COLOSSUS

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

COLOSSUS

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Fri Mar 04, 2011 9:29 pm

-oOo-

COLOSSUS


CONTENTS:

Part One: Incursion

Chapter I - Mr Char
Chapter II - Goading Golgotha
Chapter III - A Kiss for Daddy
Chapter IV - Titan Down


-oOo-
Last edited by Chun the Unavoidable on Thu Nov 24, 2011 8:22 am, edited 8 times in total.
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Chun the Unavoidable
 
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Re: COLOSSUS

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Fri Mar 04, 2011 9:38 pm

I: Mr Char

-oOo-

I come from a place whither I desire to return
-Inferno (Canto II)

Purple lightning jagged down from the roiling, world-shrouding cloud. It played over the brass spears of conductor masts and discharged down the sides of buildings, into the main mass of the vast equatorial waistcoat of adamantine that gave Forgeworld Ghast its name.

The strikes were constant, exploding everywhere Inquisitor Baal Beelzi looked – a forest of blinding purple incessantly shifting to create the illusion that the stricken buildings were in jerky motion as their shadows jumped, lengthened, and shrank spasmodically.

Ghast seemed to seethe almost as much as the clouds that choked it.

Baal squinted through his little lander’s cockpit, frowning. ‘What a dreary, dreary place this is.’

Still, at least he could see now. The passage through the multi-coloured cloudbanks of the upper atmosphere had been a... Well, it would have been a hair-raising experience, had he any hair to be so affected. Skimming through bands of the pearliest white into whirls of the muddiest brown; punching through swirling emerald mists into thick saffron soups that induced alarming coughs and splutters in the lander’s engines. And the temperature rose and fell dramatically with each penetrated strata, catching the craft’s atmospheric conditioners wanting for minutes at a time - plunging to the point of frost on the cockpit windows, rising until Baal was compelled to remove his wide-brimmed hat. And the vibrations! So bad parts of his body still resonated!

It had been an alarming, often nauseating, experience; quite unlike the planet-falls he was used to. He resolved to book passage on a carrier for the return trip.

As Baal weaved his lander through stacks and cooling towers he briefly wondered at the relatively clear air about him, between cloud and city. It was probably caused by some kind of static charge, planetary potential and/ or pressure difference, induction... thing. And no real concern of his.

He looked down at his heavily-polished wooden console, at the crystal tell-tales and shining brass studs and levers. ‘Where’s the Emperor-damned beacon?’ At that moment, a tell-tale flashed green and a tiny bell chimed sweetly. ‘Oh, I see –’

‘Lander call-sign Sulphurous, Lander call-sign Sulphurous, what are you doing there? That isn’t your designated insertion volume.’ The voice was male, young, and contemptuous.

How rude. ‘I lost the beacon, sorry. I have it again now.’

‘So you should. Are you blind? Do you know the wattage of those beacons? Bloody off-’

There came a pause, and Baal knew his communicant had just looked over the Sulphurous’ roster.

‘Ah. Um. No problem, Inquisitor. Erm, I see your lander is of standard configuration. If you like, you can transfer control to HiveSpirit and it can pilot you in remotely. You’re, ah, a long way off course and flying through Ghast can be a pretty demanding experience.’

‘Certainly. That would be splendid.’

‘Wonderful. If you would be so kind as to ask your lander’s machine spirit to drop its firewalls...’

‘Ah, no,’ said Baal, smiling to himself. ‘I’ll tell my lander to drop its firewalls, if you like. I’ll depress the requisite studs and enter the requisite codes, but I won’t pander to a “machine spirit” whose existence I see as totally unlikely, and belief in which I see as completely ludicrous.’

There was shocked silence for a moment, then, ‘Inquisitor, you blaspheme. The –’

‘As you say, I am Inquisitor. Therefore I cannot blaspheme. A certain Ko once taught me that... amongst other things. Now, the firewalls are down. Shall I transfer control or not?’

Baal’s smile widened at the imagined discomfort of the other, caught between the conflicting ideals of absolute Inquisitorial authority and Adeptus Mechanicus theology. Learn your place, little man. Learn humility.

There came a nervous cough. ‘Um, yes, Honoured Inquisitor. Thank you. Transferring now. And, if I may make so bold as to advise you, sir: be sure to retain cabin integrity during your flight, the atmosphere’s knackered.’ He paused, laughed as nervously as he coughed. ‘Forgive any misunderstanding, please, Inquisitor Baal. You see, it’s my first week on –’

‘Such trifles the likes of you might presume trouble me are as nothing compared to the woes of the Imperium. Remember that.’

‘Um, yes. Eh, of course, Honoured inquisitor. Ah, Control Tower Gamma Twelve out.’

The Sulphurous lurched softly, and another voice filled the small cabin, calm and sexless. ‘Welcome Inquisitor. I am HiveSpirit, and I have control of your craft. The journey will take a short while, so if you have refreshment and entertainment aboard, I suggest you avail yourself. Enjoy the flight.’

‘Thank you, HiveSpirit. Most polite – unlike your operative at Gamma Twelve.’

‘As to that, sir, I could not possibly comment. HiveSpirit out.’

Baal raised his eyebrows in mild surprise. An artificial intelligence? Surely not – such things had been banned since the Age of Strife. Moreover, this was a forgeworld. Doubtless HiveSpirit complied with whatever definitions were laid down for such things and only appeared to possess intelligence.

Whatever the truth, its suggestion had merit.

Baal rose from his seat, adjusted his hat to a rakish angle, and unbuttoned his greatcoat (the last stratum of chemical cloud had been a cold one). Four strides brought him to the rear bulkhead of the Sulphurous. From an antique wood-and-leaded-glass cabinet he selected a dusty bottle, decanter, and crystal tumbler. Whistling quietly to himself, he prepared a few minims of ancient amasec.

Next, setting the tumbler to one side, he knelt, tugged a somewhat threadbare but rather beautifully patterned rug out of the way, and lifted open a large stowage compartment. Carefully leaning the hatch against the galley cupboards, he retrieved the tumbler and sipped meditatively, regarding the compartment’s contents.

‘Mmm. A delicious vintage, truly delicious. A woman of your taste and upbringing would simply adore it. Now, my dear, we don’t have much time to play. So... something small. An eyelid? Yes, let’s slice off an eyelid. Now, now, what’s the point in trying to scream? I cut out your tongue and vocal cords first, didn’t I? Don’t thrash so.’

Whistling again, Baal made a selection from a rack of shining implements set into the compartment wall and bent forwards.

The Sulphurous sped smoothly on.

-oOo-


The Bedlam Secundus facility had been incorporated into the east wing of the Curatio Magnificus, three sublevels below the Order of the Eternal Candle Administratum and one up from the Incendium... Or so the acceptio generatim’s marble legend indicated, rising monolithically from vast foyer’s crystal floor.

But just how reliable is this damned sign? It appeared to have been erected during the hospital’s initial construction, and Emperor only knew how long ago that was or how many extensions and adjustments there had been since. Baal idly deciphered the rest of the verdigrised copper letters, filling in missing ones as best he could considering the unfamiliar titles of many of the departments.

He was not in the best of moods. The remotely-controlled flight and berthing of the Sulphurous had gone perfectly, but –and he had to admit this was probably due to the botched planet-fall- his guide had not been at the docking terminal to meet him. Thus he had to endure a sweaty journey through kilometres of the city, mainly –and very much depressingly- employing public transportation when he didn’t have to actually walk.

Of course, his Inquisitorial status meant he got the very best of such transportation, and that he was never jostled or otherwise incommoded by the milling crowds, but still...

It simply would not do.

Someone coughed close behind him, the cough poorly disguising an insulting phrase.

He whirled. Who dared -!

But there was nobody there. The cavernous reception was relatively -blessedly, after the discomfort of his journey- empty. Only a few scattered groups of white-coated individuals and the odd servitor were to be seen. None were in his immediate vicinity.

Baal frowned... and then realised what had happened. Unconsciously giving a little nod, he thought, I am close to him then?

An unseen child tittered to his left, causing the small hairs on the nape of Baal’s neck to rise. This time, however, he did not turn.

‘Inquisitor! Ah, Inquisitor!’

My, but I’ve never known you so vocal. What... Oh, my mistake.

Running in a rather comical fashion from the direction of the sweeping sandstone reception desk, was a short fat man in a long white smock.

Baal recognised the man from his records but made no move towards him, instead letting the other exert himself rushing across the full span of the reception. It was one of Baal’s guilty pleasures to watch obese people exert themselves.

At last the man reached the waiting Inquisitor, panting and rubbing his hands together, managing to smile in both embarrassment and obsequiousness. Though his own outward expression remained politely attentive, Baal smiled inwardly when he noticed the fat man had become slightly stooped after his jog, and that large patches of sweat were already beginning to spread from his armpits and flower out over his almost feminine chest. The man’s round face was also blotched, looking positively burnt in the flickering purple beams stabbing down from the chamber’s expansive skylights.

‘You’re here... Inquisitor! We assumed... you’d... you’d been called to a more... important task.’

‘Director of Insanity? Clinq, isn’t it? Yes? Yes-yes, hello. Director Clinq, where was my car?’

The smile fell from the other’s face like an errant lover pushed from a cliff. ‘Eh, Inquisitor, you were quite late, you know.’ The beginnings of a wince, as if of some cur expecting a punishing strike, narrowed the man’s rather beautiful blue eyes as he completed his response... and suddenly realised he may have spoken out of turn to an Inquisitor.

For a perfectly-timed moment, Baal remained silent. He stared at Clinq with what was now a neutral expression, revelling in the other’s rapidly slipping composure. Quietly, but clearly, Baal at last said, ‘Director Clinq, an Inquisitor is never late. He arrives precisely when he means to.’

Clinq’s wringing hands intensified their actions, becoming as alarmingly blotched as his face beneath the force of their shared grip. Lubricating sweat began to glimmer upon them. ‘Inquisitor Baal, my apologies, I... That is, I...’

Baal suddenly grinned brightly, and swung out his hand in a manner that clearly began as a punch but turned mid-swing into a companionable arm around the director’s shoulders. ‘But it is all one, Clinq – all one. Tell me, how do you direct insanity? No, don’t answer that. Now, Bedlam Secundus? I am most eager to see our friend. Where...?’

Thoroughly disconcerted, Clinq nervously indicated a lift. His unease plainly increased as, during what must have quickly become for him an interminable walk to the lift’s flawed crystal doors, Baal began to mutter a ribald ditty while simultaneously gazing about with all the apparent wonder of a baby seeing the world for the first time. At one point the Inquisitor even nodded in a friendly fashion to a floor-polishing servitor.

Baal’s bad mood had lifted. Oh what an especial joy it is to manipulate people so. I wonder if Clinq thinks I qualify as one of his patients. I wonder if he’d have the balls to try and commit me if he did.

They reached the lift and Baal released the director so he could summon it. Presently, with a soft shush and puff of copper-tanged air, the flawed crystal doors slid open. The lift car’s interior was startlingly utilitarian in comparison with the acceptio generatim, its plain metal walls and floor scratched with the passage of countless gurneys. On a bewilderingly large panel of glowing brass studs, Clinq made a selection close to the bottom.

The doors shushed closed. The car lurched, and with a disquieting series of clanks, abruptly fell.

‘Now,’ said Baal, leaning back against the scratched wall, ‘Tell me about our friend. Tell me about Brother Junt.’

‘Junt? I’m sorry, Inquisitor, but who... Ah, you are talking about Mr Char. Yes, that’s right – Junt was the name he was delivered under. You’ve read the file, of course.’

Baal smiled thinly. ‘Malleus is not the only ordos to have certain of its operatives undergo induced dyslexia, Clinq. Even in Xenos the insidious glyphs of Chaos are to be found... as are others. Please reiterate.’

‘But, ah, Inquisitor, I saw you reading the directions in acceptio... Erm, never mind.’

The director took a deep, rather shaky breath. He looked down at his hands –wringing again- as if suddenly aware of their actions. With an obvious act of will, he forced the pair apart, trapping them between his heavy buttocks and the car’s metal wall.

Speaking above the thrum of high-tensile cables and the swishing of displaced air, his eyes darting from one wall of the car to another and only rarely alighting upon Baal, Clinq capitulated with Baal’s request. ‘We’ve had him over a year now. A fascinating man... Well, perhaps “man” pushes definitions a little. Fascinating case, then. Ha-ha. He’d been picked up on some non-descript desert world a couple of systems spinward; found crawling through the dunes muttering about falling or some-such. It was soon discovered that he may well have been responsible for the disappearances and assumed deaths of a number of AdMech staff, as well as a sergeant of the Imperial Guard.’

‘He ate them, didn’t he?’

‘So he’s stated, and certainly no bodies have ever been found to declare otherwise. Ordinarily, of course, he would have been executed or submitted to servitor processing for such actions; but his rather astounding physiognomy and equally astounding story behind it -something to do with a regularly occurring storm- prompted the medical officer of that world to contact a higher authority - namely us. Ha-ha.’

‘But you weren’t authority enough, were you, Clinq? So, in turn, you contacted the Inquisition. And it’s the Scour, by the way.’

‘Erm, pardon, Inquisitor?’

‘The name of the “regularly occurring storm” on that “non-descript desert world” is the Scour. The name of the storm which Junt entered from the north and emerged, naked and scorched and somehow bloody frostbitten from its southern borders, is the Scour. The name of the storm that should have ground him to dust is the Scour. The name of the storm beneath which Junt discovered evidence of, and was directly affected by, xenos super-science is the Scour. The Scour, Director Clinq. The Scour.’

Clinq’s eyes at last lingered on Baal’s for more than an instant, exhibiting a confusion that bordered upon offence: why was he being made to say all this when Baal obviously knew everything already?

Baal grinned. ‘Sorry, Clinq. I just love watching your jowls wobble when you speak. Now, are we there yet?’

Clinq’s face reddened, his hands escaping his restraining buttocks and resuming their sweaty struggle with one-another. His mouth opened and closed twice in a piscine manner, but no words came out. His beautiful blue eyes, after rolling upwards to glance at the car’s strobing light fitting, dropped to become fixated with the floor’s worn metal plating, flitting from one scratch to the next. At last he managed to mumble, ‘We will be there soon, Inquisitor Baal.’

The car swished on - at one point, preceded by a series of alarming clangs, actually seeming to move sideways. The temperature increased, and the dark sweat-stains on Clinq’s smock began to flower further over his breasts - the fat man’s sharp odour quickly filling the small space. As the car progressed, Baal heard muffled screams and shouting, the liquid roar of what he assumed were torrents of water, a rhythmic thumping perfectly syncopated with his heart. Fleetingly, the stench of ammonia enveloped them - whether from the director or some outside influence Baal did not care to learn.

A bell chimed discordantly, and a heavily distorted voice crackled something about ‘Anity’ and ‘Sonal fects.’ The car came to a lurching halt, causing Clinq to take an unsteady step away from the wall. He grinned, sheepishly, acknowledging Baal’s perfect equipoise and making a concerted effort at amiability after his earlier embarrassment. ‘Gets me every time, Inquisitor.’

‘Oh, I bet it does, director.’

The door clanged twice, shuddered... then slid aside upon cacophony and the stink of stale sweat and urine. Intermingled screams of terror, bellows of rage, whoops of laughter, buffeted their ears in a continuous sonic wave as they stepped out upon a wide mezzanine.

What they saw, however, was so at odds with what they heard that Baal was quite startled, his Inquisitional senses pricking as if in the presence of Chaos... or as if they had spoken.

High society milled on the mezzanine: the rich and the titled, the ranking and the ruling. Young ladies chatted intimately, shaded from the glaring arclights in the vaulted ceiling by silken parasols; generals and commissars, hands crossed at the smalls of their backs, conversed self-importantly with the shrouded figures of electro-priests and Logis of the Adeptus Mechanicus; fat managing directors of Ghast’s various business conglomerations bobbed in their suspensor chairs, nibbling sweetmeats from gilded trays at their elbows while lackeys and sycophants attended their every whim and lauded their every word. Young men trailed the young ladies, attempting japes and witticisms to impress their intended paramours.

But for the furore of insanity and austere surroundings, the crowd gave off all the appearance of being about a refreshing afternoon stroll in some domed garden.
It amused Baal that he mistakenly thought the chamber’s clamour –not to mention the smell- originated from such folk; and, as he and Clinq strode across the mezzanine, he found himself stifling a most persistent imperative to guffaw. To counter this impertinent desire, he began to glare at those around him from beneath the shadowy brim of his Inquisitorial hat, as if he found them all wanting in the eyes of the Emperor - taking considerable satisfaction in their quickly-averted glances and hasty sidesteps. Even the powerful generals made to avoid him. The adepts of the Administratum Mechanicus, however, simply returned Baal’s stare, their cyborg miens glittering suggestively within shrouding hoods.

‘It’s Open Day,’ Clinq explained as they coursed through the colourful crowd. ‘They pay to come in here, the Common Chamber, to watch the BGEs.’

Baal raised a questioning eyebrow, and Clinq laughed his nervous laugh. ‘BGEs – the “But for the Grace of the Emperors.” Perhaps you would like to see, Inquisitor Baal?’ Clinq indicated the mezzanine’s edge and the wide space it overlooked.

‘Certainly, Director.’

The crowd thickened as they approached the intricately-wrought iron railing that bordered the raised floor, and Baal began to discern snippets of conversation above the roar from the still-unseen space below.

‘- lunatic behaviour makes one thankful –'

‘Oh, Jentile, that man is naked! Look at his -’

‘-minds me of the Haddishar Front.’

‘Are they cop... No! Servitor! Servitor! Separate those three at once! There are delicate eyes observing!’

‘Look at that one! He thinks he’s a Thunderhawk! Happy enough chap, though, isn’t he?’

‘- don’t know, Logis Grank – there’s a part of me envies them, if you’ll allow the candour. Such freedom the mad enjoy.’

Baal and Clinq gained the railing. The caconophy swelled to an almost deafening level and a warm updraft intensified the miasma of sweat and urine almost palpably. A cubic half-kilometre of porcelain tiles opened before them; roofed in a blinding grid-work of arclighting, and floored with a writhing chaotic mass of deranged humanity no less affecting for the word’s lack of the capital.

The mad. Some stood in groups, arguing, singing, dancing, fighting viciously or in comic pantomime. Others were alone - though that did not prevent many of them undertaking similar actions. Some were aware of their observers, conducting shouted conversations with them that gave all the appearance of sanity and intelligence... before the committed raconteurs began convulsively masturbating or repeatedly punching their own heads until concussion claimed them.

Most, however, were plainly unaware of or indifferent to their audience. One man pressed himself against the tiled walls, running his hands lasciviously along the stained grouting - his moans of pleasure distinct even above the ambient din. Another man was spinning in place like a dervish, forcing himself to continue even when he began to spray thin vomit in a repulsive fountain. Two women sat cross-legged facing one-another, their foreheads touching and their jaws hanging slackly open to trail thick strings of clear spittle; as Baal watched, one of them took a rounded pebble from beneath her lolling tongue and, with infinite deliberation, placed it in her companion’s mouth. Lined against the farther wall, rocking backwards and forwards in companionable unison, were dozens of straightjacketed individuals; many were muzzled, two rather mysteriously had their heads covered in leather sacks. Dozens of others simply strolled slowly about the chamber, their eyes perpetually downcast or raised wide to the dazzling ceiling without show of discomfort.

Baal wondered, quite awestruck, at the vistas that must fill the lost minds of the unfortunates below him. But best not to wonder too much, hmm?

Clinq spoke into Baal’s ear, a citrus hint on his breath doing little to mask his cloying halitosis. ‘If you think this is bad, you should see them at feeding time. It’s a holding chamber, Inquisitor. We keep them here until they’re taken for further study and hopeful correction, whether through surgery or therapy... Well, the interesting ones and the sponsored ones, at least.’ The director shrugged, his expression indicating a lack of control over somewhat distasteful eventualities.

‘And the remainder?’ asked Baal.

‘The AdMech’s servitor processing factories are always in need of basic chassis.’

Baal returned his attention below. Trundling amongst the lunatic throng were large multi-limbed servitors, their voxcastors blaring hymns and Imperial catechisms as they separated brawls, inspected the injured and unconscious, and dispensed medications. Had some of them previously been a more integral component of the lunatics they now administered to? ‘How many of your patients are re-integrated into society, Director Clinq?’

‘Oh, of those not given to the AdMech or kept for further study, almost a hundred percent. It often doesn’t require much effort, you see. There’s plenty of leeway given to the insane in the Imperium of Man, Inquisitor – definitions of insanity are quite subjective... quite liberal. Ha-ha. In fact, some wags amongst my peers use the term Imperium of Mad.’

Clinq grinned rather desperately, obviously praying Baal would see the funny side of his remark.

‘Like you wouldn’t believe, Clinq,’ Baal thoughtfully replied, and without smiling. ‘Like you wouldn’t believe. Now... Brother Junt?’

‘Of course, Inquisitor. This way, if you please.’

They progressed along the mezzanine, exiting it on the far side at a small servitor-run reception where Clinq was required to provide voiceprint identification and Baal to activate an Inquisitorial electoo.

Past the reception was a wide metal door, freshly painted in dark green and opening onto a dim corridor. Just as the pair stepped beyond it, someone down on the Common Chamber’s floor began to shout with unusual emphasis, ‘I’m gonna put you! In the Bin! Put you! In the bin!’ Over and over.

Startlingly close, Baal heard a woman sob almost as if she were the shouter’s target. He looked around for her, but there was only Clinq.

The door swung closed behind them, silencing Common Chamber and sobbing both.

-oOo-


The unbearable actinic glare of the Common Chamber had burned afterimages on Baal’s retina, and it took a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the relative darkness of the corridor he and Clinq now strode along. By the time he could see properly, they stood before another door picked out in the narrow beam of a small, audibly fizzing, spotlight.

Scratched through the door’s light green paintwork and into the metal beneath, the thin lines rusting in the slightly moist atmosphere, was a cartoon of a man’s face – one half stretched in manic laughter, the other slumped in manic depression. The quality of the work was quite admirable.

Noticing Baal’s attention, Clinq smiled. ‘It’s good, isn’t it? Nobody’s sure if it was a patient or employee that made it; and nobody can quite bring themselves to paint it out. Excuse me.’

Producing a wafer of plastic from within his voluminous white smock, Clinq swiped it along a groove set into the door’s frame. A bell chimed sweetly, and the door slid into the wall.

‘Quick now, if you would, Inquisitor – it doesn’t stay open long.’

Another huge chamber, its dimensions gleaned more from intuition than visual evidence as the few spotlights that provided its only illumination were directed solely upon the gantry the pair traversed. Metal grills clanged! with each step. The air was cooler here, though still somewhat damp; light breezes wafted refreshingly over Baal’s face. The gantry was narrow, and, Baal sensed, a considerable distance from the chamber’s floor.

He gazed about, trying uselessly to penetrate the encircling darkness. What did it conceal? He felt a presence engulf him – his entrance was noted. Something watched. Was aware.

And doubtless insane.

The gantry flared into a wide oval, its centre a square, un-fenced hole. Chains pierced the hole through its centre, their source enshrouded above, their load enshrouded below. They swayed almost imperceptibly.

‘’Ware the drop, Inquisitor – it’s a long way down and I know those beneath don’t take kindly to things falling on their heads... not even Inquisitors. Ha-ha.’

Are you actually attempting to gain the upper hand here, Clinq? How amusing.

On the hole’s far side stood a small console, its upper surface glowing with letters and numbers. As Clinq pondered them, rubbing his chin and muttering, Baal listened to the chains rattle together softly, the steady drip of water somewhere in the darkness. There was no other noise, and yet he still sensed that the chamber was crowded. Out in the darkness, all around, he and the director were being considered. And then...

Whisp-snick!

The sudden sound came from what Baal had taken to be a defunct servitor or lesser apparatus to the left of the console. Standing just outside the closest spotlight’s beam and further veiled beneath a tarpaulin, the object’s form was hard to properly discern – Baal could only say for sure that it was tall and rather spindly.

Whisp...

Something momentarily glittered within the tarpaulin’s shadowed folds, just managing to catch the light. Two rapier-like slivers, elegant and slender, punched outwards, performed a series of curtailed slicing motions, and then retracted as quickly as they appeared.

...Snick!

‘Ah, Doctor Ratz, I thought you might be here,’ said Clinq, straitening up from the console. ‘Inquisitor Baal, Doctor Ulrik Ratz, our house lobotomist.’

With a peculiar lurching step, the doctor moved into the light. The tarpaulin was revealed as a black hooded cloak open down the front, and Ratz as cadaver cast in black ceramic. Its face was an immobile mask of sexless calm, its torso a stylised ribcage, its limbs thin articulated rods. Bulging at each of its wrists where the twin cylinders from which the spikes had emanated, producing the distinctive sound that announced Ratz’s presence. Even now Baal watched their tips sliding partially in and out, as if restless with the desire slip between eyeball and socket, to puncture skulls and sever nerve fibres.

‘Beautiful orbitoclasts, sir,’ said Baal, holding out his hand in greeting.

Clinq regarded his guest sharply, obviously surprised the Inquisitor recognised the instruments. He swallowed, opened his mouth, but in the end decided to say nothing.

A skeletal hand clasped Baal’s. The ceramic was surprisingly warm.

‘Thank you, Inquisitor. You have an interest in blades? Or surgery in general?’ The doctor’s voice, barely masculine and emanating from still ceramic lips, was measured and unexcitable, as if designed to soothe.

‘Oh, an amateur’s in the latter, but quite a vested in the former, sir.’ Pointedly, Baal looked Ratz up and down. ‘And if you will allow, sir, yours is amongst the most graceful cyborgisation I’ve ever seen. Obviously there are advantages to living on a forgeworld.’

‘Oh, indeed, Inquisitor. There are also advantages to being very rich and married to a devoted Artisan. The design was mostly hers, though we collated on certain –ah- attachments.

Almost as if put out at the other’s conversation (plainly more a meeting of peers –as much as anything could be involving an Inquisitor- than Clinq’s and Baal’s), the director interrupted. ‘Yes, lobotomy is really only something of a pastime for you, isn’t it, doctor? You heard about the Inquisitor’s arrival, I assume? You’ve come to see Mr Char, too?’

Ulrik released Baal’s hand, turning to the director. ‘I assumed you’d be down here sooner than later. I would have had him ready, but didn’t want to steal your little moment at the controls – I know how you like to play with the cages. The sequence, by-the-by, Director Clinq, is AV921 hash omega.’

Baal watched Clinq colour and smiled wryly at the now familiar motion of his hands towards one-another – quickly redirected into movement over the console. Silently, Clinq pressed the stipulated studs as, behind his back, Baal raised an amused eyebrow to the doctor - acknowledged by a slight sideways tilt of the cyborg’s elegant head.

An omni-directional whine of motors spinning into life commenced; quickly followed by low, circling rumbles and loud clatters as if some heavy mechanism were seeking through the surrounding dark. Suddenly, the chains piercing the platform began to slide against one-another, alternatively slackening and slapping as unknown strains burdened them.

Motion and noise at last answered by the chamber’s unseen denizens.

It wasn’t like the holding chamber. There was no cacophony. Individual calls were discernable, if not always understandable. Though such heartbreaking hints, thought Baal, Such alarming allusions. Oh my dear, mad brethren – the sights you’ve seen!

‘They’re coming to take me away. Ha ha. Ho ho. He he.’

‘Not you, boyo – you’ll always be Krunk’s.’

‘The words on the fifth page! I read them! I read them! The eldar – the eldar know! Even now they - Get out of my mind!’

‘She always did like that box – I only fixed her so she could fit in it.’

‘Choose me, Clinq! Choose me! Bastardbastardbastard!’

‘No, mommy, no. It still hurts from last time.’

‘His eyes were always so bright...’

And the inevitable, ‘Blood for the Blood God!’

Something screeched below, the clamour surely beyond the reach of even insanely-governed vocal cords. The gantry shook and into its hole a cage was lifted.

Clamps extended from the cage’s base and socketed home into the gantry floor. The invisible motors hummed unhurriedly to silence; the rattle and rumble of chains and unknown devices quietened.

The chamber’s residents, excitement over, resumed their hushed observation.
Baal regarded the cage. It was a three meter cube of meshed metal, floored and roofed in slabs of iron sporting symmetrical attachments suggestive of a stacked storage system. As Baal looked on, four deeply-ensconced uplighters in the cage floor brightened to soft yellow life, barely revealing the meagre contents: a simple sleeping pallet and compact ablutions suite. The suite drained through pipes in the side of the floor obviously designed to couple with others in the cage’s usual resting place, and, considering the faint faecal reek permeating the chamber, Baal was vaguely surprised to note their relative cleanliness – until he recalled what he had learned of the cage’s occupant’s self-imposed starvation.

‘Inquisitor Baal,’ said Clinq with a showman’s flourish, ‘Allow me to introduce Mr Char.’

If Doctor Ratz’s body was the mineral representation of a human corpse, here, surely, was its organic muse.

Tech Acolyte Junt’s Bedlam Secundus-given name of Mr Char was horribly apt. Scorched, altered, after exposure to the blistering, enigmatic radiations pulsed and inducted from the underside of a necron Tomb Spyder, he now seemed little more than a cinder in human form. Once a relatively young-looking man, he was now withered far beyond anything that should yet remain alive. His skin was blackened, crisped and peeling -though numerous open sores wept greasy pus to prevent complete desiccation- and seemed directly painted upon bones and sinews.
There was barely a hint of musculature, let alone fat. Even beneath his ribcage, where stomach and intestines should have bulged, there was only sickening absence - the skin taught-back, softening knobs of individual lower vertebrae and a few other wrinkles -like worm casts in sand- that may have been the shrunken remains of entrails. The joints and juts of his skeleton seemed perpetually on the verge of tearing through, and Baal wondered if even such ruptures would be enough to end Junt’s infernal animation. If his skin finally sloughed off, would his bones keep moving?

Oh, Junt - Junt, my old friend – how do you live?

He sat cross-legged on the cage floor, naked and sexless like some fire-damaged mannequin, his eyes tightly closed, his lipless mouth a thin slit. Long patches of blonde hair still clung incongruously to his cracked pate, and Baal speculated if its existence should be taken as a factor of the life yet within Junt... or if it merely continued to grow as hair did even upon a corpse.

Doctor Ratz stepped forwards, and, with a rapid series of soft clicks, gripped the bars with his ceramic hands. He stared at Junt, his fixation and rigidity amplifying his mechanical physiology.

‘I state the obvious when I say he fascinates you, doesn’t he,’ said Baal.

Ulrik’s attention did not waver. ‘Oh, indeed he does, Inquisitor. Think of the things he has seen: the eldritch constructions of a race that, for all we know, witnessed the birth-pangs of our galaxy. And many dismiss them as automata. Automata. Tell me, Inquisitor, could mere robots build and wield that incredible mechanism beneath the Scour? Would robots prevent its operation at the command of an insane Lord as the Spyder that created Mr Char did and still must?’

‘You have read Junt’s account.’

‘I have seen transcripts of his wall daubing on that desert world, yes.’

‘I take it you are cleared to view such, ah, provocative information?’

Doctor Ratz turned his head to face Baal. The merest shade of amusement coloured his voice as he replied, ‘Money greases gears, if you will forgive the pun. I am sure you know that, Inquisitor. But do not concern yourself with the broadcast of forbidden knowledge – one does not have to be Inquisitor to adhere to ordos ideals.’ He returned his attention to Junt. ‘I would ask this, however: when the expedition is mounted into the Scour, I am allowed to be a part of it. I would be of use, you know.’

‘Oh, I am sure you would, Doctor Ratz.’

As if detecting something in or missing from Baal’s reply that unsettled him, Ulrik again regarded the Inquisitor. ‘That is why you are here, isn’t it - to gain further information as prelude to such an endeavour?’

Baal felt Clinq’s attention now, and smiled inwardly as he waved a non-committal hand and changed the subject. ‘Tell me, does he still refuse to eat?’

Clinq rolled his beautiful eyes. ‘He sips water on occasion – that is all.’

‘And what food have you offered him, dear director?’

‘Well, he does show interest in any rarer meats we might serve, but he always eventually turns his nasal socket up to them. Of course, we can never give him what he really craves.’

‘Oh, is that so? Hm.’ Baal committed another deliberate non sequitur, asking, ‘Are those chronometers set to the correct intervals?’

Bolted to the outside of the cage was a small, two-dial brass clock. The dials were simply labelled, ‘Closed’ and ‘Open,’ the first incremented at sixteen minutes and thirty-two seconds, the second at something over forty seconds. At the moment, only the single arm of the ‘Closed’ dial was in motion, silently winding back to zero.

‘Oh yes, Inquisitor,’ said Clinq, smiling as if he was the author of wonderful deeds, ‘Our ceramic friend inspects the batteries religiously, don’t you, Doctor Ratz?’

Ulrik did not reply, his gaze merely brushing the clock before returning to the immobile Junt.

‘He still, ah, performs?

‘Without fail, and...’ Clinq squinted at the clock, ‘Yes - it is almost time. Would you like to watch?’

‘But of course.’

The slender arm steadily rose to the zero at the top of the dial. Without warning, Baal slapped Clinq hard between his sweating shoulder-blades with enough force to cause the fat man to stagger forwards. ‘It’s like waiting for a lift, isn’t it, Director? Are you excited?’

Clinq only ha-ha-ed nervously and took a surreptitious step out of the Inquisitor’s reach.

There came a sharp, hissing intake of breath behind Baal, and the hairs on the back of his neck tickled as they rose. But he knew there would be nobody there, and resisted the urge to turn. The breath was not released.

The hand reached zero and stopped. Its counterpart on the neighbouring clock whirred into motion.

As did Junt.

Corpse that he seemed, it was somehow much more fitting he remained still. His sudden, violent animation as he bolted upright -flinging his arms high into the air so that they almost reached the cage’s roof; straining his head back as if he, for all the world, was basking in the attentions of an adoring audience- increased his inherent wrongness tenfold.

Whisp... chink... snip!

The doctor’s orbitoclasts were, repeatedly and seemingly unconsciously, sliding from their sheaths to tap against the cage’s bars as their operator avidly followed Junt’s actions.

Junt returned his head to an even plane. His mouth hung open to reveal rotten black gums and a shrivelled, flicking tongue; his eyelids peeled back from corrugated ellipsoids of milk.

A weak sibilation became audible, like gas from a leaking pipe.

It came from Junt. With a slow crackle of leather rubbing against leather, the blackened creature looked at each of his audience in turn. Surely you cannot see us, my friend. Your eyes are surely useless now. A grin stretched the lipless, gaping mouth. Then, without any accompanying movement from his jaw, Junt’s wrinkled tongue ceased its writhing to curl upwards, and the word, ‘Laaawd,’ seeped into the chamber.

And that was how he remained, holding his audience rapt until the clock labelled ‘Open’ quickly wound down to zero and the one labelled ‘Closed’ began to turn again.

Or, at least... The Closed clock was turning, but Junt remained standing, still hissing. Ah, there you go.

With wincingly loud cracks from his poorly-cushioned joints, Junt collapsed back into his cross-legged sitting position, eyes and mouth again tightly closed.

A breath was noisily released, and Baal at first thought it came from behind him – but it was only Clinq.

‘Next showing in exactly sixteen minutes and thirty-two seconds. Well, Inquisitor, what do you think of that? Enigmatic to say the least, hm?’

‘The least. Tell me, Director, when was the last time you synchronised Mr Char’s performance with the Scour?’

Clinq looked surprised. ‘Why, we haven’t seen any need to. He is animate every time the storm blows, and has been since he was found. The intervals remain exact. He used to scrawl on his cell walls and rant about falling during the “open” periods, but I’m pleased to say he’s calmed a lot since then. He just stands and says, “Lord.”’

‘And in perfect time to the Scour’s blow – a storm that has in turn kept perfect time since records began. What about relativity, my good Clinq? Is that taken into account?’

‘As much as it can be. Without booking time with an astropathical choir we have now way of knowing for sure, of course - but we like to think My Char performs at the exact same moment the storm blows, despite being Emperor-knows-how many light years removed from it. Matters somehow lose their magic otherwise, don’t you think, Inquisitor? I know Doctor Ratz whiles hours pondering over the link between Mr Char and his storm. What’s your latest theory, Doctor? The warp?’

Doctor Ratz let go of the cage’s bars. Gracefully, he turned to the director. ‘How can it be anything to do with Chaos, Director Clinq? Chaos is anathema to the ne-’

Baal coughed politely. ‘Forgive my interruption, good doctor: but, as Clinq is so sure of his times, may I therefore ask if you have been as assiduous in your battery maintenance? You see, the clocks are wrong.’

Doctor Ratz did not immediately reply, unless abruptly turning with one arm reaching out to the clocks could be taken as such. The arm’s orbitoclast was half unsheathed, and Baal wondered if this was a sign of personal affront.

‘Junt was still standing when the Closed clock was in motion,’ explained Baal. ‘I saw it clearly. Could the the mechanism be at fault if you account for the batteries?’

Ulrik’s arm slowly lowered. ‘Impossible – I maintain both.’

‘Then we are left with few options. Director Clinq, perhaps now would be a good time to book that astropathical choir. After time immemorial, our good Mr Char’s actions imply that the Scour is blowing for longer – and quite what that might portend is wide to conjecture.’ Baal paused, and then smiled as if recalling something pleasurable. ‘Now, I have a gift for him.’

Baal stepped closer to the cage and doffed his wide Inquisitor’s hat. Ignoring Clinq’s protestations, his bald pate gleaming in the spotlight, Baal squeezed the hat between the bars and skimmed it over to Junt’s charcoal feet.

‘Inquisitor, we do not usually allow our patients such gifts.’

Baal smile widened. ‘Why, Director Clinq, you count Inquisitors amongst the usual? Do not concern yourself - it is only a hat, after all. I believe he used to wear similar in his more, ah, wholesome days.’

Baal’s smile disappeared as he turned back to Junt, inverting into a sad frown. Farewell, old friend. Our masters miss you, but understand you serve another now. So, a gift. From them, and from me.

Then, face once again beaming, Baal whirled from the cage. ‘A pleasure to have met you, Doctor Ratz. I wish you continued enjoyment in all of your endeavours. No, do not speak - I will of course mention your desires to those in the know.’ He tapped the side of his nose in comic clandestineness. ‘Now, Clinq, escort me to the foyer – a lady lies in wait for me.’

-oOo-


Clinq set the chamber’s mechanisms to return Junt’s cage to its normal resting place, and Inquisitor, doctor, and director departed.

Presently, the clunking and clattering diminished and all was silent, watching dark. Invisibly, then, Junt’s hand slowly slid out and grasped the hat Baal had left, pulling it back into his lap. Delicately, his scorched fingers slid along the garment’s rim, feeling for something... a slight tear in the fabric.

And in the darkness, Junt smiled.

-oOo-
Last edited by Chun the Unavoidable on Wed Nov 09, 2011 8:16 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Chun the Unavoidable
 
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Re: COLOSSUS

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Fri Mar 04, 2011 9:52 pm

II: Goading Golgotha

-oOo-

For the pernicious fault of gluttony,
As you see, now, the rain flattens me here.
-Inferno (Canto VI)


The carryall, Abiatha, BC class, wallowed in the Warp. It was her element, her vast curves slipping through the Chaotic swirls and tides so effortlessly she barely left a wake. Indeed, she hardly appeared to move – rather the Warp gently hefted her, passing her incredible bulk along her vectors like a protective parent might carry a child through a throng.

Throne, but the Immaterium loves this ship.

Two of Navigator Gui Malish Uther’s eyes were shut. The vision of the third, a lidless, oily black orb in the middle of his grey forehead, was unimpeded... but it was not attuned to normal light and did not see the opulent furnishings of the navigator’s pit. The glories and the terrors of the Immaterium, the whorls and worlds of the Warp, the unlight of the Chaotic Realms, were its exclusive purview.

Uther had never known a vessel so at home here. And one of such immensity! Were the Abiatha an amalgam of other, smaller ships, collected and fused over millennia, she would be considered a hulk. Yet there was nothing arbitrary about her – her tens of kilometres of curvature was designed and built –so it was believed- during the Age of Technology. And there was no other ship like her – a fact reflected in the designation ‘BC’: Beyond Classification.

Neither had Uther known such an easy posting. Twenty-one standard years he had piloted the Abiatha, lulled almost into a state of apathy where the Immaterium was concerned. Other ships had to be cajoled, tricked, often forced to conform to the navigator’s wishes if they were not to be lost in or destroyed by the capricious sea they crossed. The razors and knives of the Imperial Navy, the clubs and hammers of the merchant fleets, were all designed to slice their routes through the Immaterium, to bludgeon their courses; and they were reacted to accordingly – with wrath and revulsion. On such craft navigators fought a constant battle with the Warp’s whiles.

Not so the Abiatha. Some indefinable intrinsic quality of her geometry complimented the Warp perfectly. Her parabolas, arcs, tangents, her hillocks and vales, her breasts and hips, taken as a complex whole, were a manufactured manifestation of Chaos – the Immaterium materialised. As such, each insertion into the Warp was, for her, almost a return home. Uther often wondered if, other than demonic influx, there would be any appreciable difference to the Abiatha’s performance if her Gellar fields were to suddenly fail.

If they built her today, the designers would be executed for heresy.

Without any corresponding movement of his head, Uther cast his awareness around the Abiatha’s locality. Each navigator saw the basic structure of the Warp differently. To Uther it was an infinite vista of hideously convoluted shadows, all swirling shades of grey. Here and there, perturbations in the shadow spiked into nodes and polyps, quickly reabsorbed; other disturbances attained equilibrium and remained static, swelling and shrinking as if with pulsing life. On occasion, nodes would break free and roam their environs. Such births were rarely witnessed, but their offspring were everywhere visible as sometimes regular, more often shapeless forms of an infinite array of colour, texture and size - denizens of the Warp in their raw state.

So favoured was the Abiatha that it had gained its own Chaotic retinue of such entities. Keeping constant pace far off to starboard were the Primarchs – twenty glorious globes of indigo, ruby, and sapphire in constant, intricate dance that often devolved into a spectacular merging Uther considered orgiastic. Glittering in what would be the syrupy prow wave of any other vessel where the Delphinus – a shimmering cloud of schooled slivers. And at what Uther estimated to be many thousands of kilometres to stern, bobbed Rose, a soft pink glow of particular beauty ...Particular beauty that would probably manifest itself as some slavering, ravening, multi-mouthed monstrosity if it ever gained the decks of this ship.

But what was this? Another camp follower?

Directly beneath the Abiatha’s hull, much closer than the others, was a new light - a globule of mottled ochre that appeared to possess an unusual solidity, almost of rusty metal.

Frowning, Uther directed his awareness closer to the visitor.

Mercury seas lapping against slag hills. Iron volcanoes spewing molten gold. Aluminium skies raining silver bearings.
Metal rot lies ever in wait to consume it all.
I am My –


Safeguards so ingrained they verged upon unconscious reaction snapped into place within Uther’s mind, and the Immaterium was lost beyond a wall of white nullity. The navigator swallowed back a startled cry. Was that an attempt at possession?

Tentatively, Uther fractionally lowered his defences. The grey infinities of the Immaterium coalesced as if through alabaster fog. But the vision of that strange metallic world did not resume; the whispering voice of wind-tumbled swarf did not complete its name. The mottled form was gone.

Uther released a breath he was unaware he’d been holding. Emperor’s balls, but you are growing lax in your duties. Still, the entity’s will must have been particularly strong to breach the Abiatha’s Geller fields – it would be wise to advise the captain of the incident... and to practice more circumspection in future.

Ah, the captain...

Uther felt around his quilted viewing alcove until he found his silken blue bandana, expertly fixing it in place over his third eye. Next he partially raised the nullity wall so the sight -if not the underlying perception- of the Warp was eclipsed from his mind. He opened his ‘natural’ eyes.

For a moment he relished the impression he was looking up into an infinite blue sky, scudded with wisps of white cloud beneath which naked cherubs cavorted – a wonderful antithesis to the Warp. But then, as always, he registered cracks and flakes in the image and cherubs and sky reverted to what they really were: a beautifully painted ceiling fresco.

Well, painted except for one.

‘Boy.’

Suspensor fields whined as the tiny form of one of the cherubs detached itself from the ceiling and fluttered down, its outrageously small feather wings beating frantically. The creature settled on Uther’s chest, looking at him through pin-sharp, black baby eyes. With a habit both endearing and familiar, the cherub began to scratch its sexless crotch. Missing something there, Boy? I think that’s been gone for quite some while, now, hasn’t it?

Uther had no idea of the cherub’s sex before it became a servitor, but he had made the conscious decision to call it ‘Boy’ – it was so much simpler than ‘Asexual construct.’

‘Boy, didn’t I have a dinner appointment today?’

The cherub sneezed, tilted its head to one side in comical baby gravitas, and then said in its toddler voice, ‘Yes. I shall recite: “Captain Sewel Tarr cordially invites his Honoured Navigator to a Final Repast before emergence into Ghast space. All Guests of Nobility and Ability to attend. Compline Watch. Belly Seven, Bay Twelve, Observation. ”’

‘Very well. Select appropriate garments for me and prepare a bath. Not too hot.’

Suspensor fields whined again, and the cherub –now scratching its black curly hair- lifted into the air.

-oOo-


Suzan dreamed of flying cathedrals.

They had come when she called them in her moment of victory, after the Chaotic maelstrom had at last released her world. Their silver ships had flocked above, tussling for the prizes on the surface. How they had gawped at the riches she had liberated for them! How they had slavered.

And then, as the material was documented and blessed and argued over, the Holy Ecclesiarchy descended to tend to the spiritual.

The cathedral was a blazing wonder falling from the heavens. Yet afire from atmospheric frictions, it sank to the ground, even into it, to look for all the world as if it had stood there for untold centuries.

And even as it burned without being consumed, choirs sung from its spires and battlements, music rose from its domes and chancels. Such songs of glory to Him, the God Emperor, Suzan felt her heart swell to bursting, her soul brimming with holy awe. Overcome, she fell to her knees.

And when they at last came forth from their towering portals, the priests and flagellants and Sisters of Battle, they looked up in wonder to see a Titan with head bowed in piety and worship.

-oOo-


Uther leant against the wall’s rich boiseries, panting. The corridor was filled with the aroma of teak oil. So much weight above and it looks as though it’s being supported with carvings of giant ferns. Uther looked closer at the panel he leant upon. Oh, and beneath them naked dryads caper.

Boy lifted from his perch on the navigator’s shoulder and hovered before his face.

‘You seem overcome. Shall I summon your exoskeleton?’

‘With this suit? No, it will pass once I sit down again. I’m just not used to walking. Navigators are bred for mind, not brawn.’

It was rare for Uther to leave his pit during a voyage. He could conduct all his duties and almost all his affairs from there, with every amusement and nourishment he might otherwise desire to hand or demand. His long spindly limbs, atrophied with an extended lifetime of disuse, could barely support him now. On those occasions when it was absolutely necessary to ‘get about,’ as he put it, he usually employed a custom-built mechanical frame capable of anticipating and augmenting his movements. The contraption, however, was clumsy and inelegant - and such things simply would not do at the captain’s table.

Throne’s pickling pumps, though! I’ve only walked from the transit station!

Uther’s panting subsided, and he resumed his tired gait. Boy re-alighted on his shoulder, wings helpfully buzzing to alleviate the cherub’s weight. But what remained of the journey was short – a few slow steps brought the pair before a rich drape of purple, above which pulsed an engraved lantern, ‘B7, B12, Obs.’

At their approach, sensors alerted actuators and the heavy curtain swished aside. The timing was slightly off, though – the fabric bunched too fast to completely conceal the thick metal valve silently rolling open behind. A steeply spiralling staircase twisted upwards before them, every other step glowing with warm yellow light.

Was it Uther’s imagination, or could he detect a saline tang?

Laboriously, Uther climbed. Leaning heavily upon the wooden banister, he was soon cursing in a hissing whisper at each successful step and vowing to start a regime of exercise at the earliest opportunity. Boy fluttered before him, ‘encouraging’ his progress with a dismayingly slow countdown of the number of steps left to traverse.

Had he the strength, Uther would have kicked the cherub.

The count nearing zero, he looked up in time to see another –horizontal- valve roll aside. Golden candlelight augmented the glowing steps.

A susurrus of conversation fell from the aperture, quickly drowned out by the booming voice of Sewel Tarr, captain of the Abiatha.

‘Ah, Uther, my cadaverous navigator! Come, rest your spindly shanks and sample this delightful Amontillado.’

The captain’s table had never, to Uther’s knowledge, been set in the same place twice. Tarr went to great pains to make his venues unusual, often to the bewilderment of guests. B7B12 was no exception. Though beautifully carved screens of filigreed metal and yellow silk bordered the chamber, though crystal-dripping candelabra were hung everywhere, and though the floor was littered with rich maroon rugs, nevertheless the rust-streaked walls and the floor’s heavy iron grids could not be adequately disguised, and neither could the all-pervading atmosphere of salty damp.

Today’s table was a circle of heavy ebony bordering the valve through which Uther climbed – an uncharacteristically simple selection. Uther readily recalled other repasts in which more grandiose designs were employed. The most memorable was a tiered affair which had provided the captain with much amusement, primarily because the menu consisted of crumbly breads and biscuits and a great assortment of broths... and Tarr had, of course, sat at the summit.

Uther followed the fluttering Boy through the table’s only gap and on around its circumference to a basic, but thickly cushioned and extremely welcome chair. As Uther caught his breath and proceeded to fathom and eventually open his intricately folded napkin, another cherub buzzed over, proffering a tray of small crystal goblets brimming with amber fluid. The navigator smiled slightly as he caught Boy winking at its blonde fellow, a gesture to which the other made no response.

Uther selected a glass. Hoping his hand’s slight shake would not spill the contents, he sipped.

Grey eyebrows rose behind a blue bandanna, multiplying the grey wrinkles above it. ‘Mmm. Delicious. Though not, of course, a true Amontillado.’

‘You think? It was taken from a cryo-crate in a B19 locker... Exhaustive stowage records have been kept on this ship for thousands of years, Gui Uther, and there is no record of that particular locker ever having been used before. So it is not entirely impossible that what you sip has, in its forgotten fruity origins, been smiled upon by Sacred Sol.’

‘Unless the cryo-crate was tampered with and the label falsified,’ said Uther.

‘Don’t spoil the mystique, my three-eyed zombie. Whatever the truth, it tastes good, hm?’

‘As if it were the distilled sweat of the Emperor Himself, oh fattest of captains.’

Long association milked any venom from their words – it was yet another of Tarr’s dinner games to shock new guests with the apparent lack of mutual respect between captain and staff aboard the Abiatha. Uther did not mind playing along – would that other captains he had served permitted such cathartic familiarity!

In any case, Sewal Tarr was indeed fat – the fattest man Uther had ever seen who still got about without the aid of suspensors or stomach dollies. As usual, Tarr was attired in purple: a floor-length smock of iridescent silk, armless but impressively square-shouldered. Pudgy arms as thick as Uther’s torso and as olive-complexioned as the navigator was grey, were in constant motion ambidextrously transporting glistening sweetmeats from platter to Tarr’s full-lipped mouth. His head seemed a depilated dollop of brown cream, hemispherical cheeks and rounded button nose sauced with candlelight.

As ever, his favourite three cherubs were perched upon his shoulders and domed pate. Animated miniatures of their master, or the models upon which Tarr sculpted his own appearance, they differed only by the positioning of glittering green jewels variously plugging mouth, eyes, or ears.

Sudden dry coughing drew Uther’s attention to the other guests about the table. A hooded figure opposite Tarr gestured with a peculiarly stiff, silver-gauntleted hand. ‘Honoured Navigator, the crest at your collar denotes House Umber, does it not? Navis Nobilte indeed. What Family are you? Dexit? Ixen?’ The voice seemed laboured, rasping, and was more reminiscent of intermeshing gears than strumming vocal cords.

Uther bowed shallowly towards the speaker. ‘I am of the Malish line.’

‘Indeed? A surprise.’ There was no change whatsoever in the timbre of the speaker’s voice. ‘How does the navigator of such a revered House, let alone such a revered Family, find himself piloting a merchant vessel?’

The cherub perched upon Tarr’s head, the one with jewel-plugged eyes, rustled its purple wings and rose slightly into the air.

Uther suppressed a wince. The empathic actions of the captain’s baby retinue were an unconscious indication of the true emotions of their master. Uther had categorised many of these actions and knew Tarr had taken insult.

However, now another diner spoke – adjacent to the first and also hooded. The voice was low, yet recognisably female.

‘Grandfather, remember we are amongst gentiles – your words might be construed as harsh and not the simple statements of fact you intend.’

Clicks and muffled clanks sounded from beneath the first hood, noises Tarr graciously interpreted as apologetic. He waved a fat hand. ‘“Harsh” too, are my manners – I have neglected introductions.’

A heavy forefinger began to point around the table. ‘My senior staff you know, of course.’

Uther nodded towards Chief Engineer Jurjad Skay, Weapons Master Frat Gigamesh, Historian Lisa Moy, Purser William Hinch, and Lieutenant Commander Palle Bashid of the Abiatha’s marines. Polite nods and raised goblets were made in response. Uther expected little else – navigators and crew, by long tradition and experience, did not mix.

‘Alexandre Poul, King of the Indigenes of Belly Two, you’ve also met.’ Many of the largest and oldest ships suffered a contingent of feral humans. Often little more than wild men, diseased and hopelessly inbred, they scraped an existence in access ways and maintenance tubes. Abiatha’s indigenes, as they preferred to be called, were different. They had made their home in Belly Two, Bay Three of which contained the storage crates of a forgotten library. Over generations, knowledge gleaned from the library had made them a formidable force – one with which Tarr had chosen to treat rather than attempt to eradicate. In return the indigenes kept the captain ‘in touch’ with the darker, less known corners of his vast vessel. Their self-styled King, Poul, was a squat, powerful-looking man in the ubiquitous stained overalls of the breed. His oily face was solemn as he raised a metal tankard to Uther.

‘Which leaves our honoured passengers from the Holy Adeptus Mechanicum. They accompany a fine weapons cache from a recently Warp-released planet. No doubt to the Emperor’s continued glory. Or is it the Omnissiah? Or are they the same? Forgive my confusion. Perhaps you would care to introduce yourselves? I confess to more uncertainty when it comes to the internal rankings of the Cult.’

Uther smiled into his goblet. Riposte!

More muffled clicks sounded from beneath ‘Grandfather’s’ hood in a manner Uther chose to define as disgruntled. However, before any more antagonism resumed, the female quickly stood, throwing her hood back.

Uther heard both Skay and Moy gasp; and, from the corner of his eye, saw the cherub on Tarr’s left shoulder cover its ‘O’-shaped mouth in surprise.

The doffed hood revealed a pale young face of porcelain beauty cradled in straight blonde hair... and quite devoid of the augmentation her hood had intimated and most people expected from the Adeptus Mechanicum. A slender, placating hand slipped from the cuff of the girl’s cassock onto her companion’s peculiarly rounded shoulder. ‘Please, allow me, Grandfather.’

Another dry cough; a mumbled, ‘As you wish.’

The girl smiled thinly towards Tarr, then bowed to Uther, revealing a marked hunch below her left shoulder. Clearly, and for all the perfection of her face, her cassock covered more than the usual feminine beguilements.

‘I am Lexmechanic Hydru Til, and it is my pleasure and honour to serve and accompany Enginseer Pitre Juts Til, my grandfather. Please do not be offended if he remains cowled... gentile company is often offended if he isn’t.’

‘Appearances mean little to the Navis Nobilte, Hydru Til – look at me, I have three eyes.’

‘The third of which you should pray never to see,’ interposed Tarr, still popping sweetmeats.

The girl glanced at Uther’s silk bandanna. ‘Is it true, then, what they say about a Navigator’s Warp eye? To see it is to die?’

Uther smiled, sipped. ‘Quite true, Lexmechanic. Though I have yet to kill with mine.’

‘What does the Warp look like?’

Is that yearning in your voice, girl?

A stiff silver hand rose to Hydru Til’s shoulder, echoing her earlier motions. With muffled clicks and a short, dry cough, Juts Til interrupted. ‘Forgive her, Navigator. She would storm the walls of every ordos in her quest for knowledge, and be-damned the niceties.’

The silver hand exerted pressure, commanding the girl to sit. As she silently acquiesced, Uther waved the elder Til’s words aside. ‘Quite alright, Enginseer. After all, there are those who argue whether the quest for knowledge should know constraint.’

‘Though they do not argue long,’ said Tarr, darkly.

Uther conceded the point with a raised eyebrow. He noticed that the girl was smiling at him – and felt strangely gratified. Consequently, he was unsure if it was his imagination lending a blush of pink to her white cheeks.

‘Ah,’ boomed Tarr, ‘Food!’

From the central hatch a flock of identical cherubs -all blonde curls and whirring white wings- erupted. The bobbing babies expertly carried platters piled high with rich meats and pastries, tureens of thick soups, delicate jugs of various condiments. One group played mischievously as they flew, fencing with silver cutlery and attempting to pin their fellows with trivets. Behind a blur of chubby pink baby-flesh, Captain Tarr’s table was set.

The captain beamed at his guests, his joy mirrored above by his tiny attendants (the cherub whose lips pouted emerald making do with excited claps). ‘Eat, everyone, eat.’

The meal progressed to appreciative noises. Tarr, though he laid claim to devising the menu, confessed to not being the actual chef. ‘I have recently discovered a housekeeping servitor suffering lacklustre cerebral erasure – it retained memories of its previous existence in a popular restaurant in the Nested Pyramids on Athulussa IV. On a whim I gave it access to my kitchens, and, well...’ He swept a tanned arm around the table. Frat Gigamesh, something of a sycophant in Uther’s opinion, congratulated Tarr on his impulse.

Only Juts Til did not eat, a fact soon noted. The captain frowned. Purple wings fluttered. ‘Is the food contrary to your tastes, Engineseer?’

Another dry cough. ‘I have long since forgone such culinary delights, Captain. My sustenance is derived from a proprietary paste ingested from cartridges. My granddaughter, however, has yet to abandon such pleasures.’

Uther looked at the girl. Hood still thrown back, she was applying herself with gusto to an already half-eaten pie. Suddenly aware of the attention, she coughed, spraying moist crumbs over the table. Uther smiled inwardly – Hydru Til was definitely blushing now. ‘My dear,’ he said, ‘Cleanse your palate with the Shiraz – it goes admirably with the kidneys.’ A cherub, so cued, offered the lexmechanic a brimming goblet of the scarlet wine.

Keeping her hands before her mouth as fit of coughing shook her, the girl nevertheless took the proffered drink. A pewter-coloured mechadendrite suddenly speared into the air above her head. With a two-tined claw that looked as if it could crush iron, the snake-like limb delicately grasped the goblet and conveyed it swiftly to her mouth. None was spilled. Between coughs, and with admirable precision, it tipped the liquid past her lips. The fit gradually subsided. Again, Hydru Til smiled her thanks to Uther.

As if to divert attention from his embarrassed granddaughter (perhaps out of guilt for thrusting it upon her in the first place), Juts Til said, ‘Captain, I noted the length of our journey here from Belly Six. The transit’s acceleration peaked at three hundred kilometres an hour, yet the elapsed journey time was still thirty-seven minutes and twenty-two seconds. This is a large ship.’

Tarr glanced towards his senior staff – most of whom returned a conspirational grin. ‘You did not see the Abiatha on your shuttle journey?’

‘We were concerned with our charges. At any rate, we were in a heavy lifter, not a shuttle - there were no windows.’

‘Ah. Then you will be surprised to learn the transit you employed is not the only one aboard; nor is it is the longest. There are, in fact, fifty-three of them... Well, fifty-three known ones, at any rate. The blueprints are hardly comprehensive these days.’

For a moment, Juts Til was silent. Then rapid clicks and whirrs sounded from beneath his obscuring hood. Was he laughing? ‘You take me for a fool, Captain? No ship is that big.’

Tarr’s beamed, his full lips seeming to elongate from ear to ear. Two of his cherubs began to stifle giggles, the third held its round, heaving belly.

‘Oh, Emperor pin a flower on you, sir! The Abiatha dry-docks battleships! Permit a demonstration.’

The room began to shake. Candlelight was banished by a rippling green glow as the iron walls abruptly fell into the floor and the roof span up and away into a limitless green void.

They dined on a seabed.

‘If you look closely,’ said Tarr, ‘You will see fish.’

-oOo-


Within days of their reclamation of her world, Suzan quickly realised she posed something of a conundrum to the Imperium she desperately wanted to be part of.

The Ecclesiarchy did not know what to do with her. Titans were the accepted and obvious remit of the Adeptus Mechanicum; but this one prayed. Suzan contributed to the hymns and admonishments with a voice capable of bursting eardrums. She took attitudes of awesome piety at the cathedral portals – her massive poleyns fracturing the ground, her terrible simian-masked head piercing the low autumn overcast, her right hand held below her massive cuirass to indicate the huge Aquila emblazoned there (Suzan would have signed in the conventional manner, but her left arm was a railgun). She humbly insisted upon anointment with the Emperor’s Tears along with the other heathens of her world, actually lying flat to allow her mountainous forehead to be sprinkled... accidently exploding the tracks of an Adepta Sororitas Rhino beneath a megatonne thigh in the process.

Preacher Brine Kipple, nominal head of the Ecclesiarchal order that had come to return Suzan’s world to the Emperor’s bosom, had praised her devotion - but had also tried to quell it. One cold morning a few weeks after the cathedral’s landing, while dodging occasional drips of lubricant from nasal mortar positioning mechanisms, he had squinted up at the Titan’s simian visage to say, ‘Sheer size alone precludes your acceptance in any normal congregation. I know of no cathedral in the diocese capable of accommodating a disciple of your stature, um, Suzan.’ The little priest said her name almost in amusement, as if he thought it entirely inadequate. So it was, of course – but then it wasn’t her only name. ‘Indeed, there a few such in this sector.’

He had shaken his head, smiling sadly and looking at the toe of his sandaled foot peeping from beneath the hem of his thick winter cassock. Suzan remembered zooming in on the nape of the preacher’s liver-spotted neck, watching blinking reticules struggle to acquire such a miniscule and close target. ‘Be assured, however, that I will take the matter up with the cardinal at the earliest opportunity. Perhaps, in its wider implications, your case is even a concern for the synod.’

Preacher Kipple then mumbled something he obviously thought Suzan would not hear. However, ankle vox units installed for the benefit of any nearby infantry easily discerned his words. ‘Whether they decide you are heresy embodied is any man’s guess. There were reasons the Dark Age of Technology ended, you know.’

A small white explosion detonated just beside the preacher. Momentarily startled, Kipple had frowned and squinted at the Titan’s face again. Speaking clearly, he said, ‘You would have to do something about those birds if your case were taken further – we couldn’t have them sh*tting all over holy relics and personages, could we?’

Cawing from the Titan’s ever-attendant corvine murder, spiralling about the God Machine’s head like motes of soot from a bonfire, was the preacher’s only answer.

Kipple sighed like a man resigned to infinite spiritual burdens. ‘But, for now, my, um, child, we must view matters from a purely mathematical vantage. Only the AdMech, here and now, can, ah, cater for you. Besides, simple percentages necessitate their care: you are, physically speaking, considerably more mechanism than girl... Which is, of course, the problem.’ The last part was again muttered.

Suzan spoke for the first time from an ankle vox unit, ‘But is not the human spirit infinite, considered above all things, and ever pleasing in the Emperor’s regard, Father? Does it not cancel even the Titanic? Are not all who welcome the Emperor into their hearts not also welcome in His, no matter their aspect?’

Kipple whirled at the sound of the human-scaled voice. Perhaps he had thought Suzan miraculously returned to normal stature.

The preacher had quickly frowned to disguise his fright, however. There was even anger in his response, though he seemed unsure as to where to direct it – the source of the voice or the massive head hundreds of meters above. ‘Do not chop theology with me, girly! I who have spent a cloistered lifetime! Would you have the mutant genuflect at His alters? Accept that for the nonce you belong to the Cogheads. The cardinal will decide if the position is permanent.’

With that, Kipple made a few vague gestures Suzan took to be a blessing, before returning to his Adepta Sororitas retinue and then to the cathedral. Once again, Suzan’s targeting reticules fought to acquire the preacher’s image as he walked away. The distance now greater, a cluster of small besadeur las guns signalled success... but then immediately after reported exhausted power supplies, almost regretfully.

And so came the Adeptus Mechanicus, showing all the reverence to Suzan she had given the Ecclesiarchy... or, rather, so venerating her Titan body.

They had prayed their mechanical prayers, chanted their machine charms, sung their digital hymns. They had lubricated seized mechanisms, replaced perished cables, reprogrammed obsolete operating systems. Everywhere within and without the Titan’s majestic form were the scurry of hooded figures and the glint of writhing mechadendrites.

Yet on the Titan’s small bridge, where the Princeps would normally sit in command of Moderatii and servitors, directing the might and majesty of the God Machine, there had been consternation. For, beneath the Princep’s throne, an Engineseer of indeterminate age and a much younger Lexmechanic had discovered and opened the Chaperone of Scalpels.

There they looked upon the body of a sixteen year old girl, transfixed and punctured by cable and pipe and duct, already withering and wasted from lack of natural sustenance and exercise.

Suzan.

No, that was me, thought Suzan as she had gazed down from internal eyes at the pathetic form. Now I am much more. I am Titan!

However, as she had listened to the monotone conversation of the two cassocked onlookers (the Engineseer’s voice interposed with peculiar clicks and whirrs), Suzan quickly realised she might actually be something much less.

‘Look at the telltales, Granddaughter – full consciousness remains.’

‘I have never seen this before. A princeps can be deeply bonded to his Titan, psychologically and physically, but the process is reversible.’

‘They are “wedded,” Granddaughter.’

‘Ah, so you have taught me – a memory lapse. Please forgive. But here girl and God Machine are not wedded, they seem more...’

‘The term is “welded” - one I have not taught you. A very rare and experimental procedure designed for emergency use. It allows full control of a Titan by a single individual, even if that individual is not properly schooled by the Collegia Titanica. They need only display the requisite mindset.’

‘Surely an advantage.’

‘No. The two are intermeshed far more deeply than any standard wedding ceremony; far more invasively. Lines are crossed. It becomes debatable where simple human ends and holy construct begins.’

‘Ah. Where, then, is room for the Machine Spirit?’

‘You understand. What you see is a fouling, a besmirchment of the purity of gear, circuit, and all processes of mechanism. Needless to say, the method is not considered to be the brainchild of the Mechanicus.’

‘Reversible?’

‘Not without severe trauma on all levels to both human and Titan. The first is of little consequence, of course, but the second... An insane, autonomous God Machine is a possible outcome.’

‘A thing to be avoided. What, then, is our course of action, Grandfather?’

‘As before. We restore this wonderful cache and accompany it to Forgeworld Ghast. I will consult with the Magi regarding the fate of this... aberration, but it will also be transported.’

‘The Titan has sought solace with the Ecclesiarchy.’

‘Further evidence of the fundamental errors of welding. Come, Granddaughter – I believe you have a contingent of incense and blessing oils to oversee and distribute. And I have Baneblades to quicken.’

With a gesture, the Engineseer had closed the Chaperone of Scalpels and the pair left the bridge, returning Suzan’s enfeebled and all-but-forgotten body to the cold dark and the rhythmic thump of scrubbers.

There had followed days of continued restoration, and Suzan had gloried in the Titan’s return to full operation... full power. Then, one cold morning where the frosts she had once observed inchoate on the armoured flanks of The Uncommitted were at last seen to coat every exposed surface, the grey skies had filled with flares from a myriad of dropships and pods. Suzan had watched the newly gleaming and blessed super-heavy tanks roar up access ramps in clouds of intoxicating exhaust fumes, gravid with restored might that was nevertheless orders of magnitude below her own. She had watched too as the remnants of the Chaos forces ranged against the Imperial so many thousands of years previously, exorcised and cleansed, were also transferred – amongst them four defunct Lucious Pattern Warhound Titans. There had been a fifth, of course, a Mars Alpha Pattern Warhound. Destroyed by Suzan, she had been assured its remains had been reduced to dust.

Corroded dust.

Meekly, then, Suzan had capitulated with her own transfer into orbit within the fat belly of a lifter, to be blindly sped almost to the system’s cometary halo and the waiting hold of a cargo ship.

Where she now meekly lay, gazing at support gantries far above, surrounded by haphazardly ranked super-heavy tanks like discarded toys.

++Oh Captain, my Captain?++

Osee flowered within her mind.

Osee was the ghost of a previous princeps, one of dozens of spirits -so intimately had the welding procedure bound them- still contained within the memory stacks of the ancient Titan. It was he who, having found a suitable communicant in Suzan, had raised her above her near-barbaric fellows with tales and ideals of an Imperium he never thought to be part of again - instilling in the girl a longing for the glories to be found in the Emperor’s graces. Furthermore, it was Osee who, at the unexpected abatement of the Warp storm that severed her world from the Imperium, had instilled in Suzan the necessity of welding as their only chance of overcoming the threat of the possessed Mars Alpha Warhound. With her mind lost to the power and rage of the Titan, Osee had not expected to be able to converse with Suzan again. However, the two were delighted to discover that, when Suzan was not consumed with battle wrath and the strength of her Titan body, communication remained possible.

++What is it, my love?++

++The Emperor doesn’t want me for a sunbeam.++

Osee paused for a moment. ++Ah. Suzan, do you consider the Ecclesiarchy to be an authority on belief? It is a political body. It has an agenda. There are factions within it still smarting after M36’s Decree Passive, for His sake. They miss the Reign of Blood...++ Osee’s voice took on a faraway quality, and Suzan knew he was recalling ancient histories that were memories to him. ++I do not.++ Another pause, then ++Simply put, Suzan, you do not have to bow your noble head within the confines of a cathedral to show devotion to the Emperor.++

++This was not how I thought it would be, Osee.++

The ghost did not reply, and Suzan thought she knew why. ++I do not blame you, Osee. You only told me what had to be done. It was my choice to lie in the Chap-++

++What is that?++ There was urgency in Osee’s voice.

++What? I don’t see -++

++Not see, feel! It’s in the ether!++

++Ether? What’s -++

Her mind was assaulted.

Puddles of liquid mercury merge into pools, lakes, seas. Iron fish nose aluminium seabeds. Hot furnace winds blast through trees of pure gold; silver clouds sweep an adamantium sky.

++What’s this? Where’s it coming from?++

Metals that last forever... But no. There is decay even for tantalum and rhodium. Eventually there is corrosion. There is rust.

++Don’t you know, Suzan? It’s here. It’s not dead. You didn’t kill it.++

Abruptly, she did know. Another picture filled her mind, eclipsing the strange visions and soundless voice. A memory, a horror... Human sacrifices dangling grotesquely from a Warhound’s armour. Amongst them, naked, scarred with arcane symbols, hands vilely tied to one-another’s genitalia, her mother and father.

My Corrosion loping rapidly toward her.

Memory and vision disappeared, replaced by a cold certainty that nevertheless sparked a rapidly heating rage.

The Adeptus Mechanicus had lied. They said it had been reduced to dust, completely vanquished.

But it was here.

My Corrosion was here.

++Suzan? Suzan, the anger is rising within you. I’m losing - ++

Suzan’s fury rose to meet its ever-eager counterpart in her Titan body; she felt both wash over her... drown her.

It was Suzan that sat up, sensors plumbing the surrounding hold.

But it was Golgotha that rose to its feet.

-oOo-


With a somewhat disconcerting glide, Engineseer Pitre Juts Til patrolled the perimeter of the observation chamber, rapping silver knuckles against the flawless plexiglass. A rapid ticking from beneath his en-shadowing hood proceeded, ‘State of the art pict screens, undoubtedly. Possibly even xenos in origin.’

Beyond the plexiglass -or perhaps imaged upon it- a softly undulating plain of greenish sand fell away into an emerald infinity of slowly-shifting light. The diners watched as a supple multi-tentacled thing floated into view, propelled by lazy jets of pressurised water from a vaguely obscene siphon. Juts Til rapped hard as the creature drew level with him, and, frightened, it sped away to become nothing more than a writhing black dot. Presently, even that disappeared. Other forms, undefined but suggestive, drifted in the remote expanses.

The engineseer coughed and clicked. ‘Interactive. Impressive.’

Gui Malish Uther observed the bemused shake of his captain’s depilated head, the slight agitation of his attendant cherubs. However, Sewal Tarr’s mood, doubtless from the contentedness imbued by ingested food, was accommodating. ‘The plexiglass is of the highest grade and strength, sir. Nevertheless, it is not impossible that matters could become more “interactive” than you might wish if you continue that tapping. Consider the volume above us, and its inherent weight.’

‘An illusion, nothing more.’

Tarr nodded sagely. ‘Just so. Isn’t all life? Nevertheless, please sit. If I cannot persuade you to eat, will you not sample a beverage? Perhaps the bong? The smoothest smoke in the sector, you know.’

Still clicking to himself, Juts Til glided ethereally back to his seat. A pair of albino cherubs fluttered over to him, bearing between them a large brass bong. The engineseer ignored them, but his granddaughter, Lexmechanic Hydru Til, waved them to her own position. Eagerly, to Uther’s eyes, she sucked from the stem.

Ah, the curiosity of youth. How soon before the apathy of adulthood smothers it, I wonder.

William Hinch, the Abiatha’s purser, spoke between sips of amber sherry. A gangly, eagle-faced man of middle age, he was the quintessential purser, his mind operating within parameters akin to a complex abacus. ‘The water tests remain frequent, Captain? We will be charged for every fish found with its pectorals in the air at delivery, you know.’

‘Dear Mr Hinch,’ replied Tarr, ‘The servitors are positively assiduous in both sampling and salting, have no fear. Our piscine passengers are perfectly happy... well, those not sent into paroxysms of fear from the enginseer’s attentions.’ Tarr turned to Uther, ‘Do you recollect, my animated corpse?’

Uther nodded. ‘I do indeed, most stout skipper. Port of call before last, was it not? Quite a holiday for me while the ornamental sea was tankered up. Who is it for again?’

‘The Speaker of the Chartist Captains. On the verge of a seat amongst the High Lords of Terra, don’t you know... if she can topple the Chancellor of the Estate Imperium from his.’

‘Name-dropper,’ said Uther, smiling broadly.

Tarr merely inclined his head and popped the umpteenth sweetmeat into his wide mouth.

The darkness beneath Juts Til’s hood alternated between navigator and captain. Whirr-clickety-click. ‘This ship does not bear the seal of the High Lords.’

The engineseer’s monotone voice made it impossible to discern if there was an incredulous questioning element to his statement; however, that was how Tarr chose to address it. ‘Certainly it does. Had your transport possessed windows, you would most likely have seen it on the way in – I had it emblazoned on the maws of all the more frequented hangers. Strictly talking, of course, the Speaker isn’t yet a High Lord, but... Well, best to simply say the Abiatha’s name is known amongst the Senatorum.’

A rapid, but uneven ticking spurted from Juts Til’s hood, cut suddenly short by an alarming thud and fountain of dark liquid adjacent to him. Hydru Til, rendered insensible, had passed out, her pretty head falling square into a tureen of gravy.

‘Your granddaughter is not accustomed to quality smokes, Engineseer? Ah, how her head will pound when she wakes. Perhaps you should raise it from the bowl? Consider the irony were she to drown in this room.’

Gripping a handful of her yellow hair, a silver gauntlet lifted the girl’s dripping head from the broth while another moved the bowl aside. The head was released with a further thud. Juts Til then continued to stare silently at the uncluttered space before him, occasionally raising his unseen face, assumingly to gaze at the ornamental sea.

Welcome to my world, thought Uther, recalling his own inductions into life aboard the Abiatha.

Also observing the engineseer’s apparent discomfort was Weapons Master Frat Gigamesh. Perhaps in way of conciliation, he said, ‘It’s not the biggest ship in the Imperium, you know.’

Sewal Tarr rolled his bright eyes, as did the two cherubs on his shoulders still possessing them. ‘Ah, I think my weapons master is in his cups – the Amontillado is quite potent. He’s given to tall tales in such states.’

Gigamesh smiled thinly – the only smile he was capable of as his lips had been amputated during a brief flirtation with an extreme penitence movement. He drank through a straw. ‘Your sherry is nothing compared to the hooch the indigenes distil, Captain.’ Uther glanced over at the indigene’s king, Alexandre Poul, but the squat man did not appear to be following the conversation; instead he was held rapt by a large school of tiny red fish pulsing prettily above him. ‘Though it is considerably less harsh,’ continued Gigamesh. ‘And you know I refer to the Omnipresent.’

‘Oh, come now, Master Gigamesh, the Omnipresent is a myth.’

‘And yet sight of it has been reported at so many great naval battles, Captain. So unutterably massive its true shape is unknown – only an infinite wall of blazing ordnance, kilometre-high statuary, and plains of glorious fenestration fit for a palace the Emperor could barely dream of, is ever seen.’

‘Mass apocryphal illusion to populate the Fog of War. A gothic nightmare created to scare the foolish. Are you scared, Weapons Master?’

The thinly veiled insult went unnoticed; and the weapons master’s next words strongly hinted that he was, actually, drunk. ‘Bigger than a hulk. A world. A... A... star!’

‘Enough!’ bellowed the captain. His three tiny attendants launched into the air and began a clumsy orbit of his tanned head.

Somewhat inebriated yourself, I think, good Captain Tarr, thought Uther at the captain’s overreaction.

Embarrassed at his outburst, Tarr took a deep breath and glanced around at his diners. The flying toddlers resumed their perches with a rustle of agitated purple feathers. ‘No more stories. How about cherub wrestling?’

At the announcement of this ever-anticipated treat, the officers sat forward eagerly, William Hinch declaring, ‘I’ll handle the betting!’

A sudden, strident peel of bells filled the observation chamber, repeating continuously.

The diners gazed round at one-another, and then, simultaneously, at their captain... who seemed as nonplussed as they.

‘Now, what does that signify? I don’t recall hearing that particular note –’

For the first time King Alexandre Poul spoke as he abruptly rose from his chair and headed for the chamber’s central valve, which –at some unknown signal- began to roll aside. ‘It is the domestic threat alarum, Captain. Please excuse me.’

With that, the indigene king rapidly descended the spiral stair and exited the chamber.

‘Domestic threat...’ mused Tarr. ‘Domestic... Ah! Internal threat! Well, we should have an avatar. Full sound and projection capabilities. Now, how’s everyone for dessert? Cheese?’

Click-click-whirr! ‘Captain Tarr, should you not repair to the bridge if your... ship is under threat?’

‘Why? Do you know where it is? It’s been a considerable while since I was last there and the route is somewhat hazy. Besides, why abandon this lovely meal?’ Tarr pondered for a moment, a tanned finger laid against a baby-smooth, baby-round, cheek. ‘Perhaps cherub wrestling would be a distraction, though.’

Juts Til could only tick unevenly in response.

Presently, through the still-open central valve, a greatly oversized toddler ambled into view. A metre tall, its bloated belly was encrusted with crystalline projection nodes, its mouth a circular silver mesh. The servitor’s tiny wings were far too small to properly lift it, even with the aid of buzzing suspensors, and its feet dragged along the metal-grilled floor. Uther noted its toes were raw and worn almost to the bone in places. It came to a wobbly stop directly before Tarr.

‘Emperor’s weekend merkin! Could you not have sent a prettier avatar?’ said Tarr in disgust.

The new cherub’s voice was calm, and disconcertingly adult. ‘None were nearer, and the threat was deemed urgent.’

‘Oh, very well. Let’s see it, then.’

The toddler’s belly crystals glowed brightly, and a hologrammatic pict exploded into view before the diners. The inside of a cavernous bay was depicted, filled with some of the heaviest ground-based armament the Imperium had ever fielded – Stormblades, Shadowswords, even Warhounds.

And, in amongst them all, a Gorgon armoured assault transport gripped within its massive fist like some gigantic general repositioning tokens on some ‘model’ representation of a theatre of war, was an Emperor Class Titan.

‘That,’ said Sewal Tarr, ‘Is a rather grand God Machine.’

Juts Til was leaning forward with every impression of awe and pride his strangely bulging, cassock-shrouded form could suggest. ‘Isn’t it. Its name is Golgotha.’

‘Indeed. So, Engineseer, can you tell me why Golgotha is trying to smash a Gorgon AAT through the superstructure of one of my bellies?’

-oOo-


The ministrations of the Adeptus Mechanichus had succeeded only too well. Golgotha was alive to every electromagnetic emanation in its locality. Lux levels, audio vibrations, radiations - even the gravitational pull of individual masses were quantifiable. The constant chemical wash from every surface around the Titan was so palpable as to be almost visible – it could smell the adamantium hulls of the tanks littered about it, the remnants of exhaust fumes and hot oil about their powerful engines, even the overheated air around the arclighting far above.
Astropathic augmentors, too, had been tuned to their most receptive – it was through these that the Titan felt the force of My Corrosion’s spirit.

The Ferrous Fields. Plains of ochre dust relieved only by sporadic fingers of metal, ragged and rotting, creaking before a constant sirocco. These were the remnants of cities.

And, mixed in amongst the metal grains that skim and spin over the flatness, are there infinitesimal molecules of iron that once spurted through the veins of people?

Most certainly there is.


Golgotha expected the source of My Corrosion’s emanations to be amongst the four intact Chaos Warhounds also stored in the bay. However, it soon narrowed their origins to somewhere beneath the deck.

The only egress large enough to accommodate Golgotha was the main maw through which it had entered, which would, via a vast hanger, only bring it out onto the ship’s hull. The Titan would have to carve its own way to the enemy.

Conducting a penetrating scan, the Titan quickly discovered that the deck, though its actual integral strength was unknown, nevertheless seemed relatively thin, with what appeared to be the void of another bay beyond it.

Golgotha looked about, ignoring the tiny black birds flapping around its simian-masked head.

It needed a hammer.

A super heavy tank would surely suffice. The Titan squatted, sweeping up a nearby Gorgon troop carrier in the process. Panning its left arm railgun up, Golgotha leaned forward, resting on the huge weapon’s muzzle. Further scans revealed the Titan was as far from any of the deck’s internal supporting framework as its grid-like structure allowed. Effortlessly, Golgotha raised the Gorgon over its head, and then rammed its blunt adamantium nose into the floor.

The bay rang like the waist of an impossible bell. Super heavy tanks bounced on their tracks, the closer units actually leaving the floor and the simultaneous thud of their return only adding to the reverberating din.

Golgotha’s arm shook and caution notices filed through its mind. The Titan inspected its new tool – the Gorgon’s front end was a crumpled mess splashed with hydraulic fluid. It looked down. The deck was barely dented.

Golgotha raised its arm again.

And again.

Again.

It had crumpled its third tank when the deck –beaten now to a bright shine and so concave tanks were starting to slide towards the lowest point- finally began to split. The Titan continued hammering - now employing the front corner of a Baneblade to encourage the metal to tear further. For a few moments the adamantium plating held, then, with a high-pitched squeal Golgotha’s Banshee voxcasters would have struggled to replicate, the deck tore in four directions.

The Titan dropped.

For an instant Golgotha’s rage was tempered by chagrin, and not a little fear. A small organic voice screamed across its consciousness. Emperor’s sagging dugs! We don’t know how far we have to fall!

The railgun swivelled, bridging the gap and halting the God Machine’s plunge. Stress warnings blazed in its mind, but the massive joint held. Golgotha hung in the hole, its legs pistoning in empty air as a super heavy rain fell about it, glancing heavily off its helm and besadeurs. A volcano cannon reported a bent muzzle, a melta howitzer crushed bearings. On the Titan’s right shoulder a Minotaur self-propelled artillery launcher became lodged between a cluster of gatlings and a void cannon.

Around the railgun the hole continued growing.

With another screech that would have deafened most organic ears, the railgun, dragged by Golgotha’s immense weight, scraped through the jagged edges of ruined decking.

Golgotha plummeted.

Ancient, forgotten routines that had, quite possibly, never been run before, were suddenly booted in the Titan’s unconscious.

Free fall protocol. Release all joint stays. Emergency void shield initiation.

Reality was curved in upon itself in a glistening elliptical shell as subdermal coils embedded throughout the Titan’s form were flooded with power. Caught in the rapidly ballooning shield, a falling Baneblade was flicked away at right-angles to its original vector as easily a child might skim a stone. Void shields were of course designed to thwart hostile projectiles and energy weapons, but Golgotha’s long-dead –and highly cautious- programmers must have believed energising one in a fall would be beneficial.

However, the new chamber was stacked half full with house-sized cargo crates, curtailing the fall considerably. The impact, cushioned by the void shield and absorbed by the God Machine’s loose-limbed aspect, resulted in only a few minor dislocations and dislodgements - easily rectified by internal servitors. Nevertheless, in the flickering glow of shorting arclights, the Titan saw that it had shattered hundreds of crates, their multifarious contents exploded over the resulting wreckage like the guts of gigantic squashed insects.

Golgotha restored normal rigidity to its frame and doused its void shields. It sat up, listening beyond the creaking wreckage around and beneath, listening for...

A seething sea of chrome bearings laps at a beach of verdigrised brass. Verdigris is corrosion, too, and with every wave it passes into the sea. In time the iron cetaceans and the foil fish will decay and sift down to the deep beds of rust.

My Corrosion was yet deeper within what was turning out to be an impressively large cargo ship.

With a muffled roar, something shifted above. The Titan looked up in time to swat away a tumbling Stormsword. Turret down, the tank smashed into another crate, from which dazed ebony cherubs, their stasis pods shattered, began to crawl. Golgotha heard babies cry.

The Titan knelt, its orientation circuits hard put to maintain balance on the shifting and buckling crates, and began to burrow down.

-oOo-
Last edited by Chun the Unavoidable on Wed Nov 09, 2011 8:23 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Chun the Unavoidable
 
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Re: COLOSSUS

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Fri Mar 04, 2011 9:53 pm

‘Where are they trying to go?’ Captain Sewal Tarr was leaning back in his chair, his three cherubs now crowded comfortably together on his expansive lap. Absently, he stroked the purple wings of the baby with jewelled eyes.

Rapid ticks issued from beneath the hood of Engineseer Juts Til. ‘“They”, Captain?’

‘Why, the crew of that Titan. Just where are they trying to get to with all this damned vandalism?’

Tickticktick – whirr. ‘Ah. No crew, Captain. No princeps. One directly integrated girl of around fifteen standard years.’

Perhaps in surprise, Tarr belched. ‘Pardon?’ He was not excusing his manners.

The dark shadow beneath Juts Til’s hood never moved from the hologram before it. ‘An ancient, discontinued experiment, Captain. We call it welding. You will forgive me if I cannot be more specific – an adeptus is entitled to its mysteries.’

Navigator Gui Malish Uther coughed. ‘A fifteen year-old girl is in control of an Emperor Class Titan?’

Tick... whirr. ‘“Control” is probably not the most appropriate term – there is an element of... conflict between girl and Titan in stressful situations.’

‘And who is victor?’

Golgotha is a God Machine, Navigator. Nevertheless, we feel the girl has some ameliorating effect for all the... impurity her presence implies.’

‘Are you telling me you have brought an insane Titan aboard the Abiatha?’ The three cherubs, sensing their master’s rising anger, began a silent scuffle in empathy, their soft baby fists slapping and pushing. Tarr ignore them even when one, with a tiny squeal, fell to the iron floor.

Clickity-click-whirr. ‘Not “insane” by any means, Captain. Golgotha is –’

‘Please tell me it isn’t armed.’

Click. ‘I can assure you its magazines are all empty. However, in all other respects, Golgotha is fully operational.’

‘So I see.’

The hologramatic pict before the watching men shuddered slightly as the oversized cherub projecting it from its array of stomach-embedded crystals scratched a button nose. Within the display volume, Golgotha was scattering giant cargo crates, clearing them away from a rapidly widening patch on the bay’s floor. Before the snarling teeth of its simian-faced helm, black specks swarmed like flies – newly-freed ebony cherubs coursing through the Titan’s ever-attendant corvine murder.

Satisfied it had cleared enough space, the Titan squatted, grabbing a precariously lodged Minotaur self-propelled artillery launcher from amongst its besadeur ordnance. With this new hammer the God Machine once again began to pound at the adamantium floor.

Uther could not decide if -through the kilometres of ship separating the viewing chamber and the belly within which Golgotha carried out its destruction- he imagined weak vibrations accompanying the display’s tinny clangs!

‘What will it do when it runs out of tanks?’ asked Lieutenant Commander Palle Bashid - doubtless wondering if he and his marines would be ordered into a hopeless engagement with the giant.

Sewal Tarr sighed with theatrical gravity, as if this new unfortunate turn of events were simply the latest of many to be piled upon the square shoulder pads of his purple smock. The two cherubs remaining in his lap ceased their squabble and began to stroke his bulging stomach soothingly - presently joined by their somewhat sulky fellow. Ignoring Bashid’s question, or treating it as rhetorical, Tarr said, ‘Well, physically stopping that is obviously out of the question.’ Uther thought to see a covert look of relief pass over Bashid’s face. ‘So, we are only left able to ruminate upon its designs: how they might affect us, and how we might act in consequence. That settled, I must repeat: where is it trying to get to?’

The purser, William Hinch, spoke. ‘Straight down from there are three more bays before the hull of that particular belly is reached.’

‘Which is it? Eleven?’

‘Twelve, I believe.’

Something pricked at Uther’s mind. Belly Twelve? Wasn’t it around that region he had fleetingly encountered the strange, rust coloured entity?

Settling back into his chair, the navigator closed his two normal eyes and retracted mental obfuscators from his third. He smiled slightly as he heard his cherub servant, Boy, sensing what his master was about to do, scrabble desperately beneath the dining table to escape the infamous beam of the navigator’s orb. But the toddler had nothing to worry about. Uther did not need to lift his blue bandanna to see the Warp – mere cloth could not obscure that from his mutant sight.

Unlight flooded his awareness and the observation chamber was washed away – not by the small sea that surrounded it, but by the infinite ocean of the Immaterium that surrounded everything.

He cast about the monochrome swirls and spikes the Abiatha sped serenely through, attenuating his awareness to the ship’s camp followers – the Primarchs, the Delphinius, Rose...

And, yes, the rust-coloured visitor had returned.

Forests of iron I-beams with foliage of swarf. Intricate clockwork birds twitter and sing to the rise of the smelting sun. Mercury dew glistens.

But across the forest floor, creeping inexorably from the I-beams’ buried roots, sheens of fungous rust spread and consume...


Uther had thought the entity had been trying to possess him at their last encounter, but now he divined that the images were more of a general broadcast – unspecific, not an attack. There was an element of bravado to them, too. And the basis of all bravado was fear, wasn’t it? When Uther had made a more direct contact with the entity before, had he scared it off? If so, what had compelled its return? Something to do with Golgotha? Was the Titan somehow also receiving these images?

Uther dammed the Immaterium from his mind and opened his eyes.

‘Captain, I was going to bring this up during cigars, but current events dictate immediate disclosure. Prior to dressing for dinner, I discovered a new entity outriding our illustrious ship. Quite a powerful one of an aspect I have never encountered before, resembling nothing so much as a rotten iron globe. It paced us beneath Belly Twelve. It is there now.’

For a moment there was silence, before Tarr said, ‘Hm. Strange happenings outside... but that is the very nature of the Immaterium, isn’t it? Should we seek correlation with the strange, destructive happenings inside... Is there an attraction between Titan and entity?’

Great minds... thought Uther, wryly.

With a surprisingly human air of resignation, Juts Til leaned back in his chair. For an instant, the chamber’s light managed to penetrate his hood and Uther glimpsed something red and glistening within.

Cl-cl-cl-click! ‘Not “attraction”, Captain.’

Tarr merely raised an enquiring eyebrow, managing to instil restrained anger even in such a small gesture. He was gravely parodied by his baby retinue.

Clickety-clonk! Tickticktick. ‘As I understand it, Honoured Navigator, the entities you see in the Chaotic Void are often representations of things we see here, in the Materium?’

‘Many schools and authorities suggest the facts, as you represent them, are actually vice-versa. Still, to all effects and purposes, it is difficult to differentiate.’

‘Excuse my stupidity,’ interrupted Tarr, ‘But that was an agreement, yes?’

‘Yes,’ said Uther.

The Engineseer went on, ‘I think the “rusty globe” you see is just such a representation.’

‘Of?’

My Corrosion.’

‘I sense a theme here,’ said Tarr, frowning.

An alarmingly long series of whirrs counterpointed with staccato tapping issued from the Engineseer’s shadowed cowl. Was this internal debate?

My Corrosion was a Chaotic Titan, a Mars Alpha Pattern Warhound, to be precise.’ Whirr-click. Cur-cur-click! ‘A possessed Warhound.’

‘I do hope, Engineseer, that your use of the past tense is appropriate?’

My Corrosion was destroyed by Golgotha before the Imperium’s return to their world.’

‘Utterly?’ asked the captain, with every appearance of not expecting to be pleased with the answer.

‘No. We have recovered the Chaos Warhound’s sarcophagus – its centre, or soul, if you like. Unknown to Golgotha.’

‘And it is stored in the bottom-most bay of Belly Twelve,’ said Uther. It was not a question.

‘Please understand the value of such a prize to my Adeptus - the opportunity for study. Think of the boundaries we might push back and the steps forward we could take in the fight against –’

‘Such boundaries, in my experience,’ said Tarr, ‘Are ripe for rupture. Are always ripe for rupture. Such steps forward are usually into the abyss. And you risk these things on my ship.’ The captain paused. Uther watched as he began to roughly stroke the purple wings of one of his cherubs (that with jewel-plugged ears). The large, fleshy hand rubbed rapidly up and down, and then suddenly –convulsively- squeezed tightly. The cherub squealed in pain, gazing up at its master with what was surely a greater hurt in its all-purple eyes. Uther winced inwardly. He had seen this behaviour before, and knew it denoted absolute rage absolutely restrained. The hand relaxed, the stroking resumed in a more loving manner. The cherub sobbed quietly into its master’s expansive belly, its two brothers, mewling sympathetically, cuddling it.

The sadistic action obviously cathartic, Tarr continued speaking in a more sanguine manner. ‘I sympathise with the God Machine – obviously it would finish the job.’
Click. ‘I believe so. I would guess it is receiving some kind of astropathic broadcast from the sarcophagus – perhaps mere leakage.’

‘A sarcophagus the entity is forever attached to,’ said Uther. ‘Which is why it paces us. Doubtless the Abiatha’s Geller fields prevent its proper reinstatement.’

Palle Bashid suddenly spoke, dragging attention back to the projection before them. ‘The Titan has run out of tanks.’

They watched as Golgotha tossed the battered remains of a Baneblade aside, its angry actions lending weight to the permanent simian snarl of its terrible helm. Around the Titan, the wrecks of other super heavy ordnance littered the jumbled piles of squashed cargo crates like course salting on some vast metal meal. But the floor was yet only dented – there hadn’t been enough ‘hammers’ available for Golgotha to break through.

The Titan gazed upwards for a moment, at the split it had fallen through, perhaps longing for the other tanks still in the bay above. Then, leaning forward on its railgun muzzle, it began to pound the deck directly with its giant fist.

‘It does seem rather desperate,’ said Uther. ‘Will it... What’s it about, now?’

Golgotha had leaned back into a squatting position, abandoning its futile pummelling. Slowly, it began to pan its mighty head around. Black cherubs and corvines fluttered about its face, dive-bombing each other, and Uther thought to hear cawing intermixed with childish singing. The head stopped its revolution, its nostril-mounted mortars twitching towards a group of undamaged cargo crates at the far side of the bay. The Titan stood and began to force its way through and over the wreckage, making for the crates.

‘Can anybody discern the number on those?’ asked Tarr, squinting avidly at the display volume. ‘Get the camera to magnify.’

The image changed its focus, zooming on the crates that seemed to be Golgotha’s new target.

‘LB426 through 37,’ said Weapons Master Frat Gigamesh. ‘What’s it want them for?’
‘Content, Pursar?’

Purser William Hinch closed his eyes, his thin lips moving soundlessly as he consulted internal stock records through his ship’s implants. Opening them, he smiled a little embarrassedly at the attention focused upon him. ‘Soil. Soil from First Eden XII.’

‘Ha ha ha. Is it planning on raising vegetables?’ asked the chief engineer, Jurjad Skay. ‘Ha ha ha. Carrots and turnips?’ Uther had often noticed that Skay considered himself quite the wit after a few drinks.

Click. Whir-whir. Clickclick clack!Golgotha is arming itself,’ said Juts Til.

Now both of Tarr’s hands began to roughly stroke, a whimpering cherub beneath each. ‘And yet you said it was without ammunition.’

Whir. ‘That is the case, but that does not preclude it arming itself.’

‘With soil?’ asked Skay, incredulously.

‘Oh, Emperor’s empty eye sockets.’ Lieutenant Commander Bashid closed his eyes, his face suddenly becoming slack. ‘The railgun.’

The engineseer’s hood nodded in Bashid’s direction. ‘Indeed. The railgun. The breech is of an ingenious design which can rapidly compact whatever is loaded into it into a projectile suitable for the barrel. We repaired it before departure.’

‘And the coils can accelerate that projectile to –’

‘Not coils as such, Lieutenant – you are confusing railguns with coilguns – a different principle.’

‘I assure you, Engineseer, I do not. The Abiatha sports twenty batteries of the things – I know what a railgun looks like.’

‘Let me ex-’

‘What’s wrong with the captain?’

Tarr was convulsing. Light brown froth, coloured by food and drink, poured in two thick rivulets over his chubby cheeks to trickle inside the neck of his smock. Against his tanned complexion, the effect was almost one of melting. His eyes were open, but his pupils were rolled up, leaving only the tiny blood vessels to denote a rapid twitching. His huge body jerked spastically, his copious purple smock alternately billowing and hanging slack like the sail on some simple water transport. His retinue of cherubs were senseless about him, scattered by his spasms - two to the floor and one sprawled over his dinner plate as if to provide the basis of some horrid dessert. The captain whined in a high-pitched, almost inhuman monotone.

The officers crowded around – they knew what was happening.

‘Quick, get a knife in his mouth – he’ll swallow his tongue!’

‘Hold him down, hold him!’

‘Help me – he’s too damned big for one.’

‘That’s it, Captain my love, bite down on that.’

‘Not a wooden handle, you idiot! He’ll splinter it. Get that metal one... That’s better, yes.’

‘Emperor’s wispy pate, but this is a strong one.’

‘Ah, he’s calming now... Coming out of it... Back with us, Captain? You want some of your Amontillado to wash the bile away?’

Juts Til had risen from his seat, his hood alternating between Tarr and Uther in a manner the navigator chose to interpret as shock. ‘Deep communion with the Abiatha,’ Uther explained, ‘It only happens in the direst need.’

Golgotha?

Uther smiled thinly. ‘A pot-shotting Titan is a concern, of course, even on this ship, Engineseer. Yet I fear this is something else.’

Tarr’s eyes, though heavily bloodshot, had rolled back to their normal positions as his convulsions subsided. He wiped spittle from his mouth with the back of his hand, and, continuing the movement, shakily accepted a goblet of sherry from Bashid. At his feet, and upon the table before him, the three cherubs were groggily lifting their heads.

With alarming speed and no warning, the iron walls that had earlier bordered the observation chamber rumbled back into position and the sea-light diminished. Uther looked up in time to see another metal sheet spiralling rapidly down to roof the chamber once more. Only crystal candelabra provided illumination, and -the aquatic vista gone- the chamber became suddenly claustrophobic.

Tarr coughed. ‘Engineseer Juts Til, see to your granddaughter - you have one hour to return to Belly Twelve. Once there, prepare as best you can for emergency evisceration.’

Cl-cl-click! ‘What? You are to transport us to Forgeworld Ghast. You cannot maroon us. Your navigator says Golgotha is no real threat to -’

‘I did not mention marooning, Engineseer. You will continue on to Ghast, but not aboard the Abiatha. All her bellies have limited warp-capability. See it as a measure of the respect I bear for the Adeptus Mechanicus that I make this sacrifice in order to uphold my obligations.’

‘But why? Where are you going?’

Tarr sighed. ‘Wherever Fate allows, Til. Wherever fate allows. When you arrive at Ghast, you must convey a message.’

‘What message?’

‘Tell them this: the tyranids are coming.’

-oOo-
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Chun the Unavoidable
 
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Re: COLOSSUS

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Fri Mar 04, 2011 9:57 pm

III: A Kiss for Daddy

But now let us descend to greater woe
-Inferno (Canto VII)

-oOo-

Wansaman had two eyes, which he considered fitting, though each looked out upon a different vastness.

Wansaman was fairly sure of other body parts, too. He was dimly aware of a beating heart, for instance. He probably had ears... or at least one, as, every now and again, he sensed a high chattering noise truncated by rhythmic and rather wet mastication that became apparent –he was sure- through means other than thought. On rare occasions he was conscious of a citrus-like odour that rapidly intensified into what he decided must be flavour, before fading to nothing – somewhere, and probably in the same locality, he sported a conglomeration of taste receptors and epithelia. And he still had a brain, obviously, otherwise whither awareness?

Wansaman liked to believe there were more parts strewn about, his remaining organs, perhaps even limbs; but he could find no connection to them, try as he might to induce one with the ghostly memories of what it was to be whole. Moreover, where all these parts might be situated -both those he was certain of and those he only hoped to exist- he had no idea. For all he knew, his disparate bits were strewn many kilometres apart, those he was conscious of interconnected with monstrously elongated nerve fibres or some other medium...

Xenos medi- No! I’m still human! I’m just exploded.

And greatly magnified. Certainly one of his eyes was, at any rate. He had been unaware of it at first, there being nothing in either of his views on which to base any concept of scale. The myriad organic structures bobbing before what he called his outer eye -having decided that the tiny white pinpricks of light that provided a backdrop there were indeed stars and not simply distant biolumens- were little help: meaningless masses of blazing colour conjoining, splitting, nudging; bathed in a light source Wansaman could not see off to his right. They might have been microscopic for all he then knew. Eye and subjects both.

It was only the introduction of one of the most innocuous objects in the Imperium that gave Wansaman an intimation of magnitude: a cargo container. It had floated in from the left of his field of view, blackened, ruptured, its denotations illegible... but its dimensions suddenly, and quite shockingly, forcing magnitude on the panorama.

The container was dwarfed by the distended spheres and irregular ellipsoids floating around it; batted here and there by cilia Wansaman realised were tens of metres high; sucked in meditatively by curious lips a half-kilometre wide; spat out in disgust or shat through sphincters a Baneblade could have parked upon.

Knocked indifferently aside by a passing assemblage of pastel-yellow bags continuously inflating and deflating, the container had been sent spinning toward Wansaman’s eye. He watched it grow, his alarm galvanising the blurry, colourless motes that served him in place of blinking, sending them scurrying here and there ready to spray their pock-filling clear gum and brush up irritants. For a moment, Wansaman had panicked, his mind sending out desperate avoidance signals to a body it was no longer connected to.

But the container had become faint with proximity before it had even outgrown one of the motes, hitting his cornea to bounce back and be lost in the ever-shifting organic swarm.

Wansaman had felt the impact. Felt the irritating scratch before the motes came to refresh and repair.

Like grit.

An object twelve metres long and three high had been akin to dust on his retina.
Wansaman’s outer eye was hundreds of metres wide.

He suspected his inner eye was of comparable dimensions, though there was never anything in its sight to properly verify this. However, the attendance of similar motes -for some reason coloured an iridescent green readily apparent even in their fuzzy immediacy- leant credence to the notion, not to mention Wansaman’s innate desire for some kind of symmetry.

The eye looked out into what Wansaman called the Rib Cage, and the horrific nativities he witnessed there –though they could conceivably have been either gigantic or microscopic- were of such a nature that he was sure he at least observed matters on a human scale, whether or not the orb employed shared that characterisation.

Taking magnitudinal orders as a given, then, Wansaman estimated the cubic area of the Rib Cage to be many thousands of metres, its irregular ellipsoid shape making a tighter estimate impossible. Illumination came from roaming transparent bags of luminescent blue gas, their conical bases terminating in a cluster of farting jets that provided vector. The bags clustered wherever they seemed to be needed, their piscine movements creating alarming spikes of shadow among the circumnavigating ridges that buttressed and trussed the vast chamber like gigantic thinly-skinned bones. Foresting the roof between the buttresses was a wonderland of pliable pastel-coloured stalactites, constantly dribbling ichor of every viscosity and shade imaginable (and a few that Wansaman had no name for), swaying with a rippling motion like wind on grass (though Wansaman’s eye was never affected by any breeze). Hanging here and there were pale, many-jointed limbs, their terminations a cloud of writhing pseudopodia and grasping fingers. These were the stalactites’ tenders: cleaning crusted sphincters, popping blisters, or anointing raw epidermal patches.

Wansaman suspected that the chamber’s purpose, namely organic progeny, was partially to blame for these and other more chronic ailments that periodically sprung up within it. Who knew what pathogens -the ungovernable side effects of xenos experimentation- might be present at the nightmare deliveries the chamber hosted?

Littering the Rib Cage’s floor, in valleys of mottled skin stretched between the buttresses, were the ectopic wombs. They were nursed by ground-rooted clumps of more jointed limbs lining the apexes and slopes of the buttresses, their most common task being to massage the multi-coloured exudations rained from the rippling stalactites into the wombs’ leathery skins. The purpose of this chemical soup wash was unknown... unless it was an over-complex method of lubrication.

The empty wombs were merely shapeless bags of flesh. The occupied, however, were distended mounds of widely varying size, pulsing, shaking, even undulating with the disparate life quickening within them... waiting to burst through the tightly sealed labia that crowned every organ.

Waiting to rend and destroy.

Whenever a birth was imminent, the jetting bags of blue gas would cluster, jostling for position – pooling their lambency with a voyeur’s avidity that had Wansaman fervently wishing he could tear his gaze away... or simply that he retained an eyelid.

At least he couldn’t hear proceedings.

-oOo-


It had started out as the sort of rough-and-tumble Kaelee had once often had with her three brothers – wrestling, pathetic attempts at martial arts, that sort of thing. Kid’s things.

But this time a button had been pressed, a lever pulled, and the Inevitable Machine had been set in motion.

Just like her mother had said it would.

Perhaps it was her own fault. After all, she couldn’t deny that the warning signs had been there, could she? The way the games they used to play together seemed to suddenly just stop, her brothers going off without her to patrol the corridors and halls of Level Nine - whereas before it had always been the four of them. They were once known as the Bewley kids, now it was the Bewley boys and their sister.

More obviously it was her brother’s lingering stares whenever she undressed in their shared bedroom, trying to keep her newly ‘filled-out’ –as the slightly disconcerting phrase had it- body angled away from them. Their hot gaze led her to eventually hang a tarpaulin between her cot and theirs - a barrier of modesty and discretion she had never felt the need for before. She patched holes in it with thick duct tape... tape that kept mysteriously peeling off. With gut-churning frequency she had been aware of one or more of her brothers watching her through the holes; but she had done nothing - something within her frightened of the outcome were she to snatch the tarp aside and confront them.

But Kaelee had never thought it would actually come to this. The Male Beast had been switched on, had consumed all three of her brothers. In fact, were they her brothers anymore? It was like the possessions the Father Groddish always spouted about. Except that this had nothing to do with Foul Chaos.

She really should have known better. An hour before, after months of ignoring Kaelee in almost every fashion other than the sly attention they paid to her physical differences, her brothers had come home from their shift at the forge and launched into a bout of tag. Just like the old days, the –yes- innocent days, they had pushed their beds against the sweating iron walls of their room to clear a space, and begun to wrestle. As it had always been, it was her two younger brothers, Jon and Keril, both fifteen, against her eldest, Har, who had just turned eighteen. As usual the bout had, amidst much grunting and laughter, descended into mayhem, with both younger brothers attacking Har simultaneously.

Kaelee had been giving the kitchen food dispenser its bi-annual overhaul, listening to the barely muffled thumps and shouts from the adjacent room. The Hive Edification Vox in the kitchen’s upper corner had been sputtering Beati Mundo Corde through the rags mother had stuffed into its copper grill years ago. For about a minute there was an unexpected silence from her brothers, suddenly broken by an even more unexpected call of, ‘Kaelee, Kaelee, come and get these two grox-heads off-of me!’

Just like it used to be.

She had actually smiled, giving in to the rush of sibling warmth the once-familiar call engendered within her. She had put down her tools and rushed next door.

And, for about a half hour, it had been just like it used to be. The laughter and the mock outrage at mock betrayal, the taunting and mock commiseration, the victorious shouts, and the enjoyable flush of physical exertion.

Nevertheless there had been an edge to it. Kaelee had smelled the coolant moonshine on their breath – the chemical stink of it had filled the room. Yet she had chosen to ignore it, as lately her brothers had often come home enveloped by its nostril-flaring reek. She had also chosen to ignore the looks passing between them: surreptitious glances, raised eyebrows, tiny nods they thought she hadn’t noticed. And their hands, the way they seemed to slip over her body with an urgency they never had before – rough caresses and pinches she knew were anything but accidental.

She had chosen to ignore those, too.

And then the buttons had been pressed, the levers pulled, and the holy programmes that had been her brothers were overwritten, hacked by the Inevitable Machine, the Beast that was within all men.

She was no longer in a room with Jon, Keril, and Har, but three rutting animals.

The tide of the wrestling turned - it became Kaelee’s brothers against her. Rapidly overwhelming her suddenly desperate defences, they pinned Kaelee to the warm iron floor with Jon and Keril at her arms and Har squatting over her lower legs.

And that look had passed between them.

‘Me first,’ said Keril, his gaze travelling over Kaelee’s jerkin.

‘You?’ said Har, ‘You wouldn’t know where to put it. I’ll go first, it’s my right. Besides,’ he added, his fat-lipped mouth wide in a beast’s grin, ‘I think you both probably need a practical demonstration.’

Har leaned over Kaelee, his big hands resting just beneath her armpits... like he used to do when he was going to tickle her to a hair’s-width of unconsciousness. Breath she could have ignited wafted over her. ‘Don’t struggle, Kaelee.’

Momentarily, the beast was eclipsed in her brother’s face, and Kaelee was cast back three years to a time when she had scalded her hand due to a sticking faucet stat – the concern on Har’s ugly, dear features. ‘Don’t struggle, it’ll go easier for you. It’s our right, sis, you know that. Just... Just let us do it, then it’s done.’

And the lever was thrown and the beast returned.

‘Undo her buckles. Hurry – he’ll be back, soon.’

This reference to their father cancelling any further argument with their older brother, Jon and Keril shifted around to fiddle with the buckles that secured Kaelee’s one-size-fits-all leggings...

Allowing her right hand to properly grip the stem of the Smelt Boy of the Year trophy Jon had been the proud recipient of two years ago - the heavy pewter cup having fallen from Jon’s bedside cabinet during their scuffles.

Har’s head moved closer to hers as he used his right hand to fumble clumsily with his own buckles. He grunted, even giggled. ‘While you’re down there, boys, you might have to undo –’

Kaelee’s arm snapped upward from the elbow.

The thin lip of the cup must have gone into Har’s temple quite deeply. It certainly seemed that way to Kaelee – she was sure she felt the scrape of bone. And the amount of blood spurting from the wound was certainly supportive.

For a moment Har’s eye’s met his sister’s. The beast was knocked from them – there was only hurt and incomprehension. He didn’t even make a noise.

The other two, still trying to unclasp Kaelee’s buckles, didn’t notice anything wrong until Har collapsed against Jon, his unexpected weight pushing the younger boy clear enough to allow Kaelee to free that arm and clumsily buffet the still oblivious Keril on his ear.

Amidst the pained, shocked, and quickly dismayed grunts and half-articulated words, Kaelee managed to scramble to her feet. She brandished the cup, its brim dripping as if recently upturned after being filled with her brother’s blood. Blood that slicked the left side of Har’s face and neck; that was warm and slippery on her hand and forearm.

But the beast had fled them now. The levers were returned to their neutral positions, the Inevitable Machine de-energised. Har was unconscious (dead?), the others were still trying to comprehend the sudden change in their situation – from priapic rut to bloody pain and mess.

Kaelee dropped the cup and ran.

She ran through Level Nine’s familiar humid corridors, the two assembly halls, the Launce Boulevard with its eon-dead trees, along the mezzanine skirting the multi-level Logus Arcade. At first she ran simply to be free of that room, of its stink of male sweat and moonshine, of her brothers. But, as some equanimity gradually returned, her strides took on direction and intent.

She would go to her father.

At a public drinking font that still provided a trickle of coppery water, she cleaned Har’s drying blood from her hand and arm, rinsed her face, and then continued at a quick walk.

Kaelee felt as if levers were being pulled in her, now, setting her into mechanical, programmed motion that involved the minimum of volition. She kept her mind blank other than to focus on her destination. If she started to think, to go over what had just... what had nearly just...

She heard her mother’s voice, its Level Twelve twang as clear as it had ever been before the cancer ravaged her throat (first target before a more general assault). ‘You were warned, girly. That sort of thing’s rife in this hive. You can’t squeeze so many people together without the basest instincts squirting round the edges – Father Groddish’ll tell you that. And there ain’t much more to men than base instinct at the best of times.’

Twenty minutes and two conveyancer belts later, Kaelee stood before the wide maw of Manufactory IX. From around her came the low conversation of the compline shift crowd as it waited for the scream of the factory whistle. When it came, Kaelee covered her ears like she used to do whenever she and her mother had waited for Father or her brothers to finish work, trying to muffle the reverberations in her skull.

Compline shift shuffled in, intermingling with vespers shift shuffling out; the minds of the former already booting the programmes they needed to run to enter Holy Communion with the Omnissiah and become gears in the Imperial Machine; the latter briefly enjoying the relief of a completed shift before it was clouded by the realisation they would repeat the process tomorrow... they only had the freedom to dread its return.

She saw her father, his close-shaven silver head bowed between his massive shoulders like all the others, his white skin still damp from the shift-end affusion. He wore only a vest and leggings, always claiming to be too warm for the ubiquitous jerkin.

He would be going to the nearby refectory for his usual coffee. Kaelee fell in alongside him.

Neither spoke. Kaelee wondered if, so soon after emerging from his shift, her father even knew she was there, if he had ever known she and her mother were there when they used to wait for him. He never acknowledged their presence until his first sip.

They sat at one of the plastic tables arranged in long rows in the low-ceilinged refectory. Around them, others from vespers shift did the same, the familiar scrape of chair feet on heavily worn flagstones filling the air. There was little conversation – they all waited for that first sip.

Kaelee hadn’t been here for years, but everything was just the same: all the old routines of her childhood, the old smells. She recognised many of the other faces – only their frowns seemed to have deepened. All that was missing was her mother... No, that’s not true. There’s a child missing, too - the child I no longer am.

Dispensing servitors fixed to ceiling rails that clanged and sparked at every intersection deposited steaming mugs of thick black coffee before each worker. Father got his, and, as Kaelee watched him stare meditatively into its inky depths, she wondered –as she always used to- how the servitors differentiated – neither she nor her mother had ever been given coffee.

Father sipped, bending down to the mug and tipping it slightly rather than lifting it to his mouth.

‘Why are you here, Kaelee? You haven’t done this since...’

Mother died.

Kaelee stared at her father. She wanted to tell him, but found herself suddenly unable to articulate the words.

Father took another sip, and for the first time actually looked at her. With a shock, Kaelee realised she couldn’t recall him considering her that way, actually focussing all of his attention on his daughter, since Mother’s incineration day. Then he had laid his heavy hand upon her shoulder, shouting above the roar of the furnace vent to say, ‘You’re the woman of the family, now, Kaelee. Your brothers and I have to work the forge; you have to take on all her duties. That’s the way of it.’ His grey eyes, dull with loss, had held her gaze, and she remembered the absurd pride she felt as she nodded (absurd because she had quickly come to realise the drudgery the ‘woman of the family’ underwent), the pride at her father’s direct attention upon her – rare even then.

Pinned by his gaze once more, she felt that pride again and actually found herself stifling a pathetic smile of self-importance.

But there was an edge to his stare she had never noticed before: something she intuitively grasped to be a commingling of extant loss, irresolute anger, and soul-crushing dismay at the total unfairness of human existence on Level Nine... in this hive... on Ghast itself... Why not throw it all in? Hm? Why not say ‘in the Imperium of Man’? Instinctively she knew that this edge had always limned her father’s gaze, but the child she had been was incapable of recognising it.

Kaelee knew she would see the same thing lurking behind every other expression in the refectory, in every other face she would ever see. Has it come to mine, yet?

She blinked, her near-blasphemous thoughts breaking the spell of her father’s stare and allowing her to speak.

She was hesitant at first, of course – she was telling her father that her brothers, his sons, had attempted to rape her. However, as she relived the attack, spoke of the last few months of their incestuous intimidation, she felt anger rising within her, its heat lending impetus to her words. They talked of ‘right,’ but what right could they possibly have for... that?

Again, Kaelee felt Jon’s Smelt Boy of the Year trophy in her hands, felt it puncture Har’s temple. But this time she didn’t stop. She caved Har’s skull through into his brain... did the same to Jon and Keril. Surely that was now her right?

Father said nothing, but his coffee was slowly cooling before him. Kaelee could see his anger intensify, filling his stare. There would be punishment, she knew.

Yet when he did speak, it was also of rights.

‘How dare they?’ he asked, his huge hands flexing powerfully against the rigidity of the plastic mug. ‘How dare they think they could take this? They will be disciplined. They have no right. It is the father’s. It has always been the father’s. That’s the way of it, here. They come after.’

Right...? Father’s...? The way...? After...?

Kaelee stared at her father as the last remnants of the world she knew were absolutely shattered.

Then, again, she ran.

-oOo-


Wansaman had little concept of time. In fact, it was arguable if he had any at all, there being nothing in his existence by which to measure it. The purview of his outer eye was all random, multi-coloured behemoths, idling through his field of vision like impossible piscine creatures in an impossible tank. And the terrifying births he witnessed through his inner eye were far too irregular to stand as chronological increments.

He had tried to set aside part of his mind as he once heard certain adepts could, disciplining his consciousness to mark the passage of time... but without success. He lacked the force of will or grasp of the necessary methods for the task, and his mind continually wandered. Wansaman consoled himself with the thought that perhaps certain implants were a prerequisite for such abilities, that a perfect internal clock could not be achieved through simple mental regulation alone.

Therefore Wansaman had no idea how long he had occupied his exploded state. He did, however, make the deliberate decision to declare his existence as a whole human being to have been A Very Long Time Ago. The memories were so faint, so sporadic, that he often found himself considering them more as a cluster of strange dreams than the recollection of actual events (ignoring the fact that he never properly slept, of course).

There had been a ship, a science ship, the name of which had something to do with eyes and ancient stone cups. There had been an experiment, a vast experiment: prodding and agitating the Immaterium in a manner which retrospect allowed –if not demanded- the qualification ‘foolhardy.’ The resulting warp storm had flung the vessel an incalculable distance (Wansaman vaguely recalled the phrase ‘extra-galactic’), spitting it out directly into the midst of a tyranid hive fleet.

A snowball materialising in the core of a neutron star - that was the chance they had. Wansaman recalled screams. He recalled blazing blurs of beautiful colours quickly made uniform with simple, glistening red.

He recalled teeth and torn flesh and pain.

While playing disassembler beams subsumed the ship into its atomic –sub-atomic, for all Wansaman knew- constituents prior to amalgamation into the incalculable immensity of the hive fleet, its crew were similarly treated within tyranid stomachs.

And yet Wansaman came back.

Even after passage through xenos digestive tracts and waste treatment systems, his DNA coding somehow remained intact or was reassembled, miraculously discovering mediums through which it could nurture its genetic capabilities and once again blossom into multi-cellular life and awareness... though the results fell somewhat short of any human norm.

But was it a miracle? There were surely no more fertile grounds for genetic sports than a tyranid hive fleet (ignoring the unquantifiable capabilities of Chaos); even so, Wansaman strongly suspected something quite deliberate in his resurrection.

Leaving aside his physiological aspect, the likelihood of such a successful and entirely coincidental return to life was patently astronomical. Wansaman was sentient; he could sense; he had identity and memories. He was a human in a purely xenos world. Such an existence could only occur through manipulation – outrageous chance simply could not be a factor.

The voice was confirmation.

At disparate intervals Wansaman believed to be irregular, he suffered another presence within his mind. With a thrust of alien thought he was violated, his mental struggles and screams of protest swept aside or ignored as if they were nothing. Helplessly, he was forced into an empty corner of his psyche to endure its trawling – ‘watching’ as it was read and cogitated upon by this other. His knowledge, his experiences down even to those dim, grey memories of lost intimacies, parental love (things he rarely cared to dwell upon lest despair drown him), were analysed. And when the other departed, Wansaman felt a perverse antipathy towards his memories -as if they had been sullied and soiled, used by that other- that seemed to take some while to pass. He was left internally at odds, almost self-detached – and being the only human for uncountable light years, what else had he but himself?

This occurred many times before the other first spoke.

You understand me, Once-a-Man?

It verbalized directly into his mind, timbreless and sexless, though nevertheless evocative of great age and immensity. That is your new name – your old one is meaningless and I have removed it.

Sympathetic hunger engulfed Wansaman. Yet it was not the hunger of an empty belly (which could never be anything other than psychosomatic in Wansaman) - it was the hunger of a race. Eternal, unappeasable, infinite starving - an undeniable drive to consume.

It is dry here, now. I want wetness. Your galaxy is still wet. I will suck it to dust. And you will watch, Once-a-Man.

The mental take-overs became more frequent, their selections more specific. Stellar charts Wansaman had only glimpsed in passing during his more... typical human existence flowered in his mind as if he had studied them with the intent and love of the Navis Nobilte. Military news reports he barely noticed as backgrounds to his life where repeated with the clarity and import of an Imperial Navy tactical overview. Laymen’s ordnance encyclopaedia he had idly flicked through in his barely-remembered youth flashed in his mind as if backlit by explosions.

And always, the hunger.

All this metal you humans enclose yourself in. All this crystal and plastic. No faith in the capabilities of the organic. I will find your Imperium and teach your kind the error of its ways. I will force such faith.

In contrast to the sentiment of its words, however, the other’s intrusions now gradually dropped off - as if it had gleaned all it could from Wansaman and now had little use for him. However, even when the other was absent, Wansaman found himself aware of the other’s ever-watchful presence as the fundamental consciousness upon which his own had been rebuilt – revealed as omnipresent now he could recognise it through their conjoining.

The other had always been here, would always be here, was everything here.

Time passed without proper marking.

Then, as Wansaman blankly watched the gargantuan pavane without, and the myriad multi-coloured drips of ichor within, the familiar, immeasurable starvation engulfed him once again. However, this time Wansaman retained control of his exploded body.

I have found it!

As one, the nudging behemoths outside shuddered, their dance disarrayed as individual monstrosities began to careen and collide with previously unseen violence. Quickly, the collisions escalated into conflict, giant maws tearing into the flanks of formerly peaceful neighbours. Ichor jetted and clouded, fogging Wansaman’s shocked gaze. Occasional clumps of torn flesh started to thump off his cornea, agitating his attendant motes into scurrying motion. Shadowy masses shifted in the murk, clusters of gigantic cilia writhed in and out of clarity.

And, in the Ribcage, the spawning began.

The multi-jointed attendant arms on both roof and floor jerked spastically, waving and flexing. Simultaneously, the myriad pastel-coloured stalactites sprayed their polychrome ichors like ecstatic ejaculate, flooding the chamber floor in blazing morass of intermingling hues.

And every single one of the leathery womb sacks began to swell.

I have found your galaxy, Wansaman, I have found food. My long eyes look upon it now. It glitters so. I select targets. Watch as I prepare my muscle-and-flesh engines, my many mouths.

The view of Wansaman’s outer eye finally began to clear. Gigantic shreds of flesh, each trailing bloody contrails that looped and intersected into an impossibly complex -and rather graceful- knot, were all that remained of the once docile behemoths. Now a new entity eclipsed the stars.

It was roughly spherical, its pastel blue surface forested with crimson phalli. Slowly it revolved, as if exhibiting itself. Shadows lengthened and shrank, imbuing insubstantiality - as if the sphere was more image than corporeality. As usual, Wansaman found size almost impossible to judge; however, certain familiar star formations were occluded, and this, coupled with the quiescent state of his attendant eye motes, pointed to something of at least a kilometre in circumference.

As he watched, subcutaneous sphincters commenced an uneven ascent from the phalli’s bases - a rising ripple of red flesh. Slowly, they each gained the tips –Wansaman refused to say ‘glandes’- before dropping at a slightly faster rate to their starting points.

The process became continuous, the sphincters’ speed increasing. The globe began to shudder, the phalli to vibrate.

Oh, this is ridiculous, thought Wansaman.

Pale fluid spurted in distinct globular clusters from pursing lips crowning each of the phalli, jetting outwards for a short distance before clumping together into amorphous masses.

The sphincters returned to their starting positions and were still. The shudders and vibrations subsided. Spent, the pastel ball rolled from Wansaman’s field of vision, scattering gently heaving globules of pale matter from its path.

A new creation, Once-A-Man, inspired by your memories and the records of your ship. Was it familiar? Was it appreciated? Watch now.

A mottled globe of beige and brown now hove into view.

Much larger than its predecessor, it filled Wansaman’s vision, its surprising resemblance to human flesh coupled with recent events sparking unwanted memories of intimacy. A tear appeared in its lower hemisphere, splitting into a red gash.

Whether from their own unseen means of locomotion or some compulsion from the sphere, the pale globules were suddenly mobile, merging into a milky river that swept swiftly into the gash.

The globules gone, the gash resealed.

The sphere began to glow. Ripples of coruscating energy mapped its fleshy surface, spreading to form a vast, radiant shield of purple – an atmosphere of lightning.

The sphere disappeared.

A contingent of my clandestine forces, Once-A-Man. Now, with your inner eye, witness my vanguard.

In Ribcage, wombs were torn open.

Look at them. With these, I will rape your Imperium of Man.

-oOo-


Until she careened off the corner of the Space Marine’s pedestal, Kaelee had no awareness of where she was.

Of who she was.

There had been corridors. There had been blurred ovals that must have been faces. Patches of light interspersed with patches of dark. That was all.

No thought; no feeling; just a simple, meaningless succession of shape and shade that was without definition - there being nothing in Kaelee’s mind to provide it. She didn’t even recall the floor beneath her feet. It was as if she had floated, disembodied, or like the suspended servitor skulls that occasionally patrolled Level Nine’s thoroughfares.

Yet even those automatons, executing the will of HiveSpirit, would have had more awareness of their environs.

But impact with the pedestal literally knocked the sense back into Kaelee. Her mother’s voice, sounding from somewhere behind the silver stars fracturing her vision, suddenly expanded to fit her mental vacancy, ‘What are you doing? Damned idiot! Come here and I’ll batter brains into you!’

Kaelee slumped to the ground, now all too aware of the physicality of her existence as pain detonated through her cranium and the silver stars were almost engulfed by their black backdrop. Tentatively, she touched her forehead. Her fingertips came away freshly coated in red.

Like they were from that cup when I hit Har when he was –

‘Are you alright?’

Kaelee looked up, trying to see through the stars yet peppering her sight. Had the Space Marine spoke? Would the statue be offended at the blood now splattering its marble pedestal? She had heard Space Marines underwent all sorts of medical procedures on their path to becoming the ultimate tool of the Emperor’s will, one of which was rumoured to be castration. Would that mean that the Emperor’s finest where the only men she could feel safe with? Men from whom the Beast had been surgically removed, the Inevitable Machine permanently de-energised?

‘Are you concussed? You really smashed into old Augustus there. Are you alright?’

A hand, a male hand, parted the slowly-dimming stars and gently touched her shoulder.

Ferociously, Kaelee knocked it aside, pushing herself to her feet in spite of the way everything around her tilted and slid. Sudden rage nullified her nausea and pain. ‘Would you - Have you swived your daughter?!’ She was almost snarling, ‘Have you had your rights?!

The man was dressed in the mass-produced tweed of the lower Administratum echelons. He backed away from Kaelee, fear and confusion eclipsing concern. His pulled down his loosely-fitting and slightly askew bowler hat more securely. ‘I was only asking. No need for... You just...’

And then he was gone, lost in the crowd milling around the statue. Kaelee glared about her, waiting for further comment, some other helping –groping- hand. But nobody in her vicinity would make eye contact with this dishevelled, bloodied, obviously mad girl.

Shaking, almost drunk with emotion and returned pain, Kaelee pushed through the throng, the crimson of her torn forehead carving a path as if it were some kind of laser.

She did not recognise this place. A huge, elliptical dome of blue and purple crystal, heavily leaded in a cunningly intermingling pattern of cogs and imperial aquilae, arched far above. Each intersection of its frame supported a cluster of globular lumens, some intensely bright, others coldly dark. The dome’s lower edge terminated in a ring of wide archways divided by towering statuary, mainly consisting of noble Space Marines similar to the one with which Kaelee had collided.

She headed toward the nearest arch, intent upon finding a map or area designation. Kaelee didn’t recall any upramps or elevators in her flight from the refectory (but then, she hardly recalled anything after her father had stated his rights, did she?); however, she must have traversed some because this certainly was not her own Level Nine. The dome was well maintained, clean even – factors repeated in the people swarming its floor, where there was not another stained jerkin or patched pair of leggings in sight.

She forced her way toward the wall. There automatic vending machines where ranged, offering all manner of food, drink, and other consumables ‘essential’ to hive life. There was even one, heavily armoured, that dispensed glittering jewellery and stylish wrist chronometers. Here, at least, was something familiar, as similar vending machines lined the corridors and arcades of Level Nine - albeit offering considerably more basic produce. Behind them would be maintenance ducts and crawl-ways – the ‘tweenwalls she had known since her first toddling steps away from her family home.

Family... No.

With a quick look around to be sure nobody watched, Kaelee ducked behind the vendors. There the warm air rising from refrigerator condensers with its familiar stench of rotten food and vermin almost made her smile. Almost.

She quickly located a service hatch in the wall, more or less where she expected to find it. It was prominently labelled with a yellow ‘G.’ ‘G’? What does ‘G’ mean? It should be a number. As usual, the hatch lock was broken. She pulled the door back on its greased hinges and crawled through, careful to close it again behind her.

The ambient roar of the crowds was muffled, replaced by the humming and clicking of the complex sorting cartridges that supplied the vending machines, the mechanisms occasionally clattering into louder life as selections were made without. Stretching away from Kaelee down the narrow crawlspace were the rubber belts and ducting that automatically stocked the cartridges, jarringly lit by strobing maintenance lumens.

Kaelee began to crawl.

It had been some time since she had last explored such places on her own Level Nine, and it wasn’t long before her palms and knees began to feel raw and the small of her back and the span of her shoulders began to ache. Nevertheless, she continued on, the new pain going a little way to cancelling that in her aching head and the thoughts that would otherwise crowd it.

She wasn’t worried about apprehension. She knew from experience that, ‘tweenwalls, she would be ignored by any maintenance servitors so long as she didn’t interfere with the belts and ducts. This wouldn’t be the case if she followed the crawlspace to its termination in the inevitable production plant, but she had no intention of doing that. Other tunnels would intersect with this, and it was one of these she sought.

Presently her certainty was realised by an elliptical and badly rusted metal hatch held shut by a simple latch. Freeing the latch from its rusted pivot and pulling the hatch open with a vibrating creak so severe Kaelee expected the hinges to break, she peered down the new tunnel.

Blackness that was relieved only by pinpricks of linear white lights. At first the lights seemed to bar Kaelee’s entrance, until her eyes adjusted to the gloom and she made out the tunnel’s smooth iron walls, dry and echoing to the belts behind her. She clambered in, pulling the hatch closed after her as best she could, there being no handles on this side.

She resumed her crawl, silence gradually smothering her. Soon there were only the sounds of her hands, knees, and feet scuffing against the tunnel floor and the rasp of her breathing.

Kaelee had no idea of where she was going - she was simply succumbing to the imperative to get away, to get somewhere safe. And ‘tweenwalls was the best place she could think of.

Now that it was no longer home.

In spite of the pulsing pain in her head and the rawness of her palms and knees, images began to play before Kaelee’s mind’s eye, images she didn’t want to see. Her brothers’ faces twisted with lust. Her father’s...

No.

She would not think about –

Flowers?

Sweet, heady, thick on air Kaelee now realised swirled to a slight breeze, the smell of blooming plant-life wafted over her.

That was something she had never experienced on Level Nine.

The smell grew stronger as she continued; as did the breeze. A dusky light began to seep into the blackness between the sparse lumens. Soon, Kaelee could discern a bend in the tunnel. Rounding it, she found herself squinting into verdant light so bright her eyes momentarily ached as much as her head. She crawled out into a lush garden...

And rose to her feet on the floor of a cathedral.

Well, perhaps garden was inappropriate. Jungle suited better. Green, in every shade from something that was almost yellow to something almost black, was everywhere. Small trees choked with vines, intermingled bushes, erratic paths of thick-stemmed, knee-high grass. And, spotting the green like the symptom of some wonderful disease, were the flowers. All shapes, all sizes, all aromas, all colours; hanging, spiking upright, chastely closed, wantonly open; elegantly simple, garishly opulent. The air was so thick with their mingled scent Kaelee found it difficult to breathe, or, rather, she feared to breathe: surely such laden air would be poisonous? She could taste it, for Emperor’s sake!

And it was warm, too. Really warm, like the corridors of Level Nine’s Area XV, which ran parallel to a giant mainline steam duct.

Kaelee looked up. The cathedral’s brown rockcrete walls tapered smoothly above into a funnel roofed with a series of huge fans, long disused judging by the runnels of rust and desperately clinging fauna that had taken root in the shallow dust gathered there.

But what was that? Between the massive impellors, Kaelee could see... pearly white cloud? A sky of the deepest chemical blue?

Sky?

Suddenly, Kaelee understood two things at once. She knew what this jungle was, and she knew what the ‘G’ had stood for in the statuary chamber, behind the vending machines: Ground Level.

She’d heard of these places during one of her rare scholum attendances. This wasn’t a seat of worship at all, but an exhaust tower for an ancient atmospheric processing plant, built in the distant past when it was still thought possible to reverse the runaway pollution of Ghast’s uncountable factories. All now abandoned (like this), demolished, or converted, they had been of many different designs incorporating many different concepts... one of which had been the introduction by the Biologics Division of engineered high-yield oxygenating fauna.

This circular jungle was one such that had survived.

And gone wild.

Kaelee breathed in deeply. Silence and scents. She felt light-headed from a combination of the thick air and recent events. Suddenly, she just wanted to rest. The turf was springy yet soft underfoot... inviting.

Kaelee lay down where she was and promptly fell asleep.

When she awoke it was dark, yet had remained warm. Her head still throbbed, though not as severely as before. The air had thinned somewhat: there was a detectable acid tang to it now, seeping down from the poisons skimming through the sky. She looked around. The ambient glow of hive lights reflecting off streaking clouds above provided a dim illumination, allowing Kaelee to see that many of the flowers were now shut, trapping their dizzying scents –and much of their oxygen-producing capabilities- within.

And it was snowing.

Grey flakes of... something were falling between the seized impellors far above, dusting everything about her... dusting her.

What was it? Ash? It certainly wasn’t the near-mythical snow her mother’s fairy tales often mentioned – this wasn’t cold. In fact, it was quite warm. In fact –

Kaelee’s skin began to burn wherever the flakes had touched. This was snow that didn’t melt... it melted.

She scrubbed at her arms and face, desperately trying to brush the flakes off. But they had become part of her, merging into her skin. Panicking, Kaelee began to run, heading for the maintenance tunnel, trying to escape the fallout.

The burning suddenly eased, and Kaelee gasped at the unexpected cessation of pain.

And then screamed as the burning resumed within her.

-oOo-


The Ribcage was empty. The ectopic womb sacks lay flaccid, some of them partially floating in pooled multi-coloured ichor that had not yet drained away. The udder-like stalactites also hung limp from the roof, spent after their orgasmic jetting during the birthing frenzy, gently cleaned now by the attending clumps of many-jointed limbs. Shadows lay thick and black, lazily expanding and contracting to the desultory movements of the jetting bags of blue gas, their number less than half what it was. As Wansaman watched, another bag flickered, dimmed, and spiralled slowly to the ground.

The Ribcage was being decommissioned, mothballed, its purpose for the time being done with.

And that purpose was the production of tools for the consumption of mankind. The cutlery with which the Hive Mind will dine upon the Imperium of Man, thought Wansaman, giddily. He was still in a state of considerable shock. The hundreds of nativities he had witnessed in the Ribcage, the templates he had watched tear free from their wombs (their terrible forms the physical representations of barely contained tyranid violence and unappeasable hunger), had left him dismayed.

What hope for the Imperium?

And it’s your fault.

With his outer eye, Wansaman had watched dozens of segmented umbilical cords grow from his peripheral vision to attach in a complex tangle to seemingly random points on the gargantuan organic battleships that had waited in an untidy queue. He had seen the bulges forced peristalticly along the umbilicals, in many cases still madly writhing and threatening to tear through. Within the bowels of each ship factories would clone the newly-birthed monsters millions of times over, growing the armies with which the Hive Mind would rend and consume.

And it’s your fault.

He had watched as, one by one, the battleships and their terrible payloads had begun to coruscate with blinding snakes of light that rapidly coalesced into encompassing ellipsoids before winking out of existence, vessel and all - off to rendezvous points un-guessable light-years away prior to attack.

And this was surely only one instance of the whole process of birth, loading, and departure - only a small fraction of those that must be taking place all over the hive fleet.

Your fault. Your fault.

Now the space beyond Wansaman’s outer eye was peaceful, empty save for a few young behemoths that had come –still glistening with the frozen fluids of their own nativities- to take the place of those ancient creatures that had torn each-other apart in violent, ecstatic orgy at the Hive Mind’s locating of the Milky Way.

The xenos calm Wansaman was familiar with had returned.

But not in the Imperium of Man, eh? Never there. And its further aggravation is your fault, isn’t it?

Another voice spoke in Wansaman’s mind. Your conscience is correct, Once-A-Man: I would not have found this new meal where it not for you.

No. Nonono.

But your usefulness is not over, Once-A-Man. I cannot properly direct consumption from here. A localised portion of my intellect is required – and I feel that it/I will need you as advisor there. You are going home, Once-A-Man.

No. Nonono.

Close your eye – you would not wish to see the interim.

Eye? But I have no lids! I –


-oOo-


Kaelee’s father put the steaming mug of coffee down beside the sink, gazing into the suggestive static on the kitchen windowscreen. Occasionally, the screen showed pastoral scenes meant to give the impression of looking out of some fictional farmhouse over the fields and hedgerows of an idyllic agriworld. He had always found the fizzing static more to his liking though, its inchoate, enigmatic depths sympathetic to his moods. Sometimes he lost himself in the grey chaos for minutes on end, with no recollection of his thoughts while he was there... assuming he had any.

However, pain prevented any such immersion now. He winced, flexing his right hand slowly. The knuckles were bruised, the hand patchily bloody to the wrist. The bruises were stinging, yes, but the blood wasn’t his. It was an amalgamation of his three sons’, though most of it belonged to Har, his eldest - the beating having re-opened the wound on his temple.

The wound Kaelee had given him when the three of them had attempted to rape her.

Rape their sister. But she’s your daughter. And what were you expecting to happen?

She had been gone for two days now, and he was seriously considering the fact that he would never see her again. Why would she come back after what her brothers had done? Now that she knew what he wanted?

His own shift normally preventing him from seeing Har, Jon, and Keril, he had actually booked time off work to confront them. This was a measure of the matter’s seriousness - the last instance of deliberate absence from the forge’s infernos was to bury his wife.

They had left for their shift at the forge now, sulky and sore, but in no doubt as to their father’s righteous wrath. They thought they had been beaten for their impudence, for their sheer audacity in attempting to take Kaelee’s... To force... It wasn’t theirs to take. It was his. How dare they.

For they had been right – that was how he saw matters. Fresh from the his shift, head still filled with the protocols and mindsets required to tend the gigantic forges, he was a simple cog in a vast machine, his human nature suppressed and the animal -the barbaric- side therefore allowed free reign.

But as his fists rose and fell, as his sons screamed for him to stop, Kaelee’s father had experienced catharsis. He found the violence released something, or allowed something in, and he remembered what he should be. What he was.

Father. Once husband.

This, this calming, this return to essential humanity, was something only his wife’s soothing presence -waiting for him day after day at the forge gates- had been able to achieve before.

His wife...

His eyes suddenly felt hot.

If she still lived, her presence would have prevented his fall into the black side of hive society, into membership of this all but officially recognised fraternity of incest. Stories whispered and swapped in the refectories and washrooms and bars; actions excused and sanctioned by talk of right and, for those who required further excuse, comparison to the animal kingdom: we’re treated like animals, so we act like animals. But where were the animals to compare to in a hive?

Excluding rats, none but Man.

It was his wife’s fault. She shouldn’t have died.

He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to stem the liquid gathering there. But the action only caused them to brim over. Salt water dripped into the sink in slow accompaniment to the coppery water dripping from the tap.

Dripping tap. A job for Kaelee. Who was never coming back.

Yes, he was human again, now. Human and riddled with guilt. He’d driven his only daughter away; terrified and betrayed her when he should have consoled and protected. Wasn’t that the role of a father? It wasn’t about rights, was it? It wasn’t about that... other, secret, black side of masculinity. That was an ephemeral thing of lust and power, a by-product of living in the inhuman conditions suffered deep in any hive.

Fatherhood was a much more profound thing. Fatherhood was selflessness, unconditional, constant. Fatherhood was...

He almost smiled when the little word ‘love’ bobbed gently before his mind’s eye.

Yes. That – that’s what fatherhood was. Like much else that truly mattered, it was that little word.

Resolve filled him. He would teach his boys better. He would raise them above the filth they had fallen into, the animal barbarities. He would rear them into the brightness of the Omnissiah’s electric gaze.

And he would find Kaelee.

The door chimed, clicked open. He frowned. The door’s spirit would only admit family, and his sons had just gone to their shift. That only left... He turned.

Kaelee stood in the kitchen doorway.

For a moment, he didn’t recognise her. A huge cut festered on her forehead; her clothes were torn, dirty, and smeared in something green. Her skin looked blotched and sweaty, as if raging with fever. A wild child from the underhive – that’s how she looked.

But he knew that smile, had known it since Kaelee could fit comfortably in his hand. A smile that could brighten even the dingiest room, could charm even the angriest temper. A smile so full of innocence...

No. There was no innocence in his daughter’s smile now, was there? Now it was brazenly wide and full-lipped, and Kaelee’s eyes were full of... want?

A blood-red exotic bloom adorned her greasy hair. Where had she managed to get such a flower on Level Nine?

But none of that really mattered, did it? She was back. He had a chance at reparation.

‘Kaelee? I... Kaelee, is it too late to say I’m sorry?’

She didn’t answer. Slowly she walked toward her father until she stood just before him, gazing up. The look in her eyes intensified. Coquettishly, she pulled at her lower lip with her upper teeth.

His began to tremble. Was she...? Will she...?

Kaelee’s right hand snaked upwards. Hot and definitely feverish, it curled around the back of her father’s thick neck, tugging him gently down.

She is...! She wants...!

He relented and bent forward, thoughts of fatherhood drowning in the tide of his rising lust, eclipsed by his daughter’s compliance. The Inevitable Machine, as his wife had once called it, was energised. ‘I didn’t think –’

Kaelee’s lips parted. Wide. Wider. Too wide.

It was black inside her mouth. Pitch. Night. Void.

Nevertheless something glistened there.

And then erupted; pistoning up and out and through her father’s teeth, ramming down his throat.

-oOo-


Kaelee sat on the threadbare couch, still smiling. Behind it her father thrashed and moaned, his body still vainly fighting the changes tearing through it.

She looked at the cheap wall-mounted chrono her mother had bought before she was born. A few more hours. Her smile broadened. Her father would be ready by then.

Ready for when her brothers came home.

Ready to give them their rights.

-oOo-
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Chun the Unavoidable
 
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Re: COLOSSUS

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Fri Mar 04, 2011 10:09 pm

For comments on this on the old BL Bolthole: CLICK

I've also just found out that chapters from this are in the top ten most commented on over on Imperial Literature, which I choose to take as a compliment rather than readers just arguing over the content. :roll:
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Chun the Unavoidable
 
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Re: COLOSSUS

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Thu Nov 24, 2011 8:19 am

IV: Titan Down

There were presented to me those great spirits,
Merely to have seen whom is an exaltation.
-Inferno (Canto IV)


-oOo-
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Re: COLOSSUS

Postby Mossy Toes » Mon Nov 28, 2011 6:51 am

!

I may have to do a reread in preparation for this...forthcoming storm.
What sphinx of plascrete and adamantium bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination? Imperator!
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Re: COLOSSUS

Postby horizon » Fri Jan 06, 2012 8:31 am

oh really.... shizzles. The behemoth returns.... :shock: ;)
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