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Kryp (WH40k Translation FemProtagonist Isekai)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by RiP, Oct 30, 2021.

  1. Threadmarks: The Squad Chapter 25

    RiP Seeker of Silence

    Jul 8, 2017
    Likes Received:
    Part 5

    A bit of kindness

    Chapter 25

    * * *​

    "Two hundred and fifteen kilometers per hour," commented Schmettau. "It seems that for this steam monster, the resistance of the medium has been abolished."

    The Inquisitor had swapped his sybaritic robe and slippers for a blue wool tracksuit with white stripes on the sides, and special shoes that Olga would call sneakers. From the outside, Schmettau looked more like an elderly but vivacious athlete who, despite a solid tummy, was still trying to hold on to some kind of shape. A retired middle-aged administrator balances his love of meat with sports, and he will run for another ten years from the inevitable heart attack. In practice, however, it was the form in which Kalkroit preferred to pack in a battle suit.

    "When I see such things, I come dangerously close to the idea that the Machine God is an independent deity, and not a hypostasis of the Emperor," honestly confessed the inquisitor. "Of course, I think about it briefly and with the obligatory penance to atone for heretical thoughts. But still..."

    Pale bowed his head in silence, admitting a certain rightness in the master's words. The image from the satellite was jittery, the channel density was insufficient for a normal broadcast, and the darkness of the night was also interfering. Essen experimented with contrast, removed the color, and then cranked the resolution almost to the minimum, as a result, the converging transports seemed poorly docked rectangles. But even so, it was clear that the monstrous hauler at the head of the 'Radial' had gone far beyond what was possible for an ordinary machine. In the thermal spectrum, the steam locomotive glowed like a transparent glass toy with a crimson bulb inside. Over the years Kalkroyt had dealt with all sorts of machinery, so he knew that the old tractor was long overdue to drive straight into the Omnissiah Palace.

    "They have a chance," the inquisitor suggested. "I think they might get through first. Barely, but they might."

    The pursuer plowed the snow-covered steppe, like an ironclad with a battering ram. Snow fountains flew around, leaving a visible trail on either side of the low railroad embankment. The tracks were converging at an acute angle, and the automatic hand had already moved the rails.

    "Yes, there's a chance. But it's going to be in meters," the archivist said, looking at the screen. "And I don't see how that helps them. A clash is inevitable anyway."

    "Soon they'll be out of sight," added Pale, frowning. "And we can't reassign another satellite quickly, we don't have the authority."

    "Well, then, we don't have much time left," decided Schmettau philosophically, then turned to the archivist. "What news?"

    Moving with a sedate slowness - influenced more by numerous injuries than by senile infirmity - Kalkroit's longtime secretary laid out over a large map an equally large sheet of transparent and flexible plastic. The map depicted the industrial region and 'City-22,' the epicenter of a hemispheric disaster. A major transportation hub as well as a concentration of local culture with two museums, a real theater, and, of course, temples. The pen of the archivist had already made three-color marks on the transparent sheet and evaluating the scribbles of the assistant, the inquisitors grimaced as if they bit one lemon from both sides at once. The sight did not inspire optimism.

    "I thought it would be better," thought Schmettau aloud. "Heads would fly. A lot of heads. To miss such a breakthrough... Either the local Inquisition has decayed to the point of complete incapacity, or..."

    Kalkroit cast a brief glance at his companion as if to invite him to show his keenness of thought and to finish the assumption. Pale got it right, and did not let him down, giving it away at once with his usual reasonableness:

    "A heretic of sectoral scale has worked here. Rather, a group of well-trained and experienced specialists, skilled in high-level sorcery practices. I would assume that there is at least one renegade among them who knows how to bypass the complex security net. Otherwise, even very clever sorcerers wouldn't be able to fool everyone, both the arbiters and our brethren, so cleverly."

    "Hmm... Yes, I think you're right," agreed Schmettau. "And I seem to recall that the old senile Wimpfen warned of something similar... I'll have to reread that memorandum of his."

    Kalkroit chewed his lips, trying to remember, the archivist prompted:

    "The quarterly bulletin 'On Possible Threats', a general mailing on the system, was given to you along with other materials on the Beacon according to the regulations of the status of the present but not officially included in the Inquisitor's investigations."

    "The bulletin will be delivered," Essen promised. "Wimpfen had warned of the possible presence of a 'roving' group of Slaaneshites who organized specific sorcery practices on the client's sacrificial material. Sort of like high-level mercenaries, working for a fraction of the energy released in the course of the sacrifice. They are so effective that they provided a certain guarantee for their work."

    That Wimpfen suggested a connection between the mythical 'mercenaries' and the irretrievably destroyed cursed 'Alpha' Legion of Renegades, Essen kept silent. That was the main reason why the memorandum was sent 'under the table'.

    "Even so?" Schmettau was genuinely surprised. "I can see why no one took the warning seriously. These freelance companies are settled in hives or very dense systems, on such sparsely populated planets, it is difficult for them to hide. But the gravity of the mistake doesn't make it any easier. Okay, let's take a look at the new rundown. So..."

    The inquisitor ran his thick finger along the red dotted line, which was accompanied by frequent symbols in the form of little bombs.

    "I see the bogeyman crawling from the coast right toward the city."

    "There is no way to stop it," commented Palet. "Not enough force, everyone within ten kilometers of the epicenter has lost their human form in the literal sense. A fifty-kilometer radius is almost guaranteed insanity, the only exceptions being the small groups gathered around the conductors of the true faith. Garrisons, police detachments, congregations in temples, and so on. The 200-kilometer line."

    "I see," Shmettau interrupted, glancing at the pad of operational markers. "So there's not much power and even less organization, and what the Inquisitors and Arbitrators can manage is a drop in the sea. But the potheads have shown themselves to be fighters, I see..."

    "Ordinary mechanicus are just as exposed as ordinary humans," Essen explained. "But the Martian detachments that have arrived are, in fact, the only organized force in the region. They even tried to set up some sort of evacuation until a row of hosts appeared in the center of the city."

    "Not at a good time the planetary leadership decided to disband this... squad," said Schmettau.

    "From what we've seen of the 'Sixty-four', that's not a fact," Pale said. "Obviously, the purificators are just as vulnerable as the others."

    "But someone commands the Twelfth," muttered Schmettau. "And I don't believe Fidus is a conductor of the true faith. Well, all right. By all signs, the city will be blown to smithereens by an oceanic alien. Orbit's silent?"

    "Rather confused," replied the archivist. "Their protocols are not designed for this scale of sabotage, and the available forces are insufficient. They're sending out requests, preparing landing parties, but I'd say for another five or six hours the orbital forces are useless."

    "Of course," said the Inquisitor sardonically. "And then they'll turn panic-stricken to the Fleet and start carpet-bombing to bury evidence of personal incompetence under the rubble. Everything as usual."

    Essen and the archivist looked at each other, silently and synchronously shrugged their shoulders, as if that were the harsh truth of life, there was nothing to be done.

    "What about the impact in general? - Shmettau continued grumpily. "Have you determined the nature and the origin?"

    "As our surveillance and radio interception service shows," the archivist spoke tediously, monotonously, like a real servitor. "The nature of the hostile influence is not constant, it is a combination of alternating attacks with a well-defined amplitude. It seems the most accurate term for what is going on is 'pulsation'. Take a look at the rhythm."

    The archivist handed a long scroll to Schmettau with all due deference. The sheet looked very much like the charts the inquisitors had evaluated before, but with only one line, like a cardiograph tape. Essen, taking advantage of his height, peered over the patron's shoulder.

    "Periodicity..." Kalkroit muttered, scribbling symbols on the timeline with his fingernail. "Clearly marked peaks, where people went mad en masse, then remission. At first, it was about twenty minutes between peaks, now it's down to three or four... A very strange rhythm. Strange... and familiar. I feel as if I had seen it before, but had long ago and firmly forgotten it. Essen, does anything come to mind for you?"

    Pale silently twisted his scarred head.

    The inquisitor walked around the table for a while, massaging his lower back. The archivist patiently waited for instructions, while Essen, judging by the deep wrinkles on his forehead, was engaged in vigorous mental activity, apparently trying to remember the nature of fluctuations after Schmettau. The Inquisitor's sneakers creaked faintly on the new soles, and the video broadcasting equipment hummed softly. On the screen, the two radial armored trains were approaching inexorably, but Kalkroit forgot about the chase, lost in thought.

    "Once again the captain requests permission to go higher," Essen reported as he put two fingers to his earlobe. "We're in too low an orbit, the influence is affecting the servitors and the spirit of the propulsion system. The crew is feeling some mental confusion. One had to be isolated."

    "Then we won't be able to monitor the situation adequately," Kalkroit grumbled irritably. "And so we pick up the crumbs. As for confusion, he who is unable to keep his soul in service is unnecessary."

    Essen wanted to say something, mechanically stroking the scars on his head, but refrained.

    "No, I refuse," decided the inquisitor. "We'll stay here as long as possible. I need uninterrupted connections to the satellite network. And photocontrol, as far as possible."

    "As you wish," Essen bowed his head, thus demonstrating his disagreement with his patron. He usually said 'as you command,' but this time he was showing unobtrusively that he considered his master's wish to be a personal whim, not a matter of the moment.

    "Exactly. This is my..."

    Kalkroit froze in place with his mouth open, then snapped his lower jaw like a real ork.

    "Now," he commanded the archivist curtly. "Call our medic... No, you'd better find a reference book. Not the encyclopedia, but the yellow one, with the title, I think, 'Emergency Medical Care of All Kinds for First Wave Colonists' or something like that. And you..." that was addressed to Essen. "Bring my diary. Notebook number," the Inquisitor hesitated for a moment, remembering. "Eighty-nine. It has a torn corner, and the cover is stained with blood, you can't tell the difference."

    "With your blood?" Essen managed to combine the question with a military U-turn and the first step toward the Schmettau library.

    "No," the inquisitor grinned wryly. "Fidus's wife. The mother of his son."

    Pale took another step, and then the leisurely but thorough thoughts in his head came together like cogs turning together - a possible group of experienced sorcerers, a specific rhythm, a medical guide for colonists, the blood of Kryptman Sr.'s wife.

    "Shit," whispered Essen, who normally had the impressionability of a tank and considered profanity a pointless waste of time.

    "Exactly," said Schmettau just as quietly. "Exactly..."

    * * *

    Olga was in pain. In general, she was used to pain in all its forms, especially 'imperium' pain. The world of an unlit and unhappy future greeted her mainly with trouble, beatings, hunger, and fear. It is possible to say, the problems complimented each other harmoniously if something became less, the other significantly added, not allowing to be bored and reminding - she not in a fairy tale. But this time the pain was different. It poured over the body, filled the body, poisoned the feelings and the very soul, like a generous portion of liquid soap tipped into the tea. Olga turned into pain.

    Help... she whispered, or rather thought, shouted into the infinite Nothingness, where no one could or wanted to hear the cry of a dying soul.


    And this pain would last forever, it would only change shades and focus, Olga knew for sure. Her ribs would hurt, and they were pounded on with a hard fist like a drum. And then the girl would be thrown, like a dirty rag toy, into the bathtub-with chipped enamel and yellowish streaks from the leaky showerhead, constantly wound around the faucet. There, swallowing bitter tears in prostration, Olga would pour hot water over herself, unable to understand where the blood was coming from. Four days in the hospital, where she would finally be taken by an ambulance, would follow. After that, two excruciating weeks during which she would only be able to sleep on her stomach. She would answer inaccurately to the questions of the smelly and sweaty cop, and of the medical lady who tiredly asked why the stupid girl had bathed herself.

    And on and on, with no beginning and no end, in a looped time. Usually, repetition kills everything, including fear. Take one blow, and it burns your soul. But on the thousand and one, you'll only grin... But not now. With each cycle, the girl felt herself approaching the edge of madness. That she was being purposefully led to madness, to a state where nothing remained of the old Olga.

    And again a fist twisted her long hair, firmly, with unhurried authority. After that, the girl began to cut her hair short, so that it was impossible to grab the strands, a few times it helped. But there is no 'after,' only endless 'here and 'now'.

    And who's the most beautiful? Who's ready..?

    "Potential offense."

    Something had gone wrong. A strange voice that wasn't supposed to be here. The room, the brother, the bathroom, the stinking cop in the hospital, and the medicine lady - there was no space for anything else in the world around... And yet this something was squeezing into the looped world, breaking it, squeezing the horrors of the present-past, pushing them into the background. Nothing ended, but the girl sighed a little easier.

    "Violent, unauthorized restriction of the freedom of an Ecclesiarchical novice is possible."

    She's heard it before... where? When?

    The brother, who must also have sensed the impropriety of the situation, not letting go of his victim, turned toward the door. There was a figure standing in the doorway, a dark brown robe with white edging hanging from it like a hanger. From beneath the hood, an expressionless, polished metal mask with several slits and glowing green eyeglasses stared down at the victim and the villain.

    "The response protocol?"

    Where the man's mouth would have been, an oscillographic green stripe jumped up and down accompanying each word spoken with a mechanical accent.


    Olga did not understand where the name came from. But the knowledge that there was a woman under the mask and cloak, and her name was exactly Jennifer, was absolutely accurate.

    "What, you want to join in?"

    A little more pain followed, naturally growing into a lot of pain.

    "Perhaps I wouldn't mind joining in the perverse experience," Jennifer stepped forward, raising her hand. "But, alas, there is no functionally necessary equipment."

    The metal curtains on her right eye suddenly came together for a moment, as if the strange guest had winked.

    "You shouldn't think so, there are many different ways," the brother's voice suddenly became a kind of ringing, enveloping... soporific... It wasn't human at all.

    Olga remembered the cold concrete warehouse in the crazy world of dust, snow, and sand.

    Segmented tentacle with three claws.

    Bitter smell. The whistle of a hypersonic torch with a working part made of magnetostrictive material.

    "Source of danger. Decontamination. Execute," Jennifer's voice sounded muffled again as if it came from a deep barrel or a wide pipe. A rounded zero-point eighteen-hundredths of a metric ton in one swift step was nearby, literally ripping the girl from the inhuman embrace.

    Olga blinked and found herself half-lying in the ... room. Although it would probably be correct to call this space an abstract idea of a room. It had no fixed size or shape, the tiles flowed like plasticine, turning into old wallpaper hanging in shreds, which in turn turned into hospital walls, hateful and familiar. There was some furniture here, broken, broken, just like in Ballistic, and a moment later the debris became a whole Soviet chipboard set, as familiar and hateful as the hospital smell from the walls.

    And there was almost no pain... The pain was excessive but mostly physical, and the soul felt as if it had been pelted with a bucket of clean water, washing away the acidic goo.

    "Tech-priestess Jennifer Wackrufmann," Olga remembered, speaking the words slowly and carefully. "Tech-priestess is your rank."

    With her arms around her knees, she sat in the middle of the room, swaying from side to side and giggling softly.

    I'm going crazy. I'm going crazy...

    "Those who go crazy believe themselves to be perfectly normal," Jennifer objected.

    "Can you read minds now, too? - The girl continued to giggle. The laughter broke into a deep, sobbing sob.

    The light... it got noticeably brighter around her. Like in alien movies, when a bright white cone hits from above. Only the light was warmer and softer, kinder or something.

    "You do realize that everything around you is a figment of your mind, don't you? And the hope of hearing something new from the image of a virtual friend is rather irrational, isn't it?"

    Olga blinked and thought about what she had heard. The thought seemed surprisingly sensible and gave the impression of an anchor. Or a rock in a rough sea. She could climb on it to catch her breath and look around - how far was the shore?

    "You're a nerd. Rare. Even in my imagination," the girl whispered.

    But if this is all imaginary, why is she whispering? After all, anything is possible here?

    "Bummer!!!" she shrieked in her voice, and the echo came back, crushing the sound into a million pieces.

    "Bummer," Olga repeated and moved her hands over her stomach.

    Yes, it hurts. But it's bearable.

    "And whose fault is that?" Wakrufmann asked sarcastically. "If you don't like it, you could imagine me up better."

    Jennifer winked again.

    "Don't go," Olga asked. "Please. Or... It will... come back. I'll try to imagine you better."

    She stifled another burst of sobs, feeling the tears burning her eyes.

    "It will come back," Wakrufmann stated mercilessly, and Olga cried nonetheless, with quiet wistful hopelessness. She curled into a ball, habitually pulling her knees up to her chest to cover her stomach, wrapping her head around it.

    "This is silly," Jennifer said.

    "The end!" Olga howled. "The end! All the good things are over!!!"

    "Stupid," the techno-priestess repeated, and the earth girl felt.... something.

    It was like the touch of a warm hand, but kind of aimless. It was as if some kind and compassionate force was poking around blindly, demanding and insistent.

    "You wouldn't understand," Olga whispered. "You won't understand how it's... how it..."

    "Yes. I had a completely different experience of a traumatic situation," Wakrufmann stated dryly. "During the explorations, our expedition awakened something that shouldn't have lived. Ancient xenomachines that, you might say, 'came to their senses' and began to execute a standard program. The protocol of interaction with the living. They sliced off my skin in order to better understand the structure and work in the dynamics of the muscular system. Then they dissected me, taking apart my organs, without anesthesia of course, because pain triangulation is a very effective way to study the principles of nervous system functioning. Fortunately, the Emperor's angels and the Skitarians got there in time before the enemies vivisected my brain. Afterward, the magos placed what was left of me on life support."

    "They made a 'cog' out of you," Olga guessed.

    "Not really. That was afterward. At that point, the Martians simply preserved my brain. There was a suspicion that there had been contact with a new threat that had not yet been studied or classified. But all the records were damaged, and I was the only living witness capable of testifying. More precisely, technically alive. Technically, my body represented the material of a lifetime autopsy, laid out on fifteen laboratory benches."

    "You didn't tell me about it... I didn't know that... and I couldn't have known! We're not in the memory! Not in my memory!"

    Olga scrambled, trying to crawl away into the darkness, away from the Martian imposter.

    "It's more accurate to say we're in a complex simulation. It uses the computational resources of your mind and is based on your memories. However, the tools used by the aggressor are, shall we say, partly immaterial. In other words, we are now in a wonderland of possibilities... different things are possible there. For example, you can learn a story you haven't yet been told, but only intend to."

    "A time of wonders... a place of wonders," Olga repeated.

    But what should I do?

    She thought it, but the thought echoed back with a familiar echo, rattling like doomsday trumpets.

    "And how do I find out that you're not..."

    She faltered, trying to formulate. Everything was mixed up in Olga's head.

    "Infiltrator," Wakrufmann said.


    "The infiltrator tries to break through the simulation to help you escape from the hallucination. Your subconscious senses his mood and creates an image of someone you can trust on the basis of positive influence. That is me. It's funny how you associate me with safety."

    "Or it's another hoax."

    "Yes, that's possible too," agreed either Jennifer, or not Jennifer, or the pure hallucination of Olga's disintegrating mind.

    "Filtrator," the girl repeated the strange word and clung to it. "Why is everything so confusing!"

    "Because your consciousness is corrupted," the non-existent Jennifer stated ruthlessly. "They're trying to break it, to distort it. Your mind is under pressure, your concentration is broken. Consequently, you cannot concentrate, cannot leave the maze of hostile influences."

    "But what to do?"

    "An anti-stress cuddle?" Wakrufmann suggested.

    Olga, no longer holding back tears, could only nod. The warmth of the mechanical body literally demanded to freeze, and not to move, to stretch the seconds of this feeling of absolute security and sympathy.

    "Focus on the warmth," Jennifer advised. "Imagine there's nothing else in the world. Feel the warmth. Imagine there's someone who loves you. Only you, just because you are. It could be the Emperor, Omnissia, or your mother. Of course, Omnissia is the best, but that's not necessary and not that important right now."

    "Warmth," Olga whispered.

    "Good. Then add another sensation. See the light. A warm, kind light."

    The girl honestly focused on the light, and it seemed to work.

    "What do I do now?"

    "From the experience of a previous encounter with the forces of the Immaterium, wait until that illusion is finally shattered by the damage you've done. Concentrate on the light so that the savior can find his way to you and show you the way out."

    "By me? You're the one who's been messing around. And this... you handled it."

    "Let me remind you again," Wakrufmann's firm hands gently stroked Olga's shoulders and head. "Here I am a figment of your consciousness."

    "I'm scared," Olga burst into tears. "I'm so scared... And I feel bad..."

    "The machinations of hostile forces are deadly," Jennifer explained, pulling the girl closer. "They deceive with the truth. They take a drop of truth and poison it, letting doubt and pain take their course. They are like shadows that wind themselves where there is no light. Their task is to show that the world is darkness. To catch the target in a moment of confusion and frustration, to implant the idea that there is nothing left but misery and despair. Their victim is always a lonely man in the darkness of doubt. This is their strength, but also their weakness. Light dispels the darkness. Go to the light, go to those who are willing to help."

    "No one can help me," Olga whispered. "No one..."

    "Is that so?" Jennifer was genuinely surprised. "What about the Squad?"

    "They..." Olga hesitated.

    "Let me remind you," Wakrufmann said with her usual measuredness. "That the squad did not hesitate to enter the house infected ruinous power. And passed through the underworld of the other world without flinching, without allowing fear to take possession of their souls. Have you forgotten?"


    "What do you think they're doing now?"

    "I... I don't know..."

    "Let's put the question another way. Which do you think is more likely, being abandoned or trying to help?"

    Olga sighed, pulled away from Jennifer's hard, warm face, and wiped her crying face with her small palms, smearing away the salty tears.

    "They burn people..." sobbed the girl.

    "But the Priest came to you to tell you how the Imperium works. To bring you not blind faith, but knowledge. For that was his duty as a shepherd of men."

    "Bertha beat me up!"

    "And she also shot at the shadows of evil dreams when they attacked you in the lost city. They attacked you, sensing the emanations of an alien from another world, another time."

    "They're angry bastards," Olga whispered.

    "And which one of them was really mean to you?" Jennifer clarified ruthlessly. "As far back as I can remember, as far back as we can remember, even the evil bastard Savlar brought you a glass of water."

    "Kryp," Olga muttered. "He abandoned me."

    "Yes. It's true," Jennifer agreed.

    "He abandoned me!" repeated, shouted in her voice, letting the burning resentment, the terrible disappointment finally break through. "He dumped me!!! I saved him, I helped him, I believed him! He promised! He promised!"

    "Yes, that's true," Jennifer repeated. "And he came back for you. Didn't he?"


    "He came back for you," Jennifer repeated. "Kryp gave up his inquisitor's life to join the Squad as a volunteer. He abandoned you, and he was willing to die for you. Wasn't he?"

    Olga was silent, looking at the face of the techno priestess of metal and glass. She was silent and remembered, feeling the boundless darkness of despair recede. How the shadows whimpered in powerless anger, dispersed by the light.

    "You are not alone. And you were not abandoned. We are not abandoned. We are not alone."

    Olga no longer understood whose words it was, or who was saying them. But she could feel the seeker's attention concentrating on her. They had almost found each other so that there was only a little bit left, just a little bit.

    "What should I do?" Olga asked, already knowing the answer.

    "You know what to do," Jennifer said, and Olga repeated. "I know what to do."

    The light enveloped her, drawing her in, gently calling her along, to a place where pain could be quenched and the soul belonged only to the person himself.

    "Baby." soundly and clearly said Wakrufmann, who remained somewhere behind, behind to fight for Olga, covering her departure from the tenacious embrace of the enemy.


    "Baby," Jennifer's disappearing voice repeated. "Remember. A baby is very important. It's the most important thing in the world..."

    When she opened her eyes, Driver first cursed floridly, extremely inventively, then said a short prayer, and only then, making sure that the girl looked more or less normal, put the pin in the grenade, on which her fingers were already stiff.

    "Ouch. What's that on my head for?" The girl asked perplexedly, flapping her cornflower eye, probing the 'Faraday cage' with trembling fingers.

    "Well, praise be to the Emperor, we got you out, it seems," summed up the Driver, climbing over to the old familiar seat behind the levers of 'Chimera'. "Less to worry about..."

    "Demetrius... why are you naked?!" the girl shrieked.

    The loud sound of the slap rang out like a pistol shot.

    "You put a muzzle on me! You stuck a needle in me! You sick pervert!!!" came from the passenger compartment in such a way that it seemed to vibrate the armor steel.

    "...Or more," grinned the wise tankman, listening to Olla's wild cries and Demetrius' confused excuses. The engineer clicked a button on the tangent and reported. - The orderly pulled the blonde out. Both seemed to be in order.

    "Who's yelling in there?" Bertha asked. The mentor's voice was trembling and intermittent, like she was dragging something heavy, even for herself. In the background, something metallic rattled and seemed to gurgle, shimmering.

    "So, collateral damage," smiled the driver again.

    "Then get them over here to headquarters! Both of them!" Bertha yelled.

    "Roger that."

    "Start the turret, check the armor-piercing cassette, we'll shoot straight from the wagon," Bertha ordered. "Send Demetrius to HQ, let him get ready to open the doorway for your fire. Enemy on the port side left panel! Move on command!"

    "Understood. I'm on it," the mechanic reported and reminded me. "I only have two boxes."

    "As many as there are, all for them," barked the mentor. "Move on, quick!!!"

    * * *​
    Bogdan and ATP like this.
  2. Threadmarks: The Squad Chapter 27

    RiP Seeker of Silence

    Jul 8, 2017
    Likes Received:
    Chapter 27
    * * *​
    The steam locomotive, freed from the bonds of the multi-ton train, rushed forward like a heavy bird that rushes off a cliff to gain speed and catch the wind with its wings. Human language is too poor to describe the range of emotions that the machine spirit experienced in its last moments of existence... or life. And even though - again, from a human point of view - it was more emulation of the feelings in the self-generated construct - they were real, with an inexpressible tension and exhilaration. The mechanism, born in fire and for war - in the middle of a battle - left in the fire, suddenly and brightly serving its deity, its memory, its long-standing glory.​

    When the 'Twelfth' and the locomotive were separated by a hundred yards or so, the Materium finally lost power over the locomotive, and the singular point of energy that had replaced the boiler exploded. To the great good fortune of those around, the blast was directed at itself, or the effect would have been greater than a nuclear 'tactic'.​

    Luckily, having disconnected the coupler, Luct turned his back to the locomotive, waiting for orders - whether by vox from the tech-priestess or words from Kryptman - so when the mechanical beast headed for Omnissia, the servitor didn't burn out his optics with a flash. The shockwave hurled the Inquisitor's servitor right through the vestibule hatch, puncturing a centimeter-long sheet of metal with his body, then rolled through the 'Twelfth' as it had in the collision a few minutes before, but in the opposite direction.​

    The steam locomotive itself literally evaporated, disintegrating into atoms, or perhaps leaving Materium. No one could know that. The snow and ice within a half-kilometer radius were blown away, the rails under the tractor survived, but melted. The decoupled Twelfth and Sixty-fourth flew at over two hundred kilometers through a protuberance of blindingly yellow, furious flame. Thank the Emperor, the catastrophe happened on a straight stretch, or the long track would have gone off the rails at the weakest corner.​

    Luct stood up, clutching at the walls with his hands. A self-diagnosis showed multiple, but not critical damage, with a loss of about thirty percent of its overall combat effectiveness. Staggering because of the malfunctioning gyroscopes, the servitor staggered back to the HQ wagon, wobbling his feet.​

    "This is too much," muttered Bertha, licking the blood from her lips.​

    The second jolt finally broke and ripped off everything loose in the headquarters, fortunately, there weren't many of those things. It was worse for the men, and Wretched Man broke a couple more ribs and couldn't walk properly.​

    "The Emperor protects," the Priest tried to shout, but his voice came out as a croak, and the monk was also hurt.​

    "We're on fire," Jennifer informed her dryly. The bruised head gurgled with a damaged loudspeaker, but the words were quite intelligible.​

    Kryptman again looked at the periscope and predictably found nothing good there. The aft wagons were burning, and the 'head' of the train was smoking. The Inquisitor quickly considered the prospect of burning and assessed it as rather low. The oncoming wind was certainly fanning the flames, but there wasn't much combustible material left in the armored wagons. These were not passenger wagons, which were full of flammable plastic and burned up in twenty minutes on the move.​

    Fidus stepped to the row of intercom tubes, jerked the bell just in case - in vain, the shock skewed the system permanently.​

    "Well," said the Priest. "It's about time for the Implicator. And let everyone do what they have to do."​

    The purificators shot at the heretics with excitement, but not with the cheerful glee of the victors, but rather with the grim determination of the doomed. Set on fire one by one - as the enemies advanced - the four tail wagons gave a good barrier and took quite a few enemy lives, but the flames were beginning to subside. The fire no longer roared in a solid wall, but burned quietly and evenly, weakening as the fuel burned out. The Inquisitor's trick bought the squad some valuable minutes, but there was no light in the hopeless situation; the 'Twelfth' was still pushing by the enemy train forward, which had no intention of slowing down or retreating.​

    Behind the curtain of fire loomed distorted figures, very similar to the ghosts of the 'pocket' from which the purificators had miraculously escaped by the grace of the Emperor and the sacred flamethrowers. Only these creatures were quite material, and their outlines fluctuated due to the flow of hot air-mostly. The first wave of attackers was stopped by the flames, but time after time one or another heretic, or maybe already an unholy mutant tried his fate, trying to run through the fire on the roof or climb over the sides. Holy Man and Sinner poked out of the hatch above, Crybaby and Savlar took up positions near the sides, securing themselves with slings and a carbine so that another gust of evil wind wouldn't pull them out into the half-darkness.​

    The bright flashes of laser beams alternated with the angry yapping of machine guns. Nearly every second, another dark figure broke off and fell, disappearing into the half-light with a wild, inhuman screech. The Holy Man exclaimed "Emperor, fuck!" at every hit, Crybaby and the Sinner worked silently, Savlar fired mostly 'somewhere,' but then the Wretched Man joined him. Though the Wretched Man squinted, writhing in pain, he shot much better than the convict, and things began to go well. The enemy fought back, but sluggishly, as if they'd suddenly forgotten how to use a human weapon, or at least how to reload it. It was as if those who had some kind of weapon in their hands at the time of the disaster were trying to use it according to the orcish principle of 'point about there and pull the trigger all the way'.​

    In the meantime, dawn was creeping steadily over the horizon. The surrounding tundra appeared in gray and white from the darkness, with industrial buildings, cranes, and warehouses on either side of it. Many were burning, and in some places there was fighting. In the distance a glow pulsed, like the northern lights, only low and scarlet and scarlet, like an incessant bombardment. The Purificators had seen something like this before, and that's when the Squad came into its sad state of disastrous incompleteness.​

    They'll get through," the Holy Man said through gritted teeth as he inserted the last clip. The metal clanked audibly, confidently, as if to say: It's all right, master, as long as I don't run out of ammo, you're safe. Alas, it was the last clip. Two of the wagons were almost burnt out, the third and fourth were smokier, though they still served as a barrier.​

    "What's in there?! What is it!!!" Savlar howled, shouting out even the noise of the trains, the roaring sound of the flames, and the howl of the cold wind.​
    The Holy One didn't know what he was talking about at first, but then he squinted and saw. Among the wavering figures of the heretics, two shadows were sneaking around. Or rather, not sneaking, but walking quite openly, but their movements were both light, cautious, and impetuous, like those of predators. That gave the impression of cautiously hiding their prey. Features of creatures were lost, blurred in the shadows and shivering hot air, but it was clear that their height is more than a human half and a half, knees curved backward, like birds, and this further strengthened the impression of a dangerous impetuosity. And their fingers, supple as tentacles, ended in no ordinary fingernails. The other enemies fled in a hasty retreat as if startled by the approach of the creatures. The heretics screamed in thin, chirping voices, pushing each other overboard to avoid the half-birds' path.​

    "Eh, we would like to have more ammunition, promethium, and everything else," the Holy One whispered wistfully and thought that in the bad hour the leadership decided to disarm the armored trains...​

    Both figures halted before the fading veil of fire, bright purple perfectly round eyes glinting in the midst of their horned heads. Savlar shrieked like a man whose mind had been blown away by animal terror. The Sinner shook his head with sullen determination as if that would help him take better aim. The badly healed holes in his pierced lips were bleeding again, and the mute purificator looked like a ghoul with his mouth sewn shut.​

    The Holy One took a gulp, feeling his throat thirsty to the point of pain, and aimed at one of the figures, somehow confident that ordinary bullets wouldn't hurt it. The demon on the left crouched on trembling legs, clearly preparing to leap through the fire. The right one retreated a few paces as if it were taking a run-up. A sluggish heretic appeared in his path, and the dark, bright-eyed figure waved his octopus-shaped limb carelessly. The heretic's head flew off with surprising ease, like a ball, demonstrating the terrifying strength of a seemingly thin-skinned creature.​

    The Holy One exhaled through his mouth, not feeling his numb lips, his fingers trembling on the stock, stubbornly refusing to squeeze the trigger. At that moment there was a bang, loud and dry as if a thick, dried-out, frozen-through branch had snapped behind me. A lone tracer whistled over their heads. The Sinner ducked and pinned the Holy One's helmet, and right after that, a fiery knife swept over the roof.​

    It wasn't easy to get the machine gun upstairs, but Fidus and Bertha managed it. The Inquisitor pulled the belt so it wouldn't jam, and the commandant jerked the bolt and slammed it down the barrel, which was hand-signed in stubby but carefully written letters: 'The Implicator'.​

    "Fire," the mentor whispered to herself and pulled the trigger.​

    The first, single shot was a warning shot, for friends, not enemies. The friends understood instantly and ducked their heads in their yellow helmets, so Bertha immediately opened fire to kill.​

    Most of the weapons in the Squad were good old-fashioned firearms. Energy weapons were thought to be less reliable in an Immaterium breach, even though they were more powerful. But now, looking at the performance of a heavy machine gun, hardly anyone could say it was 'ineffective'. Bertha concentrated on the crouched creature, firing short - three to five rounds each so the barrel wouldn't be driven away by the recoil - but frequent bursts. The mentor rarely missed. The hits weren't as bad as they should have been, the 11-millimeter bullets producing bright purple flashes instead of fountains of blood as if they were drowning in a lean body. But the monster was visibly and palpably bad anyway, and it retreated staggering under the hail of projectiles, losing its shape like a plasticine toy blown by a hot hairdryer.​

    At last, apparently desperate, the monster jumped awkwardly, without the grace and plasticity, and collapsed heavily onto the roof of the burning wagon. Tearing through the scorched metal with its tentacles, it plummeted down, hissing and hissing. Heaving through the wreckage of scorching metal, burning and splattering drops of ichor, which evaporated in the heat, the demon made its way to the vestibule. And clutching at the suction cups on his flexible 'fingers', he tore open the solid door, opening the way to 'Radial-12'.​

    "Śubha dina!" greeted him the Priest in his native language. With a smirk on his bloody lips, he pulled the trigger of the acid cannon. Behind the monk stood Servitor Luсt with a sledgehammer at the ready.​

    The Priest reasoned that one way or another it would come hand-to-hand and, while the Inquisitor and the Commandant were setting up a machine gun, ran across the train to the 'tail' to cover the gunners on the front line. And, by the Emperor's grace, he guessed, just like a real prophet.​
    The screeching that erupted from beneath the armored walls was another cruel test for the fighters, who had already partially lost their hearing for the most part. You didn't have to look to know - the creature was finished. Fire, of course, is gracious and cleansing, but true liberation from the bonds of defiled flesh can only be granted by holy acid blessed by a holy father and seasoned in a temple for at least five days. Only the howl of a dying demon could compete in volume with the war-cry of the Priest, who felt that the Emperor himself was now leading him with his hands and giving the acid the power to destroy even the partially ghostly.​

    The second beast clearly felt insecure and yet retreated a few more steps, preparing to rush in.​

    "Ai-yi-yi-yi!!!" The Holy Man shouted, expressing all at once in a simple way: ecstasy at having defeated the spawn of Evil, bitterness at having probably run out of bullets in the machine gun, and the realization that the Priest would not have time to get to the roof and stop the other one.​

    The Sinner, sniffing through his sewn-up mouth, pulled himself up on his hands in one fell swoop, climbing out of the hatch, probably to fight the demon chest-to-chest and, no doubt, to die. But at least with honor and without shame before the All-Seeing One. Bertha, swearing, reloaded 'The Implicator', Kryptman helped, but frozen, despite the gloves, palms slid on the icy metal like unfeeling wood. The machine gunners couldn't keep up.​
    The demon swiftly flicked its multi-jawed paws and leaped much farther than its predecessor in a short burst, leaping across the fire at once. The second leap took the creature halfway across the long wagon, and a tall figure darted toward the vicious creature. The Sinner charged at the enemy like a living battering ram, shoulder outstretched. The man weighed considerably less than the demon but caught the moment when the landed creature was balancing, not yet stable. Both hovered on the edge of the wagon.​

    "Brother," the Holy Man whispered, already realizing what the comrade was up to​

    The Sinner silently wrapped his arms around the demon and pushed off, dragging his foe with him. Overboard, into the half-darkness, where the snow swirls howled. Only for an instant did the Holy One see the pale blur of the second flamethrower's face, but he could have sworn that the Sinner was smiling with unearthly happiness, like a man who had done something wicked, but who suddenly had hope of sincere forgiveness.​

    "Brother," the Holy Man repeated with cold, disobedient lips, feeling a frantic joy that his comrade had succeeded and at the same time a burning shame that he had not done it.​

    "Brother, farewell, meet me at His Throne."​

    "We're going to die," Bertha stated as she finally slammed the shutter lid shut and pulled the lever. "Half a cartridge. That won't be enough. But even if by some miracle we make it, we'll crash at the station."​

    She looked at the Squad's banner, which the wind was stubbornly and unsuccessfully trying to tear from the flagpole.​

    "Yes," Fidus agreed, struggling to pronounce the words with frozen lips. "But at least we'll die fighting, and the souls won't go to Evil."​

    "That's right," Bertha hesitated for a moment and then clapped the inquisitor on the shoulder in a way that looked almost friendly. "You're insolent, but you're brave."​

    "Brave," Fidus grinned wryly in agreement and finished to himself. Only not too clever. Rejoice, Schmettau, now your dreams will come true.

    The red sun was already a quarter of the way over the horizon, and the tundra was painted in watercolor blurred shades of white and pink. It would have been beautiful without the black columns of numerous smoke rising into the sky. Judging by them, the fires in the area numbered in the dozens.​

    "Then we finish the cartridge and..." Bertha hesitated.​

    "Yes," Fidus repeated. "The banner must be taken down while they wait."​

    The enemies were indeed hesitant, not hurrying to run through the fire, though the fire was, in truth, more symbolic. But most likely, the spectacular deaths of the two leaders had tempered the offensive impulse. Not for long, though.​

    "Do you think so?" Bertha asked as an equal.​

    "You'll wrap it around you," Kryptman expertly explained. "If they find us... then the flag will be sprinkled with the blood of a hero."​

    "Heroes," the commandant sternly corrected. "Take it off, I'm at the machine gun. Can you do it?"​

    "Yes," Kryptman mumbled once again, thinking that the main thing was to have time to shoot Olga. If he could not protect and save her, at least let her die at once and not painfully. Then he stepped to the telescopic bar with the red and white cloth, trying to figure out how to take it off quickly, but not to be dragged overboard like a sail with a man.​

    I wonder if it's possible to hide out in a tank? he asked himself and answered himself. No, I can't...

    He made it surprisingly easy and came downstairs​

    "Hey, we forgot all about you," Kryptman told the techno-priestess wearily.​

    "I see," Wakrufmann said. "Judging from what my audio sensors register, you have something to do. What are the prospects?"​

    "We're going to die now," Fidus replied, folding the banner. It was wide but surprisingly light and thin, so it wasn't a neat but liftable bale. "Well, maybe not now, but soon."​

    "It's sad."​

    "I thought you'd participate," Fidus chided the Martian, rubbing his frozen fingers. There was a short burst of fire from upstairs, apparently ending the enemy's brief period of idleness.​

    "I have my own war," Wakrufmann said flatly, rising from her chair. "The intensity of the information exchange did not allow to participate in the battle. I'm requesting help, and communication requires too much computing power."​

    "Successful?" Fidus asked without much hope.​

    "No. At least not yet."​

    "It happens. Well, we're retreating to our wagon, and there we'll fight to the last man. Then we'll lock ourselves in 'Chimera' and wait for a miracle. Are you with us?"​

    "I'm in."​

    First came the thunder. It was so terrifying that it overpowered even the heretical train siren that never stopped. It sounded more like the rustle of tearing cloth but multiplied a thousandfold. Thunder and vibration rippled through the train, echoing the rattling of nuts and the whine of teeth.​

    "What else is there..." Kryptman thought aloud and looked through the periscope again, but in vain. The sound was coming from somewhere above, above the periscope view. But the commandant machine-gunner was visible, waving her arms frantically and pointing upward.​

    Cursing everything under this sun, Fidus handed the folded banner to Jennifer and climbed back up the ladder to the hatch. The piercing wind didn't even rush into the headquarters but pressed in, hard, hard, freezing faces and hands. The roaring sound grew even louder and as if it had shifted. Snowflakes danced in the icy swirls, surprisingly white and clear for the outer ring of the industrial zone. Kryptman froze for a few seconds, only his feet in fur-lined boots stomping on the ladder rung as if the inquisitor were dancing with impatience. And then Fidus stumbled back in, brushing the frost off his thick stubble. He sat down by the muddy steps and laughed like a lunatic.​

    "Inadequate reaction," Wakrufmann said. "Have you also succumbed to the pernicious influence? Do you wish me to terminate your existence and save your soul while you retain your human form and remnants of sanity?"​

    "No..." Fidus asked, continuing to burst out with semi-hysterical laughter. "No. It's just the 'Fear Claw' that's flying over us. The 'Anvilus' model."​

    "An orbital landing ship," Jennifer chided. "The Claws are currently operated exclusively by Chaos Space Marines. Well..."​

    The techno-priestess paused, put the folded banner on the operator's desk, and finished in a very human way, even mimicking a sad sigh: "So, indeed, our time has come."​

    "No," Fidus burst out laughing again. 'You don't understand. It's Anvylus, but it's not heretics."​

    Kryptman stood up wearily, heavily, shivering, partly from the cold, partly from nervous exhaustion. The Inquisitor's face was already rectangular, with sharp features, and now it seemed carved out of stone or hard wood - not a smooth line at all.​

    "In my father's diaries it was called 'cavalry over the hills,'" said Fidus. "Though I have no idea what the hills have to do with it..."​

    "Keep your head down!" shouted the Holy Man and set the example himself.​

    The howling thing, which looked like a huge pole with claws, hovered for a moment, spewing a column of fire, and then, thrusting its thrusters, came in confidently from the double formation's 'head', like an attack aircraft preparing to 'comb' its target with cannons. Whoever was sitting at the levers of the Chaos machine, his pilot's skill was great, because not every atmospheric pilot could maneuver at such a speed at an altitude of not more than fifty meters, and certainly not a landing capsule.​

    The 'Claw' performed a classic slide, hovered for a moment, and began to descend vertically, very quickly, literally falling. The Holy Man shrieked with delight as he realized what the unknown pilot was about to do. The capsule was equipped with a cannon system, which allowed to bombard the train, but the unknown man (or not a man? who knows...) decided the issue differently and more radically, not dispensing with artillery.​

    The ship descended strictly over the tail wagons of the 'Twelfth,' with the precision of a jeweler or a Martian, leveling the speed so that the difference was no more than five or six kilometers. And, as the final point in a beautiful and surprising combination, the seemingly harmless, dazzling white lights of the melta lit up at the aft engines of the capsule. The enemy locomotive and the 'Sixty-four's wagons passed under a rocket torch of about four thousand degrees and the fire of torches designed to crush the multimeter armor of open-space warships.​

    One could say that it was 'bright', 'spectacular', 'scary', and many other epithets, but all of them would be only a pale shadow of what happened in reality. The technique of space boarding, transferred to a different environment, worked extremely effectively. It was no longer a noise or even a rumble, but a full-fledged acoustic shock, itself capable of killing and smashing. Fire rose into the brightening sky in a solid wave for dozens of meters, pieces of red-hot metal flew like the explosion of a superpowered bomb, and splashes of molten steel erupted like magma from a volcano's mouth. Surprisingly, the heretical banner lasted a few moments, the unholy symbols glowing a piercing purple, like writings scorched in all worlds at once. Yet even evil sorcery surrendered to the cleansing flames.​

    After letting the 'Sixty-four' pull itself through the killing fire, the 'Claw' rose a little higher, and finally, it was time for the guns, and in the ideal position for firing, when no correction for lateral displacement of the target was necessary. Only two of the five guns could fire the train because of the vertical position of the capsule, but it was enough. In other circumstances, the armor would have argued with a shell, but the steel plates were torn off and melted by the greedy claws of the exhaust and torches. 'Radial-64,' the unfortunate train victim of Evil, was over in every sense in less than half a minute.​

    The Holy Man picked up his sagging jaw and thought that the Emperor's angels must be strong and powerful if they were fighting... on these things.​
    Behind the triplexes, the industrial-city buildings were already glimpsed. Bertha lowered the machine gun and jumped down heavily, hanging onto her arms and bypassing the ladder, maybe out of badassness, maybe for fear of slipping.​

    "Wakrufmann, how much?" Kryptmann called out.​

    "It's nine kilometers to the terminal station," the tech-priestess said after a short pause.​

    Either she understood what Fidus was thinking, or the inquisitor and the Martian's thoughts were moving in the same direction, because Jennifer continued:​

    "Our natural braking distance will be about three and a half kilometers. But in two kilometers there is an unloading station and a shunting branch."​
    "Is it possible to unload the 'Chimera' there? Is the height of the platform enough?" Fidus quickly clarified, counting in his mind how much time they had. It came out to something like two minutes, but Kryptmans were famous for their lack of capable mathematics.​

    "Yes. On command, you must use the emergency brake."​

    "We will," Bertha promised, feeling the tears welling up in her eyes. Truly, what more proof is needed that the Emperor is with them and His power is great? Bertha had removed the top half of her jumpsuit and was now hastily wrapping a folded Squad banner over her sweater.​

    In the meantime, the ship had gone somewhere else, high enough, judging by the fading rumble. Maybe the capsule had taken the crew on some business of its own, or maybe the pilot was looking for a place to land.​

    "But who could have flown in on the Chaos shit and saved us?" Bertha asked.​

    "There is one... Warrior of the Emperor. He gutted the Claw from a rebel conversion ship that had been shot down and drifted through space for thousands of years. Made a personal runabout out of it," Fidus replied, remembering where the first aid kit was. The Wretched Man was bracing and silent before he went to help his comrades, but he didn't look well. He needed at least an immobilizing bandage on his torso. He sure the others was hurt, too.​

    "And why?"​

    "Because he could."​

    "Whoever partakes of the heretical, even in a small way, walks on the edge and resembles a heretic himself. His moral qualities are questionable," said Bertha thoughtfully.​

    "Perhaps," Fidus agreed wholeheartedly. "But today he brought us salvation."​

    "Well, then we'll thank him for it if we can," the commandant decided with absolute seriousness as she buttoned up her overalls. The already tall, dense mentor seemed spindly when she was wrapped in the banner. "But I wouldn't turn my back on such a type."​

    Kryptman chuckled again, noting the surrealism of the moment - a theological discussion in a dilapidated armored train without a locomotive, among the rattling and grinding of crumbling elements, with blood splattering, sparking wires, and flashing red emergency lights. Well, inquisitors have had to debate the boundaries of good and evil in far more exotic places.​

    "It's time to grab the emergency brake lever," Jennifer's head recommended.​

    "Colleagues, who will take on the honor of completing our short but exciting run?" Kryptman inquired and answered himself. "I think it's the commander's honor and position."​

    Bertha squinted, wondering if she should punch the guy in the ear, but realized that Fidus was in an emotional tailspin with excessive verbosity. A normal reaction for a man - even if he is an inquisitor - after such adventures and in anticipation of new ones, not less, and probably even more exciting. So the Mentor limited herself to a gruff wish to turn the valve of verbal diarrhea and with both hands took hold of a large red lever with a lead seal on a steel string.​

    "Thirty seconds. We're losing speed quickly, but the shake will be noticeable," Jennifer warned.​

    "I'm starting to get used to it," Kryptman squeezed out. "You count very nicely."​

    "Don't piss!" sternly ordered Bertha, literally quoting the Priest. "The Emperor hasn't covered us so many times already, so we won't die for anything. We will die no sooner or later than He measured!?​

    "Twenty," Wakrufmann began another countdown.​

    Kryptman sincerely hoped that this time it would be easier. The jerks and blows endured by the armored train were surprisingly painful. The Inquisitor's bones ached, especially the bones that had already been broken at the Ballistic Station.​


    How's Olga? Fidus thought belatedly. I hope she overstayed her welcome in the car.

    The mutilated armored train, fuming and losing its falling off parts, rolled on its inertia in the densely built-up area. Concrete walls with barbed wire on rebar supports towered on either side of the double track, blocking the way for the pushy. But they did not prevent you from seeing what was going on in 'City-22'. And there, by all appearances, nothing good awaited the small group.​


    And Bertha grasped the lever tighter.​
    * * *​
    ATP and Bogdan like this.
  3. Threadmarks: The Squad Chapter 28

    RiP Seeker of Silence

    Jul 8, 2017
    Likes Received:
    Chapter 28

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    Olga's mind was a little fuzzy, the effects of her otherworldly misadventures and her ghostly friends. When the first fuse had passed, and Demetrius had taken a good slap for his perverted advances, the girl had literally been cut down by fatigue. Exhaustion turned out to be complex, making her muscles turn to wood and her thoughts turn to jelly. Olga wrapped herself in overalls and a foil blanket like cabbage crammed herself under a bench in the tank and tried not to think about anything, not to be afraid of anything. The 'not to be afraid' thing turned out badly, everything around was rumbling, making a hell of a lot of noise and it was very scary. Even through the armor, there was a kind of death roar, sirens, horrible screams. The driver was firing his cannon, showering the metal floor with hot casings that looked like tall brass cups. The train, and consequently the track car, was pounding as if a giant was trying to shake the car in a mixer.​

    Then a complete light show began. The armored train barely jumped on the tracks like a saiga, banging even louder than the previous one. And it seemed to Olga that a real airplane was howling right above the train. The girl wrapped herself up tightly in the blanket and began to pray silently to the 'dear God', poorly understanding who exactly she was calling out to. However, some god must exist here, and the prayer had a chance of getting to the right place, even if it was 'to the grandfather's village'.​

    And again there followed a heavy blow, then the train jerked, but without the extremity of the previous minutes, one might say - gently, so that the girl was not struck against the rack of the iron bench, but only symbolically bumped, most likely, even without a bruise will do. The moment of braking pressed the girl into the metal, the piercing scrape of the wheels against the rails coming through several layers of armor. Then a series of jolts went from head to tail - the wagon couplings one by one took on the mass of the armored train, dampening the inertia. Finally, the 'Radial-12' came to a halt.​

    "God shows mercy," the girl finished her prayer in a whisper and thought it was time for the adventures to stop. There was too much going on all at once.​

    She was determined not to get out of the tank, moreover, she would not stick her nose out of the blanket until the shitty adventure was over, preferably well, so that everyone remained alive and well. Even the evil bodybuilder. And the noseless poet. And Kryp, the hell with him. Everybody, everybody, everybody.​

    "Dear God, save us, please, what is it worth to you, huh?" she whispered. Her mind kept turning to 'at least me,' and she repeated with determination (as much as she could in a tragic whisper). "Save us."​

    "Ah, damn!" Kryp cursed, and slammed his fist into the armor plate in an angry rage, making Demetrius' bag jump. The orderly, who had been bandaging Driver's bloody head, shrugged angrily. Demetrius's face froze with guilt, for the driver had been injured dragging the stunned medic into the hatch. It was unclear what had hit the driver's head, most likely a piece of metal, or maybe a lump of earth, frozen to a ringing hardness.​

    Driver was saved by a hat and a tank helmet, and they self-defended the blow to the point that he was just lucky to get a fractured skull and a loss of consciousness. Demetrius promised that Driver would be alive and in moderate health... but not now, not even today. Thus the tiny squad lost another fighter, and in worse tactical shape - a useless wounded man who should have been taken care of by diverting the forces of the living and healthy. Most importantly, the tank was left without a driver. Bertha could drive the 'Chimera' a little bit, but everyone in the squad understood that 'a little bit' would not be enough here.​

    "I'll drive," the mentor-commandant summed up, her lips pressed together stubbornly, and everyone silently agreed that there was no choice. After all, the Emperor protects.​

    "Is there really no way... him...?" Savlar gurgled, pointing a finger black with mud at the Driver.​

    Demetrius couldn't hear, the medic seemed to have gone completely deaf. The Priest touched him by the shoulder and pointed to the Driver, the army medicine bag, then raised his eyebrows expressively.​

    "I do my best," Demetrius said succinctly, speaking slowly and stiffly as if he'd been drinking heavily. "But he not a fighter. He couldn't walk, nausea, and cramps. We'll have to drag him anyway."​

    "I see," the monk replied, repeating Kryptman's gesture, only he slapped his hand instead of slapping the metal, then commanded. "Let's load up!"​

    "We have to hurry," Kryptman said, looking at the radiation detector attached to the stairs to the second floor. "Sixty-four's reactor is probably intact and automatically shut down, or we'd be gone by now. But all the rigging and pipes are apparently broken, and the radiation is getting stronger. We have about ten minutes, then..."​

    He didn't finish, but what he said was clear. The arrow was jumping on the border between the green and yellow zones of the scale, but with each fluctuation, it lingered in the yellow zone longer and longer. Considering that there was no red bar on the scale, it made sense to heed the Inquisitor's advice.​

    "I'll drive," Bertha said again, judging by her facial expression and tone she was convincing herself rather than informing the others.​

    "I'll drive."​

    "A techno priestess appeared from the wagon, clutching the talking head busily under her arm. Berta could barely contain a sigh of relief."​

    "Where is Olga?" Wackruffmann was just as businesslike.​

    "Here!" came a low voice from the womb of the tank. "Either asleep or frightened.​

    "Well, she's excused," muttered Crybaby, wiping the elf's dirty face with tears.​

    Jennifer solemnly handed the head to Savlar and walked around the tank, intending to climb into the open hatch of the vehicle. The convict nearly dropped his precious cargo and stared at the crumpled steel skull in disbelief. Above the wagon rumbled again, the noise was already quite familiar and reassuring, reminding us that in the mad city the squads have at least some support.​

    "Coming in for a landing," Kryp pointed out. "Looks like it'll land about a hundred meters... there," he waved his hand to indicate an azimuth. "We'll head that way first, maybe he can cover us with his guns. He might be able to tell us something."​

    What's there to clarify," Bertha grumbled, trying, with the Holy Man's support, to shove the 'Implicator' through the hatch. "Go ahead and punish."​

    However, the commander did not argue much.​

    "It's a bit of a mess," the Priest summed up. "On the other hand, we're purificators, not guardsmen. So it's not bad if you look at it."​

    "Creative impromptu," Kryptman added. "Well, into the vehicle, everybody. Father, help me open the board. Let's try to roll right onto the platform."​

    "Please," the monk agreed and looked sadly at the tank, then at the chemical cannon sprayer. Bertha, I suppose, came to similar conclusions and ordered through her teeth to the Holy Man. "Stick the machine gun back out! It's empty anyway... We'll clean it up when it's done. Acid is more important."​

    Kryptman wanted to jump onto the Chimera's armor with a good show of skill and ease, but he almost fell down and climbed heavily, with the slow movements of a tired man.​

    "Olga, are you alive?" he called into the open ammunition hatch at the rear of the tower. From inside, after a long pause, an indecipherable voice answered in Olga's voice.​

    "Oh," Jennifer's head mouthed quite humanly, and Savlar almost dropped it again with fright. "I think we're in trouble."​

    "Of course," the Priest grinned widely and sadly at the same time. "Not a minute without a challenge."​

    A quick check and a short explanation by Wakrufmann showed that the problem, despite its apparent humor, was serious indeed. The 'Chimera's' optics were out of order, the machine could now be operated 'from the hatch'. But the long, only a head shorter than Kryptman - Driver did not fit well in the driver's seat of the Chimera and had long ago remade it for himself. He had unscrewed something, twisted something, and trimmed it with a gas cutter, and then welded it on for safety. As a result, the chair was lower than it was structurally and comfortable - to Driver's measure. But Jennifer, whose height was a little over one and a half meters, simply could not reach her head to the hatch cut. The techno-priestess announced the nature of the difficulty and stared silently with her skull on the seat, either calculating something or overwhelmed with problems.​

    "And if you stand up... or throw something on a chair..." the monk suggested and then stumbled back. "Yes, you can't reach the pedals that way..."​

    The Wretched Man, gray with pain, hissed out a few muffled curses. The Savlar seemed about to cry again. But Crybaby, against his custom, did not weep. He silently walked over to Jennifer and removed the glasses from her bony head, carefully dislodging the safety wire. Wakrufmann reacted, but belatedly; the flamethrower, like a midget dancer, dodged the steel arms.​

    "Let's put it on the blonde," said Crybaby. "It'll be the eyes for you."​

    "Give it back," Jennifer asked very politely. "It's a silly joke."​

    "I'm not kidding," the flamethrower murmured thinly, squeakily, but confidently from the depths of his usual scarf. "The glasses are receiving and transmitting images, aren't they?"​


    "But you can't see them directly, right? You need some kind of intermediary from whose head you're going to take the picture."​

    "Yes. Conflict of protocols, there was no time to fix it."​

    "So there you go. She's going to look. She's got your gears in her head, like a servo. And you'll be pulling levers, pushing pedals."​

    "But..." The gurgling voice from the 'pot' was silenced almost halfway through.​

    Jennifer froze like a statue for five seconds, then busily climbed into her seat, clacking her metal fingers on the armor with words:​

    "Functional solution. A critical but acceptable level of risk. I am ashamed that the obvious solution was prompted from the outside, and not even by an adept of Omnissia."​

    "Are you sure you can handle it?" Savlar hurriedly threw after her. "There's... there's... levers and buttons and stuff!"​

    "I'll handle it," answered the head in the hands of the noseless man. "I am already familiar with the spirit of this machine, it favors me and does not want to end up in a radioactive coffin, not far from the desecrated machinery."​

    Bertha looked around the wagon, or rather the hangar part of it, where the remaining fighters had gathered around the 'Chimera'. By some miracle, the backup power grid was on, and instead of the red emergency light under the high ceiling, the normal lights came back on. They blinked and chirped, clearly balancing on the edge of overload, but the light was enough.​

    "Well, the biggest thing is ahead of us," she said quietly, more to herself.​

    "I don't want to," the girl whined wistfully. "I don't want to!"​

    "We must," Fidus said with soft insistence.​

    "Go fuck yourself," Olga demanded firmly from under the blanket.​

    It was as usual in the tank, that is, dim, warm, noisy, anxious. It was very crowded and very damp - a lot of people and a lot of melting snow on the soles. It reeked of something peppery and sour, and, for some reason, burnt paint. Someone was moaning through their teeth, and Demetrius was saying something about how to put the unconscious man down, and he was saying it too loudly and slowly.​

    "Execute if you want," the girl decided sullenly. "The rest without me."​

    The tank engine rumbled louder, the driver's compartment tinkled, the gears of the gearbox grinding. Obviously, Wackruffmann was getting the hang of the controls, still by touch.​

    "Olga," Fidus said quietly. "I know it's a lot to ask. But we need you."​

    "Nobody needs me," she muttered bitterly from under the covers.​

    "We need you," Kryptman repeated. "All of us. And now we're lost without you. All of us."​

    He was already thinking that he would have to use force and pull the girl out from under the bench, but the corner of the thin blanket reclined on its own.​

    "Really?" Olga asked incredulously.​

    Once again the girl surprised him. Kryptman was prepared for her refusal to serve as a periscope for the techno priestess, but the blond girl merely sniffed her nose and nodded silently. This was so unexpected that Fidus suddenly clarified it:​

    "Are you sure?"​

    And he almost added 'it's dangerous!'​

    "I'm sure," the girl said and wiped her bleeding nose. The Priest silently held out his handkerchief to her and quietly reminded her, incomprehensibly to Fidus:​

    "It's the second one."​

    Olga smiled involuntarily through her tears and nodded with words:​

    "What do I have to do?"​

    The Priest handed her a helmet, not an ordinary novice helmet, but a real, military helmet, like the Nazis in the movies. Strangely, the helmet seemed noticeably heavier than the construction helmet, but it was much better balanced and generally sat comfortably on her head. Olga was literally dragged through the soft cramped space, where there were many painfully hard protrusions from equipment and weapons. Driver was shoved into the vacated space; he was either wounded or killed, at any rate, bandaged like a wounded man, and lay silent as a dead man. Olga with her naughty fingers put on her glasses, to which she never had time to get used to.​

    "It doesn't work," she muttered in a broken voice. "What am I supposed to do?"​

    "It's going to work. Watch," Crybaby recommended exhaustively. "Get in the tower."​

    The opening hatch clanked and clattered. Olga had never looked at it so closely and only now noticed that the tank hatch was a rather complicated construction, something like a flat turret, which could rotate, and the actual lid was hinged in two parts in different directions. Looking up from below, Crybaby suggested how to lock one part in the raised position so that it covered the back. There were spots of rust clearly visible on the metal, which Driver had not kept track of.​

    "Think of you as an operator," Fidus explained quickly. "Jennifer sees what you see. So watch the course and listen to her instructions."​

    Olga looked at Jennifer's detached head, which the noseless man was clutching tightly, and the girl shuddered. Kryptman, meanwhile, also squeezed through the already cramped hatch.​

    "What do you want?" Olga got agitated.​

    The tank engine revved up, even more, the panels sliding aside rattled, revealing the outside world, smoky, reeking of smoke and burnt flesh, colored by the fires. Fidus silently straddled the girl from behind, resting his long legs on special pedal-like ledges. Olga suddenly found herself acceptably settled. Kryptman held her, serving as a shock absorber and taking all the jolts, his arms covered the girl from the sides, her helmet sat comfortably on her head. Only the spectacles seemed dead, pressing uselessly against the bridge of her nose. Taking advantage of the fact that her fingers were free, Olga grasped the frame firmly, so as not to be thrown off by the jerk.​

    "Get ready, we're going to move," Jennifer hummed from Savlarz's hands, and again the gears rattled shrilly, the priestess not yet accustomed to the mechanism. Servitor Luct didn't even try to climb into the tank but grabbed tightly to the brackets on the stern, designed for towing. The sledgehammer hung on the servitor's back in a hastily improvised sling of ordinary rope.​

    "Everything will be all right," Fidus said softly in the girl's ear.​

    "Yeah," she agreed, though, of course, she didn't believe his promise one bit. But after thinking for a second or two, Olga added. "Thank you," she thought a little more and finished her thought. "For everything."​

    "Always at your service," she could not see his face, but it was clear from his tone that he was smiling.​

    And Olga again thought that these strange people - cruel, fanatical, sullen, unpleasant in communication, who burned a scout in front of the formation - must be the most decent of all the people she had met in her short life. Now, instead of fleeing as far away as possible, they are ready to go to hell, because for them the Duty is not an empty word. In their emperor, they believe quite sincerely. And this faith, albeit alien as it may be, helped Olga herself escape from the mad maze.​

    They have faith. They have a duty. What's it got to do with me? It's not my world. Not my war, not my faith. The oath read hastily from a sheet of paper, is not binding because it is not my choice. I am not a volunteer, and an oath forged under the pain of beatings and death does not count. So why am I here, in the most dangerous place, standing there like a dick? Voluntarily.​

    Olga thought about it while the carriage was opening. She couldn't think of anything, only images of an empty house and old toys kept coming to mind. The owners would never pick up a woman knight with a crooked but painstakingly drawn shamrock on her doll's face. Or a hand-carved wooden emperor painstakingly painted in yellow watercolor.​

    This is bad. And it shouldn't be.​

    The sun was rising in the smoky sky and shining surprisingly bright. The wind died down, either of its own accords, or it was being dampened by the dense building. It was warm outside the Radial, out of season, and even the muddy puddles were in no hurry to be covered by a film of ice. In this part of the city the fighting, or a rather senseless massacre, had already raged, scattering bodies, staining the black snow and concrete with stains of unfreezing blood. The main fighting was taking place to the side and closer to the center of the city, where, judging by the rhythmic rumble, heavy artillery was working. A group of bombers swooped overhead, coming in for a combat turn. If the red half-hull emblems were to be believed, the vehicles belonged to Mars. Through the nearby buildings lay a black clearing scorched by the 'Claw,' which descended not rocket-style, strictly top-down, but in a counter-attack maneuver, like an airplane.​

    The capsule's landing torch shattered the houses in its path like a flaming sword. The Claw protruded ahead, a thick cylinder about fifteen meters high, on supports that resembled claws indeed. All five of the capsule's artillery barrels bounced bright yellow flashes, eliminating any threat, and by all appearances, the fire was covering the 'Chimera' as well, or maybe even the train.​

    The tank rolled out onto the unloading platform, clanking loudly on the concrete with its tracks. The machine moved 'nervously', twitching around corners, but more or less confidently. The spirit favored the crew and smoothed out the inept driving to the best of his ability. No one objected when Jennifer steered the 'Chimera' toward the unexpected and unknown savior. The two figures, seemingly very small against the background of the flying machine, had already descended and stood waiting, careless, out of place here, in the midst of a city engulfed in chaos and violence.​

    "Well, of course," Fidus muttered as he looked at the figures at the Claw's base. "How nice to be right..."​

    He squeezed Olga tighter in his arms, taking the abundant blows and thrusts that turned the inquisitor's body into one solid bruise. Fidus longed for a hot bath and a good massage. At the very least, a warm shower under which he could fall asleep.​

    Approaching the landing unit, the 'Chimera' made a sound remarkably similar to a loud sneeze and stopped.​

    "Whoever you are, peace be upon you, worthy servants of the Emperor!" The Priest proclaimed, awkwardly climbing out. Then he spoke in a more businesslike and substantive manner. "Shall we go and ripe the Evil ass together? You have more guns than we do."​

    "Hello, Schmettau," Kryptman greeted from the tower. "I'm surprised to say it myself, but I'm glad to see you."​

    "Good morning to you too, colleagues," Kalkroit Schmettau bowed with a slight ceremonial manner. "I'm glad we made it in time. I don't deny that the Ecclesiarchy's gratitude is appreciated, but there's a time for everything. The perimeter has been cleared for some time, so let's discuss the plan ahead."​

    Looking at the pair of new arrivals, Bertha felt envy, undignified but understandable. Both tall and short were dressed in what looked like semi-rigid, obviously armored spacesuits with exoskeleton inserts. The gear looked spectacular and new, nothing like the Squad's usual ammunition, which had served for decades while undergoing permanent repairs. The tall and bald fighter was armed with something resembling a multimelta, very light and graspable, clearly hand-assembled. Bertha grudgingly snorted, suspecting the work of xenos. Humans couldn't pack that much destructive power into such a small volume. On the belt of the second inquisitor hung a hell gun, a long-standing and unfulfilled dream of the mentor.​

    Kryptman whispered in Olga's ear 'sit here,' and jumped to the concrete, writhing from the pain in his knees. He came closer to his colleagues in the difficult profession.​

    "Why we haven't been affected by the destructive impact, I understand in general terms," said Fidus, looking down at Schmettau. "But how did you keep your sanity? And where is your retinue? Though..." Kryptmann glanced at Essen Pale's scarred, shaved skull. -" think I understand. 'My light twin' technology?"​

    "Yes. An unpleasant but useful surgery" replied Schmettau with a secular smile. The Inquisitor still looked ridiculous, his good-natured face strongly incongruous with the boarding suit, and the melta gun on his belt looked like a masquerade toy. Only Kalkroit's eyes glowed, giving away his sinister nature.​

    "My loyal companion is completely immune to any manifestation of warp activity. It was a consequence of an old astropath experiment, they tried to grow a special gland right on his brain tissue. I figured I could use it, he didn't mind, understanding the value of his gift."​

    "So you..." Kryptman expressively moved his fingers in opposite directions, as if pointing two roads at once.​

    "Yes. Part of his brain was transplanted to me, and vice versa. So we have a kind of metaphysical symbiosis. At close range, his invulnerability to the Immaterium extends to me. But, unfortunately, only me. That's why I sent the ship and the retinue away; they are of no use here."​

    "A great sacrifice," Fidus shook his head. "A mutilated mind."​

    "I was a volunteer," Essen smiled condescendingly. "You wouldn't understand."​

    "Yes, it's hard to understand," Kryptman agreed.​

    "That's why you're not an inquisitor," Kalkroit said angrily. "Essen is essentially the same as Luct. A man devoted to service, devoted to the Emperor. Ready to make any sacrifice to make the service even better, even more effective. Luct gave up his free will and his posthumous peace to become your father's shield. Essen gave up a brilliant career and sacrificed a sophisticated mind to protect me. It was a conscious sacrifice for something supreme."​

    The Priest and Bertha looked at each other with a look of extreme impatience but decided that fuck it, let them discuss their old differences, it would be more expensive to interfere, let alone hurry.​

    "Bring me up to date," Fidus asked curtly, or rather demanded. "You seem to know more than I do."​

    Schmettau glared at the young vis-a-vis with an unkind look, but answered nonetheless: "If we compare..."​

    He paused as if the inquisitor was physically painful and ashamed to describe the spectacular failure of his colleagues, even though Kalkroit himself had nothing to do with it.​

    "... It looks like they tried to organize a 'Duo in uno' ritual here."​

    "Oops!" Kryptman said with a vulgar exclamation. "They experimented on a pregnant astropath?"​

    Bertha straightened up like a stung woman, the Priest huffed and muttered something like 'fucking freaks,' and the rest of the squad who heard the words cringed in disgust. The Purificators were used to seeing the filth that heresy and witchcraft raised from the depths of human souls, but some things can horrify even the most steadfast.​

    "Yes. The idea is that if you prepare and kill her in a special way literally during the birth process, a lot of 'subtle energy' will be released. Especially if the unborn child also has a gift. Apparently, they managed. Almost managed."​

    "Such freaks," the Priest repeated with sincere hatred, and thought aloud, pulling on his plastic chain mail. "So that's where all these... incongruities. A very long ritual?"​

    "Yes," Kalkroit confirmed. "They conducted an elaborate ritual grid, organized sacrifices, sucked the energy of the warp, literally pumping the victim... or a volunteer. Or more likely a victim. It was all about synergy. But it was too much. The generic fighting caused such an uproar that the Immaterium burst uncontrollably."​

    "Labor pains," Kriptman repeated. "Of course... Rhythm!"​

    "I remembered because I'd seen it before when I was... help delivered a baby," Schmettau wrinkled as if the memory were unpleasant to him.​

    "A self-sustaining vortex?" Fidus suggested. "A permanent gateway to the other side that pulses according to the imprinted rhythm?"​

    "Maybe," Schmettau nodded. "But I'd bet on a 'looped host'. An anchored portal, tied to a shell with a destroyed soul. Anyway, there's pure Warp energy flowing through some entity into our world, and you can't close the breach until the entity is destroyed."​

    "Well, we won't see, we won't know," Kryptman sighed. "But I'm afraid I can't get you in the vehicle, much less the two of you."​

    "Unload the wounded," Schmettau didn't seem to have any intention of discussing the subject at all and certainly thought the two inquisitors were worth the whole crew. "Get rid of the useless ones."​

    "And we can't... it's... just fly over... over there?" Savlar took the risk of making a suggestion.​

    "We can't," said Schmettau, without condescending to explain.​

    "Poor woman," the shepherd said sadly.​

    "Or a criminal volunteer," said Inquisitor Schmettau's hitherto silent tall companion. His voice was unpleasant, dry, and raspy.​

    "It's not a woman."​

    The low, timid voice was lost in the background at first, and not many people heard it. But Kalkroit was accustomed to noticing what was hidden from others, and the inquisitor froze and held up two fingers, calling for silence.​

    "Say it again, if you please," he asked with deceptive gentleness, looking kindly at Olga.​

    The girl got off the tank and hid behind Kryp, just in case. She remembered this short man with kind eyes well. He interrogated her only once, did not even raise his voice, was always polite and smiling, but the older man's smile reeked of the coldness of the grave. Olga remembered the feeling that she was being buried alive - the polite interrogator had twisted everything so cleverly and cunningly that the interrogator turned out in the report to be a hardened sinner, who had almost single-handedly led the naive inquisitor Kryptman to his ignominious death.​

    "It's not a woman," Olga whispered again.​

    "I don't understand," Kalkroit frowned.​

    "Perhaps the lass wants to say that it is the intrigues of the Slaaneshites?" suggested the inquisitor's taciturn companion. "Getting a man pregnant, that's their style. The hormonal combination could lead to curious results."​

    "Relax," Kryptman turned around, confidently, and gently placed his broad palm on the girl's shoulder. "What do you mean? Speak clearly, don't be afraid."​

    Olga swallowed and tried not to look into the cold hypnotic eyes of the evil investigator. She concentrated on Fidus' words, as well as her own memories.​

    The cries of the poor Madman. He saw more than the average man. He wanted to warn, but he couldn't lost in the mazes of madness.​

    The otherworldly cry that sounded in the cursed house. Then the girl heard the hopeless despair of a woman who was mortally afraid for her life.​

    Olga's subconscious is reflected in Jennifer's image. It, too, felt much more than the limited mind. All she had to do was to listen to the voice. To understand that, in fact, it was a mother's fear for her unborn...​

    "Baby," she said.​

    Olga thought that now the angry man was going to get hold of her and start cornering her again with tricky questions. And Fidus... Probably leave her again, because colleagues with a badge in the form of a single stick Kryptman, it seemed, were more afraid than demons and other creepy things. But instead of being tricky, the inquisitors exchanged glances, shook their heads at once.​

    "Uh..." Bertha dared to cut in. "Isn't it time to bring death in His name?"​

    Fidus raised his hand warningly, calling for restraint and patience, and said softly, apparently quoting something:​

    "Haste in our business is more detrimental than procrastination."​

    And he added:​

    "We have no army behind us, not even a squad of loyal acolytes. We can strike only once, and only for sure."​

    "A child. A baby," Schmettau thought aloud. "That sounds reasonable. Perhaps that was the idea... Not 'two in one', but to breed a unique psyker of incredible power. And they succeeded... but the heretics couldn't hold on to what they'd created."​

    "A baby, kept alive by his powers," the scarred warrior picked up on the thought. "He's probably pulling energy from the Warp too, maybe through his mother's body. And he's hitting the area."​

    Olga squeezed Fidus' hand tightly, wondering how to tell those evil freaks how wrong they were. And it was as if Kryptman read her thoughts through body contact.​

    "It doesn't," said Fidus. "It's not a conscious act. The newborn has left its mother's womb, exhausted, in pain, scared, alone, for the mother is most likely dead. And there is an abyss of Immaterium nearby. The child just screams in endless terror. But this is the cry of a psyker, perhaps the strongest in the galaxy..."​

    "Perhaps this version explains everything," Shmettau snapped his armored gloved fingers audibly. "And the rhythm, the directionless impact, and the thoughtless operation of the sheer force. Well..."​

    The Inquisitor looked imperiously at the small squad. The Claw's homing artillery was silent, only the cannons' trunks unfolded in a relentless search for new targets.​

    "One way or another, we have one path. As His faithful servants, we must stop it. At any cost."​

    "Shall we ask for help?" Just in case, Kryptman clarified, but, judging by the tone, the question was asked more as a formality.​

    "The satellite link is dead," Shmettau shook his head. "We'll spend hours just to get through to the leaders of the Arbiter Fortress or the Inquisitors. Then explanations, arguments, approvals, rearranging plans. At best, we'll start by evening."​

    "During this time, the psyker will completely depopulate the region, and we'll have problems on a global scale," Kryptman agreed. "Well, that's as usual, then."​

    "No one except us," Schmettau smiled faintly, clearly remembering something good and warm, but immediately frowning as if the memory had hurt.​

    "You will kill... the baby?" Olga asked in a whisper, squeezing Fidus' palm with both hands. "You mustn't. It is not right."​

    Schmettau did not dignify her with a reply. He looked expressively at Bertha. The commandant humbled herself, finally feeling the certainty and clarity of the task.​

    "Let's leave Driver here and..." she thought for a moment. "The Wretched Man. We'll swap two sick people for two healthy ones."​

    "I am healthy," said the Wretched Man, but the earthy color of his face and heavy breathing clearly indicated the opposite.​

    "Give them here," ordered the inquisitor. "We'll put them in the weapon section. They can shoot themselves there if we don't succeed."​

    "Nobody except us," Fidus repeated. "I don't remember who came up with that motto, you or Dad?"​

    But Schmettau did not dignify his companion's attention. He looked silently and intently at the center of the city, the final point of the mission and the center of the fierce battle between the Martians and the unknown enemy.​

    * * *​
    Bogdan and ATP like this.
  4. Threadmarks: The Squad Chapter 29

    RiP Seeker of Silence

    Jul 8, 2017
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    Chapter 29

    * * *​

    "Original," said Schmettau, when he saw the tech-priestess with a servo skull taped to her head. Jennifer didn't dignify him with a response, or maybe she just didn't hear him.​

    Both outside inquisitors strapped carbines to the sides of the Chimera, Schmettau on the right, Essen on the left. The Priest with the acid cannon leaned up to his waist out of the gunner's hatch, and Crybaby with the flamethrower in the stern. Thus, the armored vehicle was bristling with weapons on all sides, and the interior was suddenly spacious. Demetrius quickly counted the remaining medical ammunition and hastily replenished the supply from the Chimera's medicine chest. Bertha wanted to raise the Squad's banner over the vehicle and cursed, realizing that improvising a flagpole would take too long.​

    "Let's go!" Jennifer proclaimed at the limit of the speaker's power.​

    The tech-priestess's specific way of driving could be called, with some convention, 'giddy'. The levers, which the Driver often moved with both hands, Wakrufmann tugged with seeming ease, almost with the tips of her steel fingers. The spirit of the machine, encased in the engine, sang energetically a hymn of rage, obeying the Martian as if she were her own. It must be assumed that the spirit also kept the caterpillars from rupturing the links because the rattle of the catches on the tracks and the shower of sparks accompanied the Chimera like the rattling of a tin can on a string. Wakrufmann was drifting the thirty-five-ton machine like a street racer. The crew caught on the outside didn't fly off the armor just because of the safety harness, and those inside were bobbing like marbles in a jar. Considering the contingent, the purificators did not hesitate to express their attitude to what was happening. However, the fierce swearing was not so much the expression of hatred to the driver, as venting the soul in general.​

    It was Luct and Kryptman who had the hardest time. The servitor held on the armor solely by the strength of his mechanized arms, and several times nearly went free-flying, clinging only by miracle and the goodwill of the Omnissia. A look of grim fatalism and willingness to endure lingered on the dead servant's face. Fidus had to restrain himself and protect Olga. The girl screamed nonstop, but, judging by her tone, not so much from horror as from an excess of emotion. There really was a lot to see.​

    The malevolent impact of the hostile force affected all residents in one way or another, but in different ways, depending on location, willpower, surroundings, and a host of other factors. Some part of the law enforcers, as well as ordinary citizens, retained enough reason and common sense to try to organize some kind of self-defense. They would still have been overwhelmed by a wave of madmen and mutants, but here the Martians came to the rescue. No one knows what the pot-heads wanted or why they had brought so many troops to Beacon, but every last bit of them came in handy. Only thanks to the army of the Machine God, City-22 has not yet fallen, crushed by the onslaught of the Immaterium.​

    There was indiscriminate fighting all over the city, and to the west, on the ocean side, something grand and massive continued to rumble. There the red bushes of mighty explosions were blowing incessantly, and the smoke threatened to pierce the gray-black sky. Apparently, the Martians were unloading airplane bomb bays and volume-blast cassettes there without interruption, but so far, it seemed, in vain. Unseen behind the buildings, the enemy was approaching.​

    "Please, keep it steady," Jennifer asked, and her steady voice sounded in the midst of the horrors, like the voice of an angel, indifferent to passions and sorrows. Fidus bit his already bitten lip and gripped Olga tighter in his arms. His lower ribs and pelvic bones, which bore the brunt of the hard metal, ached badly, and his boots were liable to slip off the wet braces.​

    "How the fuck am I going to shoot?!" The Holy Man cried frantically because there was no room left for him in the tower, and Fidus could either hold Olga or handle the cannon, just one of the two. Kryptman thought belatedly that it would probably be better to put their 'periscope' from the radio operator's seat next to Jennifer but immediately decided that no, here the higher the view, the better.​

    The Chimera rumbled and scraped through streets and intersections, sweeping away abandoned, burning cars, scattering sparks and crumbs of asphalt. Ordinary people scattered in front of the tank, and Jennifer crushed the changed ones mercilessly. Olga squinted, glad that she could not look, for the artificial eye reliably transmitted the picture to the Martian, regardless of whether the operator himself was looking.​

    "The vision option is sub-optimal calibrated," Jennifer's voice muttered. "It needs to be corrected."​

    They were hardly ever attacked, and if anyone who had gone completely insane or lost all normal instincts tried to attack them, they were quickly finished off with fire and acid. The tall and bald man's melta had a terrifying effect, making Crybaby's soul acutely envious. Schmettau's pistol was slightly less formidable, but Kalkroit's lack of killing power was balanced by his marksmanship.​

    "Olga, get ready," Jennifer's voice sounded strange now, not from outside her broken head, but as if it were born inside the bones of her skull, diverging from the iron bars inserted directly into her head.​


    "Keep your head straight," Jennifer's voice asked. "I'm still depending on your view."​

    "What?" said Fidus tensely. "What's wrong."​

    Olga shook her head, trying to put into a sharp gesture all at once, like, don't be distracted and there's nothing to worry about. Strangely enough, the inquisitor understood or was distracted by something else.​

    "The fine-tuning of your augmentation allows side vibrations to affect the temporal bone, and from it, in turn, by induced frequency, the auditory membrane."​

    Olga had doubts about the correct understanding of the word 'augmentation' and generally misunderstood, so she chopped right off: "Do you read thoughts?!"​

    "No, it doesn't allow me to read your mind. But statistics show that ninety-six percent of recipients ask this question as soon as they learn about this type of communication. Sarcasm. Now get ready."​

    "Voices in your head?" Fidus asked loudly and anxiously, trying to shout out the noise. Right now the monk's acid cannon was hissing and the melta in Essen's hands was thundering. The plasma blast, itself the bright exhaust of a flamethrower, vaporized the upper half of the strange creature, which looked like a human-wood hybrid with branches of fractured, remodeled bones. The tank struck an abandoned, burning car, some sort of city service van, crushing it like a tin can. The Holy Man screamed his prayers so loudly that they could hear him even through the armor, the Savlar hysterically begging the Emperor to save him.​

    "It's Jennifer, it's nothing," the girl brushed Fidus off. "What's to get ready for?"​

    "Visual overload. Short-term. Try not to move your head, I'm still dependent on your view. Three, two..."​

    Olga thought that Jennifer's countdown was becoming a good tradition in their little squad, then managed to shout out, addressing Fidus: "Hold on tight!!!"​

    The world disappeared in a white-green flash. A black-light - no words to describe it in human language - filled everything. Then it disappeared, and Olga returned with her consciousness and vision to 'City-22,' which had changed unimaginably.​

    "What is it," she whispered, thinking she was barely moving her lips, but Jennifer somehow understood and responded nonchalantly:​

    "Effective functioning requires deep and multidimensional incorporation into the tactical network. Given the damage to the module you call my 'head', this procedure is difficult, but the partial transfer of the information load to your augmentations makes it easier."​

    "I don't understand."​

    "Now you see the world the way I see it. In a way. We see..." The ethereal voice of the techno-priestess seemed satisfied. And the girl suddenly realized that in her head it sounded not the usual speech, as all people do - with words, but... strange, inexpressible in human terms. Not speech, but a stream of knowledge, when in an instant under the lid of her skull it was as if an understanding of some concept was being unpacked. And now the girl saw it, too.​

    It was more like the way the cinema depicts the vision of terminators and other robots, but with the correction that in the cinema everything should be made clear to the viewer. And Olga saw the world as the Martians saw it, without any adjustments for an ordinary person​

    First of all, the color scheme changed. Like everything else on Beacon, 'City-22' was painted gray-black, and the street war added orange and red. Now the world was painted all the colors of the rainbow in hundreds of shades for every base color. Then Olga realized that basic geometry had disappeared. Each object had become a complex interweaving of lines and shapes that incomprehensibly but spectacularly marked its past, present, and several of its most likely future states. All this was combined into a dynamic picture of unimaginable complexity by vectors of motion and time, calculation of trajectories, and symbolism that combined concepts of higher mathematics with ordinary topography. All this could be called 'visualization,' but just as conventionally as a nuclear explosion is 'bright,' the Imperium 'big,' and the local hell 'unpleasant'.​

    Now Olga understood that Jennifer was not so much driving the machine as she was following a trajectory that was designed not by her, but for her. She drives the Chimera through a tunnel of the most optimal movements, which are calculated using gigantic computing power and taking into account thousands of parameters, down to a hundredth of a degree and the relative position of individual track segments at each turn.​

    And it became clear that the Chimera and its small but brave crew were being covered by a veritable army every second. The 'Potheads' were throwing out landing parties of skitarii, distracting hosts and transmuting human creatures, covering clusters of enemies with long-range artillery that could not be bypassed. Even in the battle with the monster from the sea that was crushing the western outskirts of 'City-22', the movements of the armored vehicles were now taken into account and only thanks to the fire support of titan scouts 'Chimera' successfully missed two threats of 'Gamma-3' type, whatever that might mean.​

    "They protect us," the girl whispered as if in a trance, but Kryptman was silent. Maybe he didn't hear, maybe he didn't understand.​

    The Martians gave the Squad a negligible amount of 'attention', that is, the distribution of the information network and computing resources, but without this helping hand, the tank would not have made it halfway. The markings of tactical units of combat and auxiliary equipment, drones, and Adeptus Mechanicus fighters danced in a musical and mathematical, perfectly calibrated rhythm with the same markings of 'other cataloged objects'.​

    "They've got cover for us!" repeated the girl. "The Martians are for us!"​

    "Well, of course," muttered Schmettau, softly, as if he were sitting in a comfortable orthopedic chair on a private ship rather than dangling aboard the Chimera at risk of being dragged down by a track. "It would have been strange if Mars had fought for the Chaos."​

    Most of the Martian armed forces were concentrated on something called a 'Glass Cat'. All the 'units' of 'Glasscatty't were marked with separate colors and badges in the form of a real cat with triangular ears and whiskers. Apparently, machine men were no strangers to a peculiar, but an almost human sense of humor. The 'Cat' units crushed the enemy with the efficiency of a meat grinder, but they were too few. However, the six markers had just been separated into a separate unit called the 'Divine Incarnation' and were now pushing hard toward the Squad's goal.​

    Olga had the carelessness of accidentally picking up and focusing on the tag 'Geller-drone 2143', after which she experienced a shock and a momentary, incredibly painful migraine shot. That's how her consciousness reacted to the unloading of an avalanche of information on the tactical position and technical condition of the robot-drone, right down to the information that the second joint of the left middle manipulator was registering a near-critical pressure loss in the main pneumatic actuator.​

    "I can't do!" Olga howled through her teeth. "It's too much! It hurts! My head is going to blow!"​

    Fidus wrapped his arms tighter around her and whispered, or rather shouted in her ear, which in the background noise was perceived as a whisper:​

    "If it gets too much for you, tear off your glasses and leave it at that."​

    And Jennifer spoke literally into her brain: "Now the discomfort will end. A dynamic attention map is forming. The process will take another thirty seconds, and then the information load will be optimized. The prosthesis will no longer be needed."​

    The car jerked again, the jerk made the girl think that her head was about to be torn off, and her gaze slipped to the sky. There, through the smoke and clouds, Olga saw the same graphics - hundreds of shades of the rainbow, gliding in a silent dance the marks of dozens of huge ships, communications satellites, shuttles, and things for which she could not even find a definition. Then it was as if a clean rag had been swept across the view, erasing the markings from the chalkboard. Everything disappeared, her vision returned to normal, and Olga gulped noisily, suppressing an attack of nausea. Her head spun sharply and violently, the girl hung on Fidus's arms.​

    "The noosphere signal is stable. They can see and hear us," Jennifer reported.​

    "Are these... yours?" Olga whispered though the answer was obvious.​

    "At the moment, the defense of the planet has been placed under the jurisdiction of Mars. But to inform our companions of this, I believe, would be untimely."​

    Up ahead a fifteen-story spire collapsed from the fire of several artillery gunners. Some of the debris blocked the gap in the overpass where the 'Chimera' was supposed to pass, the tank swerved and moved along a parallel road, skirting car-sized chunks of concrete.​

    We have a priority task on our hands because we are optimally close to what you called 'Baby'. However, if we are not successful, another unit will solve the problem, so there is no need to be nervous about a possible death.​

    "I guess I'm a big coward," the girl muttered, thinking that this was a good consolation, very appropriate, like, don't worry, the task will be done in any case. No, really, Martians, of course, strong and all, but 'pot-heads' is the most accurate definition for them.​

    "A coward would run away not completing a task. Sarcasm. But I have an idea of how to increase the motivation of purifiers. Thanks for the tip."​

    From the Chimera's internal loudspeakers she heard sounds - static mixed up with electronic notes, which added up to a strange rhythm. Something subtly familiar, something as if it came from Olga's past life. The melody sounded indeed cheerful and inspiring like a march played on a synthesizer. Olga screamed because the musical insertion coincided with another series of complicated maneuvers.​

    "Music to inspire and boost morale," Jennifer informed the passengers just in case as if she wasn't the one zigzagging around on the tank at the time. "This is not the machinations of the Ruinous Power."​

    "Aaaaah!!!" Olga screamed as the Chimera made such a U-turn that it nearly flipped as it went around a barricade that suddenly appeared around the corner of a tall building. This barricade was solid and looked like a real engineering barrier, Jennifer calculated in a split second that ramming it was useless, at that speed you could at least get stuck, and with bad luck screw up a vigorous, but the worn-out engine.​

    The vehicle spun out onto an avenue, or rather, a wide multi-lane thoroughfare designed for extensive freight traffic. Kryptman felt his short hair stand up on end. To his left, something enormous, gray, and shapeless was crawling in the smoke and bright flashes. Right now two titans were firing at the creature almost at point-blank range, the multi-laser fire so bright it burned his retinas. And in front of 'Chimera' raged a crowd of possessed, who like a muddy river flowed to the battlefield to lie down under the fire of skitarii and armored machines.​

    Jennifer didn't hesitate for a second, the gearbox screeched, the diesel engine revved up, and the tank rammed into the crowd. Olga's thin visage drowned in the roar of the crowd, through which the 'Chimera' literally chewed its way. The Priest hastily emptied the cylinder of the chemical cannon, the Inquisitors' melta weapon wreaking havoc. Surgically accurate strikes with guided projectiles from Martian armored vehicles cleared the way for the squads, but there were too many enemies.​

    It rumbled as if a sledgehammer the size of a house had struck an appropriately sized bell. A powerful echo hung in a thick veil that was almost physically perceptible, and a moment later a broken titan with a mangled hull landed on the left side of the road. Apparently, it had been struck with such force that the machine, weighing more than four hundred tons, flew away like a broken doll.​

    Olga thought that now she was going to lose her mind completely. Only the absurd redundancy of what was happening saved the girl from true madness. A lot of blood is terrible, but if it spurts literally in fountains, and pieces of bodies fly around like minced meat from a faulty meat grinder, the horror turns into a black comedy, filmed by a tasteless director. Olga closed her eyes and clutched at Fidus's hands. Her thin fingers cramped so tightly that the inquisitor himself could barely keep from crying out in pain. Neither of them saw or heard the sound of the Khaosites lunging for the armor behind the tower, trying to drag the servitor and the flamethrower down with them. Pieces of metal and flesh were being torn away from Luct. The servitor was now holding on with one hand, fighting back with the other, tossing back distorted figures. Crying with both excitement and terror, Crybaby pushed the flamethrower lever all the way down, surrounding the tank with a semicircle of smoky smoke and burning bodies.​

    Olga heard the eerie roar of many throats, like the howling of the zombies in Romer's 'Dawn of the Dead'. She could feel the terrifying rhythm of the blows that rained hundreds of fists on the armor. She knew that just a little longer and a wave of fearful mutants would flood the 'Chimera,' despite the murderous fire. Someone screamed, thin and scary, in the crackle of tearing matter. Fidus's submachine gun rang out just above his ear. The car jerked, like a snowplow almost stuck in a particularly dense and high snowdrift.​

    "They're going to flip us over!"​

    I think it was Demetrius, but maybe Savlar. Another jerk followed, and another, and the diesel was no longer growling, but rather squealing like a turbine at the limit of its speed.​

    "Hold on!"​

    The music continued to play, and Olga forbade herself to think about anything but it. There was nothing else in the world, only the electronic rhythm, the only barrier between the girl's mind and madness.​

    I can't go on... I have done enough and even more. I can't save the world, I can't even save myself, let someone else save everyone now. There's none of that.

    And yet, why does the tune seem so familiar?​

    A wave of heat swept over the armor, the heat twisted the hairs on the skin, instantly drying up the blood, tears, and dirt that stained their faces. The 'Chimera' rolled on with unexpected ease, like a sailboat catching the wind. The howls and roars were left behind.​

    A steam train from hell, only on tracks, thought Olga and laughed, feeling the madness coming closer and closer...​

    How long the tank was still moving, the girl would not say even under fear of immediate death, but the journey was finally over.​

    "That's it," Fidus rumbled. "We're through."​

    The vehicle rolled for a few more meters and then stopped, with one last loud thud of the engine. In the passenger compartment, Savlar cursed thinly and pitifully. Essen Palet prayed loudly, nonchalantly, and on one note, like a machine.​

    "May I look?" Olga asked quietly into the void, at least, she hoped that there was some void ahead. Opening her eyes was beyond frightening, in case there was a scary grinning face just waiting to be seen.​

    "You may," Kryptman and Jennifer answered together, respectively over the ear and in the head.​

    Olga, after all, did not dare to separate her tear-streaked eyelids. She was tugged, lifted, dragged out of the hatch somewhere, then more or less carefully placed on a hard surface. The girl covered her face with her hands, looked just a little, literally through a micron slit, and almost fainted at the sight of the side of the 'Chimera'. The tank looked as if it had been painted with brown paint, very diligently, not missing an inch. Crybaby's safety strap was dangling in a miserable scrap, empty and bloody - the only thing left of the little flamethrower. Olga wanted to cry again, but there were no more tears. Only the realization that this was not the last Squadmate she would have to mourn at another time and place when it was over. If it is over.​

    "Here we are," the Priest exhaled, looking up at the tall city theater building, the geometric center of the 'City-22. Shepherd pressed the locking tab with effort, unlocking the harness. The weapon dropped with a clang onto the tank's armor and rolled onto the asphalt, rattling the empty cylinder.​

    "Peace be upon him," the Priest sighed, staring at Crybaby's belt. "May he rest in the Emperor's golden glow."​

    The techno-priestess climbed out of a nearby hatch, quickly, with spider-like dexterity, and went to fetch Olga's miraculous glasses. Luct was leaning against the board, awkwardly turning the remains of his right arm, it was torn at the elbow, and his legs were also badly injured, some torn overalls and gray flesh showed bloodless wounds with exposed bones. If it hadn't been for the hydraulics and electric actuators, the servitor wouldn't have been able to walk. The Saularian fell out of the side hatch and immediately began vomiting directly on the track, while the convict disciplined held the head of the techno-priestess.​

    Pacing, a skitarii in a tattered red robe approached the tank, with a four-legged automaton, one of the 'Geller drones,' literally shifting from foot to foot behind him.​

    "We've been waiting for you," the Martian warrior reported in a suddenly clear, almost human voice, simultaneously and very quickly exchanging data with Jennifer. "The perimeter is secure and under control, but we can't go any further."​

    The words of the half-robot sounded surreal, apparently because of the contrast between the voice and the metal face, which was shattered, with one of the five optical lenses intact. The barrel of the rifle, assembled from several thin tubes, was still smoking in his artificial hands.​

    "They can do it. With a high degree of probability," Wakrufmann replied, more to the companions of the Squad, because she had already discussed with the skitarii both the route and the probability of success and actions in case of failure.​

    "Do you see...?" Olga raised her trembling hand and pointed with spread fingers to the wide staircase that led to the front door.​

    "Do you see!?"​

    She looked around at her companions, hoping that they, too, could see the ghostly purple glow that literally oozed through the concrete walls and wide windows. The light was both material and ghostly, pulsing in a rhythm similar to a heartbeat. As the girl pointed, the velvet glow trembled, flashed like a strobe light. The Holy Man's radio in 'Chimera' squealed and roared angrily, and the big red-robed half-robot twitched oddly and bowed its iron head, pressing its six-fingered, symmetrical palm to where the human should have had an ear.​

    "No," Bertha said cautiously. "We can't see. What's in there?"​

    "I understand," the girl exhaled.​

    The rapid and frequent throbbing reached its peak and shuddered like dragonfly wings, spreading out in a long flash. Olga waited to be struck by auditory hallucinations again, but her head was silent. The other squadmates looked at each other in silence, showing few symptoms other than intense fatigue. But it seemed to be affecting the mechanicus - whatever it was - very badly.​

    "Interesting. Time travel is woefully understudied and poorly researched," Schmettau said with academic interest. "I wonder if the effect of total immunity is permanent, or will it weaken as the girl adapts to a world where Warp emanations are omnipresent?"​

    Pale didn't say anything but just grabbed the melta more comfortably. Several metal blobs hung from the Inquisitor's suit, looking like blotches - bullets that had flattened against the armor plating. The flickering glow subsided and returned to its former rhythm, surprisingly consistent with the beating of the tiny heart.​

    "He's afraid," Olga said quietly. "He feels very bad. We have to go."​

    "Well," said the Priest, sighing heavily, trying to disguise the natural and understandable fear under the exhalation. "Then let's go. For if He has gathered us here and now, there is a reason and a meaning and a place in His providence."​

    "The Emperor protects," all the people exhaled in unison as they folded their aquiles, even Olga.​

    "Omnissiah is with you," Wakrufmann took the head from Savlar. "According to our data, there is no direct threat inside. The heretics are dead, the hosts and other demonic manifestations are absent. It's a clear spot of calm amid the storm. But what awaits you on the spot is impossible to predict."​

    "And you?" Kryptman clarified. "We could use the Skitarii. And automatons are very good."​

    "Perhaps you could be of use to the Skitarii," Jennifer clarified without too much diplomacy. "However, the concentrated radiation near the epicenter causes degradation of the local area of the microcircuits, metallization, and breakdown of the dielectric cores. The effectiveness of our combat units will be reduced. As for automatons, they are themselves a source of irritation for this entity. The probability of survival is higher if the source of irritation is not with us."​

    As if to illustrate her words, the robot incongruously flicked its paws, gleaming in the morning sun, clattered against the lantern, and turned a hundred and eighty degrees, trotting finely.​

    "Spirit and flesh bring victory," the Priest couldn't resist a quip. "Not cold iron."​

    "Cold and hot iron brought you here, protected you, defeated your enemies, and opened the way to the completion of the mission," Wakrufmann was not indebted. "So be gracious, step forward and prove yourself worthy of the efforts that have been made to cover and save you."​

    The Priest wanted to say something angry in response, but Bertha touched him on the shoulder with unexpected restraint.​

    "Indeed, let's go," she said. "There's not much left."​

    The monk moved his jaw, then grinned unexpectedly and indicated a short bow toward the mechanics.​

    "Verily the Scripture says, It is not lawful for the left hand and the right hand to act thoughtlessly and apart, for the right hand and the left hand serves equally to one body," he quoted.​

    "Those are wise words," the skitarii approved, flashing his single lens. "We won't be able to escort you, but we guarantee no one will stab you in the back."​

    He was silent for a few moments and then added:​

    "As long as we're in line."​

    To illustrate his intention, armed Martians surrounded the theater building. The chain of figures in red was, to tell you the truth, thin and not trustworthy, the skitarii were almost non-existent, the automatons looked beaten and generally sad. The support for the mechanics looked especially pathetic against the approaching scuffle with the bullshit that was throwing titans around like toys. But it was better than nothing.​

    "You know, my friends..." The Priest took the first step and stepped onto a wide step covered with a scarlet-colored carpet. The cloth was now partly burned, partly soaked in blood and prometheus, but it still gave the impression of pompous, monumental, and official luxury.​

    The pastor turned around and finished his thought, looking down from above at the companions who had gathered at the tank.​

    "Even though there are no demons inside, it seems to me that that's where the main test awaits us."​

    The Ecclesiarchy is always looking for a test of spirit where it just needs more promethium," Kalkroit grumpily muttered as he stepped next.​

    And a small squad began to move up, while all around died in the convulsions of a messy battle 'City-22'.​

    * * *​
    ATP and Bogdan like this.
  5. Threadmarks: The Squad Chapter 30

    RiP Seeker of Silence

    Jul 8, 2017
    Likes Received:
    Chapter 30​

    * * *​

    Inside, the theater building was just as bleakly pathos-laden as the outside. Gigantism, hatred of rounded shapes and lines, carpets, tapestries, mosaic panels depicting battle scenes, and peaceful labor. Aquilas and other state symbols are everywhere the eye falls. Despite the remark about reduced combat value, Jennifer and Luct went with the unit. Olga struggled to move her feet, crimson light poured from everywhere, against it the sun that tried to peer through the wide windows faded, the yellow rays dying impotently, dissolving into the bloody glow. The theater seemed an oasis of tranquility and peace amidst the unfolding of the light of the world. But it was a grave peace.​

    There were corpses everywhere. Harmless, quite human, with no signs of terrifying changes. Just dead people, many, many dozens of them.​

    Olga felt a cast-iron heaviness flooding her skull. She wanted to lie down, to put her head on the floor, and relieve her back a little. The light that only she could see made her eyes ache and dry.​

    "Don't be afraid," Fidus said quietly. "Just don't be afraid of anything. The worst is over."​

    She wanted to say something like `yeah, sure', because Olga had learned the main lesson of life in the distant future: everything changes only for the worse. But the girl was too tired, and besides - what if the inquisitor was right after all? She did not want to jinx it. So she thought it best to remain silent.​

    "Death was above us and beneath our feet," recited Schmettau. "And wherever I looked, to the right or the left, my eyes fell upon the rotten sores of heresy."​

    "But we neither feared nor were afraid, for there is no disease on the body of the Imperium that cannot be cut out and scorched with a steady hand," concluded Kryptman.​

    "Yeah... We'll need a long time to clean up this mess," the Priest summed up.​

    "Emperor, have mercy and protect," whispered Savlar, folding his fingers into an aquila.​

    The theater was not just a tomb, it had been turned into one big altar. Olga even tried to close her eyes, to walk by touch, holding Fidus's hand, but she stumbled a couple of times and realized that she had to either look or beg into his arms. The girl had no doubt, Kryptman would accept, the temptation beckoned with incredible force. Olga imagined how easy and calm it would be to snuggle against the tall inquisitor's broad chest, to cover her face with the hood, feeling protected. To give, after all, a rest to her legs, which threatened to break at every step, shooting pain into her knees.​

    But she can't...​

    Although nothing seemed to threaten here - 'the dead don't bite' - Olga was well aware that things could change at any moment. In the Imperium, even death is not final and the dead are able to bite. The Inquisitor must be ready for battle, and for that, he needs his hands free. So the girl just took a tighter grip on Fidus' wide belt, leaning on it like a staff, it was easier to walk that way. She also tried to look, but not to see. To use her eyesight as a crutch, just to keep from falling, because to look was to let the terrible images into her mind, to give them a part of her soul.​

    There was blood everywhere. Apparently, the villains used it instead of paint, often literally, smearing it on the walls, on the floor, and even in places on the ceiling. But it was mainly the blood that was used to scribble various scripts. On the surface, the pictographs seemed miserable, primitive, like cave paintings, but it was physically unpleasant to look at them, making me dizzy almost immediately, weak at first, but quickly growing stronger.​

    And a lot of bodies.​

    Olga imagined that, in fact, they were dolls, mannequins. Someone had scattered them in a mess, dousing them with paint for a silly joke. There are enough fools in the world, not funny pranks either. Perhaps it was only this self-delusion that kept the girl from hysterics, it was too scary here.​

    "I think the whole local inquisition is going to trial," Kryptman reasoned, looking around and pursing his lips. "Along with the arbitrators."​

    "They'll go to the expense," Schmettau corrected. "It's a real, full-fledged cult. Look, all the volunteers are here. Hundreds of followers. You could miss that in a hive, but this icebox here... No. It's not a mistake, it's a disaster. It's total ineptitude."​

    "I don't think so," Fidus shook his head. "There could have been a focused impact here. A psyker strike that paralyzed the will of honest citizens. Or..."​

    Kryptman glanced at the three dead bodies, stacked in a star-shaped figure - a woman and two girls, judging by their resemblance, relatives. All three had their clothes soaked and crusted with blood, but their faces were clean, their postmortem masks stamped with delight and bliss.​

    "Or an induced hallucination. I think the latter. They may well have imagined that they went alive for His Throne, and in the meantime, the heretical knives were doing the work."​

    The footsteps of the small detachment echoed echoingly beneath the vaults of the wide corridors like a cave. The metallic sounds of weapons echoed off the walls until they were trapped in the dense carpets with rich and tasteless embroidery.​

    "That's the problem, Fidus," Shmettau shrugged, the gesture so expressive that it showed through the thick spacesuit. "You think too much and don't do enough. Heresy is like a disease, it can always be justified, but the scalpel in the hand of the surgeon must still be sharp and ruthless. They have surrendered to evil, they have served evil, and that is enough. If impure emanations penetrated their souls, then they already had wormholes in them."​

    Kryptman shuddered at the insult, but the young inquisitor kept silent.​

    "And you're a jerk," Olga said quietly in Russian, looking into the back of the short and pot-bellied man. Not that she felt any special sympathy for Fidus, but the girl was somehow used to the fact that unkind words to Kryp were her personal and well-deserved privilege. And this same Shmatao said things that were hurtful and unfair.​

    "You rotten old goat."​

    The inquisitor suddenly turned around and looked at the girl very carefully, without the shadow of a smile or any expression on his fleshy face. Olga was thrown into a fever with the realization of her own carelessness.​

    "It seems quite here," the Priest thought aloud and shook his head as if reproaching himself for his choice of words. Indeed, 'quiet' sounded almost sacrilegious in a theater tomb.​

    "Rather yes," Kalkroit's silent companion unexpectedly agreed. He strutted about as calmly and confidently as an attendant, despite the melta, which, though specially assembled, must still weigh a great deal.​

    As if in response to their assumption, there was a rumbling, very artillery-like noise outside the theater. Several of the huge windows cracked, but the glass endure as if some force had strengthened the building.​

    "Again," Olga grumbled, "it's hitting me over the head again..."​

    Indeed, the ghostly glow trembled again, pounding in a quickened rhythm. It spread into the corners, killing the shadows, and echoed with an inaudible yet piercing scream.​

    "Emperor, protect me," Bertha leaned against the wall, covering her face with her hand, her fingers trembling visibly. The other squadmates were also visibly unwell. Servitor Luct's legs began to wobble as if his electric drives had malfunctioned. But who knows, maybe the mechanics really did break down. No wonder with such tests. Olga looked sympathetically at the living dead man, remembering how many useful things the servitor had already done. Only she and the tall inquisitor with the horrible scars on his bald head endured the astral scream relatively peacefully. Only her ears pricked and a heaviness crawled from her temples to the back of her head like drops of liquid and cold lead. Wakrufmann dropped her head in a surprisingly human way and fell to her knees, burying her fingers in the thick carpet. Luct silently helped the Martian to get up.​

    Olga inadvertently remembered that the 'cog' was not even fifteen years old yet. And then a very simple thought occurred to her - how long is a year on Mars?​

    "Third floor..." Demetrius adjusted the medical bag, touched the bandage on his temple. "How much further?"​

    "Probably all the way to the top," Fidus suggested.​

    "Yes, there's a great hall for solemn assemblies and moral performances," the Priest suddenly displayed a knowledge of the local architecture. "If anywhere to bring hecatombs, it's there."​

    "Bastards," Bertha spat just for a difference, not blood, but saliva, from sheer contempt.​

    Olga thought that, yes, really assholes - they should worship their vile rites as villains should, deep underground, so that normal people do not have to stomp up the stairs. But she decided to keep that argument to herself. Demetrius, who happened to be nearby, silently slipped a glucose pill into her hand, then handed out the same to the other companions, including the inquisitors. Schmettau simply took the pill and silently chewed it without any emotion, Pale nodded his thanks and suddenly asked:​

    "What are we going to do then?"​

    "Kill the psyker," replied Schmettau.​

    Olga wanted to tell the fat man what she thought of his cannibalistic nature, but she stopped herself as soon as she opened her mouth. No one was in a hurry to criticize the inquisitor, not even Kryp. No one told the evil and cruel idiot that he was an evil and cruel idiot. On the contrary, in the purificators' silence, one could read a general agreement, an almost vigorous approval.​

    "Probably some kind of barrier," Kryptman thought aloud. "We might have to break through it. If we can do that at all."​

    "The barrier... I don't think so," Essen retorted. "If the lass is right, it acts unconsciously."​

    Again Olga wanted to blurt out that it wasn't an 'it' but a poor baby, and again she kept the hot words on the tip of her tongue.​

    That was the end of the blitz. Savlar tried to hum another prisoner song under his breath, but Schmettau measured him with a long glance and said as if he were reading from a sheet of paper:​

    "Charles deo Coulian. Nostril plucking for insulting Her Ducal Lordship in verse. Thirty years' hard labor for recidivism and it was by no means Savlar Penitence. Wasn't it?"​

    "I stomped on all the moons.." the noseless man whimpered as was his habit. "I'm a proper jailer, and I know nothing of your poems!"​

    "Oh, of course," agreed Schmettau, and his slightest smile was more insulting than any mockery.​

    For a few moments, Savlar walked sadly, like a scarecrow in a red overcoat, then suddenly straightened up, as if he had dropped ten years. Olga suddenly thought that the convict was still quite young and would have been a good-looking man if not for the mutilation.​

    "Two epigrams," the noseless man said with one half of his mouth. "They cost me a lot."​

    "The magic power of art," agreed Schmettau. "The material embodiment of the word. By the way, good epigrams, I liked them; they were scathing without being straightforward."​

    "Yes, it's a pity Her Grace didn't share your satisfaction," Savlar grinned even more wryly.​

    "What's the camouflage for?" Kalkroit asked.​

    "For security," Charles shrugged. "Everyone's scared of Savlars. So you have to shout, roll your eyes hysterically, and that's enough."​

    "Oh, Emperor," muttered the Priest. "Such naivety."​

    "What?" deo Cullian was confused, and even Olga smiled at the genuine surprise and confusion in the voice of the fake jailbird of the prison moons. "So you knew...?"​

    "Of course," snorted the Holy Man. "From the beginning."​

    "But why then...?" The Savlar stumbled back, silently opening and closing his mouth.​

    "Think about it," Bertha grinned.​

    Olga could not help smiling, the noise and pain in her head slightly subsided, although the crimson light still stabbed her tired eyes.​

    "We're getting close," she said quietly.​

    "I hate...stairs," the Priest muttered in two strides, catching between Luct's heavy footsteps. Wakrufmann walked silently, staggering occasionally, but with the tenacity of a soulless machine.​

    After a short pause, Demetrius suddenly remarked philosophically: "We go into the heart of evil and darkness, having conversations about lofty matters..."​

    "Come on," Kryptman cut him off. "That's it."​

    The upper hall was very different from Olga's usual layout. It was more like an amphitheater without seats or tiers, but with a slight slope of the floor. Instead of a stage, there was a half-meter-high square the size of a merry-go-round in a playground. Apparently, not full-fledged performances were played out here, but short miniatures like the 'Rose of St. Mina'. At first glance, the 'square' was burning hotly, and with such brightness that Olga even took a step back, thinking that everything was about to explode. Looking closer, the girl exhaled, realizing that she was faced with an illusion. Or rather, a ghostly fire, like the one that spilled over the theater. Crimson-yellow flickers flickered as if trapped in an invisible cage, weaving into a shield like a ball of thread, churning with thousands of tongues of flame. Kryptman threw a bolt into the flaming orb, and it crumbled to ash as soon as it touched the fire.​

    "After all, the defense," Fidus said dryly.​

    At the foot of the platform lay the bloodied body of a small woman with her belly cut open. Her face was stamped with the deepest horror and pain. Savlar immediately vomited, and Olga restrained herself with an unbelievable effort, though the bile was rising in her throat. Beside the woman lay the corpse of a man in a purple robe, embroidered with all manner of nastiness. Instead of hair, the man's head was a tangle of hundreds of tiny snakes. The long blade in his hand suggested that he was the priest who had murdered the woman and removed the unborn child from her womb. Apparently, he was not the only villain here, but the other bodies had been burned and fragmented to a state of utter indecipherability. Olga immediately recalled her appearance at the Ballistic Station in very similar circumstances - all around, remains as if put through a meat grinder.​

    "What to do now?" The Priest looked at the inquisitors, hoping that the professionals know how to act in a non-standard situation.​

    "We'll blow up the melta, that should help, remove the protection or weaken it," Kalkroit did not suggest, but introduced the plan of action, not a second doubting everyone's agreement. "Then we kill the psyker."​

    "And if it doesn't?" Bertha hesitated.​

    "Twenty-eight automatons with fully-charged specialized emitters leveling Warp penetration are climbing the outer wall of the building," Jennifer reported. "Their synchronized pulse may be sufficient to irreversibly disperse the consciousness of the intended psyker. The probability of success is tentatively estimated at fifty-eight and twelve-hundredths percent."​

    "The odds are even better than one to one," Priest strongly approved of the plan. "But what if it doesn't work?"​

    "Let's get a coordinate reference and call the pot..." Schmettau looked at Jennifer. "The Martians have an orbital strike. With everything, they've got. Now that the nature of the impact is clear, I think they can..."​

    Kalkroit sighed and cut himself short.​

    "But we won't have time to leave," the Priest wasn't asking either but assuming.​

    "Well... basically, yes," agreed Schmettau.​

    "Well, so be it," sighed the monk.​

    "Where's the small one going?" the Holy Man wondered. "Hey, where are you going?"​

    While the meeting was going on, the girl took a step toward the platform. A hesitant, timid one. Then another. And again, and again. Overcoming her fear, clenching her fists, she moved her feet as if her boots were shod with lead, but still, she walked with the tenacity of a true warrior. Kryptman stepped after her, caught up with her, and caught her by the lanyard at the back of her belt. Pale and Schmettau looked at each other.​

    Olga turned around and looked silently at Fidus, the crimson-yellow light illuminating her face like a tragic mask. The girl seemed surprisingly calm, like a person who had not just decided on some action, but rather knew exactly what to do in the circumstances only one way, she had literally one and a half steps to touch the fiery sphere.​

    "You'll die," Fidus shook his head. "The veil will kill you... at best."​

    "But I'll try," Olga said with discreet but stubborn determination. "I'm going to try."​

    Kryptman turned her toward him and took the girl's thin, pale fingers in his broad, strong hands.​

    "No need," he said quietly. 'There's no point in overcoming so many dangers just to die. It's foolish. It's useless."​

    "What if we were hit from above by Martians? Would that make sense?"​

    "Yes. We are here to stop the evil force that kills people and defiles their souls. The Emperor has sent you, and He hardly wants you here to die for nothing."​

    "How do you know what He wants?" Olga asked very quietly and very seriously, looking up at the inquisitor.​

    "Well, well," the Priest muttered indefinitely and suggestively, and Schmettau grimaced.​

    "No, really, how?" insisted the girl. "What if he didn't want us to die? Or maybe he didn't want us to kill, but to save the baby?"​

    "No," Kryptman shook his head slowly and sadly. "We are inquisitors. And purificators. We can't afford pity. It always turns out to be a greater loss."​

    "You can't..."​

    The girl freed herself from the Inquisitor's handshake, took one last step back toward the flaming veil. It was as if the fire sensed something alive approaching, twitching its bright flagella as if it wanted to consume the object.​

    "But I can."​

    "Without her, we'll be screwed just like everyone else in town," Berta murmured. "We've got to stop that crazy little brat."​

    It was as if Olga heard her words and took another quick step. Now a wall of living light sparkled literally behind the girl. Savlar swore, realizing that it was too late to catch the blonde. Olga sniffed her nose and blew her nose, not at all heroically, trying to free herself from the blood clots.​

    "Don't touch her," Schmettau ordered in a low voice. "Perhaps that would be better."​

    "I won't stop you," Fidus said sadly. "I promised to protect you, not decide for you. But what you're doing is stupid. And wrong. A lot of people died so we could come here and stop..." He gestured broadly around the amphitheater, which had been turned into an altar. "Now you can nullify their sacrifices. Make them useless."​

    "Or the opposite."​

    The girl turned and raised her hand, the red-gold glow reaching out to her fingers, throwing out the thinnest strands like tentacles.​

    "You all look a lot like..." Olga shrugged her skinny shoulders, where the torn and dirty overalls hung like a hanger.​

    "Some kind of..." she was silent again for a moment. "Angry."​

    "Wha...?" didn't understand Schmettau, and Fidus thought - it was worth risking his life to see the incredible, surprise of Kalkroit Schmettau.​

    "You're mean. Unkind," Olga explained, and Kryptman realized that the girl was speaking quite seriously.​

    "No," Olga hastened to clarify. "Of course, you live in such a world. Everything here tends to be different, wrong. The danger is always around. Demons. Devils. Machine spirits. You can knock on hell's door and they'll open it for you, and gladly. Kids play with that ugly emperor of yours and toads, and then they all disappear, just like that. Because someone somewhere has cast a spell. Yes... you are evil and cruel because you live in an evil and unkind universe."​

    At the word 'ugly,' Kalkroit puffed up, the noseless Savlar laughed outright, and the Priest muttered something along the lines of 'flogging, a lot of flogging...' The tall inquisitor, named Essen Pale, made an indescribable face as if he were trying to suppress a chuckle.​

    "But..." and again Olga stumbled, slowly, carefully choosing words, confused finally, and waved her hand, blurted it out. "It still needs a little kindness sometimes. Just a little kindness."​

    She looked around at all the co-adventurers with a single eye that glowed on her dirty and bloody face like a shard of clear sky.​

    "He's not bad," the girl shook her head. "He's just an unhappy and abandoned baby. He's scared, he must be in pain. He's very lonely and he's screaming in terror. It's not his fault he screams... such..."​

    "It's not his fault," Kryptman said quietly. "But that doesn't make him any less dangerous. The baby has killed thousands, maybe tens of thousands... And will kill many more."​

    "Not at all," Schmettau inserted without any expression. "An area with a population of several million has been hit by a psyker attack. Even if only half of them were victims, there are at least hundreds of thousands."​

    "Or so," Fidus agreed, unhappily. "It's not a baby, it's a source of terrible danger. We can't think of him as a baby. Pity is not a luxury for those who stand guard over the Imperium."​

    "Now I see the son of the father," Schmettau grinned wryly. "It's a pity that only now."​

    "And you're ready to kill the baby?" Olga looked at Fidus questioningly.​

    "Yes," Kryptman answered at first, automatically, habitually, and then hesitated. He hesitated and repeated. "Yes. If there's no other way."​

    "And I don't want to, I can't do that," the one-eyed girl said simply, without any challenge. She looked into Kryptman's face, repeated:​

    "A bit of kindness."​

    And took a step.​

    The tall assistant with the melta rushed after her, but he was stopped by Schmettau with a decisive gesture. Essen looked perplexed at the patron, and Kalkroit explained in a whisper:​

    "If she passes the veil... If she can carry a baby... Then we won't need the potheads."​

    Pale nodded guiltily, clearly embarrassed by his clumsiness. The Savlar shrieked as he hugged his bald head, expecting death or a fit of insanity, but nothing happened. Bertha cursed. Kalkroit looked at the tech-priestess with a look of mild embarrassment.​

    "I beg your pardon," he said, ceremoniously. "No disrespect intended. A euphemism, so to speak."​

    "A euphemism is a descriptive expression that is neutral in meaning and emotional load," Wackrufmann reported, not turning her sickle skull away from the flames that Olga entered. "The word 'potheads' is not 'neutral'. But I accept your apology. It is difficult for people to refrain from angry passions and hasty expressions dictated by the envy of imperfect flesh."​

    Schmettau gritted his teeth but remained silent.​

    Minutes went by, nothing happened. And Kriftman was thinking, how it wasn't like those Picts about the heroic struggle against hostile forces' intrigues. Wrong place, wrong people, wrong plan, everything is wrong. And yet, here they were, here and now, where His chosen servants had not reached.​

    "Here we are..." he whispered.​

    " ... And here we will stay, with or without victory," echoed Schmettau.​

    "And if we are not victorious," Essen finished his quote. "It will be plucked from the jaws of evil by those who follow us and through our bodies."​

    "Holy shit," Bertha whispered, pointing with a trembling hand at the fiery veil. "It can't be... Look..."​

    Fidus expected anything from an explosion to the arrival of a demon prince. But everything happened quietly and very... ...peaceful. The all-consuming fire weakened, lost its colors as if it had run out of fuel at once. It flickered, then vanished, as if it had never existed. On the rounded platform, bending slightly from the weight, stood Olga, clutching the small bloodied body to her chest. The baby seemed alive and silent, that was all that could be said about it, the baby was not even tied up with an umbilical cord. Olga bowed her head and whispered something softly, softly, in an unfamiliar language, and in time with her words the crimson glow - now everyone could see it - was dying, trying to hide in the shadows, melting, unable to live without the energy of fear and horror.​

    Olga looked at the purificators, who were lined up in an uneven semicircle near the platform, smiled and said with childish surprise:​

    "Boy. And heavy. Seems healthy, just... hungry, I guess."​

    "Madonna and baby," Kryptman whispered.​

    "What?" The Holy Man didn't understand. He too spoke in a whisper, as if he was afraid of disturbing the moment with a loud and inappropriate word.​

    "A woman with a child. It's from the history of prehistoric Terra," Jennifer suddenly explained, her metallic voice seeming to change its timbre, lower and bassier. "A very old image."​

    "Move aside," Kalkroit commanded curtly, and took a step, raising his melta pistol, which leaves no chance for the victim, especially at this distance.​

    "In His name, we came here, in His name we will end it all."​

    * * *​
    Bogdan and ATP like this.
  6. Extras: Olga and Jennifer

    RiP Seeker of Silence

    Jul 8, 2017
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    Bogdan and ATP like this.
  7. Titus2211

    Titus2211 I trust you know where the happy button is?

    Jun 5, 2020
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    I would like to convey to the author "Привет с Самиздата", I read the work even when it was not finished. In general, it's not bad, both then and now, but honestly it's incredibly long and boring. Too much time is devoted to the "prologue" of a big story and too little movement in the plot.
    There are too few characters for a chamber story of one location, too few actions for a dynamic story. I reread it now and haven't changed my mind. Realism went to the detriment of work, IMHO.
  8. ATP

    ATP Versed in the lewd.

    Jun 24, 2020
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    Now,Olga must die.Or,it would not be IoM we love to hate.
  9. Threadmarks: The Squad Chapter 31

    RiP Seeker of Silence

    Jul 8, 2017
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    Chapter 31​

    "To the side," Schmettau repeated, taking the classic two-handed aiming stance.​

    "No," Kryptman echoed, stepping between the hell-gun and Olga. Luct staggered to his left, standing to his master's left. Everything happened quickly, like in a theater, as if the parties were rehearsing an exchange of actions and lines. The girl cradled the infant fearfully, hiding behind Kryp's broad back. The baby squeaked, his lips curling, apparently sensing Olga's fear.​

    "Fidus, you idiot," said Schmettau irritably. "Stand back, or you will die with them."​

    Essen stepped to the side, holding his gun to hit all or most of the purifiers if necessary.​

    "You wanted me dead," said the young inquisitor, his hands and lips trembling a little, but on the whole Kryptman Jr. held himself as well as could be expected from a man under the muzzle of a melta pistol. "Well, do what you want to do with your own hands. No middlemen."​

    "Idiot," Schmettau repeated. "And a defender of heretics. Step aside!"​

    "She was right," Fidus said softly. "There is a time for ruthless cruelty. And there is a time for mercy. I think it's appropriate to show... a little kindness."​

    "This child is Evil incarnate," Schmettau was boiling, losing his composure and composure. "He must die! And he will die! With or without her! But I do not want to burn you with her. You will dig your own grave."​

    "It's an innocent child who doesn't know what he's doing," Fidus shook his head.​

    "Innocent?" Schmettau roared. "Do you have any idea how many people he's already killed? His panic has covered a quarter of the planet! How many have died!!! How many more have been poisoned by Warp Poison, how many more have been mutilated? The consequences will last for centuries! Get out of my way, you silly boy, and let others do the work if you're a useless wimp!"​


    "Well, maybe that's even better," Schmettau cut off as he made his decision.​

    His finger tensed on the trigger, Fidus crouched slightly as if intending to lunge at Kalkroit, but at that moment the tech-priestess stepped forward.​

    "Adeptus Mechanicus takes this woman under the patronage and protection," Wakrufmann proclaimed in an alien voice. "This is the direct will of Parliament and the Fabricator-General of Mars. You will receive all proper notices officially."​

    "You... her...?" Schmettau got confused. "What?"​

    "The "Olga" object pleases the Machine God and Mars," Jennifer explained as she stood side by side with Kryptman. The servo skull above Jennifer's body gleamed ominously with its red lens, and the tech-priestess held out her palm, on which she rested her head, in a commanding gesture.​

    Pale moved, even more, to capture in one shot the tech-priestess with the inquisitor and the dead servant. Apparently, the rapid multiplication of new targets did not please the inquisitor.​
    "Take it," Schmettau said contemptuously, after a moment's hesitation. "Copperheads play with the forbidden all the time, but that's your concern. The spawn of evil is my responsibility. Leave him and go wherever you want. You might as well take this travesty of an inquisitor with you. He's used to hiding behind someone else's back."​

    Kryptman just smiled and shook his head. Olga hugged the child tighter, whispering: "No... I won't."​

    "As you can see, your 'object' herself is looking for death," Schmettau pointed out.​

    "It's a dilemma," the iron head hissed. "Mars does not yet have a consolidated position on the permissibility of the Child object. However, at the moment, it poses no danger. I am inclined to say that we should not rush to a final decision, but in the meantime, we should take all measures to isolate the object in the most comfortable and secure conditions."​

    "That won't work. If you defend the brat, you're not worthy of life either," Shmettau sentenced.​

    "Are you ready to oppose the will of the Martian Parliament, Inquisitor?" Jennifer clarified. "Given that your every word is recorded? Failure to obey the High Lord of Terra is punishable by death and deprivation of the Inquisitor's rank."​

    "In my service, I'm ready to stand up to anyone," Shmettau grinned wickedly. "For I have sworn an oath to him who is above the Lords of Terra and all Rustyheads. I keep the Emperor's house, and if that requires burning an apostate, a heretic, and an iron fool, so be it."​

    "No," Demetrius muttered, and in the silence of the grave hall, the young man's words came out with a distinct determination. "You can't do that."​

    He swung forward, took a tiny step as if intending to join Olga's living shield.​

    "Calm down," Bertha grumbled. "It's none of our worries anymore. It's none of our business. Let them decide among themselves."​

    "No," the Priest said suddenly. "This is our business."​


    "This is our business," the monk repeated, crossing himself with his aquila. "Everything we've been through is just a prelude."​

    "Are you insane with worry?" Bertha hissed softly, trying in vain to speak so that no one else could hear.​

    The priest turned to her and said: "Here is our main test. The choice the Emperor awaits."​

    "What choice is there?!" Bertha shrieked, unable to restrain herself.​

    "But there it is," the Priest said helplessly. "Here we stand before a child who is possessed by great power. We have two choices to make. Should we show mercy, but knowing that kindness today may well turn to terrible misery tomorrow. Or..." he swallowed noisily. "To be cruel. To kill a child whose only fault is that the wicked have done wrong to him. But maybe that cruelty is mercy for the archvillain's future victims."​

    "What are we supposed to do?" Bertha asked. "What's the right thing to do?"​

    "I..." The Priest looked lost, which was surprising and incongruous, considering the energy and courage with which he had behaved before. "I don't know... There are no omens, nothing... Perhaps the Emperor wants each of us to choose for ourselves."​

    Essen Pale licked his lips and clarified: "What are your orders, sir?"​

    "Wait," Schmettau grinned even more ominously. "Let the unstable in spirit and those prone to heresy mark themselves. Adepto Purificatum will thank us for cleansing the ranks."​

    "I choose."​

    Demetrius's second step was much larger and more confident than the first. The orderly marched past Kalkroit, accompanied by Essen Pale's sight, stood next to Kryptmann, adding: "She brought us here, protected us from the emanations of evil. She stopped the utter terror. If the Emperor did not lead her, who did?"​

    "Mars thinks your choice is reasonable, young man," the head bobbed ceremoniously in Jennifer's palm.​

    "And I'm not going to choose shit!" he told the world, he stepped aside and sat down defiantly with his hands out in front of him. "The nose was enough. Now I serve and follow orders. From here to the Old Stars. What the commandant commander orders, I'll do."​

    "I'm with the Inquisition," the Holy Man looked past Demetrius guiltily, as if afraid to meet his eyes. "They know better. If they say it's evil, it is. And we've all seen what nasty things this... thing has done. Maybe he didn't do it on purpose, but we can't bring Crybaby back. And the Sinner. The Madman again. And all the others."​

    Radioman sighed heavily and retreated toward Schmettau, but not so much that the inquisitor considered it an insidious rapprochement.​

    The Priest looked at Bertha; the Commandant mechanically ran her hands over the jumpsuit under which the Detachment's banner was concealed.​

    "About kindness, of course, it's beautiful... and right," thought the commander aloud. "But we have the Inquisitors with us. They showed up at just the right moment, and they crushed the Sixty-fourth, or we'd have been finished, with or without the little froggy girl. Sounds like a sign to me. It's the best sign ever. And if there's even a slim chance that this," she pointed to the side, "will happen again, the kindness is in not letting..."​

    She was at a loss for words, waved her hand, and stepped closer to Schmettau.​

    "Father?" Kalcroit raised an eyebrow. "Your choice? Die ignominiously with the heretics or go out with the righteous?"​

    "You are a bad fisher of men, inquisitor," said the Priest. "Your question already contains the answer."​

    "I don't think a shepherd can hesitate to choose between lambs and goats," said Schmettau. "On the other hand, such doubt is an answer in itself. Well, two righteous men aren't much, but it's better than none."​

    "Hey, hey," Savlar exclaimed, "Your math doesn't add up!"​

    "Everything that is not good is the opposite of it, that is evil," smiled Schmettau benevolently. "Neutrality is the same heresy."​

    Savlar screamed and ran, stumbling over the corpses. Everyone clutched their weapons tighter, realizing that the time for talking was over. Olga turned away and squeezed her eyes shut, feeling the warm little body in her arms, drenched in blood. Schmettau smiled even wider and even scarier as if savoring a moment of triumph, but before he could command "fire," there was a rumble under the high vaults of the hall:​

    "Stop! In His name I forbid murder!"​

    Rattling equipment, rattling weapons, new fighters of quite a human appearance poured into the hall in a steady stream. And not human, either, for the warriors, were accompanied by automatons. The new group was led by a giant Astartes in white armor, unadorned, unmarked, and devoid of any insignia. Only the right side of his breastplate bore a small badge resembling a two-pointed arrow inscribed in a circle. The giant held his power spear with seeming carelessness, slung over his shoulder. The spacemarine wore no helmet, and his surprisingly bright blue eyes glowed like laser beams. Blond, almost white hair came down to his throat, hiding the connectors and pins underneath.​

    "Captain..." exhaled Fidus. "Sleepless."​

    "My respects to the Emperor's angels," Schmettau sulked. "But you have nothing to look at here. This is our business, the business of the Inquisition."​

    "We'll solve that problem," the spaceman muttered, striding with the leisurely pace and poise of an automaton. His companions divided into two wings, moving along the walls of the hall with the dexterity of experienced warriors, checking every meter for traps and mines. Behind Angel's back were two women in the same white armor, only without the arrow. Olga held her breath, recalling that she had seen grim women in similar armor with shamrock signs before. The prisoners on the church-prison ship called them "Saritas" and were very afraid of them.​

    "Nothing. To decide here," Kalkroit mouthed and took aim at the spaceman. Immediately several bright scarlet dots slid across the Inquisitor's torso, and a moment later the sights were on Essen as well.​

    "I am with you, sir," the aide assured me, aiming at the giant, although he could die at any second. "Give the orders."​

    "Inquisitor," the angel said, stopping a few meters away from Schmettau. The Astartes seemed genuinely amused by the situation, despite the fact that a melta gun at that distance could cause quite a bit of trouble. "I do not understand what you intend to dispute. Your actions displease Mars. Your actions displease the Order. They are hasty and dictated more by fear than common sense. Stand down and, if you see fit, appeal our decision to the proper authorities."​

    The power spear on the giant's shoulder crackled slightly, the blade exuding a barely perceptible light. Jennifer Wakrufmann stood so that Olga and Fidus were right behind her.​
    "A deflector shield?" asked the space marines over Schmettau's head.​

    "Not exactly," someone answered in the mechanical mouth of a techno-girl. "A palliative, which allows achieving a similar effect, using the design features of the power source. Unfortunately, only once and at the cost of destroying the host."​

    "Once," Essen licked his lips and took a tighter grip on the hilt of his melta. "Once..."​

    "That's enough," this time the space marines answered. He spoke calmly and peacefully as if he were talking about something unimportant. "You won't get a second try. Moreover, a firefight might upset the child and make him scream again. Would we want that...?"​

    "Maybe that's better," Kalkroit whispered, still keeping the hell gun. "Then you'll have no other choice..."​

    Space marine came even closer, without blinking looked at the gun in the Inquisitor's hands, at Kryptman and Olga peeking out from behind his shoulder.​

    "So that's what you really are..." the giant said softly, with a touch of good-natured irony. "Interesting," he then turned to Schmettau, more sternly. "Inquisitor, any scene, even the most dramatic one, if it is too long, becomes a parody. You should have tried to kill the baby at once, without the theatrical remarks separating the clean and the unclean. Or you shouldn't have aimed at me but should have shot the girl with the baby immediately. You made several significant errors and topped them off with a tactical miscalculation by missing the chance. Now you're only making the Inquisition and yourself look bad. Give it up."​


    "Then you will die," said the giant. "Infamous and pointless. The Ordos have already suffered great losses here, is there any point in multiplying them?"​
    The women in white armor froze on either side of the captain, "Saritas" faces expressionless, no weapons in their hands, but for some reason, it seemed to Olga that these harsh women with the same hairstyle and tattoos on their faces here are very dangerous and fast.​

    "I've already died once," Jennifer said softly, and Fidus realized that the "cog" was talking to Olga. "There is a chance that I can be reanimated after the activation of the shield."​

    "The Emperor's will demands it!" Shmettau shouted, aiming directly at the angel's face, ignoring the aiming beams that slid across the Inquisitor's tattered spacesuit. "It's necessary for humanity! He would have wanted it!"​

    "Not for you to say what the Emperor would have wanted!" The Astartes' voice rumbled unexpectedly, his bass like a tank track, his bright eyes shining like shards of the purest lapis lazuli. "I know His will, for I have heard it! I have known God's word, undistorted by interpreters!"​


    "A relic of your order?" Jennifer's head asked softly and unexpectedly. "So it's true, then?"​

    "Yes," the giant muttered suggestively. "One of His chosen warriors survived the Heresy and became the founder of our order. Sacred armor, forged in the forges of Terra, holds the record of a staff meeting from the time of the Great Crusade. A meeting led by the Emperor himself, explaining the meaning and purpose of his actions."​

    "It is truly an amazing relic. I would consider it an honor to allow your order to share in the sacred knowledge," asked the unknown man in Jennifer's head.​

    "It is possible," the Astartes nodded. "As a symbol of our alliance and unity in the face of threats. But I think we'll discuss the matter later. At least, because it is not in my power to make such a decision alone."​

    "Absolutely," the head agreed.​

    "The Emperor could not approve the heresy!" Smettau exhaled, feeling that he was losing time and position so that instead of a punishing hand, he was rapidly becoming a pitiful obstacle in the way of far more powerful forces. "You are mistaken, or it is a fake!"​

    The spacemarines looked at the inquisitor with a spiteless pity, as if he were insane.​

    "What does heresy endorsement have to do with it, you fool?" asked the Astartes. "The Emperor was saying that every obstacle is a challenge. A challenge that toughens us, makes mankind stronger, smarter, more powerful. It is only through struggle that the right of men to dominate the universe is asserted. There is no shame in retreating before overwhelming force. There is no shame in accepting its challenge and losing. But worthy only of ridicule and oblivion is the refusal to accept the challenge dictated by fear. This is what He said. And His words the Sleepless have carried through the millennia."​

    "The child is a monster," Kalkroit whispered in despair, the Inquisitor's hand trembling, the barrel of the hell gun zigzagging. "He must be killed before he can wreak terrible havoc on the lmperium."​

    "This is an innocent child," the Emperor's angel shook his head. "Innocent, for now. He could be a monster, you're right. Or he could be a great psyker, a deed that would make the Empire great. The vessel of his life is not yet filled, and his destiny is not yet written. And what it will depend on us."​

    "This is a risk!" Schmettau cried out in despair; he seemed ready to fall to his knees to beg.​

    "Which is acceptable," Jennifer clarified.​

    "It's a challenge," the space marines answered adamantly, and he took another step and stood next to Schmettau, closer than an ordinary man's arm's length. The giant in the snow armor now towered over the Inquisitor like a mountain.​

    "You will regret it," Kalkroit whispered, without threat or hatred, but rather in infinite despair, like a man unable to keep the blind men at the edge of the abyss. "The time will come when you will remember my words and regret that you did not commit a small evil to destroy a great evil."​

    With unexpected participation and peacefulness, the giant placed a huge palm on the shoulder of the slumped inquisitor.​

    "Perhaps it will be," the Astartes said softly, like a peer. "But this child is a gift to mankind. It is a challenge to our faith and our reason. By killing it, we acknowledge that we are weak and insignificant. That we cannot raise a great psyker in conscious love for humans and His heritage. And thus, by showing weakness, we take a step back from His dream."​

    Kalkroit looked up at the giant from below and silently shook his head.​

    "No," he whispered. "No... you're wrong."​

    "I didn't expect you to understand," the angel sighed. "I hoped you would, though. Well, maybe someday you'll be right about me. Our rightness. Or maybe the other way around... you'll be closer to the truth."​

    The space marine voice grew stronger, losing the touch of friendly concern. Now there was only unyielding will.​

    "In any case, this child's life is not in your hands today. Put away your weapons and get out of my way, inquisitor, or you will die, as much as I detest it."​

    The stern women in white bypassed the inquisitor and headed toward Olga. The girl trembled and recoiled, but Kryptman held her by the elbow.​

    "It's all right," he encouraged. "It's really over."​

    "You can give the child up now," Jennifer said. "He's not in danger anymore."​

    "Can... I...? May I? Him?"​

    "Of course," replied the voice of the unknown Martian. "But not now. The child must be bathed, fed, and given medical attention. He must have a high-level sanctioned psyker with him at all times, to calm him down, to quell his emotional outbursts. You'll be sure to meet him a little later. We should talk."​

    "Doturov, if I'm not mistaken?" The Astartes asked, smiling faintly at the edge of his lips.​

    "Yes," the head replied laconically. "Good thing I didn't have to use the Kronover's guns to neutralize the threat. It's hard to predict the trajectories of the rocket fragments as they shoot through six walls."​

    "I don't dispute the prerogative of Adeptus Mechanicus," the space marines reported. "But I would be interested in talking to this girl. Afterward. In a quieter setting."​

    "Of course," replied the Martian. "Strengthening the alliance between Mars and the Order of the Sleepless is a two-way process."​

    The "Saritas" silently took the baby from Olga, carefully and gently, like well-trained medics. An old man in a shapeless robe with a snow-white bandage on his forehead appeared out of nowhere, touched the baby's bloody head with his long fingers, then nodded, one by one, to the Astartes and the women. The white-robed aunts carried the infant away with the same care, accompanied by the old man, whose fingers moved incessantly as if weaving an invisible yarn.​

    "Let's go, Fidus," murmured the captain. "We have much to discuss, let's not postpone the conversation."​

    Kryptman looked back at the purifiers and Schmettau. The inquisitor, still with his pistol in his hand, looked lost and pitiful. Essen towered, as usual, deaf to everything but his master's orders.​

    The Purificators had already been taken in by their colleagues from the orbiting stations, treating them with apparent deference. Kryptman silently saluted his armored train mates, and they responded at random, even Savlar.​

    "Your service in the purification is over," the giant said, shifting his spear to his other shoulder. "And in my opinion, you've done well. So good, in fact, that you can hang the insignia around your neck again."​

    "Frankly, you're the last people I expected to see here."​

    Fidus felt overwhelmingly tired and even ignored the mention of his probable return to Inquisitor service.​

    "I told you, I wondered where the road of cowardice would take you. I must say, I am pleasantly surprised, including the fact that you survived."​

    "Your solution," Kryptman went through the events of the past days, remembering the death, the horror, the fire, the war, the dead. "I really didn't like it. But... it worked."​

    "I'm glad," the space marines said simply. "But the end of any event is always the beginning of others. What you have done is great and meaningful. But what you have done belongs to the past, and the future lies ahead."​

    "And... she...?" Fidus looked in Olga's direction. The girl was standing and talking to Jennifer about something, and they were surrounded by several skitarians, the Martian warriors didn't look like guards at all, more like escorts of honor.​

    "She will be taken care of. And yes, ahead of the next question, no one will stop you from meeting again if you both express such an intention. But not now. And her fate is no longer up to you."​

    "I thought-" Kryptman sighed. "I thought I'd put her in the manor. Let her run our family library. A nice, predictable life of peace and quiet, set for decades to come. But it was... different."​

    "The future never meets our aspirations," smiled the Astartes. "But rejoice, thanks to your efforts, the girl has that future, even if it is not connected to you. Wasn't it life for Olga that Fidus once wanted, when he came to me for help?"​

    "Yes," Kryptman returned the smile, quite sincere. "Yes. That's what I wanted."​

    "Excellent, now let's take a walk. There's a lot to discuss."​
    * * *​

    It was raining outside, or rather snow melting on its way between the clouds and the ground. Kryptman was even surprised and put up a wide palm with broken fingernails, it was quickly dotted with tiny drops of moisture. It was warm, nothing like the morning chill that had frosted the tips of Fidus' nose and ears.​

    "Yes," the inquisitor said to himself, in response to unspoken thoughts. And he repeated. "Yes, that's right."​

    The sun was setting. In the smoky sky glowed the fiery traces of landing ships - the Martians continued to redeploy the army, besides, the orbital troops of Beacon's self-defense and arbitrators finally came to their senses. There was still gunfire in the streets, but it was less frequent and more organized now, and it was no longer a fight, but more of a shoot-out. There was a pungent smell of promethium and burnt flesh in the heavy, damp air as special teams set about burning the corpses, but most of all the carcass of the sea-monster, which had been stopped by a napalm shower less than a block away from the theater building. Perhaps the abundance of fire had warmed the downtown area to the point that it was the first time it had seen rain in years.​

    The Priest passed by, lost and miserable. He mumbled under his breath: "I couldn't choose... The only one of all. I couldn't..."​

    "That's okay," said Fidus, not sure why.​

    The Priest stopped, looked at the inquisitor with inflamed eyes, and answered: "You don't understand. I am the shepherd of souls. I must always be first, I am the torch that shines in the darkness, I am the mirror that reflects the light of the Emperor. But if my flock chooses decisively and firmly, and I hesitate, what kind of shepherd am I?"​

    The monk hunched over and moved on, hands deep in his pockets. Fidus shrugged and moved in the opposite direction, finally spotting what he was looking for. Or rather those he was looking for.​

    Kalkroit Schmettau sat on the rocrit wreckage, spinning the hell gun aimlessly on his index finger threaded through the brace. Pale had removed the melta and the fuel tank but otherwise remained unchanged, as if fatigue and wounds had no power over Essen.​

    "You look better with a wig," Fidus remarked as he came closer. Essen stayed silent.​

    "I don't see Luct," Kalkroit grunted mirthlessly. "Has he finally broken down?"​

    "The Martians took to the recovery. He deserved it."​

    "Yes, it's hard to argue with that. A useful servitor. What about the girl?" Shmettau asked a second question. "Did the rusty-heads get their hands on her, too?"​

    "I would say "invited to visit". However, she did not mind at all, and Olga was quite understandable. Her acquaintance with the Imperium was... rather one-sided."​
    Schmettau hummed, putting an abyss of emotion into one short exhalation.​

    "She's a heretic after all..."​

    "No," Fidus cut him off.​

    "Did the Martians come for her?" asked another question Shmettau. "Personally?"​

    "In some ways. They were planning some big operation of their own at Beacon. A group of agents, including Wakrufmann, was deployed in advance for this purpose. In the course of events, the priestess was reassigned to the additional task - to monitor the "object", to protect, to transfer to Mars."​

    "Well, she did it," said Schmettau thoughtfully. "That's to our misfortune."​

    "Yes," Kryptman agreed. "She did."​

    "And you... the purifiers, respectively - are redemption forthcoming?"​

    "It will be decided," Fidus shrugged. "But I think it will. We've done a pretty good job, after all. It's quite a Wonderful Deed, I'd say."​

    "A happy ending for everyone," Schmettau sighed. "Almost for everyone. Except for the humans, who will eventually be killed by this wonderful little guy. But that is a matter for the future... If you are here, you are of no use to the Martians or the Astartes. Neither was she. Isn't there a beautiful ending to this story?"​

    "There's a time and a place for everything," said Fidus. "I wanted to help her, and I did. Not for thanks."​

    "So she didn't even thank you," Schmettau affirmed. "Must be offensive, huh?"​

    "No. It's..." Kryptman thought for a few moments. "It's more of a balancing act. She saved me, and I was ungrateful. Now I've paid back my debt and walked away without expecting anything in return."​

    The inquisitor looked up at Fidus. He, in turn, looked down at the Inquisitor, rocking slightly from toe to heel.​

    "Is there anything else you need?" The inquisitor asked indifferently, lowering his head. Dirty artificial hair hung in sad icicles, shoulders slumped, Schmettau's figure reflected endless fatigue and desolation. Essen Palais stood motionless beside him, like a sentry long forgotten but still on duty.​

    "I did everything I wanted to do. Almost everything. I decided to take one last look at you," Kryptman replied bluntly. "Of my own free will and choice, not because you honored me with your visit. To stand like this, against each other. And look into each other's eyes."​

    "Did you want a triumph?" Kalkroit raised his head again and stared straight into Fidus' eyes. "Well, enjoy it. You won. Winning at everything."​

    "No," Kryptman said quietly. "I'm not looking to win over you. I never wanted to."​

    "Indeed?" the old inquisitor queried sarcastically. Now, after the ordeal and the brutal battle, after Schmettau had lost, he no longer seemed like an honorable middle-aged burgher. Kalkroit's full age was clearly visible in his face, in his posture, and his gestures. Before Kryptman sat a deep and broken old man with only despair in his soul.​

    "Yes," Fidus confirmed. "I've never seen you... in combat. In service. But I wanted to see it. All my life my father had told me how great Inquisitor Schmettau was. How ruthless he was to the enemies of the Imperium. How many times Fidus Kryptman owed his life to an old comrade."​

    "Get off," demanded Schmettau angrily.​

    "If you say so..." Fidus was quiet and finished with unexpected warmth. "Uncle."​

    "I am not your uncle!" The elderly inquisitor snapped.​

    "What else to call the man who was your father's sworn brother? The one who first took Kryptman Jr. in his arms?"​

    "Nothing has changed, nothing is over," Shmettau clenched his fists so that the armored fabric of his spacesuit crunched. "Nothing! Yes, we were brothers. You came into this world through my hands. But your father betrayed me. He betrayed everything that was between us. The past cannot be undone. You can't glue what's broken back together without a trace unless you're a sorcerer. And we are not sorcerers, boy..."​

    "As you wish," Fidus sighed and said firmly. "But I didn't want this vendetta, and I won't take part in it from now on. That... the Emperor's Angel... he may have been wrong, but he was right about one thing. Some deeds degrade us. And some elevate us. You're trying to avenge a dead man. It's pathetic and undignified, but it's your choice. I would rather remember the man who delivered my friend's wife while he was transfusing her blood. That's the kind of man I would tell my children and students if I had any. And that would be my choice."​

    Fidus took one more look at Schmettau, then walked on, past the skitarians who were setting up some kind of cannon right on the pavement.​
    "You will not become an inquisitor!" Shmettau shouted at his back and then broke off into incoherent, desperate shouts. "You never will! You are pathetic and useless! You are nothing! A weak nothing! And that will never change! Never!!!"​

    Fidus stopped and looked over his shoulder. A very faint and surprisingly kind smile appeared on Kryptman's face.​

    "Maybe. But my father used to say that the road to perfection begins with an awareness of imperfection. I realized that I was a bad inquisitor. I met people who were better than me and taught important lessons. So my path is still ahead of me. Tell me, what road are you on now?"​

    Having said that, Kryptman went on without looking back.​

    "What road?" He didn't even shout but somehow screeched after him. "Do you want to know my road? I will tell you, boy! What you do not know because of the stupid solidarity of the elder Kryptman's friends!"​

    Fidus slowed his pace a little. Perhaps it only seemed that way, though.​

    "The Cult we hunted is our greatest cause! The greatest cause in defense of the Imperium! A cult against the Civistas Imperialis of the Sabbat worlds!!! Successful because of the treachery of Kryptman Sr.!"​

    The former inquisitor did not look back.​

    "If your father had been alive by this time, his execution and deposition for aiding heresy would not even have been discussed!!! Thousands of worlds where billions of his subjects have become the food of the Destructive Power! This is your father's true legacy. That, not pathetic drawings and delusional tales!"​

    Schmettau sighed deeply. The rage with which he uttered his denunciations was beyond what was acceptable to the exhausted body of the old inquisitor.​

    "My life will not be enough to fix a tiny fraction of this "legacy". But this is the path I have chosen. And I will follow it to the end."​

    "Sir," Essen helped the inquisitor to his feet and put his hand under his arm, on which Schmettau leaned heavily. The old man felt as if his loins were about to collapse into separate vertebrae, and if not for Essen's support, Schmettau would probably have fallen.​

    "It's time to go back," Essen said. "The capsule is waiting, with enough fuel to reach orbit."​

    "Yes," Schmettau exhaled heavily. "It's time."​

    He looked once more at Kryptman's back.​

    "There's nothing left to do here. We must go," the inquisitor repeated quietly, and Essen helped him take the first step, preventing him from falling into a muddy puddle filled with flakes of soot.​
    * * *​
    ATP and Bogdan like this.
  10. Threadmarks: The Squad Chapter 32

    RiP Seeker of Silence

    Jul 8, 2017
    Likes Received:
    Chapter 32
    * * *​
    Fidus pulled on his jacket, straightened the cuffs of the sleeves, and checked that the tiny aquiles on the brass buttons were oriented correctly, that is, strictly vertically, not obliquely. Given his somewhat "suspended" status as either "already an inquisitor" or "not yet," Fidus chose clothing that was neutral, without obvious military-inspired motifs, but austere. Despite his rather brief period of obedience, Kryptman was used to baggy jumpsuits and sweaters, so wearing tailored ones was... strange. He felt out of place and out of place, like a stranger in a foreign country. He wanted to leave the Beacon, the system, and the sector as soon as possible, frankly. But there was still business to take care of, the last on the shortlist.​

    Their ships departed a quarter of an hour apart, first the Martians, then the Inquisitors. The orbital station was almost intact, but the damage to the planet could be seen even from space, through the observation porthole. Fidus was just contemplating the dark patches that had taken the place of the shining cities and industrial centers (power had not been restored everywhere, and restoration promised to take many months) when the steps of a small group echoed under the high vaults of the dock deck. Kryptman looked away from the porthole but saw the unexpected ones.​

    "Hmm..." he chuckled indefinitely, looking at the Astartes captain, leading a company of two space troopers and three sororitas.​

    "And are you with them?" Fidus clarified.​

    "Yes, we'll go together," replied the captain, waving to his companions. They silently bowed their heads in identical gestures, as if they understood and accepted. They moved toward the platform marked by yellow lights. Kryptman glanced at a large clock embedded in the metal wall, its faceted dial indicating the time of Terra, the Commonwealth, the Ice Port, and something else. The Martians had nineteen minutes to go.​

    "I thought I'd meet you here," the Astartes muttered. The Order's armor was unnecessary in this setting, and he wore a loose, pleated cloak. On someone else, this "dress" would have looked funny and feminine. But when such a garment is worn by a muscular giant three meters tall, armed with a power spear, it immediately seems incredibly masculine to everyone.​

    "We never had time to ... talk," Fidus sighed. "Too many reports and interviews."​

    "That makes sense," the sleeper said neutrally. "Considering you were in the center of it all. By the way," he changed the subject. "I hear you've made up a team of former Squadmates?"​

    "Rather, I offered them some time to work together," the inquisitor corrected. "I need helpers. They were all forgiven of their sins and freed, so they were free to choose for themselves. Some agreed, some didn't."​

    "What about the priest of the Church?" the blue-eyed giant suddenly inquired. "He seemed to me to be in a crisis of either faith or self-determination. It would be unwise to take on such a disturbed companion."​

    He stayed. He voluntarily accepted the penance of eight years of service as a rank-and-file purifier. His faith, he said, was not strong enough, so he should either harden his spirit by trials or answer with his own life for a moment of mental weakness. At the choice of the Emperor. By the way, received the blessing of the planetary bishop.​

    "Worthy," the captain approved, "I'd make a note of it and be sure to come back in eight years. If he survives, your crew might have a worthy addition."​

    "I did. But I suspect if he survives the obedience, he will stay anyway."​

    "Perhaps. I hear the Squad is going to remain?"​

    "Yes, more than that, it will multiply. From the experience of this... incident, it has been concluded that the landing troops are too lightly armed and too few in number. The armored train system is cumbersome and expensive, but it alone provides the ability to strike hard and fast. So the Epidemic Squad will get more men and more weapons. More connection with the Inquisition, the Church, and the arbiters."​

    "That's good," the giant nodded. "Risk is a noble thing, but success is better achieved by the tried-and-true means."​

    They were silent for a minute, then the captain asked straight out: "So you're waiting for her?"​



    "That's my business," Kryptman snapped back with unexpected harshness.​

    "Fidus, you're misinterpreting my intentions," the space marines shrugged his broad shoulders. "I don't intend to interfere with your meeting."​

    "Really?" The inquisitor asked incredulously.​

    "Yes. I just want you to look at the situation rationally. And act according to reason, not the impulse of your troubled soul."​

    "You can't read my soul," Kryptman was still angry.​

    "Yes, she's grateful to you now, and quite capable of being carried away by your great dream," the captain said as if he hadn't noticed his interlocutor's remark. "If you persist... If you ignite her heart with a duty to humanity, with fear of the hidden threat, she will follow you. But... Do you really want her to?"​

    The giant raised his hand, decisively cutting off Kryptman's ready objections.​

    "Think about it. What can you offer her? What will the girl gain by following you? You know the answer to that question, don't you? Disaster. Danger. Mockery. Years of fruitless labor. And death in the end."​

    "But... Mars," Fidus muttered hollowly. "She will be a tech-priestess... most likely. She will be, in time."​

    "Yes, most likely," the marines confirmed. "It's inevitable. Theoretically, of course, it is possible to join the ranks of Mechanicus and keep the flesh in pristine purity. After all, the path of Magos Biologis is based on the perfection of living matter. But most likely Olga will step on the long path of transformation into an adept of the Machine God. And of her own free will. Gears are smart, they will not pressure her, but they will carefully, quietly show her all the advantages of artificial bodies, and these advantages are there, visible and quite weighty. Especially if you have already experienced death and the ease with which it takes people."​

    "Olga will lose her humanity and become... a tin can!"​

    "Yes," agreed with the captain. "And she will live a long, interesting life, full of amazing events. She will be exposed to the great mysteries of Mars and will communicate as equals with those who rule the world of knowledge and machines. Is that a bad thing? I'm not sure."​

    "She won't be happy," Kryptman said wistfully.​

    "And it is possible. Although it is not predetermined. But in any case, the girl will find peace, respect, and security. All the things that fate has so deprived her of before. All that she deserves for her courage. Her nobility. Kindness."​

    The giant sighed and placed a heavy, powerful hand on Fidus's shoulder, lightly squeezing his fingers, not as a threat, but peacefully, in a gesture of friendly encouragement.​

    "I'm not going to stop you. I believe in the freedom of choice of people endowed with wisdom. But I also believe in responsibility. Before you decide and do, weigh your desire on the scales of impartiality. Answer the question, what do you really want? And for whom, for yourself or for her?"​

    In the transition tunnel that connected the pier to the orbital station array, a group of armed skitarians appeared. They were followed by an automaton, the Geller-drone, already familiar to Fidus. The guards dispersed quickly and skillfully, with machine-like precision, on the quayside deck, blocking off all approaches. Kryptman felt a strange chill as if an invisible hand had run over his head and groped his missing pockets. It seemed that he had just been scanned, included in the control and security system. Kryptman smiled involuntarily, thinking that he was ostentatiously ignored, but if any trouble happened, the Inquisitor would be dead before he could even blink. By the way, it's curious that the Skitarians weren't interested in the angel's spear.​

    "They coming," commented the Astartes.​

    Kryptman smiled even wider, noting that for the first time he saw Olga washed, combed, well dressed. In general - quite happy with life. The girl was still very thin, but the well-made overalls no longer hung on her bones, and her face did not look haggard; the former novice was definitely well fed and treated.​

    Seeing Jennifer again with her head was strange and even a little creepy, because the metal sphere was different in design, color, and shape. Obviously, the Martian had used a temporary substitute. The third member of the small company was a tall and unkempt-looking tech-priest with an almost human face. Only a keen eye could tell that it was an elaborate mask with intricate actuators.​

    When Olga saw Kryptman, she faltered and lowered her head, then, as if making up her mind, proudly straightened up and stepped toward the inquisitor. The priestess and the tall mechanicum, without looking at each other or exchanging a sound, parted as if to show that they did not intend to interfere.​

    "Go on," Astartes said in a low voice of encouragement. "It's about time."​

    Fidus approached Olga and they stopped, looking at each other in silence, Kryptman from top to bottom of the girl with her head slightly tilted back. Martian surgeons had replaced the former miserable prosthesis with a magnificent eye, indistinguishable from the real one.​

    "Hello... Kryp," Olga hesitated with the name, and it sounded very kind, without the previous mockery.​

    "Hello..." In turn, Kryptman paused for a moment, considering whether to return "Olla" in response, but decided that it would be foolishly childish. "Olga."​

    On an instant impulse, he took her palms in his, feeling the thin, warm fingers that knew no rings. Olga squeezed his hands and said:​

    "It's all repeated."​

    "Yes," Fidus agreed. "It's just like before. But better."​

    "You promised," she said quietly.​

    "Yes. I promised."​

    Fidus felt some burning in his eyes and blinked, trying to get rid of it.​

    "And I kept my promise."​

    "You did," she echoed, and Kryptman realized that there was no mockery or irony in her words.​

    "Let me guess," said the captain instead of a greeting, squinting at Olga and Kryptmann talking quietly. "It's logical to assume that Doturov still looks at the world through your eyes," he pointed at Wakrufmann. "Lexik Arcanum, on the other hand, likes variety. So... I'd bet on you, Mr. Theta."​

    "You're wrong and you're right," Wakrufmann and Logis said in identical voices at the same time. "In fact, I am now looking at you through the eyes of both of them."​

    "I wonder if I'll ever get to see you in your true form," smiled the Astartes sarcastically.​

    "What is the true form for a mind free from the shackles of the flesh?" Doturov answered the question with a question in Jennifer's mouth. "For example, right now "I" am technically in the body of the "Warhound". Can this incarnation be considered true? And how to assess the degree of truthfulness, given that this shell was not the first and will not be the last in a long chain of wanderings? Or is my true embodiment the Temple of All Knowledge, which holds my main backup copy?"​

    "Scholastic," the space marine shook his head. "Well, be that as it may. I am authorized to express the united position of the Order, the Ecclesiarchy, and the Inquisition, or rather its representatives in the system. We have no grievances against Olga, and we will not interfere in any way with your intentions or actions towards her. You could say..."​

    The captain indicated a sarcastic smile.​

    "... it is now, unquestionably and solely, your prey."​

    "I believe the term 'prey' is inapplicable in this situation," Theta sternly corrected. The spacemarine sensed that Logis's speech had changed again. Perhaps Doturov had loosened the chain and allowed the servant his own free will and considerations. Who knows...​

    "You may not believe it, but Mars is not interested in Olga as a trophy of war. We don't want to "possess" her," Theta emphasized the word "possess". "Certainly, her becoming a mechanicum is preferable. However, circumstances, her background and the value of her knowledge, as well as our ethics, require that this choice be made purely voluntarily."​

    "What if she doesn't want to?" the Astartes inquired. "What if the way of the Machine doesn't inspire her?"​

    "We will not restrain Olga," Logis said firmly. "If you wish, you can control her free will personally. Think of it as a... courtesy of Mars."​

    The captain silently bowed his head and after a moment's pause changed the subject:​

    "Well, apparently that's what they call a happy ending. Everybody got theirs. Even..." The angel glanced at Fidus again. "Our wretched inquisitor, who got a clean conscience and the ability to continue catching his ghosts."​

    Logis, too, turned his artificial face, showing interest in the conversation between Kryptman and Olga. The young man and the girl seemed to be finishing a quiet conversation. The sophisticated drives behind the synthetic flesh displayed a complex shift of emotions.​

    "I have long noticed that there is a condescending perception of Kryptman Jr. as superficial, weak, and unprofessional," Theta said, and now the Astartes captain would have sworn that the logis was speaking for himself. "However, I think that opinion is inaccurate and..."​


    "Rush. Who knows, maybe young Kryptman will surprise us all again?"​

    "I doubt it," the captain said and thought about it. "On the other hand... On second thought, I'm inclined to agree. He's managed to surprise me twice. Maybe he'll do it a third time."​

    "Consensus," Jennifer entered the conversation.​

    "Truly so," Theta shook his head. "Well, I have had the pleasure of our conversation, but the flight window does not wait. With your permission, we'll continue the conversation aboard and a little later, when we leave the system."​

    "Goodbye," Olga said.​

    "I'll say "farewell," Kryptman said. "Who knows, maybe we'll meet again."​

    "Maybe..." Then the girl realized. "Is there someplace I could write to you?"​

    "I have a house, but I'm rarely there. I'll leave the address with the Martians if you want to write. I'll be glad to know that you're doing well. And in general, how's it going."​


    Olga rose on tiptoe and kissed Fidus on the forehead.​

    "Good luck to you... inquisitor."​

    She paused for a moment and then added: "Good luck...my Kryp."​

    They parted, accompanied by the dispassionate lenses of the Martian optics and the glances of the captain's retinue of Sleepless. Fidus walked to the dock, where a shuttle was already waiting for the Inquisitor. The Martian ship, which looked like a hybrid of a black sphere and a Mobius tape, opened a gate with a gilded gear symbol and extended the gangway. Logis and the priestess stood motionless, like statues of gatekeepers. When the Martians were only a few steps away, Olga suddenly turned around, and for a moment it seemed to her that instead of the athletic, shoulder-length figure of Kryptman, a hunched and very old man was gravely walking. A gown embroidered with silver symbols covered his hunched shoulders, and two scars crisscrossed the bald back of his head like the big man Essen. Each step was hard as if the years and the decisions he had made hung heavy around his neck like fetters. Olga blinked, and the vision vanished.​

    It seemed... Only now did she realize how tired she was.​

    Fidus turned around, and for a moment he thought he saw someone else entirely instead of the little short-haired girl. A tall figure in a scarlet cloak, shimmering with steel and gold. A metallic statue body of perfect, mathematically flawless proportions, the face of a dazzlingly beautiful woman with cornflower-colored eyes, hair like streams of molten copper. The posture and gaze of someone who was accustomed to not bowing to anyone. Fidus shook his head, averted his eyes for a moment, and when he looked again, of course, the vision was gone.​
    I need a rest, thought the inquisitor. A little rest...​

    And he never looked back.​

    At the last step, the girl stumbled and felt an attack of uncontrollable fear. As if reading her mind, the Martian, who was called "Theta," handed her a small object that looked like a large cardboard card.​

    "One of our mutual acquaintances sends his regards."​
    Olga mechanically picked up the cardboard, trying to remember where she had seen something like this before. And she remembered. And then she read it:​

    I was interested in communicating with you,
    I'm glad you continue to exist,
    I am glad that we will continue to communicate,
    If you want it.

    "After all, he learned how to put commas," Olga whispered.​

    She smiled, unabashedly, going over her memories like precious pearls, and asked:​

    "With him... with Machine..." then I remembered how to say it right. "Is everything okay with the sacred comp... Cogitator is all right?"​


    "Would it be possible for me to meet him?"​

    "Of course. It is the desire of the sacred cogitator, therefore it is the will of the Omnissia."​

    Olga raised her foot, intending to take the last step, and froze.​

    "I..." she said quietly and finished in an almost whisper. "I'm scared. I know it's silly. But I'm still scared."​

    "That's the way it should be," Theta smiled.​

    "Yes?" the girl asked suspiciously, putting her foot down. It seemed that Olga was ready to run like hell.​

    "Yes," the Martian repeated very seriously. "You have lived several lives. In your world. And then in our world, which has become yours. And none of them have been easy. All the changes promised you nothing but hardship. Now you're on the threshold of a new life, so it's logical and natural that the decision is not easy."​

    "And you promise me hardship, too?" the girl said after a long pause.​

    "It won't be easy," Theta said honestly. "The ways of Omnissia are indeed many, but they all require time, as well as painstaking work. But I can promise you exactly two things."​

    "Like what?"​

    The Martian looked into her large eyes of rich, amazingly clear color - the organ, grown by Magos Biologis of the XJ-9 Squadron to replace the lost one, had expectedly taken root without serious problems. And thought - what attentive and surprisingly trusting eyes, despite such severe trials. Not of a frightened, hunted animal, ready to fight for survival - which would have been expected and logical, but of a human being. The eyes of a very good man, filled with expectation.​
    And hope.​

    "Nothing will ever threaten you again. Unless you want to, by choosing the path of adventure and danger."​

    "And... The second one?"​

    "It's going to be interesting. Not easy, but interesting."​

    Olga took a gulp, took a breath, without panic and splashing in her eyes the readiness to run.​

    "But first I'd like to clarify something," the Martian suddenly said. "The archives of Adeptus Mechanicus and the analysis of the ancient toponymy of Mars show that the generic name " Doturov" was widespread in our world back in the times when Mankind was confined to the solar system and had just left orbit of the Drevnei Zemli," the Martian pronounced the last words in Russian. "It has been reasonably suggested that it was worn by the first man to set foot on the surface of Mars. Can you clarify this question?"
    Doturov, Doturov. You've spent so many resources just to clarify the origin of your name.
    "I don't know," Olga answered confusedly. "When I lived... well, back then, people only flew to the Moon. I think..."​
    "I see."​

    Doturov-Theta extended her open palm in an inviting gesture, Olga raised her hand unbeknownst to her, and metal met flesh.​

    "Come, child. Mars is waiting."​

    A few minutes later, as the ship departed, Olga looked out the panoramic porthole, where Beacon floated majestically surrounded by a ring of orbital complexes, and suddenly flinched, afraid to forget.​


    "Yes?" The tech-priestess immediately responded.​

    "The song...that you played back then in "Chimera," an ancient motif for courage."​

    "Yes, I remember."​

    "Can I listen to it again?"​

    "Of course. Wait a minute, I'll update the library," promised Wackrufmann and complained like a real person, with lively intonations. "That new head, nothing but trouble with it!"​

    "What is the song about?"​

    "This is a very old composition. It was popularized at the time of the first colonization of Mars, but most likely the basis was created somewhat earlier. The original has been sung in many versions and many languages, we cannot vouch for the absolute accuracy of the translation, but in Gothic it will sound something like: "He who cannot understand His - that is, Omnissia's - words will never know happiness."​
    * * *​
    ATP likes this.
  11. Threadmarks: Epilogue

    RiP Seeker of Silence

    Jul 8, 2017
    Likes Received:
    * * *
    "Hello, hello, my friend!"

    Inquisitor Ordo Malleus, named Lazar Carnot Wimpfen, was sitting in a chair amidst mountains of equipment and racks of records, looking like a junkman. And he was smiling, looking at Kryptman through his glasses. The Inquisitor was cordial, affable, and polite beyond belief. And very strange.

    Outwardly, the demon hunter looked like an acolyte who sat in the master's chair as a joke. Older, rather untidy, like a man so busy that he might be glad to look after himself, but was deprived of such an opportunity. Vast baldness crept up to the top of his head and ran to the back of his head, leaving jagged strands of gray hair above his ears. His beard and mustache seemed to have been more or less trimmed, but ineptly and long ago. His eyes, half concealed by swollen eyelids, were hidden behind spectacles, and, as far as Kryptman could tell, they were real, with impressive diopters.

    On his skinny body hung a technical overall as old as the owner's, long and painstakingly modernized for the owner's needs. Some details, boxes, and pouches were glued to the dense grey-brown fabric, and connectors and plugs protruded in different directions. A transparent tube of drip was peeking out from under the neck hoop, sticking the trunk of a needle with a piece of plaster into the cervical artery. Above the Inquisitor's ears were twisted vox headset wires, not just cut, but torn, as if they had been chewed.

    "I pay my respects and..."

    "And everything else, too," Lazar waved his palm carelessly. The fingers on the glove were unevenly cropped. "Throw the folder... well, somewhere, see for yourself where it won't fall. When I'm in the mood, I'll read it. Sit down."

    Fidus could barely keep from shrugging his shoulders and complied with the instruction. Finding a place to sit proved difficult, and in the end, the young inquisitor vacated one of the chairs, placing directly on the riveted floor a bundle of very old papers, yellow and brittle with time. The chair, like everything else here, including the master of the room, gave the impression of being hastily made, strictly for a specific task - simple, rough, functional, with no attention to appearance, much less any harmony.

    "Well," Lazar rubbed his palms together, rustling the rough cloth. "Well, this is it. By the way, I knew your father."

    "A lot of people knew my father," Fidus pursed his lips.

    "A spiky little fellow," Wimpfen smiled with thin lips, and the chewed wires bobbed on the sides of his head in time with the movement. "Spiky. I like that."

    Kryptman, ready to make a vigorous speech about how tired he was of comparisons of a talentless descendant to his great father, closed his mouth and looked at the old sage in surprise.

    "Let's get this straight," Lazar said, businesslike. "I've been assigned to investigate what happened in Beacon, as an outside observer who's not attached to anything and is looking at everything with a new eye. Probably won't find anything, but it may be the other way around. You were accordingly urged to work with me, and you thought it prudent to agree. This shows that your steady reputation as a feeble-minded epigone is, at least in the first instance, wrong."

    Fidus pressed his lips together and stared at the Inquisitor's shiny top under the lamp.

    "You think of me as a penance," Lazar continued as if nothing had happened." A way of rewarding you, and getting you out of the Ordo Hereticus at the same time. To avoid..." Wimpfen indefinitely twiddled his thumbs in the void. "This and that. Right?"

    Fidus nodded silently. From behind a stack of papers as high as Kryptman's chest came a wonderful beast, shifting on short legs. It looked like a cat, but it was about a meter long, with very long ears and a "beard" tied in a neat pigtail. Its long fur, once orange, now shimmered in every shade of dull brown, camouflaging the beast perfectly against the cabinet. The beast lost its whiskers, and a long, curved fang protruded from one side of its mouth. It looked as if the cat was one-eyed, too, for symmetry, and a blue ball glowed in the reflected light on the side of its face where the fang was missing.

    The animal looked at Fidus, and the young inquisitor flinched slightly. Kryptman had heard of girinks, but this was the first time he had seen one. Kryptman knew that Eldar cats were not intelligent, but... the look in the bright blue eye with the triangular pupil seemed very strange. Not animal-like, attentive, or evaluative.

    "Ah, there you are, Horus," Lazar was clearly delighted. "Come here, you bastard."

    Kryptman merely shook his head, refraining from commenting. Girinx staggered to the chair and climbed onto Lazar's lap, clawing at him with his hooked claws. The animal moved with difficulty, overcoming either pain or old flesh, but it did so with extreme determination.

    "Yes," the old inquisitor replied cheerfully to the unspoken question. "Surprisingly wicked creature, so I named him to match his character."

    Horus finally climbed onto his host's lap, looking at his guest with a look that made Fidus feel like the most insignificant and despised creature in the galaxy. Girinx yawned, showing a set of long but thinned teeth by at least a third, and fidgeted to make himself comfortable. Curled up, the Eldar "psy-cat" was surprisingly compact and easy to stroke. Lazar did not fail to start stroking and scratching the insolent beast behind the ears.

    "I'm used to him," the inquisitor smiled. "He's a vile beast, but we've seen so much together... Be warned, he pisses in the boots of those he doesn't like. And Horus dislikes everyone, so be careful what you wear."

    "Where did he come from?" Fidus asked, feeling as silly as an adult at the morning recitation of prayers by schoolchildren "for the glory of the good Grandfather Emperor.

    "A gift from an Eldar witch," Wimpfen explained. "We had an affair that turned into a joint investigation. Or vice versa... it's hard to say, it was... complicated. It's always like that with the Eldar, an amazing race, they turn the simplest things into a ritual of unthinkable intricacy. I was young and... shall we say... careless. However, I must say, it turned out well. In every sense. You have to admit, not everyone can say that he slapped Horus in the face."

    "Ah..." Fidus noded.

    "But we were distracted," said Wimpfen, businesslike, as he continued stroking the shoe defiler. "What were we talking about?"

    "The penance," said Fidus. "Which I was subjected to."

    "Yeah, that's right."

    Lazar grinned, and for a moment Kryptman felt uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. He remembered at once that the funny and slovenly grandfather sitting across from him did not have any high-profile cases, saving entire sectors, battles with the champions of Chaos, and other great deeds in his biography. But Wimpfen is one of the first, if not the first, in his Ordo in terms of rank-and-file, unremarkable, and accomplished investigations. A man-combatant, nicknamed "The Emperor's Grinder" for his single-mindedness and unwavering output in any condition.

    "So," Wimpfen continued as if nothing had happened. "In fact, you pulled out a lucky ticket to a happy future."


    "Yeah. You just haven't realized it yet because you're young and stupid."

    Kryptman was silent again. Lazar scratched the exorbitantly long ear of the girinx and continued with sudden seriousness:

    "Let's just say that your transfer to our Ordo was really an exile. A compromise, to be exact. That's a fact. But, fortunately, I've come to your attention. A boon, you might say."

    "Thank you," Fidus lifted his chin. "I'm ready to get down on my knees and lap the heel of my benefactor."

    "Good intention," the old man nodded graciously. "But we're not on Seferis Secundus, so we don't have to do this nonsense. So, my friend, I've read your case carefully. Again, I knew your father. And I wondered why his descendant was so far from success."

    Fidus clenched his jaws and remained silent.

    "Don't grit your teeth," Wimpfen advised. "I'm not trying to insult you. Now we're talking strictly business and very substantive."

    The old man moved, shifting his position. Horus opened his eyes in displeasure and silently dug his claws into his master's thigh, showing his displeasure.

    "I told you, mean creature," Wimpfen said, tugging at the cat's ear. "I'll make a rug out of it someday. Or scarecrow, I haven't decided yet. Yeah... so there you go. Kryptman Sr. was a very nasty man. They used to call this sort of man various words like "asshole" and other unflattering things. But he was effective. Extremely effective. Yes, you can argue about methods and collateral damage, but your ancestor achieved his goals, and they were so meaningful that even the stacks of corpses that Fidus piled up in the process looked like a very moderate price to pay. And in tandem with the morally deprived Schmettau, Kryptman was invincible. What's wrong with you...?"

    Fidus Junior thought the question was rhetorical, not requiring an answer, and it turned out to be.

    "It's all on the surface," Wimpfen said thoughtfully. "On the surface... You're not a bad inquisitor, my young friend. Not bad, indeed."

    "Many people would disagree with you," Kryptman said with unexpected bitterness.

    "Fuck them," the old man brushed them off with glorious indifference. "A good investigator has to look at the root of things, to see the essence of things. I am a good investigator because I always look further and deeper."

    Fidus again felt a chill slide down his spine. Under the unblinking gaze behind the thick glasses, it became uncomfortable and unsettling, like an insect in a test tube.

    "And I see your point," Wimpfen continued. "Nepotism is not as bad as most people think. It has some good points. But it also has disadvantages. Kinship can bring the wrong man to the right place. Or bring the right person, but... too soon."

    "Too soon?"

    "Yes. You have all the gifts and capabilities to be a great protector of the House He built."

    Lazar blessed himself with an aquila, and Kryptman repeated his movement like a shadow.

    "But you became an inquisitor too soon. Too soon you were hidden by your father's glorious shadow. You are now like an imago, just waiting to spread your wide wings and soar toward the sun."

    "And?" Fidus said indefinitely.

    "And I can teach you."

    "I don't understand," Fidus admitted honestly. "Do I have a choice? As far as I understand, my exile to another Ordo, as a junior assistant, is a prerequisite for certain things to be... forgotten."

    "I'll explain," Wimpfen smiled faintly. "What makes an inquisitor the scourge of the Imperium's enemies? It is knowledge, character, and experience. The three legs on which all success is based. And your stool has one leg sawn off. So far, sawed-off."

    Lazar intertwined his fingers, looking intently straight into Kryptman's eyes.

    "Experience, that's the main thing you lack. You went off on your own too soon. And predictably, you stumbled. And failures at the beginning of the journey have broken much stronger people. These injuries to the soul are like badly healed fractures. You can get back on your feet, but you'll still be walking with crutches for the rest of your life."

    Fidus leaned back on the thick wire backrest, hands at his sides, trying to be restrained and impenetrably cold-blooded. However, the young man was beginning to feel that the old inquisitor was reading him like an open book of typewritten letters.

    "Just experience..." Wimpfen emphasized "just," managing to put an abyss of meaning into short words, starting with irony. "That's what you need to mend your broken bones. To get rid of your complexes. Leave behind the failures. Experience will toughen you, strengthen you, teach you. And give you a team that will carry you through the decades. A team without which you are worthless, believe me."

    Wimpfen sighed and adjusted his glasses.

    "Everyone knows the glorious, formidable names of the great inquisitors... but behind the successes of each of them were always unnamed, unknown people, faithful acolytes. If you want to succeed, you need a team of associates."

    "I have a retinue," said Fidus grimly, expecting a mockery and ready for it. "I have it now."

    "Not all of them seem to have agreed to go with you, do they?"

    "Not all of them. Some chose to remain purificators."

    "Funny panopticon," Wimpfen sniggered. "The convicts, the bastards, the punishers."

    "People I can trust. I have seen their blood and wounds, and they have seen mine. We have gone to hell, side by side, and when the hour comes, we will go again."

    "I like that "when." They usually say "if". And yes, it's worth a lot," the old man agreed, suddenly and very seriously. "You have a good retinue."


    "Beaten by life, but not broken. Accustomed to risk. Ready to learn. Calculating, but with a drop of the right idealism. More or less a working team. They're good. Many inquisitors started with less. I started with less."

    Wimpfen leaned forward, careful not to disturb the napping cat.

    "But just as you are just a blank for the future inquisitor, so they are just blanks for a chisel. Who, in time - maybe! - will carve them into true acolytes. Loyal, militant, energetic. Experienced. Besides, there are very few of them, and your war would require an army."

    The inquisitors, old and young, were silent, thinking about their own things. Girinx also dozed silently, not giving the bald monkeys even a glance, much less a purr.

    "What's next?" Fidus asked cautiously at last.

    "I'll give you everything Kryptman Jr. lacks," Wimpfen calmly promised. - I'll polish the talents of your rabble-rousing company. And, among other things, I'll help you build up your team. Share my experts. I'll fix what your mentors, blinded by the bright light of the name "Kryptman," have ruined. I will make a true inquisitor out of you."

    "I don't understand," Kryptman admitted honestly. "That sounds like a bargain, doesn't it?"

    "That's correct."

    "I will get effective practice from one of the most experienced investigators, Ordo Malleus. And a team that will be worthy companions in future endeavors. Right?"


    "But what is your interest? What can I give you in return?"

    "Responsibility. And dedication."


    Lazar waited a moment, then shoved the Eldarian animal off his lap without much reverence. Girinx bellowed loudly and grudgingly, jerked his short tail, and staggered to the shadows of the far corner of the room, shifting on weak legs.

    "I know your fetish," Wimpfen said blandly. "The myth that poisoned your father's life and will probably lead you to an equally sad ending."

    "It's not a myth," Kryptman snapped. "I've seen them with my own eyes."

    "Or not "them". Or not seen," Wimpfen smiled faintly." But it doesn't matter.


    "You see..." Lazar ran his fingertips thoughtfully over the tube of the dropper, which injected drops of some kind of elixir into the inquisitor's veins. "I did not choose you because I feel pity for your almost ruined career and life. Not out of deference to your late father's persona. And not to benefit our service with another talent that needs to be discovered and polished. You're here because you know..."

    Wimpfen interlocked his fingers. The corners of his lips dipped down, giving his face an expression of sardonic sadness.

    "You know... or you think you know what it's like to be the only guardian of the truth. A shepherd who sees in the darkness the greedy gleam of wolves' eyes. The sighted among the blind."

    "You... too?" Fidus managed only to utter.

    "What...? Oh, no, of course not. I don't believe in secret xenos who remain in the shadows for years, unrecognized and undiscovered. Or, more accurately, I believe that such xenos can exist. Why not, after all? Who better than us inquisitors to know how big the world is beyond our knowledge and borders. The deepness of the darkness beyond the Emperor's light. I simply do not believe in their danger, as your father did. Such a thing is mathematically impossible; an enemy of that level would have shown himself sooner or later."

    "But then..." Fidus grimaced, unable to hide his disappointment.

    "The main thing," Lazar held out his hand, pointing at Kryptman, as if taking aim at him. "That you believe in them. You see..."

    The old man leaned back in his chair, as if tired from a long conversation.

    Your xenos may be true. Could be a delusion. But my enemy is real. He is material, terrifying, deadly. And he is always in the shadows, invisible, inaudible... I know that he exists, but unlike you Kryptmans, I was smart enough not to shout it in every corner. Because a word without proof is worth nothing, and instead of usefulness it turns out to be detrimental.

    "What do you need me for?" Fidus asked straightforwardly.

    "I need a helper. Someone who understands my troubles and can look where others only turn away bewildered. In return, I will make you a true inquisitor. And help you with your..." Lazar snorted. "Xenos, when we've finished my business. As you can see, it's simple."

    Fidus was silent, clutching the edge of the metal seat with numb fingers. For a minute or more the young inquisitor thought intensely under the old man's cold and penetrating gaze.

    "It will take time," Kryptman finally said, softly. It sounded both like an assumption and a statement.

    "Years," Wimpfen nodded. "I've had this case for fifteen years, and I'm as far from successful as I was the day I..."

    He stopped talking before he had finished.

    "Years," Fidus repeated. "But I can't lose so much time..."

    "Yes," Lazar shrugged, "Or you could. How much did your father search for? Without succeeding, by the way. If your terrible enemies exist, they've been lurking, like parasites, in the body of the Imperium for decades, perhaps centuries. An extra year, two, ten, or half a century will not destroy the House of the Emperor... perhaps. But it will give you experience, wisdom, strength, and the opportunity to finally make the secret visible, to bring it out of the shadows into the light. And when we are done with my case, I will help you as you will help me now. Two inquisitors in a relentless search are better than one."

    "What if I don't agree? If I don't want to waste my time and am willing to take the risk?"

    "The door is right behind you. My courier ship will take you anywhere you want to go."

    "Can I..." Fidus gasped, coughed, and shook his head as if pushing a lump of hot air down his throat. "Count on any help? Little help, at least?"

    "Kryptman," Lazar grimaced. "Don't haggle. You are not in church, and I do not absolve the Emperor for a modest donation. I have a great responsibility on my shoulders. And a great debt, which, alas, only I can bear. Your value to me is only in the fact that you are more familiar with this feeling than anyone else. And in the fact that you have good skills that I can sharpen for my tasks. A less experienced specialist or acolyte is of no use to me. A more experienced and promising inquisitor will show excessive initiative or simply interfere, considering the search useless. I gave you the terms. You either agree or you don't. Make up your mind."

    Kryptman stood silently and strode up a winding path between work shelves, piled files of old reports, drawers of uncertain functionality with half-erased symbols on the painted wood and metal with rust spots.

    "Again," Fidus stopped and turned to his interlocutor, snapping his fingers. "We're on your... case. To a victorious conclusion, long and dedicated. Just the two of us."


    "And after that, we do my case. Just as persistently and selflessly. With all your resources."


    "And I risk dying long before then. Or end my life in a fruitless search for something that doesn't exist."

    "Yes," Wimpfen repeated for the third time. "My enemy exists. But, of course, it is likely that our lives will not be enough to expose him."

    Kryptman sighed heavily and wanted to say something, but Lazar beat him to it by speaking softly:

    "Take your time, my friend. I'm giving you a choice. And you'll get a lot if you go my way. A lot. But there's no turning back or taking a step out of the way. Rest assured, I have many ways to make you respect our treaty, should it come to pass. So choose wisely."

    "Yes..." Fidus sighed again. "Why is everything always so complicated?"

    "And everything seemed simple and clear before, didn't it?" Wimpfen smiled. "Alas, when you're fighting shadows, you have to descend into darkness and fight with a blindfold on. To know your enemy and to fight him face to face is a luxury we rarely have."

    "Compromises, contracts, step backwards to make two forwards."

    "Oh, if only it were that simple," the old man smiled again. "But I guess you've already understood how we work. The rest is a matter of practice."

    "Who is our enemy?" Fidus asked, stressing the word "our," and Lazar shook his head slightly to indicate his acceptance of his young colleague's choice.

    "To your right, in that locker over there," Wimpfen pointed. "The top sheet is on the red folder."

    Kryptman spun a drawing depicting a gray-and-white skull with eyes. The deadhead was divided in half by a vertical line, the colors alternating symmetrically on either side of the line-white eye with a black pupil, the black eye with a white pupil, and so on. On the forehead of the skull were two ones, and above the top hung a typical star like a spiky wheel. Not... no, not your typical star. It took Fidus a moment or two to realize there were ten rays, not eight. Kryptman looked questioningly at Wimpfen.

    "Skull and Eleven? Malal? The false god of Chaos?"

    "Yes, that's right."

    "Malal does not exist," said Fidus glumly, clearly regretting having agreed to participate with Lazar in his crusade.

    "Well, why not," Wimpfen said with a touch of irony. "Anything abstract can be real, one way or another. For instance, I'm sure you've never seen the Emperor. But He is."

    Fidus automatically blessed himself with an aquila, releasing the sheet. The disappointment on the young inquisitor's face was becoming clearer and clearer.

    "God of apostates, renegades, dissidents," continued Wimpfen, who seemed genuinely amused by his colleague's reaction. "He exists only to the extent that one is willing to believe in him. But you're right."

    With unexpected ease, Lazar stood up, and Fidus marveled at how quickly and easily the old inquisitor moved, looking like a mummy in a spacesuit.

    "Yes, you're right. My enemy is too clever to hide. Instead, he hides in plain sight. He pretends to be a single leaf in a huge forest."

    Wimpfen walked over to Fidus and leaned over for the drawing. He held the sheet in his hands with an expression of concentrated, aged hatred on his wrinkled face.

    "Who is he?" Kryptman asked.

    Wimpfen was silent for a while, looking at Fidus questioningly, as if deciding whether he was worthy of sharing the secrets. Then he spoke:

    "Many years ago an agent of mine was killed. You'd think, what's so surprising about that? Unpleasant, yes. Kind of humiliating, yes. But that's our trade. Inquisitors, alas, die often, acolytes - constantly and in plenty. But there was one strange moment..."

    Wimpfen folded the sheet neatly, his eyes fixed on Kryptman, but Fidus could have sworn that the old man was looking through his interlocutor, into the distant past.

    He was a novice acolyte and was engaged in an equally small, insignificant case that suited his qualifications perfectly. The usual beginner's coaching before he began his more specialized training. Enemies of his level would have used the traditional weapons - poison, knife, bullet, gag, torture to death, and so on. But the agent was killed in a terrifying, sophisticated way that indicated great mastery of witchcraft practices. Before he lost his mind completely, the poor man managed to utter two words. Only two. I assumed that the agent had accidentally touched something bigger and had fallen prey to it. I began to search. At first, to retaliate against those who dared to kill a servant of the Emperor, however small and insignificant. And then in earnest...

    Wimpfen smiled crookedly and ran his fingertips over the IV tube.

    "After the first assassination attempt."

    Head of the old inquisitor tilted slightly.

    "Yeah, exactly the first one?" Fidus remarked, not so much asking as affirming.

    "Definitely. My enemies have nothing. No name, no nickname. Just symbols they use from time to time to cover their tracks. The sign of a false deity and an equally false star. I suppose they're scattered crumbs that lead down a false trail. A mockery of me."

    "RIght," Lazar clarified:

    "And also over all of us."

    "Discusable..." Fidus's mind began to work, trying to interpret the new patron's vague speech correctly. "So they're not heretics? Not Chaosites or demon-worshippers?"

    "Or they are all together and nothing apart from what you have listed. They are the ones who are willing to put on any mask."

    "Marvellous," Fidus said.

    "It is," Wimpfen agreed, without a trace of humor. "From what I've seen, they're just as sophisticated and deadly. At least. Only not as well-intentioned."

    "Now, who are we talking about?" Kryptman finally lost his patience.

    "About their trace, we speak," Wimpfen said. "More than once they have surfaced, but invariably accompanied by horrific crimes. Moreover, a display of cold, incredibly calculating intelligence. The last time my nets picked up these words was a year ago, along with a reference to the Ice Port. And, as you can see..."

    There the inquisitor grinned wryly, without finishing his sentence.

    "Unexpected. Did you catch those words?" Kryptman asked, realizing that the lot has been cast.

    "Solving the error - Corrigendum errorem"
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