The Scour

Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim, dark future there is only war.

The Scour

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Tue Apr 12, 2011 7:39 am

The voices told me, Seek the Scour’s source, and bring us what you find there.

-oOo-


To say the sentinel looked weather-beaten would be an understatement – more weather-blasted. It was a powerlifter variant, huge hydraulic claws clamped about a large equipment container. And, in the skin-searing sunlight of the mustering yard, its every surface looked chromed. I had to squint to prevent lancing light from melting my retinas as it strutted forwards. The splayed, metal-webbed feet thunked! with each step, following a rut in the sandstone ground worn over innumerable years.

‘We call it the Silver Gallin.’

The stocky, middle-aged sergeant, Anru Mith, was going to be my driver for our little expedition. The way he kept his hand at my elbow for seconds longer than decorum dictated as he indicated the walker, however, blatantly suggested a desire to become something more. Bold of you, sergeant. Still, that cabin looks cramped – intimacy of one form or another is inevitable, I suppose.

I wiped sweat from my forehead and neck, flicking it away – the droplets evaporated almost before they hit the ground. Even standing in the shade of the steel canopy circumscribing the yard, the air seemed furnace hot and utterly desiccated – I imagined each breath blackening and shrivelling the inner walls of my lungs.

I had been on this virtual death world for weeks, and my body had yet to show any signs of acclimatisation. My skin was burnt a quite embarrassing shade of pink (where it hadn’t blistered), as what they called sun block here stinks of stale urine and I just refuse to apply it. I find myself glugging water from my canteen almost constantly, while perspiration is constant - even in the blessedly cooler nights (I regularly get through at least five clothing changes a day, infuriating the barracks’ laundry no end). Even my black, wide-brimmed hat –which, I have been told, gives me an Inquisitorial air– serves only to make my head swelter. How I envy the locals with their healthy olive –and quite dry– complexions, their white turbans and loose flowing robes, and their tiny, dignified sips.

But what I envy most is their photochromic eyes. Generations ago, the first settlers here, using techniques now lost and doubtless proscribed anyway, had genegineered their conjunctivas and lenses to adapt to the blinding sunlight. The adaptations were hereditary, and now, throughout the sector, the people of this hellish world were recognised by their uniform –and quite unsettling- all-brown eyes.

To my chagrin, I had neglected to bring sunglasses to a world of blinding light and no need of such aids. Consequently, I suffered regular headaches – and today’s was just beginning.

With a staccato double thunk!, the sentinel brought its admittedly fowl-like legs in line and squatted on its hydraulic haunches before us. It towered fully five times my height, and smelled –not unpleasantly– of hot oil, hot metal, and hot exhaust fumes. The engine rumbled in contented idle. As its driver –taking care to make as little contact with the scalding metalwork as possible– clambered nimbly from the roof hatch and down one of the legs, I thought to myself, I suppose air-conditioning is out of the question. Then I smiled ruefully when I noted there was indeed a kind of air-conditioning, the simplest kind afforded by not having windows – the cockpit was little more than a frame.

‘Sergeant,’ I asked, ‘Wouldn’t a tracked vehicle be better? Perhaps one of those nice, roomy, enclosed, salamanders over there?’

Mith shook his head. ‘The terrain out under the Cowl varies too much, Brother Junt – ambulatories are the best way of ensuring we can cross anything we encounter. Besides,’ and here he grinned an absolutely filthy grin, ‘The Silver Gallin’s cozy, don’t you think? I’m sure I’ll turn you on to her.’

With that he addressed the mechanic who had driven the sentinel up to us, and the two went over the vehicle’s checklist. I could only look on, flabbergasted by the sergeant’s brazenness. Evidently simple civility and respect were as dried up here as most everything else – except, of course, Sergeant Mith’s libido.

‘You look after me, don’t you, Simmons?’ Mith said to the mechanic.

Here the mechanic looked meaningfully –and quite impertinently– at me. ‘I know your wife, Sergeant – she’d kill me if I didn’t.’

Motioning me into the sentinel, the responding smile on Mith’s lips appeared somewhat sheepish; his farewell slap on the mechanic’s back all false bravado.

Gingerly climbing, I wondered as to the character of Mith’s spouse, and just how many illicit conquests the Silver Gallin had been party to.

Close by, somebody giggled.

-oOo-


My head throbbed, each wince-inducing pulse drowning out the infant I could hear crying somewhere.

The outpost on its little island of sandstone had vanished over the rippling horizon behind us. A little voice suddenly spoke from the sentinel’s dusty control panel, barely audible over the squeak-and-hiss of pneumatics and hydraulics, the roar and clank of engine and drive-shafts. ‘Caution. Home transponder signal lost. You have now left rescue envelope and entered open desert.’

I raised an eyebrow enquiringly and glanced at Mith.

His voice was muffled by his respirator, but still quite clear. Doubtless due to a lifetime of bawling out boys on the parade ground.

‘What? Oh, the transponder. Line-of-site only on this planet, Brother, bar hardwiring. No satellites to bounce signals off – dust-suspension layers make ‘em less use than chocolate flamers. I thought you would have known that, being a cog boy.’

‘Tech-Acolyte to you, Sergeant – and I’ll thank you to remember it. Of course I knew. I wasn’t asking a question, I had an itch in my eye.’

To this my disrespectful driver merely grunted knowingly, then said, ‘Drink your water. All that puking’ll leave you dehydrated if you’re not careful.’

We were five hours out, and the heat, headache, and hip-rolling gait of the sentinel had me canine-sick. The first bout of vomiting had taken me unawares, saturating my respirator, forcing me –as there were no spares and Mith didn’t offer his– into donning a stained rag to cover nose and mouth to keep the dust out. The rag had a pungent, almost vegetable odour (the source of which I chose not to ponder upon), which only served to exasperate my nausea – I had been regularly filling the paper bags the sentinel was copiously supplied with for the last two hours (and was thankful now for the lack of windows).

‘We’ll reach an outcrop a couple of hours after nightfall; then we’ll stop. You’ll have to pick the bits out of that ‘rator, Brother – can’t waste water washing it.’

I didn’t answer, or look to see his wicked glee. Thoroughly miserable, and trying not to curse the voices for sending me here, I gazed out over the dune sea.

In spite of myself, I could not help but be awed by the grandeur of the scenery around our sprinting vehicle. The lowering sun, coupled with the thickening dust of the Cowl’s outer skirts kilometres above, gave the otherwise azure sky a bruised cast, as if pummelled by some unimaginably large club. This, in turn, gave the ever-shifting dunes a purple colouring that deepened markedly on their shadowed sides. It was haunting, quite eerie. To every false-water-imbued horizon, the dunes slowly shifted, flanks rippled with miniature versions of themselves, plumes blowing from each undulating crest. A Slow Sea. A Mare Desiccatus. But was beneath? What did those dunes hide and smother on this old, old little world?

What did the voices expect me to find at the source of the Scour?

And what did I care? I was their abject servant. They told me what they wanted, and I gladly performed as required – and performed well. I had never questioned them in the long past, and was not about to start to now.

Somebody began a feline mewl, quickly stifled.

Successfully swallowing back a warm push of vomit, I tugged the scientist’s notebook from my small travel bag, and idly flicked through it, praying for sunset and respite from the heat.

Cogitations on My Life, by Tech-Arch Patre Tumnus

…Experiments with individual grains of sand sampled from this world on the last survey have revealed some rather amazing, and quite unsettling, characteristics.

It was, of course, thought that the highly effective electromagnetic barrier the dust and sand clouds in the planet’s atmosphere create, particularly in the region known as the Cowl, was due to signals simply being bounced from one highly-reflective grain to another, until all coherence is lost.

This is not the case.

Electromagnetic waves are absorbed.

The silica matrix of each individual grain is of an impossible complexity, down to the highest magnifications this ship’s ‘scopes are able to apply. We can see the shadows of waveforms, for Throne’s sake, and still the hyper-dense matter of these crystals descends away from us. Infinite regression! Waves are sucked in… and in… and in.

But where do they go? Think of the energies trapped within each Emperor-damned grain of sand on this world! Think if it could be tapped!

Are we even the right divisio for this mission?

There are whole deserts of this material!

This is impossible. No natural process could produce such grains. But what race could manufacture them? Surely not Man, even during the Dark Age of Technology. Tau? Doubtful – a young race already so capable bodes ill indeed for our conflict with them. Orks? A laughable premise. Obvious lack of organics discounts Tyranids. So, only the oldest races remain – or something heretofore unknown.

My head hurts. I go to bed.


Hurting head. I can relate to that.

As to the weirder properties of the sand – the voices do not mention it, so what bearing does it have on my mission? Other than gritting every bite of food I eat. Other than being present in every lungful of air I breathe. Other than gathering in the intimate folds of my body and provoking the most undignified scratching!

While appearing to continue reading the logbook, I watched Mith operate the various levers, toggles, and slides of the Silver Gallin’s ancient control panel. Thankfully, little skill seems necessary to drive the sentinel.

We continue to bound through the dunes, away from the slowly setting sun - sprinting up slipfaces, sand billowing a kilometre out behind; rushing headlong into shadowed troughs so quickly I fear a toppling.

A thought occurred to me. ‘Would it not be preferable to travel at night?’

Mith grunted in surprise. ‘Of course. But every cog boy ‘n’ girl I’ve brought out here requests day travel for their experiments. You didn’t declare a preference in your orders, so I just assumed.’ He checked the compass lashed to the cockpit frame over our heads, then, ‘Come to think of it, Brother, you’re not doing much experimenting. The others would have had me stop a half-dozen times by now.’

‘The nature of my studies differs – as do my requirements.’

He flicked the compass. The needle twitched.

‘Whatever you say, Brother. If you like, we can rest through tomorrow and travel nights thereon in – but we’re only two days out from the Cowl’s edge. ‘S’up to you.’

Agonised screams in the distance. ‘No, thank you. Continue as we are. Merely a thought.’

Squeak! Hiss Thump-thump! Squeak! Hiss! Thump-thump! The air noticeably cooled (or, rather, it grew less hot). The shadows between dunes became sharper, lending the whole desert the appearance of a vast interference pattern. My nausea subsided.

Two hours later, the sun set. We sprinted on, following the white beams and flexing ellipses of the sentinel’s spotlights. Presently, black shadows rose before us, stark in the uniformity of the dunes. Mith slowed the walker, directing it with practiced assurance over a sandstone apron and into a small concavity. At last we halted, and Mith shut off the engine.

Silence.

Or nearly so. Sand whispered before a whispering breeze.

‘Come, Brother, let’s see how good you are a re-hydrating food while I clean the Gallin’s filters. Then you can pick clean your ‘rator – don’t damn well do it before!’

Later, by the light of the sentinel’s spotlights, we ate, and then I did indeed commence the distasteful task of cleaning my respirator. Perhaps taking pity upon me, Mith shared his flask of amasec. It was a cheap brand, all fire and no subtlety, but it was welcome.

Respirator useably clean (though still reeking), I chanced to look up at the sky.

I expected the resplendent spray of stars I had seen every night since my arrival, but reckoned without the effects of the Cowl. Framed in black, rounded masses of sandstone, the sky back towards the outpost was indeed a sheet of sparkling wonder – but, and almost directly above us, the glory faded… No, that isn’t entirely right. Not only faded. A distortion commenced there. The stars, impossibly, appeared to almost leak, each blazing pinpoint of light dimming and elongating in our direction of travel, towards Cowl and Scour. It was as if they were being sucked.

A cool breeze made me shiver slightly. A child tittered.

‘Weird, isn’t it, Cog-boy?’ Mith, having cleared away our meal, sat down beside me. In what he doubtless hoped I perceived as a companionable manner, he put a heavy arm around my shoulders. ‘You know, they’ve never been able to explain that effect. Last‘n of yours they sent out said he’d have a whole team back next visit, to get to the bottom of things in this Emperor-forsaken desert. I was surprised they only sent you.’

I suppressed my body’s sudden stiffening, forcing myself to lean against him slightly to direct his mind away from such courses of thought. ‘Really? Still, you know what the Administratum’s like – missing dots off “I”’s here, crosses off “t”’s there. Writing “1” when they should have written, “19,” and not realising it until centuries later.’

He laughed, as if I had said the funniest thing he had ever heard. ‘I know exactly what you mean. Once, my wife sent in an insurance query…’

-oOo-


They quickly came to trust my presence amongst them.

This fact made me smile in pride as I walked naked through their little survey ship’s corridors, brushing the bloody stumps of their limbs along the metal walls, arranging their glistening organs upon shelves and furniture.

Oh how I indulged! I drank and painted with their blood until it cooled and congealed. I strung their intestines above hatches and about the tiny bridge. I scratched my name into paintwork and teak with the ends of their shattered bones. I decanted their partly-digested stomach contents into crystal goblets and supped them like rare wines.

Of course, afterwards, the cleaning took forever. But it was quite worth it.

-oOo-


During the course of the next day, as I gradually grew accustomed to -and at last ceased to notice- the tainted air I sucked through my respirator, the desert changed.

Rocky outcrops similar to that in which we had spent the night became common. Dunes were shallower and presently disappeared altogether – we strutted over an infinite beach without hope of ocean.

The bruised sky continued to deepen in our direction of travel, so much so that upon the horizon before us –quite free of heat-distortion- a black band rose, thickening as we approached. Within it, dull yellow light flickered and pulsed, accompanied by less regular -and only slightly brighter- jags of lightening.

Mith noticed my attention. ‘Static discharge, Brother. Emperor’s Aura, they call it. Make your hairs stand on end – even the really curly ones!’ And he laughed at his own lewdness.

The sound of the Silver Gallin’s footfalls changed. A rasping scrape now accompanied each thud! as the sand thinned. We slowed, weaving through gigantic polyps of soft-brown rock fantastically eroded into all manner of organic forms. Here and there growths of black basalt peppered the brown sandstone, larger, obviously denser, but no-less wind-carved. For all I knew, we dodged amongst the remains of mountains.

‘Is this the Scour’s work?’ I asked.

‘Not directly. Didn’t your brother cog-heads pass anything on to you? There are fields like this bordering both flanks of the Cowl, all around the equator. Aeolian carvings, your friends told me, caused by eddies and miniature weather systems.’ He grunted. ‘This is nothing compared to the Scour’s direct effects.’

I cursed myself for a fool – how soon would it be before Mith realised I was no more connected to the Adeptus Mechanicus than he?

Somebody began to cough - quietly, but wetly.

I waited another few minutes, then, ‘Could we stop, Sergeant? I need to set up an instrument or two – verify a few of my colleagues’ results.’

At Mith’s grunted concurrence, I was soon making a show of employing some of the simpler-looking apparatus from the sentinel’s container – adjusting screws here, prodding studs there, in what I hoped seemed an assured manner. Mith, scratching beneath his turban and sipping amasec in the shade between the sentinel’s legs, observed without real interest. Pretending to compare results with notes in the logbook, I read:

Cogitations on My Life, by Tech-Arch Patre Tumnus

Is there any other planet in the segmentum, let alone the sector, that hosts such an inexplicable weather system as the Scour?

For forty-four seconds it blows, eases for sixteen minutes and thirty-two seconds, then recommences for exactly the same interval. This has been the case since the planet’s first recorded discovery (sketchily dated some time during the Age of Strife), and obviously for an unknowable prior interval. The wind sucks up so much dust and sand from the surrounding deserts the atmosphere is perpetually saturated to degrees only considered negligible at the poles, and certainly equatorially untenable. Indeed, a permanent belt of geostrophically swept dust bisects the world’s hemispheres – giving a most striking appearance from space!

This cannot be a natural occurrence. (Emperor’s balls, what with the infinities contained within each grain of sand, can anything on this world be considered so?) Of course, we have dropped probes into the Scour’s source – hardy little things with valiant machine spirits. All were lost, even the tethered models perilously winched down from the upper atmosphere – snatched from their moorings by the wind’s force.

About the only thing we have been able to establish is that the unseen source is some type of horrifically powerful, fixed tornado. For the Scour is really two disparate winds blowing against one-another, their tails playfully melding on the opposite side of the planet, their heads battling beyond human imagination.

So many questions. So much that gainsays established givens. Perhaps there are ancient records detailing more about this phenomenon; but years of research in the planet’s own archives, and the vaster libraries and stacks elsewhere in the sector, have yielded nothing.

I must urge a thorough and protracted investigation upon my masters.

I ate your pancreas, Patre Tumnus.

-oOo-


Sham experiments complete, we continued on. The wind-sculpted formations suffered progressive shrinkage; the black band on the horizon grew to take up a fifth of the aubergine sky. Sergeant Mith commenced a string of tales relating to his headstrong wife and stupid twin sons – which, though admittedly quite entertaining, I quickly came to suspect were a guilty prelude to the amorous advances he planned for the night.

Hours passed. It became slowly, blessedly cooler. A glance at the sky revealed why: sunlight was diffusing as we passed under the Cowl’s skirts. Indeed, the sun itself was now little more than a lustrous smudge easily looked upon – a softly glowing wound in turgid, livid flesh. Only the horizon behind now showed any sign of cerulean.

Mith seemingly out of stories, I voiced a concern I had harboured for some time (and one I hoped did not flag any surprising gaps in my disguise’s knowledge): ‘How do we find our way back to the outpost without satellites? Especially once we’re inside?’

He grinned. ‘Simple, Brother! We keep the Scour to our left and keep going till we can’t feel it any more. Then it’s just the Cowl behind us until the compass starts working again.’ Mith assumed I knew the compass would cease to function, which I didn’t (even though Tumnus’ Cogitations hinted at such effects). ‘Then we trust to the Emperor to see where we end up – sooner or later we hit habitation of some sort… Well, we always have until now.’ Another grin.

I grunted to hide my building disquiet. Yet more uncertainties! For such a tiny world, it surely sported more than its share. Of course, matters weren’t helped by this being one of the more… unfocused missions I had been charged with. The voices were never exact in their desires and directions, true, but by now they had usually disclosed clearer intimations of my objectives. Perhaps it would be wise to make direct contact, even though the voices frowned upon such actions?

Feigning a doze, I closed my eyes and opened my mind.

In the distance I heard enraged screams.

I tried again, willing a coherent response.

Laughter this time, but convulsive, as if the afflicted wanted desperately to stop but was unable… fading with increasing remoteness.

Once more… a weak snigger in response.

Was I was being tested? But why after so long? Had I ever previously been found wanting? What were –

Wait. I was questioning them – itself worthy of retribution. This must cease immediately. If the voices did not see fit to offer assistance, then so be it – they had given their commands and I would execute them to the best of my formidable abilities.

-oOo-


The day slid by, cooling further as it aged. That evening, the strewn sun seemed to pour over the horizon.

We presently stopped and made camp. After our meal, I again studied the night sky directly above.

It was a void.

Oh, I am quite aware that ‘void’ is how the firmament and the cosmos in general are described, but this was different. I looked upon absence. No stars, moons, neighbouring worlds, far distant galaxies. Not even any clouds. Simple, featureless black.

We were beneath the Cowl’s obfuscating edges.

As he had the previous night, Mith sat down beside me and draped an arm about my shoulders. This time, however, his hand began to caress my nape. He nodded towards our destination, and I lowered my gaze to the void’s only relief – the considerably brighter, though still somehow muted, flashes and pulses of the Emperor’s Aura. ‘Tomorrow you feel the Scour’s graze, Cog-boy,’ his hand pressed with more insistence, ‘Tonight, however…’

-oOo-


When we awoke to the dull morning, sand had sifted up against the tarpaulin barrier Mith had erected along one side of our bed. It was almost a half-meter deep in places, and I gave silent thanks to my driver’s experience in such matters.

He took longer than usual in preparing the Silver Gallin for the day, fiddling beneath cowlings with spanners, screwdrivers, and grease, muttering about batteries and electrolyte levels. He also had me replace my respirator filter with one so thick it was a struggle to breathe through. ‘Don’t complain, Brother,’ he said on seeing my annoyance, ‘Ain’t much fun in a lungful of dust. Wipe the outer mesh regularly. And from now on, wear your goggles.’

We finally set off. Progress was slow as Mith carefully avoided the still-numerous rock polyps –the taller black basalt versions only a meter or so high, the sandstone variety barely nubbins- that threatened to trip the sentinel with every step. Occasionally, we did kick an outcrop - tilting the Silver Gallin alarmingly and inducing equally alarming curses from Mith as he desperately pulled levers and flicked toggles to keep us upright.

Light dropped to dusk-like levels.

There were no more stories. In fact, we hardly conversed at all. Mith was subdued, avoiding eye contact, and it was easy to guess why. Spare me your self-pitying guilt, Sergeant – I wasn’t your first extra-marital dally, and it’s at least possible I won’t be your last.

I grinned fleetingly to myself… and then frowned. Such knowing comments usually elicited a response from the voices - but there had been nothing.

At around midday, Mith grunted and tapped the compass. The needle had begun to twitch spastically from magnetic north. In another hour it hung slack on its pivot – polar magnetism had been nullified by the dust’s fantastic properties.

We entered the Emperor’s Aura. Lightening began to flash regularly about us, and I did indeed experience a quite startling horripilation (though my inquisitorial hat allowed some dignity… and I will not divulge the reaction of more intimate zones). I fervently hoped the absorbing dust made our sentinel –the tallest thing in the landscape- a considerably less tempting electrical ground than would normally be the case!

I heard nothing from the voices – an unprecedented absence since they had first spoken to me so very long ago. Had I been abandoned utterly? Could I cope without their guidance?

A thought: perhaps the sucking dust affected their transmissions? Perhaps, when beneath the Cowl, I was cut off from them? Then I would simply have to continue as I believe they would want me to.

As if to add to my consternation, early in the afternoon, the Silver Gallin’s engine stuttered, coughed once, and died.

‘Well,’ said Mith, ‘That’s that – the filters are choked.’

‘Clean them, then,’ I said, somewhat irritated at his air of inevitability.

‘No point, Cog-boy – they’ll clog again in minutes.’

Was he actually suggesting this was the end of our expedition? I knew he could not be thinking that we continue on foot, for a dozen different reasons. I began to scratch at my hat, seeking the tiny tear that denoted the head of the hidden alloy tube that contained –

Mith flicked a switch. In relative silence, and at a much slower rate, the sentinel lurched forwards once more. Batteries, obviously.

‘Your head itching, Brother?’

I lowered my hand; grinned sheepishly.

At first, the only sounds to be heard were the rhythmic squeak-hiss-thump-thump of the Silver Gallin’s pumping hydraulics and heavy footsteps. That and the occasional undignified snort from Mith. It felt fundamentally wrong somehow, and my mind -so used to the engine’s background rumble- began to compensate for the lack with tinnitus. Gradually the condition intensified, becoming a constant, directionless susurration - like nothing so much as white noise from an un-tuned vox-caster. This was not localised to my inner ears!

I drew Mith’s attention to the sound, and, to my annoyance, he stopped the sentinel again, listening intently.

‘You know what that is, Brother?’

‘The Scour, I presume.’

‘You presume right. It’s also our cue – I didn’t realise we were so close.’

‘Cue for what?’

‘Battening down, Cog-boy, battening down. Give me a hand.’

I helped him lift heavy metal plates from the sentinel’s container and bolt them securely to its cockpit framework. None of them had any visible window.

Knowing quite well Mith awaited the question, I resignedly asked, ‘How are we supposed to see?’

He beamed – another one up on the cog-boy! ‘We’re not supposed to. Don’t need to. As long as she’s blown from the right, we’re heading right!’

I wondered how often he’d used that maxim before.

‘But what if we trip?’

‘Look about you, Brother. Trip on what?’

The rock polyps had virtually disappeared. Only rounded, breast-like undulations remained of the black basalt, and nothing at all of the sandstone outcrops. As I looked, a wafting of dust eddied and swirled, and I heard individual grains patter lightly over the ground. The sound of the Scour had gone.

I looked up, and for the first time noticed how near the horizon now was. We were enclosed in a dome of sandy cloud that bulged and shifted like smoke in the after-flurries of the Scour’s cessation, pulsing with subdued flashes of lightening and blackening directly before us.

Mith was watching me. ‘Has it eased? Then let’s get going. I need to set the clock.’

We clambered back into our seats through a hatch set into the topmost plate, Mith pulling and dogging it down after us. For a moment only a few coloured tell-tales illuminated the cockpit, and I briefly fantasised I occupied a more voluminous space than was the unfortunate reality. The sentinel had been cramped before, but at least we weren’t enclosed.

Something clicked. A small fluorescent tube flickered to weak life – the swirling white gas within it somewhat mesmerising.

‘Tell me when it starts again, Brother.’

From beneath his seat, Mith pulled out a small, rather battered, chronometer. Noticing the increments it had been set at, I nodded.

Minutes passed. Having nothing better to do, I read another entry in the logbook, angling its pages to best reflect the low light.

Cogitations on My Life, by Tech-Arch Patre Tumnus

It cannot be! Gravity!

Today we took the ship right above what we believe to be the Scour’s source and ordered the servitor pilots to drop us to the lowest possible geosynchronous orbit. For the next hour we recorded, observed, sacrificed yet more probes to that ever-ravenous monster… and learned nothing. The operation was exasperating, pointless, serving only to verify what few results we already had.

Yet it was as we were about to order our pilots to a more salubrious orbit when the next Emperor-damned wonder of this sandy rock announced itself – by the pilots’ own, pre-emptive request for a higher position.

It appeared that, at regular intervals, gravimetric warnings were being triggered.

Intrigued, I demanded the intervals’ durations.

‘Warnings are triggered continuously for forty-four seconds and twenty-three milliseconds. They cease for sixteen minutes and thirty-two seconds exactly. The cycle repeats continuously without discernable alteration.’

The Scour has gravitational pull. I wonder if I should really be surprised.

Perhaps it is a property of the infinities contained within the sand grains? Perhaps

A whole page was here heavily scribbled over into illegibility. Only the last few sentences of the entry were readable:

What’s the point? We only discover more questions. The Scour mocks us. It never, will never, reveal its secrets.

I wonder if Brother Tregal has any of that amasec left.


For a few more minutes I dozed, until the static hiss suddenly resumed. I signalled as much to Mith and he activated his chronometer. ‘Onwards, Brother. Time to see why we never bother painting the ‘Gallin. And keep your ‘rator on – the dust gets in even with the plates fixed.’

I found blind travel disconcerting to say the least. The familiar, once-nauseating gait of the sentinel never changed (disregarding its reduced speed), but for all I knew we paced ridiculously in place. Only the gradually increasing buffeting from the Scour suggested any actual perambulation.

At first there was only the merest whisper of grains against the plates, barely discernable over the sentinel’s pumping hydraulics. Soon, however (and, with Mith’s adjustments, in increasing synchronisation with the chronometer’s shorter intervals), the Scour made its presence felt. The whisper of sand grew to a loud hiss down the left side, and we listed noticeably right. Mith began lowering the Silver Gallin’s centre of gravity until the tell-tales showed us hobbling along at a severe crouch – a doubtless comical appearance were it possible for anyone to be observing it.

When even our lower stance couldn’t stop the alarming shaking during each forty-four second gust, Mith stopped our advance altogether and launched a pair of rock anchors from the walker’s waist. I heard the muffled ignition of their rockets but not their impact above what was now the roar of dust-laden wind. I did, however, feel their double thunk! Motorised drums must have taken up slack - our bearing quickly steadied.

‘From now on, Brother, we move only when the Scour says we can.’

And that’s how it was for the next few hours. Forwards progress became mad, rattling strolls punctuated by forty-four second periods of immobility while the Scour blasted and howled. And if this wasn’t painstaking and infuriating enough, the rock anchors -necessarily disposable- had to be disconnected and their replacements fitted to the ends of the guy-lines. It was –to me- a needlessly fiddly process, especially by the dim glow of the ‘Gallin’s headlights - further reducing travel time.

I was growing impatient. I knew matters were coming to a head. I felt the familiar imminence of fulfilled obligation (even though its substance yet remained unknown) - and I fervently wanted to escape this terrible, desiccated planet.

During the fourth period of anchor-replacement I saw that the ground had turned to glass.

Well, not glass as such, but the black basalt had been polished so much by the Scour’s constant cycle it had gained considerable reflectivity – we traversed a vast, black mirror. I gazed down at my shadowy, inverted counterpart as swirls of dust offered what seemed the only barrier to our full contact, watching a smile spread slowly over my face. That version of me was not composed of base flesh and bone. That version was a being of infinity. For if grains of sand were internally limitless, what of the rock they came from?

A pleasant notion… rudely interrupted by Mith’s, ‘Stop fancying yourself, Cog-boy, and get that anchor changed.’

Three stops later, the rock anchors no longer kept us steady – the Silver Gallin strained at its moorings as if eager to be swept off in the Scour’s flaying embrace. The guy-lines thrummed, their reverberations passing through the vehicle and setting my teeth on edge. I noticed Mith eyeing a corner of the cockpit plating on his side. At the very next stop, some slight imperfection in its flatness began to admit the correspondingly stronger wind, the thick metal rattling in place. Spits of dust hit my cheek, stinging sharply and drawing blood.

‘Right,’ shouted Mith over the roaring sand, ‘End of the road. You do whatever you came to do here, then we head back.’

‘I need to go deeper. The nature of my experiments is –’

‘Different. Yes, you’ve said. Doesn’t matter. ‘Anchors are at their limit – once that plate starts to rattle, I don’t push ‘em any farther.’

‘Nevertheless, we must go deeper!’

Anger start to flush Mith’s eyes, visible even in the dim fluorescent light. ‘Listen, Cog-boy, the Emperor didn’t see fit to kill me during the Jeffost Debacle - I ain’t about to push his hand in the Scour.’

I smiled, now somewhat sad. ‘I’m sorry, Sergeant Mith, but the Emperor will have nothing to do with your demise.’

Slow-time.

To Mith my movements became a blur; whereas his, as his features slowly changed from anger to amazement, seemed as if they were hindered by invisible treacle. In one motion I smoothly found the tear in my stylish black hat and tugged the monofilament garrotte free of its hidden alloy sheath. Deftly I wrapped the weapon’s safe, blunted ends around my hands, admiring the play of fluorescent light along its silver length – before looping it beneath Mith’s respirator and around his throat.

Did I have time for a last kiss? Of course! As his hands came up far too late to fend me off, I pressed my lips to my ill-fated driver’s dry cheek… and pulled the garrotte tight.

Blood fountained, and I admired the play of light on that, too.

His death only seemed slow, I know.

Panting, I let the world catch back up with me. Speeding up my metabolism like this was exhausting, even in such short bursts. I needed something to boost my energy levels. What to eat, I wonder? Oh…

-oOo-


The sentinel’s controls weren’t too difficult at all. What’s more, the guy-lines held at the next stop and the one after. At the third, however, something loomed out of the swirling black sand.

A huge parabolic archway set into the base of an overturned pyramid of smooth black (stone? Metal? I couldn’t tell which), the pyramid’s tip merging seamlessly with the basalt ground. The whole structure was devoid of ornamentation, and what little interior the sentinel’s spotlights could illuminate revealed only a steep ramp, spiralling left and down. Though the blasting sands seemed to have had had no effect on the pyramid, it nevertheless possessed an almost palpable aura of age – I knew I gazed upon something built long before Man first claimed this planet.

I checked Mith’s chronometer. Six minutes before the Scour rammed back into life. Here was shelter, surely? And, unless my intuition sorely misled me, here also was access to my mission’s climax.

Working as quickly as possible, I unbolted the cockpit’s heavy front plate, propping it laboriously between Mith’s knees and the control console; before trotting the Silver Gallin blithely forwards. The arch would have admitted a vehicle three times the walker’s height and five its width. Trepidation should have made me pause at the threshold, but a feeling of wild euphoria and excitement gripped me and so I entered as if it were a triumphant homecoming, barely resisting the urge to call, ‘Darling, I’m home!’

There was no sand inside. The –presently- gently drifting grains did not pass the archway - only those falling from the ‘Gallin as I advanced marred the ramp’s otherwise uniform blackness. A selective suppressor field, obviously; and one presumably capable of preventing the Scour’s full force. Its significance did not escape me. Ancient, still-operative technology? Evidence of relatively recent activity? Both?

I directed the sentinel down and around, expecting it to slip on what appeared to be traction-less surface - but its footing remained sure. Minutes passed. I stopped the vehicle and quickly replaced the front panel, bolting it tightly in place.

A low moan rapidly rose to a constant scream of agony and fear. For a happy moment I thought the voices had returned, but quickly knew it to be the Scour powering across the entrance above. My hand hovered over the anchor-launch toggle, and I wondered if the devices would be able to penetrate the mysterious material of the ramp if I were indeed forced to use them. But the familiar pounding never began – whatever energies kept the sand from the ramp did indeed weather the Scour’s worst rages.

Again I removed the front plate, then, with a shrug, did the same with the others, storing them in the sentinel’s container. Most blessed of all, I pulled the hated respirator from my face, breathing the warm air freely.

I resumed my descent, chewing contentedly on Mith’s left index finger (with occasional chomps into the well-toned muscles of his forearm).

Time, punctuated only by the Scour’s regular –and diminishing- cry, passed. The ramp exhibited no hint of change, dampening my high spirits. Had I not endured enough to have to put up with this interminable black spiral? When would I at last achieve journey’s end?

As if in answer, the sentinel’s spotlights picked out an irregularity on the pristine floor.

I slowed the ‘Gallin’s advance, not knowing what to expect. The object resolved itself into something roughly man-sized… something humanoid… unmoving…

Metallic and skeletal.

But of course. In my arrogance, I almost rolled my eyes. If it wasn’t going to be eldar, then it had to be you, didn’t it?

Necron.

The ageless and -I always thought- rather elegant undead. Old beyond meaning; ultimately incomprehensible in purpose; advanced beyond understanding; enigmatic in the extreme… they were my favourite!

All was now clear. This was why the voices had sent me here. Here was a reason for the infinity-caging grains of sand (and, indeed, the Scour itself), if not an actual explanation (who would dare quantify necron rationale?).

I felt a happy grin consume my face. Such a find was worth a lord-inquisitor’s ransom. Past exploits have made me privy to various secrets of the Imperium, and I knew of the necron ability to fade from existence on the rare occasions they lost engagements - taking every single unit of their force with them, no matter its condition. Necron artefacts were therefore vigorously sought after, and a necron corpse was the biggest prize of all.

I clambered from the sentinel, tutting at what had –unnoticed in the snug cockpit- become considerably cooler air upon my yet-damp clothing. The necron appeared to be one of their soldier caste, lying face down with its thin metal arms above its head. Flung almost to the wall was a long halberd, the curves of its perfectly-engineered blades glinting with withheld violence. The necron’s back and cranium were sharply and irregularly raised, as if the metal it was constructed from had been melted and sucked powerfully back - often to the point of rupture. Gauss weaponry - the unfathomable energies that pulled a target apart sub-atomically, extracting it to… where?

Was this evidence of civil war? Amongst necron? Unheard of, surely? No other major race was as united in purpose and method – could be as united.

Whatever the truth, here was what the voices had charged me with retrieving.

I bent to the body, gripping it beneath its shoulder pauldrons. The weight! I could barely move it. The mysterious forces that instilled life in the necron must also have somehow rendered buoyancy to animate such mass. I applied myself, sacrificing all dignity - until, with a sharp double crack!, the pauldrons broke, flinging me painfully back upon my haunches. Cursing, I examined the necron armour still clutched in my hands. Along the fractures the metal looked minutely honeycombed and crumbly. Immense age? Since when has that had bearing on the necron? Much more likely an effect of the gauss blast that killed it.

I returned to the body, pondering. There wasn’t room in the container for it, and I could hardly swap the two. Lash it to the container? And if the bonds broke under the Scour’s force…?

Ah, but perhaps it wasn’t necessary to deliver a whole body – conceivably, the head alone might be enough. And with the fatigued nature of that metal…

Fingers interlocked beneath its stylised jaw as if I uselessly strangled the thing, I began to worry at the necron’s neck, flexing it sharply from side to side. Very soon, with a gratifying snap and tiny puff of grey dust, the metal vertebrae parted. I hefted the head – could it have been heavier if it was solid iron?

A wicked thought struck me, and I confess I tittered to myself. Mith’s head was almost decapitated anyway, so sharp was my monofilament garrotte - and I had never acquired the taste for brain…

-oOo-


I waved at Mith and his new necron body as I clambered back into the Silver Gallin. He still wore the same shocked expression he had when I slit his throat, and it was still fitting, really – especially as I had positioned his head at odds with the xenos corpse. Leaving Mith squashing his nose into the ground simply for aesthetic reasons seemed disrespectful.

It was something of a struggle getting the necron skull onto Mith’s bloody neck-stump (and it is settling a bit too deeply between his shoulders to be entirely acceptable), but I admit to being quietly pleased with my sense of humour in thinking of the exchange. I wondered what I should call my new friend.

My mission was complete – time to deliver.

Then again…

I was elated, full of my accomplishments. Really, what couldn’t I achieve? I looked down the ramp. Where did it lead? What wonders existed at its terminus? And could I really leave them unexplored?

Not in this mood, certainly.

Whistling happily, I checked the batteries’ charge – to have my glee rudely upturned by the frighteningly low indications on the tell-tales. Was there even enough power in them to escape the Scour’s clutches?

‘Oh, you fool, Junt!’ I said aloud. I was out of its clutches here. What need had I of batteries when, with a quick scrape of a few filters, I had an engine?!

-oOo-


I passed more bodies as I descended, each bearing the tell-tale signs of gauss damage, and each appearing to have been fleeing up the ramp. Not all conformed to the standard warrior type – one, its long serpent spine looping and fusing in and out of the wall, belonged to the phase-shifting wraiths, sinister necron surgeons, hands all scalpels, blades, and needles.

My earlier euphoria was shaken. What had happened here? Why had these bodies simply been left, contrary to everything known about necron ways? Was I looking at evidence of recent actions, or infinitely old? What had caused such slaughter?

And was it still extant?

It grew steadily colder, and my breath actually began to mist before my face. Mith’s blood had dried upon my clothes, but I was attired for desert travel and soon shivering. I draped a heavy, oil-stained tarpaulin about myself. Undignified, yes - but warm.

The ramp began to change its aspect, ceasing to spiral but continuing to sharply descend. Suddenly I felt nauseous, my inner ears certain the ‘Gallin was toppling forwards. Just as suddenly, the feeling was gone.

The twin cones of the sentinel’s lights dimmed. At first I assumed an electrical fault, until I realised their glow was actually cancelled by ambient illumination. I switched them off.

At last I had reached the ramp’s root.

I exited through a parabolic arch of the same size and dimension as the one on the surface kilometres above.

Imperial architecture tends towards the grandiose, the gothic. Necron architecture –or what I have seen of it in various picts and recordings- is the opposite: simple, elegant… terrifyingly monolithic. The chamber I entered conformed absolutely to those parameters, while simultaneously being like nothing I had even seen hinted at in necron-related media.

There were no shadows. The light was operating-theatre bright, sourceless, and everywhere. Its eye-needling clarity revealed the interior of a vast sphere, possibly three kilometres in diameter, comprised of silver pyramids twice the ‘Gallin’s height, all pointing to the chamber’s centre. They were quite uniform, constructed of a featureless, seamless, nameless metal – and, as I strutted the walker towards the nearest and felt the increasing ache of winter settle in my bones, I realised it was they that radiated what had become intense cold. They would glitter with thick frost if the air possessed any moisture.

Extraordinary enough. But what floated at the pyramids’ focus was far stranger – for the chamber’s centre was occupied –if I can use that word- by a cubed kilometre of black absence.

I don’t know how else to describe it. Light simply stopped where the… artefact?… began. Was it sucked in? Repulsed? I only knew the blackness took the shape of a slowly spinning cube rather than a stationary, geometrically-distorting, plastic thing after minutes of near-hypnotised observation - so absolute was its aphoticicism.

On a huge scale, in appearance, intellectually, and at some basic animal level, it was aberrational, unsettling, and wrong.

What was I looking at? What purpose could all this serve? Certainly, this wasn’t simply architecture – I was within the workings of a mechanism. An unguessable, ineffable, damned eldritch, machine.

And there was yet more. Necron dead -soldiers, the occasional wraith, their servile little scarabs- impossibly littered the narrow alleys between the silver pyramids, up beyond the equator where the cube’s demarcation sliced my vision. They should have been heaped about me, but instead local gravity kept them held in defiance of natural laws.

I recalled the nausea felt just before entering the chamber, the peculiar way the ramp had ceased to spiral and suddenly dip sharply. I abruptly realised that the necron corpses, the horror of black geometry, indeed, all I saw, was beneath me.

The Silver Gallin was standing upon the ceiling.


-oOo-
Last edited by Chun the Unavoidable on Wed Apr 13, 2011 7:20 am, edited 4 times in total.
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Chun the Unavoidable
 
Posts: 1945
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Location: Wigan (with Leigh halfway up it), England.


Re: The Scour

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Tue Apr 12, 2011 7:40 am

I should return to the surface – this was all far beyond my comprehension, and I had what I came for. Yet I felt compelled to continue. The sense of power in this place was overwhelming, attractive. Universal mysteries were laid bare and utilised here, bent to the cold will of the necron. How could I leave such things unexplored? I smiled slightly. Perhaps I owed it to Tech-Arch Tumnus.

So, fighting the belief I was about to fall to an unknown fate upon –within?- the black cube, I snapped off one of Mithron’s fingers (an unimaginative cognomen for my hybrid companion, I apologise), and, sucking the digit’s stump, took to the alleys between the silver pyramids.

I carefully kept the ramp’s exit directly behind, and saw no change in my surroundings after ten minutes’ perambulation. Was the archway merely maintenance access and the vast chamber otherwise sealed?

But a fleeting look down a right fork revealed a difference. Something glittered and blinked at a pyramid’s base.

I switched off the sentinel’s engine and disembarked. I could have walked the ‘Gallin directly to the object, but felt it wise to leave it as marker. I did not want to risk getting lost in this fantastic construct.

My footsteps and the sharp clicks from the sentinel’s cooling engine were like bolter shots. Silence was a numbing blanket about my ears and inside my head - a quiet to be measured in epochs, perhaps the life-times of worlds. Had stars erupted into flame and guttered to cinders during that peace?

The object was obviously some kind of control panel – a two-by-one-metre screen slightly raised from the pyramid’s wall and covered in a scintillating waterfall of golden necron runes. Dare I touch it?

Oh, but of course.

I reached out, trying to still the convulsive shivers wobbling my arm, holding my breath to dam condensation from my vision.

Something ticked behind.

I almost smiled. I couldn’t say I expected a guardian to come, it was simply proper one had.

Slowly, I turned.

Where before there had been the comforting form of the Silver Gallin standing between towering pyramids, now my vision was filled with a black slab of machine eyes coruscating beautifully through a myriad of bright colours. Beneath the eyes, square mandibles slithered and rasped over one-another. I felt, rather than saw, the presence of a huge three-tined claw slowly rising over my head.

Tick-tick.

Was that a question?

Or statement of intent?

I felt a hysterical urge to doff my inquisitorial hat and bow flamboyantly; but instead I –

Slow-timed.

I knew what I faced: a Tomb Spyder, warden of necron-in-stasis. Huge metal hybrids of insect and arachnid, these powerful elevated constructs had been known to engage some of the heaviest armour the Imperium had to field… and emerge victorious.

I ducked beneath the suddenly slow mastication of those square jaws, darting forwards. The Spyder’s underside was a dark, sporadically glittering tunnel the otherwise omnipresent light did not breach; the walls of its segmented legs sluggishly moving in and out as if blown before errant breezes. There was heat here, microwaving deep into my body. My teeth abruptly felt loose in their sockets. There were other, less definable, emanations, too. My brain seemed a-bubble. My vision segmented and overlapped. Tomb Spyders had been witnessed resurrecting destroyed necron troops in the battlefield, rearing above their broken bodies as if in paroxysms of worship, knitting the corpses with pulses of energy. Was I was experiencing something of those extraordinary forces? Were invasive technologies attempting to instil illimitable undeath in my too-soft organic form?

Three strides in, and the tarpaulin incandesced - I hurriedly shucked it to the floor. Another and the black leather of my inquisitorial hat felt suddenly sticky, melting - with a sad grimace I skimmed it away.

I smelled smouldering hair and winced to the terrible sting of burning skin – but my fourth stride brought me out from beneath the monster’s hind quarters and into blessed frigidity again.

There was the Silver Gallin. Without looking back (the Spyder would either have me or it would not – I did not need –or wish- to witness its assault if it proved as fast as I), I sped towards the walker.

My vision steadied, though an intense feeling of nausea welled in my gut. I ignored it and frantically clambered up the sentinel’s legs, dropping into whatever safety its cockpit might offer.

At last I looked back at my foe.

The Spyder was wheeling slowly in place, and I saw that it, too, had suffered much damage. Its huge left claw hung limp and useless. Indeed, the whole of its left flank listed a full meter lower than the right, exhibiting the tell-tale signs of heavy gauss damage – raised, blistered, and ruptured metalwork (the middle leg actually lacked its final segment). I had hazarded the notion the Spyder was somehow be the culprit of all the other un-deaths here – but its suffering the self-same assault suggested otherwise. Only the monster’s obvious survival was dissimilar.

The Spyder had skimmed half the distance to the Silver Gallin. With a couple of toggle-flicks, I dropped the heavy container from the walker’s claws and fired up its engine. Then, the process much akin to the explosive release of pent-up breath, I allowed my metabolic rate to decelerate - which, in turn, allowed the approaching Spyder to rapidly accelerate (though thankfully not to the speeds I had heard undamaged variants could achieve).

Panting, almost snapping the relevant levers in my haste, I jammed the walker into reverse. I managed but three strides before the Spyder swarmed the ejected container and was upon me.

Even in its greatly damaged state, it was all I could do to parry the rain of blows, jabs, and grabs from that huge claw with the 'Gallin’s own pair. Sparks flew with glancing contacts; the cockpit juddered under meatier blows. The engine roared, the hydraulics wined, as the walker’s balancing systems strove to keep us upright. With a solid thunk!, more felt than heard, Mithron’s head rolled into the foot-well.

A lucky opening and a quick side-swipe buffeted the Spyder into the base of a pyramid. I powered the 'Gallin forwards, fowl legs and feet skittering for purchase, and fled.

So began a bizarre feline-and-rodent chase – the sentinel ever the rodent. I never again saw the entrance archway as I rapidly lost all bearing within the chamber, side-stepping down intersections, sprinting along avenues, even bounding drunkenly partway up the pyramids themselves to avoid surprise charges.

This could not continue. My adversary knew its environs, could employ them to its advantage - while they remained all hindrance to me. My only hope was to be quicker, but I was not yet ready to slow-time again – I simply hadn’t the energy.

A silver streak to the left – I brought the 'Gallin to an abrupt halt that almost achieved what the Spyder was obviously attempting – the walker’s toppling.

Again the metal monster careered into a pyramid. Again I used the crash to my advantage and powered away.

Too close. And the encounters would only get closer until…

Keeping my eyes forwards, I leant to the side and began to guzzle on Mithron’s neck stump.

The nerve-shredding game of hide-and-seek continued – each of the Spyder’s assaults coming that much closer to victory as it learned my responses and methods.

Suddenly, however, there came quietus.

Where had the Spyder gone? Had I unknowingly damaged it irreparably during one of our pugilistic episodes? Was it at last one with its twice-dead brethren? Whatever the truth, Junt – eat!

As I bent for another sustaining mouthful, the coldest thought struck me – to be almost instantly washed away by a familiar –and all-too confirming- bloom of heat. I looked up.

Almost lazily, like glowing soot from a bonfire, glittering blackness descended upon me.

Knowing I could not maintain it, I virtually collapsed into slow-time.

I raised the Gallin’s claws, fending off the Spyder’s scrabbling legs and jabbing pincer, raking the monster’s relatively delicate underside. But this time it wasn’t trying to pummel or crush – the last segments of its legs closed, hooked; its pincer latched onto the engine cowlings in a spray of hot oil and fuel.

With a lurch, its legs still crazily running along ground they no longer touched, the Silver Gallin was lifted into the air.

Desperately, I began to swipe at the Spyder’s claw and legs, trying to dislodge… but its grip was secure.

I drew the Gallin’s claws back, started punching with them. Emitters and other devices fell about me in a shower of sparks, liquids, and searing blooms of heat.

Still we rose higher.

Enforced slowtiming on the verge of blacking me out, I changed my tactics. I clamped the Gallin’s left claw tightly beneath the Spyder’s short neck, using the other to grip one of its legs to postpone the inevitable release.

I set the left claw to a gradual squeeze, praying that whatever mechanisms governed the Spyder were situated in its beetle head, and that, by not throttling outright, I could induce a more controlled descent.

Slowtime slammed from me.

-oOo-


Nothing.

-oOo-


I was broken when I came to. My head pounding far worse than the aches I had suffered –it seemed- millennia ago during the first days of the desert crossing. Wherever my skin was exposed it was burnt almost to crispness, cracked, weeping watery blood and pus. Even internally, I somehow felt broiled. Every joint throbbed intolerably. Waves of nausea engulfed me, convulsing my stomach and inducing dry retches – further accentuating my overall pain.

But I was alive.

Inconstant pulses of dizziness fracturing my vision, I laboriously raised my head. Gradually, my situation was revealed - I was in a casket of inter-mangled mundane and eldritch metal, glistening red here and there with what must have been my blood. It was the walker’s ruptured cockpit, split upon by jaws of crazily bent necron metal. My legs dangled through a rent in the side, my backside still somehow in position on the torn leather seat.

Slowly, I lowered my head to what I dimly knew to be Mithron’s cushioning thigh, and looked up (simultaneously realising that the 'Gallin was on its back - ‘up’ being through what was once ‘front’).

The cube still slowly spun, aloof, enigmatic, and now presenting only a single face of absolute void. For a moment it seemed as if the battered claws of the Silver Gallin, extended to their fullest and half-buried in blackness, actually supported it – until a feint, almost-eclipsing, outline materialised, and I realised I was looking at the dark, superimposed underside of the Tomb Spyder. The previously-glittering array of projectors and emitters were smashed, some leaking peculiar fluids, others scorched and half melted - all now quite cold. The sentinel’s right claw gripped the base of the Spyder’s left central leg, the other crushed its stumpy neck. Fracture lines zigzagged out from both points of contact, and I was in no doubt that, were it not for gauss-fatigue, the claws would not have gained such crushing purchase.

Something creaked loudly.

I had to get out, but I felt too weak and sick to move. The ill-advised –though, of course, absolutely necessary- bout of slow-time might have been permanently damaging. Whether or not this was the case, I needed energy if there was to be any hope at all.

Slowly, grimacing with each movement and jaw-clench, I tore at the blood-crisped fabric of Mithron’s trousers with hands and teeth (expecting to shed the latter with every bite), before I could get to his flesh. Perhaps there was the slightest taint of putridity, but nothing my desperate situation couldn’t allow me to ignore.

I slept/ blanked out frequently, always surprised to awaken. The chamber’s intense cold very quickly began to take its own duty in my body’s ruin, and I knew that where the Spyder’s radiations hadn’t already destroyed my flesh, frostbite would.

I quickly learned that the Tomb Spyder was not yet dead.

It would stir at regular intervals, thrashing weakly in the walker’s grip and setting the powerlifter arms swaying frighteningly. From where I lay, I could just make out a part of its beetle head, witnessing, during each of these periods, the telescopic extension of a thin rod from amid the eye-clusters.

This occurred every sixteen to seventeen minutes.

All thought of my mission, all consideration as to the voices’ desires, was gone. Survival was now everything. I had to return to civilisation. Human civilisation.

I think I remained in the wreckage for well over a day. I still wasn’t really well enough to move, but my nausea and pain had lessened, and I had no way of knowing how long the Silver Gallin could support the Spyder’s weight. Plus, I could get no more sustenance from Mithron – he had frozen solid. I had to make the attempt sooner than later.

I recall little of my self-extrication. My first clear memory after my entrapment was struggling to pull myself upright with the aid of the walker’s avian foot, puking copiously, and gradually becoming aware that change had at last come to the chamber’s homogeny.

A little further around the sphere’s curvature three truncated pyramids fused together to form a wide dais, angled slightly towards me. Beyond the dais the pyramids ceased altogether where a rectangular window at least a half-kilometre wide cut into them, softly pulsing with emerald energy.

Through the window was a disc of desert.

It was as if a coin of sand had been dropped by a Titan orders of magnitude larger than anything the Admech had ever dreamt of. An arena of dunes at least five kilometres in diameter, radiating like spokes from a relatively tiny cairn-like mound, bordered by a black curtain wall presumably forming the base of a vast shaft. The chamber’s light did not illuminate the dunes, instead a soft green glow spilled over them from the window and from three other, equidistantly-spaced, strips of gently-pulsing emerald around the wall (the overall effect suddenly making me recall -with surprising poignancy- the eerie beauty of the desert proper, kilometres above). Visible through each of the other strips were slowly-spinning squares of void…

It was somehow the most unsettling thing I had yet seen on what was a veritable planet of disconcertion.

Movement upon the dais.

I squinted into the harsh glare. Another necron stood there, its silver skeleton, coupled with the total lack of shadows, rendering it invisible when still. Considerably larger than the norm, its bearing upright and regal instead of hunched and menacing, it was quite magnificent. One long-taloned hand gripped a milky white sphere, the other a tall staff which tapered to an illimitable point a further meter above its skull. A calf-length silver cloak hung heavily from its gleaming pauldrons.

Enough.

The besting of a Tomb Spyder had very nearly killed me (might, yet). I was to take on a necron Lord as well?

I only state a truism when I say my capabilities are greater than most - but this was too much.

The Lord was regarding me. Its eyes were wrong…

How must I appear? Trying to self-hug my convulsive shivers into subsidence; burnt; bruised; splattered with my own vomit; clothes so ragged I may as well be naked. I couldn’t run. I couldn’t fight. I tried to say to myself, ‘Mighty Lord, you do not catch me at my best,’ but all that came through my cracked lips was a rasping cough.

Know your limits, Junt. Recognize you have reached them.

An insane –yet coldly-considered and calmly accepted- resolve possessed me. I would give my life to the necron, here and now.

I stumbled towards the dais, my gaze never leaving its occupant. Do what you will, Lord. I am yours now. I renounce their claim upon me.

As I neared, I saw something protruded from the Lord’s eyes. As it inclined the staff forwards and looked up at its tip, the objects were profiled against the nullity of the spinning cube.

Dagger hilts. However it saw, it was not through its eyes.

Green light unexpectedly flared where the fine tip met a restraining field. The Lord ‘watched’ the coruscating display, before suddenly wheeling around and striding towards the window. I was dismissed.

It was imprisoned?

Why had it stabbed itself through the eyes?

I reached the dais, commenced a painstaking climb up its flanks. At the summit, a subtle distortion to the air revealed the field’s extent – there was a meter-wide lip of unaffected space around the edge. Still coughing, and now feeling nausea once again rising in my stomach, I all-but collapsed to my knees, watching the… my Lord.

I would await its… his pleasure in deciding my fate.

The necron raised his arms, lifting both staff and sphere. A beautiful nimbus of silver light enveloped the latter, answered by rings of deep burning red about the staff’s needle-tip. With a flash that lanced my retinas in spite of their adaptation to the chamber’s glare (momentarily, I again envied the photochromic eyes of this world’s native humans), energy arced between the two artefacts, forming a snapping arch of bloody lightning.

I knew I was watching the timeless –mindless?- ritual that governed the Scour. These were actions that had been repeated for… well, from a human viewpoint at least, I may as well say ‘eternity.’ Were the dais constructed from anything other than necron stuff, the Lord’s forever-retraced steps would have worn the thing asunder long before now.

My view through the huge window was much improved – I now looked over the dunes to where the central cairn was opening within a puff of dusty sand… and down into the pit its four retreating leaves revealed.

My Lord arched his back, flourishing sphere and staff. The energy between them became blinding, actually casting jittery shadows around the dais.

A rapid, urgent series of ticks from behind.

Like a waterfall of light in reverse, green energy leapt up the black curtain wall, flaring over the window before me. Instead of further obfuscating my view, it seemed to sharpen it almost to the point where I could discern individual grains of the infinity-binding sand.

The green energy was a scintillating skein over the pit, too - but there it seemed weaker, duller, bowing sharply downwards. Suddenly, there was rupture.

The dunes vanished.

In the seconds it took for the desert kilometres above to be sucked down the vast shaft, and the further tens of seconds it took for the Tomb Spyder’s telescopic transmitter to counter the Lord’s commands and close the cairn, I saw the Scour’s source laid bare. Saw through the gates the necron had opened so very long ago. Saw what had sent my Lord insane, caused him to slaughter almost all his servants… stab daggers into his eyes.

Saw.

And was consumed.
Last edited by Chun the Unavoidable on Tue Apr 12, 2011 9:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Scour

Postby Bloodsage » Tue Apr 12, 2011 4:10 pm

HURRIED POSTING - BARE WITH


Sure, but you have to post pictures first! :shock:
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Re: The Scour

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Tue Apr 12, 2011 8:38 pm

Bare bears - that's what we all want, isn't it? Just keeping you on your toes.
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Re: The Scour

Postby Bloodsage » Tue Apr 12, 2011 10:30 pm

OBTW, nice story, solidly written.
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Re: The Scour

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Wed Apr 13, 2011 7:08 am

I thank you. And, considering it's you that's saying that, I thank you quite a lot.
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Re: The Scour

Postby Mossy Toes » Thu Sep 20, 2012 9:19 pm

Reread this Lovecraft-in-40k delight while looking for pleasure, and found much of it here.
What sphinx of plascrete and adamantium bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination? Imperator!
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Re: The Scour

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Fri Sep 21, 2012 7:20 am

You're on the love list, too. Ta very much. I won't ask where you got the rest from.
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Re: The Scour

Postby Coatsley » Mon Sep 24, 2012 11:49 am

Thought this was a damned excellent read. Loved the planet utterly - always nice to see people playing around with strange environments - and the eldritch, ancient quality of the Necrons really shined through, even with a character who seemed distressingly in-the-know about the capabilities.

If there was one problem I had, it was the narrator - a little too unfoundedly 'voices-in-the-head' psychotic cannibalist for my tastes without much good reason (apart from the metabolic accelerator, the whole revelry in consumption and rather... indulgent usage of other body parts was never really explained, justified, examined, what-have-you - although I did very much enjoy the gradual reveal of the narrator's hidden nature). And the sudden acceptance of the Necron Lord seemed somewhat like a switch had just been flicked.

Aside from that, really excellent. Great idea, suspensefully built up with a good action scene and disturbing climax as payoff.
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Re: The Scour

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Tue Sep 25, 2012 7:20 am

If there was one problem I had, it was the narrator - a little too unfoundedly 'voices-in-the-head' psychotic cannibalist for my tastes without much good reason (apart from the metabolic accelerator, the whole revelry in consumption and rather... indulgent usage of other body parts was never really explained, justified, examined, what-have-you - although I did very much enjoy the gradual reveal of the narrator's hidden nature). And the sudden acceptance of the Necron Lord seemed somewhat like a switch had just been flicked.

Agreed on every count. As to the unexplained voices, this gets alluded to in other tales, with a bit more of a hint as to where they come from. See chapter one of Colossus for -and kind of- a direct sequel to The Scour, if you're of a mind.

Thanks very much for your time and comment.
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Re: The Scour

Postby Coatsley » Tue Sep 25, 2012 11:06 am

Damn right I'm of a mind. I'll be sure to read it first chance I get. Great stuff, once again!
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Re: The Scour

Postby Mossy Toes » Tue Sep 25, 2012 7:18 pm

Mind you, Chapter 2 of Colossus ties into another of Chun's stories, "Titan Girl." So if you want to really understand what's going on in Colossus as a whole (insofar as we can understand it so far, being only 3 chapters in with vastly disparate settings in each chapter)... you'd have to pick up that too.

Edit: I am a pusher, and the drug I push is Chun.
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Re: The Scour

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Tue Sep 25, 2012 8:40 pm

Push all you like, dear. :D
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