Thursday, July 7, 2011

Zarkov, Chapter 9

We moved cautiously but quickly back down the hall. I walked point with Ignace just to my left, Barrick bringing up the rear. We approached the grand stair, weapons ready. As we neared it, we could hear the lift whirring, and I hustled to the banister. They say the Emperor has a sense of humor, and I think “they” are right on the money.

Just as I hit the rail, I heard the soft “ding” of the door chime on the lift, just below me. I could hear the doors as they slid open, and footsteps just beneath me. Then they came into view, a man in green robes wearing the trappings of a director surrounded by four of the rag-wrapped creations. Without hesitation, I ripped a grenade from my harness and dropped it straight down, rolling back from the rail. “Five contacts, four red-eyes and head honcho,” I spoke into the vox.

Ignace took a fire position to my left, Barrick at the head of the stairs. Sila took cover at the wall, and Venus moved just next to her. I peeked over the banister to see my handiwork, and it appeared the dreg-mummies had taken the brunt of the damage. The director ran for cover at the welcome desk, while 3 of the altered hive-dregs headed for the stairs in a rush. The fourth was slowed by a torn leg, thanks to my grenade. It left a bloody trail across the tile as it hobbled after its companions.

The techpriest worked methodically, taking careful aim, firing the single-shot from his lascarbine, reloading a new hotshot. He put some very large holes in the dreg-mummies. Sila even managed some good shots. Barrick and I just kept a steady rate of fire, though the lawboy did have to dive for cover as the director rattled off some fairly accurate autopistol fire.

I heard Venus say “Pain” under her breath, and then one of the rag-wrapped sods started twitching, unable to move further. Our shots converged on it quickly, and I voxed “Again.” We had a working strategy, and we thinned them out in short order. The director proved a harder nut to crack, staying behind the desk as he did. We exchanged ineffective fire for maybe three minutes before Barrick said “Frak this,” and stood.

Before I could stop him, he was running down the stairs at full speed. We attempted to give him cover, but the director was cagey, and slid out at floor level to unleash a long burst of shots into the Arbite’s charge. He went down like a dropped sack of tubers. He looked bad off, dropping in that way I’d come to associate with death on a few too many battlefields.

Sila yelled out “Barrick!” and rattled off all the shots in her revolver in rapid succession, chewing up one end of the welcome desk. I moved to my right, eager to get down the stairs to check on him, but not so eager that I’d share his plight. I waited for my shot. The director rose from the behind the desk, autopistol up, pointed directly at me.

Before I could take the shot, I heard the distinctive crack-whine of the cogboy’s hotshot, and saw the bloom of red mist from behind the director’s head. He crumpled to the ground, a goodly portion of his head no longer in his possession. I ran down the stairs, Sila close on my heels. I reached down and felt Barrick’s neck, and heaved a sigh of relief as I felt a pulse. I couldn’t see any blood, and Sila had already pulled out her medikit and was unbuckling his chest armor. I moved on down the stairs to make certain the opposition was truly down. A feel of the director’s neck revealed a different story than Barrick’s, and I collected the autopistol and a couple of spare mags off the corpse, as well as a key on a chain around his neck.

When I got back to Barrick, Sila and Venus were both working on him. He’d come around, but was still quite groggy. The adept looked up from her work with the medikit.

“It looks like he’s got several broken ribs, and likely some internal bruising. But he should be OK,” she said. For his part, Barrick mostly groaned, until she used the injector to load him up on a stimm and painkiller cocktail. Seconds later, his eyes were wide open.

“Alright, let me get up dammit,” he said.

“You ever hear of cover?” I asked him facetiously.

“Laugh it up asshole,” he replied. I offered him a hand and helped him to his feet as we grinned like fools. He reached for his chest armor, but it was in terrible shape. He tossed it on the stairs and made the sign of the Aquila over his chest. “The Emperor protects. And Sila fixes what he can’t, I guess.”

She smiled her thanks at his compliment, and loaded her emptied revolver. I handed the autopistol and its ammo to Barrick. “Here’s a souvenir to go with those ribs,” I said.

With that, we headed for the lift, waiting to take us to the top level of the building. Ignace used the director’s key to select the third level, and the doors closed with a gentle groan.

We exited the lift to a silent reception area. A sign warned us that only those with an appointment could continue past the door from this tiny room. We decided we’d make our own appointment, and Ignace made short work of the lock with his multi-tool.

The 3rd level of the building appeared to have been a medicae facility, but one that had been run by a butcher’s guild. Bloodstains decorated the walls and floors in random patterns, though a few of the blotches made my eyes hurt to look at. Venus made the sign of the Aquila, and began praying to Him on Earth, and we all mirrored the Holy symbol with our hands for a moment before we continued.

Looking about, we saw that some of the medicae tables held corpses, all face down and flayed open. Each had one of the white organs wrapped within their tissues, though it was obvious that these were all failed implantations.

Passing one of the tables, Venus gasped suddenly, a sound of horror escaping her. We rushed over, to find that one of the poor bastards was still clinging to life, though just barely. He kept trying to scream, but in eerie silence. Only the hiss of rushing air into the respirator device made any sound, his vocal chords long ruined by the strain of his cries. He had suffered horribly, and made no response to us as we tried to communicate with him. Barrick looked to me, and I nodded my head once, and closed my eyes. One shot rang out in the room, and then the silent screaming came to an end, the Emperor’s Mercy given with finality.

We walked on in silence, passing perhaps 20 tortured, dead souls. At the end of the room, a very solid wall stood, more at home in an Imperial bunker than an Alms house. One massive amourplas door punctuated the wall, and the hair stood on the back of my neck. I motioned to Ignace, and he made ready to open the portal, as Barrick and I took fire positions just to each side of the massive door.

Ignace gave the door a mighty tug, and as it opened, an entirely new hell greeted us. Barrick and I stepped through quickly, and I took the room in at a glance. It was obviously an operating theatre, and in fact one of the occupants of the room was performing a surgery.

She was tall, and I could see more metal than flesh on her as she was bristling with augmetics. Her entire face was a metallic mask, and several mechadendrites moved over her shoulders functioning as extra arms wielding numerous surgical implements. The screams of her subject assailed our ears. There were several massive glass tanks in the room, and one held a massive version of the white organs we’d seen, easily 3 meters in length.

What kept my attention, however, was the vat grown monstrosity that was the twin of the one we’d dealt with downstairs. Especially given that it was charging us with its chain-ripper whirring.

It hadn’t made four steps before falling mid stride onto its face, writhing in agony. I knew that Venus had done something to what there was of its mind, and I moved the front sight of my lasgun over to the augmetics-laden churgeon, firing rapidly. Those few shots revealed to me that her augmetics covered her center of mass, and was pretty damned tough. She didn’t so much as flinch, even when Barrick added his shotgun to the volley.

With a clicking hiss, the mechadendrites on her back detached, revealing themselves to be a sort of metallic spider of many limbs which began to scuttle toward us. I’d seen more than enough, and chucked a grenade in her direction. I was a bit too enthusiastic in my toss, and it rolled between the twitching monstrosity and the big vat of goo, detonating moments later. The glass vat shattered, the organ perforated in dozens of places, and the monster with the chain-ripper ceased its twitching. I kept shooting just as if I’d meant for it to happen that way. It was probably the luckiest miss I’ve ever had, or the worst. Jury’s still out.

Ignace took a shot at the spider-thing, but his lasbolt seemed to bounce off the polished metal. I immediately dropped my lasgun and pulled my revolver, as it slashed a scalpel the size of my forearm at Barrick, which the lawboy barely avoided. One shot from the big caliber handgun slagged the thing, tearing into its casing in a shower of sparks.

In all this time, the metal-clad churgeon had been weathering a storm of fire from the rest of the team. She ran to the far corner of the room, ducking behind the ruined specimen tank, and dove into a large shaft in the floor. I cursed, and moved to advance. Barrick sprinted after her, stopping at the lip of what turned out to be a shaft straight down to the kitchen…where her failed experiments were turned into menu items.

He jumped down into the shaft, intent on climbing after her. From my vantage across the room, I could see some of the ichor from the specimen tank had pooled there, and a flash of panic clenched my gut in an icy fist. There was no scream. There was no shout of denial. There was only a screech of metal as he lost his grip and a sickening thump from the shaft across the room.

I don’t recall making my way to the edge of that shaft, don’t remember holstering the pistol or recovering my lasgun. I only remember making the Aquila as I looked on the broken body of a man of the Adeptus Arbites who would not give up, who died in the line of duty. A man who I trusted would stand at the Golden Throne moments hence and be judged worthy, if hasty.

There would be no catching the Churgeon, and we all knew it. We’d succeeded in uncovering the truth, but we still felt failure wrapping around us like a shadow. We stood there, gazing down, listening as Venus prayed.

The Emperor is our guiding light, a beacon of hope for humanity in a galaxy of darkness. As we serve Him, He is our greatest servant. As we pray to Him, His thoughts are only for us. And in the dark when the shadows threaten, the Emperor is with us, in spirit and in fact.”

One week later, the reports were finally finished, the evidence all collected. Our investigation had come to a close in the Coscarla, and our masters of the Holy Inquisition would pick up the pieces and discover the truth, the heresy which we’d exposed to the light.

We stood around one single lit candle, placed atop a ruined chestplate of Arbites armor. We each had a drink in our hands.

Sila stood in her robes of the Adminstratum, her blonde hair reflecting the candlelight. Venus clutched her pendant, the psy-focus of her trade. Ignace seemed immobile, a statue in the red robes of the Mechanicus. Me, I just clutched my amasec in one hand, thoughts of justice echoing in my mind. In the other I had our orders, an astropathic dispatch to embark on a system freighter to “maintain readiness”.

We drank one final toast to Barrick Zadin, Adeptus Arbite. The amasec was smooth, if a bit harsh on tongue. Venus, most pious of us all, reached out one hand and extinguished the candle.