Intoxication (Deathwatch short story, complete)

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

Intoxication (Deathwatch short story, complete)

Postby kurisawa » Fri Sep 14, 2012 2:22 am

BLACK SHIELDS: INTOXICATION



I’m your only friend, I’m not your only friend, but I’m a little glowing friend, but really I’m not actually your friend, but I am.
- (Unconfirmed) last words of Bartholomew Fuchsia Gellar, inventor of the Gellar Field.


‘I REALLY DON’T know about this,’ said the duty overseer. She frowned down her porcine nose at Throne Agent Athena.

Athena maintained her severe posture, folded her arms behind her back, and retrieved something from her academic gown’s inner sleeve-pocket. She dropped it onto the dataslate that Overseer Veronica Gnor grasped in pudgy hands.

‘I think you’ll find that everything is in order,’ said Athena.

It was a plastek wafer worth ten thousand öre. Gnor threw a glance at the uniformed orderlies lounging at the end of the entrance hall, then swept the wafer into her voluminous robes.

‘Follow me,’ she said, heaving her ample behind from her seat at the fortified admissions cubicle. She buzzed the gate and led Athena down a ferrocrete corridor lit by failing strip-luminators bolted to the low ceiling. Their steps echoing off into the darkness, Athena sensed she was entering a dungeon.

‘You’re new,’ huffed Gnor as they passed solid ceramite doors with heavy bolt locks. ‘And I’m not acquainted with this…’ she glanced at the dataslate again, ‘Professor Zharn.’

‘Oh?’ said Athena. ‘Who are you… acquainted with, Mrs. Gnor?’

Athena folded her hands in front now, so that the flared sleeves of her long gown formed a V beneath her forearms.

‘It’s Ms., actually,’ said Gnor. Athena gave her a false smile.

They descended greasy metal steps of a spiral staircase into gloomier depths. Voices echoed along the harsh corridors; jabbering and the occasional bark or scream. Athena noted that the ceilings were higher here, indicating a much older construction date, before the extensive Benedictine Epoch restrictions enacted to reduce vertical crowding in the hive spires.

‘I do a good business with your superiors at the universitarium, but they should not send me fresh girls like you. I have to be discreet. The guards will notice.’

‘I understand. I apologise.’

The reek of urine and unwashed humans seeped from the cells and assailed Athena’s nostrils. She scratched at the high collar of her gown. Gnor sweated and pointed one monstrous forearm towards a dungeon cell.

‘He’s in here.’

‘Thank you. You do not need to come in.’

‘Yes I do, young missy. He’s been provisionally classed as paranoid-delusional, but with violent tendencies. We’ve jacketed him to stop him scratching his own eyes out. There’s no telling what he’ll do to someone like you.’

Athena sighed as Gnor jangled rune-lock keys on a chain at her hip. The machine spirits conversed, and the wide-gauge bolt groaned aside. It was surprisingly bright inside, the glare from Vistro’s crimson sunset bathing the cell in a fiery glow through its tiny barred portal, set deep into the outer wall. The vault was high-ceilinged, too, so also pre-Ben-Epoch. Good. That might become important.

Athena judged the angle of the rays and realised the asylum must be much higher on the hive city spire than she had first thought. It was deceptive travelling in the verti-trains, and the maps were ever inaccurate. They stepped inside, and Athena noticed a shape huddled in the corner.

‘Get me outta here! Get me outta here! They’re coming for me! They’re coming for me!’

The unkempt lunatic lunged from the shadows and Athena took a step back. His narrow face glared wide-eyed out of a mess of tangled black hair. The restraint garments kept his arms wrapped about his own skinny body, and beneath them Athena recognised the grey overalls of a manufactorum worker. Gnor planted herself between the frantic prisoner and Athena, hands on hips.

‘There, there, missy,’ she said over her shoulder as she thrust out a battering ram of an arm and palmed the wretch to his knees. He was dazed for a moment.

‘The Arbites picked him up, you say?’

‘Yes. Ranting and raving in the Chastity Sector and kicking up a fuss.’

‘Something about invaders?’

‘Something like that.’

‘He won’t be missed?’

‘Not now he’s been admitted here, missy.’

Gnor threw her a glance and Athena guessed she had perhaps asked one too many questions.

‘Oh, he’s perfect. Yes; a perfect specimen for our trainee surgeons to practice lobotomies upon. Professor Zharn will be pleased.’

Gnor chewed her lip.

‘You know, the Arbites only brought this one in this morning. How did you hear of him so quickly, anyway?’

‘I, well, the universitarium, we…’

‘Perhaps I ought to double check,’ said Gnor. ‘They may come back for this one.’

She turned to leave. Athena sighed again, then pounced like a cat. Whirling on the spot, fanning her long robes with the spin, she high-kicked the bigger woman. Her heel landed upon Gnor’s double chin with a splat and the overseer crumpled with a gasp. The man seemed to regain his wits.

‘What the frag?’

‘Shut up,’ said Athena, checking the corridor outside. She shoved the cell door closed then paced across to the outer wall.

‘You’re one of them!’ he wailed. ‘I can’t see you now, but I know they sent you!’

Athena hissed like a feline at him while she produced a small device from beneath her robes and mag-locked it to the wall.

‘Get away from this wall, right into the corner,’ she said.

‘Somebody help me!’ he shouted. ‘They’re coming for me!’

Athena exhaled then stalked towards him.

‘Hey,’ she said.

‘They’re everywhere! Help me!’

‘Hey!’

She slapped him hard, once, across the cheek. Silence.

‘I am here to help you,’ she locked her violet eyes onto his slate greys. ‘Do you know your name?’

‘Err, Pil… Pillo.’

‘Your real name.’

‘Ke… Kevanderin Bertrand.’

Athena raised one eyebrow.

‘Yeah. Hence “Pillo”,’ he shrugged. ‘My mam called me Keva.’

‘Then Keva it is. I’m your mamma now.’

Athena nodded and checked her chronometer. He seemed lucid enough. Then she caught the distant tramp of booted feet, and remembered the orderlies had shock mauls. She spoke into the cuff of her gown.

‘Psiren to Talon: Plan Beta. Follow the smoke. Approx twenty levels higher than expected.’

‘Into the corner,’ Athena shoved him then curled up against the far side from the outer wall. The man, Keva, Pillo, glanced at the device she had attached to the wall and then back to Athena. He mimicked her, turning his face away and bracing.

A deafening boom exploded inside the cell, blasting two thirds of the outer wall away into the smog-choked atmosphere of Vistro. Sunlight streamed in, diffused into orange fingers by the choking dust from the explosives.

‘What the frag is going on?’ Keva shrieked.

Athena threw off her academic gown to reveal a black bodyglove – combat grade synth-fabric – wrapping her slender form. A chunky utility belt hugged her narrow hips, and from it she plucked a robust hellpistol. She ignored Keva and peeked into the corridor as alarms screamed their surprise. The orderlies were checking each cell at a time. They only vaguely knew which level that blast had come from, not which cell. Keva moaned like a baby.

The temporary ringing in her ears after the blast faded, and from the muteness a new sound roared into the ruined cell. Keva was reduced to a whimpering pile in his corner as an oblique gunship ascended into view, right outside the hole that Athena had recently created, bathed in the hellish glare of sunset. Its engines drowned out his shrieks as it sidled closer.

An emergency boarding portal slid open and a giant in onyx-black power armour glared at Athena through the ruby eye-lenses of his helmet. Pausing once to look down – it had to be a three kilometre drop – the ceramite-clad warrior leapt across. His heavy boots crunched into the ruined floor of the cell.

‘Holy sweet Throne of Terra…’ whined Keva. The giant ignored him.

‘You are in distress, My Lady?’ his voice was an inhuman growl through his vox-grate.

‘Frag you, saranen.’

Their ritual pleasantries concluded, the Adeptus Astartes swiveled his helmet and the red glare fixed Keva. He raised his left arm, electroplated in chrome in contrast to the void black of his battle plate, and pointed.

‘That is the one?’

‘Yup, that’s our man.’

The hulking space marine strode towards Keva, who vacated his bowels and attempted to disappear through the solid ferrocrete of the cell floor. Though the cell was tall, his helmet almost brushed the ceiling. The servo-muscles of his power armour humming, Brother Markius stooped and scooped Keva into his embrace like a father gathering up his baby. Keva fainted.

They were out of the breach and onto the gunship before the orderlies reached the cell.


* * *


THE INTERROGATION SITE was perfect, Athena concluded. Inquisitor Zharn had selected a long-deserted unit on the dark side of derelict Prosperity Spire – far away from prying eyes, or ears that may hear screams, but close enough to the outer sections to facilitate quick airbourne arrival by the Ordo Xenos taskforce.

She gazed around the dusty cavern of a hall. Baroque colonnades picketed the black steel walls at regular intervals. Metal tables and stools were mashed up in piles in the corners as if a miniature hurricane had swept them there. The lume-globes behind false clerestory windows high in the arched ceiling were long expired. She wondered if this place had once been a children’s scholam, a sweatshop manufactorum, or perhaps a place of worship. Maybe it had been all three at once.

The marines of Kill-team Talon lounged in a far corner, their extraction mission complete, Brother Borias entertaining them with a long-winded tale of a botched operation by one of the other units.

A large square table was bolted to the floor in the cleared space in the centre of the hall, bathed in the stark glare of four portable lume-poles, one at each corner. Burrin Grazgsten, Zharn’s stocky pilot and general jobber, crouched near to a bench of equipment nearby.

And at one side of the table slouched Kevanderin Bertrand, his wrists shackled to a loop on the metal surface. The inquisitor sat facing him, his back to Athena. She bristled and paced up and down, twenty metres away. Why had Zharn blocked her from leading the interrogation? She was good at this. She could read people. She wondered if the old man was angry at her for calling in the Deathwatch and forcing the extraction rather than calmly walking him out as planned. Thanks a lot, Muzz fraggin’ Gnor.

Apothecary Sören towered over the still unconscious Keva, monitoring life-signs with his vambrace-mounted equipment. The golden-haired marine extended a needle from the narthecium and injected something into Keva’s neck. Keva hiccoughed, his head lolling. Then his eyes fluttered open. He stared at the warrior-physician slack-jawed for several moments, until thoughts finally came flooding back to him.

‘Nooo! I didn’t do it! Don’t hurt me!’

Keva jerked upright and abruptly found his hands cuffed before him. He thrashed uselessly for a moment with the chains.

‘I believe your subject has regained consciousness,’ said Sören.

‘Thank you, Brother-Apothecary Sören,’ Zharn said in his rich voice. He resettled in his seat, careful not to crease his charcoal suit. Plenusian stem-silk, Athena guessed, hand-tailored. Zharn gestured politely to Sören with a gloved hand, and realising that his presence was distressing the still whimpering Keva, the marine departed so that his columnar torso no longer dominated the lunatic’s vision.

Zharn regarded Keva across the tabletop, a frown creasing his temples, from which debonair flashes of silver streaked his lush mane of dark hair.

‘Kevanderin Bertrand,’ said Zharn, his deep voice instantly commanding attention. ‘Keva. I want you to calm down. We do not want to hurt you.’

Keva gazed at his surroundings through bleary eyes. The immediate threat of the Astartes now removed, he regained a little composure.

‘What is this? Who are you?’

‘First things first. I am afraid we need to make a check on something. It will be unpleasant, but it will not last a long time. Can you try to remain calm for me, Keva? It goes much easier that way.’

At a signal from the inquisitor a cadaverous figure, cowled in the mint-green robes of the astropath, shuffled from the shadows behind the glare of a lume-pole.

‘Who’s that? What’s he gonna do?’ said Keva, his voice rising an octave.

Athena observed Zharn’s skeletal mystic, Aul Vespasius. Aul had a knack of remaining unnoticed like that. She noted he had taken the corner farthest from her and scowled. Why did he always avoid her? Then she frowned. Did he? Why did she notice that now of all times?

Aul sighed into another seat, equidistant from Keva and the inquisitor on a third side of the table. He turned his eyes on the subject and Keva recoiled. Aul did not have eyes, only sutured sockets in his skull-like cranium. The ancient psychic focused his attention upon Keva.

‘Try to remain calm, Keva,’ Zharn repeated.

Athena did not notice anything, but had heard Brother Markius comment on how the temperature always plummeted when Aul performed his sorcery. Keva, however, screwed his eyes shut and clenched his teeth. The veins on his neck bulged as if electric currents were screaming through his body.

‘Gah! Stop! It… Ngar…’

‘Carefully, Aul,’ Zharn said. He watched Keva intently. Froth bubbled at the skinny captive’s slack mouth and he trembled as if having a seizure. Finally, after what seemed like a good ten minutes longer than previous occasions when Athena had witnessed this procedure, the probe ended. Aul crossed his bony hands on the table.

‘Nothing,’ he wheezed.

‘No trace of mutation? Not even latent?’ said Zharn.

‘Not that I can tell, William.’

Zharn hummed, then nodded to the psychic. Aul lurched to his feet and shuffled away as quietly as he had arrived. Zharn cupped his chin for several moments while Keva recovered from his ordeal. Finally he stopped shivering.

‘Satisfied?’ Keva said. His tone was aggressive for someone in his position, and Athena paused in her pacing.

‘Keva, do you know why you are here?’ Zharn said, gesturing to the hall.

‘I won the lottery?’

Athena raised an eyebrow. He had been quick with that reply, and seemed to be gaining confidence steadily, now that physical harm was not looming. He also appeared not unduly discomforted by his shackled predicament, and she wondered if he had had run-ins with Arbites or other law-enforcement agencies before. Frag it, she thought, why didn’t I check it? Zharn reached for a dataslate on the table.

‘When you were picked up by the Arbites patrol, do you remember what you were saying?’

‘Look here,’ Keva leant forward. ‘It were a bad trip. Nonsense. The sleep did me good. I’m fine now.’

‘Well, the officer was new and obligingy diligent enough to make a note of it in his arrest report. Our snoopers flagged the transmission to his precinct.’

‘Your snoopers? Who are you people?’

Zharn ignored him and read from his slate.

‘”He says they look like Phonean face-squids, only they are inside people’s heads, everywhere… delusional… intoxication…” et cetera et cetera.’

Keva shrugged. ‘Heh. Well, what can I say? Intoxication.’

Zharn peered at him.

‘Have you ever been to Planet Pho, Keva?’

‘No. My mam took me to an aquarium when I were a sprog.’

‘So, you know what a face-squid really looks like?’

‘Yeah. Why?’

‘They happen to bear a striking resemblance to a certain other xenos species,’ said Zharn. The inquisitor produced a cylindrical device the size of his fist and activated a runekey.

‘Tell me, Keva, have you ever seen anything like this?’

‘Whoa! Holy Throne, those things are real?

The holo-projector displayed a simplified human outline in cyan blue, with a creature nestling inside its head composed of twinkling golden light; the subject of Keva’s outburst. It had a spherical body and numerous grasping tentacles, fastened about the human figure’s brain like a parasite.

‘You have seen this?’ pressed Zharn.

‘Fraggin’ loads of them! I thought… I thought…’ Keva looked wildly about again. ‘Who the frag are you people?’

‘Lots of them?’ Zharn did not reduce the pressure in his interrogation. Athena became impatient again, wanting to be the one to do the questioning.

‘I don’t know nothing,’ shouted Keva, ‘until someone tells me what’s going on!’

Zharn sighed and deactivated the projector. He made a decision, and reached for his inquisitorial rosette from beneath the fold of his suit tunic. He laid the intricately wrought iron flower upon the table and looked Keva in the eye.

‘Do you know what this is?’

Keva leaned forward and peered at the rosette over his cuffed hands.

‘Well,’ he said. ‘I wasn’t expecting the inquisition.’

Athena could not help a smile twitching upon her lips. The skinny punk had guts, alright.

‘You may have important information for us, Keva,’ said Zharn. ‘That is why we brought you here.’

‘Then those fraggin’ things really are here!’ Keva’s eyes widened and he looked about to have another panic attack.

‘Focus, Keva,’ Zharn used that voice, the one when he took control of conversations. ‘Look at me. Think. Have you seen this?’

He produced the projector again and thumbed a different runekey.

‘Sweet holy Celestine! What the frag is that?’

This time a similar creature was displayed, only its body was longer and tubular – though the writhing tentacles and featureless head were the same. Another human outline was projected for comparative purposes. The thing would be at least three metres tall.

‘Have you seen it?’ Zharn repeated.

‘No no no!’ whimpered Keva. ‘Only them little fraggers. Come on, I’m telling the truth. What the frag are they?’

Zharn deactivated the projector and sat back in his chair.

‘They are called enslavers; a species of xenos that are very dangerous to humankind, for as you have seen they can burrow into the minds of people and take control of them against their will. We in the inquisition take their threat very seriously.’

‘And the big fraggers?’

‘They are the adult enslavers,’ said Zharn.

‘Throne! Then those face-squids are just babies? What the frag?’

‘Well, enslavers are a very unusual life-form, and one presumes reproduction takes a very different form than we would consider normal. Those small ones are known to my Ordo as slivers, but yes, for our purposes they are babies. We must find the “mother” as soon as possible.’

‘Well I ain’t seen it, so I don’t know! Can I go now? I think I’m leaving Vistro for a long fraggin’ while.’

‘There is another problem,’ said Zharn and Keva silenced.

‘You see,’ said the inquisitor, ‘enslavers are in fact a warp-based entity. They exist as phantoms in our dimension, and are totally invisible to the normal human eye. Those projections were constructed based on verbal descriptions from psychic servants of the Imperium.’

Keva’s eyes darted from side to side. Athena noticed him shift in his seat.

‘Only those with the witchsight can visualise them. Even the true, tubular enslavers you saw there can only be seen once they fully cross the bridge from the warp into reality.’

Zharn folded his gloved hands and stared at Keva.

‘Which begs the question; how did you come to describe them so exactly?’

Keva tugged fruitlessly at his chains again and took several quick breaths.

‘Come on now, don’t start this. Your mystic has already cleared me! I’m no mutant!’

‘Indeed, but yet you can see them. This could be very important. Very useful.’

‘Yeah?’ Keva seemed to sense yet another mortal danger had passed him by.

‘How can you see them?’

‘How should I know? I just look at them.’

‘Have you always seen them?’

‘What? No. Just the last ten days or so…’

‘So what else has changed in that time? What happened in your life?’

‘I…’ Keva clamped his mouth shut. His eyes darted from side to side again. Even from her position, frustrated in the background, Athena saw realisation dawn on his face.

‘Nothing,’ said Keva, staring too hard at his cuffs. ‘I suppose that’s just when they started crossing that warp-bridge-thing you said, ain’t it?’

Zharn was not convinced, and with good reason. Any interrogator worth his or her öre would have spotted the lie. Zharn exhaled in annoyance.

‘I told you that we did not want to hurt you, Keva. Do not test our patience.’

‘What do you want? I just started seeing them!’

‘That is not true, is it, Keva?’

Pacing like a caged mountain cat, Athena suddenly connected several random thoughts.

‘Holy frag! I know!’ she called out. Zharn paused. Athena hesitated, then he waved her forward to join the interrogation. She swaggered to the table, grinning.

‘Pillo? That’s what you said you were called at first. It’s a gang name; Pill-o as in pills? And you said you had a “bad trip,” right?’

‘No! Pillo as in warm and fluffy to hug!’

‘Grox-crap,’ said Athena. ‘You were intoxicated when the Arbites picked you up – and not just drunk. You’re a fraggin’ narc-dealer!’

‘Alright, alright,’ said Keva, attempting to spread his hands and hampered by the cuffs. ‘But I ain’t no dealer. I’m a creator, ain’t I?’

‘But something went wrong? The bad trip?’ Athena sensed a victory coming. He was opening up.

‘Look here,’ Keva leant forward again, ‘Can you get me immunity from the Arbites?’

‘The Arbites are the last thing you should worry about right now,’ pressed Athena, also leaning over the table, glaring into his eyes. ‘Tell me.’

‘Then I don’t know nothing ‘bout nothing,’ Keva settled back and deliberately looked away. Athena fumed for a moment, then recalled his weakness.

‘Brother Rasmus, can you come here please?’ she called to the Deathwatch Kill-team. A hulking marine with a bionic leg stomped towards them. Keva recoiled. Rasmus sported a gruesome collection of battle trophies, crowned by a pair of sabretooth fangs that dangled over his barrel-chest. Athena smiled and said, ‘We need to sample and identify some narcotics from this man’s blood. Could you cut his left arm off, just below the elbow?’

‘My pleasure, eh?’

Rasmus grinned an uneven smile of battered teeth and his oblong face wrinkled right up to the greying stubble of his balding pate. He unharnessed a brutal power-axe from over his shoulder.

‘Alright, alright!’ squeaked Keva. ‘No need for that! I had to try, didn’t I?’

‘Right. Speak,’ Athena noticed Zharn watching her and give an approving nod.

Keva’s shoulders slumped.

‘I shoulda known it were too good to be true.’

What was too good to be true?’

Keva sighed, ‘The epiphany.’


* * *


‘MY GREATEST CREATION,’ said Keva, ‘or so I thought. Took eons of tinkering, didn’t it? A little of this, a little of that. Uppers, stonkers, fazers. Don’t look like that. I said I were a creator, didn’t I? More like an artist – and epiphany were my masterpiece. Nice name, eh? Thought of it myself.’

‘Did you give this… narcotic creation to anyone else?’ said Zharn, listening intently.

‘Oh no! Still in testing phase, weren’t it?’ he flashed a grin at Athena. ‘Gotta test everything thoroughly on myself first, otherwise it’s not ethical is it?’

‘Ha!’ Athena snorted.

‘Anyway, everything were going nice an’ chunky even after a whole week; gradually greater doses. Good ups. I mean, really good ups, you know? No crashdowns. Sleeping ok. Even my skin and hair were looking great.’

Keva stared down at his current state through his straggly hair.

‘Well, it were great at first, then. I were almost ready to go to market. Oh, I’m no dealer, but I gotta sort out a few shiftmates, haven’t I? And this stuff were the öre, I’m telling you. Better than anything I’d cooked up before, and without the side effects. This were going to be big.’

‘And then?’ Zharn hid his impatience well.

‘Then I started seeing them… things… in people’s heads, like. Thought it were just visions, you know? Just illusions from the epiphany. But the people with the squids in them, they moved funny too. I knew I weren’t imagining it. Like puppets, you know? Like they didn’t really wanna go where their legs were going.’

Athena glanced at Zharn, who nodded in understanding.

‘Didn’t like it, did I? Thought I were going crazy. Decided to get some good old grox down my gullet to wash it out. Went on a bender over Chastity way. Then I wandered into Old Gann the Barman’s place, and fusion-blast me, he’s got one of the fraggers right in his head too. I talked to him. “Gann,” I said. “Are you alright?” Doesn’t even recognise me, does he? That’s when I flipped. Then I’m here, ain’t I?’

Keva slumped, drained of his information. There was a silence as the Imperial agents considered what they had heard.

‘Keva,’ said the inquisitor. ‘Where exactly did you see these… things?’

‘Here and there, you know?’

‘Please try to be more precise. It is important.’

‘Hmm. On the mag-trains mostly, at first. Riding round all passive, like servitors. Then I suppose it got worse down Chastity.’

Zharn steepled his gloved fingers and hummed.

‘Brother-Apothecary Sören, may I request your attention again?’

‘Yes, Inquisitor?’ Sören approached, and this time Keva seemed less terrified in his presence, though he still threw the statuesque marine a wary look.

‘Keva,’ said Zharn. ‘I want you to tell Brother Sören everything that you put into your epiphany, and in the exact amounts.’

‘Yeah? So, how much then?’

‘How much for what?’ Athena said.

‘Well, it is a sort of trade secret.’

‘How about we start with not ripping your limbs off, eh?’ Rasmus growled. Keva had forgotten the feral-looking giant was still nearby.

‘Alright. Throne. Had to try, didn’t I?’ Keva looked Sören up and down again.

‘You’re gonna need a dataslate, mate.’

‘I will remember.’

‘You better. Got to be perfect or it won’t work. Like I said, eons of adjusting and testing this has taken, ain’t it?’

‘Begin.’

‘Alright; this is for one dram, ok? Take two-twenty milidrams amphetamines and one hundred caff. That’s the base. Then a pinch of jaleps – maybe ten mils, then fifty distilled plox…’

‘What?’ said Sören.

‘What what?’ said Keva.

‘What is that?’

‘What that what?’

‘What is that which you just said?’

‘What? What that what?’

An impish grin spread across Keva’s sallow cheeks. Sören closed his sapphire blue eyes, exhaled slowly, then opened them again.

‘Mr. Bertrand, you are in imminent peril of relinquishing your breathing privileges.’

‘No need to get nasty. I was just japin’ with you. Throne, don’t you lot have any sense of humour?’

Sören stepped towards Keva with a huge gauntleted hand reaching out to crush his neck.

‘Alright! It’s just plox, ain’t it? I don’t know the high gothic design-fraggin-nation! Apothecarions give it out to old codgers! What d’you want from me?’

‘Bah!’ Burrin piped up from where he had been watching near to the cogitator stations. ‘Think he means ploxonium-delta.’

The stocky man scratched a bristly sideburn of wiry black hair.

‘Juiced out of megafungi on Plenusia. It’s a sedative. Hmmm,’ he continued scratching. ‘Distilled and mixed with the amphets, could make a powerful psychedelic.’

‘Yeah, what he said,’ said Keva.

He continued with an improbably long list of banned or controlled substances in precise amounts – it seemed he really had put in a lot of work for this recipe. Brother Sören stored the data in his Adeptus Astartes eidetic memory. When Keva had finished the apothecary cupped his square-cut chin.

‘What do you think?’ said Zharn.

‘I can source everything except the jaleps and this… plox.’

Zharn turned to Burrin, who grinned then said, ‘Bah! Gimme about an hour.’


* * *


‘HOW DO YOU feel, Athena?’ Zharn’s rich voice was small and tinny in the vox-bead disguised as a stud in her upper earlobe. ‘It has been one hour since administration.’

‘Hmm…’

‘Our erstwhile Mr. Bertrand assures me the effects come on rather quickly about now.’

‘Well, I don’t fraggin’ feel any… wait… wait… oooh.’

Athena swooned and stumbled into a grimy recess in the tunnel she had been traversing, collapsing onto her backside behind a gargoyle-infested balustrade. Luckily her nondescript cargo pants were full of stains already. A few mumbles of annoyance followed her, but the flow of tramping pedestrians soon moved on without her.

‘Are you still with me, Athena?’

‘Whoa. Keva knows his stuff. Head’s dashing.’

‘Where are you, Athena?’

‘Just entered the Chase. Good timing,’ she giggled.

‘What do you see?’

What did she see? Chastity Sector – the “Chase” – burrowed into the hive city depths all around her. A dingy warren of black-iron tunnels strategically placed between the manufactorum levels stretching expansively below and the hab-stacks above. Here the depressed multitudes of shuffling workers frittered away the pittances they earned before they even reached their hovels. Here every vice imaginable was on offer. Neon signs beckoned to shadowy portals into flesh bars, spice dens and the more exotic fetish clubs. The Chase hosted numerous tunnelwalkers, with their gaudy makeup and harsh voices; desperately soliciting even more desperate-looking codgers.

She scanned the crowds thronging the low-hanging tunnels intersecting and twisting away from her position. Rich uphivers and students from the universitarium were easy to spot; they didn’t have the distinctive Chastity Crouch that disfigured the posture of every scoundrel from this sector, earned from a lifetime of slouching beneath the low tunnels. A gangly student with a mountainous nose clanged his forehead into an overhead pipe, drawing raucous bellows from his friends. She watched them trying to fit in with the slummers, and failing.

Everywhere the mark of the Ben-Epoch restrictions were evident. Establishments shared hazardous single-sheet metal floor/ceilings to try and steal a few extra inches for their clients. Accesses were shared with ladder-entries to bars above and below, each barely high enough to sit in, so as to avoid the draconian height taxes. Athena giggled again, imagining the mayhem at kicking out time when intoxicated spenders tumbled down those rungs.

‘What is funny, Athena?’

‘I just… oooh, I just never realised how beautiful this place really is. All the lights, all the noise, all the liquor smells.’

‘It is important that you stay with me, Athena. Concentrate on my voice. Remember your mission. This is not a safe place for you to be under the influence of epiphany. Listen to my voice. Envisage my face.’

‘Are you trying to hypnotise me, William? I can call you William?’

‘You are far too strong-willed for that, Athena. And under the circumstances, William is fine for now. Now on your feet, Agent Athena.’

‘Nooo, it’s comfy here. And pretty.’

‘The mission. No procrastinating.’

‘Spoilsport.’

Athena hefted herself to her feet, tumbling onto her backside three times before she managed it, grinning inanely all the time.

‘Here I stand!’

‘Good. Let’s try again, Athena. What do you see? How does it seem?’

‘Colours are sharper. I… things glow… people glow. I feel like I hear them, but I don’t know what they are saying.’

‘Any face-squids?’

Athena moved her head from side to side, she imagined like an auspex dish scanning a sector, but suspected it was just lolling.

‘No squiddies, Will. Is Will ok?’

‘Whatever you like, just keep your voice down.’

‘Sorry, Willy.’

‘Anything else?’

‘There are… Hmmm… lines. Like sunrays… beautiful… cosmic…’

Athena stumbled forward into the throng of people shuffling along the tunnel, her eyes up, mesmerised by the strands of ephemeral light suspended in the air.

‘Hmmm. Keva did not mention that. Like sunrays?’ said the inquisitor.

‘Well, more like rainbows, multi-coloured. So beautiful.’

She stopped at a corner where one gossamer strand she could reach up and touch.

‘My hand goes right through it. Can’t feel anything. Wait. I put my hand up and it doesn’t break the ray – just comes in one side and goes out the other. Oh. It goes through the walls, too.’

‘Very interesting, Athena. Well done. Now I think it a good time to review mission parameters.’

‘Locate, confirm ident, evacuate. That’s it.’

‘Very good, Athena. Now let’s visit Old Gann’s.’

Athena trotted along, smiling at passersby, and happy to get a lot of drug-induced grins from dazed stimm-addicts in response. She had a perfect cover, she realised, and giggled again.

‘I’m at the junction of Delta and Magenta tunnels,’ she said, touching her earring.

‘Turn left, down Magenta.’

‘Okey dokey, Willy.’

Gann’s was a smoke-blackened ruin.

‘I think that was Keva’s “flipping out” that earned him an Arbite arrest,’ she said. A hunchbacked tunnelwalker passed by and noticed her gaping at the wreck.

‘Damn shame. Old Gann the Barman were a good’un,’ she chewed tobacco stuffed into her cheek.

‘D’you know where he is now?’

‘Wandering round like a fraggin’ zombie last I heard, ain’t he?’

Athena reported this.

‘How very annoying,’ said Zharn. ‘Any more rays?’

‘No… but… oh my Throne…’

‘What is it, Athena?’

‘Face-squid! Down the end of the tunnel, moving away from me.’

‘Alright. Keep your distance, Athena. Keep talking to me. I don’t want to lose you.’

She shadowed the man down several tunnels. Though she could not make out the details at the distance, the golden creature wriggling inside his head glowed unmistakably. It was a strange experience, to be able to see right into his brain. Athena laughed out loud.

‘Talk to me, Athena.’

‘I was just thinking: It’s amazing, isn’t it?’

‘What is amazing?’

‘This narc… this epiphany… it works! It could introduce a whole new method of detecting and destroying these things.’

‘Indeed, it will be a fearsome weapon in our arsenal, and it seems to function. Can you still see him, Athena?’

‘I’m still on him, Willy. But you know, this awesome new weapon that can save the Imperium… it was cooked up by a deranged narc-addict!’

‘That’s not so unprecedented, Athena. Genius and insanity are separated by a fine line, often crossed by great inventors of the Imperium. They say Lord Solar Macharius was insane.’

‘Oh hush, blasphemer,’ Athena giggled. ‘And what did he invent?’

‘Point. I have read discursive papers that postulate the inventor of the Gellar Field was crazy.’

‘Really? What do you think?’

‘To be honest, I think he was possessed.’

‘William! Why?’

‘Oh, some unconfirmed attributions from his latter days.’

‘A daemon helped humans build the Gellar Field?’

‘Maybe it was friendly. Maybe it was luring us into its domain. Maybe it was all part of a larger scheme. Who knows? Mr. Gellar wrote some strange things at the end. What’s our face-squid doing now, Athena?’

‘I think he’s going up; Level 723.’

‘Hmmm, the mag-trains run on 723.’

‘Keva said he saw them on the mags.’

‘Indeed. You are going for a ride, Athena.’

‘Yippee!’


* * *


‘WHAT’S HAPPENING NOW, Athena?’

‘We’re going along the main avenue towards the station. Lots of people. High hall. Must have been built pre-Ben-Epoch.’

‘I suppose it must have. How is our face-squid, Athena?’

‘Ahead.’

‘Don’t let him get too far, Athena. He may lead us to the source.’

‘Don’t worry; I can’t fraggin’ miss the golden blob in his head.’

‘Even so…’

‘Willy, there are more of the sunrays here – up above. Pretty.’

‘Keep your eye on the target, Agent Athena.’

‘You know though, they remind me of something. There are several long lines going the length of the hallway, then a couple of loops linking them. They are kind of waving in the air, like in a wind. Funny, eh? It looks peaceful, beautiful, but they remind me of something – like I’m only looking at part of something bigger.’

‘Athena…’

‘I know, I know… the target.’

‘No, I was going to ask; do the long lines look parallel?’

‘What? Well… it is hard to say. If so, they would run west into the Chase and then east…’

‘East into where, Athena?’

‘Fraternity Sector.’

‘I see.’

Athena stared for a moment at the looming Arbites bastions guarding the end of the hall to the east. Beyond sprawled the lawless Fraternity Sector, ruled by the hive gangs. A no-go zone for even the Arbites in nothing less than squads of twenty and in armoured chimera transports, no Ben-Epoch taxes were collected in Fraternity. No students or uphivers went there, either, unless they sought a stub in their belly and quick relief of their purses.

‘I hope our man’s fraggin’ going west,’ she giggled.

‘Where is he now, Athena?’

‘Wait. Oh frag!’

A serpent of box cars had rattled up to the platform inside the station, and the slouching proletarians began stumbling in. Athena jogged, not trusting her legs to sprint, threw a payment plastek at the servitor manning the gate and hustled over to the train.

‘I think he’s inside. It’s going west. What should I do?’

‘Take the mag, Athena.’

She stepped in just before the corrugated metal doors rolled shut. The groaning vehicle lurched on its journey. Inside was a brutal black-iron box, windowless and lit only by the odd flickering luminator. There were no seats. Grey-overalled manufactorum workers squatted by the walls. Athena’s nostrils were assailed by the stench of sweat and urine, and she was reminded of the asylum. Then she saw him. She touched her ear.

‘Thank the Emperor! He’s here, at the other end of the cart.’

‘Good work, Athena. Don’t get too close, and remember there are people all around you now. Don’t touch your ear and sub-vocalise.’

‘Okey dokey, Willy.’

She stumbled through the crowded crate, tripping over feet and hands. Rag-swathed travelers hissed at her. She found a recess between balustrades. Someone on the other side was reading a dataslate and barking to himself. Another crazy. Perfect.

‘Alright. I found a spot.’

‘Can you still see him, Athena?’

‘Yes, much more clearly now.’

‘Well? … Athena?’

‘Oh, by the Throne they’re horrible, Will. It’s right there in his head. He’s just sitting there with this thing eating his brain. Every time he moves a leg or a hand, I can see a tentacle spasm inside.’

‘Like a puppet made of flesh.’

‘Yes! Yes, that’s it exactly!’ she shuddered. ‘It’s looking this way! Uhhh… no wonder Keva freaked out. I can see his eyes, the human’s real eyes, I mean. And then it’s there glowing behind them – like two blank shark eyes. The man’s eyes are wide, like they are staring at a daemon or something. Horrified. Why doesn’t anyone notice?’

‘They have not taken the epiphany, Athena.’

‘Point. Wait, the mag’s stopping.’

The vehicle groaned to a halt, doors opened, and people stumbled in and out.

‘He’s staying put.’

‘Good. So are you, then. Remember not to touch your ear. How are you doing? Is your head still… dashing?’

‘Like a hellfire missile,’ she giggled. ‘It’s good. I feel randy. We should shoot this together sometime.’

‘You and I, Athena? What would my other Psirens think?’

Athena frowned. Nyx wouldn’t care. Yuri would be jealous. She realised for a moment that the inquisitor was always much… closer… with the others.

‘William. Can I ask you something?’

‘Anything at all, Athena.’

‘Why don’t you think to me?’

‘I do not understand, Athena.’

‘Why not use your power, you know, the telepathy?’

‘Given the nature of our prey, Athena, that does not seem appropriate for this mission.’

‘No, I mean, ever. You’ve never used telepathy with me – even on Callasia 9 it was Yuri or Selena. I wasn’t even in the room! You think to Burrin, Aul, even Brother Markius, but never me.’

‘It is hard to explain, Athena. I’m sorry.’

‘Afraid of what I’ll find out if you open your mind up to me?’

‘Something like that, Athena. I promise to explain another time. How is our target?’

‘Still on board. I think we’re going right past Chase.’

‘What is after Chastity Sector, Athena?’

‘Hmmm. The universatarium. That makes sense, actually.’

‘Is he a student?’

‘No, but not a manufactorum worker either. Overalls not shagged up enough. I’d say he was higher on the ladder, maybe a latrine cleaner. Somewhere with security.’

‘What makes you say that, Athena?’

‘There’s a pinch mark on his overall pocket, at the chest like where you’d clip a plastek – an ID or rune-key.’

‘That is well reasoned, Athena. You are thinking like an inquisitor.’

‘Thanks, Willy! Oh, frag. There’s another one now, coming opposite me.’

The man with the squid in his brain jerked past Athena. For a moment his head turned and the creature within looked right into her eyes from less than a metre away. Then he stumbled on. Athena shuddered.

‘William?’

‘Yes, Athena?’

‘How intelligent are these enslavers?’

‘No-one has ever managed to communicate with them, and they seem to act on instinct. What they achieve seems to me to require a certain level of intellectual sophistication, though, but I am in a minority amongst my peers that thinks so. Why?’

‘I think I may have just got made.’

‘Alright, Athena, do not panic. Are they… talking to each other?’

‘No. Different ends of the box. Complete strangers, as far as anyone would think.’

‘But you can see differently.’

‘Yes. William?’

‘What is it, Athena?’

‘What is hard to explain? Is there something wrong with me?’

‘This is not the right time or way to talk about it, Athena. I will tell you later. I promise.’

‘The mag’s stopping again. Uni stop. They are getting off.’

‘Alright, follow them.’

‘No. Not until you tell me why you won’t think to me.’

‘Athena, the mission!’

‘I’m not moving. They’re leaving, William.’

‘You will endanger the entire planet. Think through the haze, Athena.’

‘I don’t care Will. They’ve gone.’

‘I am warning you, Athena, this will be your career. Do not do this now.’

‘But you know I will anyway, Willy. So tell me. Door warning is chiming now.’

‘Alright; I can’t think to you, Athena, because you are a null! Now move!’

‘I already have, William. We are moving down the access tunnel towards the universitarium sector. The mag is long gone… William? Inquisitor?’

‘That was not funny, Athena.’

‘I know. I’m sorry. I didn’t endanger the mission, though.’

‘You caused me concern, Athena.’

‘Can you forgive me? It was the epiphany. What’s a null?’

‘I will think upon your penance. My colleagues refer to people such as you as “untouchables.” You project an innate aura which nullifies psychic energy. Telepathy and other attempts to touch your mind automatically fail.’

‘I’m… I’m a mutant?’

‘No, no. It is a rare genetic peculiarity, that is for sure, but not a corruption of the genome. I would rather say you are an anti-mutant. It is quite safe, and very useful for me. Where are the xenos now, Athena?’

‘We are coming to the end of the tunnel. They are walking near to each other, but not side by side.’

‘Are they both scrubbers, do you think, Athena?’

‘No. Squiddie Two is a scribe or other admin.’

‘Because…?’

‘Augmetic hands, and a mark on his balding head where he straps on a micro-monocle.’

‘They both could well be connected to the universitarium, then.’

‘That’s what I thought, Will. So, I’m untouchable? That’s fraggin’ cosmic. Daemons can’t hurt me?’

‘Not so, I’m afraid, Athena. I personally consider “untouchable” to be a deceptive misnomer. A daemon or other warp entity can still touch you, and indeed hurt you, physically. And they can still lie and promise and try and convince you of things. But any warp-based sorcery to try and take control of your brain, or soul, will fail. I prefer the term “incorruptible,” myself.’

‘Sounds great to me, Willy. We’re coming out of the access now. Oh…’

‘Are you still there, Athena?’

‘Yes. It’s an open dome. Can’t see the roof it’s so high. Never seen one like this on Vistro.’

‘The universitarium has many wealthy patrons.’

‘So it fraggin’ seems.’

‘Athena, are you alright? About the big surprise, I mean.’

‘Sure. I have a secret super-power. Cosmic. Why didn’t you tell me before?’

‘Often when nulls are enlightened as to their nature they do not take it so well. Some cry.’

‘Wimps! It’s cool as far as I care. What did you expect of me?’

‘Indeed. Nothing less, I suppose, Athena. Are the face-squids still heading for the college? I should advise you there is a negative side.’

‘Still going to universitarium, Will. I thought there might be. Tell me.’

‘The aura, the null bubble, makes it very hard for psychically sensitive people – like me – to be in close proximity to you. Intimacy is practically impossible.’

‘Hmmm. That makes sense. What about Aul?’

‘In case you had not noticed, that poor old psyker gets a migraine every time he is in the same room as you!’

Athena laughed out loud. Then she stopped.

‘There’s something going on outside the universitarium; a protest of some sort.’

‘Violent?’

‘Not at the moment, but could be trouble. There are a lot of people; maybe a thousand or so. Lots of noise.’

‘Yes, I can hear it in the background. How about the face-squids?’

‘They’re skirting it. In fact, they don’t look like they’re going to the uni at all. William, I just noticed something. The sunrays, there are more here. Lots more. And… I can’t believe I didn’t notice it before… must have been the low ceilings and then the boxy mag-train.’

‘What did you not notice, Athena?’

‘The squiddies: Both of them have a sunray attached to the top of his head! A single gossamer strand is waving out each one and glittering off into the distance. I only saw it now because of the high dome.’

‘Hmmm. It seems the strands are a visual manifestation of the psychic connection between the slivers to the controlling enslavers. If those poor wretches are flesh puppets, what you are seeing are the strings, Athena.’

‘And there are hundreds of them converging in this dome right now! Oh, holy Throne, and now I see it. Now I know what they remind me of.’

‘An arachnid’s web?’

‘Yes! How did you know?’

‘I suspected, Athena. Are the two face-squids going towards the concentration?’

‘No. They’re heading out the other side of the dome. The web seems to come right out of the protesting crowd. Which way should I go? Follow the two or enter the crowd?’

For the first time during her drug-blurred journey, she sensed the inquisitor was unsure what to do.

‘Frag it. We need the source, right? I’m going to mingle.’


* * *


‘LOCATE. CONFIRM. EVACUATE,’ said Zharn. ‘Remember your mission, Athena.’

‘Alright, alright, don’t worry Willy. I’m not here to fraggin’ enjoy myself with these rich brats.’

‘You don’t like universitarium students?’

‘I don’t like academic elites espousing to everyone else how to live. They don’t have a fraggin’ clue about the real galaxy.’

‘You never went to college, did you, Athena?’

‘I graduated from the college of tough fraggin’ luck, with a diploma in getting the crap kicked out of me by my uncle.’

‘Yes. I’m sorry. I did not mean to dredge up your former life.’

‘S’alright. The fragger’s dead now anyway. The crowds are thick here, but I can see the sunrays coming down on the far side. It must be the students or the faculty! I’m making my way through.’

‘Hmmm. The disciplines of opening one’s mind to learning would make them particularly susceptible to enslaver attack, I suppose. It is a shame you left your academic gown at the asylum, Athena.’

‘Not at all, Willy. I’m fitting in perfectly right now. Everyone is in guard-surplus combat pants and black vees. Wannabe anarchists have a strict uniform, didn’t you know?’

Athena giggled at her own oxymoron.

‘It is getting noisy around you, Athena. What are they protesting about?’

‘Oh I don’t know; workers’ rights, as if they really care, or more free liquor, probably. Every one of the spoilt kids around me is drunk.’

She glanced at some of the placards being furiously waved and snorted.

‘Ha! You’re not going to believe this; “Parasites among us! Parasites living off the poor! We are being enslaved!”’

‘How ironic. Are you alright, Athena? I can hear shouting, and fighting.’

‘They are confronting a cordon of Arbites, not far ahead. I still can’t see where the rays end up. It could be a lower level.’

‘Possibly. Stay out of trouble, Athena. Remember the mission; you are there just to observe and then get out.’

‘What are you going to do next?’

‘We have a range of tactical options. It depends how chronic the infection has spread.’

‘You’d nuke the universitarium? Frag!’

‘Do not worry about that, Athena. What do you see now? Athena? Athena, report!’

‘William. Oh my Throne.’

‘What is it, Athena?’

‘The Arbites. Not the students. The Arbites have the face-squids in their heads. The sunrays are coming down to the Arbites.’

‘How many of them, Athena?’

‘Fraggin’ all of them. Every single one. Hundreds. They’re… they’re dragging protesters away into the chimeras behind.’

Like the heavy gauge bolt of an asylum cell door heaving open, the truth of the situation abruptly slammed into Athena’s mind, pounding her epiphany bliss like a hammer.

‘Frag! The Arbites! They are taking people away – they must be spreading the slivers!’

‘Athena, do not get involved! Which precinct are they? Can you see markings on the chimeras?’

Athena was not listening. She pointed a trembling finger and fumbled for her hellpistol, secreted under the belt to her baggy trousers.

‘They’re the parasites!’ she shouted, trying not to laugh. The epiphany was clouding her mind. She couldn’t get a hold of the weapon under her belt.

‘Parasites!’ roared the mob of students around her.

The Arbites’ polished, beetle-like helmets hid their faces, and their eyes, but the enslaver slivers glowed from inside their heads. The body armour plates and combat shields hid the jerky movements from untrained observers, but Athena could see it all too well. They surged towards her, shock mauls swinging.

‘Get them off me!’ she screamed, scrabbling. Two, three, four descended upon her, grabbing for arms and legs. She tugged out the hellpistol and fired wild. An officer took the laser blast in his blank visor, but it refracted, shattering the plasteel. Athena’s eyes widened in horror as she saw the sliver squirming and griping around behind the now exposed eyes. More of the armoured puppets grabbed her. She lost her pistol and screamed.

The students roared and charged, and a full scale riot exploded.


* * *


‘THAT WAS GREAT!’ a voice said. Athena opened her eyes. She felt her body rattle and her ears were punished by the throaty growl of a tank engine. She was in the back of a chimera, hands cuffed. The prisoner cage was packed with excited students.

‘William? Come in, William. I got knocked out, but I’m back. Can you hear me? I’m being transported with other detainees. Inquisitor?’

She touched her ear and her fingers came away bloody. The earring had been ripped out in the ruckus. She checked her pants; no utility belt. No weapons.

‘Who’re you talking to?’ a pasty faced lad said to her. He swayed and grinned. Drunk.

‘No-one,’ she shot back, pushing past him towards the back of the chimera. It lurched and grumbled along, rattling its human cargo. She studied the locked rear doors.

‘Hey! She’s the one!’ said a voice. Athena turned to see wide eyes regarding her with awe, and a little fear.

‘You shot at one of them! That was great!’ said pasty.

‘Where are they taking us?’ she said to the crowd of wary fans.

‘The precinct jail, probably,’ another student grinned and hiccoughed. ‘We’re gonna spend a night in jail. Great!’

‘No, you don’t understand! They are going to get into your heads!’ said Athena.

‘Fear not, comrade,’ a serious-looking girl said. ‘My father is senator of Equality Spire. When he hears of this, he’ll take action against these fascists!’

‘No, you’re all going to be… they’ll get you!’

‘Calm down, eh, Sister,’ said pasty. ‘We didn’t shoot at anyone.’

Athena hooted, the rush in her head making her queasy even as she dimly recognised a sense of impending danger. She turned to the doors again. It was a military-grade mag-lock, worked from the outside. She heaved onto her back and kicked with her feet several times, to no avail.

‘Fraggin’ magnets!’ she laughed. ‘How the frag do they work?’

The chimera lurched to a halt, and the doors rumbled open. Hands in armoured gauntlets reached in and manhandled her out, along with the shouting students.

‘Inquisitor Zharn!’ Athena tried again, forgetting that she had lost her vox-bead. She struggled to keep a grip on her thoughts through the rising rush of panic and befuddling drugs. She was lifted from her feet by too many Arbites, and glanced around. They were inside one of the precincts – a smaller dome loomed above the armoured walls and gun-nests. Hundreds of Arbites tramped around, every single one with a face-squid inside. She saw the scrubber and scribe from before entering from a civilian entrance across the courtyard. That could be an exit. They flashed ID plasteks to guards and Athena wondered if the aliens in their heads were doing that as a charade, or whether the slaves were just mindlessly following their routines.

Athena sensed something bad was going to happen to her and the students struggling in the grasp of the zombie-like slaves. She blinked, trying to focus, trying to decide on a course of action. Escape. Then she saw the cellblock within the precinct and gasped.

Like a fabled Terran sunrise, a corona of golden light bloomed from its roof – hundreds and hundreds of rainbow gossamer strands streaming away into the hive city dome above: The nexus of the web.

‘The source…’ she said. ‘It must be inside.’

She struggled all the more furiously with the flesh puppets as they dragged her implacably towards the cellblock. She was swiftly bundled inside the tall double doors and into the brutally square hall, flanked by cell corridors on three sides. Though they said nothing and their limbs jerked as if rebelling against their minds, the grip of the faceless Arbites was frighteningly strong.

A cell at the end of the hall was bathed in ephemeral light, as if a miniature galaxy swirled within its ferrocrete walls. Athena squinted and saw the quivering forms of no less than five full-sized enslavers hovering over what looked like a prisoner that had exploded from the inside out. More prisoners were being forced to their knees before the spectral apparitions by gangs of Arbites. Enslavers laid one of their writhing pseudopods upon their heads, like ancient kings knighting their warriors, and Athena watched tiny slivers blossom inside their minds.

‘No!’ she screamed at the Arbites. ‘Come to your senses, Throne damn you!’

The students being dragged along the hallway finally seemed to realise something was not right.

‘I say,’ said the senator’s daughter, ‘We can walk, you know! This is really not necessary. Wait… what’s going on there?’

Bleak panic seized in Athena’s chest through her happy daze as she was driven inexorably towards the cabal of inter-dimensional invaders. She was helpless.


* * *


‘HEY, WHAT’S THAT?’ a student pointed at the ridged ceiling. Athena followed his gesture and squinted. A glowing disc of light grew in intensity, as if a portal were being melted out of the reinforced metal. Then black armoured silhouettes dived on wings of fire.

The giant figures landed on ceramite boots, cracking the flagged surface of the hallway, suits of power armour humming, and discarded their jump-packs. Bolters opened up, spears of fire hurling mass-reactive missiles into the platoons of Arbites. The cellblock exploded into violence.


Armoured officers exploded from the inside as the bolts detonated, showering those around them with shrapnel and body parts. The students screamed. The enslaved guards took several moments to process the surprise attack. Then the gripping hands dropped Athena and the Arbites lurched towards the Adeptus Astartes. Shock mauls were unhooked and autopistols unholstered. Athena landed heavily on her back, and lay giggling for several moments. The students scattered, shrieking.


When she mustered to her feet, Athena witnessed a frantic firefight between the space marines of the Deathwatch and the flesh puppets. One giant in onyx-black battle plate marched up to her amidst the chaos. Ruby lenses in his helmet fixed her eyes.

‘You are in distress, My Lady?’

‘I was just waiting for a handsome knight like yourself, Brother Markius.’

The helmet cocked to one side.

‘Are you flirting with me, Agent Athena?’

She sensed a grin behind the mask. The voice was different.

‘Have you… taken something, Brother Markius?’

‘Brother Sören cooked up a special batch of epiphany.’

‘Really? I thought Astartes would be unaffected.’

Markius raised his bolter and pumped three rounds towards a squad of flesh puppets marching their way. The bolts detonated, flattening the attackers.

‘Scholar found a way to suppress the biscopia – with hypertoxins from Beta Coplin, if you can believe it – and this injection is ten times more powerful than the dose you took.’

‘So, are you high?’

‘As a storm eagle!’ Markius guffawed. Athena giggled. She had never heard Markius laugh like that before, ever. Their laughter seemed to be mutually infectious, and they descended into uncontrollable fits of sniggers. She offered her cuffed hands, and he struck them from her wrists with his gladius. He handed her a new hellpistol, and together they blasted away at the hordes of flesh puppets shuffling towards them.

‘How did you find me?’ she suddenly asked.

‘Beacon in your boot heel, remember?’

Athena slapped her forehead. ‘Oh yeah. I forgot. By the way, I’m a fraggin’ null.’

She shot a flesh puppet in the chest. He shrugged off the smoking wound and continued marching, so she shot him again between the eyes.

‘So I heard,’ rumbled Markius. ‘Congratulations.’

‘I aggravate the inquisitor.’

‘That, we already knew.’

‘I give poor Aul headaches.’

‘You give everyone headaches!’

They laughed together, butchering the shuffling slaves attempting to surround them. Brother Borias joined them, shouting ‘Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!’ in time with his juddering heavy bolter. Then Apothecary Sören came, an inane grin plastered across his ever-serious face.

‘How do you feel?’ Athena asked the handsome warrior.

‘I have never experienced anything like it,’ he said. ‘It is rather enjoyable.’

Brother Rasmus completed the Kill-team, his black armour and glowing power axe spattered with gore. Athena watched the Astartes massacre the scrambling students along with the Arbites. She glanced at Markius.

‘We are Black Shields: Incognitus. There can be no witnesses to this operation.’

She nodded and pointed to the cell at the end of the hall. The enslavers were still there but demonstrably agitated, their tentacles dancing and the golden whirlpool of light flickering through many angry hues. The remaining Arbites under their control came together to form a desperate screen of flesh between the aliens and the Deathwatch squad.

‘We have to destroy them, in there.’

‘Yes, we can see them too, remember?’ said Markius.

‘Oh yeah, I forgot,’ Athena grinned.

‘Brothers, your liberation bombs,’ said Markius. The marines reached for their combat belts and slotted special grenades into auxiliary launchers fixed beneath their bolt weapons.

‘Designed by the xenobiologists, psychically impregnated, it will banish them,’ he explained to Athena. He paused and looked down at the dead students.

‘The protest,’ he said. ‘Do you think the students had somehow stumbled onto the truth? These “parasites”? Was that protest some kind of warning to the city?’

‘Nah,’ Athena laughed. ‘That was just intoxication.’


THE END
Last edited by kurisawa on Wed Nov 28, 2012 1:08 am, edited 1 time in total.
kurisawa
 
Posts: 352
Joined: Mon Mar 07, 2011 12:39 am


Re: Intoxication (Deathwatch short story, complete)

Postby Mauthos » Fri Sep 14, 2012 11:31 am

Yet again another enjoyable story that kept me interested until the end. You manage to expand on your characters personalities and back stories brilliantly with little snippets within the story and the actions portrayed by Athena when stoned was quite funny and well handled.

Missed the Marines a little bit and maybe the ending was a little bit predictable, but really another well told story that I really enjoyed.
Simplicity is the key to brilliance.
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Re: Intoxication (Deathwatch short story, complete)

Postby kurisawa » Wed Oct 03, 2012 5:50 am

Mauthos wrote:Yet again another enjoyable story that kept me interested until the end. You manage to expand on your characters personalities and back stories brilliantly with little snippets within the story and the actions portrayed by Athena when stoned was quite funny and well handled.

Missed the Marines a little bit and maybe the ending was a little bit predictable, but really another well told story that I really enjoyed.


As always, thanks for giving me feedback, Mauthos. I must admit the ending was probably predictable, but I thought the marines turning up stoned-out-of-their-heads was a nice touch. :lol:

I need to send you something. Watch your PM. 8-)

K.
My short stories:
1. Extraction = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2127
2. Intoxication = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2188
3. Desecration = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2294
4. Indoctrination = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=3172

My novel:
BLACK SHIELDS: INCOGNITUS = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=1901
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Re: Intoxication (Deathwatch short story, complete)

Postby Mauthos » Wed Oct 03, 2012 8:59 am

Sounds ominous! Look forward to it.........I think :lol:
Simplicity is the key to brilliance.
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