "We estimate that this is our place in the galaxy but honestly any stellar cartography we have of the area will be an estimate at best. On the bright side I am reasonably convinced that the ship we were chasing was hit by a group of mines soon after we were. I cannot say for certain if they were tossed out of the warp as well, but it seems plausible. That we were not tossed out into the coronal mass of a sun is nothing but luck, perhaps they were not so lucky."

"Wishful thinking accomplishes nothing navigator," Sáclair had no patience for optimism at the moment, "Do we have any way of navigating in the warp?"

"To where sir? I can direct this ship through the flows of the warp but I must have an idea of to where I am to go. The Astronomicon provides a point of reference off of which the navigators judge distance and location," the navigator zoomed out the image of unfamiliar stars as far as it would go, "without a point of reference I am just reaching in the dark. I can take us into the warp and out of the warp but we would be sailing blindly. We have nowhere to go to or from. We will at least have little difficulty in getting to there, the warp currents seem especially mild in this region which is some small comfort."

Sáclair motioned for another glass of wine, the servant came with a silver pitcher filled to the brim. Sáclair raised an eyebrow and motioned the servant closer. The servant, a particularly frightened looking girl wearing the livery of his household approached him nervously. She carefully avoided eye contact, "Yes sir? Do you need anything else?"

"This is not a glass," he lifted the sliver pitcher up to eye level, "Where is my glass?"

"The Lady Sáclair told us we weren't to bring out any more glasses sir. The lady told us that if you asked we were to pass on a message," Her face turned beet red, "The Lady said to say 'If my fool of a husband thinks he can destroy all the good crystal just because he's in a tiff then he can damn well forget it. He'll drink from the pitcher and like it or neither I nor his concubines will warm his bed for at least a year." She blanched and clarified as she nervously rubbed her hands in her apron, "She said that sir, not me! I'd never talk about my betters like that. I know my place."

"Calm yourself girl," Sáclair chuckled, "I know my wife's words and temper better than any man. I have no doubt she said it and meant it. Do be so kind as to pass a message back to her for me. For her and for no others."

The girl nodded wide-eyed, "If you want me to sir, I will sir."

"Good," He leaned in and whispered, "Love makes a man do foolish things but it does not make a man a fool. Your good crystal is safe. If I am a fool of a man I am still your fool of a man and I expect to see both you and my concubines in my chambers tonight. You may be mistress of my heart but I will remind you why I am the master of our bed." The girl blushed a florescent red and bowed herself away as fast as she could, clearly eager not to give him the opportunity to elaborate.

As she lifted up to the servant's entrance a grav hook he yelled, "And I want to see her in pearls!" at her retreating back. The girl blushed with her entire body, she must be new to his wife's staff. Not many of the serving girls who worked for her stayed modest long. Her temper and frankness robbed them of that. His wife's words had brightened his humor, as had the prospect of the night to come. The Lady Sáclair only bothered to threaten withholding her company if she had something equally entertaining in mind to reward him for making the proper decision. The officers looked at him with of mixed expressions of amusement and consternation. Generations of outlandish behavior from house Sáclair had since rendered the shock value of his words moot for the officers.

"Spoilsports," Saclair muttered a stage whisper. The officers all chuckled dryly. He rolled his eyes downed his wine and remembered why he had been sullen in the first place, "Medicus how many did we lose?"

"It's difficult to say, most of the damage was limited to the aft sections which were already mostly abandoned after the first fight with the smaller ship. The major population centers are in the mid decks away from the engines for obvious reasons. There were a number of fatalities but not enough to leave us understaffed in any critical areas. We lost a lot of dock workers in the decompression, not all of them were lucky enough to have attached the grav hooks to keep them on the ship. Fewer still had their survival masks in reach," he looked over his scrolls, "That we haven't instituted carrying one of those at all times for the dock workers is nothing short of criminal. We really must fix that."

Sáclair nodded, "Consider it done. The workers will complain but I suspect their supervisors flogging those who don't comply will change their tune. I'll mention it to the chief of the Tech-priest ensigneers once Kerrigan lets him go. I would have called him for this meeting for you to tell him yourself but I'm not fool enough to get between the Adeptus Mechanicus and fixing a hull breach."

"Odd that he's not here," muttered Calven.

"Chief Ensigneer Iino and Father Al'Ashir are seeing to duties that obviously take precedence at the moment. I we expect the Admech to stop their devotions to the machine any more than I can expect the church to stop their devotions to the Emperor," Osma's deep grumble ground out its disapproval. Osma did not like the navigator and made no secret of his dislike, "And considering it's me who'll have to oversee any floggings I assure you we are more than capable of seeing punishment going to those who deserve it." He let 'deserve it' hang in the air, pointedly staring at the navigator, leaving no doubt in anyone's mind exactly who deserved it in his eyes. Calven stared back murderously. Osma had been one of the few in support of allowing the Inquisitor to interrogate navigators. The chief's belief that all are subject to the rule of law was categorical and unmoving.

"I doubt floggings will be necessary, we lost half our dock workers due to asphyxiation in plain view of the rest. Even then they had to float there hanging from the grav hooks in open space till we could get a patch on the doors. The dockworkers are going to sleep wearing those damn things for the next year if I don't miss my guess," he pulled out a pen and made a note on the page, " I might too for that matter provided we don't get someone in to scrub the smell out of the main halls soon. One of the sewage lines ruptured along the main drag. It's not a medical emergency yet but it will be if we don't disinfect the entire drag stem to stern before disease breaks out. The last thing we need right now is a cholera epidemic."

"I'd actually like to get the Belzafest survivors working on that sir," Donat's face showed no signs of restlessness but he was shifting nervously on his feet and looking down at a pocket watch every other moment, "The main drag is well guarded in case any of them try anything funny and it might do us some good to have the crew seeing them pitching in their share. Tempers are high, the last thing we want is for the crew to start thinking of the Belzafesters as spoiled or lazy. We have enough issues without starting a mutiny against a group of trained soldiers, even if they are from a backwater PDF regiment." He looked back down to his watch again.

"Am I keeping you from an appointment Mr. Enzo? One with someone more important?" Sáclair snatched the pocket watch out of Mr. Enzo's hand and looked at it. It was a heavy watch of Sezan designs, infinitely less fashionable than even one of Damascan make and dented in several places. I wasn't even gold or silver but one of the silvery metallic alloys favored by the crew for its durability rather than its style. In fact the only remarkable part of the watch was the inscription on the inside "So that you'll never be late no matter where you are" written inside in a child's messy hand underneath a portrait of a round cheeked blond child.

Donat responded in a voice of measured calm as he snatched back his watch, "Yes, Captain. As a matter of fact misters Danzig and Nor are not the only ones who have an immediate interest in being in hospital."

It was sometimes easy to forget that Donat had a daughter. He spoke so little of his family. It wasn't as though Sáclair had never met the man's wife and child. They were regularly in his court on business but they seemed to have developed Donat's talent for disappearing in plain view. Donat did not ever speak of emotion or love but Sáclair had never know the man to miss anything that he promised her he would attend at the Escole-Imperailis most of the officers sent their children to. Sáclair could not claim the same but he had five daughters and ten bastard sons, they couldn't expect him to show up for everything. Come to think of it he believed one of his bastard children was romantically interested in the girl. It was a pity really. Donat would never consent to a marriage between his daughter and a bastard. He would have to arrange someone suitable for the boy else there could be trouble on the horizon.

"Calm yourself Donny, we're all not at our best," Chief of Security Osma's stroked his hand through the messily groomed braids of beard handing from his face. The lower breed Damascan's had never been truly purged of their pagan ways but Osma's backwardness was a boon really. He was substantially less threatening for the crew to approach than his predecessor and did not judge guilt or innocence based upon breeding alone. Minor pagan irregularities were commonplace in the cult of the Emperor and few could be credited with true heresy. Osma was not of high birth but his meticulous successes made the nobility of the bounty willing to overlook that slight flaw of character. Or rather it did till they themselves were brought up on charges. Sáclair tolerated the pillbox hat and ceremonial knife worn in addition to the standard uniform of the Security Chief in the same way he tolerated the Lionhearts custom of calls to prayer six times a day over the intercoms. They were minor concessions that allowed the ship to function. He was a clever and capable head of security but his oratory was like close to listening to someone gargle rocks, "I'll have to insist that there is an additional security presence around the Belzafesters till the Inquisitor has had a chance to screen them for heretics. Oh don't give me that look Lieutenant, you can still have them cleaning the main drag, but I'm not going to risk any one of them going south and starting a fight or some damned fool heretic committing sabotage. It might to have some 'off duty' Lionhearts wandering around the ship as well, strapped with their side arms of course. I don't want them to do much other than be there just in case. We're not at martial law yet."

"It we might be soon," Sácomer kicked a foot in the air as he talked. His many chins wobbled as his beady eyes looked determinedly everywhere but at Sáclair, "Sir, we lost a good portion of our food supply in the attacks, grain, meat, most of the non-perishables. We even lost a good number of the livestock we'd been using for milk and eggs. If we start rationing now we'll probably be able to make it last a month in relative comfort, two if we tighten our belts," belt tightening was said with the same gravitas as one might refer to execution, "That's the least of our worries however. Mr. Enzo would you be so kind?"

"Of course Mr. Sácomer. Captian if I may?" he waved at the massive holo-lithic projector in the center of the great hall. Sánclair nodded and Donat pulled out a small remote. A massive glowing green rendering of the Endless Bounty appeared hovering in the middle of the room. The officers below stopped scurrying around to stare at it. Even their fear of extra duties would not stop them the chance to speculate about the conversations of the Captain. By this time the next day half the crew would speak of the conversations prompting the use of the great hololith though none of them could hear through Sáclair's privacy filters. Not that any of the crew would let a little thing like the truth get in the way of good gossip.

Donat twisted a knob on the remote and the image started to divide into a isometric cross section by deck. Areas of the ship damaged in the fight glowed red, including a number of major systems that made Sáclair cringe, "The sewage line bursting was only the tip of the iceberg. We lost most of our water reserves when the cisterns burst. We even if the water reclamation systems were to go nonstop for the next two days we could only force a weeks worth of water out of them. Less than that considering how many wounded we have. We need water, and soon. I've started dispatching the flight wings to search the surrounding area." Water, of course it had to be water. A body could go for days, or even weeks if deprived from food but a crew without adequate water would mutiny fast as anything Sáclair could imagine.
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post #18 of 159 (permalink) Old 02-07-11, 04:34 AM Thread Starter
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"We're looking for any viable planets or asteroids with something resembling potable water but we aren't very hopeful at the moment. Even if we were to find a source of it we'd need to run it through the filtration systems which, as has already been mentioned, aren't running at full capacity," Donat stared disapprovingly as Sáclair drank deeply from the wine pitcher. Donat was welcome to stuff his disapproval in the darkest pits of himself and keep it there, "I'd suggest a temporary hold on alcohol rations to the crew. We can't hope to slow down the black market but it would be best to avoid the problems that come with drunkenness in addition to those that come with lack of food and water."

Osma grunted his approval. He was astoundingly puritanical in his dislike of alcohol, another of his holdovers from the old Damascan tradition. Osma always made a point of pretending not to notice that Sáclair drank and generally excused himself from functions where imbibing alcohol was custom, "I already have extra guards sent to oversee the merchant sectors and storage areas. With all the shuffling and chaos going on it might be some days before anyone realizes that code-lock on the storage containers isn't simply some machine sprit going rampant."

"Very well, do your best. We'll meet again in eight hours unless something pressing comes up in the meanwhile. Mr. Enzo I realize that you'll be wanting to spend some time in the Hospital with your girl. I will take your shift," he raised a hand before Donat could speak, "Yes I realize I need to rest Mr. Enzo. I will do so, and soon. Lord knows my wife has no intention of letting me sit on this chair more than is strictly necessary, but family takes precedence over duty at times. Not always, mind you, but I am loath to hoist more unpleasantness on us than we can avoid. You may all go, except for you Navigator Calven. I still have business with you."

"That you sir," Donat patted the pocket in which he kept his chronometer and turned to one of the great hovering marble slabs that ferried people too and from Sáclair's throne. The others followed him closely, eager to get to their respective duties and to sleep. Osma paused briefly to shoot a mistrusting look at the Navigator before boarding the platform with the rest. It made a slight sucking noise as it sunk beyond the limits of the privacy filter and sunk to the floor of the great hall.

"My answer about the Astronomicon hasn't changed just because we're in private captain," Zorn's near translucent fingers held his elegant snuffbox. He snorted a pinch of it and shook his head slightly before pursing his lips and continuing, "There's little to filter out worth mentioning."

"And what was there to filter," Sáclair was not foolish enough to take a navigator at his word alone. Their own sense of entitlement often gave them the impression that anything possible of escaping their notice was not worth noticing, "You need not dilute your speech. I am neither ignorant of your craft nor am I blind to obvious omissions."

The Navigator smiled wrily and pulled out the star map once more. He fumbled with the controls for a moment and a handful of bright white lights appeared in the spiraling green mass of stars, "Setvan and I have searched for the great beacon of mankind but we've had no luck. There are, however, lesser beacons spread throughout nearby space. Small and insignificant by comparison to the glorious light of the Astronomicon and the psychic choirs of Terra but they're none the less. They bear a passing resemblance to the hardwired astropathic relays we use for interplanetary communication."

"I thought you said there were no signs of civilization in the area?" A deep sinking feeling was overtaking the Captain. Sáclair hoped he was wrong about the meaning of the white lights but he doubted it.

"I said there was no Imperial civilization in the area sir," Zorn looked altogether too excited at the prospect of being beyond the known frontiers, "I suspect that this method of directing warp travel is a xenos methodology. I did not mention it because there is no reason to start a panic. It's not the working of any of the known enemies of the Empire, nor recorded in the annuls of the Dark Age."

"So they could attack us at any moment?"

"Sir they're either unaware we're here, or ignoring us, or deciding if we're a threat to them, or doing any one of a million things. We know as much about the probability of being attacked here as we do about how to predict the comings and goings of Eldar Corsairs," he shrugged, "I can't do much more than speculate at the moment. I've held off on sending out an astropathic distress signal for just that reason. We have no idea who will get it or how they will react. And frankly I'm a bit unsure of the quality of any transmissions we send we'll have to sedate an astropath heavily before we can get them to be compliant. You know as well as I and better sir, a drug addled mind tends to be more susceptible to the predications of the warp."

"Send it," Sánclair ran a hand through his hair, "Wide band, no decryptions. If we don't get water soon it won't matter what the Imperial Cult thinks of our actions. We'd be far beyond even their reach. I'll have Osma post guards with you in a private astropathic communications cell. That ought to give you the privacy you need to keep this off the lips of the crew and ought to allow us to contain the damage if it all goes pear shaped."

"Could not such a course be seen as unwise?" Zorn's voice of concern did not mirror the look of pleasure on his face, "Our past history of interacting with xenos is what got the ship indentured to the Inquisitor to begin with. Such actions could be problematic."

"It's not heresy for a damaged ship to call out for aid. We need to get water from somewhere." Sáclair looked pensive, "The Inquisitor has mentioned circumstances that merited interactions with xenos in the past. He has them on retainer for Throne's sake," Calven raised an eyebrow un mild surprise, though Sáclair doubted it was genuine, "I'll talk to him about getting some special dispensation from the Inquisition to pardon our sins on the offhand chance we're exceeding our writ of trade."

"And if the Inquisitor decides that it's heresy for us to even entertain the notion of trading with Xenos?" Zorn's smile went wide, "What will you do then?"

"I prefer not to speculate on such unfortunate circumstances Mr. Calven, " Sáclair said in a voice of ruthless composure, "Send the distress signal. Take Sácomer with you, he's senior enough to negotiate with any xenos or humans who might get the signal. Do it sooner rather than later."

"Of course Captain," Zorn smiled cruelly, "I know you'll act in the best interest of the ship."
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post #19 of 159 (permalink) Old 02-07-11, 04:35 AM Thread Starter
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The main drag was an utter mess. People cleaned their shop windows with buckets and mops soaked in cleaning solvents. Servitors, blessedly unable to smell the filth they were in, skittered about the broken septic lines fixing, cleaning, welding and sealing. The smell was overpowering. Sørian gagged and pulled his scarf tight over his mouth. By the gods but that stank, even through the perfumed oils and opiates he'd soaked the soft wool in it stank. Then again, he always though the lower levels stank of the filth that lived in them, "low breed scum, all of them."

The wool of his cloak itched on skin more accustomed to the more refined smoothness of silk. Silk would have drawn attention to him though. A man in silk and velvet did not walk through murk and mire lest he had dire pressing need. It was unlikely anyone would question that need today but any efforts he could make to go unnoticed would better serve his purposes. Keep out of the eyes of security and the crew alike, "Wouldn't want them thinking too hard about where I'm going now would I?"

He blinked briefly then remembered his bondservant was not with him to laugh at his jokes. The servant had been left behind to oversee the repairs of Sørian's quarters. With luck there would be a hot bath and some warm honeyed wine waiting for him when he returned to his apartments. He'd need a bath to be sure; it would not be fitting to pray while still caught in the stink of this place. His patron did so tend to be fickle about such things. The Prince of Excess was truly magnificent but his moods swung fast as any of the gods, well any of the gods save that blithering ruler of fools Khorne. It was just as well that prayers to his god proved as enjoyable as they were, the less subtle sacrifices asked by the other patrons would have been noticed even in the Endless Bounty's state of disarray. A pity he'd have to put off finding a partner at the moment but the Amon Sui waited for no man.

He held his breath as security walked by. They'd have no cause to stop him. By all rights he should be down in the drag surveying the damages but it could prove indelicate were they able to draw a pattern between his strolls and certain misfortunes to overcome the Endless Bounty. He watched the bright uniforms of the officers, crisp even in the current state of the Drag, round the corner before he raised his head. He walked at a brisk pace, taking care not to seem that he was in too much of a hurry or too interested in heading anywhere in particular, till he reached the door of marked with a painting of a green hand. The hand itself was unremarkable on the Endless Bounty. The green fist of Amon was still a common household sigil. The scent of almonds and vinegar was unmistakable, the implanted nerve cluster picked up the pheromones clear as day.

He pushed the door open and had to bite back the urge to scream as a lithe figure wrapped in black synthaskin and blue silks yanked him through the door and put a serrated knife to his throat. He knew from experience the knife was poisoned with a pain-inducing paralytic. He stared into the eyeless porcelain mask of the woman and spoke in slow measured tones, "For the glory of the hand that grasps I come, for the glory of the hand that holds I come, for the glory of the hand that gives I come, for the glory of the hand I come."

He briefly wondered it she would accidentally knick him with the blade just to watch him twitch in pain. Their patron would appreciate that certainly. It wouldn't be the first time either. He'd never been able to figure out how the cultist knew that they shared the same dark patron. These meetings of the Amon Sui never exchanged names or showed faces without masks but he had instantly been recognized by the cultist as one of the Prince's flock. She delighted in testing his faith to their prince and patron. His more subtle excesses of drink and vice never sat well with her more violent excesses of rage and passion. Her body relaxed and she rubbed up against Sørian exquisitely as she rose from the ground, Sørian swallowed as he felt her shifting weight lift off him. He tried to ignore the way the synthaskin body sleeve conformed to every curve of her body, "Must we go through this every damned time I attend a meeting you pretentious bitch."

She spun her knife in her hand, leaned against the wall, and arched her back. She really did have curves. She giggled and spoke in husky tones, "The prince enjoys all excesses. Pain and pleasure, suffering and decadence, they're all the same to him. We must all be willing to bring our own ends to further his."

"Piss off you harridan of a woman," the curt tones of Adric Alan cut in. Sørian was not supposed to recognize Alan. None of the agents were supposed to recognize each other, that way if they were captured none of them could be traced back to each other. In fact only Phoneutria, the head of their organization, was supposed to know the true names of all members of the order. He knew that Adric recognized him as well but proprieties sake they referred to each other by their code names. Sørian was no more "Latrodectus" than Adric was "Atrax" or the cultist was "Hexathelidae" but needs were musts. There was a circle of some thirty or so men and women with similarly fake names and negotiable allegiances. A wide circle of bodyguards and attendants stood around them, silent and masked. They were prepared for the first signs of trouble. They were not all devotees of the dark gods, though he suspected many were. The Amon Sui were willing to turn a blind eye to such things. Orders were usually given privately, either through dead drops or coded messages, but once a week the group met just so that Phoneutria could issue more pressing orders to the group.

In the center of room was girl strapped to a pole. She sobbed quietly. Her tears stained her already mussed dress. Sørian though she was familiar though he could not place from where. She must be a noble's daughter for him to remember the face. He wouldn't have bothered to memorize a common crewman's no matter how pretty. It would have been beneath him. The girls cries and whimpers were mildly interesting but the holo-projector next to him showing the narrow, proud form of Phoneutria was what really caught his attention. The man's image shimmered as it paced backwards and forwards around the circle, eyeing ever man in the circle with contempt. Phoneutria was the only one who never bothered to wear a mask. Sørian had never seen the man, though he had often glimpsed around the great hall hoping to see him and to know him for whom he really was.

His haughtiness and slurred speech marked him as one of upper Amon stock, though where an upper Amon might be hiding on the bounty was a mystery to Sørian. Few were allowed to say other than those who bowed and bent to the whims of the Inquisitor. His stomach churned to think of the once proud Amon bowing and bending and preening around the Inquisitor. Phoneutria was certainly not one of them. His ranting would have been difficult to forget.

"I expect an explanation for your lateness Latrodectus," he slurred out. The hologram stared slightly beyond Sørian giving the distinct impression that Phoneutria was blind, "You were expected on the hour. It is already half past."

Sørian thought of the pain inducers at the cultist's belt. Phoneutria was fond of public examples, "There were difficulties in acquiring discreet passage. I would not risk your safety."

"Of course you wouldn't," Phoneutria gave no impression that he believed a word of it but allowed him to enter the circle with the others, "Arrive late twice and I might start considering Hexathelidae's proposals with a more liberal eye."

He wasn't joking. Phoneutria had no sense of humor to speak of. Sørian managed to say composed in spite of Hexathelidae's insufferably pleased expression. He would have to show up early for the next year to avoid ending up as part of Hexathelidae's prayers to her patron, "If you so wish it. I will obey without hesitation."

"Your willingness is irrelevant only your obedience matters to me or to us," He clicked his tongue off his teeth and turned to the center of the circle, "And it seems that we've had a rash of disobedience lately. I give simple orders. When I give one I expect it to be obeyed, for the glory of the hand and the might of the Amon Sui," his holographic hand brushed the face of the sobbing girl, "When we do not obey punishment must be met."

He tossed his arms wide and resumed his frenzied pacing, "We are in the center of the wilderness lost to the Empire. Think of it! Virgin stars, untamed lands, everything the guild could dream to have. We risk of losing it all if Faust decides not to return and share the means by which he achieved it. We promised to bring this ship to its knees before we reached Belzafest. In that we failed," he shot a murderous look at the girl, "We promised to kill the Inquisitor when he made planet fall. Our agents never even saw him set foot on the ground of the planet. And why," he looked to the girl, "Inaction. We have lacked proper motivation. Hexathelidae darling would you please come over here. You too Latrodectus."

The two jumped into action nearly running to the center of the circle. Hexathelidae was staring at the girl with barely controlled anticipation behind the porcelain covering all but her eyes. The knives seemed ready to pop out from the webbing about her shoulders and corset and into her hands at a moment's notice. Sørian suspected he had a similar expression on his face. Phoneutria rarely provided treats such as this.

Phoneutria pretended not to notice, "You all know of my punishments as theory as ideals. None of you know of them as realities. It is time that changed. Hexathelidae and Latrodectus are going to show you what happens to those who do not finish their planned duties in a timely fashion." He leaned in and whispered, "Consider this a girl. Pretty little thing isn't she. Her father was tasked with delaying the efforts of Magos Kerrigan. Not a true believer some have accused, just a fool with a love of gold and a lack of understanding for his proper duty. The explosives were never detonated and the inquisitor lives. Worse still he nearly failed to complete his part of the prophet's revival. A simple task of insurmountable importance he blunders so blindly that we are forced to dispose of members of the Mago's retinue in secret," his lip curled as though saying the name brought him great pain, "He failed and so he must give penance to our cause to prove his loyalty. This girl is my price."

The circle of men and women stood silent and impassive, none wishing to show recognition or fear. A short, knobby-legged man squeaked and shifted his shoulders as though about to say something. Phoneutria shifted his eyes to the man, "A hefty price for you. Flesh and blood for failure, her life to save yours. That was my price."

The man's voice cracked as he replied, "A price willingly paid in service of the hand," he voice grew squeaky as the girl screamed though her gag, "I have other daughters after all, an she's only a bastard."

"Indeed," Phoneutria smiled, "Then she means nothing to you? Nothing at all."

"I part with her willingly," the man's voice evened as he felt more secure in his safety. His shoulders did not relax but he ceased drumming his hand on his left leg, "I am a supplicant to the whims of the hand."

Phoneutria snapped his fingers and the two large bodyguards behind the knobby legged man grabbed his arms and dragged him forwards. Sørian noted the slightly fearful looks in all the Amon Sui agent's eyes. The man struggled against the two meaty fists holding him in place, "I'm your master bondsman. Unhand me."

"No sir," the man's gravely voice replied, "I am in contracted in your service through the Amon Sui. It to them that I belong or have you forgotten?"

The man kicked and yelled in panic and dawning comprehension, "Sir! Phoneutria! I gave you what you asked for. I served you loyally."

Phoneutria laughed, "Foolish man, a sacrifice has no meaning if it holds no value to you. I take what you offer and more for your arrogance. Hexathelidae, Latrodectus, I believe that it is high time since your crafts have been honed," Sørian and Hexathelidae bowed in deference before following the strong-arm guards forcing the knobby legged man and his daughter into the back room. A room Sørian knew to be soundproof from experience, a room where he gained boons from his god. As the door slowly closed the voice of Phoneutria rang clear. "Oh and Latrodectus do remember to not be late again. I should be very cross if you were to be late again."
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post #20 of 159 (permalink) Old 02-07-11, 04:35 AM Thread Starter
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The shifting reds of hyperspace were endlessly passing the false window, bathing everyone in the bridge with a dull red glow. At the center of the bridge, sitting stiffly and observing his crew with an expression of mild disapproval was a man with a ruff of great hear that stuck out like a peacock's feathers. The man's hair and everything about his dress was tailored specifically to reflect his status and bloodline. Seated at the command consuls were young men with similar, though smaller, crests of feathered hair. The only man in the room wearing a crest of hair vaguely as grand as Captian Ibil's, was an abstentious looking man in the broad striped silks of the Psychic's guild. Ibil sat with his elbows on the armrests and his fingertips pressed together at his lips in an expression of concentration.

"Pretty, isn't it sir?" asked a young officer with a broad smile and smug eyes. One of a number of officers assigned to the primus by blood rather than merit, thought Ibil. They did have a habit of opening their mouths in order to prove their inexperience. For reasons beyond his understanding his new recruits were convinced that a captain staring out into hyperspace was thinking deep thoughts rather than doing what any sane person did while on standby in hyperspace. Namely thinking of everywhere you would rather be than sitting in a chair staring at shifting red nothingness for ten hour shifts, "Shame it's only a view screen and not a real window. I want to be able to see our enemies with my own eyes, look in to their hearts."

"Mr. Marran I suggest in future you simply shut your lips and look like a fool rather than open your lips and prove my suspicions," The Bridge of a Primus had no true windows. It was seated in the ships heart behind many thick sheets of armored metal and ceramics. The command crew of the "Majesty of Morva" was seated at their posts. The Centauri went through great pains to ensure that the exact location of the bridge on a primus was slightly different from ship to ship. It was more expensive to produce ships that way. Substantially more expensive than the cost of making the newer, faster Vorchan class warships but it prevented Narn saboteurs from being able to sneak to the bridge and assassinate high-ranking officials and officers. Unfortunately for Captain Ibil Movan it also meant that the servants responsible from bringing him hot Jala was always insufferably late in coming. Not for the first time since being given the duty of patrolling the wild space at the edge of Drazi territory did he curse the name of Vocator Reefa for condemning him to this pitiful scrap of nowhere.

What matter was it to the great Centauri if the Drazi were to choose to attack their neighbors? The great Centauri Lion ought to be stretching its claws and grasping back the territories lost, not watching the lesser powers fighting over table's scraps. It was a sad time to be a Centauri for sure. He rubbed his hand over his generous forehead and muttered darkly as his aide strode into the room carrying a glass of hot Jala on a silver platter. Ibil must have done something to set himself in disfavor with his house to earn him the misfortune of such an addlebrained aide; the boy walked with altogether too much pride for his station but it was perhaps to be expected from house Reefa, "Great Maker! Did you feel the need to walk every corridor in the ship before coming?"

"Apologies sir, I'm not used to the ships layout yet. My previous posting was on a luxury liner, I could not find a map of the ship."

"Addlebrained child, this is a warship not a pleasure liner. There are no maps posted on the walls nor will there ever be," he shared a pained look with the guardsman to his right. The guardsman, in the tight breeches and green jacket of house Movan stared back impassively. Just as well he didn't talk, a soldier who wasted too much time on words was a fool in Ibil's mind. He looked to the data pad in his aide's hand being careful not to say the aide's name and risk giving any impression of approval, "I'll take my messages now as well boy. Be quick about it."

His aide scowled as he put down the tray on the table next to Ibil and looked down to the data pad, "You've received several messages from home-world sir. Your wife has laid out a list of the expenses of your household that she had billed to your personal accounts. I'd suggest altering the access codes to them soon sir, there are some irregularities in the accounting." Unsurprising but not tragic, it was a wife's prerogative to steal from her husband in case of divorce or dishonor in later life. The next message was just as mundane but no less frustrating, "It would seem that we've surrendered another colony to the Narn or rather are about to soon. House Reefa seems to believe that we will soon be forced to retreat from quadrant 37."

"Another glorious victory for the Centauri Republic," muttered Ibil darkly. The Emperor was not as great of a leader as his father. His father had perhaps had a taste for war beyond what was strictly necessary but the new Emperor was almost six rods short of a man. Most people said so in private though none had the political power to do much else than mutter darkly. There was little impetus to do more than talk though. Taking over the Empire at this point was a fool's errand, who wants to be the next in a line of failing Emperors?

His Aide continued, "There's also a general order about our mission in wild space warning us to beware of Drazi warships and… I believe that we need to get a doctor into the bridge as soon as is possible."

"Is our mission making you ill boy?"

"No sir," he protested though his expression had gone distinctly nauseous, "But I believe the honorable representative of the Guild of Psychers is in some considerable pain."

He was right. Elan Vashan was swaying drunkenly as he gritted his teeth together moaning. He was gripping the sash that marked his rank within psychic's guild tightly, stretching the silk to the point of breaking. Two guardsmen ran from Ibil's side to help steady the guild representative. The psychic's face had gone totally white and his eyes were unfocused. The tentacles wrapped around his pelvis shifted and jerked beneath his shirt indecently. His arms and legs twitched. He muttered to himself darkly as he steadied himself, walked over behind a hanging tapestry, and emptied the contents of his stomach.

Ibil winced at the scent of vomit, "Call the doctor to the bridge. Mr. Vashan seems to have taken ill." He waved to his aide.

"No! Not… not ill," Elan Vashan wiped at his face with his sleeve, "Not me anyway. I don't know about him."

"I see. He's the one in pain then?" said a slightly apprehensive Ibil. Elan was starting at a blank patch of gilded metal on the wall with wrapped attention, "Rush that order for the doctor Mr. Reefa."

"Great maker! Listen, I am not ill and I am not hallucinating. I'm fine just listen," his tone was anything but fine, "I just received a message, at least I think it was a message. There's someone out here lost, in trouble. They want help."

Par Milla, the comms officer, looked up perplexed, "I haven't received any distress signals in hours sir. Are you sure you've not taken ill. Fever will make a man imagine any number of things."

Elan closed his eyes in an apparent effort to resist the urge to scream, "To hell with fever. I don't give a damn what you have and have not received. There is a distress signal being sent out from a nearby system… by someone not recorded in Centauri history. No race I can think of has such powerful psychics."

"The Vorlons?" Mr. Reefa looked hopeful. Ibis couldn't blame him. The idea of coming to a Vorlon's rescue had a distinct appeal to it.

"The Vorlons send tachyon transmissions the same as anyone else… at least I think they do. I suppose they could send a telepathic distress signal, they're rumored to be able to any number of things," Ibil twisted the stem of his glass between his thumb and index finger watching the green liquid swirl, "But I can't see them pleading with one of the lesser races for help. And even if they did, what can we do against something that troubles a Vorlon?"

"Sir, if we don't help whomever it is sending the message I do suspect I will go mad. It's like being trapped in a room with someone distinctly infuriating who won't stop talking," Elan said in a pained voice, "And I suspect I should become an infuriating man in this bridge till someone was so kind as to liberate me of the noise."

"Don't be melodramatic Mr. Elan," Ibis smiled, "And calm your nerves. I intend to respond to your distress signal. It isn't as though we're saddled with an abundance of other pressing matters. I suspect the Drazi will survive without us for the next few hours without the benevolent gaze of the Centauri Republic's finest."

"Of course sir. I knew you would make the right choice. I have absolute confidence in your judgment," he said in a voice of great anticipation, "I'm not sure exactly where the signal is coming from but I believe it's in this direction." The psychic pointed off into the void of hyperspace.

It was strange to be traveling through hyperspace without exact co-ordinates of the destination. The Majesty of Morva was not a particularly agile ship and every time Elan decided that they were going in the wrong direction course corrections took longer than Ibis would normally care for. Elan was taking them farther and farther into wild space, the area at the rim of the known galaxy. Little was known about the rim and few expeditions were willingly taken to it. It was an odd place where many dark races were rumored to live and only a handful of known hyperspace gates existed.

Elan was determined to drag them as far into that scrap of nowhere as he could, farther and farther from the network of hyperspace gates. Farther from safety, perhaps this would be a true first contact situation after all. The men who made first contact with other races were often richly paid for their efforts in land and titles. The ill-fated Centauri first contact with the Dilgar had been rewarded by the Centarum in spite of fiasco. The Centauri hated unknowns. The unknown could not be prepared for or used and was insufferably prone to destroying the machinations of the noble houses. Those who made the unknown matters of the universe known and quantifiable were rewarded accordingly.

"Just a bit farther," Elan muttered to himself. His eyes were closed and his ear was raised as though he was trying to hear something in the distance. He opened his eyes and tapped on the display in front of officer seated at navigation controls, "There. We need to exit there."

The Majesty of Morva's hyperdrive generator hummed into life and a swirling window opened in front of it. After a brief flash of light the view screen shifted from images of a swirling red maelstrom to blackness of space dappled with pinpricks of starlight. They'd existed into a binary star system with seven planets, twenty one moons, and one great hulking mass of spaceship in orbit of the fourth moon of the fifth planet.

"It would seem Mr. Elan's fever is catching. For if he's going mad then I suppose I am as well," chuckled the navigation officer.

"Great Maker that's a large ship!" Ibis muttered darkly. It was easily three times the size of the Majesty of Morva, "Not a transport certainly."

The tactical officer Pex Wen was starting at readout with wrapped attention. Pex was running his fingers through his ridiculous goatee and drumming his fingers on his knee "I believe it's a warship. It certainly has enough guns to be one. Then again even a transport is capable of carrying guns."

"Is this a trap?" Ibis said as the viewscreen zoomed in closer to the ship. It was most certainly well armed even if it wasn't a warship. A number of smaller craft were darting about it, moving to the planet below and to the moons beyond, "A large ship doesn't guarantee great weapons but I'd prefer not to chance it."

"I would assume their signal is genuine. They aren't making any efforts to use electronic countermeasures and there are several gaping holes in the hull that have only recently been patched. You don't plan an ambush with a single damaged warship, even a large one," Pex muttered to himself, "There are some strange energy readings to this ship though, readings I can't place."

"I would be astounded if we were able to just guess at the purposes of every system," Ibil stood up and walked over to the tactical display, "Do they know we're here?"

"They know… muttered Elan," the psychic sat down on the floor, "I can't understand the thoughts exactly but I understand the message. They're frightened but glad to see another person. At least I think they are, the specifics are always confusing when communicating with non-Centauri minds," he started pawing at his sash, "I think I've managed to convince him that we're no danger to them, at least for now."

"Hail them Mr. Milla," Ibis smiled, "Its about time we met our new friends."

"I've tried sending tachyon signals but they're not responding sir," the young officer was looking perplexed, "I think that they must rely on psychics for long ranged communications," his eyes widened as the gears turned in his head, "And why would they? If they're going to send out distress signals though psychics then why not use them exclusively for long-range communications? Sir I don't know if I'm even going to be able to reach these people."

"Don't be too sure of that Mr. Milla," Pex sounded pleased with himself, "Check microwave band and radio transmissions and try running them through an audio-visual encoder. I suspect that their short range transmissions might be more viable."

"Microwave? Damned primitives," muttered Milla as he re-calibrated the communications network, "By the Gods they're definitely sending out radio signals and microwave signals to communicate between the larger ship and the smaller ones."

"Can the language programs translate?" This was looking increasingly better to Ibis. He could think of at least one technology these primitives might want to trade for right off the bat.

"Doubtful sir," Milla shook his head, "Not without a frame of reference. And even then," he looked down at a flashing light, "sir, I think they're hailing us."

"Then respond Maker take you! We can't afford to anger them this early into a first contact situation," Ibis couldn't help but wonder what they would look like. Would they be bipedal like the Humans and Narn or insectoid like the Gaim, or even crystalline as some claimed the Vorlons to be? He briefly amused himself with fantasies of a race of beautiful promiscuous women with smooth heads and golden skin. Great Maker it had been far too long since he'd last attended a gentleman's establishment.

"Just calibrating a few things sir," Millan muttered as he jiggled the controls, "And there we go!"

The entire bridge crew held its collective breath as a image flickered into life on the viewscreen and Ibis looked at a scene that seemed familiar but at the same time altogether alien. The first thing Ibis noticed was the wide double-headed bird of prey painted onto the wall behind the aliens. The solid gold of the eagle stood out garishly against the crimson paint on the wall. In front of the wall were figures that shared a passing resemblance to the Centauri, but only a passing one. A group of figures wearing hooded red cloaks fringed with black and white checks were clustered around a smaller, somewhat frazzled looking alien strapped into a chair. White globes with mechanical arms hovered about the machine, adjusting and tweaking it. In front of that cluster were two men; at least he assumed they were men, facing the camera. The first was almost skeletal looking and pallid. He had a milky white eye third sitting in the center of his forehead that glowed slightly. The man to his right was, for lack of a better word, massive, not muscular just large. Great folds of blubber hung down from his arms and his entire body was suspended from a mechanical frame.

The blubbery man and the smaller man raised their arms to their chests, crossing them with thumbs locked and fanning them over their chests. The larger man spoke at friendly pace in alien speech, "Guten Tag creatura foris plurrimi sanctus terra Imperator. Dhe paqe qoftë mbi ju." He smiled widely in what Ibis hoped was a friendly gesture. Considering the man's considerable girth Ibis couldn't help but wonder what prey this species ate to make it so large.

Still it couldn't hurt to be polite. He responded by offering his hands palms up and saying, "Greetings from the Centauri Republic. I offer you the hands of friendship!"

The wobbling chins shook with approval. Apparently the hands of friendship had some sort of similar cultural basis. The man spoke in the alien tones again apparently eager to get to business. Ibis turned to Elan, "Do they realize we can't understand a word they're saying?"

"Apparently not. I'll try to explain it," Elan scrunched up his face and grunted. The men in the Alien ship turned around to the man strapped to the chair as he started to speak. Ibis realized with dawning horror that the man strapped into the machine must be a psychic, the chair he sat in was probably way permitted him to send psychic transmissions into hyperspace. Moreover it seemed likely that the psychic had no choice in the matter, one rarely shackled themselves to a chair of their own volition. More alarmingly after closer examination the globe like robots flitting about the room were quite clearly built to resemble skulls. No, not to resemble skulls, they were skulls.

The large man, apparently unaware of Ibis revulsion, turned from the psychic and bowed slightly. Apparently he was apologizing for his rudeness. Ibis bowed back, "Mister Milla would you be so kind as to transmit the first contact protocols to them via microwave transmission. I would like to be able to actually do more than bow at some point."

"Of course sir."

The two men on the other ship turned to the cluster of men in red robes when one of them started to speak. The voice was distinctly metallic. It seemed entirely possible that the men in red robes were some form of android or servant species to the other two. One of the androids pulled up a red box and asked something of the larger man. The larger man smiled and nodded.

"Well men, prepare to receive their language codes, this went about as smoothly as I could hope for," Ibis smiled to himself. His contentment did not last. As soon as the men in red turned back to the man on the chair and tapped into the small computer Elan began to scream. Ibis jerked back in horror and looked up at the men on the screen, "Stop damnit! Stop!"

The skeletal man rounded on the men behind him, "Stop jetzt! Vacuus creatura de apparatus, Stop jetzt pro EGO Träne sicco vestri pectus pectoris of lux lucis! Nos brauchen lemma."

One of the metal men responded impassively, "Nos can non subsisto. Phasmatis of apparatus hat einen eigenen Willen. Wissen du geest est partis per mens."

"Disconnect the transmission," Ibis yelled, "Do it now!"

"Do I fire on them sir! Do I fire on them?" The tactical officer was starting at the twitching psychic with mounting apprehension. Ibis was tempted to agree with him, they needed to get out of that system quickly. He might have been too eager to dismiss the ship as a threat.

"No!" Elan spat up a bloody glob of spittle, "They aren't attacking. They're sharing their language and basic math," he grunted in pain, "At least I think that's what's happening. I don't think they intended for this to be sent to someone who wasn't prepared for it."

Elan groaned in frustration, "Somebody get me paper," he waved away the soldier helping him to his feet, "to the abyss with standing up just get me some damned paper."

"Even so I must insist that we leave the system immediately," the tactical officer had already started typing in the commands to warm up the hyperspace engines, "We can head for homeworld and regroup."

"Fine, send them the co-ordinates for Babylon 5 and get us out of here. We've done our duty. Let Mollari deal with this mess." Ibis was not looking forward to this debriefing on the home world. It would be a nightmare.

-----

Please review. Any input at all is useful.

I'm combining german, latin, and albanian to make "Gothic" anything that is said in gothic will be either explained later in the story or will made clear by context (hopefully). I always find it annoying when everyone in the damn universe speaks English or to have a Western Uk/American perspective on life.
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