Friday, April 29, 2011

Zarkov Chapter 4

This entry in Zarkov’s adventures is from another of the introductory modules, Edge of Darkness. In our campaign, we continued from this into original material, and it proved a fantastic springboard for doing so. Enjoy now the second tale of Inquisitor Jonas’ Acolytes.

The briefing had begun to drag, and I leaned back in my chair as the medicae-interrogator’s voice droned on. My mind wandered from the lab and the lights, and the body on the cold metal slab.

Our journey out from Sepheris Secundus had been an absolute ordeal; it began with a week long session of debriefings, mind scans, and medicae probing to be certain we had truly come through the Shatters unscathed. We all passed, our hearts and bodies still pure and free of taint, even after exposure to what Inquisitor Jonas called a “warp stone”.

Now we found ourselves on the big gray marble known as Scintilla, the seat of government for the entire Calixis Sector. Hive Sibellus, Scintilla’s largest city, sprawls some eight thousand kilometers in width, hugging the coastline as it reaches some five kilometers into the sky at points. It’s one of the largest hive cities you will see in the sector, with billions of people toiling at any hour on the clock. It was here we had been sent.

We were in a high hive spire, sitting with a Senior Medicae-Interrogator as we received our mission brief. The medicae stood over the body of one Saul Arbest, who lay there with his insides open to the harsh lights. The medicae wore blue robes, and was attended by three servo-skulls. His shaved head gleamed, reflecting the bright lights of the lab. His white gloves sported various fluids as he gestured with them.

“This is what did him in”, the medicae continued, holding up a milky-white organ that obviously wasn’t a normal part of someone’s guts. “Judging by the damage to his vocal chords, he was not anesthetized for its introduction. Note how it lay against the spine, and the tendrils it inserted into the nervous system.” He pointed out the slimy tentacles with a wooden pointer.

I watched Venus as her face turned pale, and lay a hand on her shoulder to reassure her. She smiled thinly in thanks.

“So its function is control or influence”, stated Ignace.

“Just so.” The bald head bobbed once, a reward for an attentive student. “And more than that, it is heresy, at best. At worst, it is xenos in nature. This we have not ascertained.”

“So he was a heretic?” Barick asked. He leaned forward slightly as he asked, his black Arbites armor refusing to reflect the light.

The medicae-interrogator answered as if giving a lecture. “We do not know. He was a worker until some sixty days ago, when he was released from his indenture. As many have been in the Coscarla segment. The place is, in a word, run down. He has no prior arrest record, and was reported missing thirty-two days ago by his sister, Lili. She remains, to the best of our knowledge, in the same habstack she shared with her brother.”

“What’s our method”, I asked. I was still reclined in the chair, hands behind my head.

“This”, the interrogator responded, “is to be a shadow work. As you shall be seeking secrets in the lower hive, you shall have a cover identity that brings rather less attention than blazing guns and a Rosette of the Holy Ordos.” His lips twitched into a passable smile.

Sila ran a hand through her blonde hair absently. “So what are our objectives?”

The medicae placed the organ back on the slab, and walked to us, ticking off each objective on his fingers as he listed them. “First, find our heretic. We need to locate the source of this abomination. Second, retrieve samples if you can. Lastly, if possible, apprehend. If you find threads of a larger tapestry, then you are to report and await further instruction.”

“Let’s get to it, then” I said.

We were led to the next room, where some supplies had been set aside for us. Ignace took up an auspex, which we were told had been calibrated to detect the tissues of the organ. We were also given bulky overcoats and IDs that matched our cover as hammers for the Coblast Assay, along with a small stipend of throne gelt to use for bribes, payoffs, and the like. We gathered our gear, and set off for the Coscarla Segment an hour later.

Our ride downhive was only a few hours, as the rail system ran straight into the Coscarla. Once a busy manufacturing area, the Coscarla had fallen on hard times indeed when their house lord had fallen out of favor. Contracts had dried up, a set of riots and fires had occurred, and now the Segment was scraping by, trying to stave off complete failure like a grox beset by pack-hounds. It knows it doesn’t have many steps left before it goes down, but stubbornly, it takes the next one.

The rail station at Coscarla was filthy, dregs of humanity wandering like rats in a maze to and fro, each with their faces down as they trundled along at a hurried gait. It was a scene I’d walked through before, as war starts to approach a folk, and fear begins to rise. Something had these people spooked, and it hit us like the wave of stink from burned habs and unwashed bodies.

There is only one hostel in the Coscarla Segment, so we made our way there straight away. Barick took care of getting us rooms, and we hauled our gear up the stairs to get settled in. I tend to pack light, and only had a single duffel to wrestle with. I helped Venus with her gear, then went to my room.

For a downhive hostel, the place wasn’t bad. The room was relatively clean, the bed acceptable, and each room had its own lavatory, which can be a luxury. The place even had data feeds, a reflection of a time only a few short years ago when this had been a more prominent Segment.

I opened the closet, stowing spare clothes and racking both my lasgun and shotgun above the door, after driving a set of hooks into the inside of the front wall. It’s my experience that people don’t walk into a small closet, and they never look straight up, always at the back. It’s an old trick, but one that leaves my weapons ready and relatively safe from discovery at the same time. You just have to be sure to clean up the dust from putting in the hooks. People always look at the floor.

I’d brought all my hardware for this mission. In addition to my normal arms, I had my laspistol in its holster on my hip, and places on my harness for a short monosword and the big revolver I’d picked up at the Shatters. I left the harness and my flak armour in the duffel for now.

A soft knock on the door interrupted me, and I opened it with a hand on the butt of my pistol. Sila’s pretty face greeted me.

“Ignace and I are going to start records searches, if you need us we’ll be in room 3”, she said.

“Chase it down, girl”, I replied. Between them, they could probably find any information we needed, provided there had ever been a record of it. For the rest, there was good old leg work.

“Barick and Venus are going to the Union Hall to begin their snooping”, she said. She almost managed to hide the note of disapproval in her voice. I smiled in response. “They wanted you for backup.”

“Tell them I’ll meet them there”, I replied. “I’d rather we not all show up as a group.” With that, I shrugged on the big black overcoat with the subdued Coblast logo on one sleeve, and headed out the door. I gave a friendly wink to Sila on my way by, and stepped into the hallway.

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