Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Zarkov, Chapter 10

We spent a month in a holding transit aboard the Leaping Angel, a free trader that our masters in the Inquisition had paid to retain.  We stayed busy for the most part, each in our own way.  For myself, I’d spent the downtime salvaging Barick’s gear, and creating an arms locker for the team: a portable plastcard bin with extra weapons and gear for the times in which we’d need more firepower, or for that matter for those interesting times when we might come back without the gear we’d taken. 

I also purchased a few needed upgrades in the swelter decks, spending a few nights among the crew in areas often avoided by senior crew on a ship. But the most fun had by far was the time spent with the shuttle pilots, discovering that I had a natural aptitude for flight.

In our merc company, you stuck to your job description and didn’t wander.  In this new job as an acolyte for the Throne, I’m encouraged to widen my skill set.  So it was that I spent a good half of each day logging stick hours in various landers, shuttles, and simulators to achieve my flight rating.  It didn’t hurt that I also ended up hanging out late nights in the pilots’ lounge, downing ales and amasec with the “taxi drivers”. 

The rest of the team remained busy as well.  Pretty Sila continued to research our quarry, poring through the ship’s library constantly.  Pious Venus spent a good deal of time in the shipboard Templum, meditating upon Him on Earth.  Ignace, ever diligent, filled his hours in the Enginarium with the other tech-priests and enginseers; he’s happiest with his hands in a machine.

On day 34 of what I decided to call our exile, we were summoned to the bridge.  I have to admit to standing like a slack-jawed yokel for a moment upon arrival.  The bridge was immaculate, decorated in brass and gold and more than a few precious gems.  The crew all wore formal uniforms.

A young naval rating escorted us to the Captain’s command cathedra to answer his summons.  My first thought, upon seeing the Captain, was less than charitable.  For that matter, so were my second and third.  The best word to describe him would be corpulent; he likely massed every bit as much as an empty Chimera APC.  He was not only unnaturally huge, but was also wired at every limb and all about his cranium directly into the ship.  I doubt he’d moved under his own power in a century or so, and two servitors tended him, one even now cleaning and applying some unguent or another to his elephantine left leg.  If he’d had a blowhole, Ahab would have hunted him.

He spoke in a wheezing voice, as if the air had to labor to pass through him.  “It has been our pleasure to serve the mighty Inquisition.  Do tell your masters so when you see them.”

It was a timely statement; Ignace pointed out the viewport to call our attention to a massive Black Ship hanging in space above the jewel that was Scintilla.  We all stared for a moment before the Lord Captain spoke again.

“A shuttle has been prepared to take you across to His Righteous Mercy.  Commend me to your master; it has been long since I have looked upon him.”  He waved one hand then, negligently, to dismiss us. 

We gathered our gear and hustled to the shuttle bay, where I went ahead and strapped into the pilot’s seat to ferry us across.  We arrived with very little fanfare, a steward meeting us at the shuttle bay and escorting us to the Inquisitor’s private chambers.


The Inquisitor’s office was impressive, but not overstated.  Bits of antiquities were displayed, and a sidebar offered a selection of high-end boozes.  Wood and leather were present in abundance, lovingly crafted.  The bookshelf itself, never mind the tomes it held, was worth well more than a year’s pay from my merc days.   

There was only one thing out of place in the office:  a man standing in a black armorskin, a laspistol belted to his hip.  He looked like he had about 10 years on me, and I’m no spring chicken.  But his eyes…I knew at one glance that this was a man who could pull the trigger and sleep even more soundly for it.  We exchanged nods, one warrior to another.

I poured myself an amasec from the sideboard, and was rewarded with the very smooth, smoky flavor of a fine vintage indeed.  I poured a decent amount into the empty flask on my hip, saving some for later.  Sometimes a little sip is all you need to make a bad day better. 

A massive oak door stood at the other end of the room, and we heard a strong baritone voice from the other side of it.  “Enter!” it said.

We entered the private sanctum of our master, Inquisitor Jonas.  Tapestries were hung around the room, depicting battles and purges, some featuring the long white hair and beard of the man who sat before us.  Though aged, he looked as tough as the bulkheads, and as formidable as the whole ship in which we stood.

“Welcome, my acolytes.  I am pleased to have you here.”  Despite his tough-as-nails look, his voice and tone reminded me of a kindly grandfather.  “You’ve done quite well thus far, and I have another investigation for you to run.”

Without waiting for comment, he launched into his briefing.  Evidently an attempt had been made on the Governor of Hive Sibellus’s life, and the only bit of evidence, a witness statement, sounded damned familiar.  And damned disturbing…”a thing with red eyes, that wouldn’t stop when you shot it”. 

I felt the beginnings of a headache coming on.  It wasn’t a pure link to the altered hive dregs we’d just dealt with, but it was enough to leave my throat a little raw thinking about it.  I looked around at the team, and saw answering expressions of horror in all but the man in black.  Well, he hadn’t seen the damn things yet, and didn’t know better.  Jonas continued.

“This man will be joining your team.  Atellus Sigismund. You will find him somewhat expert with long arms.”  A sniper, then, I thought.  I looked at him again, now understanding the flint in his eyes. 

“You will use the next two days to make ready, and then you will visit the Magistratum in Tarsus hive to meet with the witness.  I am given to understand this young man was in an unlikely position due to his…talents.  I want you to evaluate him and annex him to the team if you deem it appropriate,” he said.

“I have found in my career that some who run afoul of the law may still serve.  So it may be with this one.”  Sila’s face seemed to darken at that, which didn’t surprise me.  The Administratum likes everything and everyone in their little columns, in tidy order. 

“Go with the Emperor’s Grace, my acolytes.  Dismissed,” he finished.  We filed out of his office and made ready with our preparations.  We had access to a decent pile of throne gelt, some good cover IDs, and run of most of the ship, and we put that access to good use.

When the time finally came for wheels-up, we met in the forward hangar of the ship.  Once there, we saw one very beautiful craft sitting away from the Aquila landers and other various small shuttles.  A gun-cutter squatted under the loading lights, brand new by the look of her, with a chin-mounted autocannon, some serious armor, and engines that looked like they were ready to scream.

Imagine my surprise when another young naval rating handed me they key-codes and transmitter to control her.  I grinned like a juve ready for his first formal dance.  We loaded in, and I started pre-flight. 

The cutter flew like a dream, transiting from space to atmospheric with a smoothness that belied the difficulty of reentry.  There was no doubt about it, I was in love.  I handled my new lover adroitly through to touchdown. 

Scintilla isn’t a dirty world like most hive worlds.  There are only five hives distributed on its face, as it’s relatively young compared to many settled planets in the Imperium.  Landing at Sibellus, though, is every bit as gritty as any other hive in the whole realm of mankind. 

Our first stop upon arrival was the Magistratum Precinct House, a massive slab of durasteel and ‘crete as unforgiving as a commissar.  After a long wait in the outer lobbies, we were brought before a desk sergeant who immediately greeted us with the thousand-yard stare common to law enforcement everywhere.  For just a moment, I truly missed Barrick. 

“We’ve an appointment to see one of your prisoners”, Sila said.  The sergeant eyeballed her like a hungry man looks at a grox steak before answering.  She gets that a lot.

“Yeah, they’re bringing him around to an interrogation room now.  You want me to accompany you?”

“We’ve got this,” Atellus said, his face a stone mask.  Atellus is kind of frightening to most people.  They just naturally know not to frak with him.

“Oh…okay then,” the sergeant stammered, and directed us to the room down the hall.  A guard let us into the room, where a tattooed young man, about 19, sat.  His hair was long, dirty and wild with inattention.  He wore leathers and furs, and had that particular look of a feral-worlder, eyes darting around the room like a caged beast. 

“Tell us your story,” I said, without preamble.  As he started, I pulled up a chair.

“I saw what happened.  These scutwhuppers think I lie, and you will too.  But I say the truth.”  He raised his chin, then, defiant.  He seemed to calm as he spoke, his eyes steady on me.

“The man and his escorts were attacked, bold.  Barehanded, bold.  The foe were wrapped in rags, and took many shots.  They would not stop, even when shot.  I shot the hell out of one, thinking to help. They had red eyes.  They killed the men, but I escaped.  Now they are holding me, say I’m scum.”  He stopped abruptly, and stared at me. 

“What’s your name, son?” I asked.

“Roth Khan.”  He spoke with pride, as if the name were a badge.  I’ve known a couple of tribesmen in my time; maybe it was. 

We asked several questions of him then, each of us coming at it from different angles.  Through the whole conversation, Atellus remained nearly silent, whistling softly through his teeth.

He told us that his encounter with the red-eyed dregs took place in Manufactory District 7-J, in the night cycle.  We learned little else, save that the young man had been a gun for hire and was fairly decent at getting into places he didn’t belong.  He made no secret of the fact: like everything else he’d said, it was just a part of his tale.

Once there were no more questions, we stepped into the hall to confer.  Sila’s expression was distasteful, but still she broached the topic.

“So, do we bring him along?”

“I think we do,” I replied.  “He seems straightforward, I think any holes we’d sprout would be in our fronts.”

“I concur,” Atellus added.  We all looked at him, but those were the only words he had to contribute.  Venus agreed, as did Ignace, so I poked my head back into the room.

“Roth Khan,” I began, “how would you like to spend your life in service to the Emperor?”

His eyes widened slightly, and he glanced around the room once.  “Do I have a choice?”

“There are always choices.  Some are better than others.  You come with us, you’re going to face those red eyes again.”

“Good,” he said.  “I must face them to master the fear they made in me.”

“Alright, don’t wander off.”  I couldn’t resist the joke.  Back in the hallway, I told the team he was for it, and we went back to the desk sergeant’s office. 

“Well, he’s a smelly bugger, isn’t he?” the sergeant asked, as we entered.  Sila answered him.

“We’re going to need you to remand him to our custody,” she said.

His eyes narrowed slightly, and he replied “Well, we can get that accomplished.  I’ll just need you to fill out some forms, and within ten days your request should be approved.”

I shook my head once.  He noticed, but stuck with it.

“You’re just going to have to wait.” He began to rummage in his desk files.  “Now here is the first requisite form, number 67743-T, which will grant you an audience with the custody clerks…” 

As he droned on, I looked at Sila, raising one eyebrow.  She nodded yes, and so I pulled out the Rosette, the symbol of our Inquisitor that allowed us to act with his authority when needed.  I coughed once.

“…then, of course, number 7338 beta, which…” and his eyes locked on the symbol.  He blanched a few shades lighter.  “Ah, I see.  Well, in certain special cases I can file the expedited forms.”

I cut him off.  “No forms.  No records.  We are not here openly, and you never saw us.”

He stared at us blankly, and Atellus winked at him.  “Yes.  Yes of course.” 

What followed was likely a record time for fastest prisoner release without the assistance of a high window.  We walked out the door with Roth Khan in tow, and went midhive to seek out our lodgings. 

The hostel we ended up booking was called the Eagle’s Wing, and we purchased a suite of rooms.  I liked the name, and it made me feel good about the coming mission.  Life's funny like that.