H a r b i n g e r : C o n t a c t
This is an ongoing series of short event 'snippets' based upon the discovery and exploration of the dread hulk Harbinger: an ancient craft that harks back to the Age of Heresy.
It follows the story of a rogue trader vessel, her crew and ambitious, greed-driven captain, and their subsequent disappearance...
Be sure to check back for updates!
ADDENDUM: If you're interested in following the progress of a ridiculous space hulk project build that threatens to consume the designer (quite literally, with big sharp pointy teeth) then check out the D R E A D H U L K blog...
The silent leviathan drifted inexorably through the cold harshness of the void; its massive, scabrous hull pitted and scarred from millennia of meteoritic bombardment. The aeons spent lost in this sea of darkness had been cruel. At one time it had been a proud interstellar battleship, perhaps even the flagship of some long-forgotten admiral. But its original form was for the most part obscured beneath layer upon layer of galactic detritus. Now it was nothing but an eroded, lifeless carcass; its husk a tomb for a hundred thousand piteous souls.
Captain Dimitar leant forward to gaze upon the incredible sight before him, and he felt himself rising up from his chair to walk the few metres to the main view port. He heard gasps of awe from his officers as he pressed his hands to the glass and moved his head slowly from left to right in an effort to take in the impossible vastness of the hulk. It was enormous.
They were quiet for a few moments as they attempted to comprehend the enormity of their discovery. It was Lieutenant Churian who broke the awestruck silence.
“It’s… it’s huge,” was all he could manage. Ivanko Churian was not known for his acuity.
Captain Dimitar turned and a smile slowly crept across his craggy face. “Indeed it is, lieutenant,” he said, his voice rough from decades of barked orders. He grinned at Churian, revealing a mouth full of metal teeth, and his eyes shone as he continued.
“And now it’s ours.”
TO BE CONTINUED...
Borski cut through the last section and the bulkhead fell with an almighty clang as a tonne of metal struck the floor. He grunted his satisfaction and got up, placing the las-cutter back in its holster at his hip, and pulling out his bolter to aim it down the long, dark corridor that stretched into the darkness. Sweat trickled down his forehead and dripped from the end of his nose, despite the low temperature inside his enviro-suit. Borski, like the three crew members with him, was afraid.
He looked to his side and saw Temmov; the bulky form of the grey metal suit hiding his comrade's wiry frame. Temmov’s armoured helm covered his entire head, and only his eyes were visible through the narrow slit of his visor. They were wide and darting from shadow to shadow. He could see his own fear reflected in them.
A hand landed on his shoulder and he turned to see that it was Lieutenant Churian. Borski looked at him, and the man gestured with his hand that he should advance. Borski frowned but nodded his head in affirmation; a strange gesture in the cumbersome suit. He activated his lumen beams and signalled for Temmov to get up.
The four men stepped across the threshold and into the dread hulk.
Igo Dimitar walked down the short flight of steps that led from the cramped confines of the bridge, to the even more confined space of the navigator’s chamber. As he entered the dimly-lit compartment, Dimitar called out.
“Vlados. I would speak with you.”
For a moment there was silence. But then a metallic click as of a bolt sliding back in its housing, followed by the hiss of released pressure. A dark sarcophagus set into the opposite wall opened slowly, to reveal the shrivelled remains of an incredibly ancient man. Its skin was wrinkled and pallid. A mask, connected by a series of cables and tubes, covered its face entirely. Then it spoke.
“As I would speak with you, captain,” the navigator rasped thinly. “The vessel we are docked with smells of death. A chill runs through its hull and I can feel the echoes of ten thousand years spent lost in the empyrean.” The corpse-like figure seemed to regard Dimitar with an uncompromising stare from behind that cold mask before continuing.
“I warned you not to follow the translation ripple. We should retract the docking umbilical and leave immediately.” Vlados, despite his appearance, sounded desperate.
“We are going nowhere,” was Dimitar’s simple, terse response. He leant back against a metal pillar and folded his arms across his chest.
“But captain, if –,“ he was cut short by Dimitar’s interruption.
“Calm yourself, Vlados. We have discovered an ancient vessel that could contain untold treasures, not to mention the ship itself being a magnificent prize. This is just the sort of find that will take my career to heights previously only imagined.” He closed his eyes and smiled inwardly at the glorious visions playing across his mind’s eye.
“Given time, I might even make it the flagship of my new fleet.”
“This is folly, my captain. You are blinded by visions of your own glory, when all I see are visions of terrible portent. Yet you are not gifted with the sight. I say again: we must leave. Now.”
Interesting so far.
Dimitar was not happy. He had been unable to get any information from his navigator other than babbling omens. As he sank back down into the cold synthide embrace of his command throne, he mentally resolved to procure a replacement for him the next time they were in Imperial space. Right now, though, he had more pressing matters to attend to; namely getting the warp drives on that hulk deactivated before it made an arbitrary jump back into the empyrean, as these things were wont to do.
“Captain, we’re getting the pict-feed through from Lieutenant Churian’s team,” stated one of the officers on the small bridge.
“Put it up on the monitor,” Dimitar grumbled. The screen above their heads flickered into life with a static snowfield of binary. Finally it cleared, although not entirely, to reveal the view from Churian’s helmet-mounted picter. The image was distorted, and kept twisting in and out of focus, although you could make out the shapes of two armoured men advancing cautiously down a long corridor.
“Sort out the image, Varga! I can’t see gak,” he demanded of the comms officer.
Varga fiddled with the controls at her station, but this had little effect on the quality of the picture. She turned to face her captain.
“We’re getting a lot of interference from the hulk, sir. I am unable to filter out all of the electrostatic noise,” she said.
Dimitar’s lips curled in a silent snarl and he stood up from his chair, just as the image on the screen distorted horribly before vanishing into a mess of broken code.
“First mate,” he growled. “Get another team down there with a cable link. I want to see and hear exactly what’s going on inside that hulk.”
“The door’s locked, Lieutenant,” Borski whispered through his vox link, although his voice sounded loud to his ears as it reverberated inside his helmet. They’d been tip-toeing nervously through a maze of passageways and had reached a wide blast door, constructed in the 10,000 year old industrial gothic style of Old Terra. Except for the hard-nosed officer, the men were fearful of what might lurk inside this dead vessel.
Churian spoke curtly, his voice loud in Borski’s ears. “Open it”.
The technician grimaced at the loudness of his voice and he could see the other crew members flinch. He remembered the grim faerie tales of his childhood, when his mother spoke of warp-spawned doom ships drifting in the void, and the fools who would try to unlock their secrets, in the vain search for fame and fortune. He recalled that the adventuring heroes invariably came to a sticky end, and the moral to these stories was always the same: Ware the things you seek; lest other, unspeakable things seek you.
He shook his head from the brief reverie and set about the task of unlocking the blast door.
“Pict-feed from the second team coming up now, sir,” Varga announced.
The static on the main screen blinked several times before it switched to the flickering view to be had from a hull-mounted picter inside the dimly-lit umbilical connecting the two vessels. Four figures wearing heavy mining enviro-suits were stood in the narrow passage; two men could be seen checking the signal booster units that would follow them into the hulk, whilst another was making his bolter ready. The leader, helmet visor down, walked over to look up into the picter screen.
A female voice spoke over the vox-link. “Captain, this is Markov. Signal boosters are prepped and we’re ready for your orders.”
“Proceed, Markov. I want a full exploratory sweep of this sector. Keep the reports regular.”
“Aye, captain,” replied Markov, and she turned to usher the second team towards the outer airlock door that was the only barrier between them and the unknown innards of the hulk. As they approached, the door slowly spiralled open in the fashion of a pict lens aperture, with ten curved, teeth-like sections receding with the squeal of metal grinding on metal into the circular rim of the portal. Once they stepped across the threshold, the teeth slid back into place, giving the distinct impression of the hulk swallowing four more crew members.
Despite the great antiquity of the control panel, Borski made fairly short work of re-wiring and thusly re-routing power to the overrides to unlock the door. A long groan came from within the wall and Borski winced, instinctively getting up to aim his big bolter at the blast door, taking a few steps back as he did so. The other crew members followed suit, and only Churian stood his ground, although he tightened his grip on his plasma pistol. There was a whirring sound that signified interior energy cells powering up, and steam began venting from grills set into the floor either side of the entrance. As the steam began to abate, huge internal bolts slid back in their housings and numerous cogs set into the metal began to turn.
With an almighty groan, the blast door began a slow descent into the floor. Wind howled through the gap and whistled past the men, as the atmosphere behind the portal expanded into the vacuum inside the corridor. Then, when it was only half way down there was an almighty screech of grinding metal and the door shuddered to a halt, still two metres above the deck plating.
Churian turned to Borski, but he didn’t need to say anything. The tech slung his weapon across his back and went back to the open control panel to see what could be done. Behind him Churian spoke into his vox link.
“Captain Dimitar, this is Churian. Do you read? Captain Dimitar, do you read me? Captain?” but all he got was an earful of static.
No sooner had the portal closed behind Markov, than the images displayed on the bridge monitor began to judder and twist again.
Dimitar slammed his fist into the arm of his command chair. “Markov! Get those boosters up now,” he growled.
There was a moment of silence, broken only by the sound of static, before Markov responded.
“Adjusting modulator now, captain. One moment…” her garbled voice trailed off, before the screen flickered to become much clearer, although still slightly distorted.
“Is that better, captain?”
“Aye. Advance to Churian’s last known location. I want a report from him within the hour. Time is of the essence; we need to locate and deactivate the warp drive. I need not remind you of the consequences of a random warp jump; you know what these ancient hulks are like.” Dimitar sat back into his chair, eyes fixed to the screen, and waited.
In the navigation cell, Vlados meditated. His eyes were closed but twitching spasmodically from side to side under the thin, almost translucent skin of his eyelids. Blue, throbbing veins were visible at his temples and his face glistened with perspiration.
Vlados was dreaming the dreams of the Gifted, although he had long considered them more of a curse than blessing. Visions flashed across his mind’s eye; dreadful revelations of the most portentous kind that clawed with icy fingers at his brain, sending shards of pain through his cerebrum and tingling down the nerve clusters of his bent and twisted spine. His breathing was heavy and his body had now begun to shudder; imperceptibly at first but rapidly increasing to a violent seizure. Froth bubbled at the edges of his mouth as he thrashed about inside the sarcophagus, threatening to break his fragile bones against the sides.
Then he was still. A solitary, bloody tear emerged from the corner of his left eye to trickle down his cheek.
Vlados slowly opened his rheumy eyes; eyes that were now shot with blood. He put his hand to his cheek and pulled it away, gazing contemplatively at the crimson smear on his finger tips.
“And so it begins”.
“Borski! What’s taking you so long?” Churian marched over to where the technician was squatting beside the open control panel.
Borski scowled before getting up and turning to face the approaching lieutenant.
“The fragging thing’s well and truly jammed, sir,” retorted Borski, placing more than a little sarcastic emphasis on the ‘sir’. The two men glared at each other, visors barely an inch apart, for several seconds before Borski broke the silence.
“There’s no way we’re getting that door open unless we cut through it,” he said.
“That’s not an option. We’ve lost enough time already with you failing to do your job,” Churian replied scornfully. “Cutting through the armour of that blast door could take hours. I have a far better idea.” Borski did not like the sound of that one bit.
Churian turned to the other two crew members. “You two; give your crew mate a lift. Borksi’s going to see what’s on the other side of that door.”
Cursing to himself, Borski stowed his gear and shouldered past the gloating lieutenant.
Markov led her team up a wide, arterial corridor, the lumen beams attached to their weapons scanning every nook and cranny as they progressed. Metal buttress supports lined both walls at three metre intervals, and the way they curved up from the floor to join with the ceiling beams gave her the distinct impression of being inside the rib cage of some giant mechanical snake. This was not a pleasant thought, but Markov was ex-Imperial Guard and made of stern stuff, so she immediately shook off the feeling of discomfort.
“Markov. Progress report,” Captain Dimitar’s voice crackled over the vox.
“We’re advancing down one of the primary passageways that, according to the schematics provided by the ship’s computer, should lead to the enginorium sector. ETA six minutes,” she switched the vox link off before adding to herself, “Barring any surprises.”
“Not acceptable. Increase your pace, Markov. I want you there in two minutes. Churian’s team better be there doing their job. If not, you need to get that drive shut down. Confirm.” Dimitar’s response was harsh, but Markov had served under him for many years and was used to his blunt and demanding nature.
Nevertheless, she gave a long exhale before responding.
Borski dropped onto the metal deck plates with a loud clang. He was now on the other side of the blast door and quickly swinging his bolt gun up to the ready position, aiming it and his lumen beams into the blackness. His heart was racing in his chest and his breathing had increased to match. He swung the gun left and right, up and down, half-expecting some hideously warped monster to come lunging at him from the dark. But none was forthcoming.
“What can you see, Borski?” It was Churian, the callous and compassionless officer.
The tech gathered himself before replying.
“It’s another corridor but it seems to open up a little way ahead. This should be the outer reactor chamber.”
“Good. Start scouting ahead; we’re coming over.”
Borski cursed under his breath – something about Churian being the illegitimate son of a whore – and began a very cautious walk down the passageway. After ten metres he could see the corridor opening up into a large chamber; the ceiling and opposite wall lost in the darkness. The sound of boots landing on the metal deck plates came from behind. Borski glanced over his shoulder and saw from the colour of the shoulder pauldrons that it was that bastard Churian. As he turned back to continue his slow advance, there was a sudden bloodcurdling scream.
The little snippets approach is working really well for me.
Cheers Mr Hobbit! Here's some more...
“Did you hear that?” Yannick asked, with a noticeable tremor in his voice.
Markov responded by signalling for her men to halt and get down. As they squinted along the iron sights of their weapons into the gloom ahead, Markov spoke quietly into her vox.
“Captain, we heard what sounded like a scream. Moving up to investigate.”
“Copy that, Markov. Proceed with caution,” he replied.
Gesturing again in Imperial battle sign, Markov instructed the others to get up and proceed down the long, wide corridor. Yannick was on point, much to his consternation, and Markov moved up alongside him to place a reassuring hand on his shoulder. He responded by giving a thumbs up and they continued their cautious walk, tiptoeing carefully on the metal deck plating so as to make as little noise as possible.
Borski could see what looked like Temmov desperately trying to haul his bulky suit over the lip of the blast door. His hands were frantically clawing, looking for any purchase on the smooth metal, and he was crying out for help. Churian was moving towards him, reaching out with gloved hands. Borski was sprinting back down the short corridor to help his shipmate out, but stopped just short when, with a sudden jerk Temmov was yanked backwards to disappear behind the door, screaming in pain and terror.
“No! No! Aaargh!” There was a sickly tearing sound, followed by a crunch and then silence.
“Temmov!” yelled Churian. “Gregor!” He spun round to face Borski.
“Give me a leg up. Quick!” the officer shouted. Borski dearly wanted to just turn and run, but his loyalty to his crew mates outweighed his fear, so he lunged forward, slamming his back to the wall, planting his feet and clasping his hands together in front of his groin. Churian wasted no time and shoved his boot into Borski’s palms and pushed himself upwards. As he reached the lip of the blast door, he paused to draw his plasma pistol, took a breath and in one swift movement was looking over the top, gun in both hands, ready to shoot whatever had attacked his comrades.
But there was nothing there. No sign of any attacker and no sign of his crew mates.
“They’re gone!” Churian whispered loudly through gritted teeth.
“What do you mean, they’re gone?” was Borski’s disbelieving reply.
“I mean, they’re gone. There’s no sign of them. No bodies; nothing.” After a few seconds as he scanned the corridor with the light from his torch, Churian finally leapt down onto the floor, and stood up next to Borski.
“I saw blood on the deck,” was all he said.
Borski grimaced in despair and felt anger rising within him. “Temmov! Gregor! Can you hear me? Temmov! Gregor!” he yelled over the vox, despite the fact he didn’t expect a response.
He looked into Churian’s eyes through the slit in his visor.
“We’ve got to get the frag out of here,” he said.
Upon hearing the second scream, Markov decided that enough was enough. She was a soldier and steadfastly loyal to her comrades, so she made a split second decision and turned to her men.
“Follow me,” she said, before breaking into a sprint up the wide passageway. The others looked at each other, momentarily shocked by their leader’s actions, before running after her. Their footfalls were loud, and the sound of heavy boots landing on the metal deck plates rang up and down the corridor. There was no disguising their approach now.
They ran up the long corridor for two hundred metres before reaching an intersection, where they stopped for Markov to rapidly check the deck plans on her data slate.
“The reactor’s this way. Come on,” she said, and they resumed their breakneck dash to aid their colleagues.
It was three hundred metres or so before they reached the half-opened blast door that led to the outer reactor chambers. Markov pointed to the open circuitry of the control panel and Mavidenko went over to it, pulling tools from his pack.
“Markov. There’s blood here,” exclaimed Bodan, kneeling on the deck and running his finger across a red smear on the floor.
Igo Dimitar’s patience was wearing thin; which considering his naturally intolerant and volatile disposition was nothing new. The crew on the bridge could see it, and they were all busying themselves at their stations, making every effort not to make eye contact with their captain. The pict feed from Markov’s team had all of a sudden disappeared.
“Markov, what is your status? We’ve lost visuals.” he barked into the vox. There was a crackling and after a few seconds Zenaya Markov’s distorted voice responded, although it sounded distant and was breaking up.
“- - found blood - - fresh - -,” was all that came through, as the signal became more distorted.
Dimitar stood up from his chair and planted his hands on the console, scowling. “Say again, Markov. You’re breaking up.”
“- - heard screams - - quick - - can’t find - -.”
The captain’s brow furrowed in frustration. “Markov, send one of your men with a booster back to relay the signal. Do you copy?” Dimitar was becoming increasingly irritated by the repeated breakdown in communications.
There was silence for a while, before the garbled voice of Markov replied.
Dimitar got up from the terminal and span on his heel, marching with purpose towards the door. He glanced over at Lt. Varga as the big door slid open.
“Assemble another team and have them meet me on the umbilical. Tell them to break out the heavy weapons; I’m going in to sort this mess out.”
Zenaya Markov was at a loss. The pool of blood on the floor was extremely disconcerting, and she suspected the worst – that it belonged to one of Churian’s team. The quantity of blood suggested that whoever spilt it was dead already. She had tried raising Churian on the vox, but there was nothing.
“What do we do, Markov?” quavered the voice of Yannick, the burly mechanic. Usually the first one up for a fight, Yannick was uncharacteristically fearful. They all were. She pondered for a moment, before coming to a decision.
“We move forward,” she said, matter-of-factly. “Our crew mates are in there somewhere, and we have a job to do.” She looked over at Mavidenko as he worked on the wiring at the control terminal.
“How close are you to getting that door open?” she asked.
As if in response there was a whirring sound as the power cells came back on line, and the big door began to slowly move downwards with an ear-splitting screaching sound. The four crew members dropped into defensive postures, two of them aiming their weapons down the corridor behind them, whilst Markov and Yannick raised theirs to point at the door. Once it slammed home in the floor recess, Markov spoke again.
“Let’s go.” And the four cautiously walked through the wide opening that yawned before them.
Churian and Borski had crossed to the other side of the large chamber, circling around the jutting prominence of the cylindrical cooling tower that dominated the centre of the high-ceilinged room. They had climbed up onto a walkway and stepped between partially opened doors that led into a control room that overlooked the chamber. It was Borski’s intention to access a map of the sector in order to identify another route off this dread vessel; Churian, on the other hand, wanted to find the best route to the warp drive. He wasn’t the brightest of officers, but he was incredibly loyal and would follow his captain’s command to the last.
There was a terrible screeching sound from across the chamber, and the two men ducked down behind the wide window that overlooked the coolant tower, clutching their guns to their chests, backs to the consoles. They glanced at each other.
“That was the blast door we just came through, I’m sure of it,” Borski whispered urgently.
Churian nodded his agreement.
“What are we going to do?” Borski said. “We can’t wait here.”
The lieutenant twisted his body around and gradually lifted his head to peer over the terminals and through the muck-covered window. He could see nothing, but the blast door was on the other side of the central coolant tower. He sat back down next to Borski and pointed at a door at the other end of the control room.
“We go through there.”
Sorry for the radio silence guys - it's been a hectic few months! Thanks for all the support and kind words (not to mention the rep)! :)
Back to the story...
Dimitar was in his bizarrely decorated quarters, clambering into his heavily customised and very alien suit of power armour. All about him were the trophies of years spent adventuring, raiding, smuggling and plundering. There was all manner of curios and furnishings, from ancient puzzle boxes to the opulent and bejewelled Eldar chest that sat at the foot of his giant tyranid-bone bed. As he secured the cuirass around his torso, a speaker in the ceiling buzzed and a hoarse, skeletal voice spoke over the vox.
“Captain? It is Vlados. There is something I must tell you.”
Igo Dimitar scowled at the sound of the navigator’s voice.
“What is it Vlados? Can it not wait?” he replied, impatiently.
“No my captain, I am afraid it cannot. Will you meet me in my chamber?” Vlados enquired thinly.
“No Vlados, I will not. If it relates to a warp disturbance, then communicate the details to Lt. Varga. She is in command whilst I am off ship.”
There was a pause. Vlados now spoke urgently. “You must not set foot on that vessel, captain. It will be your end.”
Dimitar had finished with his armour and scooped up an ornate conical helmet from the bed.
“Nonsense, Vlados. I have had enough of your fearful gibberings. Speak no more of these irrational things, and make no mention of them to my crew. They are superstitious enough as it is. Remain in your cell and do your job.” Dimitar placed the helm over his head and locked the neck clasps. Then he strode across the room to open a weapons cabinet to withdraw an ornate pistol and a long, curved power blade. As he made to leave, Vlados spoke again over the vox.
“Beware the beast, captain, lest it slay you; but beware the beast within, lest it slay us all.”
Dimitar snorted at this typically cryptic piece of advice from the navigator and closed the door behind him.
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