His Conscience

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

His Conscience

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Mon May 09, 2011 6:59 am

Captain Lered Ujupol always dreamt the same dream before receiving orders for Exterminatus.

However, for all that it inevitably occurred during his fitful slumber, it wasn’t really a dream. It was recollection mined from the deepest strata of his memory stacks by prognostic powers he could not name.

Unless it was simply the power of guilt.

The iron privacy petals of his audience chamber were curled tightly around his throne, the lumens dimmed. Glowing schematics and readouts floated in the air about him, coruscating numerals, expanding and contracting bars, graphics of essential systems. They told him the weapon -given many names by many different people, but commonly and simply known as the Device- was ready. Ujupol could feel it through his ship’s monitors, its xenos components twisting and pummelling reality, intertwining and knotting existence’s fundamentals so tightly rupture was inevitable – a rupture further unimaginable forces were ramped to channel and focus against the beautiful grey-green orb thousands of kilometres below.

However, another force, the Device’s equal in a frightening number of respects, now engaged Ujupol’s attention.

His daughter was angry.

Her long auburn hair reflected the displays in tiny runnels of light as she tossed it in a fashion that surely claimed many hearts. Only a few years ago she would have been stamping her foot to accompany the action, her full lips a-pout – but, at sixteen, she had learned some restraint.

Though only some.

‘There is time to look, father! There is always time! Make time!’ Her blue eyes, black in the dimness, glinted with tears of passion and frustration.

Ujupol sighed. ‘Karince, the order has been given, a period stipulated. That period fast approaches.’

‘And how readily you follow your orders, father! What reason a human captain on this ship, hm? A servitor may as well command for all the difference it would make!’

That stung. Only recently Ujupol had commissioned the final stages of his deep integration with the battleship, sealing his remaining thought processes and physiology to the mighty vessel.

‘Careful, Karince – be very careful in your words to captain and father. I hear far too much of your mother in them.’

She heeded the steel in his voice, but still could barely reign in her emotions.

‘There are untold billions on that world. It is impossible every one of them has fallen to corruption. Some remain loyal to our Emperor. Damn it, father, I know you have received distress transmissions from the sub-continent - and you would ignore and annihilate them!’

‘The world is tainted, Karince – all upon it are so branded. All. The order has been given by intellects graver and more knowledgeable than my own: it is forfeit. Scriptures dictate -’

She actually growled in frustration, an animal noise quite startling Ujupol. Oh the coupling of righteousness and teenage convictions was a thing of awe! He had never seen her so upset.

‘Do not hide behind those mouldy, ancient words! On your conscience, father! Their deaths are on your conscience!’

‘Daughter, they are not. The decision was not mine. You border on blasphemy; and you certainly accomplish disrespect to captain and father. You are dismissed.’

Karince suddenly slumped, as if all her fire had been instantly deprived of oxygen and extinguished. She knew Ujupol could not be swayed.

Quietly, she said, ‘You blaspheme against something far greater than scriptures. You blaspheme against your humanity. An automaton does command the Fate of Worlds.’

The memory dream sank. Ujupol awoke.

-oOo-


Even in an Imperium where the amalgamation of flesh and machine was commonplace, Ujupol’s appearance was unsettling to the uninitiated.

Centuries of gradual integration had left him fused to the Fate of Worlds. The upper segment of his towering bridge throne was a tangle of pipes, pumps, scrubbers, and interfaces - rendering redundant almost all his organic functions, greatly accentuating senses and mental abilities. Was the Emperor’s own throne more complex?

What remained of his human body slumped forwards at the throne’s peak - a bloated, pallid torso; atrophied arms. It was only hemi-human - waist and legs long since amputated to allow for the easy ingress of life-support attachments beneath the rib-cage. Its balled, heavily dewlapped head and neck were almost invisible under an explosion of cranium-socketed cables and flexi-ducting.

Once Ujupol had considered his body the essential hub of his augmented form, attiring it as a Navy captain should be attired, interacting with his officers and crew whenever possible through it, even dining orally instead of relying on directly-pumped nutrients. Recent decades, however, had seen him forgo such anthropomorphic niceties. His body was the ancient Fate of Worlds’ adamantium hull, his mind the battleship’s supreme governance. He could feel the simultaneous acid graze and sable-slip of the immaterium on the ship’s Gellar fields as she sliced the warp; knew the air circulation and scrubbing of the ship’s myriad decks as his own breathing; saw into the galaxy’s depths through telescopes that were his own eyes. His awareness spread so far through the ship, was so entwined with it, he was far from sure where Ujupol ended and the Fate of Worlds began – or even if such a division remained.

If his fleshy body were physically and electromagnetically isolated from his throne, where would his consciousness reside?

Whatever the answer, Ujupol retained humanity enough to enjoy the baiting of young ensigns.

The ship’s roster instantly supplied her name: Bolincht. A pretty one, too. Keeping his organic eye shut in a semblance of continued sleep, Ujupol spoke through his throne’s vox-castors.

‘I am awake, Ensign Bolincht, stop pressing my audience button.’

Her startled jump amused him. She looked up timidly at his flaccid form ten meters above her – Ujupol only lifted the audience stage to the peak for higher-echelon officers.

‘Captain, sir… I… I…’

‘You bear a transcript from my astropathic choir.’

She collected herself enough to remember to stand to attention. ‘Sir! I do. Shall I… Do you want me to…’

‘It concerns Exterminatus.’

She glanced down at the sealed roll in her shaking hands. ‘I… I do not know, sir. I haven’t… Shall I…’

‘Yes, open it, ensign. Read it.’

The girl broke the astropathical seal and straightened the roll. As she did, Ujupol idly watched the red wax fall through the grill floor into the servitor pit many meters below, rapidly flicking between optics. Wonder filled Bolincht’s voice as she said, ‘Sir, how did you know?’

‘It is enough that I do, Ensign. Your father served under me, didn’t he?’

For a moment, the change of subject threw her, before her spine straightened in obvious pride. ‘He did, sir, Jurolled Bolincht.’

‘Hm, died under me, too… Hibband’s Star. Acquitted himself well, though. Seen combat yet, ensign?’

‘No, Captain.’

‘Perhaps you soon will. Recite the details.’

-oOo-


With the angry pressure of risen Chaotic blood, the immaterium spurted the Fate of Worlds into the sucking gravity well of the condemned planet - her kilometre-tall stiletto prow slashing the inter-dimensional boundaries as if they were silk.

Research trawls through the incomprehensibly vast Administratum stacks had been abortive in uncovering any history regarding the Fate of Worlds beyond a thousand years past. There were no records of construction, engagements, or personnel lists and exploits. However, certain artefacts discovered stashed between decks or behind false bulkheads, antique graffiti scratched into bunk-posts or latrine doors, even reports of the shades of ancient crew whose insignia were those depicted in the oldest armorials, strongly hinted at a service extending back well before the Horus Heresy - before Navy and Imperial Guard were sundered from the all-encompassing Imperial Army.

It was sometime during those dark aeons that the Fate of World’s was outfitted with the Device, and her raison d’être sealed.

In profile the immense vessel was as many other battleships of the line – a seven kilometre hulk quilled with sensors and weapons batteries. However, distension amidships gave the ancient craft a gravid appearance, hinting at its great dissimilarity from the norm. Viewed in plan, the swelling was revealed as frame to a half-kilometre wide shaft puncturing the ship from superstructure to keel – the Device’s barrel.

Adeptus Mechanicus priests were permanently posted aboard, but even after many decades of crawling through the labyrinthine ducts and chambers surrounding the Device’s shaft, its workings –obviously of xenos origin- remained enigmatic - leaving them unable to purify the mechanism and awaken its holy machine spirit.

The Device’s function, however, was indisputable.

Ujupol felt it now, nurturing its incomprehensible energies in standby, waiting to spin and fuse and funnel them before their devastating liberation. He sensed an eagerness to it, as if the xenos governing systems gleefully anticipated the next discharge. Perhaps they did. The Device was one of the few parts of the Fate of Worlds Ujupol’s extended awareness did not properly penetrate… and, in all truth, he was thankful for it.

You’ll get your release, don’t fret. Only allow me mine, first.

The bridge was a huge hollow cone, ribbed with operations decks; its base a dark, sectioned pit in which scores of servitors brainlessly toiled. Rising from the pit almost to the bridge’s apex was Ujupol’s pyramid throne; its four faces a shadowy, complex folly of officer’s command platforms kept in constant, randomly-intermixing motion by a clunking, thrumming system of hydraulics and cables. Officers were forced to employ intercoms to converse – or to simply shout. As the saying went, you couldn’t hear a warhead drop on the Fate’s bridge.

From dozens of optics and via short-range telemetry, Ujupol watched his officers faultlessly –and with no little élan- coordinate the Fate of World’s and her escorts’ return to realspace… enemy realspace.

Having torn into the materium far above and below their ward, the two Lunar-class cruisers, Journeyman to Death and Reaper’s Scythe, powered to opposing high-polar orbits above the doomed world, scattering sprays of attack craft and bombers in their wake. Tiny puffs of luminosity erupted from unseen defence platforms as a barrage of torpedoes were launched against the three ships. Enemy retaliation? Or the desperation of the doomed?

An irrelevant nicety – they had fired first.

None of the torpedoes met their targets, picked off by fighters and lancing needles of light from the bigger ships, or exploding impotently against fully-energised void shielding. No more salvoes followed – positions revealed, the defence platforms became easy prey for the bombers… and then rapidly expanding clouds of hot gas and debris.

A much greater threat was the battlecruiser hiding amongst clustered asteroids at a Lagrange point trailing the world and its rocky satellite - sinister presence only revealed as its massive engines blazed and speared it towards the Fate of Worlds. Ujupol’s augmented eyes discerned the name emblazoned across its fearsome prow: Incisor. Cogitators displayed blueprints and schematics. The Incisor was Mars class - half its target’s size yet armed with similar weaponry.

Velocities and vectors prevented the Journeyman and Reaper’s Scythe from offering more than long range assistance for the moment – negligible against the Incisor’s heavy shielding. Although victory was unlikely to be the battlecruiser’s in a face-off with the Fate of Worlds, Ujupol’s ship would not win the encounter unscathed.

He relayed emergency instructions to his astropathical choir, ending his missive, ‘And sing with gusto!’

Lances of light needled the black space between the two great vessels as they closed, dumping velocity at rates that would have made their long-dead designers weep. Void shields coruscated spectacularly in rainbows of reflected energy. Broadside! Salvo after salvo of torpedoes began to criss-cross the gap, some hunting each-other, most pummelling the enemy’s defences in blinding flashes of white and silver, adding to the furious display.

Radiation bathed the Fate of World’s hull, residue of the horrific forces her void shielding struggled to check. It felt like sunburn to Ujupol.

‘Hard pounding, this, gentlemen,’ he voxed over the bridge, ‘Let’s see who can pound longest.’ His officers smiled grimly, intent upon their duties.

The sunburn intensified. Ujupol’s hull epidermis seemed to blister painfully – the shields were reaching their limits. Come on, where are – Ah!

Reality rippled on the Incisor’s far side. The Grinning Skull, another Mars-class battlecruiser and most powerful contingent of the Fate of World’s escort, entered the fray. Prow forwards, her batteries blazed, hammering death into the Incisor’s almost-unshielded portside. Adamantium plating was torn asunder; deck’s smashed through, spine shattered…

The Incisor was bisected, her guts spewing fire, wreckage, bodies.

Ujupol exhaled, not realising he had been holding his breath (in his private arboretum, long-since run wild, a refreshing breeze suddenly awoke). Orbital beachhead was secured. Thanking the Skull’s captain, Ujupol at last turned his attention to the world below.

-oOo-


‘If you say that again, I’ll shoot you.’

‘Right-o, sir.’

Sub-lieutenant Arril Fryt shouldered his las-rifle with a grunt, staring sternly at his sergeant to show he wasn’t entirely joking.

‘Ever since commissioning to the Fate, that’s all I’ve heard: “That’s not the captain’s way.” Does he do anything in the accepted fashion? The stipulated fashion?’

Sergeant Dimnal grinned, ‘It’s not his way –’

‘Shaddup!’

Fryt looked over his fifty men squatting in the verdant undergrowth beside the dirt road, hunched forwards to keep the constant dripping from the forest canopy off faces and equipment. Why bother? The sweat you’re pumping out’s doing the same job. A sonic boom, which caused one or two to look uselessly up at thickly-leaved branches, signalled their dropship’s departure. He sighed.

‘Why are we here, sergeant? Why are we risking lives? This world is condemned. Hot and condemned. Why have we not blown the bloody thing up? And don’t say it again.’

Dimnal scratched under his helmet, rubbed an old scar crossing his forehead and terminating above his left ear. ‘Dunno, sir. I’ve always found it best just to do as I’m told - let the toffs such as yersel’ do the reasonin’.’

‘I envy you your lack of conscience, sergeant.’

Dimnal seemed momentarily surprised. ‘Oh, I got one o’them, sir. Sound o’ gunfire drowns it out, is all.’

Fryt was incredulous when Captain Ujupol announced surface missions to find survivors on Pax. The factory world was lost to Chaos, overrun when containment around an AdMech facility had failed. The whole northern hemisphere had rapidly become masked in a roiling black cloud of Chaos matter that defied analysis, though it thankfully censored whatever horrors occurred beneath. The southern hemisphere, a single island-dotted ocean, had somehow remained clear – this was Ujupol’s target.

‘Those islands were never industrialised like the northern continents – holiday destinations, I suppose,’ he had said at the officer’s briefing. ‘The untainted will be there. Skeleton crews only on all four ships - everyone goes. Your stations have the deployment details.’

Since being piped aboard a month before, Fryt had never spoken directly to his captain. During the briefing, however, as his platform by chance clanked up towards Ujupol’s throne, his surprise compelled him to shout, ‘But, sir, why?’

He was immediately aware of his peers’ attention from nearby platforms and pict-representations bobbing above his console. Instead of using comms, Ujupol -slumped form barely visible at the bridge’s shadowed apex- chose to bellow his response by voxcastor. ‘Ah, Fryt. The New One. Is it not enough to know these are my commands?’

With a judder, Fryt’s platform had suddenly shifted left. He stumbled. ‘Dammit! Sorry, sir; of course, sir. But why are we not simply spinning up the Device? Pax is condemned, why commit –’

Over comms a pict-less voice had harshly whispered, ‘Because that’s not the captain’s way, idiot! Be quiet.’

And Fryt, aware of his precarious position as ‘the New One,’ had.

‘If it’s any consolation, sir,’ Dimnal said as he flicked water from his las-rifle’s battery pack, ‘He doesn’t bother with ‘nids.’

‘What?’

‘‘Nids – he doesn’t drop us when planets‘re infested with ‘nids. Just blows ‘em out the Imperium. Heh.’

Again, Fryt was shocked. ‘He’s done this before?’

‘Bloody hell, sir – he does it every time. ‘Cept for ‘nids, like I say.’ Dimnal stood up, grunting. ‘Best get on, sir. Village is a couple o’kilometres up the road, yet.’

Fryt nodded. During the briefing Ujupol had drawn his officers’ attention to the northern Chaotic mass, in particular to the exploratory tendrils wisping southwards. They had been given two days. ‘Move them out, sergeant.’

The road was little more than a muddy stream due to the thinner canopy above it. Thick, warm drops of water spent themselves loudly against Fryt’s helmet and the soldiers around him. Bad enough, but the prospect of the deluge the village’s open sky would permit was worse.

Other than the rain and the sound of his troops’ boot-falls, the island was deathly quiet. There were no animal noises, not even insectoid. Perhaps Pax was young, and had not yet evolved fauna… or perhaps something had happened to it after the containment failure. Fryt shivered slightly. Even if the silence was natural, it still left him unnerved – he had been brought up in the endless –not to mention weatherless- bustle of a hive.

And it needn’t be endured at all, for Throne’s sake! “He does it every time!” Horus’s pudenda! Oh, it was regrettable in the extreme innocents had to die - but the scriptures emphatically stated such unfortunates were welcomed before the Emperor’s throne, were smiled upon by Him, were blessed in the eternal purity death conveyed… Were, indeed, unfortunates no longer. Furthermore, they would understand their sacrifice, for He would explain it to them.

What right had Ujupol to deny the Emperor His innocent dead? What gall he displayed in delaying orders with such needless missions!

The soldier on point signalled a halt. They had reached the village - a well-established collection of low, white-washed houses and inns, sporting a single heliport for inter-island travel. Picturesque, perfect for R&R.

And utterly deserted.

At Fryt’s order, Dimnal deployed the men along the forest’s edge, within cover. Scanning the village through magnoculars, Fryt frowned. Where were the people? The tourists from the industrial north? The locals? Had they deserted the island en-masse to group with other survivors? The ungainly form of the passenger helicopter yet occupied its pad, suggesting at least one remaining person.

‘Right, Dimnal. Two men to each building. Let’s see what’s going on here.’

-oOo-


A half-hour later, Fryt and Dimnal stood on the veranda of the village’s largest inn, The Billowing Stack. Within could be heard the subdued laughter and conversation of the other soldiers. ‘They won’t drink anything, will they, sergeant?’

Dimnal frowned. ‘Not unless you tell ‘em they can, sir, no. We’re not the Imperial Guard. Sir.’

‘Good, good.’ Fryt took little notice of his sergeant’s affront. His attention was taken by the rough wooden benches and tables neatly arranged on the inn’s piazza. Warm rain pummelled them - flooding glasses and tankards, diluting and cleansing. Half-eaten meals on porcelain plates had long since become slop. On one table a discarded newspaper was so sodden it appeared pasted in place – its printing streaked beyond legibility.

Fryt’s uneasiness had not abated – instead, as each team had reported back from their reconnaissance, it had grown.

The village had indeed been abandoned, but it had not been an orderly departure. Almost every building had been left unlocked, in most cases with doors wide open. There were no signs of precious belongings and clothes being packed – cases and receptacles were still stashed in cupboards and under beds. Items of food and hygiene were similarly left in place, often in the middle of consumption and use. Had the people been captured? Marched from their homes? But there were no signs of struggle, either.

Movement. Beyond The Billowing Stack’s white picket fence, a child’s ball –all bright colour against the muddy road- rolled to and fro as if caught between tussling breezes. Fryt suddenly recalled a further building from the Scythe’s orbital survey, a larger construct at the top of the island’s central hill. He turned to Dimnal.

‘Sergeant, isn’t there a school or something at the end of this Emperor-forsaken road?’

Dimnal blinked in mild surprise. ‘Aye, sir, there is. Think they’re up there?’

‘Your guess is as good as mine - but they’re certainly not here. Probably, it’ll be empty, but we have to check before we call the dropship back.’ Fryt shouldered his las-rifle. ‘Get them out of the bar, sergeant.’

The ball rolled from sight.

-oOo-


The road rose steeply, climbing the island’s only hill. The soldiers had cleared the tree-line, but Fryt, concentrating on the hard slog, didn’t notice until someone muttered, ‘Emperor’s sewn-open eye - look at that.’

Suddenly aware of the increased rainfall drumming on his helmet, Fryt looked up.

They had a panoramic view of the ocean. For kilometres around the gently-heaving sea -breathtakingly green and clear even in the heavy overcast- spread from them - dotted here and there with islands exhibiting their ancient volcanic past through atollism, central hills, and softened craters. Grey veils of rain patrolled and scoured.

However, it wasn’t the pretty view that had elicited the soldier’s exclamation.

Black flames lapped at the entire northern horizon.

That’s how it appeared to Fryt – black tendrils licking the distant sky, arching and flickering with Chaotic life and intent. There was a suggestion of oil, of enveloping viscidity, of life-slicking unction warping and perverting all it bathed. Occasionally, like negative solar flares, a huge rope of the material would shoot up and out, before falling languidly back into the main mass. Sometimes the eruptions would break off and hang in the sky for a few moments, then disperse and thin as if shredded by strong winds.

Dimnal was at Fryt’s side. ‘Still think we got two days, Lieutenant?’

Fryt tore his eyes from the sight – there was something hypnotic about the flame’s undulation… suggestive… promising. Blinking rapidly, he looked around at his force. Blank expressions were beginning to form on a few faces. ‘Come on, men,’ he shouted, ‘The sooner we check this school, the sooner the Fate can burn that… that… that. Snap out of it - look to the job in hand.’

With visible effort, the dazed men averted their stares. The group continued up the road.

A minute later, Fryt heard a child giggle.

He looked around – only dripping grass and bushes bordering the road. Only rain.

Another giggle. He noticed a few others looking about expectantly… but still no child was visible.

‘Move it up,’ shouted Dimnal, ‘What you gawpin’ at?’

They continued. Soon, the school was before them.

It was a single-story building - like those in the village white and without embellishment. The orbital picts, Fryt recalled, had shown it to be a quadrangle enclosing a large playground.

A low wooden fence bordered the school. At the gate brightly-coloured balloons bobbed, exhibiting simple faces drawn in a childish manner – unsettlingly dominated by long, cruel teeth.

Fryt lifted his magnoculars, scanning the school’s front elevation. Through the wide windows he could see ordered rows of child-sized tables and chairs, bookshelves, blackboards depicting early-years instruction in High Gothic, a gallery of immature art under the banner, ‘How I See My Emperor.’

At this last, his attention was held. Standing upon a chair and defacing the wildly-varying interpretations with a large red pen, was a little girl in a plain white smock. As if somehow becoming aware of Fryt’s observance, she turned, grinned, then jumped lithely from the chair and disappeared.

Something had glinted in her mouth.

‘Dimnal, get me three men… No, wait, get me three women. Deploy everyone else around the school’s border. Tell them to keep their eyes off the northern horizon.’

-oOo-


It was a relief to get out of the rain, the maddening drumming muffled to an almost soporific beat by the school’s roof. Having passed through the open reception and investigated a few empty classrooms, the four of them now stood in the small hall. The parquet floor had been recently waxed to the point where inverted images of the soldiers mirrored their movements. Though the heady smell of beeswax filled the air, it was not enough to mask another aroma – one that induced fearful whimpers deep in Fryt’s mind where the animal underlying all humanity yet resided.

He looked at the three women accompanying him. All were nervous, panning around jerkily with their las-rifles. He couldn’t blame them – every hair on his body was on-end. This school was party to terrible secrets, he knew. It was in every breath he took.

‘What is that smell?’

‘It’s stronger over here, sir.’ Bolincht, her tag stated. How old was she? Fifteen? Sixteen?

Emperor’s Will, Dimnal, I said women!

The girl indicated a long corridor at the hall’s far end, grimacing at the stench emanating from it. ‘I think it leads to the playground.’

Fryt waved her back from the corridor and the other two –Arxilly and Govrant- forwards. ‘Right: two-by-two standard. Slowly.’

Bolincht fell in by his side. The group passed into the corridor.

Fryt knew what the smell was; was sure the others did, too. He recognised it at the instinctive brute level that feared it - feared the violence it intimated and screamed at the more evolved parts of his brain to flee, flee now.

Decomposing flesh. Blood. Rawness.

As they progressed, scanning branching corridors and more classrooms, Fryt slipped into a dream-state - compelled there by the softly-drumming rain, the overpowering smell, the constant sweaty heat… the almost tangible otherness the village had suggested and the school all-but pulsed with. He felt detached from his surroundings. The corridor they walked down, the garish displays they passed, the closed double doors they approached, weren’t really part of were they where. He seemed shifted sideways, out of phase.

So he almost smiled in approval when a guide in the form of a little boy stepped from a lavatory.

Solemnly, gazing up into Fryt’s face, the boy took his hand. The youngster’s palm cool and damp from his ablutions, the contact grounded Fryt back in reality… A reality he knew decades gone, of simple pleasures, wants, and rules. Light seemed to brighten; colours became vivid. The smell was almost pleasant. Fryt did smile, then; and the boy smiled back.

It didn’t matter that he had broken glass for teeth.

The boy pulled Fryt in front of Arxilly and Govrant, led them all down the remainder of the corridor. His tug became more urgent as they neared the double doors – like any child the galaxy over eager to show off his latest wonder to adoring adults.

Without letting go of Fryt’s hand, the boy turned his back to the doors and shouldered them open. Fryt could not look away from his face, mesmerised by the glee there, the twinkle in eye and mouth.

They were outside again, in the rain. But Fryt hardly noticed. The boy filled his vision as, in undeniable eagerness, he lifted Fryt’s hand to his glass-filled mouth…

…And was clubbed to the floor by Bolincht’s rifle butt.

The youngster’s expression should have conveyed terrified hurt and betrayal to be treated so by an adult. Instead Fryt saw wild rage at being denied a prize at the very moment of gaining it – and it was this that rammed sense back into him.

As well as Govrant’s screams.

‘What are they doing?! What have they done?! They’re children!’

At first Fryt thought the quadrangled playground was heaped with a huge pile of clothing – light summer wear, undergarments, the uniforms of utility workers. Steam rose from the pile, as if a thousand busy housewives had dumped their laundry there to dry, only to have it caught in the downpour. Then he noticed the one colour that united the otherwise disparate clothing, splashed here, sprayed there, pooling and coagulating thickly about the pile’s base like juice from some horrific winepress.

Crimson.

All innocence the scene possessed was gone. Fryt could only see corpses.

Limbs jutted randomly, often torn or chewed from their parent bodies. Feet were shod and unshod. Hands hung limp or were clawed with rigor mortis, some yet holding breakfast cups and eating utensils. Torsos and heads countered the angularity of the limbs with their rounder contours - except where split rib-cages, ripped neck-stumps and limb-sockets, raw-red flesh and shattered skulls jagged upwards, glinting dully in the rain.

Scattered all over the grisly pile, singularly or in feral groups of two or three, were children.

Feeding.

From toddler to the cusp of puberty, they swarmed about the hill of the village’s adult dead – splashing gaily through rosewater puddles, skipping over limbs or lolling heads. As they moved, they ate, worrying at fingers, sucking eye-sockets, nuzzling neck-stumps. Like mud on more commonly mischievous children, they were all covered in gore. Moreover, other than the odd scuffle over this or that particularly juicy morsel, each grinned like any happily-playing youngster - but each grin exposed gums filled with broken glass, snapped knitting needles, scalpel- and razor-blades. One girl’s lower jaw was clustered with long rusty nails…

The little boy who led them into the playground scurried off to perch upon a middle-aged woman’s head, sulkily rubbing the vivid bruise on his temple. Other than the occasional surreptitious glance, even the odd shy wave, none of the other children took much notice of the four soldiers - too intent on their cannibalistic gluttony.

Govrant, however, soon had their attention. She began hauling them away from the corpses; admonishing, sometimes even slapping them. ‘Oh, that’s really naughty! Put that down! It’s disgusting.’ And, again, ‘What have you done?!’

The children’s smiles somehow managed to widen as they started to congregate about the flustered soldier.

Fryt raised his las-rifle, sighting on a blonde girl advancing on the oblivious Govrant, willing himself to see only the blood streaking her white smock, the drawing pins clustering her mouth. ‘Clean head shots,’ he said, directing Bolincht and Arxilly to raise their own weapons.

‘But, sir, they’re children,’ whispered Arxilly.

‘Not any more.’

Fryt pressed the rifle’s firing stud.

-oOo-


‘Report, sergeant.’

Dimnal rubbed his scar. ‘Movement to the north, sir. Weird movement. Somethin’ about blankets skimming over the trees.’

‘Blankets, Dimnal?’

‘’S what they said, sir. Coloured blankets. Nothing since, though.’

Fryt looked down the hillside to the tree line. Wiping rain from his eyes, he raised the magnoculars - nothing moved except twitching leaves beneath dripping water. ‘Stuff blown up from the village, perhaps?’

‘Not the way they described the movement, sir. Said there was purpose to it, if you get me. ‘Sides, take a strong wind – you feel any?’

Resolve suddenly filled Fryt – what reason to await yet more Chaotic abomination? ‘No, sergeant, I don’t. And, you know what? It doesn’t matter. Get the damned dropship back, she can lift us from here. This mission is over. It was before it began.’

Dimnal nodded without comment or apparent emotion and relayed Fryt’s orders. Then, indicating the school and the greasy black smoke now billowing thickly into the air from its obscured playground, he said, ‘That’ll be visible from bloody orbit. What’d you burn in there, sir? Arxilly ‘n’ Govrant won’t say anything, but I can see they won’t be up to much ‘till they’ve ‘ad a good session wi’ the Fate’s confessor… Assuming he’ll be arsed talkin’ to ‘em, the perfumed ponce. Why’d you send Bolincht out for the flamer, sir? What’d you see in that school?’

For a moment Fryt was quiet, then, ‘Remember basic training, Dimnal? Moral threats?’

‘They covered those in the Navy Primer, sir.’

‘Well they didn’t cover them with enough depth, sergeant. I want an ETA on that dropship.’

-oOo-


The faintest of fleshy tickles suggesting the expression might actually be touching his human face, Captain Ujupol frowned.

None of his thinly-scattered forces had found survivors. However, that wasn’t to say Pax’s islands weren’t occupied.

Though the northern hemisphere was blighted by its shroud of Chaos matter, the southern had proven just as overcome, in its way. In one instance, rescued islanders had suddenly turned lunatic when secured aboard dropships, resulting in three downed craft. On a larger landmass, a whole city’s populace had calmly queued to throw themselves from tower-blocks… A malady that also claimed the dropship squads assigned there. On one of a chain of polar atolls, two huge pits had been excavated into which every man, woman, and child had squeezed, becoming a pair of writhing, tens-of-meters-deep masses of flesh and bone. The short-lived report from there told of how the masses moved with single intent, rising in eerie silence from the pits to battle with one-another – a clash of conglomerate monsters more ghastly than anything tyranid-spawned.

Many other once-human horrors abounded, each peculiar to its island, and none exhibiting any possibility of return to the Emperor’s graces. But losses had been within acceptable parameters, islands yet remained, and so the search continued.

However, the Chaotic mass’s southern encroachment had accelerated, and now rescue missions were under attack by vastly more powerful forces.

Ujupol grunted, perhaps spat (certainly sprinklers in a disused hold briefly spurted rusty water), and ordered a general retreat. He knew that -even with dropships at full contingent- an evacuation would take time to coordinate and execute… Fatalities would exceed acceptable parameters by some considerable margin.

His soldiers needed help. Orbital strikes were chancy – too much risk of friendly-fire with such small target areas.

A more hands-on approach was required.

Sensing what was coming, the Fate of Worlds commenced protestations and warnings. Ujupol soothed and reassured his vessel. I know, I know - I hate the notion, too. But don’t fret so. We will not be utterly sundered, and it will not be for long.

For the first time since his final integrations, Ujupol gave orders for physical severance from his ship - and Titan Child’s preparation.

-oOo-


They rose from the canopy like psychedelic mist, rippling with rainbow colours that would surely have been dazzling if the sky wasn’t so overcast. They were of the size and shape of rounded blankets, but put Fryt more in the mind of certain marine molluscs he had seen during a childhood visit to an aquarium. For a few moments they hung above the trees, hems constant sine-waves of motion. Then, one by one, they commenced a lazy rise - giant rainbow embers above an emerald bonfire, drifting towards the astonished soldiers.

Dimnal whispered in Fryt’s ear. ‘They’re comin’ up all ‘round the school.’

‘What are they, Dimnal?’

The sergeant raised his eyebrows and rubbed his old scar. ‘The enemy, sir.’

Fryt grunted. ‘Of cou-’

Colour streaked, so fast Fryt’s eyes could only process it as a magenta and sapphire line. A scream, quickly muffled.

Further along from Fryt and Dimnal, a soldier was enshrouded so tightly he appeared spray-painted. Fryt could clearly make out the man’s struggling form - the shape of his mouth as he opened it to scream, the tip of his tongue as it pressed against the tightening material. What didn’t register until too late was adjacent soldier raising his las-rifle…

‘Wait, you idiot, you’ll shoot –’

Complimentary blue light briefly flared, puncturing the binding sheet. The soldier was suddenly still. For a moment, the creature retained its hold… until colour again flowed and the would-be saviour himself was smothered in polychrome. More muffled screams. The first soldier’s knees buckled and he slumped to the muddy ground with a splash, a perfectly cauterised hole through his neck.

‘Widen your beams, you fools!’ Shouted Fryt. ‘Dimnal, tell ‘em to widen their Horus-blighted beams!’

The world seemed to vomit colour.

The creatures darted through the rain-splintered air, each selecting separate targets. Soldiers seemed to instantly acquire squeezing cocoons of cerise and gentian, topaz and cinnabar. For tens of seconds the prismatic palls bound their targets before shooting to the next, leaving behind desiccated husks. Some victims were lifted from their feet, even inverted, ahead of their remains being dropped to the ground and pummelled into grey mud by the rain.

However, under Fryt’s direction, the soldiers quickly learned to widen the focus of their las-rifles’ emissions, playing the faded cones of light over the creatures like lumens - scorching and melting them away. Cocooned soldiers had their skin severely blistered and burnt, but were nevertheless grateful for their lives.

The smell and taste of scorched flesh and something akin to boiled vegetables rose thickly about the hilltop.

Barely ten minutes after the fantastic attack had begun, it was over.

Burn victims moaned, assisted by the relatively unscathed. Others moved amongst the dead and poked at the yet-bubbling remnants of the Chaos creatures. Fryt opened the cowlings of his las-rifle, letting guarded amounts of rain hiss over the over-heated windings.

Dimnal approached, comms-man trailing. ‘Twelve dead, sir. Two more won’t see tomorrow. Captain’s called a general retreat. Dunno when our dropship’ll be ‘ere, though - it’s been diverted. Seems t’other squads’re ‘ard at it too, sir.’

The comms unit crackled. Its operator frowned, making adjustments. More static, tiny urgent shouts. Unease deepened the operator’s expression.

‘What is it, soldier?’

‘Dunno, sir. It was Omega Squad, to the southeast. But their transmission’s shattered. Can’t get ‘em at all, now, or anybody else. But I’m sure I ‘eard ‘em say something about the sea, sir, before they went off.’

Fryt’s scalp prickled. He raised his magnoculars, scanning the ocean. ‘Yes, I think they probably did,’ he said.

A giant raft of black Chaos matter floated a half-kilometre offshore. Beneath it, in the clear green waters, a thick stem of the stuff snaked northwards beyond the magnoculars’ range.

The raft supported a birthing-ground.

Amongst seawater-puddles, weed-clumps, flapping fish and scuttling crustaceans, lay thousands of women. Faces ever-creased in agony, bellies ever-swollen to the point of rupture, they suffered constant labour… but their offspring had nothing to do with humanity. The endless produce of this horrific mass-nativity were lumps of amorphous milky-white matter, rapidly expanding into roughly anthropomorphic shapes that scuttled to the raft’s edge and dropped into the sea.

Hands shaking, Fryt gave the magnoculars to Dimnal. How long had the raft been there? Could he hear women screaming? He swallowed hot bile.

Dimnal returned the magnoculars, hands also shaking. Reaching into a pocket, the sergeant withdrew a small hipflask, hastily unscrewed its lid, and gulped at its contents. Gasping, he passed it to Fryt.

‘Good stuff, sir - got it at that inn.’

Fryt sipped, relishing the peaty heat as it sliced the vomit stringing his throat. He sipped again. ‘Tell ‘em, sergeant. Get them in the sch-’

But it was too late.

Tall figures were already striding from the trees.

They had grown during their passage from raft to hilltop. Over two metres tall, they were inchoate, vaguely man-shaped things of off-white gelatine. At first they appeared in ones and twos, then tens and hundreds, gathering silently in uneven ranks before the tree-line. Shouts from around the school confirmed they cordoned the hill-top.

Much to his surprise, calm flooded Fryt’s mind. The drumroll of his heart slowed to… A funeral march? He smiled coldly. ‘Overwhelming odds, sergeant.’

‘A glorious death, sir.’

Fryt raised his rifle, set it to its highest intensity, took aim. ‘If you say so.’

As one, the gelatine creatures lurched forwards.

The sky roared.

Fryt shook his head in disbelief. You know, we’re not the bloody Astartes – your Horus-loving jelly-men’ll do for us.

Dropships. Three of them. VTOL engines screaming, they took up hovering station around the hilltop, facing the advancing Chaos army. Blazing promethium abruptly arced from two of the craft, engulfing the gelatine soldiers in an oily, swelling inferno. The backwash of heat set soldiers’ uniforms instantly steaming.

The third ship’s guns, however, remained silent. It was of a different configuration than its escort, heavier in the belly - and Fryt quickly learned why. Huge under-slung doors suddenly gaped, and a giant dropped from them.

The thud of its impact shook the ground.

‘What, by His Piety, is that?!’

Dimnal’s face radiated savage glee. ‘That, sir, that is the captain’s way!’

Somewhere between Dreadnaught and Warhound, Titan Child towered above the battlefield. Bipedal, heavily-armoured and armed, it strode straight into the Chaos force, pauldron-bolters chattering, cuirass-flamers jetting promethium, massive claws swatting and squeezing.

Its head was an armoured dome of forced-diamond, within which lolled the bloated torso of Ujupol, captain of the Fate of Worlds.

A voxcastor blared even above the din of battle: ‘You want out? Then get off your arses and advance! Clear a space for the dropships! Advance, damn you!’

They did.

-oOo-


Pax was no more.

Floating, glowing chunks of the planet, millions of cubic kilometres in volume, trailed dust and frozen atmosphere, spun and collided, seeking the gravitic equilibrium they once possessed.

Ships safely distanced, Ujupol observed the mad dance across the whole electromagnetic spectrum, aware of the Device winding down to quietus, nursing its unfathomable energies for the next catastrophic discharge. See, I told you you’d get your release. I, however…

The iron privacy petals clanked open.

‘Dismissed, Sub-lieutenant Fryt.’

The young officer saluted, face still clouded with barely-suppressed anger, and returned to his platform parked below.

Ujupol sighed (and somewhere between bulkheads an old air-conditioning system rattled briefly, startling the rodents nesting there). It was a relief to be securely integrated with the Fate again (how she had pined for him!), but now he had matters to address – matters New One Fryt had just pressed as much as, if not more than, his rank allowed.

The rescue missions had been disastrous.

The flotilla had lost over a third of its personnel and hardware, with the Grinning Skull worst affected – the doughty battlecruiser was still running little more than a skeleton crew with all able hands returned. Replacements would have to be rotated from other ships, and Ujupol did not relish the inevitable upheaval this would create.

He thought back over Fryt’s debriefing. The officer had shown due respect, but his disgust at Ujupol’s decisions was clearly evident.

The truth, however, is that he is right, Karince. Ujupol smiled sadly, thinking of his daughter, and sensing the spasmodic irising of an air-vent somewhere above the engine chambers. Your ideals are poles apart, yet he reminds me of you: such conviction. But he is a child of his time, beloved daughter – and you were ever child of another. I always hoped to see your face amongst those we rescued…

His eyes itched, he blinked. You stole that dropship without my knowledge, went down to that world against my wishes. I didn’t know you had gone, Karince! I killed you. But the price is not my soldiers’ to pay. This is a grim era, Karince - grimmest in Man’s long history. Individual life means nothing. There are only absolutes. I cannot afford guilt.

With a mental command, he sparked certain cogitators from their sleep. With another, he sent software sharks coursing through the centuries-deep stacks of his memories, seeking out every recollection of his daughter and erasing them from his mind…

Erasing her from his conscience.
Last edited by Chun the Unavoidable on Tue May 10, 2011 7:32 am, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
Chun the Unavoidable
 
Posts: 1945
Joined: Thu Mar 03, 2011 9:00 pm
Location: Wigan (with Leigh halfway up it), England.


Re: His Conscience

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Mon May 09, 2011 7:17 am

For comments on the old Bolthole: Click.
User avatar
Chun the Unavoidable
 
Posts: 1945
Joined: Thu Mar 03, 2011 9:00 pm
Location: Wigan (with Leigh halfway up it), England.


Re: His Conscience

Postby Firefox » Mon May 09, 2011 1:09 pm

I love this. My all time favourite 40k fanfic. Bloody, bloody good work.
User avatar
Firefox
 
Posts: 50
Joined: Fri Apr 29, 2011 8:58 am
Location: UK


Re: His Conscience

Postby Rhamah » Mon May 09, 2011 7:38 pm

That...was fantastic.

Sir, I tip my hat to you yet again.
The Tyrant Reborn.
Maugan Ra wrote:It is not wise to antagonise Rhamah, unless you're planning to leave the country in the near future. Via catapult.


The Ordo Off-Topicus, back from the dead!
User avatar
Rhamah
 
Posts: 44
Joined: Wed Mar 16, 2011 2:39 pm
Location: The rebuilt Ordo


Re: His Conscience

Postby sycopat » Tue May 10, 2011 12:24 am

Wow, that's bloody good stuff sir. Colour me well impressed.
sycopat
 
Posts: 3
Joined: Mon May 09, 2011 4:23 pm


Re: His Conscience

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Tue May 10, 2011 7:30 am

Many thanks, each. To be honest, I thought most people had already read this - I only posted it here for completion's sake.

(And, Firefox, I recall you liking this, but I never realised it was your favourite FanFic - I'm honoured.)
User avatar
Chun the Unavoidable
 
Posts: 1945
Joined: Thu Mar 03, 2011 9:00 pm
Location: Wigan (with Leigh halfway up it), England.


Re: His Conscience

Postby Gaius Marius » Tue May 10, 2011 6:47 pm

Great one Chun.
Space Cowboy, Spartan II, Specter, Reclusiarch

'I see the fear you have inside.'
User avatar
Gaius Marius
 
Posts: 1044
Joined: Thu Mar 03, 2011 7:14 pm


Re: His Conscience

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Tue May 10, 2011 8:55 pm

Thank'e, sir.
User avatar
Chun the Unavoidable
 
Posts: 1945
Joined: Thu Mar 03, 2011 9:00 pm
Location: Wigan (with Leigh halfway up it), England.


Re: His Conscience

Postby Pipitán » Tue May 10, 2011 9:28 pm

Incredible stuff, Chun, I was particularly impressed by the ending, and how satisfying it was - as I think William Goldman said, story reveals should be both inevitable but unexpected, and you achieve this balance perfectly.

This little detail stood out as being the most freaky and spine-tinglingly disturbing:

Other than the occasional surreptitious glance, even the odd shy wave, none of the other children took much notice of the four soldiers - too intent on their cannibalistic gluttony.


On the (admittedly very sparse) negative side, I have to say that I agree with Mossy that the Titan Child is unnecessary to the story, in my opinion. It's a nice idea in itself, and the sequence is written sublimely (the line of dialog at the end of it is very cheer-worthy), but when all's said and done it feels out of place.

Although Colossus is still my favourite of your works (and I think my favourite fanfic of all time - I still live in the hope of seeing its completion), this gets very close, and reminded me just why I love the 40k universe. Bravo, Sir.
It’s genius. This story absolutely BLEEDS 40K, start to finish... I freaking loved it.
- Aaron Dembski-Bowden on my story 'Sating Desire'
User avatar
Pipitán
 
Posts: 258
Joined: Thu Mar 03, 2011 6:32 pm


Re: His Conscience

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Wed May 11, 2011 7:28 am

Thanks for your time and comment, Sir. This was an entry in a BL submission (or an extract of it was), and so was done to a word count and with a mind to BL's guidelines, hence the action ending and direct intervention of the captain. I know what the pair of you mean, though.

Always glad to hear people like summat wot I've dun.

And stop reminding me about Colossus - I'm feeling guilty enough about not yet having carried on with that as it is. :?
User avatar
Chun the Unavoidable
 
Posts: 1945
Joined: Thu Mar 03, 2011 9:00 pm
Location: Wigan (with Leigh halfway up it), England.


Re: His Conscience

Postby Mossy Toes » Wed May 11, 2011 9:06 pm

Incentive to remind you all the more!

'Twas excellent, of course. I'll honestly say that this time I didn't but skim it for my favorite bits, but...
What sphinx of plascrete and adamantium bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination? Imperator!
User avatar
Mossy Toes
 
Posts: 2284
Joined: Fri Mar 04, 2011 12:30 am


Re: His Conscience

Postby Firefox » Wed May 18, 2011 11:30 am

Chun the Unavoidable wrote:(And, Firefox, I recall you liking this, but I never realised it was your favourite FanFic - I'm honoured.)


Oh absolutely. I read this on the old, old, old forums - so admittedly there is an element of nostalgia colouring my view. But it remains a firm favourite. This and His Purpose and The Helper. I feel like I should be giving you money...
User avatar
Firefox
 
Posts: 50
Joined: Fri Apr 29, 2011 8:58 am
Location: UK


Re: His Conscience

Postby horizon » Wed May 18, 2011 2:37 pm

Cool! 8-)
User avatar
horizon
 
Posts: 42
Joined: Thu Mar 31, 2011 8:35 pm


Re: His Conscience

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Wed May 18, 2011 7:21 pm

Thank you! :D
User avatar
Chun the Unavoidable
 
Posts: 1945
Joined: Thu Mar 03, 2011 9:00 pm
Location: Wigan (with Leigh halfway up it), England.


Re: His Conscience

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Sat Jun 01, 2013 8:20 pm

Well, it has been over a year. However, this is the last bump of any of my own 40k stuff for the foreseeable. Promise!
User avatar
Chun the Unavoidable
 
Posts: 1945
Joined: Thu Mar 03, 2011 9:00 pm
Location: Wigan (with Leigh halfway up it), England.


Re: His Conscience

Postby Launcifer » Wed Jun 19, 2013 2:40 pm

You could... y'know... write some more? :o
Daubing the fourth wall with metaphysical graffiti since, oh, tuesday teatime, I should think.
User avatar
Launcifer
 
Posts: 31
Joined: Mon Apr 11, 2011 4:16 pm


Re: His Conscience

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Wed Jun 19, 2013 8:32 pm

I could. I try to. But what little there is atm is not 40k (and you've read the start of what I'm about now... the first draft is nearing very rough completion, too). With my grandson's advent, there's little quiet time in my house lately. That's my excuse, and, feeble as it is, I'm sticking to it.

While you're paying one of your rare visits, old love, could you pm/ email your email address? It seems wiping addresses off a WIndows phone also wipes them off my bloody account!
User avatar
Chun the Unavoidable
 
Posts: 1945
Joined: Thu Mar 03, 2011 9:00 pm
Location: Wigan (with Leigh halfway up it), England.


Return to Board index

Return to Warhammer 40,000

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest