In the tunnels, running through the basements of the Gladatorium another regiment of imperial guard prepared for battle, like actors in the backstage warrens of a theatre. They were not the Illustrious Zigurian Immortals, they were not even free men, and they were entitled Penal Detachment: 349-ѱ. The handlers knew the regiment affectionately as "The Meat Grinder" Theoretically, it was a lesser punishment, as Zigurian justice did not offer a traditional prison sentence, only varying means of atonement in the service of the almighty God-Emperor of Mankind.
Theoretically, the regiment was only 'probably' likely to expire and should they survive their sentence, then they would be welcomed back into the Emperor's good graces and that of Zigurian society, with an enhanced portfolio of skills and experiences. Theoretically was just as unlikely as it sounded, especially in this case, as after a fresh coat of green paint they were to be playing the part of the orks in the re-enactment.
"Live orks my arse..."Karibor Drul tended to talk when nervous, a tendency that as a juve had landed him in trouble frequently, and on the day of his induction into the gang, had got his whole crew in the lockup, and after being hauled in front of an Arbiter Jury / Firing Squad, had landed him a five year stint in the Meat Grinder. Consequently, he hadn't stopped talking since, though he tended to mumble anyone was listening.
"Should have taken the cushy sentence as a juve, instead I stabbed my way to freedom, see they offered me a six year term in the gulag-mines of Akkad. And what with all the breathing mods and gene-bulked muscle they graft on to survive their, you can make a pretty throne when you get back..."He rambled to no one in particular, he was part of a long shackled work-gang, a heavy plasteel chain tied each set of shackles to the next and stretched on into the gloom of the tunnel, and back to the barracks. Maybe five-hundred men and women were tied to it he would have guessed, marching into the darkness of the tunnels.
For the first time in days, he was interrupted, and what shocked him was not the interruption, but that somebody spoke to him.
"Okay. One; that's a trick a friend of mine fell for; six Akkad years is just short of twenty years, its one of the Arbites longest running practical jokes, second the mods are removed when your term is up. So with your mashed organs, you probably will not want to survive. And if you do survive, you'll stink for the rest of your life. Now, the gulags may be a bad hand but servitorisation, now that's an Imperial flush of a hand, depending on your luck, you get a bionic arm, some armour, and best of all they turn your higher brain functions off so you go to sleep and wake up twelve years later. You just close your eyes and do the screaming when they come at you and the buzz saw cuts, not that I'd want them to ruin my good looks with all that metal of course..." The voice was female, though not feminine, he twisted against his shackles to try and see her, tripped and almost knocked over the man in front of him, that made him wonder for a moment what they were marching towards - No one had said.
The girls face was covered in a dozen parallel scars, they scrolled around her eyes, contoured her cheeks and ran down her neck, the scars were fine, controlled, perfectly distanced and personalised to her face. When she saw him looking she flashed a grin. He was able to determine that her teeth were either ground into points or were some crude implant, before he stumbled and was forced to look forward again. She was shaven headed, like the rest of the legion, just blonde stubble, but it looked natural on her and he suspected that it was her gangs' normal hairstyle. He risked another glance and she had ragged scars around her eyes where her eyelids had been excised, giving her eyes a fanatic's stare.
He continued "Um. No way, you do realise that when they cut your brain out, they take away all your thinking parts, so you're stupid when they turn you back on, and that'sif you survive. I got protection money from a factorium as a juve. The place made ammo and had maybe twenty servitors doing the milling and heavy lifting and as part of his tithe the owner would give us parts from the servitors that had been in accidents. At least one of twenty kicked it every month, crashed into something, fell down a mine shaft, and sometimes the green juves would break up servitors as part of their initiation, and that's assuming they don't just send you into some Emperor forsaken battle. The cog boys are running the biggest protection racket out there and collecting from both ends, I wouldn't trust anything they suggested!"
Part of running with a gang, any gang was knowing who and what else was out there, and while he talked he desperately scoured his memories, but he couldn't remember a ritual scarification like that. A cold dread settled in his guts, his back to an unknown ganger-girl with a scary face, the corner of his mouth twitched nervously and almost without knowing it, he began talking again. He talked about other punishments he had heard the Arbites deal out. Conscription into the light infantry regiments, violent offenders only though, no philanders or thief's or anything like that. He'd once heard that the Star Children, the semi-mythical space marines chapter that lurked in the Warpstone anomaly skimmed the cream of the crop of the arbites trials, but only the most disturbed psychopaths, the most violently strong-willed were taken, Karibor Drul didn't think that it was likely, and he said so.
Up ahead, someone fell and the line began to queue behind them. Drul twitched again, he had heard about a chain-mob where someone had fallen and then been dragged miles, when they stopped, just his arms had remained, or at least that's what he heard. He was about to say this when he felt hot breath on his neck, he imagined her predator grin, the razor teeth, the insanity in her eyes. "You talk a lot ganger-boy" She whispered in his ear in smooth, almost cultured tones that threatened violence. He shuddered "You won't make a good Ork, Ganger-boy," she was whispering, almost lovingly to him, "I wonder though, are you a good human, hmm? Tell me of your love Ganger-boy."
She pressed up against him casually, resting her arms on his shoulders she slowly snaked a hand down, over his heart and dug her fingers in. Drull twitched uncomfortably. "I.. I've... I Like you but-" He spluttered and stopped as she released her grip on his chest and her arms whipped back, her shackles wrapped around his neck, he found himself pulled in tight, the top of his head on her chest, looking straight up into her face. "NO!" She looked like she had lost herself for a moment, she looked around, eyes darting, then looked back at him. The edges of his vision began to fade to black. He was whispering but she couldn't hear him, delivering upon the violent edge in her voice, "Tell me of your love for our beloved God Emperor." All he could manage was a gurgle, Drull realised he would die, and he couldn't get a word out about it.
"No. Don't look. Don't turn." The voice came from behind him, drawling with phlegm and other, mischievous bad humours. A hand patted his shoulder with a semblance of reassurance; some terrible substance ran down his shirt, leaking from the patting hand.
Sinon "Sinner" Ishtar found himself sitting on the damp floor of the tunnel, something wet, powerful squatted behind him, something awful. The corpse of the commissar lay mangled and mutilated in front of him, a tribute to the thing's abhorrent nature.
"See... see what you did? Oh no, don't get me wrong, I did the leg work on our poor commissar here, but this is your doing... Tch. Tch. Tch." The thing clucked its tongue in such a way Sinon could only envision a mouth full of decaying fangs casually oozing out of a lipless maw, a worm tongue dripping with mucus and foul comedy.
"Nope, not even close. Don't even try... you'll damage yourself Sinner, and I need your head more or less intact... which leads us nicely to the problem of the day." The voice chuckled.
A gust of cold air blew through the hole in his head, brain matter in shades of pink and grey splattered the tunnel walls. Sinon felt cold.
Something reached out and dragged the commissar into the shadow. "Waste not, want not, papa always said... I wonder... if he'll fit" wet, crunching, squelching noises exuded from the darkness. Sinon flinched. "I said no looking!" the thing shouted.
"So we need to formalise our agreement. See you called me out, when you got sick and begged, and man you know how to beg my good sinner, let me tell you! But this whole hole in the head situation requires a positively bureaucratic solution." Shadows swayed and the thing moved from behind him, it lurched from one leg to the other in the possessed body of the dead commissar. It grinned wildly before collapsing against the wall and sliding down to the ground. The creature picked up one of its legs and lightly tossed it over the other, crossing them in a jovial fashion. "How do I look? Good? Do my metastasises look big in this? No? Oh well... let's get down to the bottom line..."
Karibor Drul, the talkative penal legionare, did what he had thought impossible. He breathed in deeply, as is it were his first ever breath. It was glorious; the air was warm and sweet.
Drul awoke soaking wet, hot water hit his skin hard, the tiles he lay on turned the spray of water into hot mist. He opened his eyes; the world was bathed in shades of green, lithe bodies danced in front of him. He mumbled under his breath as he righted himself, sitting up, leaning against a tile wall behind him.
A figure moving in front of him slowly moved into a fearful focus. The scary girl whose hands last been around his precious throat, the thought of it caused him to involuntarily gag on the sweet warm air.
About fifty penal legionnaires were in the chamber, densely packed, though they gave Drul and the girl a wide birth. It was a washroom, heavily modified, all the cubicles and toilets and lockers had been ripped out and large hoses bolted onto the ceiling. The water streaming out was a dark, verdant green. Dye, he realised.
Most all the other legionnaires were partially dressed or stripped to the waist, reluctantly allowing the dye to soak in under the watchful eyes of officers with guns slung in the crook of their arms. But the girl spun round in gleeful circles, chanting and kicking puddles. She was manic and he realised with a panicked thought, he had caught her eye.
"Hey! Ganger-boy! You're not dead! Maybe you will make a good ork!" She walked up to him, looming over him, with a twitched motion she crossed her hands, making the sign of the Aquilla. He realised the backs of her hands were tattooed with half Aquilla's, so that when they made the sign they actually depicted the imperial eagle. Her body he realised was covered in hundreds, maybe thousands of tattoos, different styles and inks and patterns and he realised finally and worst of all he was staring at his would be killer's naked body. If she noticed this she made no sign of it. Her eyes were rolled upwards, into her skull, hands clasped over her chest. Praying, he mused.
She nodded and hunched down in front of him, her head inches away from his, her arms wrapped around her knees. "You are so lucky! The Emperor says you're joining me on the crusade, and that though you're a horrible criminal, your doubts will be washed away when we kill the angels. Your pale, you haven't been rubbing the green in. I had a pet grot once, little ork thing, vicious, captured it with a sandwich baited box-trap, kept it in a cage, had to mush it underfoot, I called it Gretchen. Your pale yellow-green just like him. I'm gonna call you Gretchen." She nodded again and talked to herself under the nozzle of the shower-hose.
Karibor "Gretchen" Drul found himself shivering, he edged away from the girl, and she didn't seem to notice.