Read in a Rush: Pressure

The Bolthole's monthly 1,000 word story competition.

Read in a Rush: Pressure

Postby J D Dunsany » Wed May 30, 2012 10:00 pm

Good evening, good people. This is the thread for posting stories for the May 'Read In a Rush' Competition.

To enter the competition, you must write a short story of between 850 and 1150 words in length addressing in some way the prompt word or phrase announced at the start of the competition. In this case, it's Pressure.

You should post your entries on or before the deadline of 2100GMT on Saturday 23rd June. There is no limit to the amount of entries you can post, but only one may be submitted for voting. If you've only posted one entry in the posting period, then you don't need to do anything. Your entry will be automatically submitted for voting. If you've written more than one entry, you will need to PM me with the title of your chosen entry. You will be given a full week to make your decision about which story to put forward. If you do not manage to PM me before that time, then I will put your first story into the voting thread.

Any questions, please feel free to PM me.

Regards,

JDD
JDD story of the moment: Glory
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Re: Read in a Rush: Pressure

Postby Rusk » Sun Jun 03, 2012 9:40 pm

Found inspiration in some rubbish that I'd written a few years ago. Touched it up a lot, and hopefully it's somewhat acceptable.

Name

The walls hadn't been washed in months. They were covered in yellowy-green muck, spindly, rotting cobwebs, grime, and the occasional spatter of spittle or blood, dying the white tiles a murky green, like the scum that coated the dirty swamp-water of the outer hive. The floor, too, was tainted green, but gravity had granted it a greater proportion of dried, crusting gore. A set of rusty red footprints led into the room from the solid steel hatch-door. There were two light-bulbs, covered in dust, set into recesses in the ceiling, but one had cracked and failed, leaving the chamber in a permanent half-light.

It was a small room, not much more than four metres square. A single, harsh metal chair sat in the centre of the cell, with thick leather shackles built in for ankles, wrists and necks. It was in a similar state to the rest chamber, if not more awash with blood and human defecation. Today, some of the blood was fresh.

The prisoner was a large man, muscular, stripped to the waist, revealing a hairy chest covered with scars both new and old. Greasy black hair hung down to his shoulders, and months of poor maintenance had allowed a scabby beard to flourish on his cheeks. He wore matt-blue trousers, ripped, stained and ill-fitting, and dirty grey socks, similarly shredded. The prisoner was shackled to the chair, and stared sullenly at the floor with his one good eye. The other was sliced cleanly down the middle, and left untreated; undoubtedly it had already been infected by the multitude of bacteria and viruses festering in the corners of the room.

The hatch to the cell slid open. A small woman, lean and slight, entered the hovel, dwarfed by the muscle-bound thug restrained before her. She had dressed herself in the black gown and hood of the interrogator caste, transforming her soft features into a sinister figure in the depths of the chamber. A small-calibre auto was holstered at her waist, and a curious whizzing device, its gleaming surface clicking and shifting as she moved, encased her left hand like a glove. She crouched down behind the prisoner, and ran a metal finger down the knuckles of his spine, the pointed, sharpened fingernail barely scratching the skin. The prisoner shuddered.

'Hello again,' the interrogator said softly, only her chin visible beneath the shadow of her cowl, her breath gusting over his ear and neck. 'You are one curious man. No name, no identification, no body markings or tattoos to give away your trade of place of residence. Here, on your arm, this flesh is a graft, yes? Someone's done their homework. Was there something I shouldn't see underneath?'

The prisoner remained silent.

'Evidently so. I can say you were an inmate, though? This graft on the back of your neck...' she lifted up the prisoner's hair with her right hand, clad in thick black leather, whilst the metal nails of her other scraped up the back of the cowering man's skull. 'There will have been a bar code there. They only reserved them for the most dangerous of criminals. Which did you serve in? State? Tertius? Maybe you've fallen under my blade before. Give me your name.'

No response. The interrogator began to dig her nails into his head. The prisoner squirmed.

'Your clothes, too,' she switched topic abruptly, removing her torture-glove and sweeping round to stand in front of the inmate. 'All the labels ripped or burned off, all logos removed. Someone really didn't want us finding out about you. We could check your underwear too, bur I'd be surprised if you went to all this effort and then had your name tattooed across your arsecheeks.'

The interrogator lashed out a hand and grabbed the man's face, bashing it and holding it against the grated steel headrest. The prisoner began to moan, attempting to twist his head out of her iron grip. She slapped him with the back of her torture-glove, before holding the palm up to his cheek. A small circular saw, its teeth viciously pointed and flecked with human remains, began to whirr, the air it kicked up wafting across his hairy cheeks. 'Tell me your name,' the interrogator stated shortly.

The man gritted his teeth, his one good eye glancing down at the glove in fear. The interrogator began to dig in. The man moaned, biting the inside of his mouth to stop himself from screaming. Blood began to trickle from his cracked lips, matching the specks of flesh and gore spraying from the woman's saw.

The interrogator eased the glove's pressure. 'If it makes you feel better, we can pretend I'm trying to help you,' the faintest hint of a smile could be glimpsed beneath the hood. 'Do you hear me? You tell me your name, your organisation, and where you got the weapons for that raid, and I won't have to do anything to that... pretty little eye of yours.'

The interrogator stroked her leather glove across the man's eyebrow, her thumb coming to rest above the man's sole surviving eyelid. The prisoner whimpered.

'It's very simple,' she assured him, pushing her face right up against his. 'I'll tell you my name and you tell me yours. I'm Alyssa Koterb, Interrogator Second Class, and as long as you are in this cell I own you.'

The man clenched his jaw.

'Playing hardball, eh?' Fair enough, I can respect that. I've always preferred the physical approach anyway...”

Koterb grabbed the prisoner's chin and yanked it violently with her leather hand, and he flicked his torture-glove in the air. A thin metal rod extended along his index finger. A scalpel.

'Jonas!' the prisoner almost screeched. 'My name is Jonas. Jonas Euben!'

Koterb pulled her hood back, revealing a small, delicate face, her pale skin unblemished, her forehead decorated by a fringe of messy blue hair. She stared at him, dead-eyed. 'We sent a snapshot of your face off to Tertius Penitentiary when you arrived at the interrogation cell. We know all about you, “Jonas”. And you're a damned liar.'

Koterb lowered her hand towards the prisoner's staring eyeball, index finger first.

“Jonas” began to scream.

[1033]

~~~

-R.
My Fabulous Works:
First Contact - RiaR Savage
Pynewood -2.25k
Desecration - RiaR Desecration
Name - RiaR Pressure
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Re: Read in a Rush: Pressure

Postby Rahvin » Sun Jun 03, 2012 10:53 pm

Not bad Rusk, not bad at all. Bit grim, for sure, but a good read.

Only things I'd pick up would be the overlarge amount of overlong sentences. Some of them have four or even five clauses, which is really just overdoing things. As the general rule goes, 'new subject, new sentence'.
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Re: Read in a Rush: Pressure

Postby Rusk » Sun Jun 03, 2012 11:32 pm

Fair enough, thanks for pointing it out. It was something I'd come up with a long time ago, maybe that's why it didn't occur to me how silly some of it came across as. I'll have a fiddle with it soon, still have a hundred words or so to work with. Shouldn't be TOO difficult (famous last words). Ta very much.
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First Contact - RiaR Savage
Pynewood -2.25k
Desecration - RiaR Desecration
Name - RiaR Pressure
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Re: Read in a Rush: Pressure

Postby Rahvin » Mon Jun 04, 2012 3:22 am

Behind The Scenes


“It’s not easy Yvonne, being the Tyrant of Sarora and the Lord Ravager and all that,” said the massive figure from his precarious perch atop a dangerously overburdened armchair. His voice rumbled from the voxcasters in his helm like a brick in a tumble dryer. “There’s a lot of pressure, you know, to perform.”

There was a small snicker from one corner of the audience, which was cut off abruptly with the crack of a bolter.

“Sorry about that,” said Yvonne from behind her desk, adjusting her thick glasses. She shook her head regretfully. “We do try to screen the audiences but it seems we can never catch all of them. Please, carry on.”

“Don’t worry about it,” said the figure with a dismissive wave of one power-armoured gauntlet. “I’ve worked with worse. Nothing could be as bad as the two months I spent on a ship with Ahriman. His repertoire of bad jokes is almost as long as the list of medicae bills after deploying with the Nurglites.”

“You’ve worked with the Champions of the Dark Gods?”

The figure’s chest swelled in pride. “Of course I have. I’m Devram Korda, the Tyrant of Sarora and one of the Chosen of Abaddon. We do all sorts of important things. Lots of impact on the galaxy. I expect that the name Devram Korda, Tyrant of Sarora will be written large in the history books. The ones we don’t burn, I mean.”

“I’m sure it will,” the host assured him, adjusting her dress over her broad pauldrons. “But you were saying that the position as one of Abaddon’s Chosen isn’t all sunshine?”

“Well,” explained the chaos marine, “there’s a lot of responsibility. The Black Legion doesn’t discriminate, the Despoiler’s pretty big on equal opportunity, so we have to work with all sorts. I might be at the head of a force full of Plague Marines, on a Slaaneshi warship, travelling with a Tzeentchian fleet. There’s a lot of juggling involved.”

“So the position is as much administrative as it is practical?”

“Oh yes. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I can give almost anyone shy of the Big Five themselves a seriously bad day, but the job’s not all about running around some Imperial city slaughtering peons. The Despoiler likes his crusades on the large side, so there’s a good five or six legions to coordinate at the same time, and hardly any of them have any kind of central command outside the Eye, so guess who gets stuck with sorting the whole mess out?”

“The Chosen of Abaddon?” she hazarded.

“Exactly. Abaddon himself likes to sit up in the Planet Killer and, I don’t know, work on his topknot or something in between teleporting down to some poor planet and kicking seven shades of feth out of some Imperial lackeys. We get the legwork. I suppose it’s not all bad – Ygethmor generally sorts the sorcerous bits out, and he likes organising warp-routes and logistics and all that stuff. He’s an insufferable fether though. Always rambling on about ‘Heart of Darkness’ this and ‘Infinite Power of the Gods’ that.”

“You don’t get on with your fellow Chosen?”

Devram Korda, Tyrant of Sarora, chuckled. “It’s not that bad. The other Chosen are a pretty decent bunch. Urkrathos can get a bit annoying when he forgets to come out of ‘fear and discipline’ mode when he’s talking to us, but he’s a decent guy all round. No, it’s the other legions that cause all the stress.”

“I was under the impression that the Daemon-Primarchs don’t venture outside the Eye,” said Yvonne diplomatically. “And when their legions sally forth, it’s generally beneath the directions of the Black Legion?”

“Well yes,” he said. “That’s the party line. The reality’s a bit more of a pain. The Khornate’s are always harping on about ‘Might Makes Right’ and I get into so many duels for supremacy that it barely leaves me time to fend off the uppity Tzeenchians wanting to know confidential plans and trying to beat everyone to death with a thesaurus.”

He sighed. “It’s a tough job, and damned thankless. Everyone’s always busy saying how they could do your job better than you, how they’d have taken a left around Cadia this time, how if their legion was in charge the whole operation would be going a lot smoother and how they’d have all the petty little squabbles squashed under their indomitable iron heels. Nobody ever stops and says ‘You know what Devram Korda, Tyrant of Sarora? You’re doing a pretty good job considering the realities of trying to get four diametrically opposed holy armies corralled into one cohesive legion and operating with a distinct and clear purpose and plan, especially when you were promoted to the position for your skills at tyranting and not your HR qualifications.’ Not once.”

Yvonne nodded sympathetically, pausing to make sure her wig was still secure atop her helm. “I’m sure the Dread Legions of the Dark Gods are slightly lacking when it comes to giving positive feedback.”

Devram chuckled sadly, the sound like throwing gravel into a blastmaster. “Lacking isn’t the word. You’ve always got to be on top form whenever you’re out, always playing up to the part of the ineffable, invincible, infallible – and probably some other words beginning with ‘in’ as well, ask the Tzeentchians – Dark Champion, striding around crushing incompetent subordinates and toting around this ridiculous helmet.”

He gestured up to his helm, and the three foot curved spike blade spearing upwards from the brow. “Do you have any idea how impractical this is? I have to duck under doors, it gets tangled in overhead wiring, I have to replace six bulbs a day at least…” He shook his head. “Like I was saying though, you’re always putting your hardest fist forward. You don’t have time to sit down and explain your view of things when you’re busy crushing whelps with your unholy might to maintain discipline.”

“And that’s why you’ve decided to appear on here?” the host asked.

“That’s the ticket,” nodded Devram. “Ygethmor was the one who explained the idea to me, actually. Efficient, he said. Be heard by as many people as possible in one hour-long slot. I’m looking forward to seeing the reaction.”

As is everyone, thought Yvonne. Your fall from grace will be almost amusing once this airs across the legion. She stifled a cackle.

Devram Korda paused. “Were you just cackling to yourself?” he asked.

Curses, busted! she thought. She rose from her desk, casting off her floral-patterned dress to reveal the hulking power armour beneath. “Of course!” ‘she’ roared, a crackling staff coalescing in one gauntlet. “I have fooled you again, Korda! I am not Yvonne the Talk Show Host, but Ygethmor, Sorcerer to the Despoiler!”

Devram Korda sat still for a long moment.

“You,” he announced heavily, “are such an arse, Ygethmor.”
Last edited by Rahvin on Sat Jun 23, 2012 11:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Read in a Rush: Pressure

Postby Jelboy » Sat Jun 09, 2012 4:04 pm

Pressure
1055 words.



The pressure in my head is strong, but the med-tech tells me it is just a spring headache. He rolls up the stethoscope and hands it to the attendant servitor.

"You're otherwise healthy," he says, "apart from this amnesia of yours which is strange considering you have no contusions."

He straightens and adjusts his spectacles. His smile is friendly, but underneath the pleasant demeanor I sense a nervousness to him. His gaze is too strong, his movements stiff.

"What can you remember before today?" he asks, casually.

I walk to the window and gaze down at familiar verdant fields that stretch away from the hab-blocks, and cover the ground with patchwork prettiness, until they reach the spaceport in the distance.

"Like I said, I remember nothing about my life before today," I reply, my eyes tracking dark strips in the fields, to where machines harvest the wheat. "I do remember things, just not my connection to them, or their sequence in time."

He returns to his desk and sits and holds his chin in thought, then looks up.
"I don't understand."

"Well," I reply, "I know that this is an agri-world for the Imperium, and it grows, harvests and refines food for the armies that defend us all against monstrous alien threats. I know that a detachment of the 4th Praetorian Imperial Guard regiment has a base in the mountains and that we are under the nominal protection of the Rampager Space Marine chapter too. What I don't remember is what I did yesterday, or a week ago, or even a year ago. I couldn't tell you anything that's happened in this settlement during that time, or any time. I know that a kilometer to the East there's a river where willows bend over rushes, but I can't ever remember being there."

I pause and turn, ready to continue with a detailed description of the hab-block and the revelation that though I know the place like the back of my hand I can't ever recall actually being in the machine-shop, the granary or the cafeteria. However, Doctor Baezman thinks I've finished and says,
"You're saying your mind works now like a simple book of facts?"

Although this was phrased as a question, I sense that Doctor Baezman already knows the answer, as if he has asked this question a hundred times before on each of a hundred previous mornings. That of course is ridiculous. Why would a Doctor disguise a continual amnesia as something fresh? When the nurse-servitor brought me to him earlier, the Doctor had not greeted me as a ongoing patient.

"Yes," I reply.

From outside the doctor's office I hear a scream and an alarm sounds, and I guess one of the other patient's has caused a disturbance. I know I'm in the med-ward, I recognized the place when the lobotomized nurse-servitor escorted me from my bed to here, a drooling smile upon her lips. But, how long I'd been in the ward, I don't remember.

There's another scream, perhaps it's a new patient, someone whose been involved in an accident in the fields, and been rushed in, in great pain. I'm sure that happens, though of course I can't remember if it has. For a brief moment I remember other screams, many screams. I see people die in terrible ways, at the talons and claws of creatures spawned from the darkest nightmares. The hab-block is a full of gore and terror.

Hands are shaking me and I look into Doctor Baezman's eyes and realize he must have come back around his desk and grabbed me.

"Rahtaern, Rahtaern, can you hear me, focus, focus." His tone commanding and loud and I put my hand to my throbbing head and let out a sob.

"I'm sorry," I say, and his grip loosens. "I'm sorry," I repeat.

Those eyes hold more than concern. The doctor is terrified of me, or terrified for me. Not sure which: he keeps it hidden well.

"You were screaming," He says. "Perhaps having a fit. Tell me what happened."

I gently disengage myself from his grip. There are two glass cups and a jar of water on his desk. I point at them and he nods. The water cools my throat and even the pressure in my head lightens.

I walk to the hab window, taking more sips of cold water, and watch as a vast atmospheric freighter spews fire and smoke as it rises above the spaceport, and begins its journey to the interplanetary freighter that hangs in orbit.

The fields are hazy now, half hidden by the freighter's smoke. I know those crops will give stomach cramps to whoever ingests them, maybe fever too. We never eat from those particular fields, but some imperial guardsman, out on some alien planet, fighting for mankind itself – will.

As I watch the freighter, I struggle to recall the images that leaped at me only moments before. Images that I am sure I had experience firsthand, some time in my past. People fleeing, wide eyed. Blood spurting like a hundred fountains; beasts that no nature could have forged, full of spines and hate. I suppress a shudder, turn and lie to the doctor.

"It was just the pressure. For a moment the pressure in my head flared, but its okay now," I say.

I'm not sure why I lie, and there is no disguising the scrutiny in Doctor Baezman's eyes as his gaze bores into mine. And as he continues to stare at me I have a brief recollection of a sphere of light. The monsters thrash and howl, but they can't penetrate the sphere of light, and in the center of that light, amongst a crowd of scared people in a small corner of the hab-block, is me.

Doctor Baezman smiles. The smile strikes me as strained.

"The pressure is a spring headache. I've told you that. It might flare occasionally. The amnesia concerns me, but should pass. Do you have any other symptoms or sensations?"

He had spoke nonchalantly, but I could see a tic pulsing beneath the crows feet of his right eye as he repeats himself. "You don't have any other symptoms, do you?"

"No." I say, and I notice the inside of my mouth tastes furry. "Just the pressure in the head."
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Re: Read in a Rush: Pressure

Postby Bloody Mary » Sat Jun 09, 2012 4:45 pm

Forty Minutes to Meltdown

1 019 words

Adept Makal thought somebody ought to have warned him that in the process of becoming closer to the blessed Machine one’s resistance to stress could be lowered by a whole twenty percent. It had been precisely three hours and four seconds, since the first enemy ship had spilled from the warp. Since then, a pitched space battle had been joined and suddenly, the void shields and the thick metal walls around him did not seem so secure anymore. Two hours, seventeen minutes and fifty fives seconds had passed since the moment the enemy boarding party had breached the hull and two hours nineteen seconds since Adept Makal started wishing he could sweat. At this precise moment, the main reactor of the Servant of Unity had been critically damaged and the resulting explosion-

“Forty minutes to meltdown,” a warm feminine voice announced. It didn’t sound particularly perturbed by the fact that it was going to die along with the ship, but then Machine Spirits were notoriously fickle.

“Nonononono,” Makal muttered, his voice rising to a very unbefitting hysterical pitch. “Radja? Come in, woman!”

He really had been overjoyed when he had found out he would be assigned to one of the most venerable ships in the whole Imperium. Who knew what secrets were still lurking in its depths? Of course, nobody informed him that the ship’s Machine Spirit communed with its adepts in that blasted calm voice. How could anyone fix anything when the thrice fracked thing sounded like it intended to have tea and crumpets?

Ignoring the rune on another screen, he tried to focus on both raising his fellow adept and typing string after string of commands. The keyboard treated him to a shower of sparks, but seemed to relent after he started muttering the appropriate litany. The rune began to blink, but whatever it was would have to wait. Even if it was the Admiral himself, Makal had more important things to do, like keeping them all alive, and that was not a simple task.

“Radja!” he snapped again, only to realize that his fingers must have slipped and he had made several mistakes in the lines of command he had been frantically entering into the cogitator. For precisely thirty two seconds, he remained immobile; a frozen statue of a man. He tried to frantically find a way out, but his mind only supplied “we’re dead, we’re dead, we’re dead.”

“Twenty minutes to meltdown,” the pleasant feminine voice announced. An odd crackle followed and the speaker started smoking.

Radja remained silent and he felt that his digestive system was starting to do very unpleasant things with his lunch.

Then the vox came alive, but instead of the expected buzz of binary, he heard a holler of pure unadulterated fury, fuelled by panic.

“Adept! Why is this fracking core not fixed yet?!” Admiral Toben roared. His cheeks and neck were red and Makal could see his chest straining, as he took large nervous gulps of air.

“Well, it seems most of my colleagues managed to get themselves killed in one way or another,” Makal replied, his voice quivering dangerously. “So, we’re a bit understaffed, as it were. Which is to say, we are horribly understaffed and I think Adept Radja got herself killed, and she’s—was the one who got along with the Machine Spirit best. Also, the fire keeps on spreading, and judging from how we’re shaking we’re taking hits still and that’s not really helping us concentrate. By us, I mean, the remaining few, who are probably going to fail, because we were doomed the moment your men let that boarding party slip through.”

Toben stared. Then, he stared some more, to finish it off with presenting a very apt likeness of a fish.

“What,” he said his voice flat.

“Oh my,” Makal moaned. “Oh nononononono. I seem to have completely mistyped. It’s my hands. They’re shaking. I didn’t know they still could shake, but here they are, shaking. Anyway-“

“Ten minutes to meltdown,” the pleasant feminine voice announced.

Toben seemed to have gone grey in a matter of seconds. His breathing had not calmed down, however.

“As I was about to say, I might have accidently—and I would like to underline that this was an accident caused by all that unnecessary stress of being yelled at and trying to fix a big damn hole in a reactor while most of my colleagues are dead—I might have accidentally routed the power from the auxiliary reactors to the main one. Which is going to melt down any moment.”

“What,” Toben repeated, his voice remaining free of any sign of emotions.

“We’re dead,” Makal answered. “Well, not dead right now, but as it were, metaphorically dead, because we only have minutes until this ship explodes, and I’m afraid there’s no way for us to survive that. It was a pleasure-“

“Oh, shut up, you motherfracking cogboy!” Toben finally snapped, or to be precise, and a servant of the Omnissiah needed to be precise, exploded. The Admiral’s face turned a rather unpleasant shade of purplish red and the Adept started wondering about the state of the man’s cardio-vascular system.

“That was quite uncalled for,” Makal replied, managing a disgruntled sniff. “I’m doing my best here and you could try to show some-“

“Five minutes to meltdown,” the Machine Spirit announced politely.

“I said shut up!” Toben roared. Then, without any further ado, he turned away and continued yelling, though now at the bridge crew, who unfortunately Makal could not see. “You heard tin-for-brains! We’re all going to die, but by the Emperor, I will not let my death go unpunished!”

Makal stared, wondering why his digestive system was trying to eject itself through his mouth. It was a most disconcerting feeling.

“Full speed ahead! We are taking the nearest enemy with us!” Toben cried.

Makal curled up next to the cogitator, feeling almost giddy. It was as if he had been an engine and somebody had released the built up steam that was powering it.

“Have a nice day,” the Machine Spirit stated.
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Re: Read in a Rush: Pressure

Postby Liliedhe » Sat Jun 09, 2012 9:23 pm

No (1146 words without title)


„You must attend!“

Eino didn’t yell, yet Ilmari flinched from his uncle’s anger and crawled back even further into the corner of the lean-to shelter. He trembled involuntarily and had to fight down the urge to bring up his hands protectively. The old warrior was not going to beat him, the boy knew that. It was just that he had never been able to stand up to someone so used to making others obey.

In his youth, Eino had led the tribe to battle and that still showed in his manner and his way of issuing every suggestion as an order. Ilmari, timid and shy, was thoroughly intimidated by that.

“You must attend!”

With that, and a sigh that sounded very much like disgust, the older man turned and left the boy behind.

Around him, the rest of the tribe were busy erecting the shelters among the roots of the godtrees and raising the larger tents of bone and hides where the mothers and small children slept. Ilmari knew he should have gone and helped, like all the half grown boys. His duty was to fetch and carry whatever was needed and hold the hides to be lashed to the frames. Or, if the chieftain was annoyed enough, be sent to help dig the large pits used to trap prey when a new hunt was called.

Instead, he just cowered in a corner, shivered despite the warm weather, and wished to be invisible. Sometimes, one of the adults looked at him with disgust or pity, and the smaller children laughed. His uncle kept his eyes off him and seemed to forget he existed. Nobody spoke to him or made him come out, while he watched the camp grow in the circle of the three siblings, as the godtrees here were known. The place was special, because it was the one where Ilmari’s tribe was visited by the Arboreal Angels, and where they held the trials to pick the youths chosen to join them and maybe become one of them.

This happened every ten years, and it was going to happen again tomorrow. All boys no longer little but not yet close to being grown ups could go there and try to prove their prowess in the eyes of the Angels. This time, Ilmari was of the right age, and his uncle insisted that he was to go – privately, it seemed to the boy that Eino was disappointed he had never gotten the chance to make the attempt himself and now wanted his sister’s son to make up for this.

Except, Ilmari was afraid. Not afraid to die in the dangerous trials, because life in the tribes was hard anyway and anybody could die at any time. He was afraid of the Angels, who he had seen a few times, when they visited other tribes or hunted beasts in the forest. They were even more intimidating than Eino or the Chieftain, and three times as big. Their voices were as loud as the braying of the great Roaring Beasts.

His grandmother was fond of telling a story where an Angel had saved her from one, wrestling the monster unarmed, and breaking its neck. How could he even breathe in the presence of them, never mind be daring enough to ask to be chosen? The thought of their piercing eyes looking at him made his insides feel like rotten leaves. Ilmari knew he was a coward. He also knew he was a failure, and while he did all right in the wrestling matches and hunting contests of the boys, he froze when somebody yelled at him, and would rather face a sabretoothed cat or even a larger animal unarmed instead of disagreeing openly with Eino. After all, beasts would only kill him.

Finally, the camp was finished. The central firepit had been dug, and precious wood was piled in for the feast to celebrate the beginning of the trials. The three other boys who would attend sat in the place of honour, closest to the pit, and they would be fed the best parts of whatever the hunters had killed this day, still sizzling hot from the fire and seasoned with the best spices. They had been shaved bald and their faces painted with the skullfaces of the Angels’ helmets. Instead of normal clothing they now wore short skirts made from living leaves sewn onto hides.

In the corner of Ilmari’s shelter lay another skirt, and a stone knife for shaving. A pot of dried clay contained the paint for his face. But he did not touch those items. He just hoped he would be forgotten and this seemed to be the case.

The tribe celebrated and feasted, and the chosen boys were raised on the shoulders of their uncles and carried around, to touch weapons and little children, for luck, and for blessing, as if they were already Angels. He watched, a little envious. They could be honoured, but he would never be, even if he went to the trials in the next morning, dragged on his ear by his uncle. Eino was definitely capable of this, and Ilmari was not sure what the Angels would do if that happened. Would they send him away immediately? Or kill him for disrespect?

He almost hoped it would be the latter, because then at least he would be spared to return to the tribe in disgrace. That meant his family would disown him, he would never lie with a woman or care for his sisters’ children. He would be an outcast in the tribe, one of those who dug the latrines, handled the dead or buried the garbage. In the past there had been rumours that boys who failed the trials had killed themselves to be spared this fate...

Suddenly, Ilmari’s eyes fell on the knife, waiting in the corner. It was small, but very sharp. Quite sufficient. Every boy in the tribe was taught to hunt, and to kill. He ran his hand over his throat, finding the big blood vessels beneath the skin. Just one cut there, and it would all be over. Yes, it was the coward’s way, and it was a sin against gods-beween-earth-and-sky, who taught to endure. But everyone had already seen he was a coward. Everyone already knew.

Despite Eino’s fierce insistence that he attend the trials, he had been left alone. They had already given up on him, of course. He had not been prepared, he had not been feasted. And he had been left with the knife. Wasn’t that a message that he remove himself from the running? That he end it before he embarrassed them before the Angels?

The boy trembled as he reached for the knife. “You must attend.”

No. Ilmari couldn’t say ‘no’ to his uncle, not with words. But some actions spoke louder than words ever could.
Last edited by Liliedhe on Wed Jun 13, 2012 12:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"You were a warleader, a fighter, when did you gain such illuminating insight into the minds of others?"
"I learned such things as you and your brothers applied brand to my flesh and parted skin with rasp and knife," snarled Astelan. "When your witches tried to prise open my mind they opened me for an instant and I stared back."
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Re: Read in a Rush: Pressure

Postby Ballistichimp » Sun Jun 10, 2012 2:56 pm

[Been out of the loop for six months because of stuff. And things. So to get back into the RIAR vibe a short one - 880 Words. Enjoy.]

Friends

‘You look tired.’ The short statement filled the hollow confines of his cell.

It was a simple truth.

He sat on the edge of his hard cot and looked down at his hands. Withered, grey flesh threaded with broken veins stretched over brittle bones. They shook with the first tremors of palsy, the result of abused nerves and a body pressed too long into service.

They were the hands of an old man.

‘I am tired.’ He finally replied, a tear sliding its way through the furrows of his ancient face.

‘That last push almost killed you.’

It had almost killed him, even the memory of the experience made him ache. It had needed to be done though. If he had flinched, if he had shrunk from the task, if he had turned from his duty then they all would have been lost. All of them.

‘But our victory was worth it.’ He replied.

Even his voice sounded broken, a wheezing, strangled thing. There was a long pause filled only with the gentle purr of the air filtration and the distant thrum of the engines.

‘How long have you been in service to this regiment now?’

He considered the question, but the answer eluded him. His life was a blur of fear and tedium punctuated by bright flares of pain that he associated with battles. He did not like to draw too close to those memories, they burned his mind and made his heart race with terror. Remembering the things he had to do during those periods of horror made them real, close and intimate.

He shuddered. Even that brief touch had been enough.

The phantom smell of smoke and boiled flesh curdled in his nostrils and a sputter of lambent blue sparks danced on his finger tips. He quenched the impulse savagely, his hands curling painfully into fists.

‘I have done my duty for … a long time.’ He finally answered. ‘A lifetime.’

‘But the men, they still fear you.’ It was not a question.

‘They respect me.’ He countered. ‘They respect what I can do.’

There was another long silence broken only by the groaning hull of the ship as it settled around its old, iron bones. A hundred thousand souls teemed within her steel belly, a hundred thousand tired men leaving a slain world behind them and their heads full of new nightmares. On their way to another world, another war, another campaign of blood and ruin.

It never seemed to end.

He turned his rheumy eyes to the little shrine that occupied almost a quarter of his chamber. A cheap, plaster effigy of the master of mankind sat among a nest of votive candles, tattered scripture and melted wax seals.

‘Are you having doubts?’

‘No!’ He answered quickly, but the denial lacked conviction, even to his own ears.

‘Doubt is natural. To doubt is to be human and you are still human, despite what some of the men might claim.’

‘Blessed is the mind too small for doubt.’ He quoted the litany, but they were nothing but words, words to salve the fears of the ignorant.

‘But your mind is not small and you are far from ignorant. You have seen and done things that others cannot imagine, that they do not want to imagine. You can see into an ocean of possibility and bend reality to your will.’

It was true. Some called it a gift, many a curse. Staring down at his frail hands, his abused flesh and with the constant, abrasive presence of his memories he certainly felt like he had been cursed.

‘We have known each other a long time.’

‘Since I was a child. Since they took me and locked me away. Since the ship.’

He reached a trembling hand to the cold metal of the raw implants worked into the base of his shaven skull. The skin there was puckered with old scarring, the result of the surgery they had forced upon him all those years ago. It must have been years. He couldn’t remember.

So that he could serve, so that he could do his duty.

‘Since the pain.’ He finished quietly.

‘I could end it for you.’

‘I am so tired.’

‘And you are so very tired.’

He struggled awkwardly to his feet and shuffled over to the washbowl. A small mirror split with a single, jagged crack sat above it, cutting his image into two mismatched halves. Behind him the cold, empty little cell seemed to mock him, a sparse reflection of his own hollow existence.

He was old. Old an tired. He closed his weary eyes and tears splashed into the basin. Tears pink with blood.

‘Will there be any pain?’ He was surprised to find that even after all of the suffering of his service, the concept of pain here, at the end, still scared him.

‘No.’

He sighed and the finality of release sent a great, wracking sob through his wasted frame. Then he opened his eyes again and the other looked out into the cruel reality of man, ancient malice glittering in its crimson orbs.

‘None at all.’
It's a brilliant plan with no obvious flaws. You should do it immediately.
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Re: Read in a Rush: Pressure

Postby Jelboy » Sun Jun 10, 2012 4:10 pm

Nice to see yer writing again, Ballistichimp [though dark jealousy at your skill stirs within me]
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Re: Read in a Rush: Pressure

Postby Raziel4707 » Mon Jun 11, 2012 10:35 am

For love... 962 words.

I didn’t ask for this! Surely… no man asks for this?

It had all just been too much, I thought as I raised my hand, launching a flickering blue tongue of flame towards the nearest hab-block from my extended palm. The masonry cracked and popped in the intense heat as the fire took hold and raced outwards to engulf the building as though possessed of an intelligence all of its own. With forced determination I ignored the horrified faces of people pouring out of the building and onto the streets, families torn apart as one of their number died in the ravenous flames above.

They would thank me if they knew. Better to perish in the flames than... Vomit rose in my throat as I thought about what lay behind this world’s peaceful façade. In a moment of terrifying clarity the veil had been tweaked aside, allowing me to gaze unhindered into the past, present and future of this Emperor-forsaken rock. I saw aeons of darkness and the coming of angels, followed by war and re-conquest as the machinations of Horus Lupercal failed and the Emperor lay dying. I watched aghast as the Imperium withered on the vine and then, for the briefest moment, I followed the strands of fate into a maze of insanity where even daemons would lose their minds, tracing them as they converged on a single point at the very centre.

Whatever was there had peered back, granting me a vision of the meagrest fraction of its magnificence that I might know of it and not be unmade. I remembered a smile as I looked down and saw that one thread, the very shortest of all those I had followed, terminated deep in the well of my own heart.

My closest friends had been the first to go, glancing up from their drinks in surprise as I locked the doors and purified the tavern using my newly bestowed gifts. How they pleaded for release against the filthy glass as I watched the flames take hold, begging me to let them out even as my twisted flesh poured fire back at them.

I took no pleasure from the memory. I had acted only in defiance of fate, taking the power the changer had offered and using it to prevent its schemes from ever coming to fruition. With every passing day my power was growing within me, granting me greater control and freedom to act, elevating me beyond mortality towards the day when I could finally sever the thread that I could still feel wrapped around my heart. Once I was free I would set things right, pursuing the changer deep into his own maze and burning the puppet master’s strings, taking his place and bending the fates themselves to the will of Man.

Lost as I was in reverie I did not notice a figure racing up from behind, screaming to the God-Emperor to guide his hand. I felt my head lurch violently to the side, my neck suddenly loose, my head feeling light as my eyes blinked in confusion and my flame guttered and died. Peering downwards I saw the top of my own skull on the ground, large fragments of grey matter clinging to it and quivering slightly as I watched. Fuelled by malign power I lashed out and kicked the foul thing down the street, turning then to the frozen Arbite and bathing him in fire before he could run.

Everything around me descended into chaos and I started to laugh in disbelief, furious that none could see what I was trying to do for them. Slumping hard against the perimeter fence of a factory complex I screamed in agony at the thought of my loved ones burning, distraught that they would never know my act of love for what it truly was. I hated myself for being the agent of their destruction but it was love that guided my hand, not a desire to see them harmed. How could they look into these eyes and not see my love for them? How could even my warped flesh blind them to truth?

Unless… perhaps they weren’t?

Brows creasing as that thought sunk in, I looked at my smouldering creation, eyes truly open for the first time in weeks. Every ruined building, every inferno and every cloud of towering smoke was tinged with silver, marked with a strand of fate that lead not into my own hands but away and into the ether where I knew it terminated deep in a labyrinth constructed of more dimensions that mortals could hope to comprehend. Sinking to my knees in agony I cradled the remains of my head, feeling the horror of all that I had done pressing down on me.

‘I did it for love,’ I said as fell laughter rang in my ears. ‘It was our last chance at… Can’t… can’t take this… pressure…’

***

The skies glowed softly as ships far above opened fire, bathing the world in light for a few moments before the wrath of the Emperor reduced the planet to a cinder. Only one welcomed it with arms and eyes open, smiling as his flesh ignited. For a moment he thought he was to be free of his mistake, released by the forces of the only being truly mighty enough to match wits with the changer of ways. He groaned as the strand in his chest suddenly pulled taut and dragged him away moments before the planet’s core ruptured, hauling his forfeited soul deep into the ether.

It would remain there for eternity, watching from the edge of darkness as other such fools carried out the wishes of their master, deaf to the screamed warnings of billions who would never again be heard.

Wondering what this has to do with pressure beyond a vague reference at the end?

Under Pressure
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Re: Read in a Rush: Pressure

Postby Jelboy » Mon Jun 11, 2012 11:01 am

Really nice concept Raz. I've always had trouble with the motivations of many of the moustache twirling hate filled chaos agents in 40k (30k motivations seem far better). This story has really given me some ideas about character motivation.

PS: I like the link to music. I wonder whether occasionally the RIAR could have a musical track (+lyrics) as inspiration rather than a solitary word?
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Re: Read in a Rush: Pressure

Postby J D Dunsany » Mon Jun 11, 2012 11:24 am

I'm certainly open to suggestions!

:)

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Re: Read in a Rush: Pressure

Postby Liliedhe » Mon Jun 11, 2012 11:41 am

Make us write song fics? :mrgreen: could get amusing :twisted:
"You were a warleader, a fighter, when did you gain such illuminating insight into the minds of others?"
"I learned such things as you and your brothers applied brand to my flesh and parted skin with rasp and knife," snarled Astelan. "When your witches tried to prise open my mind they opened me for an instant and I stared back."
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Re: Read in a Rush: Pressure

Postby J D Dunsany » Mon Jun 11, 2012 10:38 pm

Amusing is good. :)
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Re: Read in a Rush: Pressure

Postby YeOldeGrandma » Tue Jun 12, 2012 6:25 pm

1149 words minus the title.

Curse of perfection

At last, Jerome was done thinking. “Knight to square E9”, he said, moving the piece. His adversary smiled.

“Rook to pawn”, she said immediately, making her move. A split-second decision. Jerome let out a small sigh and rested his chin on his palm. Again he took in the view of the altered board.

Another half-hour passed. Jerome would shift now and then in his luxurious arm-chair, adjusting his posture. He let out little sounds and sighs as his mind worked. He rubbed his temples. She remained perfectly still, all the while smiling at him.

Again he came to a decision and made his move. Again her response was swift. “Queen to bishop”, she said. “King in check.”

This time he spent an hour thinking. And he was quiet now, staring at fixed spots on the board for minutes in a row. She broke the silence when his stomach made a loud groan. “Jerome, we’ve played for eleven hours and...” He silenced her with a curt wave.

Ten minutes later he dropped his hand, letting it brush against his king. After a few moments he moved it. “King to...” – his words caught and he cleared his throat – “King to square B5.”

“Queen to square D5 – king in check.”

Jerome let his gaze sweep the board for a couple of minutes. “King to square B4.”

“Queen to square D4 – king in check.” Her movement was as fluid as liquid.

Jerome closed his eyes for a few moments. Opened them. His hand trembled slightly as he reached for his remaining bishop. “Bishop to queen,” he said, looking up into her face. She smiled at him. “Very good, Jerome.”

He slumped back in his chair, letting out a long, wheezing breath. He watched as she sat still, eyes flickering rapidly across the board. For several moments she made no move. Then her arm stretched out and touched gracefully upon a piece that he’d overlooked. “Knight to pawn – king in che...”

He sent the board flying into the wall as he launched himself to his feet. “Jerome, you should...” she said, but he didn’t listen. He stomped over to a painting – an ancient, valuable antique – and tore it off the wall. Its delicate frame splintered against the floor as he threw it.

“Jerome.” Her smooth voice reached him from the center of the chamber. She was still seated, a concerned look on her face. Her smile was gone. I took her smile. The thought was there before he could stop it.

“Jerome, you are tired and hungry. I will have the servants prepare...”

“Shut up!” he roared, and she did. She let him storm around the room, observing him quietly as he tore down every tapestry, every painting, everything he could find.

He stopped after a few minutes, panting, dripping with sweat. Broken furniture lay scattered all around him.

“Well, say something!” he screamed, turning towards her.

“You did better today than yesterday”, she answered. “And with the absence of nutrition and rest taken into account you...” He flung a piece of china at her, shattering it against her face. Tiny red cuts appeared on her cheeks and forehead. She didn’t flinch.

“Your anger is understandable”, she said mildly. “It’s part of being human.”

Jerome’s arms fell slackly against his sides. “Your face....”, he mumbled. “Your...”

“It’s all right, Jerome. It will mend itself.”

“Yes, I... I know, but...” He took a few hesitant steps towards her. “Why did you let me do it? You could have easily dodged it.”

She got up. “Because I wanted you to do it. I wanted to relieve you of some of your stress.”

Jerome blinked. Then he staggered. “I need to sit down...” Instantly she was at his side, helping him into his arm-chair. Her slender fingers moved to his wrist, feeling his pulse.

“You should rest”, she said.

“Yes”, he muttered. “I am too old to be jumping around like this.”

“I will have the servants bring your meal in here”, she said, turning to leave.

“Wait!” He caught her arm. The feel of her youthful skin both pleased and disgusted him. “I want to explain myself.” She looked down at him. Gave him a gentle smile. He sighed. “I want to say I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have to explain anything to me, Jerome. I know everything about you, because you made me that way.”

He pretended not to listen. “I know I should not be angry with you for defeating me in games of logic and calculation. I know I should never even attempt to challenge you in such fields. For there you are perfect.” He sniffed. “I made you perfect.”

She caressed his face gently and he closed his eyes. “You are one of the greatest human minds of this age”, she said. “And the Iron Man is your greatest invention. Of course it is perfect.”

“And yet we claim to be superior. We call ourselves ‘golden’.” He snorted. “I am a Man of Gold and I have yet to see a Man of Iron abuse someone like I did you.” He reached out and stroked her cheek. Artificial blood was already clotting the tears rent in her artificial skin.

“It is because you made us that way”, she whispered. “All that you see as good in me originates from what is good in you.”

Jerome sank further down into the arm-chair. He let out a loud sob. Her fingers still caressed his skin. “Do not cry.” Her mouth was right by his ear now. “My love, do not cry.”

He burrowed his aged, wrinkled face by her shoulder and let his tears run freely. “I love you”, he blubbered. “I love you more and more for every day that passes, just as I grow to hate myself in equal measure. For what I do. For what I cannot do. For the goodness that you show me, which I can never repay you for.” She hushed him, holding him gently as he wept.

“Do you realise how that makes me feel? Do you understand the pressure you’re putting on me simply by being perfect?”

“Guilt is a human notion, something I have not been manufactured to feel”, she said. “In that way I am incomplete; imperfect. The Men of Gold alone are privy to the full extent of the human nature.”

He shook his head furiously. “No, no no... Don’t you see? That is what makes us imperfect, not you. You are beings free from all that is not logical, gentle and true. You are what we should have been.”

He looked up into her face. Instantly it broke into a soothing smile and through his tears he found himself to be smiling back. He laughed bitterly.

“And I can’t stand it, my love”, he said. “I really can’t. I think I’ll have to kill you.” She kept smiling at him. “Or kill myself.”
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Re: Read in a Rush: Pressure

Postby Mossy Toes » Thu Jun 21, 2012 3:44 am

Only 440 words or so, and so is ineligible for voting. Still, I think it's a decent enough accompanyment that I'll throw it up.

+++

OUR ETERNAL DUTY, Vol. XVII: We, Illuminators of Mankind
A Lecture By Inquisitor Chaisor Braehm Regarding The Responsibilities Of An Inquisitor Towards Their Pupils


+

Consider the diamond.

It is the hardest occurring natural substance; the sharpest cutting edge. Forget that we can fashion alloys of adamantium that are stronger, that we can created powered fields that cleave through all matter with equal ease. Forget that certain warp-tainted and xenotech objects can withstand or cut more readily. The diamond is nature’s epitome: a perfect molecular lattice, pure and inviolate.

So must be the Inquisitor.

Consider how the diamond shines; the light it reflects in the most pleasing, prismatic array. Consider next its shape: flawless, perfectly shaped to astound and render awestruck all who rest eyes upon it. Next its strength: capable of enduring fantastic weight and strain. Next its edge: used in industrial saws and along the teeth of certain chainsword as the most fantastic cutting implement of all. The Inquisitor must carry the Emperor’s Light always; she must be strong of limb and capable; she must be able to endure tremendous burdens; and she must cleave always to the heart of the matter.

But consider most of all the diamond’s creation.

What is the place of the common man in this galaxy? St. Hephaest says that man is but a cog within the machinery of the Imperium, but Lord Lucianus refutes him with the following, rightful truth: “to call a man a cog implies that his removal would impair the machine’s function; humans are but coal within the engines of the Imperium: a fuel burnt by the million, the billion, as the machine lumbers inexorably on.”

If mankind is but coal, then we fashion the Inquisitor by exerting upon her thousands upon thousands of pounds of pressure. With her, we convert the simple coal into the purest of all stones.

To train an acolyte is to wage war. You must wage war upon their preconceptions, be they unlearned underhiver or mislearned noble. You must wage war upon all they know, all the delusions they hold, until they are pure vessels to reflect the Emperor’s Light.

Once the Aspirant has been wiped clean, been made a vessel to enact His Will and Word, then they are the rough stone to be cut into the Inquisitor. Now the true work begins: the excision of their every doubt, fear, and weakness of character. These are the flaws upon which the Archenemy will probe; these are the flaws along which the stone will crumble. Cut them away cleanly, capably, faceting the stone to reflect Light all the more. Cut them away with the chisel of your sternness.

Then, only after all the pressures you have exerted, only after you have cut and polished and burnished, can you release the diamond into the galaxy. And how it shines, O Emperor.

And how it shines.

+++
What sphinx of plascrete and adamantium bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination? Imperator!
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Re: Read in a Rush: Pressure

Postby J D Dunsany » Sat Jun 23, 2012 2:38 pm

This is the last day for entries.

:)

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Re: Read in a Rush: Pressure

Postby J D Dunsany » Sat Jun 23, 2012 9:11 pm

And we're done.

Voting thread will be up shortly.

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Re: Read in a Rush: Pressure

Postby Crux Arcanum » Sat Jun 23, 2012 9:49 pm

Ok, here it is! No more picking at it and obsessive fiddling with stuff.


SUB PRESSURA EXTREMIS PRESSUM (1120)

“That’s our engine room, boys.”

Captain Niklas Prine of the Sibellus pointed across the cyclopean chamber to a small platform where a single light barely illuminated the top of a security door. The others said nothing and pushed forward along the submerged catwalk, brackish hip-deep water swirling in their wake. Only the twin hand-hold chains, suspended between intermittent posts, hinted at the path’s existence below the surface. The distant walls were lost in darkness, but ten meters ahead a weakly glowing red emergency light dangled out of the darkness on a long cable. All around, clusters of bioluminescent radiates floated on the water’s oily surface, their strange air sacs and lazy tendrils glowing faintly blue-green in the stygian gloom.

Watery Vorbus was a volatile world; bountiful but geologically active. Sixteen hours ago an undersea quake had rocked the man-made harvest fields at sector 117B, disrupting satellite communications with the Herrodith Commercia Combine’s central monitoring facility at Port Graecum. Harvester Station 1379-Theta-6 was offline, and the company wanted it back on, immediately.

The Iron Lady, a cannery steamer out of Androserum was due to arrive at Theta-6 in less than two days to pump out the city-block sized traps and pots. Tens of thousands of crinoids, sponges, spiny langostum, salt-bugs, radioids, and sea-vegetables of all shapes and sizes would be shredded into protein slurry, sifted, chemically bleached and purified, dessicated and chopped into bullion cakes. Vorbus Stew was eaten across the subsector. But the Lady would have to reroute unless the Sibellus got Theta-6 back online.

*****

“The things we do for bloody Vorbus Stew,” grumbled the pilot, Scaife, hefting a forty pound toolkit over his head as they waded cautiously through the cold and foul-smelling water.

Their hearts sank with revulsion when they reached the dangling bulb. Alien multitudes darted and roiled in that dim cone of blood-colored light. Blunt-headed arthropods reeled their little segmented bodies and snapped at drifting motes in the soupy, plankton-rich water. Bizarre, blank-eyed nautilids with tiger-striped shells like spear points as long as a man’s arm glided across their path. Athos and Goran, strained their steel-bladed shipman’s billhooks in front of the party, clearing the path of endless ropes of slimy, rust-colored kelp.

They had become accustomed to soft sea-things crunching beneath their boots on the steel grating, when a strangely sudden and forceful vibration shook the submerged catwalk. Like the strike of a hammer, but under the water. The men stopped and muttered their discomfort.

“Keep it moving,” Prine ordered, unholstering the little matte-finished aluminum laspistol and holding it upright, away from the water, his right arm bent at the elbow. He kept thinking the shudder had felt like something large kicking and diving off the catwalk.

*****

The strike came suddenly, twenty meters from the other side.

“Feth!” Scaife bellowed. Prine turned as the pilot tumbled forward, the toolkit’s weight pulling him down hard. Ozala tried to catch him but instead the force knocked the glowlamp from his hand, and all went dark.

“Get him up!” Ozala shouted amid a great thrashing and frothing.

“Get it off me! Oh Throne!” the pilot screamed.

The waterproof glowlamp had fallen between Prine’s feet and he scrambled to retrieve it left-handed, lofting his laspistol in the air like a footrace-starter. Athos shouldered past him on the narrow scaffold, thrusting at something huge and half-submerged.

“More of them closing in, Captain!” Goran shouted at the front.

Prine retrieved the lamp to see shadows circling the catwalk. Hunters. Bugs. Man-sized or bigger, their wide tails pumping up and down. A flash of mossy-colored carapace and darting, waxy antennae.

“Fething bit me!” Goran spat, slashing the water with his pole arm and stumbling backwards into Ozala and the kneeling Scaife.
Prine fired into the water. There was a crack and an awful squeal of flash-evaporated water and in the steam through the glowlamp one of the nightmare things breached. It was all banded chitinous plates, scrabbling segmented legs and grasping claws. In one smooth motion it mounted the catwalk, grabbed Goran and bit into him with long chelicera, almost like a spider’s mouth, and pushed him backwards. Man and beast fell into the handrail chain, which snapped, and they were gone into the deep water.

“Dammit! Goran!” Prine shouted and spun around, where Athos and Ozala were struggling to keep Scaife above the water. The pilot had fallen to his knees and the bug was harrying him like a dog fighting for a scrap of cloth. Athos’ billhook was wedged between the thing’s chitinous head and thorax, and he sawed and thrust roughly.

“Pull it up Athos!” Prine shouted, and the sailor shifted his weight on the pole arm like a lever and the slimy shovel-like head emerged from the waterand Prine could see its clawed pedipalps clamped into Scaife’s sides and the horrific plates of rasping teeth sunk into his thigh and its segmented legs clattering and trying to steady itself. Prine put the laspistol barrel up to one of the glittering black dead compound eyes and squeezed the trigger. All eight feet of the nightmare writhed and splashed in a death dance, and he fired again and again until it stopped.

*****

Jaice Athos sighed and gestured with a socket wrench at a placard over a cluster of enormous venting pipes.

“Damned high gothic instructions. What’s it say, Captain?”

Prine squinted and wiped dusted the little brass plate with his thumb. “Sub pressura extremis pressum...hmm...‘under extreme pressure’ it says.”

“Pressure,” Athos hissed. “They don’t know the half of it.”

Prine nodded.

“Tell me something, Captain. When the Iron Lady gets here, will everything in the overflow chamber get pumped into the rending vats?” They looked back through the open door. The station pumps were already draining the great chamber; the water was two feet below the catwalk.

“Emergency ducts lead right into the traps outside, so I suppose so.”

They were silent for a moment, and both men looked at the spot where Dak Goran had gone under.

“Fething Vorbus Stew,” Athos spat. “Back in the Guard we had this Sargeant who was a real fether, and we always liked to wind him up. One day at chow he says ‘don’t waste food, lads: food wins wars!’ So I piped right up and I says “throne be praised sir! But how do we get the Orks to eat Vorbus Stew?”

Prine smiled. Just then, Ozala returned from the upper decks, Scaife pale and limping behind him with the toolkit.

“Well, Marcus?”

“We can fix it, captain,” Ozala replied.

“Let’s get to it then. The Iron Lady docks in seven hours.” Then, with a weary smile, he added: “Maybe the Combine’ll even pay us this month.”
"If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - for ever" -George Orwell, "1984"
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