Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Zarkov Barbossa, Chap 1

And so the more fleshed out tale of Zarkov Barbossa and the other Acolytes of Inquisitor Jonas begins. 6 paragraphs of journal gets detail, character introductions, dialogue, and swells into a full chapter. Enjoy!

We hadn’t finished our training yet, so I felt a bit nervous reading the mission brief. We’d just received a flash-dispatch from Inquisitor Jonas, and as we were his closest assets to Sepheris Secundus, we’d been given the nod to run our first investigation for him as a lead team, to be later relieved by some of his more veteran agents.

I sat at a long table, a steaming mug of recaf in one hand, as I listened to Sila read the particulars. Tall, tan, and blonde, and with a voice like smooth amasec, Sila just happened to be smart as a whip. A bit odd for all that, she was recruited from the Adminstratum, and was able to sweet talk datalooms into giving up their secrets. She still wore the green robes of her former office, and in fact all of us were still using our own personal gear.

“Once we’ve reached Sepheris Secundus, we’ll be making planetfall close to the Gorgonid Mine. An Imperial Guard unit has run a cleansing operation there to deal with a cultist menace. They encountered success until reaching an area the locals refer to as the Shatters, and they have sealed that area off completely and requested Inquisitorial intercession.”

Sila continued to detail the particulars of the mine, but my mind wandered a bit as it usually does during the boring part of mission briefs. I looked across the table at Venus, our psyker. I’d never worked with a psyker before, and I found myself wondering what she could do. Her dark hair framed a pretty face, and her fingers fidgeted constantly with a pendant around her neck. Her head snapped up and her eyes met mine, and I quickly looked away.

“What can we expect for support?” Barick asked in his baritone. A member of the Adeptus Arbites, he represented the law enforcement aspect of our cell. When he wasn’t wearing the Arbites armor, one could best describe Barick as “average.” Average height, average build, average looks, dark hair, mid 30’s: he wasn’t the sort to stand out in a crowd.

“We’ll be on our own”, Sila replied. “Our task is to discover the truth of the Shatters, so that others may cleanse it properly.”

Ignace was next to respond, in his near-monotone. “The Omnissiah shall watch over us. Our mandate is clear.” Like most tech-priests, he was truly something to look at. The lower half of his face was obscured by augmetics for comms and a respirator, and there were always clicks and whirs issuing from under his red robes. As near as I could tell, he was young, but truly I was only judging by the lack of gadgets attached to his person. He could have had any number of juvenat or other treatments in his temple before joining our little band.

Sila raised one eyebrow in response. She didn’t like to be interrupted. “It will be 18 hours until we arrive, and there’s a lighter waiting for us in bay 2”, she said.

“Alright, then”, I said, standing. “Let’s get gear ready and meet in the shuttle bay in 15 hours. I suggest getting some rack time if you need it.” I winced inwardly, reminding myself that in this band, we were equals. My habits as a merc sergeant were proving hard to break.

“Quite right, Zarkov” Sila responded. She left the room without further comment, and I followed suit.

The lighter was a small and nimble shuttle, built more for comfort than any dropship I’d ridden in my mercenary days. It felt a little decadent to ride dirtside in an acceleration couch rather than cargo netting seats. The entry into the atmosphere of Sepheris Secundus was almost leisurely; I’d grown accustomed to stomach lurching approaches to avoid enemy fire. I looked out the viewport next to my seat, watching the planet lose its curvature as we descended.

The surface of Sepheris Secundus was marred by great scars where man had mined it for its resources. Those scars had grown over millennia, and would surely continue to do so until the globe could offer no more value.

The descent continued, eventually becoming a final approach, and we passed a true wonder. I’ve been to many worlds, and each has its own feature or creation or three that boggles the mind. On this world, near the Gorgonid mine, is the Glass City. It hangs from beneath a mind-boggling mass of mountain, a carved bridge of land of gargantuan size. Thousands of souls live there, administering the various mining operations of the world. The entire city is built from a sturdy silicate material, giving the place the look of a glass sculpture writ large. I took a moment for myself to soak in the sight before returning my thoughts to the mission at hand.

The lighter settled to the ground without even a bump, and I grabbed my gear and started to kit up. My combat rig isn’t the best for sitting comfortably, and I’d left the top half of my flak armor in my kit bag. In seconds I was dressed, checking the magnetic strips on the back that married to my weapons. On the left side of my back, I put my lasgun in place; on the right, my combat shotgun. They mag-clamped into place, tucked where a twist could draw either at a moment’s notice. For years, they’d been constant companions, and had seen me through more than a few tight spaces, especially the flak armor.

The boarding ramp opened, and we disembarked, gathering in a small semi circle at the bottom of the ramp. We were at the edge of a small encampment, a bivouac leeched to the buildings and equipment of a normal mining installation. A young troop came running up to us, his uniform slightly large on his thin frame.

“You must be the Inquisitor!” he said, looking right at Venus. “Come with me please, I’ll take you to the Sarge! Er…I mean, to Sergeant Raynard!” He danced from foot to foot with nervousness, and I decided to try to relax him a bit.

“Lead on, son. We’ll follow.” He settled a bit and turned around, and I shared a smile with Venus as he did, and gestured to her in an after you flourish.

As we walked through the bivouac, I realized they’d been hurt pretty bad. There was a lot of shiny new kit here, and shiny new faces lugging it around. Fresh troops, rotated in to cover losses.

As we walked by the medicae tent, a high pitched laugh poured out from it. It was disturbing, to say the least, tinged with lunacy. I’d seen combat fatigue before, but something had broken at least one trooper’s mind here. I made the sign of the aquila across my chest, hoping we were not about to face the Archenemy; we didn’t have near enough firepower for a Chaos incursion.

We came upon Sergeant Raynard in short order, bawling at his troops to get their asses in gear on some task or another. I smiled involuntarily, a warm nostalgia washing over me. I can’t recall how many times I’ve given much the same speech. Barick coughed to get his attention, and he turned to us.

“Oh, hey, you lot must be here for the Shatters. Which one of you is the Inquisitor? Wait…ah. I see.” He surely realized none of us were full on Throne agents. “Well, the commissar is waiting for you, anyway. Or did you want to get kitted out?”

Ignace spoke, again in his near monotone. “It would behoove us to arm ourselves before we begin. We should see your Munitorum supply agency.”

“Get me some frag grenades, Ignace” I said. “I’m going to talk to the Sarge here and get a sitrep.”

“I’ll take the opportunity to research the history of this mine, as well”, Sila added.

The rest of the team went along with the techpriest, led there by the wet-behind-the-ears trooper who had met us. I looked at the sergeant, noticing the weariness around his eyes, the slight bend to his shoulders.

“You’re not just hired muscle”, Sergeant Raynard said.

“Nope. Served as a merc. Fought some rebels, fought some orks.” I replied.

“It’s real shit in there, man. We don’t know what the frak hit us. Just black as a banker’s heart in there, and twice as ugly.”

His eyes grew distant, his shoulders slumped more. He seemed to fold in on himself, and I knew he was about to open up in a way fighting men don’t often like to.

“Look, we lost some good ones down there. One of my friends, been with me for ages man. Didn’t come out. You…” His voice trailed off, but I saw the question in his eyes.

“We’ll look for him, Sergeant. And I’ll give the Emperor’s own wrath to whatever hurt your boys”, I said.

He walked a few steps to a duffel and reached into it. He sank one arm up to the shoulder into it, grasping around like a child for a teat.

“If you do, use this”, he said, bringing a massive revolver out of the duffel. It was a massive GM-6, a heavy slug shooter that could probably stop a charging grox with one shot. He held it out to me with both hands, almost reverently. I took it from him, realizing it might have belonged to his lost friend. An inscription on the barrel read “Give ‘em Hell.” I turned it over in my hand, then tucked it into the back of my belt.

“Sarge”, I said, “I’ll pull the trigger myself.” We both knew it was only wishful thinking, but we also both knew it was a soldierly ritual millennia in the making. He wouldn’t be going back into that mine, but I would soon. So it was my job, for now, to take revenge for those he couldn’t keep breathing; to make their deaths meaningful in the eyes of Him on Earth. Being in command of a squad of men isn’t just about giving orders, it’s about keeping them alive enough to accomplish the mission, to only spend lives when there is no other way. Any line officer who forgets that usually ends up with his holes in the back, rather than the side facing the foe.

I saluted him, out of respect, and gave him a nod. I walked off then to rejoin the team, outside the Munitorum tent. Sila filled us in on the history of the mine, but honestly my mind was drifting as I watched the hustle around me. Something she said brought my mind crashing back to the here and now, though.

“Say that again, Sila?”

“Well if you’d listen”, she huffed, “I said that this mine once had a Chaos cult cleansed from it, and these men are concerned that this is a recursion of that same taint.”

Well, there was nothing any of us had to say to that, but plenty for us to think about. We moved on to the “Pre Fab Hab” the unit’s Commissar was using for quarters and office, our steps just a bit heavier, I think. On the way, the techpriest handed me three frag grenades and a microbead vox that he’d obtained from the quartermaster. I nodded my thanks to him, hooking the grenades onto a strap of my flak armor.

The Commissar was a stout man, built like a fireplug. His hair and eyes were both black as deep space; his face was a craggy cliff carved from equal parts dour and scowl. The trademark cap was hung on a hook behind him, as was his stormcoat. He looked up at our entrance, and a dark cloud seemed to pass across his face.

“Well. You must be what the vaunted Inquisition has sent to bail our arse out of the warp, eh? We’re frakked.”

He stood then, a hand stroking the butt of his bolt pistol in a gesture born of long habit.

“Four squads worth of troops we lose, and they send us pups?” His eyes bounced then to Barick and I, and he nodded then. “Well, who am I to question? If you’re ready, I’ll take you to the seal.”

There wasn’t much for us to say to that, so Ignace spoke for us. “That would seem the prudent course, Commissar.” With that, we headed off to enter the mine. I wondered for a moment if we would become a team in the trial surely to come, or if we’d end up as tally marks on some Munitorum sheet for casualties, or worse, come to rest in the medicae tent, laughing maniacally for our days and nights to come. I took a deep breath, made the sign of the aquila, and walked into the maw of the Gorgonid.

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