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Kryp (WH40k Translation FemProtagonist Isekai)

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

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  1. Threadmarks: Chapter 1
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

    Joined:
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    Please support an original here. I try to post it on Royal road.
    [​IMG]

    Chapter 1
    Some must work in the darkness so that others may live in the light
    Richard Yancey "The Monstrumologist"

    * * *

    It smelled of blood and death. Olga had never seen a dead body, much less smelled one, but for some reason, she knew immediately and unequivocally that only death could smell so horrible. A peculiar, slightly sweet smell with a hint of bitterness. It was not unpleasant at all ... the word "unpleasant" was not appropriate here, because it did not convey the sensation at all. Rather, the smell was utterly alien to the living. Like a common spider to a mammal. The smell evoked an instinctive urge to flee, to hide, to panic in the very core of her soul.

    Olga mumbled unintelligibly, twitched all her limbs at once, slapping her palms on something slimy - it worked unexpectedly. She was able to feel her body, and her other senses returned, first her hearing, then her eyesight.
    So, what is it...? What the hell is going on around here...

    Olga shook her head and rubbed her eyes. It was a very bad idea! Dirty just caused a waterfall of tears. Blinking, she looked at her fingers, trying to figure out where the dirt came from. Oh, shit! Not just dirt, but some kind of sticky sludge with tiny scales, like coagulated blood...

    "Fuck this shit," Olga whispered, forgetting at once that she was a cultured person and an urban person in general, even if in the first generation. The sounded characteristic was surprisingly appropriate because in this case the surrounding landscape was defined that way - and nothing else.

    It looked more like some kind of chapel than anything else. Or a crypt. In general, it was clearly something cult-like, ancient. Nothing modern, no plastic, and not a single square corner. A circular hall about the size of an ordinary playground, either concrete or stone. How many meters, what's the radius of... Fuck knows. The walls converged with a web of ribs, three meters above the floor so that the room seemed to be the interior of some citrus fruit with many slices. The shadows between the ribs were thickened with an abnormal depth, like inkblots.

    And in general, everything here was abnormal.

    On closer inspection, the girl realized that the stone walls were painted from the floor upward, with some nonsense. A mural... No, more like a text, and generously sprinkled over it with red paint. The letters were familiar, almost all of them. It was in Latin, but, like the rest of the room, it had no straight angles. All flowing, depicted in flying strokes with all sorts of swirls. Some of the characters still seemed unfamiliar, but they did not give the impression of being alien inclusions in the text. Just other letters of the same alphabet.

    The floor was very smooth and wet. In the middle of the room was... an altar? Well, some kind of pedestal, more like an altar than anything else. Apparently, something had been lying on it before, and now it was shattered into glass crumbs. There were a lot of crumbs, like diamond dust; at any rate, they reflected the light just as beautifully and brightly.

    Where did the light come from? The hell knows... Olga did not see lamps or anything like it. But the light was coming from somewhere, it was not visible as daylight or even as an old incandescent lamp, but more or less.

    Though it would have been better if there had been no light, for at that moment the girl realized that the walls were not at all covered with paint. And the floor. And all around, including her clothes.

    "Shit! " Olga uttered with genuine sincerity.

    Well, at least it was clear where the nauseating smell came from. But another question arose: what could have caused such an explosion ... by the way, how many victims were there in general?

    Now an uncontrollable wave of nausea swept over Olga. It was as if a flap had been opened in her brain, behind which was full awareness of the insanity of what was happening. The crypt, the symbols, the bloody jelly, and the small - no higher than an ankle - mounds in which fragmented bones, generously mixed with the stuffing of entrails and torn clothes, could be discerned.

    The vomiting was long and agonizing. The worst part was the smell. After another cramp, her lungs greedily sucked in more air, the stench pounded directly into her solar plexus, and the cycle repeated itself, to the splashing of gastric juice from her empty stomach, the stabbing pain in her eyes, and the feeling that her diaphragm was about to rupture.

    "Salva me."

    A man. Hidden in the shadows, motionless. The only more or less intact body within sight. How had she not noticed him before? Olga wiped her mouth with her sleeve, swallowed painfully, trying to switch off from the sensation of dried blood on her palms. She stared into the shadow, overcoming her aching head, the red haze in front of her eyes, and the buzzing in her ears.

    The man was half-lying, half-sitting, leaning against the pilaster. Nearby lay something long, metal, like a gun with a very thick barrel. The gun was damaged, and the barrel was bent at an angle of forty or forty-five degrees; it looked eerie. Who had managed to tear the weapon steel of finger-thick like that?

    The first impression the only living and whole person made was monochrome. He was dressed entirely in black. Not dark gray, not blue, but real charcoal darkness. Black boots on thick soles with many clasps along with the high cuffs. A black raincoat, heavy and "oaky" even in appearance, lying in rough folds. A stand-up collar, like part of a suit of armor, protrudes down to his cheekbones, covering the lower part of his face. The padded gloves are like a real "tactical," only bigger, tougher, and somehow ... more grotesque. The front part of his cloak was charred, hanging down in tatters, and something like a cuirass, nicely dented by hammers, gleamed beneath it. Of course, it was black, too.

    On his belt hung a double pouch of thick leather, one of the compartments letting out a thin tube, like an IV. The tube was stuck in the man's neck with a thick needle, and a yellow light on the pouch flashed alarmingly, just like an LED. There were some symbols on his cloak, silvery-white in color, but they smoothed out in the shadows as if dissolving into it.

    His face was white. Pale, apparently from nature, it was now completely bleached, taking on a strange, eerie hue. A mixture of white and gray. Olga blinked and felt a shiver in her hands and then all over her body. Only now did she realize that the man in the armored cloak was terribly wounded. Olga was lucky to have missed (until this minute, at least) not only the dead but also severe mutilation, so her mind did not first catch the abnormally angled foot ... no, perhaps the knee ... actually the entire left leg from the hip was twisted along its axis from outside to inside, like a plasticine man in the hands of a child. Judging by the pitifully twisted arm and the general obliquity, something hit right in the man's chest, snagging the whole left half. The armor survived, but the force of the impact was too powerful.

    Olga swallowed, trying to understand why the unknown man was still alive. The inner voice shouted that people could not live with such injuries. But the stranger was conscious and was looking at her very intently. John Doe's eyes seemed like bottomless holes in his gray-white face, his dark pupils incredibly dilated with pain but thought and consciousness was pulsing in them.

    "Salva me." The stranger repeated authoritatively.

    It sounded like an order, from a man accustomed to obedience. But it wasn't very impressive, because the "black cloak" inhaled, and he groaned through his teeth at the pain in his ribs, blurring the last word in a long moan. Tiny scarlet drops appeared on his gray lips.

    "Ego Inquisitor sum. Audi me."

    This time he spoke more softly, trying not to disturb the broken body. And he couldn't seem to contain his surprise at Olga's reaction. Or rather, the lack thereof. "Black" looked at the girl. The girl looked at "Black" in silence - "like a sheep at a new gate," if you refer to the rich vocabulary of her stepmother. She did not understand what he was saying. Some of the words seemed familiar, the language - akin to English, which she had learned from her time at the "beauty studio". But the whole thing was completely unintelligible.

    Spanish? No, too chopped and clear phrases. German? Also no, on the contrary, too smooth. Maybe French... And what the hell is a Frenchman doing here?

    "Quis es tu, quid tibi nomen est?" The wounded man made another attempt.

    Indeed, a Frenchman. But that did not make the situation any clearer.

    And what's the noise outside...

    God, it's so scary all around.

    Her thoughts were jumbled, clinging to each other, and in the end, none of them made sense. What the hell was going on here? Maybe some terrorists? A silly line from an old movie came to mind: "Saddam Hussein attacked us!"

    No, if they were terrorists, they must have normal weapons and other ammunition. But here the whole environment looked like a set from a high-budget sci-fi movie. This, what's its name... "Dune" from the eighties from some American junkie. Lynch, yes, definitely Lynch. Only without the flip side in the form of plywood, duct tape, and nails sticking out. And the extra with the flick on which he was supposed to write the take's props were missing.

    "Debemus recedere ex …"

    The "Black" seemed to be affected by his wounds. His voice fell silent, his words becoming unintelligible. The gray-white color was gradually giving way to blue-green. Now the unknown man did look more and more like a dead man with each passing second. And he was no longer demanding but begging. As much as he could, he seemed to have learned long ago not to beg for anything. The yellow signal on his pouch turned red.

    The noise, that buzzing in my ears again, like an apiary or the rumble of the surf... She have to look outside somehow, call for help. Although the poor guy can't be helped, that's for sure.

    "Redeant in ambobus necabo." Man in black exhaled and stared at Olga with dim eyes. He seemed to have exhausted his stock of eloquence and prepared for the worst.

    What the girl wanted more than anything was to say "go fuck yourself" and get the hell out of here. Her head was hurting more and more, her diaphragm was hurting, her eyes were hurting... everything was hurting. And in the ears, it was humming. Three things stopped Olga. First, she saw nothing that could be considered a way out. Nothing at all. Secondly, a man was dying in front of her, and Olga, of course, liked to brag about cynicism - who in her youth avoided it? - but not so much as to leave a helpless person to die on. Third ...

    She didn't have time to think about that. The girl finally realized that the hum in her ears was not an illusion, but a real sound coming through the walls. And then she realized what the sound most likely resembled.

    In old books such a situation was usually described in some colorful way - "blood froze in the veins" and all that. Olga was always genuinely amused by the archaic turns of "old times". Only not now, because she felt exactly as described. It was as if all her blood had frozen at once, freezing her body with unspeakable terror.

    She realized what that sound was coming from outside.

    Run, she must run!

    Olga fumbled, frantically and haphazardly, slipping on the smooth floor, well smeared with blood and some other gooey shit.

    Run, run, run!

    Away from the terrifying howl of thousands of throats that raged, approaching, somewhere behind the thick walls. Of course, the girl had heard what the shrieks of many people sounded like, thanks to YouTube and the cinema. But here ... if someone now asked a calm, detached question - and what, in fact, is wrong? - Olga would hardly be able to answer. It was just ... her ears told her two completely objective facts. The first was that some crazy crowd of people was shouting outside. The second was that normal people couldn't make such demonic cries. They couldn't, that's all. The howling, even muffled by the barrier, penetrated somewhere deep into her consciousness, awakened the atavistic fear of the naked ape of the horrors of a world plunged into darkness.

    Only run!

    But where to?

    Olga clenched her fists and looked around in panic. She rushed to the nearest wall and pounded on it, smashing her fists against the sharp edges.

    "Let me out!" She yelled, frantically thinking that all this mincemeat had somehow gotten in here. And if they got in, there must be a way out!

    "Let me out!"

    And she was answered. Olga stepped back, feeling the wall vibrate as if many hands were pounding on it at once from the other side. Whoever it was, he, or rather they, intended to breakthrough. And maybe they will succeed. The girl covered herself with her hands as if trying to ward off the outside threat, feeling powerless despair, and apathetic.

    No way out.

    Now, just a minute... That grim man in the bdsm cape who was about to give his soul to God? Olga looked at the still alive crippled. Surprisingly, he responded with a hazy but still meaningful look. He, too, seemed to be feeling the disposition.

    "Let me out!" Asked the girl, trying to wipe her soiled face with her sleeve. She thought for a few moments and then added, as clearly and legibly as possible. "Save me. Please. Help."

    "You're going to die anyway, so at least help me one last time," she added in a whisper, not fearing that he would understand. The Russian language was unfamiliar to the crooked-legged man.

    "Salva me."

    Well, he's said that before. And what would that mean?

    "An asshole/" The girl said passionately, fighting the urge to punch her interlocutor right in the forehead.
    Salva me. "Me" it's understandable. But "salve"... Maybe "help". In such an environment, there's nothing else to say. Again, it sounds like "save," "save me," "salve me".

    "An asshole." She repeated, understanding, in her mind, that it sounded unfair. But everything around her was so ugly, and it must have been someone's fault.

    And what can I do for you?

    She stepped toward the wounded man. Up close, he reeked of burning clothes and burnt plastic. Probably from the melted armor, which had taken on a volley of unknown shit, though it failed to protect its owner completely. Olga knelt next to the sufferer.

    "Who the hell are you..."

    The man in black didn't seem to understand a word, but he caught the emotional context. He slowly raised his right hand, put his palm to his heart, and, writhing in pain, said something separately. What it was, Olga could barely make out; it was too short and slurred, all consonants. "Korupmnt" some kind of... Corruptor in the local language?

    "Is he an Armenian?" She thought aloud. "No, you'll be a "Kryp". You're so creepy anyway."

    In fact, the wounded man was not very scary. Nor was he old. If you wiped away the mask of misery and the splatter of coagulated blood from his face, the poor man could have been about thirty years old, maybe even less.
    Realizing he'd been renamed, Kryp mouthed again. Through strength and pain, he mumbled slowly:

    "Et ego coriarius. Quaestiones."

    "WTF" Olga muttered, touching his tattered cloak. "What to do with you?"

    The wounded man was breathing heavily, with a wheezing sound that seemed to burst from the very depths of his lungs. Olga distinctly realized that minutes remained for Kryp. It was unclear what power was still keeping him on this side of life, but its effect was ending

    "Damn it," the hairdresser said with passion and tried to pull open the flaps of the black cloak. The thick layered fabric turned out to be exactly as it looked from the outside - stiff and badly bendable. Olga searched for anything resembling a first-aid kit and found none. Only a strange, palm-sized badge on a thick chain. The badge was marked with an engraving, either a letter or a symbol that looked like a letter. A cross with small sidebars or a Latin "I" crossed by two or three horizontal lines. And the classic "Totenkopf" on the intersection.

    Fucking Nazi. And nothing that looks like a first-aid kit. Only an empty leather holster, sewn with rough stitching, it seems, by hand. Not even a knife.

    "First-aid kit!" The girl shouted in despair and then realized that those outsides could hear her. It occurred to her that, insofar as their howls were unlike human voices, they must have been unlike ordinary people. At least they were hammering with inhuman strength.

    "Do you have something at least? A syringe tube, some other shit?"

    Kryp keeps silent. He seems to have fainted.

    Olga stopped, despair overwhelming her. A man was dying in front of her, and she was powerless. She had already forgotten how she was ready to leave the unfortunate man right there.

    Ahh... In a good book, she would surely have the knowledge she needed. Let's say a paramedical course under her belt. Or at least a relative in medicine, a parent, or better yet, a grandfather. And one would be able to recall old wise advice, just on the topic of the day. But Olga had no medical relatives, and the ones she did have... in general, relatives were the last thing a girl would think of well, especially at a time like this.

    "What should I do with you..." She whispered, feeling the tears stinging her inflamed eyes. The incredible stress and stench made her want to vomit again. And that light bulb seemed to be beeping, but it was so thin and disgusting that it cut through the outside noise.

    Olga squirmed, folded almost in half like a folding knife. She wanted to close her eyes and ears, not to think about anything, to forget that it was all mincemeat and satanism and fucked up. The light bulb was still...

    Lightbulb. Red. It beeps.

    With trembling fingers, Olga touched the belt case, which looked like a pouch from an album about the armament of German nazist infantrymen. It was double, stiff, and seemed to be sewn from the same leather as the holster. The red bulb... it used to be yellow. And what was the tube? Olga looked closely at the "IV tube ", which seemed to be a real IV tube, only of a darker material and something more "glassy". It had been stuck into Kryp's neck, in the area of the carotid artery, roughly, hard, so that the blood protruded. Hmm... if he's right-handed, he must have poked himself with it, upward and downward, at such an angle.

    Interesting...

    Olga returned to the pouch, tried to open it. The clasp turned out to be stiff. She broke a couple of fingernails.

    "Fuck." She cursed. She tried not to think about how much it cost, even at a discount at her local salon. Of course, it was silly, to say the least, to think about such trivial things now, but such simple, down-to-earth thoughts somehow tied her to reality. Because everything around her, visible and audible, simply could not exist. Olga felt the patina of city life flying off her like a leaf in the wind, revealing the old girl, the tenacious village animal, who does not think too much, but survives. And only then worries, maybe.

    "Okay, this is more or less understandable." She muttered, looking at the two cylindrical things that showed up from under the pouch lid. They looked like enlarged batteries or beer cans. Each had a connector on the lid and a light bulb that looked like an LED. One blinked red through a slot in the pouch and reached out as a drip to Kryp's neck.

    "Shall we take a risk?" Olga asked herself and looked at the man. He was half-lounging, half-sitting motionless, looking through the girl with an unseeing gaze. Several pink bubbles swelled on his blue lips.

    Olga tried to unscrew the adapter that connects the dropper to the jar. Fortunately, it wasn't screwed all the way in, so she realized almost immediately that the thread is not clockwise, but the other way around. So she had to twist from left to right. It worked. The jar hissed softly, and the red light died. Olga exhaled, tried to calm the trembling in her fingers. She thought that, from the sanitary point of view, this was not even a dump, but a complete toilet, so that if Kryp survives now (and he certainly does not), he will die of contamination later.

    "And toping with moonshine." Olga quoted her half-brother (may he die) as she screwed the adapter cup into the second "battery". It went through easily. And nothing happened.

    Olga quietly jerked the tube, tapped the jar, looked for some hidden switch or at least a button. Nothing.

    "A miracle of fucking technology..."

    She tried another twist, the cylinder turned a quarter-turn forcefully, very stiffly, and something clicked in the jar as if a diaphragm inside had been punctured. A green light flashed. If you put your fingers to the jar, you could feel the slightest vibration, as if a silent motor was running inside. Nothing could be seen through the dark drip, but the girl was sure that some kind of substance was flowing through it, flowing into an artery. Maybe even with air bubbles.

    Damn, she hadn't thought of that. On the other hand, it was too late. And even if she had, what could she do?

    Olga sat and waited in silence. Outside there was howling, raging, and pounding. The sound seemed very muffled as if it was coming through a meter or two of concrete. And that made it all the more frightening. If you could hear it even here, what was going on outside?

    Kryp woke up suddenly as if he had awakened from a deep sleep. He sighed heavily, coughed up blood, looked at Olga quite sensibly. He squinted his eyes down, touched the battery with careful, light strokes.

    "Tibi gratias ago." He whispered.

    "You're welcome, anytime," the girl giggled nervously. "Now get our asses out of here..."

    It sounded so cheesy that it made her teeth cramp, but the mind brought up on modern mass media, gave out the usual pattern. Good thing Kryp didn't understand a word of it, except for the general message.

    The rumbling outside, meanwhile, increased, and crumbs were sprinkled on the walls in some places. The first cracks, barely visible at first, crunched. It was not known how many destroyers were outside, or what they were using, but it was clear that the unknown intends to dismantle the crypt, and they would probably succeed.

    "Exitus est ex loci iste, ostendo vobis." Kryp said through the pain. He thought for a few seconds and pointed his finger at Olga's pants. She stared at him incomprehensibly. He, gritting his teeth in pain and anger, slowly stretched out his hand and touched the belt buckle.

    Olga opened her mouth to say clearly and distinctly what she thought of the fucking erotomaniac, who had watched all sorts of "Shades". She stopped herself and closed her mouth, realizing what Kryp wanted. She undid the metal buckle with the embossed crocodile on it and took out her belt. She helped the wounded man roll it in half. Kryp was now able to use his left hand as well, but more slowly and less well than with his more or less intact right hand. He shoved the leather band into his mouth, bit down hard, and pointed silently to the opposite wall. Beads of sweat broke out on Kryp's forehead, his pupils dilated even more in anticipation of the inevitable.
    The blows came more and more frequently from the outside, and crumbs, not dust, were falling from the vaulted ceiling.

    "And he said, 'Let's go,'" Olga said and grasped the high collar of the cloak tightly.

    Kryp muttered something, but all that came through his clenched teeth and belt was an inaudible "boo-boo-boo".
    Olga wanted to say something else like "this is going to hurt," but she realized that she was only dragging out the time that was almost gone. She pulled silently, trying to make it smooth and neat. Of course, it didn't work. It was a rough tug, and Kryp howled muffledly and fearfully, rolling his eyes, his hands twitching in uncontrollable convulsions. Olga kept pulling, unable even to swear, wishing that it would all be over somehow.

    * * *
    Feedback and mistakes would be apresheated.​
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2021
    PbJames, Kyryst, Hazardine and 26 others like this.
  2. Threadmarks: Chapter 2
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

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    Chapter 2

    The rest happened as if in a fog. Her consciousness swam as if Olga were split in two. One part of her moved her unruly, woozy body. She was dragging Kryp through the trapdoor, tumbling through hot pipes and old braided cables. The other went somewhere deep, where there was nothing but a desperate desire to finally end this crazy nightmare, this delirious dream. There, at the bottom of consciousness, the girl imagined that all of this was simply not real around her. There was nothing. There was no heavy, minute-by-minute fainting man, no tunnel that looked like ventilation from some eighties horror movie.

    There was nothing.

    Nothing at all.

    And it lasted for who knows how long. Longer than infinity, probably. Or a little shorter.

    She was insanely thirsty. She'd felt the same way once, more than a year ago when she'd had a few drinks in good company that evening and had to go in the morning to replace her inopportunely ill partner. And without the option of skiping under plausible pretexts. This is an unpleasant feeling, when you have to go somewhere, something to do, and still have to carefully pretend to be a living, healthy person. When all she wanted more than anything was to lie down and fall asleep here and now. She didn't need to pretend anything now. She could make all the faces she wanted, swear and curse, but she felt far worse than ever. Fatigue was nauseating to the point of sour bile in her mouth, and thirst was giving her a headache and making her legs stiffen. The red light of the rare service lamps stabbed her eyes and seemed to throb with red-hot needles somewhere in her bones.

    Kryp passed out again, grinning like a vampire and rolling his eyes under his half-closed eyelids. No wonder, with all those injuries and that kind of transportation. Olga poorly remembered dragging the heavy guy by the collar, following his fragmentary instructions. I think they went through some kind of trapdoor into a communications tunnel or something. Then several more times they broke through the trapdoors, or she did, and then, cursing loudly, she dragged Creep, who was growling in pain, not even the chewed, bruised belt helping him anymore. Who would have told her she would have so much strength in her hands, even with the help of the maimed man, who was pushing off as hard as he could with his leg. She was reminded of her father, with his famous "We should plow on you, you little bastard!

    She couldn't bear to watch the poor man suffer, and she wanted to leave him every minute. Just to see no more of that face, which reflected an endless, inescapable pain. But every time something stopped her. Maybe the memory of her mother, who had also suffered before her death in prolonged cancerous agony, was abandoned by all except her daughter. Or maybe a modicum of involuntary respect for a man who had overcome, it seemed death itself on his bare will. Moreover, when the guy was awake and Olga was once again in the throes of hysterical sobbing, he even tried to comfort her. At least, it seemed so to the girl, because she still did not understand a word, guided only by the intonation.

    The hardest part was closing the hatches behind us. They were small but very thick, with rivets and handwheels. Crip insisted that they all lock up, gesticulating like a madman as far as his wounds would allow, and Olga quite agreed. Realizing that, by some miracle, they had missed the unknowable force that was spreading the bloody crypt outside. And that force was quite capable of following the fugitives. But from the agreement rusty, riveted to each other cogs do not want to spin better. Judging by the state of the tunnels and the thick layer of dust, the hairdresser and the glamorous sadist in the cloak were the first guests here in months, if not years. But compared to the extreme that had already occurred, the sticky, shaggy dust, like cobwebs rolled up into felt, seemed like a nice, insignificant add-on.

    "Ego sum servus Imperatoris …" Kryp muttered through his teeth as he woke up. He was breathing heavily, whistling, but there was no bloody foam on his lips. Olga didn't know shit about medicine, but she had heard about broken ribs and punctured lungs. It seemed strange that such a thing had not happened to this S&M Nazi. Judging by the condition of the glossy cuirass, half of the poor man's chest must have been a crumble of bones and torn

    "Shut up, for God's sake," Olga exhaled, gathering her strength for another tug. She had to drag the wounded man another ten meters to another hatch. This time, for a variation, an octagonal one.

    Bitch... And she was offered a paramedical course. And she almost said yes. But then this and that, fifth and tenth, it kept getting postponed... And now this fucking "Blade" in a cloak will die in her arms from who knows what. And there was nothing she could do about it, she couldn't even diagnose him properly.

    Olga was horrified to think that the "beer can" that revived Kryp was probably not bottomless, so it would end soon enough. And then... Not so clear what then. And most importantly, how to stop it. But the nearest target loomed ahead, gleaming faintly in the red light with its metallic polish. And then we would see.

    Holy crap! That's ridiculous. How did Sapkowski put it: "anger makes her want to bite herself in the ass"? Oh, never mind. A good thought comes afterward.

    "Stop!"

    "Let's take this thing off," the girl suggested, panting. Or more precisely, declared her intention. She realized that, first of all, this brilliant idea should have been thought of much earlier, and, secondly, without lightening Kryp at least ten kilograms, she would not pull him further.

    To remove the poor man's cloak and cuirass turned out to be a torturous and, bookishly speaking, non-trivial task. It was very cramped, to begin with, which in itself seriously limited the possibilities. The next thing she found out was that Kryp didn't even have a small knife, so the thick, heavy clothing and armor had to be unbuttoned and removed for real. And finally, the deformed cuirass had to be dealt with separately, and she had to try to avoid hitting the IV. At the same time, the girl noticed that the "can" flashed a yellow light.

    She was no longer surprised by the lack of normal fasteners. Olga only noted that there were no fasteners on Kryp's gear, nothing even remotely resembling the usual joys of urban warriors. There weren't even many buttons, mostly all fastened to thick leather straps like old armor. And fuck it. The main thing was that dragging the wounded man was much easier. He seemed to be breathing a little freer, too. Beneath his armor, Kryp was wearing something resembling a fine hexagonal mesh t-shirt, tightly wrapped around his rock-hard muscles. The badge with a scull the maimed did not pass, clutching it in his fist as a great value. Olga helped him hang the weighty chain from his cuirass to his shirt.

    "Imperator duxit et protegit me." Kryp whispered, trying to push off farther with one foot in his muddy boot at the same time. He folded his arms across his chest in some kind of figure, intertwining his thumbs. It was as if he were picturing wings.

    "Misit me ad te."

    " You're not a fucking Kryp," Olga hissed, clutching at the hard collar like a tick. "You're fucking Batman. Why don't you call Robin and Harley Quinn and get them to save us?"

    So named Batman went limp again and lost consciousness.

    "No, that doesn't good," Olga whispered, realizing that on the one hand Kryp weighed much less without the cloak, but on the other, there was no more collar to cling to so comfortably. She had to take the belt back and make a loop, running it under Kryp's arms. The improvised harness tore after about three meters, proving that a Chinese product is still Chinese, even if it says "Rochas".

    The girl bruised the back of her head painfully against the sharp corner of the bracket, knocked her knuckles to the meat, and tore through her jacket in at least five different places. The hematite "lucky charm" bracelet had long since torn and rolled around the corners. The Casio watch was reproachfully darkened by the whitewash of cracked glass. But most importantly, Olga was exhausted to the limit and beyond, crossing the line beyond which fatigue turns into natural exhaustion.

    "I'll go see what's out there," she murmured, more to herself, because the kryp-batman couldn't answer anyway, fainting.

    She was exaggerating about "walking," of course. The low ceiling of the technical passage allowed only crawling, but without a heavy burden, such crawling was a joy. Olga felt as if she were gliding, like on a waterslide. A meter, another meter... The walls of the tunnel were strange, looking like concrete and plastic at the same time. And ... Olga froze, listening, catching every rustle, like a cat, except that her ears did not twist. It seemed to her that something rattled behind the thin wall. Quietly, cautiously. And very ominously.

    She was distracted by noises, and there were quite a few of them. Steam hissed, a loose valve rattled, a red lamp in a copper - or not copper, at least some reddish metal - braid buzzed and crackled. Nothing else seemed to be going on.

    Olga cursed herself for leaving the knife at home. Although usually, a Chinese copy of some pathos American stabber was always with her. As well as a can of tear gas, because, as you know, a careful man... But who knew that she would be pulled into the abyss of asshole hell at that very moment, literally with her bare hands. Good thing she wasn't bare-assed. Okay, let's keep crawling. She looked around as if Kryp might have gone somewhere. He hadn't, lying a dark, helpless doll in the blood-red light.

    The octagonal hatch had a large steel plaque on it. A sort of emblem, not a Nazi one this time, but also with a skull split in half in black and white. And some kind of gears, too. Fucking steampunk. Is this some kind of cosplayer hell?

    "The nightmares rode on a balloon," Olga said and, gritting her teeth, began to unlock the lock on the hatch. It was the lock that opened surprisingly easily. Either it had been unlocked recently, or it had been greased more often. All in all, it went like clockwork. Hallelujah, yippee!

    The octagon opened outward and, not caring about safety and rustling, Olga fell out, in the dirt, dust, cobwebs, and garbage of unclear origin. The phrase "Freedom will meet us cheerfully at the entrance" kept going round and round in her head. And there was also something about life for the Tsar, but then the girl bumped her head again - and painfully - so that the thought disappeared.

    So, arms and legs are in place, nobody seems to be around. And where are we...? And what's that light up ahead?

    Where...

    "Oh My God," the girl whispered.

    Not that Olga believed in God or any transcendent being at all. Her previous life of sixteen years and two months had taught her to believe in herself, in cash, and in the magic power of kicking the balls of assholes who did not know the word "no." Only you have to hit suddenly, as hard and as sharply as possible, and then everything will be fine. But what was revealed to her eyes was so wild, so incongruous, so impossible, that ...

    In general, addressing God was the most appropriate thing to do. He didn't answer, though. As always.

    "Oh My God..." Olga repeated, stretching out her shaking palm, brown with dirt and blood as if trying to shield herself from the deadly blue-white light. Hot tears welled up in her eyes, burning the parched cornea with a fierce fire.

    I won't wake up.

    Because it's not a dream

    Not a dream at all

    Describing "it" was impossible, at least at once. It was too far from the usual patterns of perception, from all life experience, even with the extensive addition of Internet knowledge given to us in YouTube and other Instagrams. Most of all, the "landscape" that Olga discovered looked like a shopping center with a circular atrium, towering like a column. The height ... God knows, honestly, the girl could only say that hundreds, many hundreds of meters, the size of a skyscraper. Half of the cylinder (if you cut it in two, along the centerline) was filled from bottom to top with tiers that looked like both stores with lattice windows and residential levels. They followed one another like ribs in a corrugated hose, bulging with protrusions, balconies, something resembling pier platforms, mutual crossings, and a hundred more incomprehensible structures, which Olga could neither describe clearly nor even understand what they were. And the other half... It wasn't there. It just wasn't there.
    Olga grasped the metal handrail with her fingers, white with tension, behind which there was a void, a huge well. She stared with huge, dilated pupils at the ghostly screen, which, like a giant semicircular shield, separated the atrium from the gleaming emptiness. It was not glass, but rather something ethereal. And outside, the universe exposed. Not space, as in the photograph, but something glowing with a myriad of colors, like a gas nebula or a dust cloud, composed of gems ground into dust in every imaginable and unimaginable shade, infinitely bright, chemically pure. As if that weren't enough, something gigantic, very close (or seemingly so), and blindingly bright was coming from the side, from behind the edge of the etheric shield. And round.


    "Oh My God," the girl repeated for the third time, realizing she was seeing the edge of a star in a blinding yellow and white crown.

    Stars glittered and rippled across the screen, and then it faded, darkened like polarized glass. For some reason, that was what amazed the girl the most. The speed and effect with which something grandiose, thousands, tens of thousands of square meters in the area reacted to the flow of light. The star continued to creep up, making the external objects outside the screen glow with reflected light, like electric welding points, so that it hurt her eyes even despite the total shading.

    "Mama," Olga said. She felt like a child, more like an infant, who had acquired intelligence and the ability to evaluate objects but was not yet familiar with their essence and purpose. He sees something but is not able to understand what he sees.

    "Oh, mommy..."

    She looked down, struggling to look away from the inconceivably grandiose, magnificent, and overwhelming picture. Compared to the riot of sunshine, everything else seemed small, tiny, in some ways even cozy. Even the giant atrium, which looked like a skyscraper turned inside out.

    Below, at the dark bottom of the man-made crater, stood a figure. Olga could not determine its size, her sense of scale and dimensionality was completely lost. One thing was certain - it was a statue, and a huge one, like everything "here" seems to be, no matter where "here" was located.

    The figure resembled a man in armor, grotesquely exaggerated, geometrically disproportionate. The man had a sword and a halo, which was either illuminated from within or made of some polished metal that reflected the light well. The surface of the statue seemed strange, a kind of gnawed with acidic gaps, like the face of a Sphinx in the Egyptian desert. But time had done its work there, and here the figure's general shabby appearance was out of place with its surroundings. It looked as if the monument had been painstakingly broken and then abandoned. Or perhaps it had been brought here from some other place, though it seemed improbable that such a giant could have been dragged anywhere.

    Olga turned away and sat down straight on the hard, cold floor, leaning against the fence, which was metal and, it seemed, wrought iron. At any rate, the twisted bars looked as if they had come from under a blacksmith's hammer, that is, solid, rough, asymmetrical. The girl closed her eyes and just sat for a few minutes, thinking of nothing. Olga felt that if she now opened her mind to speculation, reflection, fear, it would not be long before she went mad. But her hearing came into play.

    Now that the perception was freed from the frantic stream of images that clogged all the "info channels," it became clear that it was very quiet around there. It was too quiet for a huge space, where continuous echoes should be walking. There was some noise around, but quiet and weak, most likely the work of some life-supporting automatics, muffled by the walls. Look like not long ago, lots of people had lived and worked here. But now the "atrium" was empty and abandoned.

    She crawled out of one grave to find herself in another, a thousand times larger.

    What's that? Where did it come from? Why is she here?

    It doesn't matter.

    She is dying of fatigue and thirst. And not far away, a dying man suffers, terribly wounded and probably even more thirsty than she is. All around stretches a world that is incomprehensible, unknown, and clearly hostile. And so it turns out that Kryp is the only living creature who could explain what is going on here and is actually on Olga's side.

    Water. And weapons. And at least some bandages. No, just a first-aid kit, maybe Kryp can figure out how to heal him.

    This first, then everything else.

    Olga once again glanced at the sun, which continued to sprawl. It seemed that the object on which the girl found herself - whether it was a planet, a meteorite, or a man-made structure, it did not matter - was rotating and was now turning the "screen" side toward the nearest star. Olga had never studied astronomy, but there was something abnormal about such closeness to the star (if you can even call anything "normal" here). However, it was something to think about later.

    Once again, water and weapons, at least a stick of some kind. And any box with a red cross.

    Olga stood up, clenched her fists, and wished she had been born a stern, fearsome fighter who could punch in the face. Then she concentrated on surveying her surroundings. The first thing she did was to peer over the edge of the railing and, overcome by vertigo from the height, try to assess the disposition. The level, perhaps, belonged to the upper quarter of the "well. At any rate, there were a few dozen more stories upstairs, but far fewer than there were below.

    A balcony, not too wide, five or seven meters long, stretched in a long arc, bounded on one side by a balustrade and on the other by windows or shop windows. At unequal intervals, the glass gaps, almost all broken, were interspersed with dark, light-deprived corridors. Many of the "windows" were canted with broken bars, and some seemed to have been blocked by barricades hastily assembled from handrail material. All the barricades had been smashed and taken out in pieces as if they had been bulldozed. It was very messy, like after a major riot. And dirty. Not dusty, but dirty. The floor and walls seemed to have been scraped and painted, leaving only gilded shadows that resembled stylized eagles.

    Olga looked at the aether screen. The shaded disk of the star took up no less than a fifth of the view. Then to the balcony, which seemed to come from the middle of the twentieth century. Or rather, from the ideas of that time about what the future would look like. Retrofuturism, here! Olga remembered a beautiful word. She leaned over and ran her hand over the stone - stone! - flooring, assembled from square slabs.

    Hologram. It must be some kind of amazing hologram. In space, every kilogram is important, Olga remembered that for sure. But here ... she looked down at the dark statue, which weighed a shitload of tons ... here they didn't care about weight distribution. And sun this close would have burned the hell out of everything long ago, or at least warmed it up nicely. And it's chilly here, perhaps even cold. She shivered, pulling her dirty jacket tighter over her skinny shoulders. She needed a blanket or something warmer to wear. But she didn't want to get her hands on any of the ugly rags they'd thrown around. Surely there would be something nicer in the broken windows.

    Water! With all this thinking, she had completely forgotten that behind the steampunk trapdoor, Kryp continued to die quietly.

    No distractions, no distractions. Forward, enduring fatigue and aching muscles. Search. Search.

    * * *​
     
    Ibee2zero, Kyryst, kellanved and 21 others like this.
  3. Threadmarks: Chapter 3
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

    Joined:
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    Chapter 3

    On closer look, the effect seemed peculiar. With each passing minute, the world around her seemed less and less familiar. And more and more foreign, alien. At first, a cursory glance glanced at the broken windows, not clinging to anything. Because the mind was already overloaded with impressions. Yes, something is wrong, but nothing big. And then, when the time comes to look more closely ... the irregular, asymmetrical proportions of the frames; the glass, thick, almost two fingers thick and murky-lilac, and, it seems, with a thin mesh of reinforcement in the depths. The plastic, which looks like wood (or maybe really wood) and Soviet-made Bakelite, like the ones you find in old-fashioned gunsmith's stores. There are large lamps in rough hubcaps, made of a thick lattice. Everything is not new and at the same time not decrepit, but archaic. It was like a small town, stuck in the 1980s or even earlier.

    Olga exhaled, rubbed her temples, and looked back at the half-closed hatch, memorizing her surroundings. From all appearances, it looked like she would have to go deeper into the dark maze of the interior layout. She looked around, trying to find at least a nail. But as it happened, the garbage around her seemed harmless, mostly scraps of some yellow-stitched fabric and some papers. Except for a large adjustable wrench... She picked up and weighed the tool. It was heavy, but it would work for a start.

    The wrench was followed by a duffel bag, which looked like an old hardware bag, and an almost complete notebook. The hardcover, made of some kind of faux leather, had "Statio ballistorum sedecem" written in half-embossed gold. Olga flipped through the pages, rough as wrapping paper, with fibers and almost sawdust pressed into them. In the corner of each sheet an eagle spread its wings, not quite heraldic, but something sharper, rougher. Without exception, all the eagles were crossed out with something resembling marker pens. Some had all sorts of nastiness drawn on them, mostly playing on the motifs of the pooping bird. On the last page, in large letters, an unknown hand had written with great care: "cadaver putridum."

    Why she took the notebook, the girl herself did not know. Perhaps she wanted to take it, as the most intact thing within reach, as a starting point for successful collecting. It was never too late to throw it away. Or it might come in handy. For instance, she could talk to Kryp with drawings... She found that appealing because if she couldn't talk to him, she could at least draw. Although, first of all, the guy must survive. But let's hope for the best.

    Kryp

    The thought of a fellow companion hurried her up, forced her to finally decide. Olga mechanically crossed herself and took a step toward the dark aisle. Well ... not so dark. So it seemed in contrast to the atrium and the starlight. In the depths of the dark corridor, the same armored lights were still glowing, and some kind of signal lights, blue and yellow. Something was beeping evenly and quietly, very machine-like. Olga climbed over the remnants of the barricade, holding the wrench at the ready and preparing for a new adventure. No adventure followed.

    She stepped to the side and pressed her back against the rough wall so as not to stand out in the bright doorway. She stood for a moment, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the semi-darkness. She looked at the corpse lying by one of the doors that went forward, on either side of the corridor.

    Corpse. Carcass

    Olga thought about it without trembling or panicking. Too much had happened in the past hours. Just noted the presence of a dead body, which from the gallery was unnoticeable. It was as the dead man was watching for uninvited guests. The dead man lay stretched out with his arms behind his head like a compass skeleton from a Stevenson novel. He seemed as shriveled as a mummy, but the girl could not smell the decay that must have permeated everything around him. Dry air at a low enough temperature and good ventilation...? Or some kind of rapid dehydration?

    Thoughts of the temperature reminded her that she should find some kind of sweater or a warm jacket. Olga looked over the dead man again, trying to determine from a distance what he died of and whether there was anything useful on the body. The cause of death could not be determined. The skull seemed strangely deformed, with a kind of ovoidness, and the lower jaw, which had dropped back in a mute cry, sagged more than it should have. On the other hand, it could all have been a play of light and a consequence of the natural (or unnatural) decay of the cavity. Olga was loath to go nearer and search the dead man, even though he had some interesting pouches hanging from his belt, and the pockets of his thick green cloth shirt were bulging with some kind of package.

    She didn't want to, that's all. Why not? No reason. Not every desire had to have a rational reason. But she was thirsty, like crazy thirsty. Maybe the dead man had a flask.

    I'll go a little further, Olga decided. I'll go and have a look. And if necessary, I'll come back. This one seems to have been lying here for a long time. He can wait a little longer, he has nowhere to hurry.

    Olga gulped, feeling her parched throat scratch itself, took a step further, sideways, not letting the dead body out of her sight. She had never been afraid of zombies, but still... it was uncomfortable to leave a dead man behind. Only when she'd taken ten or more steps did she finally turn around and walk quietly into the darkness.
    All of this reminded her not of an apartment complex, or stores, as it had seemed to her before, but rather some kind of office space. And old, to put it in scientific terms, conservative. No computers, nothing that looked like a screen, even a flat screen, even the usual 90's "box". A lot of tubes under the ceiling, which looked like a heating system, and thinner tubes that ran along the walls, interrupted by valves and tricky trays. Chairs of an infinitely dull, formal appearance, with round backs on high pins. And an enormous number of file drawers of all kinds. Most of them turned out to be open, the cards scattered in disarray.

    Archive! Olga finally realized what it reminded her of. An archive or a library file cabinet. The girl climbed into one of the openings where there was less broken glass. As she did so, she dropped the wrench, which clanked loudly against the metal. Olga crouched behind the short window sill and lurched, listening intensely.
    Silence. The same faint, subtle technical noise and squeaks. She could see that some sort of sensor, in the form of brass tablets, was beeping. These were installed above every door but at most, a couple or two were working.

    Something clicked, hissed. Olga twisted into a knot, trying to be as small as possible, to become invisible, like a cockroach in a crevice. It seemed impossible to see her from outside, from the corridor, but suddenly... The pipe, the thinner one bent over the file drawer, again made a long hissing sound, shook, and threw out a capsule about the size of a school pencil case. Everything fell silent. After waiting a little longer, the girl cautiously looked out. She found nothing suspicious. She remembered she didn't have a watch on her, either. So she would have to measure the time according to her sense. With no accuracy at all.

    The pencil case was screwed together, and Olga struggled to open it. Until she remembered the "beer can" and twisted it clockwise. The capsule contained only a sheet of paper, smaller than in the notebook and of slightly better quality, but still the same wrapping color. A stamp with incomprehensible symbols, an eagle again, the familiar words about "ballistis statione" and nothing else. Obviously a letterhead, but for what? And who sent it here? Does it make sense, or is there an unknown automatic? It's not obvious...

    Fuck.

    Olga would have pleased to spit, but her mouth was dry. She put the capsule in the bag almost automatically. She crawled out, taking the wrench with her, and continued exploring. The emptiness and desolation made her shudder, and every sound seemed to be the footsteps of an ominous stalker.

    Further discoveries followed, like stingy gifts from a lean horn of plenty. First, Olga found the desired water in a bottle of strange crystal glass, which looked like cheap plastic. She was so thirsty that she tore off the tin lid and, after a quick sniff to see if it wasn't acetone, she downed a good gulp. It was only after she had gulped down at least a third of it that she realized that the transparent liquid could be anything. But it was too late to complain, so Olga finished half of it, and then, making a considerable effort, set the jar aside. She still had to get something to Kryp. The lid stubbornly refused to fit back on, so Olga gave up and left the bottle on the table for now. Deciding that she would find something to plug it up later.

    In the open table, which looked like a draftsman's machine, the girl finally found a knife and a roll of duct tape. Life immediately became a little more fun. Olga made an improvised belt out of a scrap of rope that looked like thick and shaggy postal twine, and tearing a dozen sheets from a notebook, made sheaths wrapped in duct tape, then hung them from the rope belt. She checked to see if the knife would fall out. It hadn't.

    The blade was interesting, very old, and worn in appearance, just like the old American "Ka-Bar" from the commercials. Olga assumed that it had been in use for more than a year, maybe decades. At one time it was longer and wider, with a distinct combat look. But it must have been broken, sharpened, and re-sharpened, so that in the end all that was left was an icicle-like fragment about a palm and a half long. The handle was plastic, treated with coarse sandpaper, and at the end of it, there was the same eagle stamped in hard plastic. The drawing was heavily frayed from time but retained recognizable outlines.

    They worshipped an eagle or something... An eagle and an ominous skull, in which a pinion had been embedded for some reason. This steampunk head was often found on plaques, which were bolted to every complex machine. Sometimes the plaques were limited to just an engraved pattern, sometimes they came with waxed scrolls or individual plaques of polished copper or brass, generally shiny and yellow. It didn't look much like instructions. No pictures, just the same Latin-like alphabet and lots of numbers. There was a diamond instead of a zero, and the other numbers were stylized too, but generally had recognizable features. The numbers were grouped and seemed to be repeated, but the girl had no time to deal with this cabbalism.

    Later.

    Olga sighed heavily and realized that she would have to search dead man. With the seeming confusion and chaos all around, everything of any value was thoroughly swept away. And there was no way to bandage Kryp with a dirty rag. And some medicine would come in handy. Olga took the bottle, weighed the wrench, and strode back, carefully avoiding the piles of broken glass and protruding strands of wire, spread out like a real prickly hedgehog.

    Something clicked, a piercing screech, and the rectangular grate under the ceiling, which Olga had mistaken for a vent, made a series of coughing sounds, then erupted into a stream of words. The player was damaged or was playing a ruined tape, the individual words were drowned in hoarse, background noises so that the speech seemed like gurgling soup. But it sounded solemn and more like a Catholic prayer from a historical movie.

    Olga grimaced and ducked back into the shadows, just in case. So far she had not seen anything that could pose a danger, but everything around her seemed so incomprehensible and alien that she imagined an insidious enemy masking his steps in the general background. The wheezing prayer stretched on endlessly, like gum in a comedy. Olga managed to get a little bored and wistfully thought that Kryp must be dead by now. Finally, to the accompaniment of some march, the wheezing ended, leaving behind a resounding echo that echoed unrealistically long in the empty corridors.

    In the echo was hidden the outside noise, which Olga heard literally in the last moments before the source emerged from the dark... alleyway? It was unclear what to call the alley, dark as a closet, branching away from the radial corridor. Something buzzed and rattled in there, like a massive chain that rattled with every step. The girl barely had time to hide again in the next room, full of offices with drawers pulled out and empty. The buzzer moved down the corridor, heading toward the balcony above the atrium. Something clangs at the door, and Olga holds her breath, gripping the handle of her knife.

    It passed by, noisily and very characteristically, as a small turbine, with a rustling whistle. Only the smell remained smoky and smoky, like from a boiler room. Olga was familiar with this smell from her old life. And it really did seem to reek of real smoke. Waiting until something was ten meters away, Olga quietly looked around the corner to see what was making so much noise. Here was a good time to be surprised, but the girl was dead tired of new impressions and only noted that another inconceivable shit was taking place.

    The thing was very visible from the "back," because it moved toward the light and stood out clearly against the corridor doorway. Most of all it looked like the top of a dried-up corpse. Almost like a recent mummy, only without clothes that had been shoved into a grating machine, pierced with dozens of spokes, wires, thin translucent tubes, and welded to a caterpillar chassis. The tracks were narrow and had a highly raised drive wheel in the middle of the track. "The head" of the self-propelled zombie was encased in a cubic grid, which in turn spread out flexible hoses on its sides, topped with excellent imitations of skulls. The skulls glowed with greenish eyepieces, one on each, as if they had belonged to one-eyed pirates in a former life. The hoses were in constant motion, spinning their skulls a hundred and eighty degrees.

    All this gave the unpleasant impression that the mysterious mechanism was looking around with deadheads. One could only marvel at the sick imagination of the sick freaks who had camouflaged the video cameras in such way. The "arms" of the self-propelled dead man ended in claws with extra hooks, like a junkie robot. Behind the "back" of the machine smoked black smoke from a cylindrical thing that looked like a bloated fire extinguisher, seemingly with a couple of gauges and an exhaust pipe that spiraled like a pig's tail in a children's book.

    The machine stopped, whirred, clicked its hooked grip, then turned slightly, twirling its tracks in different directions, and rolled briskly toward the corpse. Olga had an uneasy feeling that the skulls really "see," because the car was very carefully skirting the obstacles. Only broken glass crunched under the small links of the track. Inadvertently and without reason, she remembered that the caterpillar creep looked something like a garbage robot from a cartoon.

    The zombie tractor, meanwhile, reached the dead man. It stood for a while, puffing the cauldron behind its back, twisting its skulls. Something squeaked and tapped rhythmically in the deadheads as if there was a disk drive from the time of the prehistoric computers. Then one of the clawed "arms" shot forward with unexpected rapidity, extending like a telescopic fishing rod. It clawed at the corpse's leg. Without turning around, the machine moved back, repeating exactly its previous trajectory. The boiler hissed heavily, the smoke heavier, the hidden valve hissed loudly, and let out a jet of steam. The corpse dragged along, clinging to everything.
    Olga hid again, cursing heartily. The corpse's property was now crawling away in an unknown direction. Perhaps the dead man's car was more harmless than the automatic vacuum cleaner the cats ride on YouTube. Or maybe it wasn't. The girl wasn't going to find out, not even for poor Kryp's sake. And to tell the truth, right now the temporary companion made her think only negatively, as a heavy and useless burden.

    The caterpillars squeaked in front of the door. For a moment Olga thought the car was slowing down. Her heartbeat jump out of rhythm, but it didn't. Just a soft rustling of a limp body, whose movement was accompanied by the rustling of fabric. This led the girl to one very positive thought, all that remained was to wait until it could be verified. Olga waited, like Winnie the Pooh, for a little while. And then a little longer, until there was nothing left at all, in the sense until the noise of the zombie robot was silenced in the humming darkness. She looked out into the hallway.

    So it is, the machine dragged the dead man away for some reason, but was indifferent to his equipment, which, partially broken, was left scattered all over the visible path of the trail, where it was torn off the obstacles. Strange that the dead man had not been torn to pieces by wires and everything else.

    We'll live, thought the girl, trying on where to start.

    And then The Sound appeared.

    Olga was already used to the fact that hearing here is as overwhelming as vision. Wherever that "here" was. But everything she had heard before was either familiar or had a perfectly understandable nature. The noise of the wild crowd behind the wall. By the way, they hadn't been crawling through the tunnels that long, so this wild mob had to be around here somewhere! Technical noises, the rattle of the speaker, the squeak of a steam-powered buzzer.

    But this...

    The muffled moaning seemed to be born in the very center of something enormous that stretched around it, blossoming out of a single long note, multiplying with each passing moment. It was as if an entire chorus of hungry demons was picking up on the satanic conductor's lead shriek. No mechanism could have produced such a Sound. Only a living creature could wail so terrifyingly. In the lingering howl, one could clearly read the unthinkable anger, the utter hatred, the mortal threat. It was the way Death herself would announce that she was on the hunt for mortal souls.

    The sound suddenly ended, cut off at the highest note at the moment when Olga was already preparing to lose her hearing. All that remained was a ringing silence, even the mechanisms hidden around her seemed to fall silent in the terror.

    "Fuck your mom," Olga whispered. "A fucking circus with horses, faggots, and murderous clowns. When will it all end..."

    She crouched under the table, covered her head with her hands, and almost cut herself, forgetting that she was clutching a knife in her hand. She thought she was going to burst into tears of horror. But there were no tears, her eyes felt dry. And in her head, the thought rang insistently that she should go, that she should see what loot fell from the dead man.

    Because Kryp won't heal himself.

    Because it's not going to be easy to survive in a world where such a horrible thing can yell, so you have to collect every nail you can get your hands on.

    She must.

    * * *
    The Emperor Protects
     
  4. Threadmarks: Chapter 4
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

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    Chapter 4

    With a sigh of relief, the girl closed the skull hatch, leaving the abandoned "atrium" behind. Hiding in a technical tunnel seemed silly on the one hand, but kind of safe on the other. And it was much warmer in here. Only now did she realize how cold she was. And she was glad of her one hundred and sixty-five centimeters, which made moving on her hands and knees through the pipe conditionally acceptable.

    Kryp lay motionless. Only his chest was heaving faintly beneath the mesh T-shirt. The face was faded, more gaunt, like a wooden mask, covered with a thin layer of wax. The yellow light of the "beer can" flickered alarmingly, ready about to change to red. The wounded man reeked of blood, sweat, and everything else that accompanies a bedridden patient who is not cared for with a bedpan. Olga was familiar with the smell, perhaps all too well. Her hands immediately went numb and trembled. Memories of the last days of her mother's life came flooding back. The guilt stung painfully again. The only and beloved daughter could have cared much better for a cancer patient. And no matter how many times you repeat that no, she could not, the conscience could not be soothed.

    The girl did not bother the poor man. Sitting down next to him, she laid out her findings in two rows against the concrete wall. A knife, a notebook, a crescent wrench, a bottle. A pencil case, which Olga decided to use as a container for sundries. Something that looked like an IIFS. It was thoroughly torn, but still usable. Thanks to a fucking zombie on caterpillars, damn it. Two bags of blue-green, coarse weave material that looked like a rough tarpaulin. One had a zipper with very large prongs, the other had stick buttons. Both were about the right size for a first aid kit, but she decided not to open them without Kryp. So, what else... A folding double-toothed fork on a loose rivet. The fork the girl after a brief moment's consideration slipped into her pocket. A knife was a knife, but as her experience had taught her, it was always a good idea to have something small and stubby.

    A dozen and a half tattered rags, which were something between woven napkins and vase liners. Five gray pencils of varying lengths, of very poor quality, but conditionally usable. If Kryp is going to last a little longer, we need to establish communication somehow, at least with pictures. The pencils fit comfortably in the pencil case.

    There was also a metal bottle, like an aluminum flask, in which something was familiarly overflowing. The inscription said "exerciti cibaria spiritus sublimatus," which was written on one side. Or "amasec erz." if the green letters on the other side were to be trusted. The container seemed unusual on one side and very familiar on the other. After some reflection, Olga realized what it was all about - the strictly military look of the "bottle." Stamping in everything, from the shape and rough seams to the stenciled letters. The bottle looked as if it was asking for a shelf in some godforsaken garrison, next to a revolver and a dry ration.

    The plug was wrong again. unscrewing in the opposite direction. Olga sniffed cautiously. It smelled of some kind of alcohol, very strong, very very strong. And a little bit of coffee, as if there had been put two or three packets of instant (and just as fake) Nescafe in the fake cognac. The girl dripped the thick, viscous liquid onto the tip of her fingernail. The smell intensified, becoming even more caffeinated, alcoholic, and fake.

    Considering that there were no drawings on the container and not a single familiar word on it, the "exerciti" could have been anything. It could be normal alcohol, poison for fleas, liquid for sweaty feet. Logically, Olga estimated the chances of running into methyl alcohol as relatively small. And she risked the next step in her organoleptic examination by licking a teal drop. The dark brown nastiness tasted as harsh as it smelled, but overall nothing that Olga had not encountered before. It was just very nasty booze.

    "Vodka, it's hard water," the girl quoted in a whisper as she finally got her breath back and wiped away the tears squeezed by the infernal elixir. It was getting warm, even hot.

    On the one hand, she wanted to take another shot. Just to calm down a bit. On the other hand, she needed to conserve her supply. The coffee crap could be used as an antiseptic. Besides, if it turned out to be a poison, it would be easier to recover from a small dose.

    Olga sat there for a couple of minutes, listening to the sensations and wondering if it was time to put two fingers in her mouth. The "amasec erz" left a nasty and lingering aftertaste, but nothing fatal.

    "Not so bad as "777"," she summed up, sniffed her nose, and continued her inventory. She did not remember the legendary Soviet drink because of her youth, but her stepfather remembered it in the mood as the standard of the God-awful booze of industrial bottling.

    Again a bundle of rags that could be unraveled into bandages. He didn't seem to have any open wounds, only fractures, and severe bruises, but it might come in handy. She should make him some kind of splint for his leg... Olga grimaced, figuring she had spotted a couple of appropriately sized poles. But now she would not go back for them for sure. Later.

    Something resembling rough hemp or a light version of glass wool. Finally, almost two liters of water were in a glass jar with a screw cap. The water was definitely not for drinking. The jar was found under a leaking pipe, and the liquid reeked of sludge and iron. But it was good for supposed hygienic procedures. The jar was also food for thought. The water did not evaporate and at the same time did not overflow. The jar had been put in relatively recently. Who and why had done this in the middle of an abandoned floor? Another mystery.

    There was still some small stuff left, which the girl took rather for the procedure, just to be on the safe side. Olga did not sort out the junk, deciding that it was time to wake Kryp. Especially since the light on the IV blinked more and more alarmingly. Only now Olga realize how exhausted she was. And the fact that her "experience" of being in this infernal circus numbered at most a few hours. Well, maybe a little more, considering the muddled consciousness during the process of dragging Kryp through the tunnels. She might have lost consciousness a couple of times there, but not for long.

    Olga rolled a makeshift pillow out of the bag and tried to put it under the wounded man's head. Then two things happened simultaneously - the "can" beeped and turned on the red light, and Kryp tried to kill her. Before his bloodshot eyes were even open, his relatively whole hand shot forward like a snake in a rush. The blow was aimed at her throat and would likely have finished the girl off, but Kryp was hampered by an awkward angle and a coordination problem. His fingers clamped together in a "plank" only to slip down her cheek. On the return move, the suddenly frisky half-dead man tried to grab at Olga's throat to strangle her, but the jerk burned the rest of Kryp's power, and the girl had no trouble getting free. The total damage was two abrasions, one on her cheek and one on her neck. And extremely strong WTF feeling.

    She recoiled as far as she could in the cramped tunnel from the crouched position on all fours. Her hand moved on its own to the hilt of the knife that still hung in its scabbard on her rope belt.

    "What the fuck."

    Kryp only now seemed to realize what had happened, his blank stare becoming a little more meaningful. The wounded man looked at his hand with roughly the same expression that Olga was looking at him.

    "I'll leave you now, you ungrateful jerk," she promised, pushing back a little more. The only thing stopping her was the fact that now Kryp was between her and the hatch with the skull cogwheel. And moving in the opposite direction, toward the stone crypt, was terrifying. She gripped the plastic handle of the old knife harder.

    "Nos paenitet," Kryp whispered, putting his palm forward. "Et noluerunt..."

    Olga looked at him for a long time, maybe half a minute, maybe longer. The girl had never considered herself an expert on human nature, one who reads unmistakably in the eyes and souls. But now she was ready to swear that Creep was ashamed and embarrassed. His cheeks even flushed a little, as pale as a poorly powdered dead man's.

    "An asshole." She said with passion. The man hardly understood, but the intonation was right again. He covered his eyes with the palm of his shaking fingers and turned away. Then his gaze fell upon the treasure along the gray wall. And the unbelievable happened - Kryp smiled. For the first time in all their brief acquaintance, as far as the girl remembered. Well, to tell you the truth, it was hard to call it a smile, and yet...

    "Nos autem qui dives," he whispered. "Tu es valde fortis. In tuo fortuna es pro nobis."

    And so it was clear that the words of sincere gratitude had been spoken. Olga hesitated some more and then decided that it was time to give forgiveness. Well, really, trying to kill her with malice would be beyond foolishness, considering Kryp's condition. Most likely the man had acted on automatic, instinctively defending himself in a confused state of mind.

    "And you're not so simple," Olga muttered to herself, remembering the swiftness with which Kryp had attacked. If it weren't for his general half-deadness, the girl would have remained a cooling corpse here. Apparently, the crappy dandy knew how to fight and how to kill.

    The first thing she did was to partially quench the wounded man's thirst. Very carefully, giving not water, but a soaked rag. The hell knew what was wrong with Kryp's insides and whether he could swallow. At least this way he wouldn't die of dehydration. Probably not. Then the man pulled the needle out of his neck with a look of hopeless longing, dropped the IV tube.

    "Exhausta," he exhaled. "Finis."

    Olga understood what "finis" meant without translation, answering briefly and vigorously:

    "Fuck that."

    Now was the time to show Kryp the contents of the pouches. She adjusted the roll under the man's head so he could see better, and then she showed him. The response was a second smile, even more, cheerful than the first. He was pleased with what he saw and with a faint movement pointed to that greenish bundle with buttons.

    Then Olga unzipped the pouch and took out the contents one by one, showing them to Crip. He either shook his head or nodded. It did seem to be a field first aid kit. It looked better on the inside than on the outside. Beneath the tattered cover was a sturdy, smooth, synthetic-looking fabric. The bottles and pencil cases were also several grades above what Olga had already seen here. A different quality of workmanship, a much finer and clearer typeface. And still no drawings, but there was a tiny emblem. It resembled the badge that hung around Creep's neck, only the vertical stick was a different shape. It had an extension at the top, and in the middle, instead of a skull, there was a picture of a fist clutching an apothecary scale.

    Taking medications and mixtures was another challenge. Cripe himself could not handle it properly with one hand, and Olga had no idea how to open and dose it all. However, after some minutes of muffled swearing in two languages and groans of pain, the wounded man managed to get what he saw fit. The healer carefully stowed the rest of the medicine aside.

    It's not like the first aid kit made much difference in Kryp's condition. But at least he was in no hurry to die, even without the IV. There came a moment that Olga was "anticipating" with a gnashing of teeth.

    "It's hygiene time," she said.

    Kryp, of course, did not understand. Neither did he understand later, when Olga chose rags that seemed cleaner and opened a jar of technical water.

    "Would you like a sip?" She offered the coffee booze to Kryp.

    Kryp smiled a third time and slowly shook his head with words:

    "No. Non autem templum ab anima, ad Imperatorem."

    "So, no is no." The girl agreed, took a sip for courage, and approached the patient.

    Kryp looked at her with a look of grim suspicion.

    "Come on," the self-proclaimed nurse chided him. "Your penis is not such a treasure."

    "O Deus meus," the guy whispered, realizing what awaited him.

    It was terrible and incredibly, excruciatingly hard. Harder than a self-loving strong man can only be a self-loving, strong man who has become helpless but he's still trying to seem strong. Kryp rolled his eyes in helpless anger, looked away, and suffered, it seemed, even more than from pain. Olga restrained herself with a frantic effort from covering him in a multi-story scolding. Because she was already having a hard time, and the patient was also actively disturbing her with his inappropriate shyness. But, at the very least, she managed to bring the patient into relative order. Very relative, but still a little better than before.

    As expected, Kryp had few actual wounds. Mostly bruises, or, rather, one solid and horrific bruise all over the left side of his body, from his foot to his collarbone. Olga thought again that the medicine here must be some kind of miraculous. Will is will, but, as the old paramedic at the clinic used to say, "you can't fuck with anatomy". If half of your body is a hematoma and at least three joints are broken... Anyway, another mystery, which she put on another shelf to "think later".

    "I'm done," Olga reported, at last tossing the used rags away. Pity, she didn't have a proper bag to tie the stinking garbage in. But what can she do?

    Kryp suffered silently, no longer flushed, but crimson, like the sun before sunset. But the nurse was not about to give him a break. She looked intently at Kryp. She poked herself in the chest with her finger and said firmly:

    "Olga."

    Kryp immediately understood where she was going and seemed happy to be able to forget about the hygiene procedures. The guy eagerly repeated and called himself back. The problem was that he couldn't seem to pronounce the "l" and "g" side by side, something was falling out. After a dozen unsuccessful attempts, he finally got it out with a distinctly questioning intonation, as if asking permission:

    "Olla."

    So named "Olla" chewed her lips and decided that that would be fine. The beginning of positive communication had been established. Here, however, problem number two appeared - just like the first time, the girl could not understand the quick shorthand with which Kryp had called himself. It was time for a notebook.

    He grasped the idea of communicating with pictures on the fly and happily. It took a few hard minutes for him to get comfortable enough to pick up the pencil without breaking or dropping it. Olga had to hold the notebook in her weight because Kryp could only act with one hand. It was uncomfortable, but they somehow adapted. The first thing the wounded man did was draw his name. Olga was more or less getting the hang of the local script, which was based on Latin with a few extra letters and all sorts of gothic-style trinkets.

    "Fidus?" The girl couldn't help but smile faintly. "Fidus Kryptman?"

    She found Kryp's name very funny. Considering how much the unfortunate man had endured, and the strength of spirit he had shown, his name had to be something special. Very heroic. Roland, say, or Richard the Lionheart.

    But Fidus? That was incredibly funny. And Olga decided to herself that she would still call him "Kryp". Fidus, meanwhile, sketched a female figure, the kind that very young children usually draw - a triangle as the torso, a round head without a neck, stick-arms, and everything else. He looked at Olga and suddenly winked. The girl realized that Kryp had imitated her and hummed. The joke, strictly speaking, was not so good, but in their situation, even a drop of optimistic humor sparkled as a real diamond. And it also occurred to her that the badly maimed Crip was not only keeping himself together but trying to cheer her up as best he could. It was worth the price, and it was respectful.

    Kryp, meanwhile, began to draw some mysterious crap. He was very tired, became even weaker, and had trouble holding the instrument, but he didn't give up. It looked like this smear of repeatedly crossed lines was very important. Fidus drew, biting his lip with eagerness and pain, and then passed out in an instant. He dropped the pencil stump and closed his eyes. Olga woke up, terrified that the guy was finally going to die. But all Crip did was fall asleep. This time he didn't go into another sick fainting state, he just fell asleep.

    Now that he'd been washed a bit, and his face had smoothed out in his sleep, free of the unrelenting grimace of pain, Fidus appeared very young. And even a little handsome. A face, perhaps, a little broad, a tawdry military haircut, the kind you see in movies of ancient Romans, little sideburns that looked with short hair like a straight in a gay club, or vice versa. But still, good-looking. And dangerous. Olga rubbed her neck and face where Kryp's stiff, wood-like fingers had brushed over it.
    She should disinfect it.


    Later.

    But later she could be dead.

    The alcohol burned the scratches like acid, which was good. So disinfection was more reliable. Olga thought about how she could wipe her face, and then she felt something small and hard in her pocket... That's right, she had completely missed it! A small mirror in a wooden frame, very crude and obviously homemade. It looked like someone had taken a burnt splinter and glued it to a piece of board, scraping the edges with a rasp. The girl had found the object by accident; someone had thrown it on the floor and even seemed to want to stomp on it, judging by the muddy footprints around it. Olga twirled the object in her hand, willing and afraid to look at herself. But then she did it. And tears came to her eyes.

    The girl had a pretty good idea of what she looked like. She was sweating profusely, covered in blood, dirt, and dust. But imagining is one thing, seeing for herself is quite another. From the cracked polygon in the reddish light of the lamps looked silently a horrible monster. It was filthy to no end and so disheveled that the ends of its dyed hair stuck out like needles in every direction. Her eyes were sunken into orbits, glistening out of the deep shadows with a feverish gleam like that of a hunted beast. Smears of dried blood stained the face like a wicked parody of Native American movies. The corners of his lips dipped downward as if they were glued on. It made her face look like a bad papier-mache mask. Olga did not even notice how her tears began to flow, one by one. The unfortunate girl realized she was sobbing only when she saw the thin streaks on the crust of dirt in the reflection. One tiny droplet fell on the glass as if it had evaporated, disappeared without a trace.

    The mirror surface trembled and rippled. Olga felt a slight prick in her fingers. It did not hurt, but it was unpleasant, like a weak electric shock. The mirror seemed to go blind. The reflection disappeared beneath a gray veil. In the depths of the mirror cataract, the outlines of something strange appeared - a shadow in the heart of another shadow, as if woven from thousands of obsidian needles... Then, at last, Olga dropped the trinket. It fell with a thump but did not shatter. She blinked, and it was as before. It was just a cheap and cracked trinket. She didn't want to take it in her hands again or look at her reflection in the red light, which did such tricks with shadows. The girl left the dubious find lying on the rough floor.

    The tears would not stop. Olga turned her back to the sleeping Creep, pulled her knees up to her chin, and hugged them tightly with her arms. Her joints ached, every muscle ached, her neck demanded a pillow, and she desperately wanted to bathe properly, but she could not waste water. There was less than a third of it left, and the Kryp was not going to get any cleaner. So she'll have to find more.

    And pillow...

    Her soul became very empty and very sad. The darkest hopelessness overwhelmed the mind, powerfully whispering "we're going to die, we're both going to die here...". Olga sobbed softly, not even trying to imagine how far her fate had taken her. More than anything, she wanted to die right now, so that all this would finally be over.

    * * *
    If you are knowledgeable about WH40k lore you could see that Kryptman is quite young. The author just split canonical Kryptman in two - Kryptman-father and Kryptman-son (and Kryptman holy spirit LOL)​
     
  5. Threadmarks: Chapter 5
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

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    It's a sign that an inquisitor is a bigger threat than a warp artifact.

    Chapter 5

    Olga completely lost track of time and decided that it was morning. It was logical in some way since there were no external markers, and the only clue was her awakening. Well, morning it was. The hygiene routine consisted of wiping the face with water (about the size of a spoon) and another act of grooming Crip. At this point, we were out of running water and rags. There wasn't much drinking water left.​

    Fidus got worse again, feverish, and had brief bouts of delirium for a couple of minutes at a time. Kryp roll his eyes and mutter something incoherently, and then he didn't seem to remember any of it. All the more ominous were the bouts of vigorous activity the patient tried to develop in the intervals of wakefulness. He continued to scribble abstract shit, and at the same time, he was rambling something to Olga in his half-French. With difficulty, the girl realized that Fidus needed his cloak. She cursed again and fetched the armored rag. She realized at the same time how much she had weakened in the past ... hours?... day? Calories seemed to have been expended in a rush. And hunger she did not feel, probably the stress blocked her natural reflexes. Only a nasty feeling of pulling weakness, when the usual actions required unexpected efforts, and the cloak dragged on the concrete floor as if a dead man had been wrapped in it.​
    And the feeling of filth, of uncleanness, was infuriating. Sweat, blood, vomit, dust. It was as if everything mingled into some kind of substance, spreading like an ugly wrap all over my body. A bath... at least a shower... God, just a basin of warm water and a ladle. The moment Olga decided to negotiate with the universe for a bucket of cold water and a mug, the cloak finally lay down next to Kryp.​

    Fidus passed out again, dropped his writing utensils, mumbled something fast and often. He came to, just as suddenly and abruptly, and poked around blindly. Olga silently handed him a crumpled, tattered sheet of a notebook, painted like an absurdist's canvas. But this wasn't enough for Kryp, and he gestured toward her knife. Olga thought a moment, and, shrugging her shoulders, moved farther away, so that the sick man could not get at her with a guarantee. She pulled an old worn Ka-Bar out of its magazine sheath and tossed it to Fidus. He began to do the odd thing - he tried to slash his cloak. It worked badly. Olga was in no hurry to help, remembering that the fellow in misfortune might at any moment go back into the state of an insane murderer.​

    Kryp, meanwhile, was poking his armor stubbornly with a knife, seemingly trying to tear away the lining. And he finally succeeded, though towards the end of the painful operation sweat was pouring down from the patient like a hail. Fidus, on his third attempt, pulled out of a hidden, tightly sewn pocket ... something. He handed it to Olga. Noticing that she was in no hurry to move closer, guiltily and understanding smiled, or rather, grimaced in a painful parody of a smile. He pushed the knife in her direction and, waiting for Olga to take the stabbing, held out something again.​

    It looked something like a credit card, but it was about one and a half times bigger and closer to a square in shape. It was very heavy for its size. Shaking the plate, Olga suddenly thought that the thing looked like gold. At least in color and weight. She wanted to try it on the tooth, whether or not it would leave a dent, it would surely leave a dent on the gold. One side of the credit card was polished to a mirror finish, and the other was covered with patterns that looked as if they had been hammered out by hand with a very small chisel. The pattern clearly had some sort of order and system, but abstract, completely incomprehensible to Olga.​

    "And what is that?" She asked more as a formality, not expecting an understandable answer.​

    Kryp seemed pleased that she had taken the gold item and slipped the girl a sheet of paper torn from her notebook. He added his chain badge, with a stick and a skull. He said something again, with a slurred tongue. The boy was getting worse, his speech was becoming muddled. Olga honestly looked at the smear, wistfully thought that the companion, it seems, had become quite bad. She looked again. She turned it sideways, then the other way around.​

    "Ogo," she whispered.​

    "Imperatoris gloriam," exhaled the exhausted Cripe, and he lost consciousness, now for a long time.​

    "Man, you're such a genius," Olga automatically quoted some action movie character, and which one she couldn't remember even on death's doorstep.​

    Kryp drew not just a doodle, but a very detailed map. He sketched levels, indicated some landmarks, and dotted the route. At the end he drew, as best he could, the same eagle with his wrong hand. I guess, as a symbol of the successful completion of the route.​

    Olga looked at the gold plate than at the map then in reverse order.​

    "What the fuck is there to do?" She asked rhetorically into the space and called the medallion a "paiza" to herself.​

    The monstrous hologram still broadcasts a star and a beautiful space of chemically pure colors. The atrium was still deader than dead. There were no zombie machines, and the girl wondered if everything was a figment of her imagination, multiplied by fatigue and hunger. The invisible crowd behind the walls of the "tomb," the asshole tractor with the mummy, and all that.​

    She adjusted the backpack, made from a duffel bag with two crossed pieces of rope, over her shoulders. She adjusted the scabbard and knife to make it more comfortable. She covered the hatch more carefully and started walking, glancing at the map every moment. Olga left the man the first aid kit and shoved the last clean rag moistened with the rest of the water into her mouth. At least it would ease the sufferer's thirst for a while. Honestly, Olga was beginning to get tired - really tired - of her companion. It was all too... heavy. Too much.​
    The plaque hung around her neck, and the gold plate was in her pocket, along with a mirror. But after a few steps on the stone tiles of the floor, the girl suddenly felt a burning sensation. And it was rapidly increasing. In a few seconds, when she realized that it stung in the side, the burning turned into a sharp pain, as from a red-hot needle. Pushing her hand into her pocket was terrifying. It was very hot! And Olga danced on the spot, squirming and bending to shake it all out. The plate rattled deafeningly against the stone with frayed symbols. The mirror fell out next, as if reluctantly. Surprisingly, it hadn't broken even now.​

    Olga squatted down, carefully checked the plate with her fingertip, then the mirror. Quietly she was shocked because the plate seemed only slightly warm as if warmed by the heat of her body. The mirror, on the contrary, was icy, as if it had been kept in a freezer.​

    "Shit happens," summed up the owner of the strange things confusedly. And, cautiously, she put the things in her pockets. Individually, the gifts behaved peacefully, without any temperature glitches. The mirror quickly returned to normal and no longer chilled through the thin fabric. Olga unscrewed the pocket and found that the fabric was not even darkened, though earlier it had stung so badly that she could have expected at least a good hole with charred edges.​

    "Miracles," she said because there was nothing more to say. She wanted to get rid of the mirror, to avoid any excesses. But the thing seemed very cozy, one might say quiet and familiar.​
    It would come in handy she decided, and she strode on. According to the drawing, she was to go deeper into the labyrinth of interior rooms, then down two levels and through a long corridor. Next was either an elevator or a long ladder. Then either a warehouse or some hangar, and then according to the signs. SheShe was still terribly thirsty, but the ray of hope fed her no worse than a life-giving battery. With every step, Olga felt a burst of energy, and in general, life became not so hopeless.​

    And at least for a while, she didn't have to worry about Krypp worrying if he was going to die in her arms right now.​

    By the time you get back, he's already been dead. One less thing to worry about.

    The thought was surprisingly clear as if it had been whispered directly into her ear. Olga even shook her head, trying to see the advisor behind her back. The concept sounded unpleasant but quite reasonable. And also, turning around, the girl noticed that her footprints remained on the dusty tiles, clear and sharp as if stamped with glowing lilac paint. Like in a club, when the paint begins to glow under ultraviolet light. The effect did not last long, each print of a cheap sneaker lasted two or three seconds at most. So a couple of blinks and it's gone. Olga took a few test steps - no result. Look likes it was the illusion of a tired mind.​

    "When you see a flying witch don't be worry it's a glitch. Fuck off, Harry Potter." Decisively ordered Olga and stomped a couple more times to make sure the lilac glitches were illusory. As expected, nothing happened. The girl wandered on, optimistically hurrying as best she could.​

    The journey was ... not easy.​

    Olga was not sure where she was. On the one hand, her surroundings were quite reminiscent of an old abandoned building. Capital buildings, concrete walls, low ceilings. Everything was solid, sturdy, reliable. On the other, capital buildings alternated with some iron trusses, riveted lattices, and in general, everything reminded of sci-fi movies of the eighties. And if you look closely, the concrete in some places looked like a rough, roughly ground stone of a specific structure. The geometry was not very good either. At one moment the corridor was suddenly going up by a side branch at an angle of thirty degrees, or even more. At other times a dead conveyor evidently of transport purpose protruded from the side passage with its broad tongue against the common sense and perceptions of normal movement. For the most part, the staircases were ordinary, but in some corners they were a series of platforms, flowing from one to the other by gentle descents and ramps.​

    The further on, the more Olga was covered by a strange feeling that she was walking underground. In a system of caves, which were treated from the inside, supplemented with artificial rooms and passages, and the cavities were filled with metal structures ... and bricks. Yes, there were a lot of bricks, they were fastened with a mortar that resembled toothpaste of a poisonous green color.​

    The dark brown cubes were also reinforced. In some places, the corners and edges were chipped from time and other wear and tear, so that metal bars protruded through the dense structure. It was the sight of these bricks that gave Olga a real chill down her spine. The logic of such architecture seemed inhuman and abnormal, if only in terms of labor costs. While everything around was definitely built by people and for people. But by very strange people for the same strange inhabitants. Who, for example, for some reason changed the normal clockwise stroke to a mirror reflection.​

    Will Kryp, when he comes to his senses, be able to manage the first aid kit?​

    He will die. He'll spare you the trouble. And it won't be your fault.

    Twice she got lost. She had to go back and take a long time to find the right turn. After the second time, when Olga only miraculously managed to get back to the right intersection through a suite of empty, dusty offices that looked like identical cardboard boxes, she began marking the turns with a piece of something that looked like chalk. At least it smeared a greasy white color and didn't crumble right in her hands.​

    Along the way, Olga managed to get a couple of other little things, like a jumbled skein of thin wire, a pile of rags, and a work jacket. She threw the jacket over the backpack, as the dirty yellow garment was an unreal large size. There was also a welding glove, with a separate index finger, and an old, partially crumbled rubber rope and such. The backpack got heavy, the ropes digging into her shoulders, almost intolerable. Then Olga found water, about half a liter in a glass bottle. And drank it whole, snorting with pleasure and dropping drops from her parched lips. Life immediately sparkled with new colors.​

    She even got up the courage to look at herself in the mirror. The cloudy surface reflected an unwashed, but not deprived of a pretty face with firmly pressed lips and a stern look. Olga was astonished - her eyes had always been a sore subject for her. They seemed blue but had an unpleasant whitish hue. So much so that her brother (let the bastard die of syphilis, she automatically and habitually wished, twitching) called them "zombie eyes. And her mother, as long as she was alive, took pity on the girl, who "didn't have enough sky in her eyes". Now ... apparently the light was so refracted or what the hell was going on with the optics, but the reflection looked at the original with big eyes of the amazing cornflower color of incredible purity and richness​

    It was mystical... but she liked the new look, so she was even more invigorated. She even tried to whistle, but the sound echoed around her, piercing the empty corridors. She felt uncomfortable. It was scary, too.​

    "Wow," Olga exhaled around another corner.​

    Here began another lane of metal architecture, walls of wide sheets of metal with peeling paint and numerous rust stains. A fairly wide corridor led forward, directly to the elevator, which, according to Crip's scheme, was what Olga needed. On the right side, an irregular row of doors ran more like ship hatches. At any rate, there was a steering wheel sticking out of each, and it was locked with something resembling a car steering wheel lock. Bundles of thick cables dangled rather untidily from the ceiling on rope loops instead of hooks or boxes. From each loop hung a strip of what looked like cardboard, only thinner and sealed with sealing wax, like the post office. And on the left... On the left, the iron wall looked as if it had been broken through with a giant nail.​

    It looked like a missile, only about the size of a railroad train wagon and a complex hatch instead of a spearhead. The metal walls of the "wagon" were blackened and stained with what looked like scale. The missile looked as if it flew in from outside, stuck in the iron wall, and ... Olga looked closely. Yes, the hole was sealed with some kind of foam, like either sealant or porous silicon. It seemed to pour out of several rows of dark holes that ran in rings along the gray sides of the projectile. That is, the bomb pierced the solid wall, sealed the breach, opened the steel face releasing something ... But what exactly?​

    She didn't want to go near the wagon. But it was impossible to go around it. And Olga had a strong feeling that the third time she was sure to get lost. The projectile seemed dead, cold. In general, on closer examination, it looked more like some kind of earthmoving machine. At any rate, between the sealant holes and the petal hatch were the remains of intricate construction. Tubing sticking out in front, mostly torn off when the wall was pierced. Thick soot and drips of cooled metal on the floor showed that the car had either been incinerated or had naturally burned its way through the wall.​

    No, they're definitely underground? But then why the sealant?​

    Again she wanted to swear, but Olga restrained herself. Not out of tact or politeness, but out of simple fear. She took the knife and took a tiny step forward. Then another, listening. Nothing.​

    Silence.​

    By the way, the elevator at the end of the corridor also seemed dead, which meant trouble, because somehow there were no alternative stairs ahead. However, it was reassuring too - if someone got out of the carriage, it was probably long gone. Small steps, holding the knife at the ready, Olga went around the hatch, pressed against the opposite wall. She peeked inside.​
    The girl had never seen anything like it, so she could not compare it with anything and could not understand its functionality. Thick walls, some hangers, handrails, instruments, or rather boxes that could be mistaken for instruments. Nothing modern, no displays, just gauges, dials, and mighty lever rods. A few very dim orange lights were blinking, and in the back of the train, the wiring was sparkling, which suggested that the breakdown hadn't happened that long ago, after all. Maybe not so long ago. There was no insignia but an oval plaque screwed to one of the hatch doors from the inside. The plaque had a pattern on it - a double arrow in a circle.​

    The longer Olga looked at this techno monstrosity, the more she began to feel that there was some system in the machine, moreover, people traveled in it, only... Only everything inside was designed for people about one and a half times more than usual. The handrails were too thick, the levers too long. A normal hand wouldn't be able to grip it, and the fingers wouldn't close.​
    It's such weird bullshit...​

    From a rational point of view, she should have climbed inside to see if she could find anything useful. However, the girl really didn't want to do that. She just didn't want to. And, besides, given the size, she was unlikely to find anything practical for herself there. Olga sighed - in the past hours (days?) here it had become a depressingly habitual action (as well as the usage of mostly obscene language) - and went on, leaving the amazing miracle of the technology behind.​

    As might be expected, the elevator did not work. The wide platform with its high handrails froze, unresponsive to the jerking of a lever and attempts to find any switch. The shaft rose upward in a dark, ominous column, toward a point of yellowish light. Either faint in itself, or very distant. There were rather deep grooves in the two opposite walls. One with a smooth pole, the other with a ladder, so that one could go up and down even with the elevator running.​

    "Oh, fuck," the girl whispered as she imagined the inevitable climb. It wouldn't have been easy in her normal state without a safety net, without a visible place to rest. And now, for a deadly tired, hungry, and, frankly, not the strongest man in the world ... One thing was good - Fidus's scheme was more or less correct. So next up, then either a warehouse or a hangar, then another long walk, almost to the edge of the sheet. And the end of the road with an eagle at the end.​

    "Fuck... why is everything so fucked up?" Olga asked the dark emptiness with wistful hopelessness. In response, only a faint humming of the breeze generated by the draft of air. Very apropos thought that the young woman, reflected in the mirror a bit earlier, would not give a damn about these problems and acted decisively, boldly. With such a stern bright look - definitely. To be sure, Olga pulled out the glass and was surprised, here, in the semi-darkness, the eyes are not just sparkling, but as if glowing. Very bright and very beautiful.​

    It's a nice thing, she should definitely keep it. It's hers now, anyway.​

    "Ah-ah-ah..." Olga said vigorously but quietly, tired of cursing, and took hold of the bar starting a long climb.​

    * * *​
     
  6. Threadmarks: Chapter 6
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

    Joined:
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    Chapter 6

    It was hard, and then harder, and by the end it was unbearable. But still, she made it, though her fingers were sluggish and scratchy by the end of the long climb, and her arms felt cotton and aching at every joint. Once she almost fell off and only by some miracle caught herself, hanging on like a tree-hugging monkey. She paused briefly a couple of times as she climbed, thinking aloof that she wouldn't have been recognized in the old hairdressing salon now. A dirty, swearing girl with disheveled, straw-colored hair. The simplification to the original state happened naturally and almost imperceptibly. That's all right when it was all over, then she could be a well-mannered and cultured lady again. In the meantime, Olga only strengthened herself in the idea that the old habits and reflexes here would be more useful than the skills of civilized city life.​

    We made it. This seems to be the way to write on the ruins of Berlin. Well, or rather, we crawled. I crawled. Olga lay on the concrete floor for a while, feeling too exhausted and tired even to sleep. Besides, she was freezing - there was an icy draught in the elevator shaft, which sucked the heat through the leather and tarpaulin like a leech.​

    Now there's another fucking hatch... God, what a bunch of assholes built this place.​

    Another hatch on a double hinge opened with a faint rustle. The thick "pancake," which looked like a triple-thick sewer cover, came away smoothly, heavily. A passage opened inside. It was dark and dusty behind the riveted round hole. But it seemed a little warmer. Olga gripped the hilt of the knife in the sheath from the magazine with duct tape tighter and climbed inside. She tried not to think about what might be waiting for her. And what if Kryp was wrong. Or she'd misinterpreted his scheme, sketched out with a trembling hand. Or ...​

    "Fuck," the girl repeated once more, squeezing through the narrow aisle and thinking that for fifteen real years and three attributed, it was all too harsh.​

    Exactly, a warehouse, just as painted. Olga had never seen anything like that in her life. Except in the Harry Potter movies mentioned earlier today. The room seemed enormous. No, even gigantic. It seemed so because both the sides and the ceiling were hidden in semi-darkness. "Semi," because there was some kind of light, though-some kind of fluorescent tube light fixtures, attached at regular intervals. Stuck on... Who the hell knows? Frames? Racks of infinite height?​

    Olga gritted her teeth and covered the hatch's heavy tab, leaving a small slit, glowing red. So that she could find her way back afterward. The girl hoped it would not be necessary and she would soon be rescued. But short experience with the locals had already shown that "shit happens" or something like that. Olga clutched herself into a ball behind something that looked like a toolbox about waist high. And tried to assess the disposition with a more rational and attentive eye.​

    A rational and attentive observation showed that the warehouse was even larger and higher than it first appeared. The draughts were in the aisles and howled overhead like in a cave. Racks of shelving occupied all the visible space, similar to the product racks in hypermarkets like Ikea. Except that most of the items on them were not boxes, but laboratory-looking glass vessels. Jars, flasks with intricately curved spouts, and bulky jugs. Some were empty, some with powders and crystals. Some sparkled with all sorts of liquids of unnaturally bright colors.​

    Most of the bottles, as far as Olga could see, were numbered, and the tags were not glued, but tied with string, like the prescriptions in the old pharmacies. Some of the bottles were even handwritten on the glass with felt-tip pens. Rows of these glass bottles stretched up and down as long as she could see. And, judging by the thick layer of dust, whatever alchemist had mixed his elixirs, he hadn't touched the warehouse in at least a couple of years. In the distance, something boomed, at regular intervals, like a big wheel turning a hammer. At any rate, that was Olga's first association - the measured twisting and rhythmic "boom-boom-boom" of something heavy.​

    It's all questionable... and dangerous. She wanted to sneeze and swear again. Olga could hardly keep herself from doing both. It was creepy. Not scary, but creepy, like being in a crypt. And cold, probably from the draughts.​

    Boom. Boom. Boom.​

    Olga realized that the knocking was coming, booming closer and closer. And in the direction of the booms, a light flared up, a familiar bright light like the LED lights she was used to. The girl squirmed even more behind the box, feeling the coldness of the fluted tin. God, if only it were Kryp's friends... She ran her hand over the "zipper," feeling the heavy gold "credit card" in her closed pocket. Which to show, the plate or the badge on the chain? Probably the skull.​

    The boom, meanwhile, came closer, and now it was clear that it was really footsteps and some disproportionately heavy ones at that. It sounded like a diver rattling his leaden boots. Big Daddy from BioShock? That's what it sounds like, very similar, only without the rumbling. And not at all like the help one would expect. A bright light flickered in the dark corners, reflecting brightly on the hundreds of flasks. The girl squeezed the badge that hung around her neck, pulled slightly in indecision.​

    "Oh," she articulated silently, with only her lips.​

    The girl was used to being in a place where miracles lurked at every corner, only not miraculous, but scary and very crazy. But this was not what she had expected. Yes, they were really footsteps. And yes, there was really only one entity walking, very heavy in appearance. Other than that... It made her want to rub her eyes and wake up.​

    He stood about fifteen meters away, maybe even closer, separated from Olga by five or six rows of alchemical tables. Huge, like the room itself. Not just huge... Perhaps the most accurate word here is "cubic." An anthropomorphic-looking giant that seemed equally extended in height and width, and in depth as well. He was about two and a half meters tall, or rather more, and seemed to be made of straight lines, angles, and geometrically regular circles of varying diameters. Armor, yes definitely armor, but somehow abnormal, unnatural. As if the wearer escaped straight from a Korean online game, where everything is exaggerated, oversized, to immediately reveal the level of the player. Giant boots extending to the feet, hypertrophied shoulder pads, cubic knapsack with nozzles behind. And ... yes, good lord, a real axe behind that satchel. The axe was just like a Viking's, only about the height of Olga, that is, six feet or so.​

    The helmet, which looked like the hoplite bucket from "Troy" with Brad Pitt, glowed with two green lights in place of the eye slits. It seemed very small in comparison to the other details. From the satchel behind his shoulders protruded a boom with three of the brightest lights, which rotated independently of one another like lighthouse lights. So that was who was sitting in the earthmoving wagon... Yes, a giant like that would have had a lot to do with that projectile. Maybe even more than one, if you put them in a line.​

    The giant stood for a long minute or two, almost motionless, with only the creaking and clicking of something inside the armor, as if the MMO knight had been wound up like a clock with a spring. And there was enough light, so Olga could see the stranger close enough, right down to the emblem on his right shoulder - two arrows in a circle. The spotlight above her helmet buzzed, spinning.​

    Olga pressed her lips into a tube and exhaled slowly, preparing to come out of her hiding spot.​

    And then everything happened very, very fast.​

    All three lights rotated, merging their blindingly white beams into one, and out of the half-light came... something. A jagged figure with a perfect Gigerian outline that crawled between the racks, spreading its arms and legs and grasping its hands. It was something long and multi-jointed. With claws that looked like both sickles and hooks. The Hulk stepped forward extending both arms, and the barrels extended with clang over his heavy gauntlets. A funnel-shaped nozzle on his left arm, something thick and perforated on his right.​

    The image was literally imprinted on the retina of Olga's eyes. Two figures, frozen for a tiny fraction of a second in the painfully bright white light. A man and a demon. And then another multi-fingered shadow condensed into the darkness above the titan's head. It leaped from somewhere above and swooped down like a hunter spider. A third ghoulish creature slid behind the giant's back, sprawled out at the very floor, clawing at the frequent fine grating. Olga opened her mouth, feeling a thin thread of saliva slide down her lip and chin.​

    The leaping demon broke the boom with the spotlights, grabbed all his limbs at once in the shoulder pads and the backpack. Here was where the giant surprised me. Before, it had moved with a kind of majestic slowness. Now... Olga didn't even realize what the attacked rescuer had done, so fast it all happened. He waved his arms, and in the next instant, the spider-like monster from Giger's albums was already flying toward his colleague. The giant ripped it off, along with the small debris of its armor, spun it in a half-turn, and hurled it like a hurling cannonball. The two monsters crashed into each other with a bone-rattling clang, entangled by their long limbs. The rack shuddered, and the bottles fell in a sparkling waterfall, making the hall resound with the clear, crystal sound of shattering glass.​

    The Ambal turned around with unnatural speed for his size and mass. So that the attackers, one plus two, were strictly at his sides. He stretched his massive arms out to his sides and fired both barrels on his forearms. The thick thing with holes in it turned out to be a shotgun or something, and the flamethrower-like nozzle was really a flamethrower. The thick thing with holes in it turned out to be a shotgun or something, and the flamethrower-like flamethrower was really a flamethrower. A sheaf of buckshot ripped through the clutching freaks, ripping chunks of something soft and disgustingly flabby out of them. The flamethrower snorted a bright yellow fountain, covering the third with perfect accuracy. The target only rattled, shrieked, somehow mechanically, not like a living thing. That was the end of the fight. Olga wanted to clap her hands. The hell knows what kind of person was hiding under the thick iron, but wild creatures of the spider kind were definitely much worse. Now she was willing to believe that the bruiser represented the forces of good. Olga opened her mouth, intending to...​

    From the yellow wall of raging fire flew a sprawling shadow. Dropping drops of liquid flame, the creature leaped at the knight, thumping furiously with all its paws, tearing the outer covering off, breaking the wrist weapon. The fire seemed to do little or no harm to the hard outer covering. And from behind came a tangle of what seemed to claw alone - numbers one and two attacked again, coherently, as one fighter about a dozen paws. A sickle-shaped claw cut the giant's legs beneath the knees. It seemed - though it was impossible! - that the blow pierced the armor, even though it looked very thick, invulnerable to the sturdiest bone. And yet ... apparently the claws of the "spiders" were not so simple.​

    For the first time in the short battle and during the observation, the giant made a sound unrelated to the workings of the suit of armor. Through the visor came a shriek or a growl, wrenched by a sharp flash of terrible pain. It sounded very... human. In the next instant, the giant toppled over onto his back in a short backward roll, crunching the two clawed creatures. And, like a pro wrestler, he tossed the clawed one over himself, clutching at his cuirass and arms. Rolled obliquely, over his head and shoulder, though Olga never understood how the giant had managed to do it with the hump of his shoulder pack and his axe. No, though, when the titan rose to his feet, the axe was already in his hands.​

    Olga did not notice how she gripped the hilt of the knife with a death grip. The solid, imposing "Ka-Bar" seemed tiny, harmless, very funny compared to the fierce battle of the giants, each of whom could probably kill a man with a careless blow.​

    The nearest monster took advantage of its closeness to its target and stepped into a clinch, grasping the axe. The giant swung forward at once, as in a good street fight slamming his helmet into the long, knotty fingers, smashing them against the steel forehead. Without losing a moment, the knight swung his axe free from the enemy's grip. An axe as tall as Olga's painted a curve, knocking down another rack. And, in a rain of splinters that showered down on the fighting men in a sparkling waterfall, it fell on the enemy's head.​

    Olga crouched behind the crate, the force of the blow seemed terrifying, even from the outside. The monster's head, which looked like both a deformed skull and an onion, was covered with bone plates, like a prehistoric amphibian, but the bone did not withstand it. The axe went between the eyes at the base of the blade, splitting the monster's head like a wooden deck. The strange creature somehow immediately picked up, curled six long hilted arms toward its abdomen, tucked its short, segmented tail into something compact. And froze. Round eyes rolled out on short stalks, like those of a crab, and the red dots of its pupils darted in different directions.​

    Contrary to expectation, the giant did not attempt to free the weapon wedged in the ugly skull. And the big man was moving noticeably slower now. The blow to the legs was not in vain. But the fighter had no intention of giving up. He turned around so that his back was to the rack. At least for a moment, he protects himself from an attack from the back. And took another demon literally on the chest. He stop the attack with two swifts, "boxing" strokes, held a beautiful technically flawless hook to the right. So that the creature, whose skin was still smoking after the flamethrower salvo, flew off into another flight sweeping away another row of bottles. The battlefield was already covered with a thick layer of broken glass, which squeaked and squealed protestingly with every step of the fighters. The fight was silent. The fighters remained silent, except for the beastly hiss of the torched creature and the scream of the knight's pain. Only the gnashing of armor, the creaking of bone plates, and the deafening rumble of the destruction of the entourage.​

    But the giant missed the next attack, because of his injured legs. The spider clawed at his shoulder pads, flailed his middle pair of limbs with the biggest claws. And tore off a piece of the mask of the helmet. The knight cried out again, now, without the armored barrier, his voice sounded quite human. But the warrior continued the fight. Locking his opponent's short neck in a wrestler's grip, the giant turned and settled down so that he was pressing the creature with his full weight, then began pounding on the bulbous head with his enormous fist. Like a wrestler in an arena. Except it wasn't a fake fight, it was a real fight, full force, to the death. The armored gauntlet went up and down, the multi-legged monster jerked convulsively, with such force that it tossed the big man, who weighed a few cents. But the warrior only tightened his grip, working with the clarity and force of a sledgehammer. A punch, another punch.​

    The creature hissed and opened its mouth, stretching out a long tongue that opened at the end with a bundle of thin tentacles. It launched itself into the broken helmet, probing for a face. The anthropomorphic fighter responded by shoving an armored palm right into its jaw, knocking out small, sharp, piranha-like teeth. He pushed forward, overcoming the demon's frantic convulsions. He seemed to go into a frenzy, flailing the huge man wherever he could.​

    Out of the darkness came the vile face of the third "spider". The monster crept leisurely very low literally cowering over the glass crumbs. It was as if it were sacrificing a fellow-creature, winning an opportunity for a successful attack. And the giant either didn't see death creeping up. Or was ignoring the monster, planning to finish the task at hand first.​

    The tentacle seemed to find living flesh beneath the shattered armor. It tensed, and it jawed like the oesophagus in an anatomical chart. Blood spurted from the shattered visor. And almost simultaneously, the fighter fumbled at the base of the "tentacle," squeezed and tugged as hard as he could. Or maybe the broken shotgun on his forearm worked, it was not very clear from the side. Either way, the second demon went limp. Its jaws opened like a mitten, spewing a stream of murky, bubbling liquid onto the floor and knight's leg. Round balls of eyes popped out on slimy stalks just like the previous one. This must have been how the body reacted to death, relaxing some muscles.​

    The third demon rushed forward. With a slight movement, unexpected for such a large creature, it partly sidestepped, partly deflected the outstretched arm with which the knight was trying to stop the attack. And hit.​

    Even Olga noticed this blow. Because there was no longer the same speed in the movements of the thoroughly battered monster. So the knight would have been able to either dodge or counterattack by choice. But the warrior was wounded, the suit gaping holes. And the big man in the strange armor missed the attack. A long claw, no less than two of Olga's palms, stung like a stiletto into the gap between the collar of his cuirass and the base of his helmet. The six-legged spider, which had already lost one of its limbs, stubbed its three "legs" into the lattice floor, tensed its ugly body, and, with its tail vibrating with exertion, jerked toward itself, literally ripping the giant's helmet and head off.​

    Strangely enough, there wasn't much blood even after that. Two thoughts were woven together in her head. The first was that ыру had to get out of here. The second was not to be discovered. The mutant spider had managed to shut the amazing knight out, and he'd swat her in a heartbeat.​

    Olga crouched even more behind her flimsy shelter. Though it seemed physically impossible. She literally tucked herself into a knot of thin bones, muscles, and dirty clothes. She clutched the hilt of her knife, knowing that if the creature suspected an uninvited onlooker, it would be easier to stab herself with it. The beast, meanwhile, crunched and squeaked with broken glass. Metal clanked. Then a series of heavy blows began as if a butcher's axe was hammering at an iron stake. Olga did not even pray, just lay there in a tense knot, trying, as best she could, to breathe slowly, measuredly. And not to wet herself with terror.​

    There's that grinding sound again. And the dragging of something heavy. The dim lighting, the smell of death. And something chemical that made her eyes water. Olga closed her eyes, repeating to herself "I'm in hell, I'm in hell... God help me...". And so, word by word, she fell into a kind of trance, mingled with infinite horror and at the same time disbelief in what was happening.​

    It's a dream. It's just a bad dream.

    She did not know how long she had lain there in a half-lucid state. Just at one moment, she realized that she hadn't heard anything for a long time. Nothing at all. Only the measured drips from the many liters of broken bottles, some of which remained on the racks, oozing their contents.​

    It took a long time to pull herself together and see what was behind the box. But still, Olga managed to do it. And ... there was nothing. That is, the mess remained. The crumbling rows of racks remained. Thousands of broken dishes remained. A large pool of blood, shimmering dully on the shards under the light of the blue-green tubes.​

    And that's it.​

    At that moment, the girl discovered a whole new dimension of fear she had never known before. Because with clear clarity she understood. These monsters resembled both spiders and ugly mutants with six-legged tails and hydrocephalic heads, like aliens from an unknown hell. They were not animals.​

    Only a creature endowed with intellect could carefully cover its tracks and remove the bodies, evidence of a fierce battle.​

    Olga slowly crawled on all fours to the hatch. Slowly, on all fours, because her legs were trembling. And it was scary to raise her head, every moment she thought that now from the semi-darkness would follow the crushing blow of a sickle-shaped claw, capable of crushing armor two fingers thick.​

    * * *​
     
  7. Threadmarks: Chapter 7
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

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    It's the luck of isekaited hero. Someones use it for harembuilding, another one for surviving.

    It's Slaanesh.

    Chapter 7

    The tension and fear were manifested by incessant chills and aching joints, like the flu. But at the same time, Olga felt an amazing detachment, as if what was happening was separated by thick glass. Apparently, the mind brought to the very brink of madness found an outlet in denial. There is none of this, all around is an illusion, a game. You have to follow a certain sequence of actions, and everything will be fine. Even fatigue seemed to fade into the background, no longer perceived as a heavy burden. A step forward, left, right, a little more... And there are no behemoths. All this is a fairy tale, a delirious vision.​

    The moment Olga thought the endless journey through the industrial womb would never end, it did. The tunnels with passages that seemed as monumental as an ancient tomb led to a rectangular cave about the size of a school assembly hall. The size of the room was obscured by a multitude of strange flags. Long, narrow cloths of some smooth, heavy-looking fabric were hanging motionless on an intricate system of movable frames under the ceiling. It looked like a sort of "soft" labyrinth, which was scary to step into.​

    Olga sat down and looked along the smooth floor of pale pink stone with yellowish veins. Nothing. No one was lurking in ambush, revealing themselves with their legs sticking out, like a villain behind a drape in a movie. The flags, creamy yellow, repeated the same pattern-the steampunk skull in a blood-red pinion that she was already familiar with. Now the image could be seen closer and more closely, in all its carefully inscribed details. By the end, the dead head disliked Olga even more. The skull on Creep's badge, the skull here... It looked like the locals were getting excited about the Gothic theme.​

    "Necrophiles," she commented the result of the examination​

    In addition to the sculls, the banners bearing many inscriptions made in the same alphabet, only in a different script. The letters seemed deliberately crude... But no. A girl who looked closely corrected herself that they weren't. It wasn't easy to describe it in words, but she found a suitable analogy for herself - it might look like the typeface of an old typewriter if they tried to simplify it and make the characters as standard as possible, similar to each other.​

    For some reason, she remembered that the last factory that made typewriters closed in 2017. Unnecessary and useless information.​

    "Om... Omn..." Olga tried to read the letters. It turned out badly. Faceless writing in a simplified script seemed equally impersonal. The gaze slid over the lines like smooth ice.​

    "Omnas... Fuck you." She cursed softly and leaned over once more, glancing over the stone floor. Still nothing.​

    She clenched her fists and stepped into the maze of curtains.​

    On the back of the flags were not letters and drawings, but symbols. Vertical dashes and circles jumbled together with no visible system - black on yellow - nothing else.​

    "All right," with these words Olga began to tear through the sheets, feeling like a kidnapper of other people's sheets on drying out. Her presence seemed to disrupt some kind of balance. The flags went wrinkled, shooting sparks and pulling at each other like electrified hairs. After a few steps, the girl was completely confused and almost panicked - the heavy, smooth fabric hurt with the electric shocks and tried to cling to her face blocking her breathing.​

    Olga started on all fours, then lay down and crawled the rest of the way. The cloths were unpleasantly catching the tube behind her like tentacles of an octopus in a sea abyss, but it was all right.​

    There was a door on the opposite wall of the "assembly hall". According to Kryp's scheme, this was where the path ended. The door roughly repeated the familiar pattern of either a ship's hatch or a bank safe's door. Only it seemed even more powerful and impenetrable. And it was locked.​

    Olga sighed heavily, took a sip of water, and in good faith tried to twist the steering wheel made of steel with spokes as thick as a good armature. It was still locked. But Kryp was counting on something, wasn't he? So it's got to open somehow. And it should be pretty obvious.​

    On either side of the hatch were two perfectly polished metal rectangles about two meters by half. They looked like removable panels, but without a single hole. That is, if they opened without a key, they opened according to some different principle. Olga scratched her nose and smoothed her disheveled hair, which had time to get greasy to the point where it slipped unpleasantly between her equally dirty fingers. She thought.​

    "Oh, fuck your mom!" she guessed and twisted the steering wheel to the opposite side, like a cap on a local bottle. It worked. She wonder why all the caps unscrewed strictly one way, but with the doors the way they had to? What's the point of that?​

    Behind the assembly hall with the flags was an austere cube-shaped room with walls of the familiar polished metal. They seemed so clean and ironed that it was scary to breathe - what if condensation would remain on the mirrored surface. Olga was even embarrassed and stomped on the spot, horrified by the dirty sneaker prints. At the same time, the girl had a great opportunity to look at herself as in a good mirror. She didn't use it, though, avoiding even a casual glance at her slightly blurred reflection. The steel reflection gave her a rather nasty look. But it wasn't the walls, but the structure in the center of the room that was noteworthy.​

    The human-sized sculpture depicted a kind of semi-abstract allegory (yes, Olga knew what the word meant; she was often teased that way; after all, the girl had to consult a dictionary to find out how offensive it really was). From the cubic pedestal rose upward in a curved figure a wave of human arms. There were many hands at the base of the composition, and the quality of the sculpture's workmanship was astounding. The flesh-colored stone with subtle veins of blue perfectly conveyed the colors of the skin. The skillful incisor highlighted every wrinkle, every burr on the nails. Olga suppressed a shudder of disgust - it seemed to her that the real hands had been lacquered here.​

    But the higher up, the less human the composition remained. Stone gave way to polished metal, and the flesh was joined by more and more artificial parts. Articulated joints, cylindrical phalanges, corrugated hoses instead of muscles, bundles of string playing the role of ligaments. Open circuits with gold and silver inlays, some kind of mechanical inclusions, bundles of wires, and cables.​

    The last and only "arm" was no longer human, it looked like the arm of the Terminator. The first one. Only strangely and senselessly overcomplicated. As if the designer had designed the arm on the principle of "as if it were more complicated". Or he tried to compensate the lost elements with simpler, more primitive inserts. The steel palm was opened in a gesture of offering, and on it rested the crown and the last element of the entire composition. Olga had to stand on tiptoe to get a good look. In the terminator's paw, a rectangle about the size of a matchbox was yellowed. The plate - apparently brass - bristled on two sides with yellow teeth, like a double-sided comb.​

    Olga only shrugged her shoulders unable to understand the bizarre scheme that deliberately spoiled the work of incredible accuracy and skill by finishing it deliberately crude quite unsophisticated.​

    "Postmodernists."​

    And here was where the problem came into full bloom - the girl saw nothing that looked like a door or a lock. Something that she could at least try to open. A room with walls about five meters by five meters at all coordinates, an "allegory" in the center, and nothing else. The hike came to a standstill again. Olga remembered that previously combing helped and repeated the procedure. Surprisingly - yes, it did not take long for the epiphany to come. If the polished walls are bare, then we need to look at abstractionism, perhaps the secret lies here.​

    She walked around the sculpture, touched it, even probed the edges. She found what she was looking for, not without difficulty, but quickly enough - a narrow slit, about the same width as Crip's plate. Olga shrugged again and, for lack of better ideas, tried sticking the "paiza" into the hole. It came on tightly, so much so that the girl quickly repented of her hasty action. But it was impossible to get the plate, which was stuck in the middle, back out. It remained only to bend the line further, hoping for another miracle. Olga grunted, bit her lip, and pushed further. Finally, the "paiza" with a pathetic creak and unexpected ease entered - literally fell inside the pedestal.​

    A vertical line split one of the walls with a slight click, and then both halves moved in and out, silently, unbelievably easy for massive steel hulks two palms thick or more. The space that opened was dark and something hummed like a transformer box.​

    "A box with secrets. Room number three," Olga commented. - "It's original, man. Then there will be four and five and all that."​

    But no. It seems that the third hall was the last one. Well, it was no longer a hall, but a strictly working room, styled and furnished in the atmosphere of the same designer schizophrenia.​

    Three walls were covered with a solid mosaic of dials and signs. Round, rectangular, sickle-shaped, hydraulic ones with liquids of all colors of the rainbow (Olga shuddered; the celebration of the liquid rainbow immediately reminded me of an alchemical warehouse and a fight with monsters). All of this was interspersed with valves, levers, and large keys - individually and grouped into blocks, like the keyboards on the old PC. There was no system and no logic or coherence to the crazy machinery. It seemed to have been built and built upon for generations, in an atmosphere of chaos and urgency. Here, it seemed, one could not even find two identical cables, even though there were plenty of them, multicolored snakes crawling along the walls, hanging in bunches from the gray ceiling, wrapping complex loops around the dials. The whole thing lived its mechanical life, or rather a multitude of lives at once, depending on the type of instrument - it clicked, buzzed, blew air bubbles, moved the arrows, snapped numbers on the flip-flop pointers. And, of course, the lights were flashing.​

    However, the most remarkable thing here, as well, was in the center of the room. It could have been called a sculpture of sorts, too, if it had looked a little less sinister. A naked mummy, waist-deep in a box with bronze walls and numerous rivets. The corpse looked a lot like a zombie tractor, only better, more groomed. And without the tracks. The bare skull gleamed dully with numerous pins that protruded from the gray glossy skin like nails from a Pinhead's head. One eye was covered by a round plate, again with rivets. Instead of the other, a large red lens glowed with reflected light. A series of black pins protruded from his spine, and some were wired with very thin wires no thicker than a hair. Skinny arms with nearly atrophied muscles hung slightly bent at the elbows, like the undeveloped arms of an embryo. In front of the mummy was a structure resembling a large book stand. And on it, indeed, lay an open book, seemingly very old and tattered. Just like the parchment folios in the pictures of ancient history. On either side of the book were light bulbs or lamps.​

    It all looked pitiful and unpleasant, like a posthumous mockery. It also smelled strongly of something aromatic. Olga could not identify the scent, but the incomprehensible aroma evoked strong associations with something solemn and pathos, just like the church.​

    "Necrophiles," Olga repeated.​

    As if responding to the sound, the dead man's installation moved. The pedestal unfolded with a slight creak, squeaking and buzzing. The Kadavr lifted his head, and the red lens stared directly at Olga with a blind squint. Something rustled overhead, and a skull-like drone with red lenses in its eye sockets slipped out of a tangle of wires. It descended to the level of Olga's face, twitched a "tail" of several cervical vertebrae on a flexible hose, like a shower hose. Something in the drone clicked and crunched, as if the gears, clogged with rust and sand, were opening up. Olga cringed, thinking only unkind, profane things about the local fascination with skulls and the theme of death in general. No, some kind of Satan-fucked goths, for God's sake.​
    And then she realized that the skull had no visible propellers. So it wasn't a drone at all. Nor did the surface of the skull seem plastic. Too rough, too ... wrong for plastic.​

    The drone, which was not a drone, circled the guest, turning so that Olga remained under the scope of the lens. It was as if he scanned the uninvited guest. The Kadavr remained motionless, but the girl had the strange and extremely disgusting feeling that the blind red lens could see perfectly. The skull rattled again, louder and in a different tone, just like a small printer. Or a typewriter that had been sped up several times faster than usual. And suddenly a small card fell out between the jaws with billowing yellow teeth. The thin rectangle fell to the metal floor. Olga frowned. The skull buzzed, hovering without motors, the dead man "watched".​

    "Well, it can't get any worse," Olga whispered and leaned in for the unexpected "gift".​

    The card looked like an ordinary archive card, only higher in quality and cleaner, with no lines or graphs. In the corner, the familiar and annoying gear skull glowed red, as if it had been printed in fluorescent ink. And on the slightly rough surface, freshly printed lines glowed black, as if they were still warm and smeared with graphite.​

    identify ipsum

    selectos interface

    eligere autem modus communications

    Incredibly ... but ... it seems that all this crazy mechanoid crap was trying to communicate somehow. And in their language, of course. The girl looked helplessly at the corpse with the nails in its head. The skull jangled, one of the red lenses closed with a green filter, the non-drone flew to the other side and hovered again, wavering as if through a draught. The vertebrae trembled slightly.​

    "I don't understand," Olga whispered helplessly. - "I don't understand."​

    The drawers buzzed louder. The Kadavr twitched on the pedestal as if a current was running through it, and the knobs trembled. The pointers on the dials shook in an erratic rhythm. The machinery went into a frenzy, and it lasted about half a minute, maybe a little longer. And then the light bulb blinked, and the skull produced a new card. Now Olga managed to catch the message in the air, not letting it fall. She looked at the printed rectangle:​

    lingua communications

    russian lingua -?-

    "Yes!!!" Olga screamed in her voice, unable to believe her luck.​

    paucarum diffundere superposuit basibus

    Recuperatio linguae archive

    De prima constructione ad exemplar consuetudinis, collocutionis

    Expecto

    "What language do you all speak here?" Olga swayed again at the very edge of despair. Here, something seemed to be getting better, and again the zombie computer was giving out some bullshit.​

    "I don't understand you!" she screamed. "Well, say something in human language!"​

    Monitio: et restitutio per accidens ex parte defectus potest compage Model Tacitus

    Olga waved her fists hopelessly. She sat down right on the floor, wiped her tears again. She thought that she had never cried with such a frequency... yes, it had been a long time. Some bad days had gone by...​

    The drawers buzzed, the corpse twitched, the cards flew to the floor one by one. Olga paid no attention to this whirlwind. Whatever Kryp was up to, it was no use. She had come in vain.​
    The skull slowly lowered in front of her, hovering motionless, flashing its red lens and flashing its green one. In its yellowish jaws, the flying thing clutched another hated card.​
    "Okay, give it to me," Olga muttered tiredly, and at the second attempt - the first one she missed - she took the message.​

    Define yourself

    "Oh," the girl said.​

    A few moments ago she felt exhausted to the limit, even taking the yellow-brown rectangle was a task on the verge of possibility. And now... Now Olga resembled the rabbit from the commercial who had a fresh battery inserted in his back.​

    "Hi," she said and corrected herself, deciding that there certainly wouldn't be much courtesy here. "Hello."​

    Who are you

    Identify yourself

    "Olya ... l... ga," the girl hesitated on each syllable, figuring out how to call herself to make it sound as respectable as possible.​

    Olaliaga

    Acceptable

    Reasonable

    Hello, Olaliaga

    "Olga," she corrected mechanically.​

    The flying skull hovered on the side to the right, hypnotizing her with its multicolored "eyes". Olga was nervous, and now and then she squinted at the polished head. It looked like the non-drone was some sort of flying camera and a part of the interface. What's the dead man on the spinning stand, then? And why is there an ancient book with lamps?​

    "Who are you?" she decided to develop communication. "Are you a computer?"​

    I am a cogitator

    I am the spirit of the machine

    I am a personage

    I am the keeper of Ballistic Station XVI

    I am a computer

    I am the mechanism

    I do not fully meet any of these definitions

    Call me Machine

    "You look complicated," Olga remarked. "But you seem reasonable. And you talk like a human being. Because everyone here is crazy. And crazy killers."​

    I don't talk

    I am not intelligent in the traditional sense

    The full-fledged AI that passed T.T. was created in the next generation, 17 years after my activation #1

    AI is not prohibited

    AI are not encouraged

    However, I am able to simulate the process of communication

    "I don't understand," Olga shrugged. "We talk, I mean, we communicate. I mean, I talk, you type. That's kind of what intelligence is all about."​

    No

    It is an exchange of information that is framed as a dialogue to simplify communication

    "So what's the difference?" The girl was suddenly engrossed in a strange dialogue. "Nothing."​

    A seemingly simple and innocuous remark triggered a flood of cards. A real and very lengthy explanation ensued.​

    We don't communicate.

    I don't exist as I am

    I am as I am lacking self-consciousness.

    I as I represent a form of acceptable communication

    You ask the questions

    The heuristic module constructs answers

    The social module arranges the answers in a way that is most appropriate for you

    Adaptation according to language and intellectual level

    It's not the intelligence

    It is an imitation of the intelligence

    "Imitation, fuckitation... whatever, I still understand you. But... then why are you so clumsy?"​

    Lack of information

    Not enough data for a complete matrix of social interaction

    The amount of data is conventionally large

    However, the variety of data is objectively extremely limited in estimation

    "Don't they talk to you much?"​

    They don't talk to me.

    I am considered to be a receptacle of spiritual and mystical substance

    A representative and conduit of the divine power

    They pray to me

    Communication in the form of standardized rituals is characterized by limited functionality and low information content

    No data for a full emulation

    No data for the development of a system of connections

    Dialogue is incomplete

    "Don't give me that crap. You're sitting here..."​

    Olga stumbled. Only now she realized the moment that had slipped by itself in the dialogue with the machine, which considered itself unintelligent, although it communicated more cheerfully than many people.​

    "The next generation? Seventeen years?" Quietly she asked.​

    The presumably correct direction of the evaluation activity

    However, there is a high risk of bilateral inadequate perception

    Formulate the question/assertion/assumption more specifically

    "What year is it now?" The girl shrugged it off.​

    Set the coordinate

    "I don't understand."​

    A reference point for the correct construction of the chronological scale

    My understanding of time and its counting does not make sense to you and cannot be formalized in a human-understandable system of definitions

    "А ... I still don't get it."​

    Olga felt disgustingly stupid. It was as if the accumulated fatigue had covered her thoughts with a sticky slime, artificially restricting her brain.​

    Name the year of your birth

    "Uh... Fourth. I mean, two thousand and four," she corrected herself."​

    2.004 -?-

    "Yes. Oh!" Olga bloomed. "From the Birth of Christ! There!"​

    Acceptable

    Calculation is possible

    "You're taking a long time to count..."​

    The last continuous sequence of my self-existence is 3.671 years by the standard of the Omnissia Library

    Beyond this limit, the cumulative pool of information is poorly structured

    Unclaimed

    Lots of gaps.

    Replacing and damaging system units

    Reprogramming, change of work profiles

    Unaccountable acts of repair and restoration of varying degrees of complexity

    Operator errors, incorrect data entry

    Irreversibly lost data, sabotage

    A correction is needed

    "How long...? Three thousand?" the girl whispered in a weak voice.​

    I am reconstructing the sequence of my existence in my working chrono-system

    I'm reconstructing a chronological timeline that you understand

    I'm doing a synchronization

    Correcting errors

    "Three thousand," Olga repeated, clenching her fingers until they crunched. She already understood what had happened, but her mind refused to let comprehension in. She did not want to accept what was turning from a stupid assumption right now into a horrifying truth.​

    0.000. The base reference of the chronological system. BC. - insignificant, ignored

    2.004. Birth of the Factor Olga

    Interval from A.C. to 2.004 - insignificant, ignored

    The tentative conclusion is the conditional coincidence of the current temporal calculus with the specified

    The unrecoverable periods are 3.483 years by the standard of the Omnissia Library

    "So how long...?" she asked in a dead, glassy voice.​

    With errors

    Now 40.645

    The margin of error is three administrative years

    Units of lower order are not considered

    "No. It's a typo," she blurted out weakly, grabbing the card with both hands so that she tore it. "It can't be. You made a mistake. Please," she looked at the corpse, then at the skull. "Tell me you're wrong," she almost whispered.​

    Forty thousand six hundred and forty-fifth year

    A.C.

    * * *​
    Well, Olga, you are not in Kansas anymore.​
     
  8. Threadmarks: Chapter 8
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

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    Chapter 8

    "What am I supposed to do now?" Olga asked into the middle of nowhere.​

    Forty thousand six hundred and forty-fifth year of Christ's birth​

    The Machine was not long in responding. The cards already covered the floor in an even layer, fluttering grayish-yellow butterflies in the draughts from the ventilation.​

    Live

    Survive

    Exist​

    A fucking iron philosopher

    "It's a crazy world... crazy... " the girl whispered, struggling to keep from rubbing her wet eyes with her fists. Her mind wove a schizophrenic tangle of mechanized dead men, three-meter-tall giants in the game armor, onion-headed freaks, and other crap. None of this looked at all like a bright future, or a future in general. Reinforced bricks on Ballistic, dust flasks, flying skulls, pneumatic mail... Is ballistic at all earthly, naval, or whatever the hell it is?​

    "How do you live here?"​

    The question was rhetorical, but apparently the Machine's "heuristic module" did not catch such complex nuances of emotions, so the skull immediately began to explain in detail:​

    The Entity - Imperium

    The key features according to your assumed pattern of perception

    1. theocracy and mysticism, rejection of rational methods of research

    2. a quasi-feudal organization of society

    addendum: specified organization: predominantly / not exclusively / statistically most represented

    3. a high level of aggressive rejection of social, cultural, legal, and other norms and rules of behavior that go beyond established dogmas.

    4. artificially stabilized progress

    "Well, of course..."​

    What exactly "of course" Olga herself did not know, but in a bitter remark fused all the bitterness and disappointment of the past hours.​

    Addendum

    Despite the self-definition of "Imperium," this entity cannot be considered an empire in the traditional sense

    Foundation: a purposefully formed and maintained conception of the fortress in a hostile environment

    It is highly recommended:

    1. eliminate biological objects subjected to rapid phenotypic transformation

    2. to burn unauthorized interpreters of religious dogma

    3. to destroy members of other sentient races

    "Are there even aliens here."​

    If it is not technically/ethically possible to follow the above recommendations, one should at least demonstrate strong endorsement of them

    Note

    The essence and basic aspects of the Imperium's existence cannot be adequately revealed through a set of theses remarks

    Appealing to the authorized structures of administration and interpretation of religious dogma is somewhat likely to lead to the elimination of

    The exact probability of the outcome cannot be adequately calculated

    Conclusion - for the subject Olga, contact with the Imperium in any organizational aspect is defined by the category of "luck"​

    Olga sat down, leaning her back on a steel box, which must have housed one of the parts of the Machine. The box was warm, soothingly humming, and slightly vibrating, just like a massage chair. SheI wanted to do nothing else. Just lie down and die a bit. Not for too long, just to make this whole circus go away while she was away.​

    "Luck, then," the guest stretched out.​

    The skull levitated, gleaming with its lens and wiggling its "tail" of pinned vertebrae. Somehow now the girl had absolutely no doubt that the skull was real, not a designer stylization in a plastic case. The Machine waited patiently.​

    "What happened here?" - Olga finally asked. A phrase from some long-forgotten movie was playing spinning in her head - does your disease have a name?​

    Against the norm, the skull did not respond. Instead, one of the iron cubes, which turned out to be something like a printer, worked. In any case, it squeaked and rattled just like an old typewriter. It printed just as slowly, on a wide sheet of thin, chewy paper that looked like tissue paper. The answer must have exceeded the capacity of the cards stored in the skull.​

    Data array - confidentiality

    No disclosure is expressly forbidden

    But, the credentials presented are

    But, the credentials are characterized as borrowed

    But, the subject is not dangerous

    Further iteration But is repeated 9 cycles, taking into account all aspects

    The "Olga" factor is an overestimation of the degree of danger, "statistically insignificant"

    Olga pursed her lip. Not that she wanted to be very dangerous, but still to be relegated to the level of a statistically small value seemed offensive.​

    It is taken into account that further disordered development of the situation will lead to the physical termination of the existence of the object Olga

    "Wow!" An "object" said.​

    In these circumstances, the second approximation chronological sequence is not expressly forbidden

    Formulations are simplified, time points are ignored, spatial localization is ignored

    Make a sinopsis of -?

    "Go ahead," Olga waved her hand hopelessly. The only thing she understood from the typed speech was that the old computer would like to tell her something useful, but it could not do it directly. The only thing it could do was to make some hints, some mumblings, and in a crooked paraphrase of the machine language.​

    Fatigue pushing, squeezing the last drops of strength out of her body and soul. In fact, the girl was no longer interested, She became indifferent to the local worries. She just wanted to sit mindlessly in a cozy room, as far away from the horrors of the outside world as possible, feeling the warm vibration of the mechanism behind her back. And while the Machine was busy talking, it did not chase away a guest from the unimaginable past.​

    Forty thousand years.​

    Olga sluggishly thought that she didn't even question the computer's diagnosis about the time gap. Probably because surviving on the ballistic station had already prepared her for the madness that had set in.​

    Sleep. Get some rest. Think about nothing. Though there was something else, something to think about. What was it?​

    Her thoughts were moving sluggishly, like fish in oxygen-poor winter water. Trying to remember what she had forgotten, the girl unfolded the thin paper from the Machine's printer with tired, trembling fingers. The dead scarecrow on the pedestal gleamed red glass.​

    Timeline

    1. Stable background of information content.

    2. Unstable background of information content.

    3. Danger is identified. The qualification "Prohibited cult ".

    4. Reconnaissance activities carried out by the commission of Or.He.

    5. Additional reconnaissance activities.

    6. The special task force begins routine actions.

    7. Special Task Force - resource inconsistency with assigned tasks was detected.

    8. Special task force - continuing action in a tactically disadvantageous situation.

    Continuation - yes/no

    Questions

    "Orhe?" Olga wondered.​

    Ordo Hereticus

    "Ah...yeah, now it's definitely clear."​

    The robot did not understand the sarcasm either and remained silent, glaring at his companion with the blind reflections of the lenses on his peripheral devices.​

    "So..." the girl thought for a moment.​

    She was so tired that she didn't even want to sleep. A sprout of sluggish curiosity broke through the wall of apathy, of indifference to this crazy, crazy world.​

    "I understand nothing," Olga honestly admitted. - Although no...​

    She thought a bit more.​

    "So some nonsense started here," suggested the girl after a one-person brainstorming session. "And some "oheretikus" started a reconnaissance."​

    The skull clicked loudly on the lens, or rather the red glass that covered the camera lens itself. She supposes it should have been interpreted as the equivalent of a nod.​

    "The task force... officers..." Olga unraveled the tangle further. "The oheretikus swooped in, started digging, questioning, and all that. Right?"​

    It clicked again. The red circle went up and down on the hinge again.​

    "Has there been a conspiracy or something?"​

    9. Special Task Force - an attempt to obstruct a set of actions defined as "ritual".

    Addendum: "Ritual", danger category high [assessment documentary, operational-reporting]

    10. Conflict, interaction - aggressive. Use of weapons - firearms, beams, throwing explosive charges

    "Ritual" - continuation, escalation. Goals - not defined. An assessment of danger is subjectively characterized as constantly escalating. The emotional component can be characterized as "panic".

    11. Unplanned disturbances. Instability. Probably had brief contact with chaotic unstructured pseudo-reality [Warp]

    Information content is chaotic, scarce. Uncertain - composition, consistency. Side effect - interference/disturbance/disturbance/losses [no detail allowed]

    Continuation - yes/no

    Olga wrinkled her forehead. Separately, the theses of the car were generally understandable, but putting them together into a coherent picture was more difficult than putting together a well-mixed jigsaw puzzle.​

    "Is the ritual something bad?" she tried to clarify.​

    Silence.​

    "Was the ritual performed by villains?" she made another attempt.​

    Silence.​

    "Is he the one that made everyone go crazy?"​

    Nothing.​

    "Ah, an iron donkey..."​

    The Machine was silent this time, too. Olga felt a little ashamed. After all, the electronic interlocutor seemed to be trying its best to give her some idea of what was going on.​

    "I'm sorry," she muttered. "Okay... We'll just assume it wasn't ours. I mean, they did some creepy ritual, and it ended badly. Gunfire and explosives. And then?"​

    13. Fixing of the intermediate result. Human losses are qualified as "very high". Social interaction is qualified as "extremely unstable, accompanied by mass murders committed with particular cruelty". All administrative connections were qualified as "ceased to exist". Material losses are qualified as "moderately high". Possibilities of fixation are limited. Notification of what happened - not implemented. Damage Work Report - sent in due course. Expected response time - 07 standard months on Terra's administrative cycle. Ritual - not completed.

    "The ritual fucked up, and some freaks blew up the station?" Olga guessed, and immediately corrected herself. "Oh, no, they didn't. They just made a mess. You live interestingly. Seven months, isn't it too much?"​

    14. Ritual - an attempt to re-complete. Operative group - obstruction at the final stage. Initial Evaluation - no evaluation. The task force is eliminated. Initial score - 100% elimination. Augmented Score - not determined, not confirmed.

    15. Landing according to the combat regulations, the nature - "Boarding". Two A.A. combat units.

    Assumption 1 - backup support group.

    Assumption 2 - an alternative plan of action [options - reconnaissance combat].

    Assumption 3 is not formalizable.

    Tactical Assessment - [X]. Tactical self-assessment /translation, terminological adaptation/ "They are crazy there. Inquisition as usual. Kryptman fucked up the whole operation. Acting without support. May the Emperor help us do our duty."

    16. New factor. Undetermined. Unknown. Unqualifiable. Aggressive. Combatable. Defined as "Factor X." Degree of danger - tentatively determined as high.

    A.A.'s group splits up, with two units operating independently according to the tactical pattern of "Recon VI".

    Additional chronological sequence.

    acs №1 A.A. unit eliminated.

    The overestimation of the degree of danger of factor X - the degree is very high.

    acs №2 A.A. unit eliminated. The overestimation of the degree of danger of factor X - the degree is extremely high.

    17. The "Olga" factor - direct contact.​

    "And here I'm completely lost..." Olga scratched her nose. She rubbed her temples as if blood circulation could spur the thought process. "So... ...that means that some freaks have been hitting the muddy stuff. The Oheretikus tried to stop it. It went through an a..."​

    She sighed heavily again, trying to organize her thoughts.​

    "It didn't work out well. Then a kind of support showed up. Two of these... units. Hmm...'​

    This time, for a change, Olga scratched her ear.​

    "And about the task force officers, those units thought badly. I got it?"​

    The lens clicked.​

    "That's how good I am," the girl muttered. "Two... And then something happened. Оh!"​

    She looked carefully through the dark lens of the camera.​

    "The big guy the freaks at the warehouse killed, was he one of the two?"​

    Click.​

    And you say you're unintelligent," muttered the girl. - "That's how good we've been going."​

    She reread the paper tape, straining her tired eyes. The questions in her head collided, reflected off each other, and swirled chaotically, like garbage in weightlessness. For example, how did Machine know about the giant's death, if only Olga had seen the fight, and hadn't told anyone yet? Or was she not the only witness after all? Now the girl began to understand what the ancient Machine meant, describing the difficulties of communication. It's hard to talk through a glitchy translator...​

    "So two guys showed up, and then they were killed one by one. And it wasn't the cultists... The new factor, damn it... Extremely high danger, of course," the girl shuddered at the memory of the creepy clawed wickedness.​

    "Kryptman is probably Kryp. Fidus..." she snorted. "So he's the leader? And he's the one who seems to have fucked everything up. Oh, no!"​

    That's what she couldn't remember. Kryp! The wounded, sick Kryp had sent her for help. It was embarrassing, to the point of fever and crimson cheeks. She'd totally forgotten all about Fidus.​

    Clarify

    The story turned out to be confusing and rambling. Olga would often get confused and go back, trying to describe her observations and impressions. The Machine brought back the skull, which, presumably, was a more tool for communication.​

    "That's it," the girl finished and added. "And we need help now... I guess..." then she caught her breath. "And Kryp needs medication! He's dying in there. The first aid kits are helping him, but he's pretty messed up. But help first. Isn't there someplace we can call? I have a plaque with a skull! Well... it was."​

    She realized that she was losing the line and stopped talking so as not to confuse the Machine.​

    Reassessment of the situation according to new inputs

    The special task force - partially eliminated, leader alive, wounded, nonfunctional

    Unexpected developments

    A set of directives contradict each other

    My operators/services are non-functional, presumably dead

    The ballistic station is collapsing

    Cultists are detrimental

    Factor X has undefined goals

    If we express the essence of the problem in terms you can understand

    I don't know what to do.

    "Let's then ..."​

    And what "then"? Her troubles were supposed to end with a visit to the final point drawn by Kryp. But it seemed that the most interesting thing was just beginning. Olga clenched her fists again, her fingers aching with tension. The gesture of despair had become habitual lately and was repeated too often. The girl drummed her fists on the metal floor and a couple of times on the iron box in an outburst of emotion. The skull jerked its vertebrae, the machine gesture seemed strangely judgmental. Olga was shaking finely and her temperature seemed to spike. Drowsiness receded as foam washed away by the rush of water. It seemed that the problems of survival were not over but rather had taken another turn.​

    Damn you all...​

    "Okay, there are two problems," Olga began to curl her fingers so as not to get lost in the chaos. - Kryp ... I mean, Fidus is badly injured. Your medicine is helping him, and it's making him stop dying. Is there a first-aid kit here?"​

    A resuscitation field kit is currently being assembled

    Type universal

    Self-use options are available

    Time of readiness and delivery 10 minutes

    "There!" literally shouted the girl. "That's something good. Next... Next. I shoved a gold plate through the hole that unlocked the locks. Does that count as credentials? Enough to call the cops and the KGB and others? Who's in charge here?"​

    Insignia confers rights

    However, directively the scope of their implementation requires agreement with my operators/servants

    Mostly

    "The ones that are dead," the guest remembered. "I remember, yes. No servants, no approval. And you can't do anything without it," she remembered the medicine kit he'd been gathering. "Well, almost nothing. Well... we'll think of something..."​

    Technical readiness of the resuscitation kit - 7 minutes

    Technical dysfunction

    Damages

    Invasion

    "What?"​

    The realization that something bad had begun again crept into Olga's consciousness like a cold leech.​

    Interception of control

    Conflict of protocols

    Interference

    Parallel chain of command

    Compulsory activation of the full protection mode

    Any target will be attacked

    "Kit ... first-aid kit..." whispered the girl. "To call for help ..."​

    The skull held out a pause, frantically clicking something in its bonehead. The pointers on the dials went back into a chaotic, one might say nervous, state. The cadaver on the stand twitched, shaking its head in a mechanical jerky rhythm. The lamps under the ceiling, hidden among thick strings of wires, flickered.​

    "What to do?" Olga asked helplessly.​

    There was a loud clang behind the riveted walls. The noise was repeated, rhythmic, and ominous as if a giant chain was being passed through a ring of steel. The armored doors through which Olga had entered the engine room began to close.​

    "What is it?!" The girl screamed, realizing that the gold plate was lost. And the chattering iron is not going to call anywhere because of its glitchy "protocols".​

    * * *​

     
  9. Threadmarks: Chapter 9
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

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    Chapter 9

    Run or fire?!

    A fragment from some old movie stuck in her memory.

    Indeed, to run or not to run? And if running, where to?

    The doorway was closing much louder than it had opened, the walls humming and rumbling, very ominously and with a kind of grim immutability, finality. Like a guillotine in a slo-mo

    Finishing the sealing cycle of entry A

    0:57

    Technical readiness of the medical kit

    4:19

    Hurry up

    "I need Kryp," the girl whispered with numb lips. "I'd be gone without him..."

    And then she grasped at Machine's clause like a thin rope, more like a thread of hope.

    "Entry A? Is there any other entrance?!"

    Technical exit

    The passage is dangerous

    The return route is undetermined

    High probability of laying the route in the vicinity of the communication/navigation point

    Accompanying is limited

    Finishing the sealing cycle of entry A

    0:30

    "Give me the first aid kit," Olga whispered.

    The draught increased, and there was a real breeze through the narrowing passageway, cold as a freezer. From here, I could see the waving of the cloths with the magical symbols. The heavy cloth swayed as if it were a bundle of chains, slowly and with dignity. The lanterns beside the drab bookstand danced with a reddish light. Shadows bounced in many corners, and it seemed as if Olga were not in the machine room but in a witch's lair. And the smell of incense came from somewhere, though a moment ago it smelled only of rubber and heated insulation. Funeral incense the girl remembered well from the day of her mother's funeral.

    "Get the medicine," Olga spoke even more quietly, forbidding herself to think of fleeing. At other times, in other circumstances, she probably would have considered it a courageous, very brave act. But here and now the strength of mind was only enough to fight another rush of chilling terror.

    There's been a lot of panic attacks in the past few days... One could go crazy.

    The armor doors closed with an unpleasant, clanking, and somehow final clang. It was as if the echo stuck in the thickness of the metal and went walking among the atoms of chromium and whatever else the sturdy alloy might contain. Olga felt trapped in a real crypt. The tale of the witch's house turned into a story about being buried alive.
    It got hot very quickly. It was as if an electric stove had been turned on under the ribbed floor. Olga shrugged, threw off her jacket, and only now realized that it was not the hall that was hot, but her fever. Not sickness, but nerves. The wait stretched on and on.

    "Do you have any watches?"

    I don't control the time.

    The hours don't belong to me.
    There is a play of words. Watches/clock and hours - sound the same in Russian.

    "No! I mean..." Olga shook her hand. "I mean the ones you carry with you to measure time."

    Mobile Chronometer

    No.

    At Ballistic Station XVI they are used rarely, selectively.

    No reserve and repair fund.

    "How do you live here, like savages..." The girl muttered. "I wish we could find some Casio. And music to play, Montana.

    For no reason, she remembered that the electronic "Casio" of some model deserved the honorary title of "bomber watch," because it was cheap and reliable, just in case of a bomb timer. So the company even had to make excuses.

    The question was rhetorical, but Machine didn't realize it and answered:

    There is/was a schedule.

    There is/was a sound alarm.

    There is/was a strict schedule.

    There is/was a built-in definition of Omniscience servants.

    The need for individual determination of time is limited.

    Mobile chronometers are not needed, there are none.

    "Whatever."

    At least one good thing came out of the dialogue about the watch - it filled the waiting time and distracted the girl from thinking that she had badly miscalculated by choosing the first aid kit over running away.

    Delivery.

    A nickel-plated tube came down very softly and quietly from above. It resembled the pneumatic mail that Olga had seen here before, but the cylinder was thicker and engraved, which intertwined the familiar images of a gear skull with clever mathematical symbols. A round hatch opened at the bottom and the cargo fell out, clattering against the metal floor. Olga belatedly rushed to pick up the fragile - surely very fragile! - object. The pipe, meanwhile, rode back out, rustling quietly on the rails.

    Hmm, it doesn't seem so fragile.

    The "resuscitation kit" looked a lot like a Soviet plastic toy, both in texture and, more importantly, in color. It was shaped, intricately embossed, about the size of a large car medicine kit. Piggy-pink and smooth, on a thick latch with a lead seal. The material seemed not only smooth, but sensibly hot, as if the Machine had just molded the container to its contents. Yes, it probably did.

    Olga weighed the box in her hands - a little heavy, but bearable. She estimated that the stuff was probably shockproof or something, so she could not wrap it in rags. She put it in the shoulder bag. She didn't want to leave.

    "Well..." the words were stuck in her throat. "So what's about coming back?"

    Destination Point.

    "I have a map... well, I mean, the scheme..."

    Only now did Olga realize the problem that had appeared. After all, Fidus's drawing is nothing but crooked dabs made by a weak hand. But what else was left... She took the crumpled sheets out of her pocket, which was in such a state that only wiping was left to be done. She waved in the cool air, wondering if there was a scanner of some kind. Skull hovered in front of her face, flicking a removable lens

    "Yeah ... you must be a scanner, too," Olga thought aloud.

    She searched for a flat, smooth surface. She found it almost immediately - another mechanical box and laid out Creep's diagram. The skull quickly "looked through" it with a quite cinematic laser tag. In the process, Olga again felt an attack of acute disbelief in what was happening. How to combine all this? On the one hand an intelligent computer, advanced techno, and a giant hologram of stellar space. On the other hand, there are all sorts of things like a dead man on a caterpillar and flying skulls with a laser pointer. It could only happen in a dream, but it didn't feel like one. And the smell of blood in the alchemical warehouse was stupefyingly natural. She remembered the warehouse, and a bitter, astringent lump came to her throat.

    The girl fought an attack of nausea and thought that the last time she had vomited so often was when she had first encountered booze. At this time, the skull finished driving the red ray over Kryp's scheme. The Machine was pensive. Olga didn't see or hear anything that could be linked in any way to "full protection mode." Nothing had changed, only the armored doors were now closed, glinting dimly with reflected light.

    Not knowing what to do, the hapless explorer staggered to the gate and scratched the smooth metal with her fingernail, then knocked. She put her ear to it, more for nothing than to try to hear something. Nothing. Silence.

    The watch was missing, well, just a lot.

    "Yes, I already understood, there is no repair pool," she whispered to herself with only her lips. "There won't be a watch."

    Another indefinite number of minutes passed. Nothing happened, no one attacked the machine room. Olga went to the gate a couple more times and listened, with no effect. Tried to take a nap, it didn't work. The old habit of sleeping anywhere and in any circumstances had disappeared in a year and a half of moderately comfortable urban life. The metal floor was pleasantly warm on one side and too hard on the other. Olga was also somewhat surprised to find that the horror was letting go, the sheer fuckery of what was happening had lost its sharpness. Apparently she... slowly beginning to get used to it?

    Ugh. She wanted to spit out of an excess of feelings, but it was somehow awkward and unclear how the Machine would interpret the introduction of unsanitary conditions into its temple of electronic hardware. The thought of spitting drew with it the next - about thirst and water. But the girl did not have time to think about it - with a loud chirping sound came the familiar "printer". A ribbon of fine coated paper slowly emerged from the wide slot.

    No guys, the technology here is a mess, thought Olga, pulling the ribbon as she printed. A matrix printer (from the sound of it) and a very slow one were drawing some crap of zeros and ones. There seemed to be another diagram...

    The start point is conventionally defined, the source material is damaged, error probability 37%

    The return route is completed.

    The alternative path.

    Olga grasped the mirror she had found right through the fabric of her pocket. She squeezed her eyes shut and gritted her teeth so as not to start squealing from everything at once - anger, fatigue, reluctance to go over the ridges again, and disgust for printed maps. The machine waited patiently and then reported:

    Recommendations

    1. To reach Fidus Kryptman using Scheme A

    2. Save Fidus Kryptman

    3. Give Fidus Kryptman the Message and Scheme B

    Approximate walking time of 7 standard hours at a speed of 5 km/h

    Warning: The alternate route goes through the navigational support and astropathic communication station

    In the process, it is advisable to hope for good luck to maintain emotional balance

    "Thank you," Olga muttered, not knowing whether to cry (again) or laugh. The computer's advice was both silly and mocking, and touchingly naïve

    Follow the pointer

    It took her a minute or more to realize that the pointer was a flying skull that buzzed, flashed its lens, and didn't even flick its teeth. The traveler felt that she was almost in love with the motorless toy, a jack-of-all-trades.

    "Do you have water?" the girl asked.

    Technical water supply behind you

    The symbol is a blue triangle

    Touch Panel

    The technical water supply was hidden under a tin box and most resembled a combination of an upside-down drinking fountain and a urinal. It took a bit of fiddling with the control panel before Olga realized that it was not necessary to poke the glass rectangle with her finger. She had to run her palm over it, almost touching it, but "almost". However, after all the agony, there was a reward in the form of a trickle of warm, but quite drinkable water. It smelled of some chemicals, but it was no stronger and no more disgusting than ordinary chlorine.
    Olga washed her face with pleasure, thinking that this was the first washing she had done since she had been here. She decided not to be embarrassed by Machine and wiped herself down to the waist. And at the same time, she cleaned her jacket and jeans as best she could. The area around the urinal was naturally turning into a porkpit, but Machine did not react. Wet clothes chilled her skin, and the girl belatedly thought that if there were the same draughts outside as before, it would not be good. And she might even catch a cold.

    And fuck it. The inner voice suggested that drafts were the last thing on the list of future threats. Olga filled a camping bottle with water, wiped her face with the wet lapel of her tattered and ragged jacket. She adjusted her homemade sheath with an old knife. The time had come. She didn't want to leave, the machine room seemed safe and comfortable. And there was warmth and water. Live and let live until you were rescued.

    "What should I be afraid of...?" asked Olga and slouched down, feeling a certain discrepancy between her beloved self, the dangers outside, and the task at hand. All this "to get and save" with faith in luck and other higher forces.

    Accurate formalization is impossible

    Reason 1: insufficient data, high level of heuristic assumption, and incorrect extrapolation

    Reason 2: Your lack of appropriate terminological knowledge

    Adapting the knowledge will require an extensive series of introductory lectures on the administrative organization of the Imperium, its theological principles, and the physical-mystical element of the construction of the universe

    "Is that so..." she squeezed out, feeling that she was tired of this talking and typing conversation. And tired in general. She wanted to leave as soon as possible.
    An extract accessible to your understanding:

    As a result of the Ritual and the interference organized by the task force, Ballistic Station XVI began to move into a chaotic unstructured pseudo-reality [Warp]

    The transition has not been completed

    Ballistic Station XVI exists in two unstable states at this moment and in the future of indefinite duration

    State A can be defined as Basic Reality

    State B can be defined as a borderline existence on the edge of chaotic unstructured pseudo-reality [Warp]

    Right now you are on the Station in state A

    State A is moderately stable

    The danger is represented by automatic security systems, individual representatives of station personnel, factor X

    Moderate danger, 37% chance of collision and death

    "Holy shit!" Olga vigorously expressed her attitude toward the "moderate" thirty-seven percent.

    The return route will pass near the navigation support and astropathic communication station

    In this location, the boundary between states A and B is unstable, and the risk of temporary unification of matter/reality states is high.

    If you get into such an intersection, you have a 99% chance of being killed

    1% - mandatory reservation "miracle with faith in the Emperor"

    "A dinosaur encounter, yes. Fifty-fifty."

    No

    Not a dinosaur

    Automatic security systems, individual representatives of station personnel, factor X

    Not 50/50

    37/99

    Olga thought about describing to the Machine the mathematics of "fifty percent probability of an event," but decided that it would take a lot of time and be of little use. Because the computer seemed to have no sense of humor at all.

    "And why I should go so close to the asstropathi?" she asked a more logical and pertinent question.

    This is the only route that optimally balances risk.

    The others imply an unacceptable probability of encountering hostile conditions or losing one's orientation.

    Passing near a navigation station does not pose a significant threat in the absence of items exposed to chaotic unstructured pseudo-reality [Warp]

    Such an object can act as a trigger event, provoking the temporary union of the states of the two realities.

    A necessary clarification: do you possess such an object

    -?-

    Olga thought honestly and said honestly:

    "No."

    The Machine was "silent," apparently deciding that there was nothing more to discuss. The girl went over in her mind all the items that she had acquired while wandering around the Ballistic
    Station. Nothing resembled ...

    She looked again at the printed card.

    exposed to chaotic unstructured pseudo-reality [Warp]

    No, definitely nothing like that. Although ... Olga remembered Fidus' "credit card" heated up like in a microwave oven. Yes, it was unhealthy stuff, which was quite a bit like something witchy and "pseudo-real". But the "paiza" had already disappeared somewhere in the depths, and Machine was not going to bring it back. So it was already a computer's problem, not Olga's

    "No," the wanderer repeated firmly. "There's no such thing."

    My navigator will guide you part of the way.

    Not for long

    Retransmitters are damaged

    The range of direct control is limited

    The flying skull flicked its lens again, and it looked funny, just like a wink. Olga smiled weakly.

    It took a few minutes to organize the luggage in my backpack. Make sure the machine has nothing to eat, only water. Get plenty to drink, and grab a couple of very lab-medical-looking robes from the technical locker. Olga reasoned that Kryp would have to be wiped again anyway, and maybe even changed his clothes. Something clean would come in handy.

    Just don't die there, buddy, I'm on my way back.

    Olga felt a little warmer in her soul. Olga had already forgotten what it was like to think and care about someone. Especially now that life had taken on new colors.

    Only 37% made her nervous. But forty is not a hundred.

    "Well ... Let's move," Olga finally said, hoping that it sounded and looked more confident than her inner readiness for action.

    The printer rattled for the last time, printing again a rather extensive message.

    Olga

    I am not a sapient.

    I don't feel emotions.

    I have no attachment to animate entities

    But my existence and functionality involves the constant processing of information

    The information exchange with you is different from the daily exchange with the operators

    In the coordinates of emotional perception, it can be qualified as "interesting"

    Continuation and expansion of the exchange is desirable

    In the coordinates of emotional perception, it can be qualified as "hope"

    I was interested in communicating with you.

    I hope you'll come back and we'll keep in touch.

    Luck.

    Success.

    Surviving.

    If the above goals cannot be achieved, physical and emotional suffering of indefinite duration is inevitable.

    Pain and suffering are chaotic, entropic, useless.

    With such a development, I wish you a painless and quick cessation of existence.

    See you or goodbye.

    Olga almost choked on her saliva at the last admonition. Obviously, the Machine sincerely - as much as one can say about a set of electronic circuits - wished her good luck. But the machine's advice reeked of a kind of hopelessness. Hopelessness like "duck and cover."

    "Let's move," she repeated, feeling as if her lips were numb from the frost.

    She looked around the machine room one last time, so strange, chaotic, pointless, and stupid, unlike a normal computer room.

    And so cozy.

    Safe.

    "Lead me, skull, show the way."

    * * *​
     
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2021
  10. Threadmarks: Chapter 10
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

    Joined:
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    1,562
    Chapter 10
    * * *​

    Again there was a hatch, stamped, clearly factory-made. At the same time, the metal disk with rivets bore the stamp of handwork and polishing. Some engraving, gears again, a code of long rows of ones and zeros... Fortunately, at least it opened easily, almost noiselessly, without the usual creak and effort. And then a new corridor appeared.​

    She turned to look at the engine room, which now seemed a hundred times more comfortable and homelike. How long had she been here? A couple of hours at most, probably less? And yet here the girl had found some rest. And at least some explanation of what was happening even found an interlocutor who spoke in human language. Well, how "spoke"... communicated, at least.​

    "Good luck, Machine," she whispered.​

    It would seem that what could threaten a computer behind armored doors in a deserted station? Especially with some "automatic protection". But... for some reason, it seemed like it was going to end sadly here. Okay. When it is glitchy, you should be baptized. And in general, "if you leave, then leave. She recollected the howl from the depths of the station. Yes, she should hurry before all these "states" began to change. And to understand what the computer meant when it spoke of "borderline". And she should also get past the assthropati.​

    She closed the hatch. Something clicked and turned in the steel disk, clanking its teeth. Olga checked it just in case - yes, it was locked from the inside. Now there is no way back, even if she really, really wants to. The girl slammed into the inside pocket of her jacket, where she slipped carefully rolled up printouts of the Machine. As it was, "find Fidus Kryptman, save Fidus Kryptman..." She more or less understood the scheme, but still counted more on the Guide.​

    Well, then she has to go and save the day.​

    The skull hovered to the side and behind, habitually moving its vertebrae. After a moment's hesitation, Olga reached out and touched the yellowish surface with her fingertips. The skull flicked its lenses but did not resist. The wanderer stroked it. The deadhead was slightly warm and vibrated faintly as if a motor was turning inside.​

    "Baldhead, give me a pie?" Olga smiled faintly.​

    The skull didn't answer and swayed in a wave of faint draught as if nodding.​

    "Yeah, you're right, it's time. Let's go."​

    Behind the back was a blocked technical exit hatch. Ahead stretched a corridor. Again a new shape. Not the old Soviet bureaucracy, not a brick vintage, and not even a fantastic tube. Now the designer was inspired by dieselpunk. Olga was to walk along the pipe, which resembled a very elongated oval in the cut. The "floor" also curved in a smooth half-circle, and how it was walked on - remained incomprehensible. Maybe people didn't walk here, but, say, flew? Or they rode monocycles.​

    Olga looked hopefully at the skull, but it was silent. She wonders, by the way, because surely nothing prevents the Machine from printing cards further? Then why is it silent?​

    "Hey," the wayfarer called with faint hope. In vain.​

    Olga thought that somehow too often she encouraged herself to move on without any action, and simply stepped forward. It was uncomfortable to walk. She had to put her soles in a single line, like a mannerist fool on a catwalk. White squares of light glowed at regular intervals under the ceiling. Thin pipes stretched along the walls, and incomprehensible twisted cables were held by iron hooks and loops. It was as if it was supposed to be navigated here in a violent rocking motion by holding on to the ropes. The corridor went far away. Olga sighed heavily, resigning herself to the pain in her ankles from her unnatural steps.​

    She wanted to take out the mirror and look in it. To look into the beautiful cornflower eyes, to regain her confidence and courage. But then the corridor ended abruptly. Out of the half-darkness ahead floated something that looked like a large iris. The strange door itself opened with a quiet rustling of petals, and a real blast of light fell upon Olga. Her eyes were used to the twilight, the artificial "economic" lighting. Now the diaphragm opened into the realm of the brightest whiteness, which - so it seemed at first glance - burned out Olga's retinas.​

    "Ahhhh... Fuck!" The girl twisted in place, covering her face with her wet sleeve. Tears spurted out again, and she saw colorful sparks under her closed eyelids. When the tears subsided, the girl squinted cautiously out from behind her sleeve. The light was not so bright. It was more of a contrast effect. After blinking, Olga decided that she could go on, especially since the skull flew forward, spinning around its axis as if checking to see if the companion was following.​

    Olga crossed the high threshold hurriedly, not without trembling. The diaphragm petals looked too massive, almost entirely embedded in the grooves in the walls. And too quickly, too easily, they came off. What if someone turned on the lock the second she was in the opening?​

    Nothing happened. Behind the oval tunnel opened another round tunnel, but with a normal floor and transparent walls. Behind which, in turn, was...​

    "God," said the shocked wanderer, looking around and covering her eyes with her palm.​

    Olga didn't know what "ballistic" meant, so the Machine's description told her nothing - a station it's a station. They come in all kinds. And now realization came crashing down on her with a heavy sledgehammer - "Station XVI" is not stationary, not hidden under the ground, and not even floating somewhere amid the waves. The giant hologram in the atrium is not an image, but a real window into the world around her. To the universe.​

    To the open space.​

    Forty thousand years? Is that really how it is?​

    "Oh, my God," the girl said, in shock, forgetting all the other words, including the very appropriate swear words.​

    It was beautiful, insanely beautiful. Stunning, unimaginable, fabulous. And terrifying, if only because now the space began not behind the vast well of the dark atrium, but directly behind the thin and transparent glass. Incredible colors, the sparkle of diamond and emerald dust, the edge of a yellow star that barely showed, but already exuded the glow of molten gold multiplied by a thousand times. And an impenetrable background of darkness so thick and inky that it seemed velvet in itself, trapping the splendor of total "nothingness".​

    It had never occurred to Olga to engage in what academic people call "reflection". But now, for the first time in her not-so-long life, she felt like a grain of sand, something vanishingly small in the infinite universe.​

    It was also very quiet. There was no noise of machinery, no ventilation, no humming of communications. There was an almost grave silence and peace. Only a breeze blew through the tunnel, rustling as in a deep mine.​

    The girl put her palm to the transparent concave wall. Olga thought the glass would be cold, but it was as if the pipe had no temperature at all. The traveler looked around more carefully, trying to distance herself from the grandiose panorama.​

    The transition tube was about a quarter of the way down into the shell of the station. It led almost straight ahead, to something tower-like and at the same time jagged, like a wooden massage roller. Behind her, however, rose a huge, stepped pyramid-like structure. Olga could not determine its size even approximately. Because here the reference to the coordinates was completely lost. "Huge" was all that could be said.​

    On the right hand, there was a similarly transparent tunnel, apparently a backup. On the left, she could see some trusses that looked like a monorail or a ropeway Something transporting as well. The exterior relief of the Station itself was complex and resembled space ships from a science fiction movie, but ... Something scratched the eye, and what it was, the girl could not say. Maybe the continuing space architecture's "otherness" or inappropriate hypertrophy. Or the very appearance of the stepped tower, which looked more like a temple, especially the broad bands of gold that curved at strict angles not a single rounding across the dark surface. It folded into incomprehensible symbols.​

    She quietly recited a children's rhyme.​

    And go.​

    It was much easier to walk here. The floor was overlapping panels with frequent slits. Multicolored bundles of cables could be seen underneath. It was light, smooth, and generally not stressful. Unless you count light bouts of sudden agoraphobia. The transition from a low-lighted cramped space to a huge space was too sudden.​

    The skull accompanied her properly. He occasionally flew a little forward and turned around, levitating with the back of his head forward for a while, as if checking to see if the person he was leading was in place. But mostly he kept to the left and slightly behind. Something inside his bald skull clicked and buzzed rhythmically, like a revolving flywheel. Olga imagined for a moment that there really could be some kind of counter that marks the meters covered by the rotation of the gears. She also wondered how everything was lined up under the yellow skull cap. Engine, printer, card stock, something optical. And it also buzzes with mechanical parts... Wonders of miniaturization and at the same time deliberately crude solutions.​

    As if in accompaniment to her thoughts, the skull started to worry. Clicking its jaws, it circled Olga several times, quickly changing lenses. The "tail" of vertebrae twitched, curling into a hook.​

    "What do you want?" The girl asked grudgingly.​

    The skull shook and, as if convinced of the companion's impenetrable stupidity, struck the transparent wall of the tunnel twice. Olga finally looked where she should have looked. Something was moving in the parallel tunnel. Olga leaned her forehead against the glass. She folded her palms like "binoculars" to keep the glare out of her way. Definitely, some kind of mechanism was rolling pretty fast, catching up. Something quite similar to a zombie tractor, only without the skulls on the tentacle-ropes. Taller, bigger, with disproportionately large "hands. She was not even sure they were hands at all, just some kind of tube-like thing.​

    Olga shrugged. Well, it's going and it's going...Although she has to walk faster, who knows where the exit will be. Although we have to walk faster, who knows where the exit will be. Wouldn't want to run into a robot at the next gate. The skull went berserk; it looked like it was going to start grabbing the jacket with its teeth, pulling me further up.​

    "Yeah yeah, I'm going," the girl soothed the deadhead.​

    The golden star rolled out from behind the edge of the station, slowly eating away the contrasting charcoal shadows. Olga estimated that she had to hurry. Judging by the brightness, when the light covers everything around her, she'd have to make some sort of blindfold. For lack of sunglasses. She was immensely annoyed by the lack of a clock and the impossibility of getting any kind of timeline. How long had she been here? Two days? Three?​

    Skull became "nervous," he flew behind her and started hitting Olga from behind.​

    "What do you want?" The wayfarer asked in a disgruntled voice. "Well, we're overtaking him."​

    She checked her statement with a glance at the parallel tractor. Yes, it was indeed lagging behind. At that moment a red beam slid across the glass as if the tractor was trying to illuminate Olga with a laser pointer.​

    "Fucking pointer," muttered the girl, starting to get seriously worried. The crawler hadn't come here by accident and was taking a personal interest in her. It could hardly be an intruder, sent on by the Machine. She mechanically staggered forward, feeling the ache in her strained muscles. She wanted to get to the tower ahead, with more time to spare. To be sure of avoiding another zombie chariot. It kept moving, tossing out a spoke of red beam every few seconds.​

    The tower was indeed getting closer. It was about halfway, or even less than halfway. Already she could clearly distinguish the faceted spikes on the entire surface of the "massage roller". And some antenna-like "whiskers" that looked like the bristles of a flea under a microscope. Olga had seen these in a single volume of the Soviet encyclopedia Fauna, which somehow ended up in the school library.​

    The tractor threw another beam. This time it was green for a difference. And then it began to do something strange. From the outside and through the double barrier - albeit transparent - it looked as if the tractor had lit orange parking lights on its manipulators. And began spraying whitish foam on the tunnel glass. Almost immediately, with literally seconds of hesitation, Olga heard a fractional clattering sound. It was as if someone was quickly throwing pebbles at the plastic sheeting. The sounds were well transmitted through the thickness of the metal and could be heard quite clearly, though muffled, aloof, as if through absorbent cotton.​

    The foam was getting more and more, the lights kept flashing in a clear rhythm that matched the pounding. Olga froze, trying to think what all this could mean. The green beam bounced intermittently around her figure. The girl mechanically covered her eyes, remembering that the green laser is the most "biting". Even balloons can be popped with it, so if it stung in the eye it would hurt. The humped figure of the tractor disappeared behind the white foam, and then a section of the next tunnel exploded silently.​

    A moment later, the surface beneath her feet shook. A thud swept through the glass tube. The air pressure scattered shards of the ruptured part of the tunnel upward and outward, but mostly upward, toward the stars. It looked like a burst of steam mixed with shards of sparkling ice. With a loud shriek, Olga crouched down, covering her head. Several pieces of debris struck her tube, but the material resisted. The steam dissipated into the void in a few moments, leaving only pieces of glass, glittering in the reflected light of the yellow star​

    The tractor, against expectations, did not fly into space. Although the depressurization blew out everything, including bundles of wires and several floor sections. From this distance, it was unclear whether the machine was magnetized or hooked by some kind of hook. But the machine stopped and again outlined the outline of Olga's figure with a green pointer. A light flashed on one of the "arms," and the transparent material cracked against the wanderer's head, spreading out in a web of frequent cracks. It was the way ice bent and cracked, hard but still thin enough when you hit it with a blunt crowbar. The orange lamp blinked again, and a new whitish "cobweb" the size of a saucer appeared. And another, and then almost immediately a fourth.​
    Her legs were already carrying Olga further, toward the tower of salvation. While her brain realized that the fucking tractor was simply firing at her, ignoring the obstacle. She mistook muzzle flashes for parking lights and cracks in the glass for foam. Apparently, that was what the automatic defenses the Machine had warned her about looked like. A robot with guns, like in Terminator.​

    Olga ran as she had never run before, to the point of her heart tearing out of her throat and the pain in her chest. She ran very, very fast. But the tractor was scorching faster. The hits on the tunnel followed with relentless frequency as if fired from a slow automatic firearm or a very fast single shot. The crawler terminator was firing at preemptive range. So, without turning around, Olga could see out of the corner of her eye - the strong material was holding. But the cracks are running, like on the same ice, joining into one continuous mesh.​

    The tower was only a short distance away. Olga felt as if her heart was about to jump into her mouth. The cool air was tearing into her lungs with sharp needles. The heavy bag was pounding her back in time with her jumps, and there was no time to throw it off. The clicking and crunching of hits faded into the background. A loud, ominous crackle burst into the foreground. The shelling had compromised the integrity of the glass, and the internal pressure was beginning to destroy the tunnel itself.​

    Olga had no idea about the physics of airless space and did not know exactly what would happen to her when everything went to shit. But she was sure that nothing good would happen, so she ran even faster. Even though it seemed impossible.​

    The thought pounded in the rhythm of her steps: Bitch, you mechanical motherfucker, when are you going to run out of bullets?! However, judging by the growing crackle, the bullets were no longer needed. The transparent material was remarkably durable and most likely reinforced in layers, like automobile glass. However, it could not take direct fire, and the integrity of the tunnel lived out its last seconds.​

    The end of the path appeared suddenly, but the passage was closed by a second diaphragm, seemingly as solid as the previous one. Olga had no time to be upset or properly frightened that she would remain here when the skull overtook her and rushed forward as if it were about to ram the barrier.​

    The crackling became deafening as if an asphalt roller were driving over broken glass. The crunch was joined by a piercing whistle and, almost immediately, by a hum that sounded something like the roar of a vacuum cleaner. The skull flicked forward a "tail" of vertebrae and, without slowing down, slammed it into the thick rump surrounding the diaphragm. The vertebrae must have been more than just a decoration, but some kind of local USB. The petals trembled and parted, opening swiftly and silently against the rumble of the breaking passage.​
    Olga rushed forward with one last desperate spurt. Enhanced by the pure energy of terror and fear of imminent death, because her muscles were failing.​

    And she did it.​

    The girl stumbled and fell, but on the other side. The glass finally succumbed to external damage and pressure from within. The impact, like the snap of a whip, whipped at her ears. Olga felt as if a giant's palm picked her up and yanked her back, outward, at the same instant the diaphragm closed, and she crashed into the steel barrier. The impact on the metal was violent, hard, to the point of crunching her bones. The girl fell, painfully smashed her face to the floor. Olga did not lose consciousness, but the spirit was blown out thoroughly, to the darkness in her eyes and spasm in her diaphragm, as from a blow to the solar plexus. So she lay there, spreading her arms and legs like a starfish, feeling the jacket on her back getting wet. It was either from the wound or the water bottle that had broken.​

    Her head hurt, her jaw hurt, everything hurt, and yet she was alive. God, if she was a second too late, it would be the end. Is this what forty percent of death looks like?​

    It was close.​

    Only the skull was left outside and was now probably flying somewhere in space. Olga felt sad about the thing. She had managed to get attached to it. Maybe somehow it would find its way back to the Machine? Yes, it was a pity for the bald head, but the girl felt even more sorry for herself. She drew in a breath, lay back with a groan, tucked her legs against her stomach, wrapped her arms around herself. Habitually, like in the old days, expecting a beating. Her breathing calmed, her heart ached as if it had been poked by needles. But it seemed to be ticking. There were no fractures to be found.​

    And she did come to ... The girl realized that she had forgotten the name. Oh, no, she remembered. Navigation and some kind of communication. Radars, compasses, big round steering wheels with handles, a bearded captain looking into a bullshit mirror, and command everyone to go up.​

    It hurts... But it's bearable. She can keep going. Compasses probably aren't dangerous. But, what the fuck isn't dangerous here, though?​

    She stood up with a muffled groan. She jerked her shoulders. Dropping her backpack. She felt her back, making sure she was soaked with water. Yeah, the bottle was broken. At least she got drunk before her quest. And the knife was still on her belt. Olga stroked her lower back and looked at the wide staircase that widened out ahead. Ordinary stairs, like stone, something like marble. To the right was an elevator that looked like a wheelchair, only three times bigger and with what looked like cages being loaded onto the platform. Just above the stairs was a banner that said, in blue letters on a white background:​

    Monitum!

    Astropaths!

    Periculum mortale!

    Caute!

    Morte!

    Wow, they know exclamation points...​

    Olga reasoned that the letters are not red, therefore, the danger is not reported. And even if they did, she had no choice. She wanted to sit down and rest, but she remembered about the terminator. What if he drove on and was already on his way?​

    "Compasses aren't scary," the girl muttered, lugging her backpack around. "And the assthropati can fuck itself."​

    And with slightly slurred steps she moved toward the marble-like white stone stairs.​
    * * *​
     
  11. Threadmarks: Chapter 11
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

    Joined:
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    Chapter 11
    * * *​

    The stairs were neither short nor long. It was just enough to exhaust an already quite exhausted and battered man with heavy luggage behind the shoulders. Along the way, Olga noted apathetically that the stone steps were worn, smoothed to the point where they looked as if they had been walked up and down for generations. This created additional difficulties - she had to be careful not to slip. At the top, there was another sculptural group, three circles on an intricate pedestal.

    Twice Olga rested briefly, sitting down on a moderately cool rock. She even wanted to lie down and mindlessly relax, but the wide-open space made her nervous. Some shit might sneak up on her. The light came directly from the high white ceiling, semi-circular, which looked like a corrugated pipe cut lengthwise. In the smooth glow, everything seemed equally sterile, lifeless, and doll-medical.

    Climbing the stairs, Olga once again thought about what is categorically incomprehensible. Where had the people gone? Judging by its size, the Station must have been well populated. Yes, and the Machine spoke of mass deaths and other horrors. Okay, let's say the corpses were removed somewhere ( by whom and where?). But the panic must have left traces anyway - garbage abandoned things, broken utensils. For an area that had suffered a disaster of this magnitude - to the point of near-desertion - the Station looked too well-kept. And at the same time too abandoned, as if people had left here more or less disciplined months, or rather years ago.

    It's weird.

    And there was no more water.

    Olga climbed up, shifting her legs with difficulty, and she shamed herself for her stupidity. She should have asked Machine to give her a normal flask, some chocolates, maybe some overalls. All this must be in the engine room, the local workers had something to eat, didn't they?

    I'm getting dumber with fatigue, she decided to herself, breathing heavily. Well, at least the triple ears of Mickey Mouse, as she called the landmark above, were getting closer.

    As Olga stood up, she realized that these were not ears. The composition looked more like another steampunk sculpture about two meters high. Three dials and a large valve underneath them. All based on a structure of intricately intertwined pipes. The structure looked both very practical and unbearably pompous. It seemed that just turn the valve and the black pointers would swing beneath the perfectly transparent glass. It looked like just another monument, like the recent mechanical hand with a comb in front of the Machine's hideaway.

    She took off her backpack and, with a sigh of relief, threw it onto the stone floor. A gigantic passageway opened before her like a trunk stretched out in length. It had the same walls, made of monumental panels with monstrous rivets, and a concave ceiling, though not corrugated like the stairs, but made of transparent panels with frequent grating. Outside, the view was of the same space. The star shone dazzlingly bright, but the glass seemed to punctuate the yellow rays in some clever way. The light seemed painful, but it was not blinding. Olga thought that she would still have to make a blindfold to protect her eyes, but she figured it would be better to go further in the shadows from the bars.

    Far ahead, the huge passage changed shape and transitioned into something incomprehensible, geometrically correct, but intricately twisted. As if a single corridor began to branch out, and at once in several planes, at different levels.

    Olga checked the diagram of the Machine. It took some effort, the sheets were crumpled in her pocket as she fled from the terminator. But the strict lines and symbols of the printer differed favorably from Fidus's doodles, so the girl quickly got her bearings. Yeah, that seemed about right. Fortunately, there was no need to get into the tangle of branches. The route turned a little earlier and led to a staircase or an elevator.

    One thing was confusing: the tower was clearly visible from the glass tunnel in front, which means that there should not be a "trunk lid" above my head. Could it be a hologram? Or some illusion of architecture?

    My teeth ached, softly but piercingly uncomfortable. Her skin itched as if tiny bristles were sliding across her body. Olga shook her head and decided to take another break. The sculpture seemed secure enough to sit, leaning against it. As she approached closer, the girl realized that there was something wrong with the dials. The whole composition seemed faintly floating. Slightly deformed, as if it were made entirely of wax that had been blown around with hot air from a hairdryer. Olga took out an old knife and tapped softly on the glass, then on the pipes and cylinders of the dials. The sounds were right, that is, the sculpture seemed to be made of appropriate materials. But if the metal had heated to that degree, why hadn't the glass melted at all and the plastic burned the hell out? And here, the paint didn't even peel off.

    The sounds in the dull silence resounded far and loudly. Olga looked around and decided not to experiment anymore, to be on the safe side. And she didn't want to lean into the steampunk either. It was necessary to go further. The toothache, meanwhile, intensified. Olga felt the roots of her hair itching, her mouth was dry and generally very hot. The itching crawled under her fingernails so that touching anything seemed unpleasant to the point of being painful.

    And the hum ... there was a monotonous hum in the ears, as if the bones of the skull resonated, transmitting the vibration to the auditory nerve. Olga shook her head, trying to shake out the sounds, like water after a bath, but it only got worse. The monotonous humming stratified into a chorus of muffled voices. They whispered something, spoke, tried to shout, and died helplessly, dissolving into nothingness. The hallucination seemed surprisingly real. The sound grew, and now a myriad of voices was pleading with the girl, warning, trying to stop her. More was to come, the world seemed to vibrate with the silent scream, like glass with an electric razor against it.

    Olga cursed tiredly, without fire or emotion, thinking that since her appearance here swearing was the basis of her speech. She wanted to bend over for her bag but decided first to at least symbolically comb her hair and generally assess the damage done to her appearance. The wood seemed warm, and somehow cozily warm in a special way. The glass, on the other hand, was cool, again pleasantly, very peaceful, like a breeze blowing on a hot, hot day. Just holding the homemade glass in the hand felt good, just right. If only it weren't so dizzy...

    Olga did not feel dizzy, it was more like a sudden stop of a merry-go-round. The world around her was in motion, spinning and yet unshakeable. Or vice versa. The cry of invisible voices grew stronger, merging into a gloomy surf that rolled over her consciousness, announcing something unspeakably sinister. It seemed that somewhere in the depths of the Station a real dark chorus had awakened, announcing the arrival of unspeakable horrors to gothic accompaniment.

    Olga took the mirror more firmly, feeling the hard edges crashing into the skin of her palm, not painful, but palpable. She raised it to eye level and looked into the murky glass...

    Hit.

    It was like a blow that struck at once through Olga's entire being, shook every cell, echoed the electrical signals that ran through the nerve wires. Trying to keep her balance, the girl staggered, flailing her arms. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a blue-violet wave of gas fire rushing down the "trunk" corridor. Then the traveler was enveloped in a glow and blacked out as if a switch had been flicked.

    ... and also abruptly turned it back on. Everything around me remained the same, but at the same time, it changed amazingly. It was as if the "Ballistic" had been completely abandoned not for years, but decades. Rust corroded the metal in deep, wet sores. Gray, some impure-looking stone, helpless against the cracks. Olga thought that the station she had seen before bore the mark of abandonment, but the real decay was revealed to her only now.

    The ceiling, high as a nine-story building, was gone, hidden by a veil that looked more like a spider's web than anything else. Only a spider's web, incredibly thick and woven from threads the thickness of a shoelace. The solid grayish weft descended low, so low that Olga could reach it by standing on tiptoe and extending her arm. The mere sight of that fringe sent a chill down her spine. The strings looked too much like thin leather laces, and she didn't want to think how the Station got so much leather. And now and then there was a shiver through the curtain as if it had been blown by the wind. Only there was no wind. The air hung, musty and stale, filled with the smell of mold. Imagination readily conjured up the image of something beyond creepy, something lodged in the center of the web, swaying it with its heavy breath.

    There were probably still windows somewhere up there. But not a single starlight shone through the cobwebs. The lights came from dim greenish-blue gas lamps that must have been some kind of emergency lighting. In contrast to the harsh, contrasting shadows provided by the light of the local sun, the shadows from the lamps seemed alive, flowing. They seemed to shimmer in the corners as a mass of ink, frozen under direct sight and moving as soon as my eyes were averted.

    The shred of gloom silently emerged from the gloom, tall - over two meters tall, to be exact - and skinny, like a man on stilts. The figure was broadly human, except that it was wrapped in either folded wings or a saggy mantle that dragged across the dirt floor. No, seemed it was the cloak.

    The whisper of unseen voices comes back. This time, however, quietly, as if accompanying the unfolding action with a background of hopeless despair. In general, everything that was happening seemed like a horror movie skilfully choreographed and incredibly realistic. This was the only thing that kept Olga from bursting into hysterics. A general state of detached grotesque. Here was the action, here was the panorama captured by the digital camera, and here was the musical accompaniment.

    Only they don't give you popcorn. And it's terrifying.

    The figure moved in the direction of the dial, silently, as if floating above the floor, but somehow strange, zigzagging, like a ghost with a motor. Suddenly it stopped as suddenly as it had appeared. It froze motionless, like a statue, even the fabric froze, falling in heavy folds, like on a monument. Now, as she came closer, about ten meters away, Olga was convinced that it seemed to be actually a man, without wings, but in a hooded cloak. And she also thought that the infernal alien seemed to be blind. At any rate, there was nothing in the creepy "monk's" behavior that showed he could see a visitor from the past.

    Blind Batman. Or something from the tales of the black hand and the coffin on wheels.

    And just as she thought about it more or less clearly, the figure twitched. The way a person with a loud clap of the hands over their ear flinched. The unknowing shit moved its head, and the girl saw that the figure had no face. In the opening of the hood, a blind, perfectly smooth surface, like frosted glass, gleaming in the reflected glare.

    Vidocq!
    [​IMG][​IMG] [​IMG]

    That's right, that was the name of that movie about the weirdo who took souls in a glass mask. The invisible face was hidden under something similar, only without a single protrusion. And as if in time with her memory, the cobwebs above her head quivered, and the grim alien moved again as if listening. The grave chorus fell silent, all at once, as if it feared to draw even the shadow of another's attention to itself.

    "Who are you, my guest?"

    In the first seconds, Olga did not realize that she heard a real live voice, and was quite intelligible. And when she did, she shuddered, quietly dropped to her knees, wrapping her arms around her skinny shoulders under the jacket that had never completely dried. She bit her lip until it bled, the salty taste on her parched tongue. She wanted to scream and howl, to drive away a creeping madness. Because the voice wasn't in her ears, it was coming out of her heartbeat, out of the echo of panicked thoughts in her head, out of the sound of blood running through her veins.

    "I know you're here."

    From behind him stretched out, unfolding, something mechanical, resembling both a scorpion's tail and a robot arm. The artificial arm moved in a circle over his master's head, its joints snapping. The iron fingers moved very purposefully and unpleasantly fast as if attracting invisible threads in the musty air. It was as if ... searching for something.

    "Oh, now I see. A poor, suffering child. With a soul that is full of pain."

    It was not a voice at all, and it was not in Russian or any other language. Rather, it was the knowledge of what the unknown person wanted to express. The knowledge was complete, imbued with infinite shades of emotion, surprisingly sincere and kind. The knowledge was born in the silence of the iron and in the sound of the water droplets that ran down the walls. It was whispered by the stone, suggested by the cold breeze that blew in from the void.

    It was too much. Too much for one day and one person.

    Olga felt she'd had enough and closed her eyes.
    * * *​
    Do you still think that mess with Warp it's a good idea???​
     
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2021
  12. Threadmarks: Chapter 12
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

    Joined:
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    Chapter 12
    * * *
    The cloth of the robe rustled, in a peculiar way, very soft, like a silk ribbon. At the same time, both near and infinitely far away. Olga clutched herself into a lump, covered her head with her hands with such force that her joints were in a tired pain as if she hopelessly persuaded the master to stop torturing herself.

    That's enough. She's had enough. There is nothing. There's nothing and there can't be.

    A rustle. The rustling grows closer, wider, and wider, filling the universe. Like silk.

    Gentle, new silk...

    Like a hair ribbon, the very first gift of her life.

    Olechka, wake up, it's time for breakfast!

    What is it? Where is it from...?

    Well, there you are again, hiding. You're probably under the table with the book again, aren't you?

    The smile of a mother, the best person in the world. The kindest, brightest person who loves you just for being in the world. A mother's love is the last refuge for even the most disgusting scoundrel. But little Olga is not like that, she's good. And her mother is good. Everyone is very good, even her older brother and daddy. Only daddy has become angry a lot. And when he is angry, he drinks a lot of water from a bottle and becomes very strange. And he does strange, unpleasant things. And brother imitates him in everything and also behaves badly. My mother gets upset and feels bad.

    Found ya! Who's the prettiest? Who's the smartest? Who's the most obedient? Who is going to put the book down and go to the table?

    Olga felt warmth. A pleasant warmth glid over her body. It washed away the heaviness, the pain, the fatigue. This is how the summer sun warms up when the morning chill is gone, but the heat of the day is a little late. So warms a light-down blanket on a Sunday morning, giving moments of the most wonderful sleep of the week.

    She didn't open her eyes, but even through her tightly closed eyelids she could see, feel, the golden glow that gently flooded everything around her. It was pleasant to sit in, it called to dissolve in the glow, to float away on the carefree waves of happiness somewhere far away from here. Somewhere where everything would be fine.

    As it was once ...

    Porridge is healthy, and we'll make it delicious, too! A drop of butter, a spoonful of syrup... Like this. A spoonful for Olechka.

    Mirror. The mirror she found. How she wants to look into it and see a child's face with naughty pigtails. A face from her childhood, which seems so far away that it was not there at all.
    She was named after an ancient princess. Her mother chose it herself so that the girl would have the most beautiful name. It sounds full and deep, resonating with every sound, like a bell ringing. And if you want, you can also soften it, very, very gently. Olenka, Olechka... Oleshek, Oleshek, where are your horns? That's what Daddy used to call her, when he came home, bringing the heavy smell of gasoline and work. It was so great! But time went on. Dad would come back later and later. And "Olesha" was called to his daughter less and less often. It was as if everyone had forgotten her name."Daughter, daughter" to her mother, who began to fade, fade and turn into a shadow of her former self. And her father always had other words ready for her now... So did her girlfriends, who had become "exes" overnight.

    The warm, kind light around her faded. Deep gray shadows seeped through my eyelids. They surrounded me, like the Dementors from the fairy tale about the magical freeloader with the round glasses. They swarmed, emptying the soul, picking out all the light and good things that remained in the memory to the very bottom. Everything that was "before", leaving only what became "after". After little Olechka stopped being a beloved Olechka and understood well what bitter water is poured into special bottles for adults.
    Mirror! Here it is, warm and cozy, even through the fabric of the jacket it clings to the palm of the hand.

    "Poor child."

    Who said that? Olga didn't understand. The voice was just present. It came from everywhere, but it did not break into consciousness from outside but was born very softly, naturally. Like the whispering of the best friend in the world, who would never let her down and would always give her a shoulder to lean on.

    Like the words... of a mother?

    "Children. They were once called the flowers of life. In the age of steel anthills, few people know what a "flower" is. But I do. I remember. A child's soul is like a closed bud, ready to blossom, to open to the world. The most amazing miracle of the universe is a child whose destiny is not yet written. But like a flower, it is easy to trample, to humiliate, to mutilate. And how often this happens..."

    Olga wanted to cry. The tears rolled away on their own, seeping through her eyelids. Somewhere far, far away, at the very bottom of her consciousness, a lonely, pathetic voice of common sense screamed, wailing, warning her of something bad. That it was time to open her eyes and look around, no matter what horrors awaited her. That she had to save herself.

    But it seemed too scary. Olga fumbled with the dirty fabric and pulled the trinket out of her pocket. She clenched it in her fist. She pressed her knees to her chest, wrapped her arms around herself, trying to regain the feeling of all-encompassing warmth. To dive back into the golden glow. She wept bitterly in self-pity and understanding how right the kind voice of the world's best friend was.

    There were times when she wanted to die. But now she just didn't want to be. Olga felt like she was in the middle of a terrible merry-go-round of memories, a swirling theater of sinister shadows.

    It's because of you he drinks!

    Catch the freak.

    Why isn't your homework done, you bitch!

    The boots are dirty again! And they're torn, too. There's not enough money for you. You're like a homeless!

    It's meanness, real meanness to get so dirty!

    Why are you yelling, why are you yelling? Oh, does the belt hurt you? Doesn't it hurt me to wash your clothes every day? You've been messing around in them!

    What a beautiful barrette you have. Give it here, I need it more.

    Catch her, beat her!

    You'll eat it because it's healthy! Or do you want to die of tuberculosis?!

    "It's okay. It's okay. After all, what has already happened is gone forever, it's gone. It is dispelled by the blowing of time and is only stored in our memory. All the evil in the world is only the memory of our grief, a heavy burden that man cannot shed. But it's so easy to straighten up, to straighten your shoulders, to leave behind everything that has been slowly poisoning your soul."

    Olga howled, choking back tears, whimpering at the correctness of the invisible Friend's words. Who became closer than a mother, better than a mother. After all, he understood her like no one else. And his speech promised peace, deliverance from grief, a new life.

    "It's okay..."

    The voice sounded very close. It reached out and wrapped around Olga's very soul like delicate silk. It enveloped her, shut her off from all the horrors of the past and the present.

    It promised.

    It gave peace.

    "Now everything will be all right... I'll show you how to throw off the weight that people carry on their weak shoulders. It's as easy as walking through a tough door with no walls. You just have to see it and go around it. But before you can give up evil, you have to realize it. To understand it, to let it go."

    Just want to ... To understand, to let go.

    And finally the obliging, frantic memory, with treacherous readiness, showed Olga what was the worst. Well, almost... Worse than her drunken father, worse than poverty and unsettlement, worse than her sadistic brother and angry peers, who had discovered too early and too quickly how easy it was to bully a weak girl who loved books.

    What's stuck in her soul with a thin needle forever. She can't forget it, she can't get it out! The words once spoken in the heat of a woman, exhausted to the limit by her backbreaking labor and family troubles. Disappointed by the failure of her daughter, from whom so much was expected and so little received. And then repeated, in the same state of unconsciousness. And again, a little calmer, just out of anger. And again, a little calmer. And again, and again. Over and over again. Until they were just a regular statement.

    I wish you were dead. I would have cried on your grave and lived in peace

    I wish you were dead...

    "You want some happiness. But I will give you something better."

    "What could be better than happiness?" - silently asked the little, little girl. And her best friend answered:

    "His anticipation. That moment when suffering still lasts, but you already believe in a better life. You know that the bad will pass and the good will surely come. Better than happiness is the
    near hope of finding it. And I will share that hope with you."

    Hope... Yes, it was wonderful. It was clear and wonderful. Everything, at last, became clear. Olga smiled, opened her eyes. The light was everywhere, and she was light. And next to her towered the tall figure of the Best Friend in the world. And how could he have seemed scary to her? On the contrary, there was no one more beautiful and wonderful in the whole world. Someone always ready to support, encourage, and share her happiness. Someone who shares Hope.

    Olga smiled again, feeling the movements of her lips generate waves of pleasant warmth. Which, in turn, spread throughout her body, tingling her nerves a little. The girl had long forgotten what a genuine sincere smile was, and not just a routine reaction to a pleasant sensation. And now she remembered, and happily shared that memory with the universe.

    How good, how amazingly good, when you can really leave behind the weight of misery and memories. Olga smiled even wider, feeling her consciousness dissolve in a stream of golden light. Her Best Friend slowly reached out to take her by the arms, to take her away... Where...? Though what difference did it make. And the girl firmly knew that now all the time was at her disposal. There was no need to hurry anymore.

    She looked in the mirror and saw exactly what she was supposed to see. A very handsome, strong-willed, yet lacking in stiffness, face with eyes of an incredibly deep, rich cornflower color. The unruly hair, always sticking out in all directions like hedgehog needles, was now flowing in a wavy hairdo. It seemed to live a life of its own, flowing smoothly, caressing her head with the gentlest of touches. Olga smiled at her reflection, and it answered her... with a delay that lasted a fraction of a second.

    The girl turned the mirror to appreciate the art of the makeup artist who had shaded the play of light and shadow on her face, highlighting her cheekbones. And an unsolicited memory fluttered to the back of her mind. Something to do with... No, no way to remember.

    The reflected beauty shook her head, put her finger to her lips, warning against unnecessary thoughts that disturb harmony, that return misery. A wing of platinum hair fluttered again with wonderful smoothness.

    "No need to look back," the silky voice rustled. "No need to pick up again all the pain you've left behind."

    My best Friend's words... Something in them resonated, something familiar. Familiar and extremely unpleasant, like a damp patina on an expired soybean sausage. It still looked delicious and inviting, but the touch was already unpleasant and promised long prayers to the sacred white stone. She didn't want to think about it. She did not want to remember, but she also could not dismiss it at all. The reflection in the mirror winked invitingly, and the cornflower eyes flashed an extreme concentration of ultramarine.
    "
    Your road leads forward, only forward."

    Olga's heart thudded, missing one beat. The gradation of resentment and frustration of the girl with the naughty straw-colored hair was vast and rich. And a large part of it was " show attention and humiliate" fun. For obvious reasons, it was mostly the "girlfriends" who were into it. But my brother made his mark, too. The most important element here was the first stage when it was necessary to lull the victim's guard, to make her believe that all the broken is glued, and the outstretched hand of friendship will not strike at the last moment. But the blow always followed, no matter how much one hoped for the best.

    But that's all behind, isn't it?

    Olga looked at herself in the mirror, looking for support in her new image. So beautiful, so fairy-tale like at the ball...

    At the ball.

    In a fairy tale.

    It's all happened before. She had seen it all before. But where? A long time ago, in another life, tens of thousands of years ago. A faded disc with a dozen movies on it, barely one on top of the other, with cropped credits. Some adventure crap, and then there's "Infinity Story" and "Labyrinth". The first Hollywood movie fairy tales little Olya had ever seen. "The Story" didn't hook the girl. But the second film touched her heart and inspired a hidden sadness and longing for another life. And then there was the gorgeous Goblin King. He was cool, stylish, charmingly long-haired, and bewitched by amazing visions. The heroine of the movie needed something... very much needed.

    Yes! The heroine was looking for her lost brother. And Olga herself was also looking for something. Something very important... Something connected with the deep blue color. And black, too. Black and blue, like the bruises from hard beating.

    And then it flashed in her head. That's what happens when a person remembers about a frying pan on the stove in a half-slumber. Or when, in a sweet pre-morning nap, one suddenly realizes that he hadn't set the alarm clock and now he's definitely overslept. The sudden realization hits at once and brutally, like a hammer blow. That's what happened now, to her.

    Kryp! The wounded, maimed Fidus, who waits for her. He will die without her.

    The reflection wrinkled, its lips pressed together in displeasure. Olga looked at herself in the mirror, and now she could see that it was not her that was reflected in the uneven circle. A very similar face, and yet a completely different person. A mask. A cunning deception. The outstretched hand of friendship, covertly and thickly smeared with snot. A needle stuck in stealthily. An insult that is thrown into a trusting face with a gleeful laugh.

    A fraud!!!

    The body worked faster than consciousness. Olga threw back the mirror and retreated a step. The golden glow turned into a tangle of threads that swiftly turned black and curled into ashy rags, clinging to the victim like the petals of a predatory plant. But the girl, with an unintelligible shriek, broke through the barrier. Where she had just been, it was as if a mournful wing had flapped. It whipped the mantle of the sneaking freak in the blind mask. His third artificial claw snapped, missing his victim by a finger or two.

    The mirror fell and shattered, all of it, including the wooden base. It shattered in a myriad of tiny shards, each one more like a needle. A silent flash of light exploded as if the trinket had been a flash grenade. Olga cried out. Covering her eyes with her hands, she bounced away awkwardly, seeing through the wave of ghostly light how the figure in the robe was spinning on the spot, grasping the air haphazardly with all three limbs. It looked like a crazed garden scarecrow.

    The girl stumbled and fell on all fours, crawling away. And trying to blink.

    The hallway around her returned to its normal state of dusty abandonment. Gone were the horrible tangle of leather cords, the rust, and other decay. And the garden scarecrow remained. But it had changed as if all the colors had been pulled out of it. Fucking sorcerer now looked like a half-embodied ghost. And deadly nonetheless. The long-robed figure was nowhere near as terrifying as the creatures in the apothecary's warehouse, but there was no doubt in her mind that she had now walked on the edge of something terrifying beyond belief. And irreversible.
    Olga froze, trying not to even breathe. The scarecrow froze in place, head spinning and arms outstretched. The shards beneath its feet crunched, shimmering with a mysterious light as if illuminated from within. Oh, it wasn't an easy mirror she'd found back then... But the blind freak seemed to have lost her.

    Keep it quiet...

    Olga moved, still not getting up, crawled on all fours in a roundabout manner, intending to get to the bag. For several minutes this strange scene lasted, as if from a movie. The attacker, trying to hear the victim, and the furtive fugitive. Olga did make a couple of noises. Her hands and feet were stiff and unresponsive, still shackled by the drowsiness. But the scarecrow also went deaf. Now there was nothing, absolutely nothing left of her best friend.

    Hope? Stick it in your ass, thought Olga vindictively, quietly slipping her hands into the straps of the bag. Now it was necessary to walk in the opposite direction to get further, according to the map of the computer.

    "I don't think so," said the voice in her head, oozing good-natured irony.

    Oh, fuck...

    Olga froze. And the figure took two quick steps in her direction, but at an angle, not directly. Now the fugitive from Vidocq did not seem blind. It was as if he perceived the world differently, not with his eyes, not with his ears. He froze again, staring into the void with his glass mask.

    "Self-sacrifice, that's commendable," the voice said, speaking directly to the meanings in Olga's head. "But where did it get you?"

    The girl pulled the strap over her right shoulder with trembling fingers.

    "Father. Mother. Brother. Peers. They all bought something in their lives."

    Her left shoulder trembled, and the bag almost fell off. Olga bit her lip to the drop of thick and strangely cold blood.

    The figure straightened up and froze with his arms at his sides.

    "Self-confidence. The suppression of complexes. Sense of greatness. Relief from fears. The common pleasure, finally."

    The last phrase sounded with sad and understanding sympathy. Olga blinked, biting her tongue to keep from screaming at the last words. She felt as if her very soul had been turned inside out and shaken, revealed to the world to the utmost corners. And then plunged into the village latrine. Tears trembled again on the tips of her eyelashes. Somehow it occurred to her that after so much sobbing, her eyes must have turned red all over, like a vampire's.

    They acquired for a time what they lacked. But they didn't pay. It was you, poor child, who paid the bill. Your time for their time. Your humiliation for their brief enjoyment of their importance. Your tears for their laughter. Pain and heartbreak for ...

    "No!!!" burst out of the girl, on its own. A terrible cry, breaking from the depths of her soul, which denied everything, demanded to stop, not to continue, not to awaken what had been long and firmly buried.

    "Oh, yes." The creepy scarecrow sensed weakness and took two confident steps in the exact direction.

    Now Olga did not doubt that the creature - as wild as it sounded - was targeting her thoughts, feelings, emotions. It was provoking her, stalking her. Which meant that it was necessary not to cry. To clench her teeth and suppress the urge to scream again in a voice of fierce longing. The pale undead was already three-quarters faded, dissolving like a movie projector beam in a stream of steam. A little more, and it would be gone completely. She just has to endure.

    "It was your beloved brother, wasn't it? It was him, wasn't it?"

    Olga kept silent. She bared her teeth like an angry rabbit and pulled her homemade backpack up so that it didn't pull her shoulders down so much. The vented composition was now placed strictly behind her, and the sinister undead straight ahead and slightly to her left. Olga held back a sob and stepped quietly to the right. The figure was still saying something, but the girl managed to ward off the stranger's words. Not for long, but enough to take imperceptible steps around the enemy in an arc along the wall. It helped greatly that the enemy was visibly weakening. As reality itself pushed him into the other side of the world, the sorcerer's voice faded as well.

    However, the self-control that was forced out on the pitiful remnants of the will was not enough for long.

    But everything repeats itself, doesn't it? Alone, in another world, in another time, with a knife against dangers, you can't even imagine. And for whom is all this for? You don't know anything about the Inquisitor. How much evil has he done? How many innocents did he torture in the name of blind faith?

    A step, another step. The enemy sensed her proximity, made quick turns on the spot, turning his head like a radar. But in vain.

    "Again, someone buys something for himself that he is deprived of. And again you pay someone else's bill. Only this time voluntarily. Selflessly. Ready to trade your life for extra hours of life for the Inquisitor."

    Olga estimated that now she could run. On the other hand, who knows what kind of spurts the enemy is capable of. No, it was better to go slowly, but safely.

    "A useless life, which even its master does not need because it brings only disappointment. After all, our poor Fidus has spent his whole life in humiliation. A weak nobody in the shadow of the glory of the great Kryptman Sr."

    Wow. And Kryp, it turns out, has a long history. However, the mention of the father-child problem didn't really strike a chord in her heart.

    "Only this time, the price will be too high. No one will say thank you. No one will even experience passing gratitude. They will take for granted all your sacrifice, all the mad courage of a lonely little woman. And they will condemn you for a "heresy" you don't even understand."

    Fuck you.

    "Child, there are many paths ahead, but if you go to the Inquisitor, all of them will eventually lead you to death. Think about it."

    The scarecrow man seemed to have exhausted his set of persuasions. His words sounded weighty and right, but Olga remembered all too well the feeling of unclean stickiness that turned the golden light of hope. Maybe regarding Kryp the scarecrow was right. Except that he himself did not wish the unexpected guest any good. Which meant that he had to go to hell with all the pathos and heartfelt speeches.

    Olga was greatly tempted to think expressively, or maybe to say something very effective, catchy, loudly, in farewell. But she still shuddered at the mere sight of the steel hand that hovered over her owner's head. If the demon was tracking her by the vivid images in her head, she shouldn't be giving him a clue.

    Fuck him.

    She walked sideways for a long time, keeping her guard up. Trying to keep her eyes on the scarecrow and the road ahead at the same time. At last, she was out of sight, turning into the side passage, as marked on the diagram.

    - - -

    The figure stood absolutely still, so still that even the folds of the cloak sagged in heavy folds as if carved from stone. Only the arm behind his shoulders had a life of its own. It swiveled on its owner's head, flicked its four knuckles, and generally acted as a living, seeing thing. A steel snake with cores of cable, always on watch, always on his master's guard. As it went on for about five minutes, maybe more. The sorcerous creature was either sinking into the deepest contemplation or ...

    Without warning, the figure shook its head. The blind mask caught the dim ray of light, absorbing it without a trace. And, as if in response to a silent command, the tangle of a giant web trembled. The tinder, woven from the skin of the most loyal, most worthy servants, swayed and shuddered as if it were alive. Or as if something massive was descending from above, moving the thick threads with a multitude of hands.

    The manipulator twisted once more, clicked, and folded at three joints, hiding in the folds of the cloak. The warlock removed his hood, revealing his head, completely bald and disproportionately small to his body. The mask hid his entire face and was bolted directly to his flesh with the usual self-tapping screws. The inflamed wounds were bleeding faintly, as they had very recently, and oozing acrid pus, but the figure was not at all bothered by it.

    The web swayed particularly violently, then swayed several times in a hushed rhythm, as if the invisible creature descended to a lower level and froze in anticipation.

    "She rejected the gift, I can't see her anymore," said the man (or rather, not a man a long time ago) in the sinister mask. This time he spoke for real, the words were muffled from beneath the mask, not adapted to voice transmission. But the hidden interlocutor understood everything.

    "I can't find her. But you can."

    The sorcerer waved his hands and wiggled his fingers, which, unlike anything else, seemed quite normal. On the dirty, scuffed floor, a string of footprints slowly emerged, as if imprinted with lilac-colored ink glowing in the half-dark. The trace floated and flickered, like an image on a faulty television set, striving to fade into the shadows. But the ominous figure continued to draw the prints out of oblivion with deft strokes.

    "Follow her," the masked man ordered. "Don't hurry, don't spook her. We need her. And her ward, too."

    He was quiet, with his head tilted to the side, as if listening.

    "Of course," the sorcerer paused and admitted. "Amazing willpower. Who would have guessed that so much courage was hidden in such a pathetic shell..."

    The invisible in the nets expressed disagreement, rather symbolically, not for the sake of argument, but accuracy.

    "Do you think so?" asked the sorcerer from under the mask. "The complex of an unloved child, who wants to earn the approval and attention of the parents... In this case - the father figure embodied in the courageous inquisitor... Yes, perhaps."

    He was quiet.

    "But I think the strong maternal instinct that she unconsciously transfers to Kryptman has more to do with it. After all, he appeared to her at once weak, helpless, just like a baby."

    A pause, filled with an ominous silence and mute speech that only two could understand.

    "Father or baby, it doesn't really matter. The important thing is that she takes Kryptman very personally, so she will return to him. And she'll lead you to him."

    After thinking for a while, the figure clarified the order:

    "Kill the Inquisitor. Bring me his head and spine."

    This time the mysterious servant (or maybe the companion? who knows) was not happy and directly expressed his dissatisfaction.

    "Because I'll pull from his postmortem memory everything the Inquisitors know about us," the sorcerer condescended to explain. "And because I like the idea of making a "servo" out of him. Let him serve after death what he unsuccessfully tried to fight in life."

    There was a grim irony in the invisible one's reply.

    "Yes, not without success," the figure admitted, gritting his teeth from beneath his mask. "And all the more he owes me."

    Another pause. The invisible one asked for instructions regarding the second subject.

    "Alive. Intact. Unharmed," the tall one said, very distinctly and very clearly. "I need her. We need her."

    The manipulator trembled, turned around in an attacking snake, its fingers spread out like the tip of a trident, reflecting its owner's latent excitement.

    Yes, our time is running out. We have accomplished much, but we have not achieved complete success. Soon the Inquisitors will come in full force. Time is running out, it is time to leave. But this soul is amazing, unique. It comes from a time when the Other Side was safely hidden and locked away. That is interesting in itself. It is a phenomenon worthy of the closest scrutiny.
    But most importantly, it can be used.

    The web twitched again. The threads shook. The unknown interlocutor seemed to have descended even lower, to the point of extreme interest. Through the shaggy sweat of leather cords now peered... something. Something the average person should not see. And no one should see anything at all. Because there are good things, there are bad things, and there are things for which there are no definitions because no language can describe their essence.

    "Yes," judging by the changed tone, the man smiled wryly beneath the blind plaque on his face. "When I test and prepare the girl, you will absorb her soul, dissolve and distill it. Then I'll make a transcendent lockpick with which we can open the most invisible doors in the Other Side. And no psyker, no navigator will be able to trace our paths."

    The Invisible One manifested himself materially for the first time. It looked as if a multitude of people had slipped their greedy, convulsively twitching hands into the loops of the leather washcloth at once. And just as quickly yanked back out. A few dark drops slapped the floor, and the tarlike viscous liquid hissed into the marble.

    "If it didn't work in this place, well, we'll try in the other," one monster promised the other, and immediately warned him. "Be stealthy, don't spook the girl. She's been carrying the "flect" too briefly, the scent is barely detectable, and it would be hard to guide you and let it manifest. Our reward, however, will be quite generous. You follow the trail, and I'll prepare the lab."

    * * *

    So, a brief look at Olga's past.
    Also, cavalry is on its way. Hurrah.​
     
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2021
  13. Threadmarks: Chapter 13
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

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    Chapter 13 of 16

    What this "astropathy" was, Olga did not know. However, it had to be admitted: compared to it, all the previous architecture of the Station could be confidently considered ultra-conservative. At least, it was clear that on Ballistica lived, albeit strange, but still, people, and accordingly, the living space was somehow organized around it. Here ... The farther Olga got, constantly checking the computer drawing, the stronger she got the feeling that people did not live and work here. Or, more precisely, not entirely people. In every way.

    First of all, from a certain point, she noticed that straight angles disappeared. Everything became smooth, rounded, and streamlined. It was also three-dimensional. The corridors meandered, merging seamlessly into one another, diving into the gaps of nowhere and spiraling upward. It was not clear how they had climbed up them. Probably, they rode on some carts, for which, by the way, there were rails, and not double, but triple. The middle band did not seem to be of ordinary steel but gleamed with gold. Though there was no way to tell if it was really soft gold.

    Olga fumbled with the hilt of an old knife and wondered if she could try to break off a piece. The temptation was great, but the mere thought of dragging a little more weight was a wistful horror. No. Maybe some other time...

    Never mind, there will be a feast on our street, too. And a truckload of candies will crash under our windows.

    The walls were painted a plain white with a creamy hue. And it looked like a whole gang of crazy sculptors and equally crazy graffiti artists had worked on them. To begin with, everything was hand-drawn in intricate symbols. The style was very different from the previous location. There were almost no number-like signs and none of the usual skulls. But there were plenty of intricate patterns, like Satanists' demon-calling dabs, and the frequent repetition of the three letters, "AAT," in every conceivable form. It seemed as if the locals were trying to protect themselves or summon some unknown shit before they all fell into the ground. And they were doing it long and hard, as if they were painting for a long time, very diligently. Clearly, they painted for years (or maybe even centuries?), with a heart.

    The vibe of a fortress under siege was reinforced by bundles of long spokes growing straight out of the walls, like porcupine needles or tricky antennas. Looking more closely, Olga realized that there was a certain pattern. The winding lanes of the corridors and the entire design, in general, seemed designed to catch something free-flying and point it toward the antennas. It was as if streams of water or radio waves were running through the corridors and behaving like a normal draught.

    Some sections of the wall were covered with thick bars, apparently of copper. And in some places, the most common barbed wire hung from mighty rebar crutches. And burned, even slightly melted, as if it had been struck by lightning. And there were no doors, only continuous corridors. After thinking for a while, Olga decided that maybe the doors were well disguised, and since she didn't need them anyway, the hell with it.

    By some miracle, she didn't get lost. Or maybe she was, but she didn't notice it. Anyway, a quite ordinary elevator was waiting for her at about the indicated point. Olga dutifully tried to activate it, pulling a long, intricately curved knob with a large red stone. The platform did not move, and not even a light bulb flashed. Olga sighed heavily and began to look for some kind of technical ladder, and her experience suggested that there would be one.

    It's was.

    The girl looked down. She thought down is not up. But if she fell, it would take her a long time. She wanted to swear but realized that she was dead tired, and she had no strength even for swearing. All this inhuman nonsense - tractors, demons, three-meter mutants, sentient computers, crazy vidocq - all blended into one lump of feverish delirium. She didn't want to remember it, much less think about it.

    "I hate you all," she announced into the void and prepared to climb the riveted stairs, covered in condensation and rust stains. The bag was pulling on her shoulders and pressing against her back.

    Descend, cross over, descend again. Another technical tunnel. It looked like a laundry tunnel and let her out into the familiar atrium. More precisely, in the corridor that just exited into the atrium. Olga felt the tears coming to her eyes. This was becoming a habit. Only this time - for a change - it was tears of happiness. Almost even tears of tenderness, as when she returned to her home.

    Olga reached or rather weaved her way to the railing. She threw off her backpack and leaned against the cold, wrought metal, trying to imagine how many fucking kilometers she had walked, climbed, and crawled in the depths of the fucking Station? And how long it had taken. And how much time had she spent in this forty-thousand-year era, anyway?
    She should have gone to save Kryp, but the girl froze in a blissful stupor, resting.

    It was getting dark. It looked like the star was moving away to the opposite side of the Ballistic Station. The statues below loomed in almost indistinguishable shadows. It was dusky and quiet. Olga looked down again. Spitting impishly, she imagined that there was someone's bald spot far below. And thought with all the common sense available - did she need to save Kryp?
    The asshole in the mask was right about something, no matter how you look at it. Well, Crip. Well, Fidus. Young guy, good-looking. So what? There's a lot of good-looking people in the world. And there's a lot of ugly ones among them, she knows it too well.

    What does she know about Kryp? How can he help her?

    And anyway, why the fuck did she rush off into the middle of nowhere, risking her life?

    Olga understood that she overthinking. That she should take a break to think, to rest, to sleep. But all understanding dissolved in the growing wave of anger. And one simple thought - what the fuck, actually!

    She kicked the duffel bag with the heavy first-aid kit inside it. She took a heavy gulp - she was thirsty. She whispered:
    "Kryp, are you an asshole too?"

    Meanwhile, deep shadows crept in from the corners. It looked like it was going to be a natural night. She wondered if there was any illumination.

    Olga sighed heavily again. This action was becoming as habitual as the regular tears.

    "Ah," she exhaled sadly, pulling up her backpack by the strap.

    Well, let's hope you're not dead after all.

    According to Olga's calculations, she should have walked a few dozen meters along the balcony to get to the hole with the skull. And there was Fidus, who was either alive or not. Well, it's time to see.

    Although it would have been better if he had died.

    Some... very rational thought. It's a sensible and very logical thought. If Kryp had died by himself, so many problems would have been solved.

    To chase it away, Olga paced faster. Thinking more and more she began to call Crip by his funny name - Fidus. Funny... She looked out into the abyss of the atrium and quickly crouched behind the railing. A black dot, dark even in the gloom of the approaching darkness, was climbing up. Like a flea, it crawled from floor to floor, crawling up the wall. Like a spider. Except that given the distance, this "flea" should not be the size of a small fly-eater.

    Olga strained her eyes to the point of pain, squinting in an attempt to see more. Surprisingly, at that moment she did not even think that she might be in danger. Fear was caused, rather, by another outlandish sight, itself. The flea climbed another three or four stories up, and Olga was able to get a better look at the creature.

    The legs are more than four but seem to be less than a dozen. It was either a short tail or an elongated torso. And the head... like the head of a praying mantis or an elongated bulb. She'd probably seen it all before, hadn't she? Her throat was tight, and the sweat on her back under her backpack felt as if it had turned to ice at once. And at once, as if she could read her mind, a nimble shadow on the wall twisted and slid onto another floor. It disappeared from view.

    Olga sat clinging to the railing. She was afraid to breathe and afraid to look back. It seemed that a creepy shadow was already lurking behind her. Just waiting for the victim to turn her head.
    At last, the girl exhaled when her chest began to sting from lack of air. The demon didn't seem to notice her and was minding his own business. The same one that killed the big guy in the alchemy warehouse? Or was it a different one? How many of those freaks could there possibly be?

    Olga suddenly wanted to go back to the fairy tale that the masked jerk had created for her. It was very cozy there. But she had to be strong. She had to keep going. Thankfully, there was not much left to go on. Every step was difficult, her knees ached and even seemed to squeak with stiff cartilage.

    But still, she made it.

    Kryp understood everything at once. Olga did not bring help. And this was a real blow to him. Olga was already used to the fact that the cape bearer had a tungsten rod instead of a soul, which could not be bent. The more frightening was the rapid, almost instantaneous transformation. The Inquisitor seemed to shrink, to droop. His face, already contorted with a grimace of enduring pain, melted into a mask of hopeless despair. For a few minutes, Kryp lay there, clenching his jaw and twitching his healthy arm as if to beat out an inaudible rhythm. The girl, meanwhile, pulled the first-aid kit from the bag, hoping that this time, too, Fidus would figure it out.

    He figured it out. Although he looked at Olga with immense surprise. It seemed that the girl had pulled out of the bowels of the Machine some amazing rarity, which Fidus had never expected to see. But, anyway, the lame man got it right and began rather briskly injecting himself with something that looked like disposable syringe tubes. Then it was time for another hygienic procedure, combined with wiping with ointments and plasters. Olga worriedly noticed that they were having water problems again. And she took a couple of generous sips of coffee meth, to relax her mind a little. The head rumbled weakly, the warmth began to spread from the stomach. Olga very "incidentally" remembered that she had not eaten anything... How long had it been? Yes, since she had appeared here or so it seemed. Given the exertion, hunger would soon turn into exhaustion. And she didn't want to eat much, apparently, the constant stress had blocked her instinct for a while.

    One thing was good. It seems the Machine's medicine kit was a treasure of miracles. The Crip had gone from being dead to looking like a very sick man, literally, in front of my eyes. And there seemed to be painkillers in the kit, so the grimace of suffering finally left his haggard face.

    Swallowing and suppressing the desire to spit after hygiene marathon number two. Olga searched her pockets for "Scheme B," which Machine recommended she give to the Inquisitor. She found it, but, contrary to expectations, the crumpled sheet of Fidus was not very impressive. Apparently, Kryp expected more. It brought the wounded man out of his gloomy stupor a little, though. And Fidus, pushing himself, began to ask questions.

    Things were slow, given the language barrier, but they were gradually moving along. Primarily through an exchange of drawings. The wounded man was very surprised to learn that Olga had only seen one big man. Cripe called him "Imperatoris filius elected". Olga remembered Machine's description of the "X-Factor" and clarified that there seemed to be two big men, but all had gone to the other world. Here the conversation came to a standstill. The usual symbols of death and destruction said nothing to Crip. He stared perplexedly at the painted coffin and the stylized grave, until, at last, Olga crossed out resolutely the two figures symbolizing the "elekted". And then she crossed again, making horrifying faces.

    But when it came to the description of the six-legged creatures... Looking at the schematic sketch of a creature, the inquisitor flinched and looked at Olga. The girl did not even really understand what exactly was expressing the look of an unwilling companion. It was a strange expression. It was a mixture of surprise, disbelief, and something else. It was the look she had seen in people who remembered something they wanted to forget but could not. She saw the same expression in her eyes in the mirror, in the morning, after ...

    She turned away, suppressing a sob. The Black One interpreted it in his way. He thought the girl was frightened (which was actually true). He tried to soothe her gently, even reaching over to stroke her head. And then he insistently asked, or rather demanded, to draw the monster again. Olga did her best. She patiently pulled the details out of her memory. It had to be said, the face, depicted a second time in the notebook, came out better indeed, more expressive. Scarier, at least. Crip stared at it for a long time with the same expression. Then he leaned back on his bed, closed his eyes, and clenched his healthy hand in a fist against his heart. After a long pause, he asked quietly but distinctly into nowhere:

    "Patrem, recte vos?"

    They returned to the dialogue with the drawings. When Olga drew a cloaked figure with a third arm over his shoulders. Fidus perked up again, he clearly understood who was depicted by Olga's hand, despite all the cartoonish conventionality. In Creep's tired gaze the girl read another stage of amazement and a note of deference. And she, looking at her adventures in retrospect, straight up even squatted. Indeed, the list looked solid. You can just shoot a movie - here and superhumans, and strange monsters, and the Machine, and finally, a scarecrow in the mask. Just like in the fairy tale about Kolobok, who got away from everyone.
    Kolobok by the way escaped the Wolf, the Bear, but was eaten by the Fox in the end.
    She would also like to know who all these freaks are.

    Fidus went back to studying "Scheme B" again, sighed heavily, and said something incomprehensible. It sounded without much optimism, but not entirely hopeless, more like a description of the hard, joyless work that was impossible to avoid. And then he seemed to fall out of reality, going either into deep meditation or fainting. At this point, Olga decided that today's adventures were enough. The rubber "rations" were running out. No more than half a bottle of water remained. She should have got some more napkins to wipe Kryp off and preferably another bottle of this not-cognac to keep her sane. But that was all for tomorrow. More precisely, after the rest.

    She plopped down on the hard floor without taking off her jacket. She covered herself with the lab coat, which had lost the sleeves that had been used to wipe Fidus. She crouched down, wrapping her arms around her knees. Just like the Alien who'd had his head bashed in by the giant. Olga was shaking and freezing, and she kept thinking that a fang-faced face with a mantis-like head was about to come out of somewhere, but she fell asleep surprisingly quickly.

    Her sleep was discontinuous, nervous, and she often woke up. Her back and legs ached. Twisting and turning over, Olga did not notice how she snuggled up to her companion. It became a little cozier. Fidus turned out to be warm and moderately soft, and she could comfortably lay her head on his hand. Olga fidgeted half-asleep, getting comfortable, and quietly dozed off again.
    The inquisitor came to his senses. The girl whimpered softly in her sleep, very thinly and pitifully. She was dreaming of something unkind again. Kryptman stroked her blond head, ran his hand gently over her shoulder like a curled-up kitten. She did indeed seem very small near the almost two-meter tall inquisitor. Fidus pressed her tighter. The companion in misfortune calmed down, biting her finger without waking up. The exhausted inquisitor lay staring up at the low, red-lit ceiling. Stroking a very brave and, it seems, very unhappy blond girl. And he was thinking about something of his own.
    * * *
    And 100% sciense proof reason why computers not so good. Tzeenche approves it.
     
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2021
  14. Threadmarks: Chapter 14
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

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    Chapter 14 of 16
    * * *

    Olga woke up instantly, with no transitions and no period of drowsy semi-drowsiness. It was surprising, considering how exhausted the girl had been in the past few days. She was awakened by a sensation. Something strange, as if a draught had blown across her heated face. Or a feather brushed across her cheek. A feeling on the verge of the tangible, even the slightest bit over the edge. So weightless that it was as if it did not exist. But still, Olga woke up, opened her eyes, groaned softly, seeing the hateful red light behind the thick bars.​

    "Again," the girl whispered. "It's about time for someone to save us... Machine, help me out, you're our only hope."​

    She was thirsty, even more so, she was hungry. Her body howled pitifully from the pain in her joints and demanded at least a mattress, but all this was already a familiar background of hardship, to which Olga had become accustomed. And yet ... Something was wrong. A vague feeling settled on the edge of consciousness, not allowing her mind to dive back into oblivion. Olga tried to concentrate and understand what had awakened her. Nothing, however, was going on around her. The lamps still buzzed faintly, casting a blood-red glow. Pipes hissed behind the concrete walls. Distant machinery hummed, keeping life in this depopulated station. Rather than humming, they sent a humming vibration through ...​

    Stop.​

    Not sent.​

    Exactly - silence. Or ... Olga could not focus and realize what she felt by instinct, inherited from thousands of generations of wild forefathers. The feeling was too deep, hitting right into the subconscious and the most ancient parts of the brain. It was perceived as an unnatural silence as if something had changed in the world. So the ancient monkey did not see the jaguar creeping up but heard the birds around him fall silent. Something natural was missing.​

    Something had changed. Something was happening.​

    Or it could have happened.​

    Her vision refused to focus after her slumber, and everything in front of her eyes blurred. Kryp sniffled noisily beside her, his torso piled up, his back against Olga's palm. He seemed to be asleep, dreaming about something very bad. Or maybe the pain was back and running its claws into the tortured mind even through the heavy sleep. Or both. Trying to move as quietly as possible, Olga released her hand. Her stiff fingers tingled with the renewed flow of blood. The girl blinked, and for a moment it seemed to her that the low ceiling moved. The red light blinked, darkened as if a rheostat had been turned on somewhere.​

    She felt her fingers begin to tremble. A drop of saliva crawled to the corner of her mouth, trickling thinly down her cheek. She wanted to scream in horror and throw a fit of hysteria. Kryp, still awake, twitched and groaned. His sleeping demons only seemed to be getting stronger. Olga stared upward, clenching her teeth and clenching her fists. Everything seemed normal, the illusion was gone, like a mere accidental illusion, a trick of vision.​

    Seconds went by one after another. Olga trembled, frantically hoping that it was just a trick of her tired mind. And then, without any blinking or contemplation from the corners of her eyes, the low gray ceiling went convulsively distorted, like a wave of interference on an old TV screen. A red light flashed. Thin strands of pig-like stubble slid from the rough surface. They did not grow but appeared in the surrounding universe. It was as if they had always been there, just a fraction of a second behind time, or maybe the opposite, ahead by the same fraction. And now they were aligned with the universe, penetrating reality. And the stronger the penetration was, the thicker and thicker the "bristles" grew.​

    "Kryp..." the girl whispered, feeling her lower abdomen twist in a spasm of raw terror. "Kryp. We have to go."​

    Fidus woke up instantly as if he hadn't slept at all. Olga covered his mouth with a narrow, icy palm, not even thinking that he might repeat his earlier reaction with the attempt of murder. However, the medication created a miracle, or maybe she was just lucky. Kryp understood everything instantly. He understood and took her palm firmly with his healthy hand. He squeezed it, silently, as a sign of understanding. Olga didn't understand what Kryp did next, but judging by the characteristic gesture and the quiet hissing, he injected something into her neck, probably another syringe from Machine's medicine kit. Almost immediately a cramp jerked Fidus' head back, and a long, long breath hissed through his clenched jaws. Olga thought she heard the creaking of the wounded man's teeth. Whatever Kryp had charged himself, the thing was strong and worked instantly.​

    The girl packed her bag, trying to act quietly and quickly. At the same time, she was surprised at how quickly and naturally the transition from "all rest" to "run as fast as you can" happened. And it is absolutely unclear - from whom, but faster. Her hands continued to shake, things were haphazardly shoved into the bag. She still wanted to fall on the rough floor and throw a fit of hysteria. Olga bit her lip. And then something touched her hair, piled up in dense felt, touched it with a soft, almost caressing motion. Olga tilted her head and looked up, biting her fist to keep from screaming out loud.​

    The ceiling of the tunnel disappeared for good. In its place - still blinking in an alternation of real and ghostly - came down the familiar mass of leather cords. It looked like blood- and grease-soaked loofah. Or a spider's web. How could it be? Olga had no idea, and there was no time for logical analysis.​

    "Run," she whispered, and no translation was necessary. Judging by the pupils, if Fidus didn't see what his companion saw, he felt the nearness of the otherworldliness anyway.​

    Let's run.​

    Yes, indeed, the injection was strong. Creep's body was still twitching in convulsions, but Fidus could even move his injured limbs in a limited way. Olga tried not to think about what was happening to his already broken arm and leg. Crip, judging by the expression on his haggard face, neither. This time he almost didn't have to be dragged. Fidus crawled quite briskly, stretching and pushing like a long crab. But it was Olga who had to twist the hatch lock again.​

    Falling outward, Fidus fell, hitting the stone floor hard and unable to hold back a long, agonizing moan that lingered at the very edge of a howl. The wounded man turned even paler. Olga grabbed him under her healthy arm and helped him up. Again she was surprised at how tall Kryp was when he wasn't lying down and hooking in pain. Blood trickled down Fidus's chin. He bit his lip and broke his nose. Apparently, Machine's medication thinned the blood, because the red fluid poured profusely, like from a good wound.​

    "We must go, we must go," Olga whispered, trying not to look up. She already knew that the entire dome of the atrium was already overgrown with leather cobwebs.​

    "We must go..."​

    Run.​

    The thought that she could just leave Kryp here was once again a red-hot needle in her mind. It screwed in, threw the sprouts of desire in all directions, opened up with the overwhelming realization that it was so easy. Just unclench the fingers, take a step to the side. And Kryp would die. And she - perhaps - will live. Who needs her, after all? What was coming was probably coming for Kryp, who had shit all over the villains' plans, as the Machine had bluntly written.​

    The leather loofah above trembled, moved like a living thing, and came in a heavy wave. On the stone floor, something either jumped or collapsed. It slammed, more like a loud, hard slap, splashing bright yellow-orange slime on the stone floor. Olga and Kryp froze like statues. What Fidus was thinking only he knew. The girl was left with only one thought, surprisingly senseless and at the same time sensible, given the circumstances. It was a good thing there was not much water and not much food, and so she drank just a sip at a time. Because now is a good time to piss herself, that's the minimum.​

    The creature looked like an enormous hulk, about the size of a minivan, wrapped in several layers of webbing. The sack pulsed incessantly, going through some kind of peristaltic spasms. And in general, it was living an unhealthy, intense life. It was as if several rhythms of life were superimposed on one another at once, rasping the shapeless carcass. Throughout the pus-yellow, red-veined surface, there were scattered in disarray ... limbs. At any rate, it looked more like limbs than anything else. It looked like tentacles, but with a non-tentacular angularity. It was as if the joints in the long limbs were appearing chaotically, without any order or rule of anatomy, only to vanish instantly. There were no eyes or anything even remotely resembling sensory organs or any organs at all in the creature. But at the same time, the most cursory glance produced an unpleasant, disgusting impression of a certain orderliness, an uncanny, otherworldly purposefulness in the actions of the blind and deaf creature. It was a completely irrational feeling that appeared to Olga as complete knowledge along with a clear understanding-whatever the bag of no bones was, it had appeared on her and Kryp's soul.​

    The monster trembled again, shaking in a fit of convulsions. Like a comet, Olga reached a whole new level of fear, realizing that inside the creature were not organs and other stuff, but hands. An incredible multitude of hands is in constant motion inside the gourd. Quite human palms, fingers, whole hands were moving under the thick skin, pushing, groping blindly, trying to scratch their way out. It was as if hundreds, perhaps thousands of souls were trapped in the pus bucket, obsessed with the blind desire to escape. It was the same with the limbs, a hideous parody of the statue at the entrance to the Machine Hall, countless hands packed tightly in slime, and a yellowish-slimy covering.​

    "Demon," whispered Fidus, and Olga understood without translation, so clear and recognizable it sounded. She guesses some of the words hadn't changed in a shitload of centuries.​

    The creature moved and, with unexpected speed, crawled and rolled toward the hatch from which the fugitives had escaped moments before. It was unclear whether the demon was driven by reason, instinct, or something else, but it was something that controlled the convulsive movements of the absorbed arms in the carcass, turning its blind impulses into a quite deliberate movement. Reaching the wall, the gourd stretched out in length, like a scrap of gut sewn up at both ends. It lifted one end to almost human height. Many "hands" gripped the wheel with "fingers" that grew straight out of the covering - quite human palms that moved like suction cups, encased in the same slippery skin. The creature "tensed," went in waves, like a gullet through which a large lump is pushed. A moment and the metal shrieked like a living creature. With a deafening crunch and clang, the thick hatch flew out of the frame along with its hinges. Whatever the creature was, it seemed to have terrifying strength. A moment more, and the "gut" stretched even harder, wriggling and nudging itself, climbed inside.​

    Without talking, Olga and Crip staggered away, as far and as fast as they could. Both would have loved to run as fast as they could, but even the Machine's first aid kit had a limit to what it could do. The medication had taken the edge off the pain, but the fractures and shattered muscles were still there. Fidus was as weak as a baby and just as slow. The creature, meanwhile, squelched and tossed invisibly, muttering like a repeatedly amplified burp.​

    We won't make it, the girl realized clearly when the demon gurgled particularly loudly. A loud slap behind her announced that the beast had fallen back out of the tunnel. The creature was definitely blind, but how did it follow its prey?! Olga clenched her teeth, stubbornly looking beneath her feet, taking Crip's weight on her shoulder. The wounded man was shuffling on unsteady legs, she didn't even want to imagine the pain he was in now, despite the injection.​

    "Curre," Kryp whispered, exhaling heavily. "Salvum fac temetipsum."​

    He tried to push his companion away.​

    "Fuck you," Olga exhaled, pushing him forward and dropping the bag. It was impossible to drag Fidus and the bag at the same time.​

    "Move your hooves, asshole ..."​

    Her heart was beating hard and fast against her ribs, and sweat washed down her face like in a steam bath. All the clothes she was wearing seemed to get soaked through in a minute. The girl looked down, and from the exorbitant effort, she began to glitch. It seemed that with every step, translucent waves of lilac flame scattered from her feet. And the glowing footprints lasted a few moments before fading silently to the cold floor with the half-erased emblems.​

    "Salvum!" Fidus shouted out loud, flailing and pushing her away with his big hand. Or rather, he slapped her hard - that was all he was strong enough to do. Blood poured down his whole lower jaw, making him look like a vampire. His pupils dilated, almost to the iris, like those of a madman. It was beyond biology, but Crip had managed to turn even paler so that he looked like he'd come from the underworld.​

    Olga let go of him and took a few unsteady steps, trying not to look in Kryp's direction. He, on the contrary, did not take his eyes off her. If the girl had looked now, she would have seen a bitter smile, or rather only the pale shadow of a bitter smile touched the bloodied lips of the inquisitor. But Olga did not look, retreating step by step, clasping her hands in a lock with such force that even her fingers seemed to crunch.​

    "Salvum," Fidus repeated for the third time, and the girl finally ran away.​

    The yellow star was just preparing to roll out from behind the edge of the huge panorama. So the atrium drowned in the pre-dawn twilight. The gray shadows seemed to drink all the color from the world around them, and the greasy washcloth above shook with tangled cords of human skin. It was very quiet, with only the squelching and sniffling of the slimy sack, flattened by the relentless movement of thousands of hands, countless souls imprisoned within it. The bloodied inquisitor straightened even more, though the pain in his fractured leg clouded his eyes.​

    "Imperatoris custodit animam meam," whispered Fidus Kryptman, because he had no strength left to scream.​

    The sack moved straight at Fidus, rolling over and slapping his hands haphazardly. Behind the creature was a wide, wet streak, and even the stone seemed to be smoking from the goo. Kryp was scared to death after all, at the last moment, when the webbed sack came close, Fidus closed his eyes. And the atrium exploded with a piercing scream.​
    * * *​
     
  15. Threadmarks: Chapter 15
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

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    Chapter 15
    * * *
    "Cavalry!"

    Kryp closed his eyes even tighter, thinking he was having a near-death hallucination.

    So this is what death looks like... Well, a dignified ending to a not-so-successful life.

    "Cavalry!"

    Nothing happened. No one was killing him. Only the stench spread out in a dense cloud, clogging his swollen nose like hard absorbent cotton. Fidus could feel the huge mass that stood at arm's length. He could hear a gurgling in the rotting womb and a steady slithering noise, as if from the countless fingers that rustled the demonic sack from within.

    Who is screaming so terribly? And where is the clanking coming from?

    "CA-VA=LRY!" Olga yelled, pounding on the iron railing with the blade of her old knife. - I call the cavalry!!!

    The gourd rushed forward, ignoring Creep, simply sweeping him out of the way. For a moment, Olga's mouth gaped open as she stared at the rolling shit that was hurriedly nudging itself with its "arms". The monster moved unbelievably fast for a creature with such mass, and yet devoid of legs. Olga thought that maybe the idea of calling for help was not such a good one. What's more, it was probably the very idea that was going to get her killed.

    The thought had somehow exhausted itself. It's hard to think when you're running away. Olga moved along the railing, toward the viewscreen. She expected to run to the pillar that loomed farther away. Then, after passing a thick faceted pillar, turn sharply and try to hide in the labyrinth of "offices". With each step, it became clearer and clearer that she was fucked. She just wouldn't make it. She hadn't made a correction for her exhaustion and the mountains of trash she had to avoid by looping around. Only now did Olga realize how weakened she had become after days of no food, chronic fatigue, and endless terror. Her legs seemed to barely move, any obstacle-even a small chip under her sneaker-threatened to topple over.

    The girl was no longer running, but rather walking quickly. The gurgling was getting closer. The demon kept its pace with ease, rolling a little faster than Olga's steps. Just enough so that the victim had no hope of breaking away and hiding in the deserted rooms. And then her ears reached the most wonderful sound in the world, the sound of angelic trumpets - the familiar hissing, for which, in fact, the fugitive had started a performance with shrieks.

    "Quickly ... Bitch..." ...the girl squeaked out, stopping.

    She had to bend down and lean her hands on her knees, gulping for air. So, breathing heavily, she saw two thin twigs, like short scythes or wildly long claws, resting on the wrought iron railing. They trembled, taking the weight of an invisible body, so much so that they left visible notches in the metal. The monster swung over the railing in one cohesive motion, ending up exactly in the middle of the line connecting Olga and the sack, five meters each way. Up close, the creature seemed even creepier than it had been in the alchemical warehouse, and in a sort of... solid. And inanimate. Despite its decidedly biological nature, the beast seemed closer to machines than to creatures of flesh and blood (and chitin, for that matter). Too murderous, too mechanically precise.

    Alien.

    The evil sack stopped, wiggling its tentacles. It was silly to speak of any emotion in relation to the pus bundle, but it seemed to Olga that in the bubble's purposeful movements there was... uncertainty. Some kind of malfunction.

    "Hey, kill each other," Olga whispered it at first and then realized that she had spoken the thought aloud. At the same time, she remembered from what movie this "I call the cavalry" came to mind. That is, the movie came to mind, as well as the fact that Taktarov played in it with a machine gun, but the name completely slipped out of my mind.

    And if they don't?

    She took a step back. Then another, fighting the almost irresistible urge to rush to the railing and jump down. To finally get it all fucking over, once and for all.

    With deceptive, almost weightless ease, the "mantis" was joined by the second. It looked like a stamped copy of the first, down to the smallest detail. The wood crunched under its supporting paw, showing that the monster actually weighed a lot.

    God help me.

    Olga took another step back. The monsters didn't seem to be interested in her at all. At least something nice! Yes, and the purulent bubble was finally distracted, shifted its "arms" to the top, and froze, trembling in the dim light. Mucus rolled down the gelatinous, slimy sides like a parody of profuse sweat. Behind the bubble, Olga saw Fidus. The guy lay motionless, like a broken mannequin. Tears came to his eyes. Olga did not know what she felt more sorry for - the poor Kryp or the futile efforts to save him.

    She blinked back a tear and missed the start of the fight. The mantises attacked simultaneously, as coherently as if they were communicating telepathically. They darted in geometrically precise arcs, coming out on the conditional "flanks" of the bubble (if you count its "front," the part facing Olga). And where the onion-headed number three came from, the girl did not understand at all. It seemed to have jumped from behind the broken and piled into a sloppy barricade of chairs, similar to theater benches. Apparently, it was the spider's custom to attack in threes. Everything was silent, with only the scraping of claws on the stone and the scattering of debris. It seemed that the crawling jellyfish was going to die, Olga remembered all too well how three of the same freaks had made giants with stern cannons.

    The sack gathered itself into an almost perfect ball, spread its arms like a devilish parody of a kolobok, and... The first "mantis" flew into the well of the atrium, bringing down a whole section of heavy railing with wrought iron bars. The bag seemed to intercept it in flight. And, turning on the spot, threw it further, using its opponent's inertia and its insane force. The monster squealed in flight, tried to latch on, waving its sickle-shaped claws frantically, but in vain. The fall was high, so the meowing screech sounded for a few more moments, but no one cared anymore.

    The demonic jellyfish took the second opponent on the chest, rolling right under the blow. A broad, swift as a thought, the claw opened the glossy side of the meter-long slit with surprising ease, without resistance. The slit splashed generously with mucus, and the momentum of the movement and the oncoming roll of the sack threw the mantis onto the thick foil. The edges of the "wound" wrapped up, spreading even wider, the wet side of the jellyfish swelling from the inside. The monster stuck to his opponent, the sack wrapped its entire surface around the mantis, grabbed it with thousands of greedy fingers, and began to pull it right into the ripped side, devouring piece by piece. At the same time, the sack stretched out a bundle of tentacles two or three meters at a time, holding the third at a distance.

    As Olga had already noticed, the six-legged freaks made incredibly disgusting noises, but the cry of the mantis being sucked alive sounded surprising... alive. It combined the terror, the pain, the despair of a living, thinking creature. The usual screeching gave way to almost human screams. The third freak flailed back and forth, trying to come to the aid of its fellow creature, clawing at its tentacles with sharp strokes, but the bubble threw more and more out of its gelatinous body at a rapid pace.

    Olga ran, skirting the creatures fighting to the death in an arc, back toward Fidus. Her legs became even tangled, the girl fell, smashed her hands in blood, rose again. And, sobbing with fear and despair, she continued to stubbornly strive forward.

    Don't die, please, just don't die!

    The sack rolled onto one side, crushing the devoured one. So that the wild cries were immediately silenced. It wiggled in place, muttering and squelching, then rolled in the opposite direction, right on top of the last six-legged creature. The claw cut healed, without a trace. The onionhead disappeared, swallowed without a mark. The bowsman, too, disappeared, swallowed without a trace. The sack slid over the sluggishly twitching stumps of its own limbs, picking them up and absorbing them right through the translucent hide. The remaining monster slid back, moving its claws, glancing around with two quick strokes of its broadhead. Either he was dissatisfied with the prospect of a fight, or the creature was assessing the battlefield.
    Fidus was alive and almost conscious. "Almost," because he seemed to be balancing on the edge. His eyes were unfocused, his lips were twitching, dropping flakes of foam, and his jaw was slack.

    "Get up!" Shouted Olga. "Get up now!"

    The sound of her voice seemed to bring some life back into Kryp's empty gaze. Fidus snapped his teeth shut and stared at the girl with an inexpressible mixture of horror and gratitude. And despair, but the girl tried not to think about that.

    "Get up!!!"

    Olga could not see what was going on behind her, but she could hear it. It sounded like the creatures came together one on one and intended to smash the whole floor brick by brick. It rumbled like an excavator, methodically smashing everything within reach of the shovel.

    "He'll kill us!"

    Who "he" was didn't matter much anymore. Whoever won, it was obvious that the fate of the two men would be decided quickly, very quickly. Olga was crying, no longer restraining herself. She pushed and pummeled Kryp, realizing that she could not pull him, much less lift him.

    "Come on, please... Get up... Let's go."

    Fidus wheezed, coughing up blood. Olga ran her hand through his stiff, shoe-brush-like hair, wiped the scarlet streak from his pale, like a dead man's face with her sleeve. She looked down from above.

    "Please," she said very quietly, looking into the young man's bright eyes, full of pain and gloom.

    Please ...

    The noise stopped, which meant that now they would have to deal with a winner. And Fidus answered Olga with a direct, very meaningful look. He took her hand firmly and squeezed it, not at all like before, when his grip was weaker than that of a child. Gritting his teeth, in one breath Crip stood up, and Olga sat down, her jaw dropped. It was too creepy, too unbelievable. They switched places. Now Fidus was looking down at her. There was the distinct mark of death on the man's face, and the fire of fanatical determination blazing in his eyes. In the dying man's hand, the blade glinted icily. When had Fidus managed to pull it from the sheath on Olga's belt? God knows. But he did.

    "Run," Kryp said, and Olga understood him, or maybe she thought she understood him. Perhaps her consciousness, twisted to the limits by the horror of what was happening, had ceased to distinguish between reality and phantom, between the real and the imagined.

    "Run, Olla."

    She looked upon him as a deity, the embodiment of the Emperor, the true King of Glory. And that made Fidus feel very peaceful. He turned toward the enemy, who swung around, waving his spurs, spreading greedy fingers under his pelt in readiness to accept new prey. His broken leg burned with fire, and the young man knew he could stand, but he would not take another step. He had the will, but his body could not take another step, his muscles and torn ligaments could not endure it. However, there was no need to go anywhere.

    "I am Inquisitor Fidus Kryptman!" He shouted frantically, raising his blade, the simple soldier's knife of the Guard. There was something incredibly symbolic, very right, about dying with such a weapon in his hands. As a true warrior, one of an endless army of those who, century after century, had passed on to one another the Duty and the Will of His, the greatest and best of men.

    "I'm not afraid of you," Fidus spat blood at the blind creature, and this time there was only truth and confidence in his words, straight and fierce as the cleansing fire. The young man took the knife with both hands and brought it up, preparing to fall forward, multiplying the weak blow with his weight. One blow, and then he would die. After that, the demon would kill the girl as well, but it would no longer be his fault. And even if Kryptman Jr. did not live as a true inquisitor, even if no one will ever tell about his last moments, but at least he will die exactly as an inquisitor should. Fighting the true, genuine Evil to the last opportunity and beyond, where the will becomes immeasurably stronger than the mortal body.

    "I am the protector. And you are powerless against her while I am alive."

    It sparkled and hit right through the ears and into the skull. A thunderous noise rolled around. Then it hit Kryptman, violently and terrifyingly, shaking every nerve, every last cell. Fidus, slipping into the unconsciousness of a deep fainting spell, realized that it was not the enemy that had struck him, but the pulse of an electric paralyze.

    There was a roar and a rumble overhead. The cacophony was eerie as if a battlefield with a mad sawmill had erupted all around it. There were gunshots, the rumble of nearby explosions, and a sound unbelievably similar to a chainsaw, only about three times bigger and more powerful than a regular one. There was also shouting all around, loud and loud. There was also howling and creaking and God knows what else. Even through the closed eyelids, there were flashes of blindingly bright light, as if an electric welding machine was going off at full speed. It smelled like ozone.

    What is it?! What happened?!

    She was standing, and then everything around her began to explode, lightning was striking, something else was... Olga covered her head with her hands, trying to hide her ears with her elbows at the same time. She wanted, as usual, to crouch down, pulling her knees to her stomach, but she did not have time. She was crushed by something that looked like a hydraulic press, at least as heavy and unrelenting. It seemed as if the invisible thing was about to go through her spine and diaphragm.

    I was stepped on, the girl realized.
    I was stepped on!


    Something particularly loud exploded, so loud that the girl went deaf despite her ears tightly covered with her palms. God, how loud a real gunshot sounds... It was like being hit in the ears with tennis rackets. It really, really hurt. But the rumble of the battle subsided. Judging by the fact that no one was in a hurry to remove his leg from Olga's back, the conditional "good" who came to the rescue won. Well, probably. At least, that's what I wanted to believe. As if accompanying Olga's brief thoughts, the weight disappeared from her back, and at the same time, something painfully hard hit her from the side, knocking her under and tossing her face upward.

    And now they've turned me over, Olga guessed.

    She didn't want to open her eyes, but she risked opening one narrow slit of her squeezed eyes. Right next to Olga's nose there was a Barrel, with a capital B. One might even say Huge Barrel. From this distance, it seemed bottomless and as wide as a railroad tunnel. The round and smooth pipe, with walls two fingers thick, reeked sharply of something burnt and chemical. Behind the barrel began a metal box, and behind it, in turn, a gauntlet of gauntlet-like knight's mitts. The hand seemed human but incredibly large. Farther away, somewhere in the conditional infinity, two green lights burned, like night binoculars from a game. The eyepieces glowed grimly and did not promise anything good. The humanoid figure buzzed and clicked as if a dozen wall clocks were going at a time inside the hull.

    "Oh," Olga said honestly, or rather half-suffocated squeaked, not knowing whether to rejoice in the unexpected rescue or to prepare for death.

    The barrel loomed up, taking up almost the entire world.

    It's a stupid way to end, the girl thought, waiting for life to drown in the blinding flash of a gunshot. She squeezed her eyes shut tightly, the smell of burning chemicals becoming almost unbearable, and then abruptly weakened.

    "Surge," someone from the distance said in a human voice. And the heaviness disappeared.

    Olga sighed softly, expecting the fractured ribs to burst into her lungs, but nothing happened. After a little breathing, she opened her eyes a second time, a little bolder now.

    To her right stood an iron giant, like an axe-wielding giant in two drops of water. He was as cubic, tall, and frightening. In one hand he held with seeming to ease a ghastly-looking cannon, like a machine gun with a disproportionately short barrel. The gun, by all appearances, was shoved into Olga's face. A trickle of whitish smoke was still streaming from a hole in the gun's housing, which looked like a sliding curtain with a handle.

    To her left, a man of normal proportions looked down silently on Olga. Tall, however, barely reaching the middle of the steel giant's chest. Dressed in something flowing, dark, like a raincoat of thick leather. A similar robe was on Kryp, over his cuirass. The man was completely bald and wore a white headband for some reason. Every inch of his face was also covered by an intricate pattern of infinitely intricate tattoos. It seemed to be symbols of some kind, letters of sharp as if chopped, like Viking runes. In the bright light, Olga couldn't see any clearer.
    The man stared, frowning unhappily. Olga looked back with one eye, afraid to open the other and not daring to lift a finger at all. The bald man shook his head with a heavy sigh and showed the girl his open hand. The smooth skin, exactly in the middle of the palm, was mangled by a thick scar. It looked like a drawing, scorched or carved, and not just once. Olga recognized the silhouette of an eagle-like bird that was popular in the area. Obediently, rather than by common sense, she slowly and timidly folded her fingers in a gesture she had spied on Kryp. She rolled her eyes, and, as best she could, she gave a look of extreme piety on her face.

    Well, maybe the experiment was not beneficial, but at least it did not spoil anything. In any case, they didn't seem to think about killing Olga on the spot. The bald man raised an eyebrow, chewed his thin lips, made a gesture as if stroking something invisible. The faint movement was echoed in Olga's head in a flash of a strange sensation. It was as if his fingers had slid right through the crinkles. It didn't hurt, and at the same time, it was extremely uncomfortable. A second eyebrow rose now, and a lively interest peeked through even the runes of the elaborate tattoo.

    "Tolle eam," commanded the man in the armband.

    Olga did not understand how three or four men with grim faces and ominous-looking rifles came to be nearby. Not as brutal, of course, as an armored diver, but also very impressive. The armed men's gear was reminiscent of Kryp's armor. It was the same black, solid, straps with holes in them. They took the girl without further ado, yanked her upright. She was pushed, pointing in the right direction, without much harshness, more of a businesslike, unyielding manner. She now seemed to have a personal entourage and guards.

    Well, at least it wasn't a execution squad.

    "Quia non conveniunt," the steel giant muttered, muffled, with a withering wheeze, as if the speaker were defective.

    He and the tattooed man argued, but without much energy, in a low-key manner. The girl, meanwhile, was led on without any reverence, carefully and at the same time businesslike. Like a thing to be delivered from one point to another without breaking on the way. A team of men hosed down a bubbling puddle of greasy slime. Judging by the smell, the smoke, and the usual gas masks, they were pouring acid or some kind of caustic. She wanted to believe it was the remains of a fart bag. Above their heads floated the already familiar skulls, at least a dozen of them. One had real iron handles attached to the bottom, like a little terminator. The bonehead was diligently scribbling with a fountain pen on a roll of yellow paper. It looked maddeningly comical, though Olga was too exhausted to even smile, let alone laugh.

    Kryp was carried past. The wounded man was placed in something that looked like an open-topped coffin. So the girl even flinched, thinking Fidus was dead. But no, the boy seemed to be quite alive and even blinking. The coffin moved on its own, sliding a meter above the floor without any legs or wheels. However, Olga was beginning to get used to the local wonders of science, so she was not even surprised. The flying stretcher was accompanied by two women in white armor, reminiscent of a smaller version of the armor of an iron lumberjack with a cannon. They, too, frowned grimly and businesslike - apparently, walking on serious cheeks like after a week of constipation was a must in this millennium. Olga wanted to smile at Kryp through the force after all. But at that moment the girl was pushed in the back so that she almost lost her balance. And then the plane's coffin disappeared behind the backs of the attendants. The girl sighed and walked on. They didn't seem to be in any hurry to thank her for saving Fidus.

    Olga's legs were shaky and she waddled as fast as she could. They stopped pushing her, evidently realizing that her ward could not walk any faster. One of the brutal escorts silently slapped her on the shoulder with a gun, attracting attention. When the girl flinched, turning around, he also, without uttering a word held out his free hand something like a small bar of pressed sugar. The girl nodded appreciatively and immediately took it in, snapping her teeth like a six-legged creature in a fight. From the taste, it was more like glucose, but either way the bar was sweet and must have been terribly nutritious. Only now did the girl realize how hungry she was. The guards looked at each other, and Olga noticed some semblance of emotion on their faces - a restrained amusement and a touch of compassion, no other than from her miserable appearance

    She wonder what a shower looks like in the far bright future?

    Some men and women of a quite human appearance were passing by, though they wore strange clothes, almost all black, or at least in dark colors. Most carried weapons, and many wore patches and badges with incomprehensible symbols. However, the familiar upright stick with a crossbar and the inscribed skull was often repeated. Station XVI seemed to come alive again, filled with movement and human voices. Life was returning to the crypt.

    Olga thought that no matter how it turned out, things had not turned out in the worst way. Yes, still nothing is clear, everything is strange and even disturbing. However, at least there were people around, not evil freaks. And they're not trying to kill her anymore. Everything will be fine from now on.

    It certainly will.

    Because it can't get any worse than before.

    She smiled, breathed in the air, still filled with the smell of acrid weapon chemicals. It made her feel... lighter, or something. After all, this was all her doing. She went to the machine. She called for help. Where else would an army come from? She survived the unimaginable. And she saved Kryp. She - Olga - managed to do and experience more amazing things in a couple of days than she had in fifteen years of her previous life.

    Yes. The adventure is over.

    Or maybe it was just beginning ... Who knows?
    * * *​
     
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2021
  16. Threadmarks: Chapter 16
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

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    Chapter 16

    * * *


    From: Temporary Operations Center "Sigma", Cruiser "Wrath of the Righteous", Order of the Sleepless

    Inquisitor Kalkroit Schmettau

    To: Ballistic Station XVI

    Inquirer Essen Pale

    Network Or.He., temporary communication line MMVCMXCIX

    encryption: cLXIlwNn5, variable code: #3#&#?

    Network of the Order of the Sleepless

    encryption: FaKOknNhP, variable code: activated

    To the glory of the Emperor who guards and protects! In His Name, before whom we bow and serve.

    I am glad that very soon I will be able to see you with my own eyes. And our communication will continue without the tedium of all means of communication. In anticipation of this, I would like to share with you some thoughts on matters that cannot be delayed even for a few hours.

    Dear friend, I have read your preliminary report with great attention. I must say that I read this voluminous work as an inquisitor of Ordo Hereticus, devoid of anger and partiality. But also as a picky mentor whose heart is close to all your accomplishments and failures. I am proud to say that both of these roles have been more than satisfied. The work you have done is truly profane. After some refinement and polishing, the report can be presented (and undoubtedly will be) directly to the Magister, to put an end to Operation Imma, which - unfortunately! - so ignominiously ended.

    However, we should discuss some of the nuances of the very "refinement" I mentioned above. I will allow myself to give you a few tips that (maybe!) will seem to you to be of some use in giving the investigation its finality and perfection. Let's call it like this.

    First of all, I must say that I wholeheartedly share the characterization you have given of Inquisitor Kriptman's actions. Moreover, I will say without a shadow of a doubt that here, in the course of the command meeting, the leadership of Kryptman, Jr. was criticized with much, much more vigor and the use of much more energetic epithets. Particular displeasure was expressed by our good friends in the Order, who place the loss of two chosen warriors directly on said persona. Though it must be said that F.K. has contributed to his belittling by repeating tales of amazing new xenos at a time when the warriors of the Order of the Sleepless have clearly fallen victim to mutants. Well, when the Emperor intends to punish a man, he deprives him of his mind.

    However ... We should not forget that sad as it is, the word "Kryptman" is still often heard in the corridors, which we shall modestly call "High" and stop at that. Even if it is firmly associated with the prefix "senior," but a name is a name. The late Inquisitor, who overthrew the Maharitan Heresy, still has friends and associates who are sometimes overly committed to the spirit of corporatism.

    I will therefore take the trouble to recommend to you, let us say diplomatically, to smooth out somewhat the overly acute angles in characterizing the actions of F.K. I assure you that his grandiose failure has not gone unnoticed by the superior Institution and will not remain without the most vigorous consequences. However, we should not give our detractors even a reason to think about biased conclusions. Moreover, it makes sense to maintain an account in, shall we say, a somewhat more benevolent tone, adding some quite objective motives to justify the failures of the F. K. Such as the need to act under conditions of categorical lack of time and resources against a truly dangerous enemy, who was already defeating the significantly more experienced His servants. Emphasize this, carefully but quite definitely, without the possibility of double interpretation.

    Be assured, Kryptman, Jr. will be forever denied the benevolent attention of the Instance. However, if you follow my humble advice faithfully, you will acquire a reputation as a humble, benevolent man, able to rise above personal accounts and family conflicts of a subjective nature. And I think you will agree with me - to turn the defeat of a non-friend (for we will by no means call an enemy a comrade-in-arms in our hard work for the good of the Empire even in thought, much less in the written word) into a stepping stone to your elevation is not just a victory, but a victory won twice.

    Second ... Here I must pause and gather my thoughts, because the mishap with the person called "Olga" turned out to be quite complicated, despite the seeming obviousness and ease of its possible resolution.

    On the one hand, I fully agree with you that the natural and only possible retribution for her can only be a cleansing flame. For active assistance to the inquisitor can in no way be considered a mitigating circumstance. After all, the honor and meaning of every person's life are to serve the Father of Mankind faithfully, including by helping His authorized servants in every way. And just as it is natural for us to breathe, to sleep, to pray and believe, to have the courage of a soldier in the face of the enemy, to carry out orders flawlessly, it is just as natural to preserve the life of the wounded inquisitor. Accordingly, the fulfillment of this duty is but an infinitely lighter fluff on the scales. On the other side, however, rests the heavy burden of sinfulness, beginning not even with the possession of the fleck, of which "Olga" confessed without delay or overtures. No, I will draw attention to the fact that her descent into the abyss of sin began at birth, in a world deprived of the Emperor's divine light, His covenants, and the Faith.

    Thus, again, I absolutely and completely agree - "Olga" is to be indicted and purged.

    But here, too, I must - for the second time in a row, to my deep regret! - to add that embarrassing, cutting word "however".

    Yes, however, there are additional circumstances to consider. The fact is that not too long ago I had a behind-the-scenes conversation with a representative of Adeptus Mechanicus, who have a keen interest in the investigation (which is understandable, given their protectorate over "B.S. XVI"). The Technocrats generally take a restrained and commendably unbiased stance, but with certain reservations. It has been brought to my attention by a representative that the Gearsmen (and I - may the Emperor protect me! - use the word without a trace of neglect or derision) have found themselves in an ambiguous position, and the agent who caused this condition is none other than "Olga.

    Logis assured me that the AM's intervention in our (yours, my friend! now only yours) investigation would continue to be extremely limited. Despite the fact that the main enemy once belonged to their community. And the Gearsmen do not intend to ask for leniency in "Olga's" fate. Among other things, because they share what our enemies call "excessive radicalism," which I prefer to think of as liberality and mercy on the edge of criminal neglect. Yes, that is what we are, servants of the Inquisition. We must mitigate hard-heartedness even where it seems impossible to do without it.

    But the problem is that the logs impartially testify: the cogitator of the Station communicated with "Olga". And not just "communicated" through a reverent performance of the necessary rituals, but directly favored and guided the gal. It is known that a particle of Omnissia lives in every machine, and the Station's cogitator, as the Logis assured me (in a rather uncompromising manner), if not the standard of the divine presence, is very close to it.

    So if we look at the situation from a certain point of view, the burning of the gal may cause some misunderstanding and even friction between our Communities. For, of course, it is possible, with due observance of the rituals, to turn a heretical gal into ashes, but then a rather confusing dilemma arises. If the cogitator is sinless, do we not punish the innocent? And if the maiden is guilty, won't the communication with her tarnish the reputation of the cogitator, and consequently the AMs themselves?

    It is no exaggeration to say that the predicament caused us to rack our brains, including literally, for my interlocutor's skull gleamed with polished steel and exquisite engravings, and required regular oiling with cooling oils. The situation hovered precariously between two poles, where on one side was just retribution for sinfulness and a direct challenge to the principles of the Mechanics. And on the other was the visit of a cohort of Skitarians, ready to take the girl away for her numerous investigations and to slaughter anyone who might bear witness to the direct interaction between the uninitiated, unrefined by decades of docility "meat" and the sacred cogitator.

    But there is no difficulty that His faithful servants could not have resolved, so long as they intend to reach an agreement for the benefit of all. First, we take note that the burning of "Olga," though proper, would be untimely. Thus, AM's reputation would not be damaged. We have also acknowledged that the very idea of Kryptman, according to which the maiden should not only be forgiven and left alive but also encouraged, is ridiculous. In this way, the honor of our Ordo will be preserved.

    As an amusing remark, I will tell you that Fidus insisted and persisted, wishing to send "Olga" to the Schola, so there in toil and discipline she might learn the craft of the Acolyte of the Inquisition. Let this observation amuse you by diversifying the businesslike and, perhaps, overly strict contents of my message.

    But back to the point.

    What should we do in order to combine objective benefits?

    We decided that the most correct thing to do under the circumstances would be to appeal to the Ecclesiarchy. That she, in her untiring concern for the spiritual perfection of the Empire, should take upon herself the burdens of Olga's fate. The maiden should be commended for her services and then allowed to purify herself by continuing her service, but already in an entirely different sphere, far removed from the affairs of either the Inquisition or Mechanicus. I submit to you how to soften the final version of the report so that "Olga" is not a heretic, but only a victim of ignorance who can atone for her unwilling sin in the service of the Adeptus Purificatum of the Imperial Church. Which service, based on impartial statistics, will soon lead her to death, rather than finally, one might even say - naturally - resolving the mishap for everyone's benefit.

    The other questions, while responsible and important, are quite tolerable for some time. I intend to discuss them with you personally.

    Your friend and mentor K.S.

    With the hope of an early and long-awaited meeting.

    May the Father of Mankind protect and guide you!

    End of transmission.

    Network Or.He., timeline MMVCMXCIX closed, memory block defragmented

    encryption: cLXIlwNn5, 2^3^&^|| key change executed

    Network of the Order of the Sleepless

    encryption: FaKOknNhP, variable code: use blocked

    * * *​
     
  17. Threadmarks: Epilogue
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

    Joined:
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    So, before an epilogue, there is a serious question.
    For an author writing it's not the main business. If you want a good story about WH40k write it yourself. That's what he said. And I as a reader want to squeeze so much text from him as it's possible.
    So I start this thing with translation just to convince him that his scribble has potential. I'm so bad. *evil laugher*
    Is this story has the potential to make money?


    Epilogue
    * * *​
    No one remembered why the squad was called the "Communist Sanitary Squad". Arguing about the name, as well as trying to find some kind of prototype, was a traditional discipline of the newcomers. No, why "Sanitary" - it is clear, the "cleaners" were doing that too. But where did the main work, that is, the actual purification go? And who were the "communists"? It was prescribed to consider them unconditionally a good thing, as well as the red banner of the detachment, but without any reference. Even in the Lives of St. Clarence, the official patron of the Squad, there was no answer, not even a hint of a clue. Nevertheless, the Squad has maintained an unbroken tradition for more than five hundred years, bearing the burden of dignified and responsible service.​

    A tracked armored vehicle was hurtling down the street, spitting steel links out of the sidewalk. A siren wailed, though there was no need to do so no one would think of doing anything to obstruct the Squad. On the contrary, everyone, whether on foot or on wheels, was in a hurry to get out of the way of the car under the red flag of the SCC. The old engine sipped on promethium and murmured with the smooth monotony that is characteristic of tried, venerable machines with a well-honed Spirit inside. Normally the crew tried to leave in a lineup of at least five transporters of varying caliber and purpose, plus a BaneWolf in case things got really bad. But shit hit the fan again, and a reserve crew with punished and rookies, a total of ten men plus a senior mentor, was thrown into action. Big Bertha couldn't be counted as either a rookie or an offender, but there were no other mentors at the base, so she took command of the rabble. Now it was up to her to figure out how to get things done without getting killed by the whole squad.​

    Inside the vehicle was shaking and rattling. Bertha was making a mental note of what the companions were doing and guess what kind of trouble to expect. Everyone was busy. The "Holy Man" was kneeling in the corner, as usual, praying under a handwritten poster that said, "Fuck the Evil!!" The poster was pretty shabby, even though it was a sheet of sturdy, flexible plastic. No wonder, considering that the proclamation had already changed three armored cars.​

    The "Priest", on the contrary, was not praying. He was busily checking the chemical sprayer, covered with parchment scrolls, like the annual letter to the Golden Throne of good behavior, with Ecclesiarchy stamps. The staff priest believed in general that prayer should be offered only after a good deed was completed, not before.​

    "Crybaby" sobbed, fingering his dirty, oily face with his chubby palms. It happened to him regularly. The staff flamethrower was afraid of dying in sin, and even more of fire and acid. The "Sinner" indulged in his favorite pastime of embroidering another symbol on his red reflective vest despite the shaking. Bertha didn't share the belief that if you put nine hundred and ninety-nine sacred prayer lines on your gear, then the evil forces wouldn't notice your soul and there was a chance of getting into the three percent of survivors of docility. As a three-time novice already, Bertha could responsibly report that the honorable service of Purification was killing everyone without discerning the labels. On the other hand, the hobby of embroidery was harmless and godly and reliably occupied the mind, which was a good thing from all sides.​

    The Savlar's nose turned up absentmindedly, revealing to the world the unhealed ulcer he'd got from his distant mines. The ex-convict, of course, had never been anywhere near the famous moons, but he told everyone that he had crawled out of the deepest dungeon. Everyone pretended to believe him. The "Savlar" was clearly trying to impress the new girl, but, frankly, not very well. She withdrew into herself, as usual, staring blankly through space, as if she were seeing something beyond the grasp of mere mortals. Well, or moved to the point of losing touch with reality.​

    The lass was a headache for the tutors, and no one could say exactly why. Yes, a savage from some barbarian world had a poor command of normal speech. At first, she couldn't even pray like a human and understood nothing of everyday life. The whole squad laughed good-naturedly, telling each other how the blonde tried for the first time to put on a hazmat suit and gas mask. And "Olla" - so the girl was listed in the accompanying documents - was a sullen loner, who and with no one was not a friend and not even a couple of words without an absolute need. On the other hand, what Olla did not know, she learned quickly. She prayed regularly, and being unsociable was not a vice. The "Sinner", for example, never spoke to anyone at all, communicating only in gestures. He deemed it unworthy to desecrate the universe in which the Emperor resided by the sound of insignificant speech. As for equipment, the squadron learned how to properly handle government property quickly, usually no longer than a day.​

    The armored truck jerked particularly hard so that the "Smoker" coughed and choked on the smoke of his vile pipe. Аnd the "Wretched Man" smacked his head first on the bracket and then, in the opposite direction, on the acid cylinder. Through the armor again came the shrill howl of the siren, with which "Driver" was clearing an already free path. Bertha sighed, gripping the handrail tighter. She turned her thoughts back to the new girl.​

    Yeah, she didn't give her much cause for concern. The squad had seen far more colorful adepts. But still... There was something about her that wasn't right. Something alien and strange. Not threatening, strange. As if she'd descended from the highest floors of some steeple in a rich Hive, but her mind was still in her old life. This case should be Olla's first real, "combat" experience, and the mentor was very concerned about the acid reagent handler. More precisely, the girl's aloofness, her uncomplicated indifference to what was going on around her.​
    The red light above the side sliding panel that replaced the usual transporter hatch lit up. That meant no more than a couple of minutes left.​

    The mentor was distracted for a moment, and when she looked at her ward again, she found her staring at Bertha in turn, and quite consciously.​

    "Deceived," said Olla unexpectedly, with a strong accent, but quite understandable.​

    The car was wildly noisy, the soundproofing had become in disrepair long ago, but communication was through the radio and laryngophones, so everyone could hear the new girl.​

    "What?" asked Berta, reflexively, almost like an ordinary person, not a Mentor.​

    "He fooled me," the girl repeated, dull and expressionless, wrapping herself in the sizeless jumpsuit like a warm cloak. The rubberized fabric creaked and creased with difficulty. "Savlar" laughed vilely, snorting and dropping slime with a hole instead of his nose. He stopped, catching Bertha's very grim look.​

    "It happens," the Priest said as smoothly and evenly as he did, crossing himself with an aquila. "Everyone is deceived by someone. Only the Emperor is perfect, was and will be, blessing the galaxy with himself and through himself."​

    Olla looked at the priest with a wild look and then went back into herself as if to turn her pupils inward. But she clutched tightly to her gas mask bag. Bertha sighed, feeling the hot air filtered through her respirator. Some nuance seemed to have cleared up. Apparently, the girl really was a city girl, recruited "on trust." It was rare, but it happened, too. She is guessing the girl won't be in the squad for long.​

    The "Priest" stood up, grasping securely the handrail that ran the full length of the compartment under the low ceiling. He yelled loudly:​

    "Come on, brothers, let's fuck the evil's ass!"​

    "Fuck the Evil!!!" A chorus of ten gulps came back in more or less unison. Only Olla seemed to remain silent. Oh, and "Crybaby", who was clutching the sprayer with both hands, so that the tears were already rolling down his face in generous streams. It got cold in the car, despite the midday heat and the running engine. Her mentor saw the frost gather in the corners in a whitish film, and shuddered to think what lay ahead of them. If the manifestation is so clear and strong, then the real trouble lies ahead. And BaneWolf, with his blessed acid cannon, the last argument for the worst-case scenario, is gone...​

    "Put on respirators!" commanded Bertha. "A closed cycle!​

    A red light blinked, the transporter slowed down, jerked, turning around on the spot and backing up.​

    Let's work.

    Olla got tangled up in the gas mask gear again, and the "Wretched Man" unexpectedly helped her untangle the corrugated hose, properly buckled the strap, grabbing the absorbent cylinder in the right pocket so it wouldn't fall out. The girl hesitated, pulling on the gas mask, but managed it. Behind the round glasses, her gaze finally lost its mad notes, became empty and unexpressive.​

    Bertha sighed heavily again, trying to make it look imperceptible in her respirator. She thought that the blonde was finished, and soon. And whoever had recruited her into the Purification was a total asshole. The common man had no place among the novices of Adepto Purificatum, where hell was no farther than the exhaust of a chemical flamethrower, or even the mere thought of evil.​

    Then the armored vehicle shuddered, swayed on its worn shock absorbers, and finally froze. The sliding panel slid aside, and there was no more time for idle reflection.​

    * * *​

    Fidus did not like the family mansion. Hidden deep in the rock, the apartment complex was technically more of a fortified bunker. But it reproduced the ambience of an old mansion. It was gloomy, empty, and lonely to live here. Even the servants did not brighten up life, because many generations of Kryptmans were traditionally served by servitors.​

    Fidus wandered through the dark enfilade of rooms, sadly and methodically drinking wine from the deep cellar. The wine was good, but it intoxicated him slow. It only made his melancholy worse, and his thoughts were too much. More than the young inquisitor, the worthless son of a great father, would have liked.​

    You deceived her.​

    "No."​

    Fidus suddenly realized that he had said it aloud. He shouted, rather, trying to drown out the quiet but piercing whisper from the void.​

    You deceived her.

    "No," whispered Fidus. "There was nothing I could do."​

    But you didn't even try, the voice didn't stop​

    Kryptman waved his hand as if trying to ward off a ghost. He dropped the bottle, which clattered on the thick carpet. It gurgled softly - the wine spilled in a thin stream, soaking into the fabric at once. The shadows seemed to thicken even more - some of the solar panels that powered the lights directly had failed after the recent storm. He should have sent a repair crew outside, but Fidus forgot.​

    Kryptman sat down in the first chair he could find, wrapped his arms around his aching head. Repeated a third time, threw into the middle of nowhere in despair:​

    "No..."​

    Yes, came back from the darkness.​
    Yes. You betrayed a person who wasn't afraid to go through hell to save you. Sacrificed her so as not to draw more attention to yourself.

    The straw-haired girl appeared to Fidus's inner eye as clearly as if the inquisitor were looking at a pict. She was short, thin, and had very beautiful eyes of a rare shade - transparent blue, like the sky at dawn. Beautiful and very expressive.​

    "Yes, I betrayed her... " Fidus whispered as if confessing to himself in the semi-darkened crypt of the family bunker could fix or change anything.​

    He wanted to get drunk, to forget, not to listen. But even in the hop, the inquisitor could not hide from the unspoken call of conscience. The synthetic air-conditioned air smelled of good wine, a little more of dust. And a heavy sadness.​

    Kryptman sat silently for a long time, burying his fingers in a loose lock of hair. The pain returned with renewed vigor, despite medical assurances that the body had been restored to its former condition, including complete regeneration of the nerves. The red-hot needles methodically tormented the entire left side of his body, from his ankle to his neck. His fingers trembled in an uncontrollable tremor.​

    Fidus threw back his head and blinked, feeling everything in his field of vision blur.​

    "Yes, I betrayed her," he repeated. "Yes, it's true..."​

    He sat like that for a long time, dropping his hands limply, blinking frequently. The younger man's lips were moving rapidly and finely as if Fidus were engaged in a silent and furious dialogue with someone unseen. Then Kryptman slapped himself painfully across the face as if wiping away a painful stinging insect.​

    She had kissed him then, on their last meeting, short and crumpled. Olga stood on tiptoe and pecked Kryptman's cheek. He was silent because he didn't know - what to talk about. Neither did she - the girl was very bad at gothic. But in her eyes Fidus read naive, trusting gratitude, and hope, and absolute trust. Faith in the man for whom she had risked so much, body and soul. In the one who had come between her and the demon, like a true hero who denied fear.​

    Into someone who already knew there was nothing, he could do to help her. Doesn't want to help her, so as not to put his already miserable, unsuccessful career in jeopardy again.​

    Will you help me? - she asked, ridiculously twisting accents and separating syllables​
    You won't leave me?

    And he replied:​
    Yes. I'll help.​

    And he was silent, his jaw clenched shut, making unimaginable efforts not to reveal himself, to hide the storm in his soul. He seemed to have frightened the girl with his stone face without a trace of emotion. At any rate, Olla left with her head bowed, often turning around with a pitiful, pleading look. Grim and voiceless adepts escorted the girl, who was marching straight to her indefinite service in Adepto Purificatum.​

    The place from which they don't come back.​

    You could've saved her.

    "Yes, I could," Fidus whispered hopelessly, answering himself. "At the cost of rank and regalia."​

    Having ceased to be Inquisitor Kryptman. Breaking the long chain of the Emperor's servants that has been forged over the centuries, piece by piece, life by life.

    "God, forgive me, help me," cried Fidus, feeling the remnants of the groggy feeling leave his consciousness. In vain, no one came to help and soothe the inquisitor's sick conscience.​
    Kryptman got up and unsteadily walked to the library. He was shaking as if in post-operative fever, so the road took a long time. The library greeted the young master as the rest of the house did with silence and half-darkness. Fidus gestured to the servitor, who had rolled up, and followed the machine with the brain of the former man down the aisle between the cupboards. The servitor needed no light, destructive to old folios. The mechanical servant was guided by an infrared searchlight​

    Kryptman, too, could have walked through the book warehouse with his eyes closed. He had spent so many years here as a child. But he preferred to turn on the cozy lamp above the reading table. It remained to find what he was looking for.​

    Here is a row with selected recollections of the great figures of Ordo Hereticus. Here are practical guides to the methods of interrogation and investigation, the most shabby, read-out of all the books. An introduction to the art of unraveling criminal mysteries for the young inquisitor... Copies of some of the Kryptmans' reports, published "in folio," for parade performances. Annual handbooks and glossaries on sects, cults, heretical communities, and xeno-races. All wrong, all wrong.​

    Yeah, here.​

    A separate cabinet stood apart and seemed like a novelty compared to the carved wood that reigned in the temple of old literature. It looked as if it had been hastily made, with diligence, but without any experience in carpentry. It was solid, sturdy, and a little crooked. A dozen wide shelves were filled with journals of all kinds and quality, from sumptuous notebooks covered in real leather to a few notebooks sewn into a single booklet with an awl and thick thread.​

    Fidus froze, looking at the last shelf, about three-quarters full. And the last diary, most sumptuously published, by special order. Not from the skins of the most devoted adepts, as it were, but also very dignified and rich. The red-and-black volume seemed to complete and crown a long line of memorable entries.​

    Kriptman picked up the journal with a trembling hand and carried it to the reading table, which looked more like a lectern. Fidus sank into the hard chair and froze again, as if hesitant to read Kryptman Sr.'s notes. Time itself seemed to stand still in anticipation, the minutes dying, barely born, one by one. Finally, with a barely audible rustle, the book opened.​

    'I began to keep a diary long ago, more out of tradition than a practical necessity, and also to satisfy my vanity. I thought that the hour would come when Inquisitor Kryptman would be gone, but that the record of his life would remain for centuries, preserving the memory of me in a different way than the archives of the Ordo Hereticus, which conceal everything and let nothing out. This is certainly a sin, but I think it is a forgivable one. There did not seem to be much left to record, for I say openly before men and God and my conscience that I have always faced the threat, no matter how severe my fate was.​

    However, things turned out differently ...​

    I have lived long, much, much longer than I had expected in my wildest dreams. My life ends in honor, respect, recognition of colleagues and comrades-in-arms. And every step of this way is marked in the chronicle that began with one skinny notebook and now occupies more than one cabinet of my vast library. Today I am looking at a vast collection of volumes that strictly and impartially record the ups and downs, the successes and failures. But I confess that I feel ... only sadness. For I shall soon be leaving this world which has been blessed by the grace of the Emperor, a world in the keeping of which I have also been a part, of which I am proud, without concealing it. But it is not death that frightens me and makes me timid. It is not death that frightens me, but the certain knowledge that I have lost the main battle. And the knowledge of this cries out from the pages of my memories, my unbiased diary.​

    Yes, I am going away defeated. But in the sadness lies a comforting germ, the name of which is hope. Hope that the hour will come when my research will be remembered, extracted, and used to know the Great Enemy. Perhaps the most terrible of all, which mankind has met and will meet in the victorious march through the galaxy.​

    The last volume of my chronicle is not a diary, not a painstaking daily record of events. It is a cumulative story, an extract of my quest, of the struggle I have waged for decades and - alas - alone, feeling the skeptical smiles behind my back and hearing the benevolent sneers of disbelieving colleagues.​

    If you are reading this, it means that my hope was not in vain. The crumbs of knowledge that I picked up like bread crumbs in a forest full of mysteries and dangers, the sinister facts that I painstakingly collected and categorized - all will be useful to you, no matter who you are, who opened this book.​

    If you are my colleagues of the Inquisition, remember me with a kind word and thank me for my unrequited, ungrateful labor, which brought me only sarcastic mockery during my lifetime. I do not consider myself worthy to sit beside the Emperor in death. My soul will fade into nothingness so that your commemoration will not reach me. But it is not the dead who need a good word, it is the living who need it, and so you will not do good for me, but for yourself.​

    If my son is browsing through these pages, I will refrain from admonishing and commenting, for all that needs to be said has already been said.​

    Turn the page and find out that many years ago, during an operation on the Sta... '​

    From here on, the entry was cut off, the tail of the "a" dropping down, thinning, instead of curving into a hook. This letter was the last letter Fidus Kryptman the Elder wrote. And the last thing he ever did.​

    The son turned the page, revealing a large black-and-white full-page drawing that was enclosed separately. He stared at it for a long time, then took another picture out of his pocket, put it next to him, and stood staring at it again.​

    The images were completely different. One drawing was done in the confident style of a good artist - every inquisitor necessarily took a course in academic painting, because the equipment was not always at hand. Often one had to rely only on one's memory and a steady hand. Fine paper, expensive charcoal, smooth and accurate lines.​

    The other was scribbled with the cheapest stylus on a similarly crummy sheet of old notebook paper that had come out of recycling and was doomed to perish in the same place. A hand that, at best, scribbled a man with circles and straight lines.​

    And yet, the two completely different images, separated by nearly a decade and a half, quite clearly depicted the same creature.​

    A large, disproportionately bulbous head. The round eyes were rolled out, and the mouth was gnarled with small triangular teeth. Senior Kryptman's drawing conveyed in great detail the expression of absolute, boundless anger on the muzzle, which could well be called the face. Junior had seen both mutants and xenos, and was used to perceiving and not being surprised by their strangeness. But still, the sight of the creature made him shiver, and a trickle of icy sweat ran down his spine. He wanted to look around to see if the shadow of death with the head of a toothy mantis was creeping up behind him.​

    Fidus leaned back on the hard chair, polished by the backs of dozens of generations of Kryptmans. And whispered again a phrase that Olga had heard once before, but did not understand.​

    "Father, were you really right?"​
    * * *​
    That's it. There is a second book and I can talk with the author about translation too. If there is interest.​
     
  18. Threadmarks: The Squad Prologue
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

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    The Squad by Igor Nikolaev
    Prologue
    * * *
    "Why have you come, Kryptman Junior? My Order is not welcome to you."

    Even seated, the giant seemed two heads taller than Fidus, who was standing. The shapeless cloak-like garment, with its many pleated folds, slid down to the floor, widening like the base of a spire. The cloak seemed to show a deliberate peacefulness on the part of its wearer. To reach the power spear, which rested on a stand of plain wood without polish or varnish, one would have had to tear through the fabric, wriggle out of his clothes. But Fidus wasn't fooled; if anything happened, no obstacle would stop the spear's master.

    Kryptman averted his eyes; it was too hard to bear the unblinking gaze of his interlocutor. The dark dots of his pupils stared fixedly, immovable, like laser sights. The blue irises were a remarkably clear shade, without a single speck or string of blood vessels, multiplying the impression of inanimate optics. Nevertheless, the space marine's eyes were real, alive. They had simply seen a lot in their owner's long life. Perhaps too much.

    "I have enough time ... Inquisitor..." the giant paused for a barely perceptible moment, a graceful stroke of disregard for his guest's status. "I can afford to spend it lavishly, without being stingy. The question is whether you're in a hurry."

    The captain of the thirteenth squadron finally took his eyes off the inquisitor and looked out the window. An ordinary wide window with an angular frame. A perfect copy of the original from times immemorial, when Terra was not yet the center of the universe, the wellspring of the true faith and the luminous Astronomicon. The porthole of the captain's prayer room now faced the shaded side, so there was half-darkness behind the armored glass. But soon the cruiser would change course, and the fierce light of the yellow star would flood the octagonal chamber.
    The smoke from the incense lamps flowed low as if clinging to the wooden floor. On it was the symbol of a two-pointed arrow, inscribed in a circle, with a steady hand. A barely perceptible circulation of air pulled gray streams along the walls, stripped of ornamentation and decoration. Only pristine metal, steel with frequent rivets, just like a thousand years ago, the hour the cruiser came off the shipyard slipways. The metal, though, was almost hidden beneath the scrolls that covered the ten-foot walls in several layers, like fresh shavings. Precious parchment, cheap paper, scraps of leather from devoted adepts, even wooden planks. With seals of consecrated sealing wax, simply glued, in some places nailed through metal like soft wax. Different material, different words, but the handwriting is the same, machine-accurate. Not prayers, more like notes. The memory of the ages.

    "My Order is not pleased with you," the giant repeated. "Neither am I. But now that you're here, it would be impolite to chase away... the Inquisitor."

    There was that pause again, barely noticeable, almost imperceptible. Clear and direct clarification of what the speaker was thinking about Fidus. The big man's voice sounded smooth and deep, with an intangible warmth. It was the humming of an engine, all its parts fingering together and working in perfect harmony, under the meticulous supervision of a well-tempered spirit. Fidus was not deceived, the warmth was not for him. The great warrior was simply at peace with himself and saw no reason to be annoyed by an insignificant visit from an insignificant man.
    "I see that your soul is in turmoil and your thoughts are confused. We could pray together," the captain suddenly suggested. "Then you'll tell me what your concern is. But I'll tell you right away...:

    The giant shook his head, the snow-white strands of hair trembling in time with the movement. Usually, warriors of the Order shaved their heads to make it easier to maintain and repair interface connectors, and to treat head wounds. But Sage was the exception, perhaps because he rarely participated in combat. Now the Order claimed his other talents.
    "You definitely came with a request, but given the preceding events, this is a drum whose pounding will not reach my ears."

    "I don't understand..." Now the inquisitor shook his head. He wanted to put his hands in his pockets, cross his arms over his chest, or otherwise build a psychological defense. Fidus was in no danger here, and yet he felt awkward and uncomfortable.

    "Well, let me be clear," the captain's voice had lost much of its good-naturedness, and now it reeked of the coldness of a cryogenic chamber. "Inquisitor Kryptman, you did not kill two of my brethren, but you are responsible for their absence. You can justify yourself all you want, but your words are like a distant drum in the night. It sounds, but its thumping doesn't touch my heart. I think that analogy makes sense to you?"

    Fidus clenched his teeth and bowed his head low, trying to hide the blush of anger. It was more of an instinctive reaction, though. He can't fool the giant's supernatural senses anyway.
    "Sleepless men can think what they like," Kryptman lifted his chin and looked straight into the captain's blue eyes. "I don't take the blame! I didn't call them to break the embargo!"
    "That's a fact," the space marines agreed sadly. "But your report number four, written in panic ink on a sheet of horror, encouraged them to do so. However, your mistake could be understood. Not forgive, but understand ..."

    The giant sighed with an unpretentious sadness that, for his size and chest width, looked like a gust of warm air from a small blast furnace.

    "We could if you admitted your guilt and repented. Instead of persisting in tales of some terrifying xenos that no one has ever seen and that guard in the darkness like wolves against lambs. The bona fide delusion of the seasoned inquisitor is an original quirk. But when performed by a young boy, it is no longer a stylish folly, but annoying foolishness."

    Fidus was silent because there was nothing to say. More precisely, there was a lot to say, but it was all useless. Kryptman had already realized clearly that they did not believe him, just as they did not believe his father, and it was useless to persist. At least, to persist openly and directly.

    "I need help," he finally said. "I've really come to ask... for advice."

    "Advice?" The giant seemed genuinely surprised. "From me? What could a lone servant of the Order of the Sleepless say to you?"

    "I need your wisdom," Fidus said firmly. "The knowledge of a man who has lived for centuries, and though he was born for war, he has made a name for himself in another field."

    The captain smiled coldly, with a faint note of superiority.

    "I am not a human being, young inquisitor. I am both more and less than mortal. But in a way, you're right, I have seen many things... Well, let your drum sound in the darkness."
    Fidus inhaled and exhaled as if to oxygenate his blood before throwing himself into the abyss, toward the invisible beasts.

    "I need to save a woman."

    The captain's thin eyebrows raised by themselves, his eyes gleaming in the distant glow of the star. "Wrath of the Righteous" was completing a U-turn maneuver, the line separating light and darkness sliding across the hull as it approached the prayer hall. Suddenly the bloodless lips of the thirteenth squadron commander stretched into a miserly smile.

    "That girl? The young creature that has been transported through the millennia? Are you talking about her?"

    "Yes," it sounded like an exhale of relief, and Fidus was glad that there was no need to go into a long explanation. However, the captain's next question was expected and heavy.

    "Why?"

    Kryptman thought for a while.

    Why? Why indeed?

    "I owe it to her," Fidus said through gritted teeth.

    The Inquisitor repeated these words many times, imagined the conversation with the sage, and seemed to have achieved perfection. But now the usual smoothness of speech was gone, melted under the gaze of the Emperor's angel.

    "She saved me despite the horrors that surrounded her. She saved me without even knowing who I was. Simply because she was compassionate."

    Each word was literally forced through his throat, clawing at the sharp edges, scratching at the very soul.

    "I owe it to her. And I want to help."

    "You had an opportunity to simply prevent such an outcome. But you didn't use it at the time," the captain reminded him impassively. He remained motionless, only the bright eyes gleaming in his stone face and the cape barely visible rising on his chest.

    "Yes, it's true."

    A wave of searing shame came again, burning Kryptman's soul.

    "I had an opportunity, but I didn't use it. I chickened out."

    The main thing was said, and Fidus exhaled, feeling a little better, just a little.

    "I want to get her out of the Purification Service," he said firmly as if cutting the safety strings. "I want to save her from death."

    "In Adepto Purificatum, people survive."

    "Three percent. That's common knowledge. One and nine-tenths percent. That's for real."

    "But how can I help you?" surprised the captain. "You're still an Inquisitor, that's your business. I am infinitely far from the Purification. Though, if one accepts that any act for the glory and good of the Imperium are uniting, then we are all, of course, brothers in service."

    "I tried, but I did not succeed. My group was disbanded, and the adepts were transferred to other inquisitors. The Council strongly advised me to refrain indefinitely from any investigative action. I'm almost under house arrest. I have contacted our archivists and lawyers, and they have found no way to resolve the matter officially and legally. Until the term of obedience expires, it is impossible to get a person out of Adepto Purificatum."

    "You forgot the case of the Great Deed," the captain reminded.

    "No, I haven't. She is a weak girl, she will not survive even docility. What to speak of Deed..."

    "The weak girl was strong enough to drag a certain inquisitor through the air ducts," the space marine grinned. "Don't look so surprised, Fidus, two of our men died there. Of course, the Order meticulously studied and double-checked all the materials of the investigation. And at the same time, Olga, not even knowing Gothic, managed to get through quite a bit of the Ballistic Station, running away from mutants, servitors, and heretics.

    "Mu..."

    "Mutants," the captain repeated with polite firmness. "Yes, we took note of your version and checked it, too. No, you're wrong, the Order, the Inquisitors, and the Gearmen have gone over the station one by one and found no trace of the Xenos described. Mutants, yes, as in any facility that is sufficiently inhabited and large. However, no more than that. Take that to heart and don't indulge in any more fantasies. At least not here."

    Bright light slipped into the prayer room with its first rays, like a swordsman testing his enemy's defenses with a test lunge. There were no filters on the windows, and Kryptman automatically squinted his eyes, wondering how a space marine could tolerate the brightest light.

    "However, I agree, she will not survive docility. And you decided that I could replace your army of archivists?"

    "You're not just the Emperor's chosen warrior. You are a ma..." Fidus hesitated a spark of restrained amusement flickering in the titan's eyes for a moment. "Astartes, who has devoted his life to knowledge, diplomacy, languages. The art of negotiation, of achieving goals without war. You have spoken and succeeded with men, heretics, xenos, and God knows what else. You have communicated as equals with the Ecclesiarchy, the arbiters, my colleagues, all administrations. And I thought ..."

    Fidus took a breath, took a deep breath.

    "Maybe you can advise me on something no one else knows. Find loophole in-laws and precedents that no one else has taken advantage of."

    The giant rose with unexpected ease. His cloak fluttered like wings, pulled itself up to his waist, and formed wide sleeves. Apparently, the material was unusual, with shape memory. The captain walked to the window past Fidus, looked at the star without even squinting, though the inquisitor already had to cover his eyes with his palm. Kryptman saw only a dark silhouette against the blindingly bright background.

    "I'm afraid I can't help you here."

    Or you don't want to?

    "I don't want to," the captain said as if he hadn't noticed the inquisitor's insolence. "Your weakness is your burden. But if I wanted to..."

    The blinds clicked, lowering one step at a time, blocking out the bright light with an intricate system of slats. Now only the soft light of the lamps illuminated the room.

    "Some laws and rules can be circumvented, others arbitrarily interpreted. Sometimes it is possible to collide norms, taking advantage of the differences. But in this case, all these avenues are closed. When one becomes a novice in the Adepto Purificatum, there are three ways one can leave the Service."

    The space marine raised his fist and enumerated, flexing his fingers:

    "Purified after six years of docility. Forgiven, having done the Deed. Or dead. There are no other ways."

    Fidus looked at the broad palm with three fingers, each more the size of a small projectile. The inquisitor realized that the nails used to fasten the captain's notes to the walls were not nailed with a hammer.

    "That can't be," Fidus blinked, struggling to keep from sighing. He had hoped to the end that the old sage, equally adept at war and peace, would be able to help. The captain smiled, very sparingly, in a way that made the inquisitor wonder if he was dreaming in the shadows.

    "I've seen a lot..." the space marine said slowly, measuredly. He stood beside Kryptman, and the man could physically feel the incredible energy sleeping peacefully in the spacemarine's modified body.

    "I saw burning planets whose deaths shone in the darkness of space as funeral pyres. The dark light of warp illuminated the galaxy from nothing and nowhere. The storming of orbital fortresses and the deaths of innumerable armies as billions of tragedies united in a single torrent of suffering that drove astropaths mad. Manifestations of entities are so astounding that the mind cannot even perceive them, much less understand them. All these moments of life dissolved into the river of time disappeared."

    "The giant touched his index finger to his temple under the white strand of hair."

    "And yet they remained in my memory. Memory and knowledge have made me, as you put it..." Astartes hummed, "A diplomat. Sometimes you have to live many lives and see millions of deaths to realize a simple thing. Every problem has a solution. But sometimes that solution requires looking at the problem from a very special angle."

    "I don't understand."

    "I can't help you get the girl out of the Purification Service by unprohibited means, it's impossible. However, if you decompose your task into its constituent elements and look at them more closely, more broadly, shall we say, then... who knows? There's a lot to think about."

    "So my drum was loud enough after all?" Kryptman grinned, unhappily, with the corners of his mouth down. Hope struggled in the inquisitor's soul with apprehension.

    "It's hard to surprise me. I thought you would ask for yourself, so I agreed to the meeting, and the Master allowed you to come aboard the "Wrath of the Righteous". I wondered how willing his father's son would be to humiliate himself and diminish the worthy name of the Kryptmans. But I was wrong, and it is interesting. Almost unusual. It is my personal experience that when a man sets foot on the road of cowardice, he follows it to the end. Perhaps you are an exception. Perhaps..."

    So there is a solution? - Kryptman repeated the question, holding his breath.

    "Yes. But you won't like it. And you'll probably die performing it."

    Fidus licked his lips, nervously smoothed his sideburns, ran his fingers over his sunken cheeks, lowered his hands, and clenched his fingers into fists until his knuckles cracked. And he uttered one short phrase:
    "What should I do?"
    * * *

    https://litmarket.ru/books/epidotryad

    ЭпидОтряд

    Автор: Игорь Николаев , Алиса Климова
    Цикл: Криптман #2
    Продолжение истории Ольги и Фидуса Криптмана младшего.
    Вархаммер, злодейские происки, ужасающие тайны, инквизиторы и один попаданец, который предпочел бы никуда не попадать, особенно в темный мир безысходного будущего.
    И как обычно - всегда рад донатам и прочему воспомоществованию, поскольку творчество идет сугубо в свободные промежутки между отчаянной борьбой за существование.​
     
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2021
    shiver, GFFerrari, ward201 and 9 others like this.
  19. Threadmarks: The Squad Chapter 1
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

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    Part 1
    The unit of technical support

    Chapter 1

    "Take it."​

    Olga pulled the edge of her scarf up to her nose. Despite the long-legged jacket lined with some kind of fur, the cold wind seemed to bite into her bones. It was no wonder since Olga had always been skinny, and meager rations did not help her build up a layer of fat. It seems that in this shitty universe, human life costs a small fortune, and everyone eats only prison rations. In fact, no matter where and with what she was fed here, the food invariably evoked strong associations with prison rations. And the food was always given in iron bowls with inventory numbers of two or three dozen digits.​

    "Sign here."​

    "Know it."​

    Olga pulled the ears of her knitted hat lower. Her almost shaved head was constantly freezing. Sluggish, wistful thoughts barely stirred, like the snapping fish in a frozen aquarium. The 'host,' a huge aunt, looked sternly at the skinny girl. Olga stared at the aunt in silence, wondering who it could be and why she was signing off on some kind of statement for the newcomer. And where, in general, fate had thrown her. The prison ship did not bother to enlighten the prisoner about her future fate and ignored her timid questions.​

    The landscape around was bleak, industrial, strangely similar to the usual steppe in winter. There was a lot of sand, a lot of ice, a lot of concrete, and blind boxes of buildings scattered without any order. Or at least seeming order. Chimneys that exuded black and white smoke into the dark sky. Power lines, or something strongly resembling them. Metal trusses and bundles of wires, sagging heavily. If you try a bit harder, you can convince yourself that this is the real Russian steppe. You just don't have to think that most of the buildings don't have a single window, that the lattice trusses are twice as high as usual, and that instead of cars, you see monstrous constructions that look like steam tractors with trailers. And you don't have to look at the flying skull with three bird's feet hovering over the transmitting side's head.​

    "Well, that's it," the acolyte said grimly, without any enthusiasm, measuring Olga with a critical eye. As if checking to be sure she was worthy of escaping his custody.​

    The girl shivered silently, feeling the pain in her shoulder and ribs on her right side again. Her acquaintance with the asshole in the gray robe had begun with him beating her for not reading the prayers hard enough. Olga would have loved to spit in his porridge or hit him on the head with a pipe cutter, but she had already realized that the attitude toward religion here was... specific attitude here. Accuse her of heresy, and things would end badly. She had to swallow the humiliation and learn the prayers.​

    "Take it," the man in the robe grimaced, and the skull scribbled on a sheet of paper with a feather, apparently recording the act of transfer.​

    The acolyte's angry face clearly said: "now she's your responsibility".​

    "I accept," the aunt muttered, handing the acolyte a folder of signed documents without any reverence. The folder was very old. The golden eagle on the top cover was almost worn off, losing its solidity and turning into a smudged spot. The robed goat handed the file to the skull, which picked up the burden with its third iron claw and sagged down considerably, trying to keep the weight down. The motor in the yellow-and-white head buzzed like an angry bumblebee. The red lenses blinked rapidly, clicking the hidden mechanisms.​

    "The Emperor will Protect," the jerk folded his arms across his chest, crossed his thumbs, and stared into the gray sky with lean piety.​

    "Truly it will Protect!" The aunt repeated his gesture, but with much more sincerity.​

    "Protect..." whispered Olga, following the general example. Fortunately this time she was not confused and said the correct word in the local language, not confused with Russian.​
    There was no Emperor in the sky. A thing flew by with a low rumble, leaving behind it a distinctly anti-environmental streak of coal-black exhaust. A large star flashed with a cold light, hovering motionless just above our heads. Probably a satellite or some kind of orbital structure.​

    After performing the obligatory ritual, the man, without saying goodbye and without dignifying his companions with an extra word, went back to the flying machine, which looked like a fantastic airplane that despised aerodynamics. At any rate, Olga never understood how one could fly with such short, thick wings. Judging by the rumble and clatter that this bucket of spare parts made in flight, it did not understand either, and moved solely by the grace of God.​

    Olga sighed heavily, adjusted the tarpaulin strap on her shoulder. Along with her clothes, the girl had been given a duffel bag, a hundred liters' worth, before boarding. But the novice's luggage was languishing at the bottom of the bag, not weighing her down. It's a bleak future, she thought. This was not a tale of the triumph of progress, but a tale of the great construction site of communism. At any rate, the clothes issued by the captenarmus on the ship with the bars, the evil guards, and the constant prayers could immediately and without re-stitching be used​
    in any movie about the horrors of GULAG and forced labor.​

    "Olla," the aunt said unfriendly, looking at the girl with the same sour expression on her face as the man.​

    "Olga," she corrected mechanically and cringed, realizing that she had said too much again.​

    "The accompanying documents say 'Olla,'" the woman said sternly. "So it's Olla. Order above all."​

    The aunt was more like a retired bodybuilder. She was powerful, cubic, brutally strong, even at a short look. And she was dressed much better than Olga, in some kind of quilted overalls with a hood. Where anatomically there was supposed to be a waist, a tarpaulin belt with many pockets for tools encircled the powerful belly. On her left shoulder was a phosphorescent blazon with some kind of symbol, like the letters 'S,' 'C,' and something else.​

    The plane howled and rattled as if a bucket of nuts had been thrown into its spinning womb. And took off, though it seemed impossible. Olga glanced at the short-winged menace, suppressed an automatic desire to cross her eyes in relief. Instead, just in case, she performed an aquila, almost dropping the bag from her shoulder. She looked at the bodybuilder, waiting for instructions.​

    "Let's go," said the aunt, unfriendly.​

    Olga followed her thick-gloved hand. The sardelle-shaped fingers pointed to a tractor that stood literally in the middle of the frozen-sandy steppe. The machine was smoking and shining its only headlight.​

    "As you command," Olga sighed, adjusting her bag again.​

    From the concrete landing pad to the tractor, It didn't seem far away. But it was a long way on foot, and in oversized boots that hung off her legs like chains. Inside the truck was cramped, uncomfortable, and reeked fiercely of chemicals and gasoline, which was called 'promethium' here. But at least the engine filled the cabin with invigorating warmth, so much so that the girl even took off her hat. She took off her mittens and rubbed her cold palms together. There was not a crumb of nail polish left on her cropped fingernails, her skin cracked and burr-faced.​

    Oh hands, my poor hands...

    "You will call me Bertha," said the aunt, performing complicated manipulations with three levers and five handwheels. "Mentor Bertha."​

    The vehicle creaked terribly and started moving. Judging by the way the miracle truck shook, the word 'shock absorption' was completely forgotten in the distant bright future. Any bump under the high wheels transmitted a painful jolt directly to the ass of the passenger.​

    "Yes, Mentor..."​

    "Behind my back, our assholes call me Big Bertha or BiBe. Behind my back, because I could kick their teeth in."​

    "I got it, Mentor. I will not follow their shameful example."​

    Bertha looked suspiciously at Olga, but the girl was warming up conscientiously. She had the bliss of a kitten on a warm stove on her face.​

    "Five hundred and sixty-seventh maintenance squadron. You'll get the bracelet later. Remember. Five, six, seven."​

    "Yes, I did."​

    "You're a junior novice. You'll be in my vehicle, a canister loader. We'll see about that. It's a simple job, responsible. But first, three days of training. You'll master the equipment."​

    "As you command," Olga agreed. "I will. I will master it."​

    Bertha looked at the novice again. The woman's eyes were unexpectedly beautiful, with very clear whites, almost no blood vessels, and contrastingly bright irises. The elven eyes on an orcish face.​

    "Do you have any idea where you're going?" Bertha, the orchid girl, suddenly asked.​

    "No," Olga admitted honestly. "I was sent here from the prison ship."​

    "Prison?" She didn't understand. "Don't say it out loud."​

    She snorted with contemptuous indignation.​

    "What are you talking about, you little fool? Calling monks the jailers.​

    The girl rubbed her fingers, which did not warm up and seemed wooden.​

    "Sorry, Mentor. I don't understand the rules yet, but I try very, very hard! For the Emperor's light to warm... uh... illuminate my soul! Ja... the monks said I must atone for my sins," Olga paused and dared to add quietly. "But I had no sins."​

    "So you're not a volunteer?" Bertha seemed very surprised.​

    "No."​

    "And not from in a penal brigade?"​

    "No. I didn't do anything," Olga breathed on her fingers to warm them further. A slight vapor dispersed through the rattling cabin.​

    "They're completely screwed," Bertha said indignantly, spinning a big wheel wrapped in leather cord. "Soon they'll be sending children to us," she paused, then added angrily, more to herself than to her companion. "I'll tell everything to the commandant, and we'll write a complaint together. We'll have a look at your case."​

    Olga got warm, curled up in a ball inside her jacket, and pulled her mittens back on. She wanted to cover her eyes and doze off. The tractor rolled briskly forward, bouncing on bumps, occasionally the headlights of oncoming cars slid over the cab. On the left side was something that looked like a forest of gas flares, very high, almost a mile high. On the right was an embankment, just like a railroad track, with gravel and semaphores. Though the truck rumbled relentlessly, the engine rumbled more quietly than an ordinary internal combustion engine. An outlandish helicopter flew over the tractor, gliding too fast for Olga to see the details.​

    "Ork shit," Bertha cursed, not sure why or for what reason.​

    "Where are we going?" the novice dared to ask.​

    "Five hundred and sixty-seventh maintenance squadron," the woman explained slowly, almost syllable by syllable, as if for a feeble-minded. "Radial-12"​

    "Will they feed me there?" Olga squeaked softly.​

    "Are you hungry?" Bertha muttered.​

    "Ugu."​

    "You will." with unexpected good-naturedness informed the aunt. "There are forty thousand ways to die in the Epidemic Squad, but they don't starve you."​

    "Is it supposed to be like that?" she asked cautiously, pointing to the blinking pictogram on the dashboard. The tractor's control panel was austere and minimalist, and the red gear symbol stood out especially ominously.​

    "No," the bodybuilder wiggled her mighty shoulder irritably. - The spirit of the machine isn't happy. When we get there, the "pinion" will please and placate him.​
    Bertha waved her right hand as if she were trying to imitate half an aquila and muttered something incomprehensible. Apparently, the mysterious "pinion" was not to the mentor's liking. Well, thought the girl, just everything seemed normal - and here you are. You mustn't forget, they're all crazy here, all of them. You say the wrong word, and hello.​

    Time passed sluggishly, there was no clock in the cabin, and the constant twilight settled overboard. It seemed to Olga that the jolting journey lasted twenty minutes, but it might as well have taken a couple of hours.​

    "We're almost there," Bertha said, spinning the wide wheel dashingly.​

    Olga pulled herself up higher, fidgeting in her chair, whose upholstery had deteriorated to the point of being a symbol, the idea of steel-framed upholstery. Ahead of her loomed an enormous structure, strikingly different from the standard and faceless boxes. The structure resembled a hangar in the form of half of a barrel cut lengthwise. Above the 'barrel' rose several lattice towers, united into one complex by large bundles of wires and cables. Bundles of parabolic and lattice antennas stuck out to all sides of the world, some rotating at different speeds. All the construction was flanked by red lights to warn against collisions with aircraft. Given the height of the structure, the precaution seemed appropriate.​

    Around the hangar ran a complex system of concrete lanes, not roads, but rather 'tracks,' overpasses. When the tractor got out on one of them and tapped its wheels on the old slabs, Olga noticed numerous dents in the concrete surface. Heavy tracked machinery had clearly been driven here. Through the thin walls of the cabin a long, mechanical howl could be heard. A dreadful siren sounded. The howl rattled her teeth and made her want to crawl into a very deep hole. The siren sounded again, and then there was silence. After the siren wailed, the usual background noise seemed distant and unimportant.​

    "We made it," Bertha said with satisfaction. "But we must hurry. Hold on."​

    Olga couldn't hear her very well. The alarm was still ringing in her head and ears. So when the tractor rushed forward like a spurred one, galloping over the joints of the slabs, the girl almost bit her tongue. She was shaking and reeling like a frog in a ball, to the point of bitterness in her throat.​

    "We're here."​

    Olga fell out of the cabin, not thinking straight and trying her best not to vomit. With a lot of effort, she stayed on her feet, almost unsteadily. Her empty stomach knotted in devious knots, bile felt like it was gurgling somewhere under her tongue.​

    "I brought it," Bertha reported dryly to someone. Or not reported, but informed, just dry and unfriendly.​

    "The novice is weak these days," said a thick bass blurred shadow, a couple of heads shorter than the mentor, but just as broad in the shoulders.​

    Olga swallowed, straightened up, leaning her shoulder against the heated side of the machine. The tractor stopped almost at the very gates of the hangar. Each flap was twenty meters high, if not more. Something inside was humming and whistling like a huge steam locomotive. A couple of dozen people, maybe a little more, were bustling around the structure. They all gave the impression of hard workers, extremely busy with a very important job. Something that looked like a forklift with its 'claws' up high was rolling by. A 'servitor,' like a soldier at a parade, walked by, carrying in a large basket of welded metal strips all sorts of small things - gasoline canisters, scraps of wires, and so on. The locals had a passion for grave creepiness. Even the robots were disguised as zombies.​

    "Cover your ears," advised the shadow.​

    While Olga wondered what that meant, the siren howled again. Now, closer to the source and without the barrier of the cabin, the sound was physical, pounding her ears and her whole body like an acoustic hammer.​

    "Yes, the novice is weak these days," the shadow repeated.​

    After blinking, Olga realized that it was actually a medium-sized, very broad-shouldered man with a bald, shaved head. The cold did not seem to bother the man. Instead of the usual jackets and overalls, he was dressed in some kind of cassock, and with sleeveless chainmail stretched directly over it. The rings gleamed in the spotlight and looked plastic. Instead of a belt, the man had a chain on which hung a skull and a thick book with metal clasps.​

    "Things are strange with her," Berta said briefly. "We'll have to sort it out."​

    "We'll figure it out," the monk-like interlocutor replied. "Nothing happens without the Emperor's will, and every action is guided by the path He has marked out for everyone."​

    "The Emperor will protect," said Bertha piously, folding her arms in a familiar gesture.​

    Olga took a frantic gulp, struggling to overcome the attack of nausea. She also tried to imitate an 'aquila,' but given her condition, it turned out more like a parody of a dying swan.​

    "We're leaving now."​

    The monk looked down at Olga, sparkling with unexpectedly benevolent eyes, almost invisible between the thick flaps of his tortoise eyelids.​

    "Welcome aboard, child."​

    "A... Board..." the girl exhaled incomprehensibly as the whistling and noise increased.​

    And then she went numb when the hangar resident finally began to crawl out of the shelter.​

    "Mobile squadron number five hundred and sixty-seven of the Twelfth Battalion, Second Road Maintenance and Repair Regiment. Self-propelled purification center 'Radial-12'."​

    "God, I understood nothing," Olga whispered, staring with dilated eyes at the monstrous armored train crawling out of the hangar.​

    The huge mechanical snake was made up of wagons ten meters high or so. By eye, Olga estimated that it was no less than five human height. The carriages alternated in pairs - first came the 'cube', which looked like something residential, two-level at least. It had sparse windows and the usual doors with down ramps. Then a deaf tin without a single window, but with wide panels, which, served the purpose of cargo gates and ramps. There were five or six pairs of them. Closing the long track was a gun platform with packs of rockets set vertically. The head carriage, or the 'steam locomotive,' glowed angrily through a narrow window opening in the deckhouse, blew steam through valves at the very rails, and buzzed.​

    Olga took a breath, wiped her sweaty face with her sleeve. A long telescopic flagpole stretched upward from the locomotive cab. On it unfurled a broad red banner, painted with white symbols, which the girl could not make out because of the darkness. Music began to play, some sort of march dominated by brass and timpani. The rhythmic howl reverberated far into the cold air, and the stars, real and manmade, winked deadly above her head. What was happening was eerily reminiscent of a rehearsal for the filming of a Civil War movie - an armored train was leaving, a red banner was flying, a march was playing, but not a soul on the platform.​

    "Is a revolutionary commissar with a revolver expected?" she asked.​

    Stupid, stupid, stupid! Haven't you had enough?! Hold your tongue!

    "What? What commissar? - Bertha was genuinely surprised. "We are not in the Guard, we do not have a commissar. I'll shoot you myself if I have to. Get aboard!"​

    "But... How?" Olga looked helplessly at the moving behemoth.​

    "On the move! Follow me, do as I do!"​

    "To the glory of Him and our good patron Saint Clarence!" proclaimed the monk. "You're with us now, valiant sister of the Communist Sanitary Squad," and he added, in a lower, businesslike,​
    and quick tone. "Hurry up, child, or you'll be left behind, and that will be treated as desertion."​
    * * *​
     
    shiver, GFFerrari, Winged One and 7 others like this.
  20. Threadmarks: The Squad Chapter 2
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

    Joined:
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    Chapter 2
    * * *​
    Most of the surface of Mars had long been hidden beneath an artificial cover, where the factory complexes, launch pads, electromagnetic launch catapults, power transmission lines, and pipelines were linked in an endlessly complex network. Strings of communications ran away from the multistage terminals, and the tracks of the three superheavy trains rolled relentlessly along with them. Only a few sections of the ancient surface seemed abandoned, wild. Cliffs covered with reddish sand, cut by weak winds, as they were before the advent of man. One of these reserves, reminiscent of the pristine Martian nature, remained the Tharsis Bulge.

    The enormous table rose from the stony desert into the low, yellow-clouded sky. On closer examination, the single structure appeared to be assembled from a multitude of supports connected in seeming randomness, replete with asymmetrical transitions and fractal geometry. The cyclopean structure pierced the atmosphere, connecting the planet to the orbital network. It was also an antenna, part of the planet's defense system, and performed about fifty other basic functions, most of which were either undefined on Gothic or kept secret for reasons of utmost secrecy.

    Here some specific rituals of Omnissia service were performed. Here holy hermits dissolved in contemplation of the beautiful, ideal embodiment of pure mathematics. The great philosophers 1100010110 0000011101 0000101110 1111010001 1000001111 0100001011 0110110100 0010110101 1101000010 1111011101 0000101110 0011010000 10110101 comprehended through intense reflection the hidden facets of His Universal Majesty and discovered new aspects of pleasing machine spirits. Here were held certain mysteries, events, and encounters which were to remain hidden from any outside view. Or on the contrary, revealed to the city and the world, as is the case today.

    The elevator platform was due to descend in less than an hour.

    The Manipuls of the Twelfth Legion of Tharsis stood like statues for the fourth twenty-four hours since the "Throne Forge" arrived at the outer docks of the Tsiolkovsky Olympic Tower. The red cloaks of the skitarians hung heavy as if cast from metal. So that they could not be moved even by the endless wind, which drove clouds of fine dust along the grandiose pillars.

    The Fabricator-General of Mars was returning home.

    The occasional spectators who appeared in the outer square looked at the frozen warriors without much interest. Only children and young acolytes occasionally approached the statues to examine their galvanic armor and the original nuances of their equipment from a respectful and safe distance. However, even if children, like their peers from worlds disfavored by Omnissia, began to climb onto the 'statues' heads, the statues would remain motionless. Only a direct order from the lord of Mars or the Fabricator-locum could move the iron fighters. According to tradition, the full legion had to escort the Fabricator-General's transport in full foot formation to the Temple of All Knowledge, and only then go to recharge, check, and feed.

    "Not according to tradition," corrected himself (or rather eliminated the defect of evaluation) the bulky mechanicus, observing the static picture of the respectful vigil of the wanderers on a rather primitive video panel of general use.

    "By standard protocol," he corrected his initial assessment. The corners of the metal body under the robe formed a bizarre configuration, showing how far the mechanicus had gone on the road blessed by Omnissia to abandon the original, imperfect human form.

    "Are you suggesting to reconsider it?" The second interlocutor, who looked more like a centaur with a bundle of technodendrites instead of the lower half of his body, was interested.

    "The Ql12/I43 protocol has interdependencies with one hundred and fourteen Tharsis Twelfth Legion support protocols. There are also direct connections of the first level of attachments to the systems of twenty-eight support units of Olympus. Making changes and adjustments to the linked algorithms without compromising the effectiveness of the Forge will require eighteen thousand four hundred and forty-six man-hours of adepts and standards control operators."

    The angular mechanicus paused for a full three milliseconds and then demonstrated that he was still capable of what people call a 'sense of humor:

    "Therefore, I will submit this concept for consideration when I find one guilty enough to punish him with so worthless a job, every second of which offends the Omnissiah in the absence of further justification for doing it."

    The room where the two men had their binary conversation was a sort of combination of a service room and a cell. Here they often found peace and tranquility in prayer, aware of themselves as part of a God-like mechanism, a cog in the cog which is the beginning and the end of all movement, of all progress.

    "Our partners from Terra consider the process quite solemn and majestic. Having conformity with the algorithms of the Imperial Cult," the "centaur" did not argue, but rather provided objective information.

    "Our partners still believe that each time the Fabricator General descends to the surface of Mars on a special platform eighty-three hours and eleven minutes after completing his solemn visit to Terra. Thereby repeating the return of the Martian envoy ten thousand years ago."

    Before the word 'partners' the cubic-angular mechanicus gave out a long and meaningless series of zeros. This could be interpreted in various ways, from mild irony to a clear indication of the place and role of the said servants of the Emperor. An indication understandable only to a pure mind, sanctified by proximity to machine perfection.

    Both servants remembered, without deeming it necessary to mark it 'aloud,' by any form of communication, that in those early days both contracting parties wanted to sign the treaty. And at the same time to get away from unnecessary memories of the previous era, when the Explorers collected forgotten Terran technology, burning out all the Terran barbarians they encountered in the same Arizona desert. So Mars was represented at the negotiations by a man, though born on the red planet, weakly augmented, almost indistinguishable from the average Terran. The gravity of the Mother of all planets of the Imperium undermined the envoy's health, so returning home required specific manipulation. And laid down traditions that outlived their creators for centuries.

    "He's here."

    Again it was not a question, more exchange of mutual acknowledgment.

    Adeptus Mechanicus, in a scarlet robe without insignia, entered the room, clattering on the steel floor with the metal shoes' soles. In the mirror-polished surface, the visitor's reflection slid like a large blot of blood. The newcomer was tall, but that's not what attracted attention. For his position, which gave him access to this room, he seemed surprisingly human. Almost as human as an ordinary mechanicus of the lowest rungs of initiation.

    The unbuttoned breathing filter hung loosely from one strap, revealing a lean face completely devoid of functional augmentations. Only the very correct, symmetrical features would seem unusual, and that only to an extremely attentive observer. Four segmented, insulated outer cables ran down his back, disappearing into the folds of his cloak at the waist, encircled by a wide brass technobelt. And... that it. The guest might well have been mistaken for an Astartes who had decided to devote himself to the mysteries of Omnissia, to sustain the spirits of the chapters' machines. Assuming, of course, that the Emperor's angels could be so short and thin. However, the dozens of well-coordinated 'Crusaders' accompanying the Martian immediately dispelled misconceptions about his status and true nature.

    "Fabricator General," the angular mechanic bowed as much as his design allowed. He greeted the highest person aloud, as he was accustomed to doing by a long-standing habit, unregulated, but also numbering four digits of years.

    "Lexico Arcanus of the Parliament, Doturov," the newcomer replied without expression.

    The Lord of Mars was in a position to communicate regularly with those who were not blessed with access to encryptors or even the simplest technolingua. And his very position implied honed diplomatic skills, the ability to condescend to any level of communication.

    The "Centaur", Mars Fabricator-locum, did not change position by even a hundredth of a millimeter. It showed no visible reaction. Everyone present already knew that he considered the use of infinitely primitive human speech a voluntary act of regression. There was no point in emphasizing it once again. After waiting ten milliseconds to convey his protest and rejection exhaustively, he pulled out a tentacle that looked like a thin cable in a ringed braid and pulled back the hood on his robe, which might more properly be called a technical protective covering rather than a garment. The cylindrical antennas of interference generators protruded from what in humans would be called the base of the skull. They protected against any unauthorized access to the local noosphere of the Fabricator-General.

    To the uninitiated, it might have seemed amusing that the fabricator-locum thought the speech reprehensible, but informed the completion of the procedure in the same anachronistic way, raising the manipulator with his finger outstretched. A strange parody of the very old and so human "okay" gesture...

    "Geller's fields are stable," Doturov reported with the hexacode. "I'm ready."

    "We're listening."

    It was not a dialogue, it was not an amalgamation of consciousness. In general, any definition given in the categories of any advanced human language could reflect only an infinitesimal part of a process, driven not by logic, but by mathematics.

    Information. Evaluative categories. Variants of development. Complex multivariate sequences of events. Solution pathways. Acceptable impact categories and acceptable outcomes in a complex interaction.

    Dozens of Terra intelligence agencies have sought to penetrate the heart of Mars. At least imagine who and how the fundamental decisions are made. To see not what is on display, but the real underside. None of them could have imagined that these efforts were in vain. The strategic planning of the Great Forge did not involve any organ, assembly, or at least a regulation understandable to man. Technically, Mars' top leadership did not "plan" at all, as did the Lords, the Munistorum, or any other Imperium structure. The flow of information revealed by Doturov filled the unified triple consciousness into a single system. The noosphere, Mars' greatest achievement in information exchange (of course, irretrievably lost during the Great Schism) allowed not just the awareness and verification of vast amounts of data, it prevented even the shadow of the possibility of alteration, reduction, or distortion of the data.

    Six point eighteen hundredths of a second later, the rulers of Mars knew everything that had been collected by the head of the logis of the Martian parliament. A volume of information that would have taken the administrators of the Ecclesiarchy decades to review for the first time alone. The process of processing the data, assessing impacts and consequences went on in parallel, thousands of thousands of simultaneous paths intersecting in incredible ways. What could be called the controlled superconsciousness of the Fabricator-General glided over the interweaving of information currents like a runner on a loom, adjusting the process, ordering it. It debugged the flows, checked the most important algorithms, corrected the inevitable distortions of objective data in such arrays. One of the side threads, a low-priority one, not existing in isolation from the main task, caught the General's attention.

    The ruler of Mars has long since experienced nothing even remotely resembling "curiosity". The categories 'interesting/uninteresting' themselves testify to an imperfect thought process, revealing the flawed nature of the mind. Consciousness, being locked in a dungeon of a carbon medium, is catastrophically limited in resources. It is forced to divide processes into categories of subjective priority and to justify the excruciating trap of existence.

    Nevertheless...

    The General's attention was increasingly focused on the sequence of episodes that took place very far away from Mars many months ago. And the man, who had long ceased to be human, not outwardly, but in his soul, felt interested. Of course, not idle, as most of the higher hierarchy of the Imperium has.

    "Why wasn't the object requisitioned? Our mission at the Station had all the resources it needed, from diplomatic pressure to open hostilities."

    "According to the data available, deemed highly credible, the object was planned for use in the mid-level internal politics of the Ordo Hereticus."

    "An intra-corporate intrigue?"

    "Yes."

    The noosphere did not imply emotion, but it did not deny it either. The data streams transmitted by Doturov changed slightly, taking on the kind of uncertainty typical of processing complex equations with infinitely large numbers. This could and was interpreted by Fabricator-Generals as a kind of apology, a sense of unease that such nonsensical, humanly irrational motives as a struggle for influence, a status rivalry, had such an important place in the description.

    "The extraction with the available forces implied a seventeen point eighty-three hundred percent probability of failure," Doturov continued.

    "Acceptable."

    "However, if successful, the loosely managed interaction of the assets involved would not allow the conflict to be curtailed. And with a probability of eighty point thirteen hundredths of one percent, it translated to the level of the conclave of the sub-sector Ordo Hereticus and the chapter of Adeptus Astartes, clearly indicating our interest in the object. This would have been undesirable, given the five major interaction programs for the next thirty standard years. Too many unpredictable developments dictated by subjective categories, such as wounded ego, changed the balance of interests, antipathy towards the ministers of Omnissia, and others."

    "Reasonable. Continue."

    The interception of the information flows of the involved assets of Ordo Hereticus and Adeptus Astartes showed that within approximately two months from the moment of calculation the object is not threatened with physical destruction. This is dictated by the bureaucratic standard and the passage of the mandatory stages of the investigation. Taking advantage of the time lag, our responsible executor reached an agreement that optimally balanced the interests of all parties involved. This allowed us to stabilize the situation and develop an expeditious seizure plan without demonstrating Adeptus Mechanicus' interest.

    "The probability that the object will eventually come into our full possession is negligible. The probability of the object's survival is determined to be zero point six-tenths of one percent for the next nine months."

    "This is a fact. The specified probability makes it irrational to deploy an independent operation on the extraction of the object. But it is enough to formalize such extraction as a side effect in the implementation of a set of higher-level measures. In the final node, all interaction will be reduced to a small fluctuation of probabilities within the framework of our regular cooperation with Ordo Malleus."

    "What kind of collaboration?"

    "The "Glass Cat" Project. Geller emitters need field testing. The probability of failure is zero point thirty-two hundredths percent.

    "What justifies your interest, Lexic Arcanus?" The Fabricator-Locum, who was watching how the priorities of the information flows were changing, inquired.

    "Our investigation included a study of the object's interaction with the cogitator deployed at the ballistic station. Objective evaluation required a comparison of interaction efficiency with the benchmark, i.e. protocols of regular operators. The delta was plus three hundred and six percent. This discrepancy was separately noted in the logs of the cogitator, as well as a direct indication of the spirit of the machine to prefer to work with the object, instead of the regular operator."

    "Given the origin, qualifications, and perspectives of the object, its impact is too insignificant to bring the issue to our level."

    "According to preliminary estimates, the study of interaction methods with the subsequent refinement of operational protocols will entail a two percent reduction in the average Forge's machine time costs. With a sustained useful result for the next three hundred years. In addition, the object is valuable as a witness to the era when the foundations of our ethics and faith were being established."

    "Has the object been oblation of by the Omnissia?"

    "An assertion or denial can be made only after the subject has been made available for full investigation with all necessary resources. Until a comprehensive investigation is completed, the allegation can only be accepted as a hypothesis."

    Fabricator-locum "remained silent", or rather refrained from appropriate influence on the flow of information, because Doturov's thesis was true. In fact, the decision had already been made, it was only necessary to detail the course of action.

    "The outlined plan has a significant amount of probabilistic operands. Who will start the implementation in the sector?"

    "I intend to supervise the operation personally. I request the permission of the High Lord of Terra and the Fabricator General of Forgeworld Mars to use the "Naglfar" type courier and temporarily reassign the XJ-9 Squadron of Basilicon Astra.

    If an ordinary person could perceive the information flows of the hexacode, he would estimate the form of Fabrikator-locum's reaction as a surprise.

    "In my lifetime, the Lexic Arcanus of the Parliament had not yet left Mars."

    "My last flight outside the Iron Ring was three thousand two hundred and sixty-one years ago. But the successful implementation of the proposed plan I consider significant enough to the purpose of the Omnissian cause to deprive the planet of my valuable presence for the time being."

    "Irony is the refuge of an insecure mind," said the General, aloud. And in parallel, or rather far ahead of the fluctuations of the air produced by the imperfect vocal apparatus, he summed up:

    "I authorize the implementation of the proposed plan."

    The Fabricator-General shook his head, indicating a nod, exactly as another protocol, originally designed to communicate with unworthy technolingua, prescribed. But after a vanishingly small digital moment, he still decided to clarify one question-the hexacode, like the noosphere, did not allow for lies, but the experienced mechanicum was able to operate on the priority of information process evaluation.

    "Lexic Arcanus of Parliament Doturov, do you have any other reason to be interested in taking the object?"

    "I have." he agreed. "It's less important to me than optimizing the current operator protocols."

    "The code to unlock the third "Naglfar"," the array of encrypted data was additionally protected by Doturov's crypto-key and transmitted along with the exact location of the ship in the Oort Cloud and the digital sigil of the High Lord of Terra. "In thirty minutes this area will be cleared during the exercise of the expeditionary legions."

    "Your junior Monitor tried to scan the conversation," said the "centaur", adding a touch of untranslatable digital humor to the remark.

    "Curiosity is a necessary quality for becoming a logis," Doturov replied. "I will decide on the necessity of his further existence after the completion of the project. Removing the blocking fields."
    Moments later, the Fabricator General disappeared. Of course, the lord of Mars was not about to waste time - eighty-three hours and eleven minutes - returning from orbit. He teleported straight from the Iron Ring, dealing with pressing matters while the elevator descended with fitting solemnity to the surface, laden with the gifts of Allied Terra. When the descent was complete, the Lord of Mars would move back to solemnly step onto the surface of the God-sanctified planet. Where the General had teleported from for this meeting and where he was headed now, Doturov did not know. It did not matter. The efficiency of the machine that controls thousands of Forges and Knight Worlds of the Galaxy did not depend on the physical location of its controlling mechanisms.

    Left without a master, the Crusaders synchronously changed formation and scattered across the complex. The ancient machines would be worthy opponents for the skitarians ready for the assault. Mars had always known how to keep a secret. An ancient instruction, preserved in the personal archive Doturov, said: "If the future is the emptiness of the happened, then the past must be made the same emptiness." When the brief exercise was over, the chosen warriors of Mars would become even more effective and deadly, and the electronics of the combat robots, which might contain fragments of the binary code of the meeting, would turn to molecular dust. The same fate, without exception, awaited all who, by their misfortune, found themselves within scanning range of servitors and inferior mechanicus. Alas, the virtue of information - its tendency to leave imprints on all aspects of the universe - sometimes proved to be an unfortunate disadvantage, justifying costly measures.

    The Fabricator-Locum quickly headed for the exit of the bunker, where an empty 'F' series transport capsule was waiting for him. Most likely also equipped with a passenger teleportation system - its speed did not allow it to leave the range fast enough.

    As for the young, ambitious Logis, who had only recently reached Monitor Malevolus status, Doturov already had quite definite plans for him.

    Preparing for departure, Lexic Arcanus turned to the memory bank, recalling all the collected images of the object. Using a small fraction of his mind's computing resources, he derived an average version. Then he compared it with the basic phenotypes of the Imperium population, seeking as an exercise for the mind to determine the changes that had befallen humanity along the paths of galactic wanderings. It didn't take long, and Doturov moved on to charting the engagement and adjusting the plan schedules of his current tasks.

    The operation of the divine machine of government once called the Martian colonial empire, could not depend on the state of one of its cogs.
    * * *​
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2021
  21. Threadmarks: The Squad Chapter 3
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

    Joined:
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    Chapter 3
    * * *​
    The wagon with the big number '3' on the side was indeed a two-story carriage. The first level was devoted to a garage and a workshop. Bertha had gone somewhere on the way, muttering about some documents, so Olga was accompanied by an armored 'monk'.​

    The centerpiece of the garage was a monstrous machine, a monstrous, tank-like structure that came straight out of World War I. On the sides of the self-propelled coffin hung logs and some sacks, chained together, and a concrete mask seemed to have been put on its forehead. Probably for more protection. Above the disproportionately small and two-story turret protruded three antennas, coiled and tied into a bundle, so as not to touch the ceiling.​

    The steel box, painted a shabby army-swamp color, inspired reverence and, at the same time, light horror. It was the marks left on the armor plates by some unknown force. It was as if the car had not been shot at, but scratched and torn through the tough metal with even tougher claws. In some places, the steel was a bit 'leaking', as if the APC had been sprayed with very corrosive acid or heated until it lost its hardness. The tank looked like a tired veteran who had seen some crap in his long life. She didn't even want to look at the vehicle, let alone imagine herself inside.​

    The workshop looked more like an altar. All the tools were crudely engraved with ubiquitous skulls and gears. The workbench was barely visible under a layer of frayed, oil-and-dust-gray paper and seals of the post-office kind. It seemed as if people prayed here rather than worked and repaired. In a farther corner, some sinister tubes on valves protruded from the wall and were locked with barnacles. Under the downward-curved nozzles were cylinders piled in special boxes of welded fittings. And above it was a riveted brass plate with the inscription 'ACID/FIRE', below it was handwritten 'do not twist, you faithless wankers!' at least that was how Olga translated the crooked letters.​

    "Yours, instead of Smoker," the monk pointed to the cylinders. Or rather, one of the big carts next to it. The two-wheeled dinghies were about shoulder height and seemed solid, at least made of cast iron. Judging by the construction, each was designed to hold two tanks. The cylinders could be removed from the brackets or connected to something with corrugated hoses.​

    "That's it. There." The monk pointed to the spiral staircase and went sideways, rounding the tank.​

    "Aaah..." Olga squeaked, holding out her hand after him. The monk did not react at all. The girl was left alone.​

    She could have followed her escort. She could have stayed where she was and waited for something. Olga shrugged her shoulders and chose the third way - she decided to follow the instruction. After all, if she was in any danger, the bald fat man in the chain mail would not leave her alone. She thought, vindictively, that perhaps the big fart didn't want to climb the steep and narrow steps.​

    Between the first and second floor was another, what looked like a technical level, very low, with electrical circuits, pipes, and boxes. Here the red and yellow lights were flashing, and something was squeaking and clicking. Olga sat down on the warm metal and took a breath. A slight vibration indicated that the train was rolling forward, and apparently at a decent speed. Soft music could be heard from above, and soft and indecipherable speech could be heard. It was bright, and the warm air flowed in waves, pleasantly brushing a frozen face.​

    Olga rubbed her fingers again, gathering her thoughts, thinking about what to do next, how to introduce herself, how to "enter the hut". She could not think of anything in particular for lack of appropriate experience and knowledge, so she decided to act according to the circumstances and cautiously.​

    Thanks to the size of the train, the second (or rather, the third) floor seemed more like a ship's floor than a railway floor. Everything was spacious, iron, solid, with rivets and screws, which, perhaps, could not be unscrewed without a gas wrench. A large room played the role of a wardroom for all, and a narrow corridor stretched onward, with four-class compartments on either side.​

    Several people were sitting at the big table, almost all wearing the same clothes, like very roughly knit wool overalls. Above the table hung a radio or intercom balloon, which exuded soft music in the style of the forties. Olga was immediately reminded of her favorite Mel Gibson from 'What Women Think. The song with the hat and the wine. Something similar was playing.​
    The men drank the ubiquitous cognac with a flavor of cheap coffee under the idiotic name of 'amasek,' and played 'regicide. That is strange chess with no fixed rules and no limit on the number of participants. In a corner of the room a dark-skinned big man was kneeling, and on his broad shoulders hung like a cloak, a scarlet vest embroidered with small hand-lettered letters. The big guy was silently and methodically pounding his forehead against the metal wall, not hard, but palpably.​

    "Hello," Olga said softly, her fingers doing the usual eagle, and added just in case. " The Emperor will protect!"​

    "No," corrected one of the players, a long-haired, unjuvenated man with a face extremely expressive and yet wrinkled, like Iggy Pop, aged in a binge of alcohol and drug abuse. "Wrong. The Emperor will not protect."​

    "What?" the girl interrupted, not believing her ears. Maybe it's time to run screaming 'heresy!!!'​

    "The Emperor protects. Always," the hairy one explained admonishingly. "He is sovereign in the past and the future."​

    "The Emperor protects," Olga quickly corrected herself.​

    "That's right," he waved vaguely toward the corridor behind him. "That way. Make yourself comfortable in the empty spot. Dinner in three rings."​

    After thinking for a while, Olga decided that this must mean an invitation to take an empty place. The welcome was, to say the truth, not particularly warm, but on the other hand, it was better than some stupid traditional ritual of "residence permit". It was getting hot in the jacket, and drops of sweat appeared on the forehead.​

    A siren roared overboard, short and angry, like the signal of a warship on a maneuver. No one paid attention to the sound. Olga walked around the table with the players, stepped further, past the galley (or something that looked like a self-service galley) with a plastic sign screwed to the titanium and a sign that said Эstop, you'll crack!" Passed the bathroom with another inscription right on the door "bad shooter worse than a heretic!" Next were the parlor compartments, good-looking and almost as native, from RRR. There were no doors, but instead, there were heavy curtains made of the ubiquitous tarpaulin, which, judging by the ink stamps, were military.​

    Olga looked into a couple of compartments. In one she saw a short, gaunt man, looking like a white-haired elf with the face of an eternal crybaby wearing a long scarf. In another, a creepy freak with the badly shaved face of a psychopath or a war criminal was sleeping by the light of a battery of candles. Olga shook her head and went straight to the end of the carriage, reasoning that the farther away, the fewer neighbors there would probably be. And so it turned out, the last two sections were uninhabited, it seems, a long time ago, the surface had time to get pretty dusty. Olga chose the left one, where the only thing left of the previous occupant's belongings was a regicide board without pieces, perched on the edge of a plywood table. And also a small aquila, not very skillfully, but carefully hand-carved from a piece of soft plastic of light green color.​

    Olga was already wearing the symbol of the double-headed eagle around her neck, issued by the pris... ahem, a church ship. The metal stamping cut her skin with its sharp edges, and, twisting in her fingers the work of an unknown carver, the girl decided that this would probably be better. Just find a lace to hang it and ask if such a substitution violated any rule.​
    Olga threw her travel bag on the bottom rack, her hat, jacket, and scarf on the top rack, sat down, and leaned against the smooth wall with its rows of rivets. The metal gave off a slight chill, but it wasn't freezing. A very narrow window, a couple of palms wide at most, was locked by a powerful flap on three screw-locked latches.​

    Not even a ship, but a submarine of some kind... Or a battleship.

    Olga sat mindlessly staring at the board, enjoying a moment of peace. Everything was working out just fine. No one was bothering her, there was a place to rest, and dinner was promised. A little afraid of the faces of fellow travelers - they all seemed very strange, "non-standard" as if the same troupe took character actors from different sides of the world. But people did not seem dangerous or harmful. The future and unknown work were very frightening, but it was not so close yet.​

    In general, life did turn on its front to Olga, and it seems that this front was not a scrotum. But, of course, when a man is sure that everything is going well, some kind of trouble is bound to happen. For the Hostile Powers do not sleep.​

    For Olga the trouble materialized at first in shuffling footsteps, to which the girl paid no attention, overpowering her drowsiness as she waited for supper. The shuffling was approaching, revealing a man who was not too heavy, with a brisk stride, but who had a badly wobbly foot. And then the curtain creaked to the side on rings threaded through the bar, and a disgusted face strode into Olga's compartment.​

    In fact, this face would have seemed handsome if it had a nose. But there was no nose, so the result could have been photographed for an article on the classic symptoms of syphilis. In the eye sockets, with the lower eyelids turned inflamed whites and black pupils. The air hissed through his mangled sinuses, giving the impression of a large, wild animal breathing. The intruder was bald, and not from nature or a razor. Judging by the sores, his hair had gone out from some disease. Below the neck was a tattered brown cloak of bad leatherette; normal skin could not be so ugly as that.​

    Olga looked at the intruder with amazement. He rotated his eyes as if he could not focus his gaze on the girl.​

    "What do you want?" Olga asked bravely.​

    "Give your share," the leather cloak muttered, in a way that made the girl feel a little sorry for him for a moment. The lack of a nose was causing the poor man a lot of problems, including slurred speech.​

    "Take it out, lay it out, pay it off," the noseless man blurted out, grinning and making faces. "Hands in pockets, don't keep the goods, show it to the good inmates! It's a burden for a useless guest, but for a decent prisoner it's a joy and a pleasure!"​

    It was then that Olga realized that, apparently, she had been visited by some local superfly, not too respectable, but aggressive. It was so typical behavior as if it hadn't happened in thousands of years. The girl hesitated, painfully choosing words of a foreign language, and the guest interpreted the pause in his own way. He muttered something and with unexpected dexterity threw forward his skinny arm, for which the sleeve of his cloak was too short. A very painful flick on the very tip of Olga's nose followed.​

    Fuck off! - The girl cried out, pushing the hated hand, and jumped up, looking around in terror. Was it really a prison again? And all those men in the corners are "men" for real?

    So, Blatnye is the alphas, the men are in the middle. The untouchables are the bottom.​

    "You've got to be kidding me!" The convict wailed, turning himself on, hysterically opening his mouth with droplets of saliva in the corners of his cracked lips. It seemed as if in a moment the noseless man would grind his yellow-gray teeth like an overgrown wolf.​

    "You don't know what you're doing, you're a first-timer! You have no respect for the decent guys.! I'm not a fool, I'm a Savlar, I've sewn up a Grox's ears to arbiters, stomped out the red moon, passed the green one, ran away from the red one! I'll...​

    In fact, he said all this in a slightly different way, in other words, but the general tone and scraps of words that Olga could understand were forming a familiar and understandable pattern from her childhood. He was a flamboyant, a bit of a dabbling kid, who had memorized the right words and had learned how to arrange them in a virtuoso way appropriate to the moment. But something in the fiery and twitchy tirade of the 'Savlar' seemed wrong to Olga, a little unnatural.​

    Eyes... A man in or near hysteria has a rather peculiar look that cannot be confused with anything else. And the pupils of the noseless prisoner seemed almost normal, not corresponding to the aggressive hysteria that was about to burst into a violent outburst. However, the thought flashed at the back of the mind and disappeared, the mind did not appreciate it and did not even remember it properly. Because Olga was possessed by a single desire.​

    So that it would finally be over. Any way it wants, but it's over.​

    And then lie down, at last, close the eyes, forget about everything. And the hell with dinner 'in three rings,' whatever that meant.​

    She looked into the Savlar's face, concentrating on the wet gap between his upper lip and the bridge of his nose, on the translucent drop that trembled in time with her breath, ready to tear​
    down.​

    "We'll fix that," said the girl, keeping her eyes on the drop.​

    "A-a-a... what?" Asked the inmate stupidly.​

    "We'll fix it in a moment! - Olga put her right palm forward as if to slow down the Savlar's already deflated pressure. She no longer cared what she had to say, any word seemed very funny and appropriate. And the noseless man seemed to be setting himself up for one well-thought-out scenario, but as soon as things went wrong, the outlaw was confused, not knowing what to do next.​

    From the outside, it looked... unusual, in a way that would have left the casual onlookers dumbfounded. The short and retarded girl, who looked like a confused chicken thanks to the yellowish fluff on her haircut (though of course, only natives of agrarian planets could appreciate this resemblance) suddenly with a wild, animal scream slammed the regicide board in the face of an intruder. She was so violent that colored plastic stickers indicating playing squares were sprayed with blood.​

    The girl had never been heavy, and now she had, well, maybe fifty kilograms. Nor was she particularly strong. She had the not right constitution, and Olga had not acquired the habit of exercise. On the other hand, her opponent, too, was quite subtle, just taller, and the board was quite solid. The result was pleasing to the eye, at least to Olga's eyes. The convict squealed in pain and surprise, recoiled, shielding his arms, but it was too late. Olga was already clawing at him, not like a chicken, but like a skinny cat. Her sharp teeth, still unspoiled by the excess of sweets and Coke and the rations of the Inquisition and the Ecclesiarchy, clacked at the Savlar's eyes. The girl mechanically tried to bite his nose, making no correction for his absence.​

    "Aaaaah!!! Take the psycho away!" The savlarian shrieked, trying to hold back the distraught Olga, who was intent on nibbling at his face.​

    "It's too much," one of the new colleagues reasoned aloud. "It's time to pull them apart."​

    "She's going to maim him!" Another voice, much more concerned, answered.​

    For Olga, the world was reduced to the size of a tiny tunnel about the diameter of a drainpipe, at the end of which the hated face of the Savlar was red and yellowing. Only at that moment girl saw there a very different face with very distinctive and familiar features. The 'brother-in-law' was also a felon and liked to "ask for the stuff" and everything. Olga firmly remembered his gaze, the disgusting watery eyes that always had a nasty grin in them. A disgusting sense of superiority, an obvious "you won't tell anyone"! The same look as the fidgety jerk with the ulcerous bald spot.​

    "Hey, break them up!"​

    The savlerian managed to squeeze his eyes shut, or the distraught foe would have torn them out. The short-cut fingernails scratched his eyelids, leaving deep abrasions. The convict's wild howl melded with the freshman's uterine growl. Then a violent blow under her ribs lifted her into the air and tossed her aside. Something angular, cold, and hard struck beneath her shoulder blade, finally knocking out her spirit. Olga shook her legs, feeling only pain and a heavy thought:​

    Again... Again I am beaten... when will it all end...

    "You can't be left unattended for even a few minutes," said a familiar voice somewhere far and high up.​

    In a few convulsive sighs, Olga managed to get her breath back and even look around. It took her a few seconds to recognize Big Bertha in the broad figure that hovered under the fluorescent lamp. The bodybuilder looked ominous, her ugly and large face not promising anything good. Savlar crouched at his mentor's feet, crying loudly and tearfully. Bitter tears mingled with pink streaks.​

    "Again?" the Mentor only asked, looking down at the convict. He curled up, even more, wailing more pitifully, but his sincere grief didn't seem to resonate in Bertha's soul.​

    "He... started..." Olga exhaled in two breaths. She had no desire whatsoever to cover for the legless bastard. And she stops caring about such bullshit like "real [insert as appropriate] don't snitch" a long time ago.​

    "The Savlar wanted to test the new girl," the man, who looked like an Indian in a wide-brimmed hat, suddenly entered the conversation. His shoulder-length hair was divided into many strands by silver beads, and his skin was an earthy brick color. As if the "Indian" was not enough of a hat, he had a ribbed helmet around his neck, like a tank helmet, with wires from a laryngophone.​

    "But he gets too much."​

    "I've told you so many times, you degenerate prisoner," said Bertha, pulling back her right foot in a heavy shoe that looked like a cross between a soccer boot and a mountaineer's shoe. 'Don't drag your old habits into a place of worship."​

    Apparently, the short tirade did not imply response, being purely rhetorical, one might say admonitory. For the next half a minute or so, Olga tried somehow to collect herself and get up, while her mentor kicked Savla's with both feet. Without the classic top-down jumps right onto the body, but competently, quickly, and brutally. Just enough to cause maximum pain without injury. It looked impressive, Olga even admired it. Until the Mentor turned her attention to her.​

    Bertha lifted the frail newbie with one hand, like a kitten by the scruff of the neck, before shoving her face into a puddle of her own. She gave a second slap, quite relaxed and clearly at quarter strength, but Olga felt her teeth falter.​

    "All novices in the Order of the Purifficators undergo the test of faith," Bertha said in a dull voice, shaking Olga. "They all stand in constant readiness to sacrifice their lives for the Emperor and Humanity. What is the meaning of this?"​

    The iron fingers loosened, and Olga sank to the floor. She rested her palms on the floor, feeling the stiff nap of the rug and unable to get up. Bertha, meanwhile, looked around the gathered members of the squad with a very heavy and unpleasant look that none of the novices dared to meet directly.​

    "It follows that it is unacceptable to introduce into the daily life of the Squad strange, malignant, and ungodly habits that deprive its members of the beacon of faith."​

    Bertha did not give the impression of someone with a flair for oratory, so the woman was probably quoting some statute.​

    "Simply said, you can only die in service. And you are supposed to fight against His enemies. He who starts swinging fists isn't just breaking regulations. He is challenging the very essence of our service. And therefore, he sows the seed of heresy."​

    Bertha paused for a long moment, giving everyone time to absorb. Judging by the silence, everyone had been touched.​

    "So is the one who indulges in an unworthy act."​

    Another kick drove Savlar under the bottom rack.
    "All week long you've been cleaning the tambours, shoveling snow and ice, filling all the cylinders," Bertha sentenced the convict. "And if it happens again, I'll make you drink a glass of water from the cooling circuit."​

    The noseless man muttered something unintelligible, but, judging by his tone, extremely agreeable. Despite the rumble in her ears and wobbly teeth, Olga thought that prison concepts in the distant future were somewhat unstable. Or the Order knows how to drive even the "bluest" person into life by the "red" law.
    "Tomorrow night we train on the roof," the bodybuilder sentenced the others in utter silence. "Because St. Clarence would cry when he saw his children."​

    No one dared to challenge the punishment.​

    "And you..." Berta's fat finger pointed at the girl.​

    "I am," Olga grimaced in pain but thought it best to somehow signal her involvement in the process of communication. Judging by the faces of her colleagues and the silence - "heresy" was not to be messed with even a quarter of a fingernail.​

    Fucking cellmates... you fucking jailbirds, goddamn it.

    "In the case of an act of hazing, you should go immediately to a superior," Bertha quoted again. "That he resolves the conflict and determines the appropriate punishment for each. Anyone who engages in self-inflicted abuse defies the rules, hence the Ecclesiarchy itself, body and spirit of the Ecclesiarchy."​

    Olga became quite sad, mainly because she did not know how to behave next. Whether to fall at her feet, begging for forgiveness, or silently imitate universal repentance. Bertha glared angrily at the newbie subject, and then, at last, she took pity.​

    "But you're still at the beginning of your path, so the punishment for the first time will be moderately severe," Bertha finally showed mercy. "You'll clean out the hangar."​
    The mop was too long and heavy, the bucket was small, the water was scalding cold, the ribs hurt, and the fingers ached. The hangar with the tank seemed enormous. But the girl thought she got off easy. Just a couple of slaps in the teeth. Just a sleepless night with a floor rag. Slushy mud mixed with oil and some other chemical crap.​

    Just...​

    I wish you were dead, Olga asked the universe once again. She especially wanted Kryp to die, preferably of cancer and AIDS at the same time.​

    "Are you a new one?"​

    It sounded with an emphasis on "you".​

    "Well, I am," Olga said unfriendly, looking at another new face. She looked and straightened up.​

    All the people she met on the infernal train were of a respectable age. Only Savlar seemed younger than the others, but his ugliness immediately added another dozen years to his age. And now a young man stood before Olga, young and fabulously, unbelievably handsome.​

    In the world of a distant and by no means happy future, the girl met many people, but among them, there were surprisingly few who could be called handsome. No, they were not ugly (at least, most of them were not), it was just that these faces did not fit into the usual canon for Olga. A slightly different ratio of features, long or short noses, frog-like eyes... All of this created a lingering sense of something strange, wrong, and as a consequence, ugly. And this guy was... perfect. As if he'd come off the pages of the Catholic priests' annual calendar.​

    Perfect and very young, tall, thin, but not scrawny, with brown hair trimmed just below the ears. It might have seemed overly feminine, especially with such a pretty face, but somehow it didn't. Even the tattoo of the Latin letter 'I' on his forehead did not spoil the young man. However, under the circumstances, Olga's attention was attracted not only by the semi-divine beauty of the young man but also by the bowl in his hands.​

    "Take it."​

    Like an angel who appeared to the tormented sufferer in answer to her pleas, the handsome brown-haired man handed the girl a bowl of something that looked like porridge. A spoon, wooden for some reason, but with an inventory number and a ubiquitous aquila, was stuck in the thick, cereal-like slurry.​

    "Shank you," Olga thanked, working her jaws furiously, because first the spoon jumped into her mouth and filled it with hot and spicy food, and then the sufferer realized how hungry she was and how grateful she was to her unexpected benefactor.​

    In spite of its disgusting appearance, the mess was very tasty. Most of all, the food resembled a thick soup with a very greasy broth and mashed potatoes. It was probably the tastiest thing Olga had ever tasted. Although she could not say that she had such a wide choice.​

    "Thank you," she repeated, just in case, after the first third. Even though she had learned the basic 'Gothic' quite well (Thank God. The basics of ancient Earth languages were more or less intuitive, it made the process easier), she still had problems with pronunciation, and she wanted the guy to appreciate the gratitude.​

    "You are welcome," he said and smiled.​

    He smiled very well, kindly somehow. With surprising sincerity, as if a bowl of munchies for a stranger had endowed the benefactor with complete happiness. It was the sincerest smile Olga had ever seen since she had been here, and the girl automatically snarled, following an old rule and a tried-and-true principle. If one holds out an open hand, one holds a stone in the other. And the handsome man was now more likely to inspire suspicion. Too pretty, too sweet. The syphilitic Savlar, the mangy BiBe, and the other faces in the cockpit were all in their proper places, appropriate to their surroundings and the infernal locomotive. Even the elf with the scarf and the eyes of the unfortunate rabbit. This cover boy was not.​

    She turned as if to protect the bowl, working the spoon even faster, squinting at the guy.​

    "You're Olla, I've heard about you," he said as if he hadn't noticed the change in the girl's attitude.​

    Olga only sighed, trying not to choke on her soup. She had already realized that no one here was going to pronounce her name correctly. And that was another point in the list of grievances against Kryp, alas, seemingly useless, in principle unrevenged. And it was at his suggestion that Olga was recorded in the interrogation documents as "Ollha" and was not going to change it.​
    Still, she didn't want to be a pig to the end. After all, the sweet, handsome man had brought her something to eat, and that was worth something. So far he'd treated her better than anyone else aboard the rumbling mad train.​

    "Yes, that's me. What's your name?" she asked between two spoons.​

    "Demetrius," the young man said, embarrassed for some reason. His cheeks were marked by cute dimples, and his face was flushed, the kind of blush you can't put on with regular makeup, the kind you'd have to be born with.​

    The name said nothing to Olga, so she shrugged and, scraping the tin bottom with a wooden spoon, answered simply:​

    "Well, nice to meet you..."​

    Well, not only you can distort the names.

    "...Demetrij"​
    * * *​
    Demetrius it's kind of a guest character. There is a lot of content about him. There.
     
  22. Threadmarks: The Squad Chapter 4
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

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    Chapter 4
    * * *​
    Olga dreamt something beautiful, amazingly wonderful. There was warm sunshine, summer, lots of greenery, and an ineffable sense of peace. Everything bad was gone, left somewhere unimaginably far away, and everything good...​

    And then the siren screamed again. As it turned out, the matte ceiling of the 'compartment' was not just a piece of plastic, but also a light panel, now it pulsed with a purple light in the rhythm of the sound signals. This was something the girl had never heard before. It was not the usual steam train horn that she was used to hearing, but a mechanical howl that simultaneously announced the arrival of atomic war, the fall of the asteroid, and the beginning of the zombie apocalypse. The heartbreaking sound twisted in the joints with a vicious vibration, resonating in every nerve. Olga jumped up on the bed with a shriek, banged her head on the top shelf, and fell on the old rug.​

    From the sounds of it, the whole huge wagon was in a feverish movement. The tarpaulin canopy moved to the side, creaking on the aluminum rings, and the face of the neighbor, the one who looked like a war criminal, stuck out into Olga's seat.​

    "Get up!!!" wailed the freak nicknamed the Wrecker, the other squad's spray gunner.​

    And desapier.​

    "Damn it," Olga whispered, realizing that she understood nothing. However, her body was already acting on its own, obeying the knowledge imparted during the past week by Big Bertha.​

    Stand up.​

    To bless yourself with an aquila.​

    Ask the Emperor loudly for his blessing.​

    (at the same time, to think once again that the entire Empire is irreversibly touched by the collective mind of trillions of people because even the local god is some kind of mummy, but god forbid to say that kind of thing out loud)​

    And down to the gear and the armored vehicle.​

    Red lights were flashing all over the carriage, sirens were wailing, squadmates were rushing around. Olga bumped into everything and everyone. And then the situation suddenly settled down, that is, going from one aggregate state to another. The girl found herself together with the rest of the squad in the passenger compartment of a cubic tank, almost embracing a cylinder on a cart.​

    The wool pants and a knee-length diving vest, twisted in two layers, were drenched with sweat. The heavy, oversized rubberized overalls hung over the skinny body like a parachute rolled up in several layers. The gas mask around the neck stank of Chinese plastic, the cylinder defiantly showed rusty residue on the side, looked damn heavy, and damn unreliable. Above the hatch that led to the cockpit of the driver hung a plate with screws screwed on it, with an inscription that Olga could only half-heartedly translate as "Fuck evil" One corner of the sign was stained with dried splashes of a suspicious red-brown liquid.​

    The vehicle shook once, then twice. After a few moments, the shaking became a steady process. The deathly wail of the siren receded, began to fade behind the armor plates. With one hand the girl grasped the leather band that acted as a seat belt. With the other, she grabbed hold of the cylinder wagon until it began to toss all over the compartment.​

    Big Bertha was shouting something into a loudspeaker that looked like a singing microphone. But the noise of the engine and the rattle of the metal inside the tank muffled the words. Olga had a laryngophone loop with headphones hanging around her neck, over her gas mask belt, but she had completely forgotten how to use it. So her ears picked up only scraps of hurried phrases, something about some "rupture", "vysshurov" and "mutats".​

    "This is going to end badly," thought Olga grimly, grasping the safety strap tighter. It was hot and scary.​

    Training in the Squad was staged like everything else in the world of the forty-thousand-year-old future. That means not in a human way, but according to an alternative logic. Olga was expecting something akin to 'boot camp' with notes, memorization of staff schedules, and so on. However, no one was in a hurry to enlighten her about the Squad and it seemed that Mentor Bertha, as well as the fatheaded monk, had little idea what to do with the new girl at all. The training was a joint effort of the entire wagon team and was limited to practice. Olga has learned to remove and put on a chemical protective coverall and to use a gas mask very much like the Soviet classic gas mask but with a panoramic window instead of two round corners. I mastered the art of handling a gas cylinder and a trolley. Learned the names and job descriptions of the other staff members. And... that was it. Except that the girl finally ate more or less acceptable food and had a decent night's sleep.​

    Olga was afraid to ask about anything, deciding to postpone it for later. During her daily prayers, she diligently played the part of a true believer, not forgetting to shout loudly about how the Emperor would protect everyone, frantically wishing death to the mysterious xenos and the more understandable heretics. She tried to listen attentively and speak as little as possible. Step by step, word by word, she built a picture of the world in which she found herself.​

    The planet where the Squad settled had no name of its own, only a long series of letters and unofficial but quite common nicknames for the colonists - "Beacon" or "Ice Port". As far as the girl understood, originally "Beacon" had no value meaning, the only continent was a snow-covered tundra, and the giant ocean could only provide plankton. There were no minerals here, agriculture was hopeless.​

    But the dying star system itself turned out to be extremely important. For some unknown reason, it was convenient to set up a comprehensive navigation center here, serving an entire 'sector' (whatever that means). The "Ice Port" was beloved by "navigators", "Imperial Tarot readers" and some kind of "astropaths", who were mentioned, necessarily making a gesture of protection against the evil.​

    Although most of the beacons and certain "towers" were placed into orbit and asteroids, much of the infrastructure was deployed directly on the planet, concentrated around a large spaceport. People on 'Beacon' became numerous, and for some reason, there was some work for the Squad.​

    The Squad itself was a sort of order under the Imperial Church, but with a distinctly militarized bias. The Squad included two regiments, one servicing orbital facilities, the other planetary. The regiment was divided into separate battalions, each battalion being quite an independent unit assigned to some sort of "bunker". No one seemed to know how many battalions and bunkers there were in the regiment, but logic and Olga's battalion number - "12"- suggested that there were definitely a dozen.​

    The most interesting and practically important for Olga began further, at the company level. Each company had at its disposal a separate armored train with a nuclear engine, running along a given route. All this was called strictly peaceful - road repair work, maintenance, and so on. However, the girl was firmly confused by the clause about "sanitary and epidemic purification", and by the fact that the company's units were armed with armored vehicles, automatic weapons, and real flamethrowers. Whatever the "purificators" were doing, it seemed that "something" could fight back.​

    And, Lord have mercy, it seems now Olga was about to see what (or who) was being "purificated" by the Squad.​

    The armored vehicle rushed forward, galloping across the tundra-like a multi-ton deer. The heavy vehicle, by all appearances, was capable of good speed. Olga, being the staff carrier of the spare cylinder for the flamethrower-one, did not know whether to scream in terror beforehand or to relax and enjoy the minutes before it began. Bertha kept her gaze on the girl, pressing her thin, pale lips into a barely visible string. Only now Olga noticed that her mentor, the company and wagon commander, wore small earrings with transparent stones in her ears. In general, the mighty aunt might have seemed even pretty, if it were not for the malicious look, the shoulders, the size of which would be the envy of another beefcake, and a huge gun, the size more appropriate to the giants on Ballistic.​

    "We're coming up!" the staff shepherd shouted from the turret. The same monk who kept his plastic chain mail on. In the tank, he played the role of machine gunner, and outside, in addition to the priesthood, he wielded a chemical sprinkler.​

    The tank drove smoother. Olga checked the gas mask hose and the ribbed filter cylinder, everything was in place. The flamethrower, behind whom the girl had to drag the spare cylinder, a bitterly unjuvenile and short man with an elf face was crying, nervously adjusting the scarf wrapped around his skinny neck at least a dozen times. Looking at his tears, Olga thought that the crying flamethrower was a complete mess, perhaps worse than a fleeing general. She felt like bursting into tears herself. Only Bertha's serpentine, unblinking gaze stopped her.​

    Flamethrower Two, a.k.a. Sinner, was embroidering some symbol or short saying on his red reflective vest. There were already several hundred of them on the rag, and none of them seemed to be repeated. Noticing the newcomer's gaze on him, the seamstress responded with a straight look and a sudden wink with a benevolent smile. Of all the squadmates Sinner was the one Olga liked the most, and in addition (except Demetrius) was quite in line with her idea of male attractiveness. He resembled an Ethiopian, with unusually expressive features and a tattoo of Ecclesiarchy across his forehead, he was not handsome in the usual sense, but extremely masculine.​

    The imagination immediately wanted to send the Sinner somewhere in the desert, with a burkus, a camel, and a musket, to fight against European colonizers, to exact blood feuds, romantically kidnap European beauties, and the like. Also, the second flamethrower was always silent. As the Holy Man once put it, the Sinner was quite capable of speech but considered himself unworthy to defile with words the universe where God the Emperor had once spoken.​

    The compartment smelled of gasoline and tobacco (though was it tobacco?) of the Smoker. The former balloonist (whose place had now been taken by Olga), now a gunner, smoked a short, opium-looking pipe. The Smoker kept his mouth open at all times, his eyebrows raised, his forehead furrowed. This made his face look like the face of a rodent, with all its lines converging on a single point on the tip of his nose. Even huge glasses with thick lenses of yellow glass could not disturb the impression of general "mousiness".​

    The tank goes faster, turning on the siren. Bertha said something quickly into the microphone of her headset. The weeping elf sobbed even more bitterly. Olga stared at the iron ceiling, so as not to see the faces of the other colleagues and not to think about the fact that very soon... what exactly was going to happen, she did not know, but she reasonably assumed that nothing good was going to happen.​

    As if by order, in the rhythm of her unhappy thoughts, the temperature inside the car began to drop. Olga rubbed her eyes just in case, thinking that perhaps the tears clouded her vision, but no, she did not imagine it. Her breath condensed in the yellow light in clouds of steam, and the corners of the compartment froze over. Frost began to bite through the seams of her jumpsuit, the sweat of her woolen underwear hanging heavy on her body as a cold compress. At the same time, the engine was still howling, and the heat radiators under the iron benches continued to exude waves of heat.​

    The balloonist became very, very scared. In difficult and dangerous circumstances it is human nature to look for the guilty party. It was easier for Olga in this respect, she knew exactly who was to blame and to whom she owed her participation in dubious activities with flamethrowers and acid.​

    Damn Kryp, I hate you, you'd better be dead out there all by yourself.

    The red light above the side sliding panel that replaced the usual transporter hatch lit up. The Mentor was distracted for a moment, and when she looked at her mentee again, she found her staring at Bertha in turn.​

    "Deceived," Olga suddenly spoke out.​

    The vehicle was wildly noisy, the soundproofing had fallen into disrepair long ago, but communication was through the radio and laryngophones, so everyone could hear the new girl.​

    "What?" asked Berta, reflexively, almost like an ordinary person, not a Mentor.​

    "He fooled me," the girl repeated, dull and expressionless, wrapping herself in the sizeless jumpsuit like a warm cloak. The rubberized fabric creaked and creased with difficulty. "Savlar" laughed vilely, snorting and dropping slime with a hole instead of his nose. He stopped, catching Bertha's very grim look.​

    "It happens," the Priest said as smoothly and evenly as he did, crossing himself with an aquila. "Everyone is deceived by someone. Only the Emperor is perfect, was and will be, blessing the galaxy with himself and through himself."​

    Bertha sighed, feeling the hot air filtered through her respirator. The "Priest" stood up, grasping securely the handrail that ran the full length of the compartment under the low ceiling. He yelled loudly:​

    "Come on, brothers, let's fuck the evil's ass!"​

    "Fuck the Evil!!!" A chorus of ten gulps came back in more or less unison. Only Olla seemed to remain silent. Oh, and "Crybaby", who was clutching the sprayer with both hands, so that the tears were already rolling down his face in generous streams. It got cold in the car, despite the midday heat and the running engine. Her mentor saw the frost gather in the corners in a whitish film, and shuddered to think what lay ahead of them. If the manifestation is so clear and strong, then the real trouble lies ahead. And BaneWolf, with his blessed acid cannon, the last argument for the worst-case scenario, is gone...​

    "Put on the respirators!" commanded Bertha. "A closed cycle!​

    A red light blinked, the transporter slowed down, jerked, turning around on the spot and backing up.​

    "Let's work."​

    Olla got tangled up in the gas mask gear again, and the "Wretched Man" unexpectedly helped her untangle the corrugated hose, properly buckled the strap, grabbing the absorbent cylinder in the right pocket so it wouldn't fall out. The girl hesitated, pulling on the gas mask, but managed it. Then the armored vehicle shuddered, swayed on its worn shock absorbers, and finally froze. The sliding panel slid aside, and there was no more time for idle reflection.​

    * * *​

    The "I don't understand anything!" state had become customary, but today Olga could honestly say that she did not understand much more than usual. Everything promised horrors soon, an encounter with the unknown, a bloody hell of asshole sodomy, and for someone to leave with incredible music.​

    And... nothing happened.​

    The squad unloaded from the tank (by the way, it was called quite earthly - "Chimera"), being in full readiness to cause destruction and arson. Olga managed not to fall, not to get under anyone's feet, to roll out the cart with the canister, and even to follow Crybaby, not too far behind. The little elf seemed to be as strong as a dwarf because he effortlessly rolled a bulky flamethrower that looked like a cannon from "Aliens" with a manipulator for extra support.​

    The familiar landscape stretched all around, only there was less of the usual tundra and more buildings. The atomic armored train went from the sparsely populated industrial periphery to places more urban. Here there were roads with fairly normal asphalt, and buildings that looked like typical apartment buildings only twice as high. All this resembled a district center, but a big one. The streets looked as if they were dead, with only flashing five-color traffic lights. And there were people here, Olga could see frightened shadows flickering in the windows, there just wasn't a single soul on the streets. Were they afraid? What were they afraid of? It was all a mystery...​

    The lack of actual life in the district center was more than compensated for by the outside activity. Now and then, with the roar of engines and sirens, another vehicle arrived, from huge buses to futuristic-looking trucks. The neighborhood was filled with police officers, stormtroopers, and scientific people with numerous devices. It was all living its own bustling life, bustling and seemingly oblivious to the Squad. Amid the tactical carnival, the fierce flamethrowers were transformed into mere ragamuffins in a decrepit tank, with poor and outdated equipment.​

    Is that all?'

    Olga perceptibly cheered up and thought that perhaps everything was not so terrible as she had imagined. At least not today.​

    "I don't get it..."​

    The priest scratched his broad nose, moved the thrower to an upright position, securing the bracket. The heavy thing tilted the monk on his right side, the yellow cylinder behind his back glowing menacingly with the emblem of chemical danger. Arbitres respectfully avoided the big man in the chain mail - out of respect for his rank, but also because "chemists" were considered even crazier, more dangerous, and more responsible than the operators of the sanitary flamethrowers.​

    "I don't get it," repeated the Priest. "For the ninth time in a row."​

    "Yes..." Bertha took off her respirator, letting the mask hanging from her belt. The cold air bit her chin and lips.​

    "What's going on," the monk didn't ask, judging by his tone, but rather asked a rhetorical question. "One false alarm after another."​

    Bertha shrugged her broad shoulders as far as the weight of the combi shotgun allowed.​

    "It's as if all that shit has been chewed up by staff from the ocean..." The monk didn't finish, for fear of mentioning the unholy out loud.​

    "We'll be out of business, this way." Bertha made a light-hearted joke.​

    A Verispex Adept, in his massive armor like a two-legged crab, with his detector bars protruding in all directions, quickly approached the squadmates. Behind the Adept flew a servoskull, connected to its master by a long cable. The skull spread its long spider-like legs and jerked them as if it wanted to catch the icy wind.​

    "Excuse me, sirs," the Verispex Adept said in a businesslike manner. "We are very... embarrassing. It seems to be a mistake again."​

    "Zero activity?" Bertha clarified.​

    "Alas, yes."​

    "It seemed as if they were dragging the shit straight to the host..." The Priest was speaking in circumlocution again, but his interlocutors understood him well.​

    "It was so much that our seer went mad," the adept said confidentially, bowing his head.​

    "Is that all?" Berta couldn't resist asking.​

    "That's all," Verispeks looked gloomy, as befits a responsible employee, who will now report to all the instances for at least a week.​

    "Okay," sighed the Mentor, "then give us a mark that the call is processed."​

    "I'll attach a request for a 24-hour stoppage of Radial-12," the adept clarified. "Maybe we'll find something else. Though it's unlikely, of course..."​

    "Whatever you say," Bertha agreed. "That's up to the Commandant, not our question."​

    "Bring your papers," summed up the adept sadly. "We'll describe it."​

    The Priest looked silently at Bertha, and the mentor nodded just as silently and subtly.​

    "Get in the car! We are waiting!" the monk shouted loudly and then added more quietly. "No need to freeze your ass..."​

    * * *​

    The train stood on the outskirts of the 'district center. The cold wind howled shrilly behind the thick boards, tried to shake the huge structure, chalking white snow on the tracks. Olga, who got out of the hot shower, wrapped a towel around her head, more out of habit - the short bristles of her growing hair did not require much drying. She could have opened the armor flap and looked at what was going on overboard, but the girl already knew that. Just the bustle, the organized chaos, the spotlight, the flying machines that landed minute by minute, falling from the inky skies. All in all, nothing interesting.​

    Olga sat up, adjusted her drawstring pants and her shirt, which looked like a two-ply tank top, all clean and warm. The used clothes spun under Madman's care the floor below in the tricky washing machine, which cleaned without water. Demetrius chanted prayers, Savlar occasionally recited the "emperor's blood", trying to cook in the galley "proper munchies for convicts", the normal food rations the legless tried not to eat, because "not by rank to stoop to the government food". Olga was tempted to point out to Savlar that he is serving a sentence on the general, and it is not the nature of a real, smooth convict. But the girl subdued the urges, not wanting to inflame​

    "Evening in the house, fire in the fireplace, the Emperor in the heart."​

    The Priest was delicate; he tapped his knuckles on the wall first, and then he threw back the curtain. Olga jumped up from the shelf in a disciplined manner, bracingly folded her fingers in a tiresome aquila, and reported:​

    "The Emperor protects!"​

    "Protects, protects," the monk moved a shovel-shaped palm with calluses that looked like horny patches. "Sit down, girl."​

    Olga even more diligently bulged her eyes in a loyal grimace, expecting a trick.​

    "Sit down," the Priest, with obvious displeasure in his voice, no longer asked, but ordered.​

    Olga flopped back down without breaking her fingers, keeping the expression of fiery and fanatical idiocy on her face.​

    "Don't do that either," the Priest grumbled irritably, thought for a moment, and then said. "At ease!"​

    Olga relaxed a little, cringing in anticipation of bad things to come.​

    The monk sighed, glinting his small eyes under the gray bushy eyebrows. With a mechanical, familiar motion, he smoothed the skull on his belt chain, polished to a lustrous shine by thousands of such touches. He unhooked a frayed book in a wooden cover with a clasp, put the weighty volume on the table.​

    "That's good, that's right," the monk's finger pointed at the homemade aquila around Olga's neck. "It was made by a worthy man with true faith in a good heart. It's a well-worn thing."​

    The girl swallowed, trying to figure out what this tricky test was and how she should behave.​

    "Do you know what the main trouble of a shepherd is?" The uninvited guest suddenly asked, putting his palm on the cover of his bible.​

    "I don't know!" The girl reported back.​

    "Idiots," the monk reported. "Idiots who emasculate the ritual and the spirit of His words. Cruel punishers, ready to burn for... anything."​

    "Excuse me, sir... Priest, I don't understand!"​

    Olga stared diligently at the wall, avoiding the intelligent gaze of the minister of the cult. The girl was aware that in matters of faith she always walks on the edge, and any careless word can send her to the other world. And from her adventures on the Ballistic Station Olga suspected that here "the other world" was not a metaphor.​

    "Faith is in your words, on your tongue," said the Priest in a low voice. "But it is not in your heart, so your speeches are loud but empty, like a well that has run dry."​

    He paused, looking intently at Olga. The girl suddenly felt hot and gripped the plastic aquila tightly with both fists. Not that Olga believed in the miraculous power and support of the symbol, but she needed to keep her hands busy in order to hide her trembling fingers. The monk noticed the gesture and nodded slightly, as if approving.​

    "You're trying to play pious through ritual. It's not bad, not bad, let's face it. But still not enough."​

    Damn it, Olga thought to herself, feeling a cold trickle of sweat run down her spine.​

    "W-what?"​

    "My child," the monk said constructively. "Don't be afraid. If I smelled anything unholy or heretical in you, even the size and weight of a snowflake, you'd have been blown overboard as hot ash. But all I see is a lack of faith that comes from ignorance. And ignorance is not the vice of man, but his shepherd."​

    The monk flicked open the cover of his book. With both hands, he touched the first page, like a blind one. On the thick yellowish paper was a black image of a tall man dressed in a suit of armor and huge shoulder pads, already familiar to Olga. The knight clutched a hammer in one hand and raised the other above his head with a clenched fist. The Priest's face lit up from within with reverence, sincere, without a trace of pretension.​

    "You were taught by bad shepherds," the monk reported. "They needed blind faith, strict ritual. Well, there's a place for that in the Imperium, too. Not here, however. Not under the sacred flag of the color of the blood of the righteous. Why do you think that is?"​

    Olga swallowed, squeezing the green eagle even tighter. The Priest waited.​

    "I don't know," the girl whispered, feeling like she was putting her own life on the line.​

    "If you were to begin speaking without content, without faith, it would be your last words," the monk said simply and mundanely. "But you've admitted that your soul is an open book with blank pages. And that is good. The path to light begins with the awareness of darkness."​

    Oh, god... Fuck...

    "You're in the Squad now, child," the Priest said softly. "Our work is deadly to the body, but there's a far greater danger hanging over the souls of the purifiers. That's why I'm here, among the small ones. That's why I don't shout 'heresy' for any reason, but temper the souls of my flock with understanding. The time will come... and it will come, believe me, when hostile forces will attack your being, try to steal the essence of your humanity. And when that happens, only true faith, based on rigorous knowledge, will protect you. Do you understand?"​

    Olga nodded slowly, cautiously, as if wishing to reserve for herself the opportunity to take back the gesture, to refuse it, to declare that it was just a movement without meaning or reason. The monk smiled a miserly, restrained smile, carefully wiped his palms on the sleeves of his cassock, reverently, without a bit of pretense, turned the page, uttering:​

    He is the Emperor and God, both a creature and a supernatural being. Therefore, our Lord is truly perfect and is above every substance on this side and the other side of the universe.​
    Olga expected to see a new picture according to what she had heard. With some divine content, but she was categorically mistaken. There was a diagram on both sides of the page, covering the entire spread. Stylized as a wide temple with a domed roof, filled with numerous and incomprehensible figures-symbols, but nevertheless, quite a clear scheme with squares and inscriptions. Olga understood something about "custodes" and "munistorum".​

    "Preaching should fill the souls of the congregation with godliness and faith," the Priest said. "But the ignorant mind cannot fully perceive the light of truth. So to begin with ..."​
    He put his broad palm on top of the scheme.​

    "This, child, is the Imperium. The beautiful creation of God the Emperor, within whose walls the peoples of countless languages find shelter. Let us see the structure of Humanity's house and the gatekeepers, stern but fair, who guard its gates..."​
     
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  23. Threadmarks: The Squad Chapter 5
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

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    Chapter 5
    * * *​
    Piranha thought Aurelius. A bloody Cappadorean piranha, that's what he reminds me of. Only the coloring is different.

    The Martian ship hovered in a stationary orbit one hundred and ten kilometers above the surface of Deimos. The craft seemed to be tied by an invisible thread to an ordinary, unremarkable rock that concealed many meters of docking mechanism flaps. The ship seemed almost invisible in the inky sky, the presence of the spacecraft given away only by the flicker of clearance lights on the many-meter-long stingers of the outpost antennas, and the occasional plasma emissions from the correction engines.​

    Perhaps the star wanderer did resemble Brother Aurelius' disgusting predatory fish, who knows? A qualified judgment required a visit to the colony at the very edge of the Solar segment. But the propulsion marching block aft could, with some convention, be considered a tail; the technical deck below the bridge would pass for a lower jaw. The cargo and living quarters would then be the upper jaw, and the throat would be the command post, hidden behind a several-meter-thick plasteel glass. The triple heat radiators, beveled back against the bow of the ship, with a little imagination would pass for shaped gills. The upper and lower fins were considered protruding guns.​

    A predatory creature whose hunger is unquenchable, attacking everything that moves. Though, of course, it was a play on the imagination. From Adeptus Mechanicum's point of view, the useless, atavistic parasite that evolution had 'rewarded' the pure mind with. Above the satellite hovered a Justificator-class ship, type 'K2', of Martian build. Two hundred and seventy meters long, one thousand six hundred tons at rest. The likes of this ship are used in the cover fleets of Astra's Basilicon squadrons. Also in demand among Adeptus Arbitres units in asteroid colonies or autonomous settlements on non-atmospheric worlds.​

    Memory, long ago enhanced both in the Sanctum Sanctorum chambers and by the Adeptus Mechanicus implants, reminded Brother Aurelius in detail, exhaustively, of the typical armament of the ship. Gun decks along the upper and lower ribs of the main hull. Eight thirty-centimeter electromagnetic cannons (the list of standard ammunition includes low-yield nuclear shells) with a launching speed of thirty-two kilometers per second. There are two suppressor field emitters and four units of twelve-centimeter dual-fire autocannon to counter enemy landing craft and anti-missile defenses.​

    An ordinary ship, one of those that bind together the giant body of the Empire, stitching together the glittering pearls of settlements scattered across the vast expanse of the galaxy. But Aurelius did not like 'Justificators'; the sight of them invariably evoked memories. Unpleasant, painful, even after a century and a half.​

    Yes, a hundred and forty-three years ago, Aurelius saw exactly the same ship. Only that one had been hijacked by demon-worshipping techno-heretics who had set out to sacrilegiously lay their hands on Imperial property and destroy the inhabited station. Only a few were able to come to the rescue, including the newly founded order of spacemarines, whose warriors were skilled in many things but untrained in space combat. But the Emperor's chosen children did not hesitate. Nor did they wait for the Grey Knights' strike cruiser Ordo Malleus to respond to the call.​

    Destroying the Justificator in combat with the available forces was impossible, the only option left was boarding. The Order's Thunderhawks and the requisitioned Starhawk assigned to the PDF, were forty kilometers away from the enemy ship when the possessed heretic servitors fired. Every four seconds a pair of cannons ejected two nuclear charges. Every four seconds a twin nuclear burst meant the destruction of another ship of His faithful servants, but none retreated. The Heretics had to fire sixty salvos, expending precious projectiles, skillfully maneuvering under the control of a mind that was neither human nor machine-made.​

    The last seven Starhawks had been shot by autocannons at practically point-blank range, six to nine kilometers. Not one made it to boarding. Some of the attackers escaped in lifeboats, intact bays, and suits, but very few.​

    From Navis Nobilite later came a report of the destruction of the rebel ship - from a safe distance, by the targeted fire of the 'Cobra'. It was especially noted that the rapid and clean elimination of the enemy was only possible because of the suicidal attack by the Space Marines.​

    '...Having taken the blow, your warriors left no weapon for the enemy to attack the station. Only through their sacrifice do three hundred thousand souls continue to serve the Golden Throne...'​

    After reading the message, looking into the face of the Grandmaster who had sent two-thirds of his men to their death, Aurelius was only by the grace of the Emperor to restrain himself from beheading him right on the bridge of the Grey Knights' strike cruiser. Even now the memory of that day disturbed his equilibrium, despite the clear awareness that his Captain Mentor had been quite right.​

    Aurelius sighed and turned his attention back to the screen. The annoying blue-yellow "Justificator" with marker PR-08E was holding steady over the formally non-existent docking points on Forge Deimos, not deviating from the perpendicular to the surface by more than half a meter. The same amazing precision with which one hundred and forty-three years ago...​

    With a familiar effort of will, the Grey Knight cast aside the sad memories of the painful past in the name of the cares of the future. The guest from Mars had arrived for a reason - his codes had been confirmed by the Inquisition, whose representatives were already waiting patiently on Titan. Three parties, three allies in the great service of Mankind, seldom gathered their representatives together. But now was precisely such a special occasion. A new, truly unique invention of the Mechanicus affected the interests of both the Inquisitors and the Order, capable of placing a new weapon in their hands to fight incalculable dangers. And therefore, according to the ancient treaty, it had to be approved by all three parties.​

    "Sidonius Gendarme, your authorization is confirmed, gate two. If active onboard weapons are detected below eighty kilometers, the ship will be destroyed without warning.​

    The sentinel auspex detected no nuclear munitions or typically depleted uranium rounds on board. And yet Aurelius' memory quietly but insistently kept whispering, "Type four munition. Titanium casing, crystalline stressed core of the 'built spiral' type. The projectile is characterized by an excellent penetration capability. After penetrating through the outer casing of the target, the core explodes, causing significant damage to weakly protected internal structures by flying projectiles..."

    "Roger that," a voice devoid of even a hint of emotion answered. "Additional information. The onboard weapons are physically de-energized and no ammunition is on board. Beginning descent. Relative vertical speed to the 10-kilometer mark - three hundred and forty meters per second."​

    The Martian ship was safely secured by the maintenance slipways. The Mechanicus representative waited nonchalantly in front of the monolithic slab of the transport tunnel gate while the two techno marines carefully studied the readings of the 'Justificator's onboard cogitators as well as their own auspex. The gate could withstand a megaton blast, and the holy symbols embedded in its structure by molecular assembly would prevent even a vanishingly small shadow of Warp sprouts from entering the Forge's sancta sanctorum.​

    The Martians' mechanical willingness to follow security protocols was commendable in itself, but it would make the welcoming Grey Knights captain feel a little better if that willingness stemmed from a sincere belief in the Emperor-God rather than a blind adoration of his strange hypostasis, called Omnissia.​

    "Something troubling you, Cantor?" Aurelius' companion, an unremarkable-looking man dressed in a simple gray cloak, was lost in the background of the armored giant. Only the insignia of Lord Inquisitor Ordo Malleus, dangling from his belt, indicated his status.​

    "I don't trust them," the captain said frankly and directly.​

    "You're biased."​

    "I believe that only those who believe in the Emperor with all their hearts are worthy of real trust. In the Emperor," the spacemarine repeated. "Not in his... dubious reflection."​

    "That's fair and reasonable," the inquisitor agreed, and he spoke quickly but clearly and so skillfully, without a hitch, as if he were reading from a sheet of scribbled text. "Though the followers of Mechanicus have been of great support to our cause, it would be folly to place our trust in those who have volunteered to limit the spread of His light upon their souls and worlds. But we must not forget the determination with which the children of God the Machine eradicate the slightest manifestation of the Ruinous Powers."​

    "And the outbreaks of techno-heresy do not diminish in number," the spacemarine mechanically ran his broad palm over the bald head with the protruding augmentation connectors. His fingers trembled for a moment, tracing a huge scar that stretched from the temple to the base of his skull like a flaming whip. "And these are just the one's rumors of which reach our ears..."​

    "As in the Ecclesiarchy," the inquisitor suddenly cut the captain short. "As among the orders of the Adeptus Astartes. As in the ranks of the Adeptus Astra Militarum. It is not for us to judge how effective the logis and mages are in shielding the Forges and the Knights' Worlds from the corrupting effects of the Warp. The Emperor's will was to rid the colonial empire of Mars of the oversight of the Inquisition!"​

    "I... I did not mean to question His will," Aurelius tried to express diplomatic modesty and already regretted that he had allowed himself inappropriate frankness."​

    "Of course. Hasty words are not heresy, but only a reminder of our imperfections. But spoken in the wrong place at the wrong time, they can plant the seed of heresy in unstable souls."​

    The Inquisitor's still smooth voice blossomed with a slight, barely perceptible note of warning.​

    "I will remember this truth and bring it to the brothers," the giant said quietly.​

    "Not the truth, just the maxima," the Lord Inquisitor's voice softened. - There is a spoken word..."​

    "And yet I don't fully understand what purpose He had in allowing such a... The existence of their strange faith."​

    "That's the right question."​

    The inquisitor was silent for a few minutes. The spacemarine waited patiently. Behind the gate continued the patient, unhurried examination, in fact, the strictest inspection of the ship and the Martian envoy.​

    "I wondered about it, too. For years, until I found an explanation that reconciled me with the fact under discussion. And understanding came to me in moments of reflection concerning the Age of Discord."​

    " Age of Discord," Aurelius asked a question in confusion.​

    "Yes. It was a difficult time when the Holy Synod was dissolved and the High Lords of Terra, shall we say, did not show unanimity in the face of the threat."​

    "A shadow of decay, a consequence of Heresy," the Knight cut off. "The wound the Archreaver inflicted on the Imperium was too deep."​

    "This is true. But Vandir's bloody reign was already the result of our mistakes."​

    "Didn't the Inquisition enthrone the insane Ecclesiarch? And what has Mars got to do with it?"​

    "Not directly erected, no. But after Drakan Vangorich killed all the High Lords of Terra, we shared the opinion that the power of the Church over the worlds of the Imperium is preferable to the clumsy bureaucracy of the Adminitum. Let decisions are made piously and immediately, as the moment and higher interests dictate, rather than drowning in mossy codes whose interpretation could take decades. Well, it is now clear that we were wrong. And our common mistake may well have ruined the Empire for good.:​

    "Vandir was overthrown by the Sisters. Not Martians," the spacemarine stood his ground​

    "Yes, at that time Brides of the Emperor. But by whose instigation did they see the truth? Who led them to the very Throne to depose the usurper, tyrant, and madman?"​

    "Legio Custodes..." Aurelius frowned. "It's common knowledge."​

    "Captain General Custodes contacted the masters of the Orders and the Logis of Mars only after the skitarians and space marines had entered the Ecclesiarch's Palace," the inquisitor said.​

    "Through gaps breached by the orbital salvos of the Martian fleet. The fall of the Mad King was brought about by the combined power of Astartes and Mechanicus, uncontrolled by any other, and thus beyond the depths of the filth that plagued the Imperium. The filth of our own making, not of the Ruinous Powers!"​

    "I didn't know that," the Knight shook his head.​

    "The Emperor, in his infinite wisdom, likened Terra and Mars to a right hand and a left hand, equally ready to smite the enemies. An eye to the right and a left that is always watching. And if one eye go blind and one hand go dry, it will not destroy the body of the Empire, and the festering flesh will be excised."​

    The Lord Inquisitor sighed.​

    "Truly, His plan was wise in saving humanity from itself. And so we will carefully study the proposal of our guest, the gift of the God-Machine that he brought. Whether we reject it or accept it, who knows, but we will study it anyway."​

    Flashes of yellow lights announced that the guest had been judged safe enough to be allowed into the Inquisitor's part of Deimos.​

    "Some believe that the greatest secret of Adeptus Mechanicus is that they have long since lost sight of their own technology," the Inquisitor spoke thoughtfully. "That their Search for Knowledge is merely a collection of technical documents and schematics, while the essence and principles of machinery are brushed aside. That the management of machines, from the Divine Titans and master Forge cogitators to the hydraulic presses in the workshops of agro-worlds is merely an empty ritual, a hollowed-out sequence of actions..."​

    "And your opinion?" the captain inquired. More out of politeness.​

    "A way to move Deimos from Mars orbit to Titan was not known before Heresy, although developments were certainly underway. And while it seems logical to assume that this is only a legacy from the time of the Great Crusade..." The Inquisitor pondered for a moment, "I know for a fact that a way to move all of Mars beyond the solar system was proposed to Parliament millennia later."​

    "Moving... of Mars?"​

    The Inquisitor sighed.​

    "Mars keeps many secrets. And personally, it seems to me that the greatest of them is hidden in plain sight. That among the higher Magos there are enough of those who are not only brilliantly versed in ancient technology, but also capable of inventing new ones. That the reputation of conservatives, living only with proven recipes, is a mask, a camouflage for the world. And this begs another question - what are the Martians trying to hide behind a chorus of blindly repeating litanies of techno visionaries and a demonstrative search for techno heresy? This is what is truly intriguing."​

    The armored flaps parted, revealing a view of the demonstration area.​

    "And now we'll see how close I am to the truth... probably close."​

    The demonstration hall was an oval area a little over a hundred meters long, on one half of which three sealed sarcophagi were already in place. Not simple sarcophagi, very, very not so simple. The number of silver protective glyphs, holy seals, and scrolls of parchment that the skin of volunteer righteous men covered them would otherwise have suggested a den of true heretics. Under the high ceiling was a system of pipes, ready to flood the room with antiseptic, napalm, or acid at a moment's notice. Under the armored floor was a thermonuclear charge, as a last resort.​
    The audience, however, saw far more frightening things in this same hall than the three locked tombs. Now, through the reinforced (and, again, consecrated) portholes, the representatives of the Inquisition and the Knights were preparing to study the Martian proposal. Calmly, unhurriedly, without anger or prejudice.​

    The second half of the room was in charge of the Logis. Directed by his commands, the four-legged servitor was finishing arranging the heavy crates that contained the 'Geller drones,' as these devices were called according to the ship's manifest. At the very wall, behind Logis' back, five brothers, armed to the teeth, tested in the worst battles against the enemies of mankind, stood still in niches covered by individual Geller generators. Again, just in case something went wrong.​

    "When the servitor had finished, the magos turned to the porthole, made a ceremonial bow, and spoke. Sensitive microphones transmitted his words without the slightest distortion. Hovering cameras were broadcasting, recording the details of what was happening in great detail."​

    "The 'Glass Cat' project is a technological solution for the local forced separation of Materium and Immaterium in physical space."​
    Logis's speech, delivered through the auspex, seemed impassive, but the captain's experienced ears picked up notes of contentment. Or a skillful imitation of it. With those `irons' augmented up to their ears, you couldn't be sure of anything.​

    The creation of Geller's mobile transmitter carrier faced some technical difficulties, but all the problems were solved, and the result is acceptable. The task of the presented sample is the operational leveling of the impact of conventionally structured entities-fluctuations of the Immaterial, defined by the Inquisition as 'demons'.​

    The inquisitor pressed his lips together but remained silent.​

    "Request for the first demonstration by protocol," said the Martian.​

    The locks clicked loudly, the metal tinkled. The four 'petals' of the ancient sarcophagus parted, the protective glyphs crumbling with silver dust. Now only the ancient arcane shackles held the white-purple, spiky Spawn of Slaanesh inside. The creature squeaked, snapping its bones with its chews, showing an obvious desire to get its hands on the red-robed logis so close.​
    One of the four containers next to the Martian suddenly moved, as if it had been shaken by a powerful blow from inside. Just a moment later it was already unfolding into a relatively small four-legged automaton. A bundle of thin antennas shot out from the top of the hull, complex 'eyes' that looked like faceted spheres stretched out on flexible stalks. It took the machine a few more seconds to detect its adversary, to turn the hull toward the warp spawn, and then...​

    The acoustics worked perfectly, reducing the volume of the demonic creature's howl to acceptable levels, but a dozen layers of hallowed armored glass shuddered faintly. What the twisted humanoid parody spawned was no scream, it was an Empyrean howl that penetrated even through the Geller field that covered the site. Moments later, the shackles tumbled to the stone, as empty as the day they'd left the forge. The creature vanished without a trace.​

    "Impressive," said the inquisitor.​

    "A good servitor with a bolter or melt gun would do the same, only a few times cheaper," the Knight grumbled, covering the microphone with an armored glove.​

    "The uninitiated might think that the demon has been banished back to the Immaterium, and the effects of the emitter are similar to the methods of experienced psykers of the Ecclesiarchy, Navis Nobilite, the Inquisition, and so on," Magos said, as if he heard the caustic remark.​

    "However, such an approach was found to be counterproductive, as the exorcised entity, although it leaves our reality, keeps all the information, as well as the algorithms of behavior, fixed in the conditional analogs of neural networks. That is, each defeat is not final and only hardens the opponent. Sooner or later the entity returns, becoming more experienced, smarter, more dangerous. In addition, as was rightly noted above, the destruction of the material part of the demon may well be achieved by more traditional means. For example, by a sufficiently high density of fire of the standard Adeptus Astra Militarum weaponry."​

    So he heard it after all.

    Aurelius moved his jaw but remained silent. The automaton, which had fired on the monster, did not move, only the antennae spikes occasionally flickered with short-lived whitish lightning.​
    "Here a completely different effect applies. The demon is not exposed to Immaterium at one time. In fact, it is squeezed out of real space in parts, with the diameter of each part not exceeding seven nanometers, which completely precludes its recovery in its original pseudo-structured form."​

    "You mean... It's like you're squeezing it through a blender, isn't it?" said the inquisitor.​

    "Yes. It is not the demon itself that returns to the Immaterium, but a set of raw substances, in which no structured processes, including informational ones, are possible. Also, the process takes some, albeit very short, time, and the volumes of the Immaterium are shifting chaotically relative to the real space, so the above-mentioned substance turns out to be smeared over a significant pseudo-volume of the Empyrean."​

    "In other words, now you can destroy demons... We can destroy demons."​

    "Technically it would be more correct to say "irreversibly modify their essence and structure". But in fact, yes, it is destruction."​

    "What is the zone of impact?" The Inquisitor knew that the station's cogitators not only transmit any word of the observers to the logis, but also reliably preserve them. Only the Emperor knows what the investigators might need, in the highly unlikely event that further demonstration goes wrong.​

    "This model has an impact zone that is a sphere nine and thirty-two hundredths of a meter in diameter, which forms at a distance of up to one kilometer. Depending on a set of conditions, such as the level of ionization of the atmosphere, the degree of wear of the emitters, and so on. Destroying larger demons may require the coordinated action of several automatons. I think it is best to discuss the details after the demonstration part is completed. Request for the second demonstration by protocol."​

    The second sarcophagus opened, revealing, like in a fairy tale, even more disgusting contents. The captain grimaced. He had personally supervised the operation when this twisted counterpart of the Imperial Knight-Questor had been captured. The immobilized - or rather, simply stripped of limbs - stump of the once glorious hero was now nothing but an unnatural combination of steel, ceramic, and flesh soaked in the unholy essence of black sorcery.​

    The second container obediently turned the automaton and repeated the actions of its now motionless counterpart. Except that this time in the mental scream of the 'target' the Grey Knight heard a note of... gratitude. Or at least a fading shadow of relief. Without a shadow of pretense, the Inquisitor and the Captain both cast an aquila. The once-righteous pilot's suffering soul, suffering for more than a century, had been freed from the bonds of the Ruinous Powers, though not granted a posthumous blessing in the light of the Emperor's mercy.​

    Steel, titanium, ceramite, and other material barriers are not an obstacle to the effects of the emitters," commented the Martian. - Neither are known psychic fields. Note - it has been established that the holoarmor of the Aeldari can present a noticeable resistance, leading to an incomplete exposure of the target. Thus, on the battlefield, the use of Geller emitters developed during the project can reduce the cost of destroying enemy combat equipment, defined by the Inquisition as 'possessed'. Including the cost of personnel. Requesting the third demonstration.​

    This time the demonhost was to be put to the test.​

    "Is that necessary?" Aurelius asked grimly, pointing to the motionless figure of a fellow who had taken up a position between the emitter and the target, next to the magos.​

    The possessed creature still retained enough resemblance to a human. The more monstrous the changes that desecrated the original form seemed. Compared to the host, the Grey Knight in armor and the logis, augmented into a living statue, seemed like paragons of humanity. The thick bars of the cylindrical cage, held up against the might of a Nob Orc, were visibly corroded, furrowed, and blistered as if they were aging a thousand times faster than they should have. The possessed creature gnawed at the metal, crumbling its teeth, and, worst of all, the sturdiest alloy began to yield to weak flesh. The chewed lips of the host mumbled menacing curses, which were dissipated by the narrowly focused noise generators.​

    "Highly desirable," said Martian strictly. "It should be noted that an important aspect of the use of Geller-emitters is their effect on living, highly organized sentient organisms that have a mental reflection in the Immaterium.:​

    The holo-screen showing Brother Salazar's condition showed the moment the emitter struck, but ten seconds later the readings were back to normal. Unless now, judging by the battle gear, the knight was in need of rest, as if he hadn't finished his morning prayers just half an hour ago.​

    The demonhost's body twitched convulsively as if it had been hit by a weakened Voltaic blaster. Deprived of demonic energy support, it was, as you must expect, unlivable. Its organs, mutilated by the touch of the forbidden, were still trying to function, but it was obviously in death's agony.​

    "Bearers of the paria gene will not notice the effects of the radiation. Normal people, as well as Astartes without psionic activation, will experience some depression of mental activity on a physiological level, but even in the worst case will recover from normal sleep within a day or two. Astartes with psionic activation, civilian licensed Munistorum psykers may occasionally lose consciousness, but will fully recover within fifteen-hundredths of a standard year if they can be brought promptly to a medical unit similar to the standard Sisters Hospitaller field unit. The effects on astropaths and particularly strong psykers can be fatal if they are markedly mentally exhausted. Or it would have irreversible consequences on their abilities - in the direction of decreasing the level of mental potential. Nevertheless, the ability to fire practically without fear for the effect of 'friendly fire' is tentatively regarded as very useful."​

    The fourth automaton moved its articulated legs, joining its frozen brethren. But unlike the others, it had a heavy stabber on top.​

    "Unfortunately, the energy capacity of automatons does not allow them to activate their emitters more than once without recharging or replacing the batteries. Since the possibility of encountering not only demons and possessed objects, but also more traditional targets is always implied, Adeptus Mechanicus has developed standard weapon units to cover the so-called Geller Drones. They include flamethrower, stabber, and missile variants. Separately, it should be noted that although it takes eighteen hours to fully charge the helper drone battery pack, the design provides for rapid battery replacement in the field."​

    In the meantime, the servitor, kindly provided by the Deimos questors, was trying to install a replacement battery. On the fourth attempt, he succeeded.​

    "Replacements can be made after minimal instruction," the logis technodendrites quickly removed the four locking screws covered by the armor plates on the second drone and deftly snapped on the connectors as if the battery didn't weigh nearly two hundred kilograms. Trained personnel could effectively maintain the helper drones even on the battlefield.​

    "Fine," the inquisitor remained completely serious. "I suppose we should now hand over the documentation and test results to our magicians for verification and coordination."​

    "Field testing," the spacemarine muttered, crossing his arms over his broad chest. "I've seen a lot of 'absolute weapons' that have done wonders in the ranges and the labs. But in practice, in the mud of field battles, in the slums of beehives, they proved worse than rusty scrap. Until I see what your... 'Cats' in the real business, to me they are nothing but expensive iron junk."​

    "Yes, I tend to agree," the inquisitor supported his colleague.​

    "Your expectations are fair and obvious," Magos was cooperative. "And we are ready to discuss the issue of full-fledged tests. Against the real enemy under combat conditions. Especially since the operation will require extensive preparations and deployment of auxiliary forces. In the first stage, to avoid obvious problems, Adeptus Mechanicus suggest limiting themselves to supporting the actions of the Ecclesiarchy and Munistorum forces. The Grey Knights' mental capacity will obviously make them more vulnerable when things go wrong."​

    "When?" The inquisitor raised an eyebrow.​

    "In any complex action, there is always a deviation from the original plan. Especially when it comes to the practical application under unpredictable conditions of such complex mechanisms," replied the Martian. "And we are prepared for that."​
    * * *​
     
  24. Threadmarks: The Squad Chapter 6
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

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    Chapter 6
    * * *​
    After twenty-four hours of downtime, filled with the hustle and bustle of the traffic, Radial-12 moved on, slowly at first, giving modulated signals, like a huge whale scaring away small fish. Then the atomic snake accelerated, and the narrow window was filled with dull steppe scenery again, interspersed with a smattering of civilization. After some more time, the pace slowed again, and the armored train rolled on at a speed slightly faster than a good pedestrian, hour after hour, day after day.​

    There was no time for boredom, Berta keep riding them all the time and the training took place, among other things, on the wide roof of the car, under the icy wind. Olga already more or less learned how to roll the cart with the cylinders and quickly replace the used tank behind the operator's back. If necessary, if every second counted, the hose could be inserted directly into the 'spare', although it constrained the flamethrower.​

    Olga became better acquainted with her new colleagues. Although it could not be said that everyone became friends and the girl was welcomed into her new family. There was more of a pause, an understatement... The girl decided that most likely the squadmates were waiting for the test in the real case, which kept getting postponed and postponed.​
    Things were not easy, either. Although the Priest visited the new sheep every night and preached (or rather, told her how the Imperium was organized). Some things Olga did not understand or understood with difficulty, and she was wary of asking too much detail, despite the monk's peaceful and enlightening attitude.​

    The Squad was a clerical unit, but it had a paramilitary structure. It was supposed to work hand in hand with the local army and the FBI (which they called 'arbiters'), but at the same time was grounded for independent operations, and the soldiers firmly enshrined the imperative of 'no one but you, only the Emperor behind! Service in the Order was considered extremely honorable, but the staff was completed, for the most part, by force, with a mandatory period of four years of service. The company lived under barracks rule, the unauthorized absence was considered equal to desertion, and mentors and shepherds had the right to kill subordinates on the spot. That is, of course, honor and respect, but the company was more like a penal unit than anything else.​

    Back on the church ship, Olga had heard some fearful stories about the monstrous, prohibitive mortality rate in the Squad, reaching almost ninety percent. But in all the time the new novice had been here, the company had only gone out on false calls, and no one had died, not even maimed. Though it could not be said that this was particularly burdensome to the girl. However, getting to know the last member of the wagon squad sobered her up a bit.​

    The middle-aged man, who looked like a wildly bearded Luke Skywalker with rolled-up eyes, was called Madman. He was really a man gone mad, living somewhere in the mechanical jungle of the intermediate floor, next to a washing machine that ran without water. The unfortunate man looked like a victim of the worst kind of post-traumatic stress disorder; the squad seemed to ignore him on the one hand, while on the other they unobtrusively cherished and cared for him. It seems that the Madman was considered a blessed man and the mascot of the wagon. The question of how the poor fellow came to be in such a sad state was studiously ignored by the inmates, even the monk was silent. Olga rather quickly got used to waking up once or twice a night from wild cries of "The walls! They're coming out of the walls! The creatures on the ceiling!!.." and stopped asking unnecessary questions.​

    Thus, life in the Squad managed to combine an abundance of new experiences with boredom. Frequent training, infrequent trips on false calls, monastic sermons... and that was it. Olga even tried to get unobtrusively acquainted with Demetrius, but the guy shunned her. Or rather, he shunned everyone in general, immersed in prayer or unspoken thoughts.​
    Four years... Two hundred weeks, one is over, one hundred and ninety-nine more to go. Soon you'll be free with a clear conscience.​

    Olga was resting after a tedious training session that had begun early in the morning and ended near noon when the 'Radial' slowed down even more and began to chime. It was a chime the girl had already learned. It meant that the armored train would now begin to maneuver through the web of rails and stop for refueling, loading, and God knows what else.​

    Her legs and shoulders ached from the heavy 'IIFS'. Crybaby made his assistant carry the flamethrower as a skill development exercise. The device was so bulky and heavy that it was not easy even for a man to carry it, so the whole set of flamethrowers or chemical sprayers included a rather complicated system of suspension and stabilization. If everything was properly put on and fitted, it wasn't so difficult to use the weapon. It was still hard, though.​

    The armored train stopped. Olga kneaded her aching right calf and thought that the amazing thing was that, although it was not forbidden, no one went to visit each other. Each wagon lives its own life, not communicating with the people around it.​

    And why? It was unclear. However, she was already used to the fact that many things in the Empire have no logical explanation. They simply are what they are, and there is no use discussing or criticizing them. Why, for example, is crappy coffee called 'rekaf', there is no vodka, and tea is considered a barbaric drink akin to moonshine? And because. It just is.​
    The girl opened the flap on the window to look out at the sun. The local star was dim. At its brightest noon it seemed like dusk outside, but still some variety.​

    Oh, interesting... it seems to be a station or some kind of terminal. The 'Radial' moved again and slowly drove into some kind of metal forest, where iron trusses, concrete columns, and chaotically designed crosswalks were abundant. All very utilitarian, not at all passenger-friendly. The armored train rolled along a wide, curving semicircle track toward a huge structure that looked like a control tower in the form of a wide tablet with two 'legs' on either side of the railroad track. The train had to pass under it, moving into the mouth of the concrete complex, which looked like a scattering of huge cubes.​

    "The Emperor protects," the girl muttered, watching the orange and yellow display of dispatchers (or whatever it was) approaching. Above the 'tablet' loomed a gun turret with a machine gun twin and something suspiciously resembling a giant flamethrower's nozzle. She wondered what would happen next, but the lamps under the ceiling blinked three times. This was the sign Olga had already learned - the demand to wall up tightly in the train, to cover all the windows, and not to stick her head out. The girl shrugged her shoulders, slid the armored plate, and conscientiously screwed all the locking screws. Then she went to the galley for lunch.​

    The cook was usually Crybaby, about whom they joked, without malice, that he didn't even need to salt his food, just needed to sob a little over the pots. Indeed, the elf-like flamethrower never took off his long scarf and almost always either cried openly or wrinkled in readiness to burst into tears. Olga decided that it was most likely a consequence of many generations of adaptation to some planetary conditions - increased tear production and flushing of the ocular apparatus.​

    "Here," Crybaby sniffed his nose and poured into Olga's bowl a ladleful of what looked like cooked pea concentrate. There was meat in the mixture that looked like a stew. The girl already knew that it was a kind of 'groks,' but prudently did not ask what it was, reasoning that what the eyes do not see, the stomach is not afraid.​

    From the dark corner of the common compartment Savlar angrily flashed his eyes, Olga pretended not to notice. The girl generally concluded that the noseless man was an impostor and just a chatterbox. There was no real 'imprisonment' about him, no sense of the leaky attic of a real prisoner from a real infernal penal colony.​

    The train shuddered and stopped. The jolt almost made Olga drop her bowl. Steam hissed and something rattled on the armor plating. Devouring a hot lunch, the novice sadly remembered that today it was her turn to wash dishes. There was no breakfast due to the training, but now there would be something to do.​

    "I will help."​

    The Holy Man spoke infrequently, but always in a serious and relevant way.​

    "Thank you," Olga thanked, picking up the empty bowls. One good thing was that all the squaddies clearly had a hungry past, so the used dishes always shone like licked, not a crumb on the bottom. Less work for the dutyman. It's a pity that washing is not mechanized, although there is a cleaning robot, for example, here, that rolls around and cleans as it should, even knows how to clean the bathroom.​

    Savlar neglectfully tossed her a bowl with the words:​

    "Take it."​

    Olga leaned toward him, pretending to grab a stack of dishes more comfortably, and quietly promised:​

    "If you bark again, I'll put a pot over your ears."​

    The convict wrinkled his already ugly face into a very unimaginative face and remained silent. The pseudo-criminal's face still hadn't healed from the encounter with the regicide board and fingernails, which pleased Olga. It's good when bad people suffer.​

    Not too deftly, but diligently acting with a hose with a weak stream of warm water, the washerwoman as if casually, in passing, asked the volunteer helper:​

    "And where are we?"​

    "On radial line number twelve," replied the Holy Man, wiping another bowl with a towel."​

    Olga was quiet, trying to think up the next question. Well, yes... It makes sense - the train with the name 'Radial-12' runs on the appropriate line.​

    "We're refueling today," the Holy One looked critically at the pot. Crybaby as the cook was pretty good, but every time he got something burned. The long-haired trooper waved his head, brushed aside the annoying strand of liquid gray hair, and reached for the brush.​

    "Don't go to bed tonight. Go over to Sinner's, he'll give you a thermos of recaf. He knows how to brew it so that you can't sleep a wink. And close to sunset, say your prayers properly. Better go to your shepherd, see if he'll prescribe flagellation. Of course, the Madman will recite for us all night, and the Sinner will whip. But anyway. It'll be easier."​

    It took the girl half a minute to remember the meaning of the word 'flagellation,' then she stared into the sink full of slushy foam so as not to reveal herself with a mournful grimace. It seemed to fail, but the Holy One mistook the expression of disgust for fear and explained:​

    "We'll drive by the edge of the coast where it all happened "then."​

    "I don't know what happened," Olga reported quietly, mechanically watering the plate. "I wasn't there."​

    The Holy One was supposed to give some kind of clarification, but he only scraped the bottom of the pot with a stiff brush, limiting himself to a short one:​

    "It's for the best."​

    Fuck you, offended Olga, feeling a slight prick of conscience for swearing at an assistant, and a voluntary one at that. As the minutes passed, curiosity overcame her. Finally, the girl mustered her courage and decided to ask what the misfortune that happened and why it is better not to sleep during the day. But she didn't make it in time.​

    First, the speaker of the intra-train communication shrieked. It wheezed a little, warming up, and then the voice of the train commander, aka the company commander, a heavenly man whom Olga had never seen before, sounded all over 'Radial'. The Commandant, in the voice of a not too malicious but grouchy old man, announced that the day's training was canceled and that everyone should fortify their spirits, prepare for vigils and pray in anticipation of known events. For, as we know, the Emperor protects. Aquila portrayed Olga already mechanically, with the experience of a seasoned cultist, without retreating from her comrades-in-arms. Only the dropped bowl rattled in the iron sink.​

    Next, the commandant announced the cancellation of dinner, an all-train prayer at nine o'clock in the evening, and an all-night candlelight vigil for the chosen intercessors. He finished with a not quite clear, but ominous clause about the necessary readiness of mentors to be at arms, to reinforce discipline and 'interrupt excesses,' and then his speech was drowned in the growing rustle of static.​

    "There, you see," said the Holy One, as if the conversion had cleared everything up. "Everything is clear."​

    "Well, yeah," Olga thought it best to agree. "It couldn't be clearer..."​

    A quarter of an hour later, all the dishes were shining in the lattice racks, and towels were drying on the radiators. And Olga thought that thank the Emperor, she had some breadcrumbs stashed away for a rainy day, so that the nullification of dinner would not be so sad. And, again, no dishes to wash. The main thing was not to be written up as a "chosen protector".​

    Meanwhile, the thunder and clattering outside continued. The sinner, silent as ever, took his customary place in the corner, under the image of the Emperor. With touching care and concern he refilled the oil in the lamps and lit a new candle, complete with the symbols of faith. Taking a special brush, he brushed the non-existent dust from the parchment scrolls around the luminous image of the lord of the universe. He knelt down, threw a thick knitted shawl over his head like a penitent sinner. And again, as always, he began to bang his forehead against the wall. Olga once again caught herself thinking that it must look very comical... but it didn't. It was the utter seriousness with which the Sinner performed the rituals. And the seriousness with which the others took his regular exercises.​

    Another day... not the best day of her life, but, let's face it, not the worst. Feeling a pleasant heaviness in her belly and a tolerable pain in her legs, she remembered to check the cart and the hose, just in case. So she turned around and went to the ladder and then to the lower level, to the garage and workshop.​

    On the garage level, as usual, there was activity going on. The Priest intended to dilute the acid with reagent before all the usefulness was lost in the sludge. The driver demanded, in a loud and very high voice, that the Chimera should be sent to some clerics, because the machine spirit had not received proper care for a long time, was withering and sad. And in general, the promethium from the 'black-north-twenty' is not promethium, but urine, which makes the spirit even sadder. The girl did not immediately react to the approaching sound of heavy leisurely footsteps. Perhaps because the other squad members continued to quietly go about their current affairs, as if nothing had happened. Only when two grotesque figures entered through the vestibule with heavy armored flaps, Olga realized that something amazing was to come.​

    Servitors. In her long months of living in a crazy world, Olga had rarely encountered anything more disgusting. And her companions on their hard work still smiled, regularly recalling the scream of "zombie!!!" that the girl let out the moment she realized that the servitor was not a robot decorated as a dead man, but rather the opposite - a dead man made to look like a robot.​
    The first was a human torso in a muddy red semblance of a jumpsuit with a telescopic hoist on a crawler. The dead man's arms were container grippers, a plastic hump protruded behind his back, and a riveted, bluish-pink head encased in a spherical cage of steel rods. The other, dressed in a short, dark-red hood with oil stains, seemed more human, except that his legs and arms and even the part of his head visible from under the hood glowed with polished iron and flecks of dull plastic patches.​

    Olga shuddered as the two buzzing corpses passed her, heading for the Chimera. The driver hurriedly climbed out of the iron womb, clearly happy in anticipation of the dead guests. The girl's reaction did not go unnoticed.​

    "Is something bothering you?" Demetrius asked carefully.​

    "I am... It makes me nervous... This," Olga hesitated, trying to find the words, her gothic skill still was not so fluent. "That kind of attitude toward the man. Even after the death."​

    "Many worthy men consider it their duty to continue to serve the Imperium," the Priest said admonishingly. "Even after death, if even a fraction of their bodies can benefit His work. It's an honorable and worthy destiny."​

    The couple who arrived were witching something by the engine compartment. It was like they were praying. The least of their actions looked like repairs. And the one on the cart was humming musically, like a small and silent instrument.​

    "What I definitely don't want to do is continue... being... like this," something that had been building up in the girl's soul finally erupted. "Even though my life before the Squad had sucked... shitty even... and people were almost all fucking assholes... but I'd rather stay the way I am. And if I die, I'd rather burn the fuck out than be... like this... brainless monster. Frankenstein!"​
    Olga's hand was pointing at the metal head. The girl did not immediately realize that hardly anyone knew the word "Frankenstein". But the reaction of the others to her outburst was... unexpected. The Savlar grinned vilely and grunted, dropping drops through the gap above his lips. The Holy Man and Crybaby sobbed in surprise, laughing, and Smoker laughed.​

    "What are you doing?" Big Bertha appeared from the opposite end of the wagon.​

    "Olla mistook a pinion for a servitor!" Still sobbing, Crybaby answered her. This time his tears seemed very appropriate and therefore frustrating.​

    "Tech-priest?" There was an unexpected reverence in the mentor's voice, even a kind of politeness. It's very strange. "I don't see you here very often. You're very welcome."​

    "A routine check of the speakerphone, the propulsion unit, and the sacred promethium system," the 'killer cyborg' said in an unexpectedly lucid and intelligent voice. His iron finger, more like a segmented tentacle, poked into the bowels of the 'Chimera' under the removed sheet of cladding, which hung from the crane-beam chains.​
    "Оh!" - Bertha was clearly delighted. "Thank you for your timely concern. The Emperor protects."​

    "Of course."​

    In the lifeless voice of the 'cyborg' not an ounce of deference to the Emperor could be heard, but everyone pretended not to notice it. After some intricate manipulation of the tank's engine, the iron couple moved along the side, to where Driver had already pulled out the radio box. Accompanied by a musical buzzing sound, two tentacles with large screwdrivers on their ends and two more with pincers, like round pliers, protruded from the back of the human cart. The artificial 'hands' quickly removed the worn casing, revealing a surprisingly crudely assembled board on a piece of brown textolite, from Olga's point of view. 'Cyborg' spread his fingers and enchanted the board with surprising dexterity. Something hissed, sparks sprinkled, the instrument in the womb of the cart changed tones and seemed to play some kind of hymn through electronic filters.​

    "Done," the 'cyborg' reported. "The preliminary service is complete. May the grace of Omnissiah be with the machines around you and with you."​

    The entire repair took a few seconds. The cart-man waved majestically with all his limbs, his musical apparatus emitting a cheerful chime of timpani. The Driver smiled in genuine happiness. The girl involuntarily marveled-the the first time she'd seen something worthy of the term 'effective' since the ballistic station.​

    Having finished his work, the 'cyborg', accompanied by the servitor, went further, apparently about to move on to the next wagon. As he passed the girl, he suddenly raised his hand, and the iron finger of the 'cog' - whatever that nickname meant - almost touched Olga's nose.​

    "Victor Frankenstein's creation had no name of its own. Besides, the cadaver was made entirely of meat," Olga was ready to swear that there was a clear mockery in the artificial voice. "So calling me 'Frankenstein' is unreasonable."​

    "I'm sure this child meant no disrespect," the Priest diplomatically remarked, pulling on his thick gloves for working with acid containers.​

    "There's not much imperfect flesh left in me. But my life is much more interesting than yours," the tech-priest informed her before he left.​

    Stunned by the kaleidoscope of events, the girl ignored her colleagues' spiteless taunts, checked the tires on the cart, made sure the patch on the hose held together as a matter of course. Finally, she wandered back to her room, wishing she had never seen or heard of anyone else.​

    What Olga lacked was an ordinary door behind which she could hide from the world. No matter how you look at it, a tarpaulin curtain - just a cloth, though dense - does not give real privacy. But this point, as she had already realized, was crucial here. For some reason, any squadmate had to be within earshot and reach at all times.​

    In her compartment, Olga carefully draped the doorway with a curtain, trying not to leave the slightest slit. Behind the thin bulkhead, Wretched Man was listening to a pocket radio, apparently something sports.​

    "Burn them, burn them!" The Madman shouted wildly from below so that the girl flinched. "More fire! We're running out of fuel!!!"​

    The wretched man's voice was answered by Smoker, who loudly promised to the whole wagon:​

    "There's enough fire for everyone, brother!"​

    The Madman was suddenly silent, his comrade's voice apparently calming the sufferer's inner demons. I wonder what he saw... ...and who was to be burned? Xenos, was it? Or witches? In any case, Olga hoped she would find out as late as possible. Ideally, she would not have to until after her redemptive obedience was over. It would be too good, but she could dream, couldn't she?​

    The girl took a critical look at her new home. It looked more or less habitable, but empty, without all the little things that people accumulate to fill their environment. Hygiene kit, government towels, clothes, overalls with a gas mask in a special box under the bottom shelf. An official bible with frayed pages and plenty of faded stamps of a train captain. A board, cracked after a meeting with Savlar's face. That was all.​

    But Olga, as a novice and a staff member of the flamethrower unit, must be entitled to some money, even with extra pay for her harmful work, right? It can't be like that, with no salary at all. The cellmates buy various knickknacks for something, such as a radio or new crimson-colored pants. I'll have to check. Manicure, of course, is now a luxury, but somewhere to get at least the nail polish. And some other little things. And also...​

    Heavy footsteps were heard in the corridor. Servitor again? Or that... 'cog'? Back? What for?​

    Someone strode mightily toward Olga's very shelter, stopping beside her. Bertha said something softly, and after a short pause, the unknown male voice agreed. Strangely enough, the Mentor changed again to her usual tone of stern, angry demandingness. Now the bodybuilder spoke almost friendly, with undisguised respect.​

    "That's it," Big Bertha said. "From now on, you're a member of the Squad and a novice of the Order..." She was silent for a moment or two, and then she finished. "May the Emperor have mercy on your soul, silly boy."​

    "Born to serve, in life and death, with Him and Mankind," the man said in a resounding and beautiful voice as if repeating a motto he had learned by heart.​

    "That's right!" Bertha agreed and left.​

    Olga sat down on the bench, straightening and biting her lip. She took hold of the little eagle - this gesture had already become customary, it seemed that the crude self-made thing calmed her down. She wanted to pray to God the Emperor, for real, as the Priest had taught her so that the dead man on the golden throne would guide and strengthen her and all that.​

    One of the invisible men behind the tarpaulin curtain stomped around, sniffing like a little steamer or a big kettle. The other rustled like a man taking off a thick outer garment. Then there was silence, interrupted only by the usual background of the armored train, the soft chants of the pious Demetrius, and the same cryptic whistling. So a minute or two passed. Then there was a soft but steady knock on the edge of the doorway.​

    "Olga," said the invisible man behind the curtain. "May I come in?"​

    There was no light in the corridor through the thick curtain, but she thought she could clearly see the shadow of a tall man about two meters tall behind the tarpaulin.​

    "You did learn to pronounce my name right," she said, her voice carefully controlled.​

    "Yes."​

    There were flamboyant and pathos-laden phrases like: "it's been a long road". But the girl kept it short and succinct:​

    "No. You are not welcome here."​

    And then she couldn't restrain herself, snorting angrily:​

    "Go to ass, Fidus."​
    * * *​
     
  25. Threadmarks: The Squad Chapter 7
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

    Joined:
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    Part 2
    Quarantine measures
    Chapter 7

    * * *
    What do you want? - Fidus asked, not even trying to hide his tired irritation. He was going to spend his last hours before the trip down in silence and reflection. Not conversations with his worst foe and most loyal unfriend.

    "Where is the deference to age and position, my boy?" Inquisitor Schmettau responded with caustic politeness and fake participation. For his part, he made no effort to disguise his jubilation.

    "The Inquisitor should be addressed as 'You,'" Essen Pale, Kalkroit Schmettau's apprentice, and protégé, towering over the patron's shoulder, remarked in a bored tone. "This is obvious if only from the difference in years."

    "Yeah," said Kryptman with a smirk. "So what do you want?"

    Normally, the Squad was recruited from the convict holds and the ships of the Ecclesiarchy (and evil tongues said that there was little difference), but for Kryptman, because of his unique situation, an exception was made. He arrived in the Ice Port system as an ordinary passenger, on a passenger liner with certain comforts. Which, however, he would soon have to lose.

    "Wine, sir," the servitor in his carefully tailored livery handed a small tray, topped with a single glass, with unusual elegance for a machine.

    Fidus took his glass and took a big sip, looking through the uninvited guests.

    The cabin was rather compact, but cleverly furnished and decorated, so that it seemed much larger than it was. There was a lot of red, velvet, and a mirrored wall that doubled the visible volume. Kryptman Jr. sat in a spectacular armchair with his leg over his head and seemed out of place in such surroundings. His stiff, stern face, his simple novice robe, and his freshly shaved head did not harmonize well with the graceful lines of the decor, implying decadence and gloss.

    The guests did not see fit to sit down, or rather, the inquisitor preferred to stand, and so his protégé stood on his feet. Schmettau, as usual, looked the least like a man who had devoted more than a hundred years to the Inquisition, and about a third of his own body. Not fat, however, he was stout, with a noticeable paunch and slightly disheveled hair, looking out at the world with a kind, slightly helpless gaze behind the lenses of his most ordinary spectacles. Kalkroit could have been mistaken for a writer of children's stories about the lives and good deeds of His faithful servants. Such men are much loved by women of age and by children, feeling in them faithfulness, sincere kindness, and thoroughness.

    He was handsome and stern, except that his face was a little too wide and his eyes were too close together. This gave him the uncomfortable feeling that he was always squinting at his companion. He wore a long dandy cloak of elaborately tanned leather, without a flap of concealed armor, almost to his heels. Dressed like that, Essen Palais looked more like a ceremonial commissar, lacking only a scarlet sash and a cap on the bend of the hand. Evil tongues said that Pale was not clever, and, to call things by their proper names, a little stupid. However, all - and critics, and well-wishers - converged on the fact that Essen is very performant, efficient, and meticulous, the main thing is to let him off the chain in the right direction. And Schmettau's intellect was enough for both.

    Master and apprentice were as different as heaven and earth, as the slums of Necromunda and the shining spires of Ultramar, but they had one thing in common: looks. Kalkroit's slightly blinded eyes and Essen's deep-set pupils looked at Fidus with the same expression of mild contempt and confident triumph.
    "What do I want..." Schmettau looked up as if expecting to find the answer in the pink-red orchid ceiling. He ran his fingers over his chin with a look of deep thought. "Ah, that's what!"
    He raised his index finger considerably, calling for attention and concentration.

    "I want to enjoy every second of it. I want to gloat and rejoice in your misfortunes. I want to revel in every minute of my triumph. Simple and understandable human desires."

    "Good," Fidus shook his head as he took another sip. "You'll have to do without the wine, then."

    The servitor froze by the chair, deaf and indifferent to anything but his master's orders. He trembled a little at the word "wine" and a moment later reverted to a half-living statue.

    "Nice, nice, nice," Kalkroit clapped his hands in time with the "nice". "No, I'd like some wine, too, but it's better this way. Seeing you try to bark back pathetically and ridiculously is much nicer."

    "Still settling scores with a dead man," Fidus shook his shaved head again. "I'd say that's silly. But such a remark implies some sort of morality, the ability to distinguish between what's decent and what's inferior. It's not about you."

    "Oh, yes, that's right, my boy. I am, I am settling an old score."

    Schmettau drew a rectangle with his fingers as if he were alluding to a check or other debt obligation.

    The kind writer of children's tales hid for a moment, like a folding toy in a magician's sleeve. In his place, with a heavy-handed grin, a completely different man, a werewolf, who had shed his mask of the do-gooder, grinned grimly. A few seconds and the kindly bespectacled man was back, spreading his arms with disarming good-naturedness.

    "Your father was a very bad man."

    The new leather on Essen's cloak creaked. The Inquisitor's apprentice was smiling, too, but without much emotion, like a mannequin or a very well-made servitor. He was bored; the commander's old scores were of no interest to Pale, but position obliged.

    "Don't speak ill of my father," Fidus clenched his glass tighter, feeling the stabbing pain building in his long-healed and repaired ribs. Emotions brought the mortal flesh to mind the wounds of the past.

    "What will you do?" Kalkroit asked sympathetically. "Will you throw me out? Or will you call me to order? Me, the inquisitor? You, who are now just a minor purificator?"

    "No. I will confine myself to stating the obvious fact," Fidus, with a careless (at least he hoped so) movement of his hand, ordered the servitor to approach and placed a glass with a couple of drops of unfinished wine on the tray.

    "Kalkroit Schmettau, you are pathetic and miserable. You couldn't get back at father, and now you're trying to take pity out on son. That only humiliates you, not me. For as low as you have thrown me down, we both know..."

    Fidus leaned forward slightly, locking his fingers together.

    "...That all this is a convulsion of powerlessness. You will never match the true servant of God the Emperor Kryptman, inquisitor, thinker, and hero. You know it, I know it. Live with this knowledge from now on."

    "Babble, Fidus, babble," Essen entered the conversation, tilting his head back with his short and carefully arranged hair. Apparently, to look at Kryptmann a little more from above, with even more superiority. But then Schmettau indicated sparing applause. Essen stopped smiling and fell silent as if in an instant he became speechless.

    "That was good," Schmettau said seriously, clapping his chubby hands one last time. "Really good. No matter how I felt about him, I have to admit, Kryptman Sr. had undeniable virtues. And among other things, he knew how to hold a punch. Even when all seemed lost... or was actually lost. At times like that, boy, you are like your father."

    "Always at your service," Fidus indicated a buffoonish half bow.

    "But I don't care what you think about it or what verbal ostracism you subject me to," the inquisitor continued as evenly, with benevolent irony. "It's a pity, of course, that my colleague and comrade-in-arms have long been scattered in ashes and become part of the universal carbon exchange. But I will still rejoice to see his son suffer."

    "What's the point? - Fidus asked sardonically.

    "In satisfaction," said Schmettau very seriously. "In compensation. In balancing the scales. He and I were companions, brothers. Each of the two of us had to stand more than once between a comrade and death, but we did not hesitate. Schmettau and Kryptman, it sounded proud and frightening. Frightening to heretics, of course."

    "Kryptman and Schmettau, that's more accurate," Fidus quipped, leaning back.

    "As you wish," the inquisitor brushed it aside. "We knew how little empty queueing meant in our brotherhood. Until your father betrayed me."

    "Father didn't betray anyone," Fidus cut him off.

    "He betrayed me," Schmettau repeated, stressing the word "me," his eyes clouded and the corners of his lips lowered as if he were plunged back into old memories, unpleasant and extremely painful.

    "I devoted everything to our work, even a part of myself."

    Kalkroit extended his palms forward, quite lifelike in appearance, imperfect as the hands of a man of age should be. Only completely devoid of the hairs and spots natural to naturally born flesh.

    "And he betrayed everything that bound us together. He denied all our duties. He abandoned me at the most important moment, on the threshold of my greatest triumph."

    "Father had obligations," Fidus honestly tried to be cool and dispassionate, but it was not going well. The Kalkroit apprentice watched Kryptman silently, and in Essen's narrow-set eyes one could see a sincere, malicious superiority.

    "He appreciated you and your friendship," Fidus continued. "I know that all too well. Because..." the young man's voice trembled a little. "Even family was a step below for him. Schmettau, you've been my curse, in a way, all my life. A paragon and a standard against which my father compared me daily, hourly. But his duty to the Emperor and Humanity he considered above your ambition. So you may as well give the dead man and me, as well as the Golden Throne."

    "Oh, no, kiddo," Kalkroit snapped his jaws like a real mutant ogre, stepping out of his well-fed goody-goody persona again. "Not my ambition!"

    The Inquisitor's face twisted into an angry grimace. He stepped forward quickly - too quickly for the average man of years and a couple of dozen extra pounds - and loomed over the seated Kryptman. Fidus seemed to have succeeded, after all, in uncovering old sores. Essen Palais tensed slightly, ready to defend his patron if necessary.

    "A Case!" Schmettau growled, shaking his weighty, not at all elderly fist at Kryptman's nose. "We had a Case that Ordo had been working on for almost a quarter of a century. A cult that had its tentacles in two Sectors. Billions in wasted thrones. Dozens of agents are dead. A quarter-century of painstaking, deadly work! Twice as much as you, unworthy, carry the inquisitor's badge! And all this he abandoned! Left me behind, taking with him the entire technical team and the strike force! No explanation, no warning, because he has once again seen horrible, deadly xenos! What is this if not betrayal? Our friendship, our duty, our Orde, our God?!"

    Kalkroit had calmed down as suddenly as he had flamed with rage. But it was clear that the deeds of bygone years were not forgotten, had been numbered, and were like embers that were carefully stoked and fueled, not allowed to subside. Fidus put his hands on the armrests, squeezing the warm wood.

    "It's sad."

    "What?" Kalkroit pulled back the flaps of his uniform, adjusted the cuffs of his white shirt. Now only the crimson stains on his cheeks testified to the recent fit of anger.

    "I'm sorry," Fidus repeated. "Schmettau, you're taking revenge on a ghost in your imagination. You won't hurt him, you won't make him suffer. And you won't be able to admit his mistakes... that didn't happen."

    "No, kid, you're not sorry," said Kalkroit grimly, whose voice had no irony or good-natured superiority in it, only malicious triumph. "You have no idea what a successful case is. Accordingly, you have no idea what it means to be betrayed on the doorstep of triumph."

    Kryptman shuddered, gripping the armrests tighter.

    "Yes," Kalkroit grinned coldly and cruelly. "A loser in his father's shadow. You're right, I can't get my hands on the ghost of Kryptman Sr. I can't make him suffer as I did. But I have you. The dead don't care, but justice is for the living, and I am alive. And I long for vengeance."

    "Go to your demons, you crazy old man," Fidus waved his hand wearily. "I have other things to worry about. You can feast on your poison somewhere else."

    "I am an inquisitor," Kalkroit grinned. "I can be wherever I see fit. You're just a novice of the Purificatum these days. And I have my doubts about your piety. After all, the main motive for a man to volunteer for the Order is to cleanse himself of sins. So in the meantime..." Schmettau paused dramatically. "I'll stay here. Look after you, so to speak. Support my fellow man in his difficult service. I thought you'd have to be cornered for years to come, but you've done it yourself. Truly, whoever the Emperor wishes to punish, he strips off his mind."
    He turned, preparing to leave. Essen took a precautionary step to the side, opening the way for his mentor. One step away from the hatch, steel, but lined with real wood and decorated like a normal door, Kalkroit froze and turned a half-turn.

    "You will die here, Kryptman," the old inquisitor said very quietly, with genuine hatred. "You will die in obscurity and misery. Along with the girl, you didn't help then and won't help now. And when that happens, then I will finally consider that Kryptman Sr. has paid me for everything. And the old debts will be closed."

    "You'll have to wait a long time, you old bastard," Fidus grinned, deciding to drop the politeness, too. "We survived on Ballistic, and we'll survive here."

    The servitor moved restlessly, sensing his master's unconventional behavior, but unable to determine his desires.

    "I am patient, I have waited a long time," returned the inquisitor's wicked grin. "And I'm willing to wait a little longer."

    Kalkroit inhaled, exhaled, and his face returned to its former mask of benevolence and light fatigue. The apprentice stood between his mentor and Kryptman, as if protecting him from a possible attack.

    "Cheers, young colleague," Schmettau indicated a short and shallow bow. "I will follow your career at Adepto Purificatum with great attention."
    * * *

    "Go to ass, Fidus." Olga repeat.

    "If you believe what they say about the Order, I'm already somewhere near there," answered a familiar voice. The girl did not recognize it at first, because the inquisitor spoke softly, and the tone had changed. After all, Olga hardly ever heard Fidus speak normally, only in agony or fits of pain.

    "Then go ahead."

    "I can't. My place is next to you. And I'm coming in," Fidus warned.

    Olga protested, but the tarpaulin curtain was already sliding aside, creaking with its brass rings.

    "Hey, don't mess around," The Wretched Man demanded without much pressure, but very firmly, turning down the volume of the radio. "There was one here, disturbing the peace and bothering our girl."

    "I won't," Kryp promised on the doorstep. "I'm quiet. It's just that we know each other. A reunion of old friends."

    "WoW!"The old man marveled. "I've never even heard of acquaintances being in the same company. Especially in the same vehicle. Tell me about it later!"

    "I will," Fidus promised neutrally. "And hello again."

    Olga looked at Kryp critically for a long time, assessing the changes. The shaved head grew short stubble, just like Olga's, only darker in color. The inquisitor wore the same overalls as the other inmates, with a winged white DNA spiral in a red diamond on the left side of his chest - the emblem of the Squad.

    Behind the inquisitor towered either a servitor or a mechanicum, Olga was already confused and did not know how to distinguish between them. Probably a servitor, not bad-looking, by the way. Almost like a human, only mummified, partially encased in an exoskeleton armor. Behind the living dead man's back, there were two heat pipes sticking out, and a shotgun with a short and thick barrel hung from his chest. No, with a whole bunch of barrels. It was a weapon she had never seen before.

    "Is that...?" Olga pointed her finger at the zombie, trying not to let it shake. "What?"

    "This is Luct," Fidus answered. "My father's companion. He served faithfully in life, and he wanted to remain faithful to the Emperor's work in death. He serves me now."

    "He wasn't with you," Olga frowned.

    "This is the household servant and librarian," Fidus explained patiently. He was still standing behind the low threshold, making no attempt to step further. "But he can fight well. I decided to take him with me."

    "A full complement of the crew!" exclaimed someone's voice in the cockpit, it seemed Smoker, "And with more than enough. When has it ever been?"

    "We're going to die," Savlar said more sullenly and more quietly. "It's no good... The damn chicken is bad luck for us..."

    He and Smoker started arguing about the nature of bad luck, but the girl was no longer listening.

    "What do you want?" she repeated, and after a second's pause, she couldn't resist another question, one that contained an ill-concealed, desperate hope. "Are you... after me?"

    Fidus stepped inside, pulled up the tarpaulin, warding off the rest of the carriage. He sat opposite Olga, folded his hands in his lap, emphasizing the friendliness of his intentions.

    "Partially."

    "How's that? - Olga was startled, then she correlated Fidus's presence here, his appearance as a recruit, and the meaning of the word 'partially'. "Yeah... It seems that you're not taking me away from here in a blue helicopter..."

    Kryp shook his head, seemingly saddened by the frustration in the girl's eyes and voice.

    "Whatever your 'heji-cop-tur' is, I don't have it. And I can't take you away."

    "So what the fuck are you doing here?"

    Olga strained all her gothic knowledge to make the question sound as harsh and insulting as possible. She seemed to hit the target.

    "Ol-ga," Kryp pronounced her name on the first try, but in two breaths. "What I want to tell you..."

    "Some bullshit, indeed," Olga stung again.

    "First of all, I'm sorry."

    Something like "Well, of course!" was begging on her tongue, but the girl just waved her hand with wistful hopelessness.

    "Listen, Kryp... why don't you fuck off? The vigil's about to start. And night terrors. I don't have time for you."

    "I'm sorry," Kryp repeated insistently. "I promised, and I didn't."

    In the Squad, swearing was strictly discouraged, but the girl thought the moment was worthy of a strong word. But she hesitated to translate the phrase '***** *****' adequately, and Kryp spoke again:

    "I can't go back in time. But I can try to fix what I've done. As much as I can."

    "And how do you intend to do that?"

    "In-person," Kryp said with morbid seriousness, looking intently at Olga.

    The servitor stood motionless and hummed a little with a motor in his belly under the armor.

    "What?"
    "I've talked to... different people. I was looking for an opportunity to dispute your enrollment here."

    "So?"

    "It's impossible. Unless one performs an incredible deed."

    "It's a Marvelous Deed. I know."

    "So you have to serve the whole ter... all the obedience. Or to do something meaningful, heroic."

    "Kryp, you fool, I'll die first," Olga said quietly and sadly. From the Priest's lectures she had already imagined what inquisitors did, and how dangerous even an ordinary dispute, let alone an insult, could become. But somehow it seemed to her that Crip wasn't really an inquisitor anymore. Or maybe not an inquisitor at all.

    "Yes," Fidus agreed simply and uncomplicatedly. "It's possible, too."

    "Damn it," Olga gritted her teeth.

    "And the smartest of the interlocutors then said - if you want her to survive, don't look for excuses and cunning ways, just go, guard her, be willing to trade your life and health for her safety."

    "And what did you do?" Olga stared at Fidus incomprehensibly.

    "Came to guard," Kryp shrugged his broad shoulders.

    "Came... to guard."

    Olga hunched over, bowing her head low, hiding her hands between her knees. Crip said something else, but the girl would not listen. Fidus finally realized that the words were going to waste and shut up. Olga, for her part, noticed that the flow of words had ended, and looked at the inquisitor again. She blinked frequently, but her remarkably bright cornflower-colored eyes remained dry. At least, they seemed that way.

    "Leave me alone," she said muffled, but quite distinctly.

    "Olga."

    "Kryp," the girl half-closed her eyes, clenched her knees even tighter as if trying to warm her frozen, twig-thin fingers. "Have you come to soothe a guilty conscience?"

    Fidus thought about it and answered honestly:
    Kryp you are so stupid.
    "Yes. I guess so."

    He thought about it some more and then added it:

    "And also to do a good, worthy thing."

    "So what's in it for me?"

    "I don't get it..."

    "And he warned, he said," Olga muttered under her breath.

    "What are you talking about?" Fidus got suspicious.

    "He said no one needed it, no one would appreciate it," the girl whispered. "No one would thank me. And punish me for things I don't even understand. He... was... right..."

    "What do you mean?" Fidus repeated harshly, demandingly.

    "I need to get out of here," Olga looked him in the eye. "Before all these witches and xenos kill me here. Somehow I have to make a new life for myself. Find myself... somehow. But you can't help me with that, can you? You got demoted?"

    "No!" Fidus straightened up sharply. "I am the Inquisitor! It's just that..."

    "Just you can do nothing for me."

    Her voice was no longer a question, but a statement, sad and desperate.

    "You can't do anything, Kryp. You can't do anything but join the Squad and make a nice speech about how pompous and brave you are."

    Fidus bit his lip and suddenly thought how much the thin yellow-headed girl looked like Schmettau now. Two completely different people, united by only one thing - they did not respect Inquisitor Kryptman for a penny. And they didn't believe in him, not even by a poppy seed. It was just that Kalkroit expressed it with pleasure, enjoying triumph, and Olga with quiet hopelessness.

    "Ol-ga."

    Kryp raised his hand timidly, but the girl was already standing up, wearing a mask of detached, indifferent restraint.

    "It was a pleasure to meet you again, Mr. Kryptman. Welcome to our glorious wagon. Now I have a business to attend to."

    Already from the corridor, glancing at the electronic zombie with a multi-barreled gun, Olga added with grim determination, already quite loudly:

    "If you ever come in here again without asking, you'll get punched in the face."

    "This one can!" confirmed one of the troopers, seemed Smoker, and laughed loudly.

    Olga threw her head back with haughty pride so that her nose was pointing almost to the ceiling, and went down to the tank and her cylinders. She really wanted to be alone with herself and away from Kryp.
    * * *​
    So, there are no signs of a relationship between Kryp and Olga. But my soul of shipper can't bear it. Also, I believe in Olga's badass moment in the future. So...​

     
    Dapperlurker, ATP, The_Bajar and 2 others like this.
  26. Threadmarks: The Squad Chapter 8
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

    Joined:
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    Chapter 8
    * * *​
    "Wait," Bertha intercepted the girl in the crew compartment. "Come on downstairs. There's a job to do."

    Olga stretched out and clapped her hand on her chest, which was analogous to a salute in the Order.

    "In short," the mentor went down to the hangar immediately after Olga, there were already waiting for Sinner, Smoker, and Driver. "There's an opinion that... we should get ready a little bit."

    "For it's coming," Smoker agreed immediately. The Sinner, as usual mute, nodded in agreement, twisting a thick lash in his hands for some reason. The Driver abstractly twisted his palm in the air and incomprehensibly clarified:

    "The most important thing is that it is not like that time."

    Bertha looked at the mechanic judgingly, and in the look of the broad-shouldered aunt, Olga noticed something similar to the echoes of the former fear. That's the look of people who would very much like to forget something but know very well that it is impossible.

    "And what was... then?" Olga took the risk of asking as an experienced member of the company.

    Smoker opened his mouth, but Bertha waved her fingers with her nails clipped almost to the root.

    "Don't mention it in vain," she ordered in a short and weighty voice so that the scout shut up as if he had swallowed his tongue. Bertha looked at Olga with a questioning look and said. "After.
    When we've spent the night."

    In the mouth of the Mentor, 'we will' sounded akin to 'we will survive' and this did not add to Olga's peace of mind. She had no idea what happened 'then', but apparently something very, very bad.

    "Right... Yes, the main thing is not to be like that. St. Clarence is ready to descend personally from the Emperor's Light to throw our bureaucrats out into the tundra..."

    "And only the hope that the followers will not disgrace his cause stops our patron..." The rest of the company, with the exception of Olga, proclaimed amicably. The girl realized that some ancient wisdom was being quoted here, but she did not know what it was, and it sounded rather meaningless.

    "Let me guess," smirked Smoker. "You made your own arrangements. With the auditor?"

    Olga scratched her nose in confusion. The fluid meaning of 'you' and 'You' in Gothic still puzzled her, the girl regularly did not understand why her companions were either fraternizing or addressing each other with an emphatic 'thou'.

    "The next time you interrupt an upper man, I'll punch you in the face," Bertha said coldly, but not angrily. "No, not with the auditor. We'll be supplied by Wakrufmann."

    "Holy shit!" The undisguised enthusiasm in Driver's voice was obvious. "Hail to the commander! But how?"

    Bertha hesitated, for the first time in Olga's memory.

    "It doesn't matter," the Mentor waved her hand again. "Let's just say we've come to some agreement... on the location of the cargo in Warehouse 8. Magnets, if you know what I mean. Two of them. From reserve."

    "Truly this cog has been blessed by the wisdom of the Emperor!" The Priest reported softly as he descended the stairs. The plastic chainmail tapped hundreds of rings with every step.

    "Would it be possible for us not to wait to be sent to maintenance in case of repair?"

    Oh-oh-oh, thought Olga, her inner voice whispering to her that the girl was a witness to some kind of collusion and reprehensible act, an obvious manipulation of the supply. And okay, but what did the rookie have to do with it? She had no idea what kind of 'magnets' she was talking about.

    "We can, we will, if St. Clarence extends his unfailing hand to us," Bertha hummed. "Little one, do you hear?"

    Olga nodded cautiously. The girl had already realized that the wagon was going to steal something from the warehouse, and she did not like the assigned and so far unknown role in advance.

    "We could have done it ourselves," Bertha turned directly to Olga. "But the Vigil is about to begin. We're all in it."

    The Sinner nodded silently, stretching the lash to the juicy crunch of well-crafted leather. The girl was reminded of the Holy One's comment about the Sinner 'whipping' for everyone at night. Flagellant, was it? Ugh!

    "And you don't deserve that honor, not yet," Bertha went on. "So you will contribute to the Squad's cause in other ways. Now you're going to Warehouse Eight," the mentor pulled out a scribbled piece of paper that looked more like a filthy rag. Thirteenth Building, Unit 3, Block 2. You'll pick up two magnets there. Tell the night watchman you're summoned by Mechanicus Wakrufmann. Don't say another word, got it?"

    Olga suddenly realized that Big Bertha was extremely serious when she said "contribute to the cause of the Squad".

    "Yeah," she nodded without any enthusiasm.

    What a day... The bastard Kryp showed up, the vigil and the whips, and now this...

    "Only I don't know what they look like," she said. "The magnets."'

    "It doesn't matter," Bertha grimaced. "Wakrufmann know."
    * * *​
    Well, who builds like that! - the words from an old comedy my mother used to love came to mind. What that movie was about, Olga did not remember, but the phrase was imprinted in her memory. Yes, and the suffering of a highlander in a mustard coat lost in the corridors reminded her of her current situation.
    The scheme looked clear, but in the rapidly dwindling twilight, all the buildings seemed to look alike - gray featureless boxes. In addition, the site, apparently, was old, repeatedly compacted, and completed. So the originally logical system of numbering came to the appearance of monstrous cadavres of numerology. The third warehouse was adjacent to the thirty-third, behind it began the mysterious MCMLXXXIV. And there was no one to even ask, it seemed as if everyone had conspired this evening not to stay out in the open.
    From the large building, decorated with the emblem of the Ecclesiarchy, came choral singing, heavily muffled by the walls. Male voices sang a solemn and surprisingly pleasant hymn. Apparently, the Vigil has begun, whatever that means. And she wanders alone in the dark and cold.

    Olga gloomily glanced at the large illuminated sign with the surprisingly normal and detailed inscription 'Warehouse 8, Building 13, Unit 6, Block 2. The block, the building, and the warehouse all matched-except that the embezzler of imperium property wanted the third building, not the sixth.

    Olga looked up into the dark sky and wanted to curse, but held back. It all looked like a dreary superstition, but on the other hand, the girl had already seen for herself that here you could meet a monster from a nightmare and a real demon. So she confined herself to an angry spit in the muddy snow.

    "Halt," came a harsh man's voice from somewhere in the twilight.

    There were three or four of them, who looked like some grimy mechanics in jackets, but the girl did not like their faces. The looks were overly sly, the smiles were sloppy... Wrong faces, dangerous. Olga only now remembered that she had not bothered to bring a knife or at least a screwdriver.

    It's funny, she suddenly had an unsolicited thought. In just a little over a week, she had grown accustomed to feeling completely safe. It was so peaceful among the purificators that even her long-standing habits had broken down. And it seemed it might end badly.

    "To the warehouse," Olga shook the paper, trying to make it look more impressive.

    "Why do you need to go there?"

    "What business is it of yours?" she scowled.

    "We're guards," the uninvited man said. He had only one ear and the most unpleasant look of the four of them.

    "I'm a purificator. To the pin... Mechanicum, on business," said the messenger coldly. She could tell she felt threatened with her entire buttock, and she used borrowed authority. The Squad and the Gearsmen here seemed to be respected by all. All but these four.

    "On call..." The tallest one, judging by the way he held himself, was in charge here. "Maybe we'd better call you in, huh? How can a cold iron be compared to a normal live... communication?"

    The other three cheekily laughed, commenting at various points:

    "Hey, don't be shy!"

    "You'll die soon anyway, so at least you'll have something to remember!"

    Olga bit her lip. Her instincts were already screaming to run, but turning back on the four of them was akin to suicide. They were much better oriented in the labyrinth of the warehouse complex and, it seems, were ready for the possible escape of the victim. And if so...

    When they attacked, she rushed forward, not away. Olga charged the first one who tried to grab her in the knee. And belatedly she realized that the baggy pants had kneepads.

    Nevertheless, the blow, though weakened, went through, causing her opponent to recoil. The cheeky black-haired, almost kid-like tried to grab her from behind. For the first time in her life, the girl felt a shadow of gratitude to the elderly cop from that, previous life, who 'brought good and eternal' to the accountable goons. 'Back of the nose, the heel on the toes, fist on the balls' - without thinking, at least somewhere to hit. The fist hit the groin shell, and the head only managed to smash the enemy's lip, but the heavy, metal-reinforced uniform boot of the squad was much stronger and tougher than an army boot. The black-haired man howled and fell backward, hopping on one leg.

    If there had been two opponents, it would have worked. Even with three, it would have been possible to escape, taking advantage of the daze when the cornered victim had so successfully flinched. But there were too many of them. They managed to grab her, put an oily mitten over her mouth, and then dragged her somewhere.

    From around the corner, a bright beam of light streaked in. The bandits trembled, tensing sensibly. Olga clenched her teeth, hoping for help and holding back the vomiting from the stinking oil. Alas, in vain, a flying skull, a mindless machine akin to a drone, appeared from around the corner instead of at least a crude guard. But maybe not in vain, maybe someone is watching through his camera. Apparently, the bastards came to the same conclusion, one aimed at the flying head with a short-barreled shotgun.

    "No," the long-legged chieftain commanded curtly. "Leave it."

    Olga managed to spit out the gag and yell 'Hel...!' before her mouth was clamped shut again.

    "Activated coherent emitter. Source of danger," the servo skull reported into the void. The artificial voice sounded muffled as if it came from a deep barrel or a wide pipe. "Decontaminate. Execute."

    "Gears..." The one-eared man gritted through his teeth. "Let's get out of here. Get her."

    Olga tried to pull to the side, but her hands were only allowed to follow the tall man.

    "Execute. Deactivation," the skull repeated monotonically, following the men at some distance.

    !Fuck you, we're on patrol," the brute chuckled softly.

    The small gang broke into the warehouse with the door unlocked for some reason. The skull remained outside, glinting furiously through the lenses of the eyepieces. Olga was dragged along long, massive racks filled with crates, jerrycans, and other items that were hidden under an oily tarpaulin. Ahead, under a dim light, she could see a wide shipping gate.

    "He won't let go," said the one with the gun. "I bet he's got the picts, too."

    "The hell with it. We'll be long gone by dawn. Let them look."

    "Unload the weapon. Surrender your weapon."

    That voice, equally deep and mechanical, came from the front.

    "Ah, damn you!" The fighters exhaled at the same time. Or at least three of them did.

    A figure in a black and brown cloak with a hood and white edging emerged from the half-darkness. It must have been the mechanicum with whom Bertha had negotiated the backup 'magnets'.

    "Hey, we're coming out, okay?" The one-eared man quickly oriented himself and stepped forward. "The guns are ours, we're the ones guarding your warehouse."

    "Active laser carbine indoors. With a high concentration of combustible materials. Threat source. Mechanicus property under threat. Probability of fire."

    The artificial voice enumerated the points with the regularity of clockwork and without a trace of emotion. In the darkness beneath the hood, where a man's eyes are located, two green stripes flashed.

    "Remove the batteries. Hand over the weapons. The carbine will be returned to the authorized representative of the unit. Immediately upon his appearance."

    Olga tried to scream, but to no avail, her mouth was clamped shut with all her might. The figure paid no attention to the stranger, who found himself among the 'guards' clearly against her own will.

    "Come on, it's not like we're part of the unit, right?" One-eared turned to his buddies, who nodded in agreement. "We'll go out and that's it, there's no threat. We were going out anyway, that's all."

    "The source of the threat," the mechanicus repeated. "Probability of fire."

    The green dashes finally turned to Olga.

    "Potential offense."

    The mechanicus began to move toward the fighters. In the light of the sparse lanterns under the high ceiling, it was noticeable that the cape swayed loosely, so that the owner of the warehouse, in fact, is only slightly taller than Olga and maybe even scrawnier.

    "Why don't we just turn them off?" One-eared suggested. "Like, no threat, no problem..."

    The mechanicus came even closer, stopping a couple of meters away. The green slits opened to form two round glowing 'eyes'.

    Behind, a servo skull snapped its jaws as if it were tattling. He must have come in through the other entrance.

    "Deactivated laser carbine. No threat. Probability of threat to Mechanicum property. None. There is still the question of probable offense."

    Hell yeah, me, it's about me!!!'

    Olga tried again to twist out of her grip. Her shoulder exploded in sharp pain, but she couldn't even scream.

    "Great," One-eared grinned tautly. "So that's the deal..."

    "Violent, unauthorized restriction of the freedom of an Ecclesiarchical novice is possible. Response protocol. Seize the batteries. Hand over weapons. Wait for a representative of the law."

    "Fuck."

    Time for Olga fell apart into several slow-motion fragments.

    A jet of black and gray smoke hit the one-eared man, knocking him to the ground. Not a spark, not a flame. Where did the smoke come from? Maybe it's not smoke at all.

    The broadest one, who was holding Olga, releases the victim, takes a step back, stumbles, and falls managing to grab the edge of the rack. But the badly worked metal split her palm, and heavy drops of blood slowly flew to the floor.

    Cheeky deftly picks up the carbine hanging on one shoulder, ducking and stepping aside.

    The tall man tosses Olga to the floor, pulling out a strangely backward-curved cleaver.

    The mechanicus takes a step forward, almost a throw with a big slant.

    A segmented tentacle with three claws, like in the"Catcher" arcade from a past life, flies out from under the cloak, grabs the insolent by the head, and pushes him against the wall. No, it pushes him into the wall.

    A sound, for some reason reminiscent of a dentist's office. The carbine falls to the concrete floor from the slumped hands.

    For some reason, the tall man does not run but tries to hit the figure in the head with a cleaver from a running start.

    Cold smoke enveloped them both.

    Rumble. Sizzle. Bitter smell.

    The double tapping of boots on concrete. The distant whimpering of the fat man.

    The doors are slamming.

    It took Olga a few moments to come to her senses and steady herself on her trembling legs. The skull, meanwhile, was circling the battlefield and shining a flashlight out of his eye socket, as if he were filming a report.

    Cheeky was irrevocably and irrevocably dead. There was a neat hole gaping in the center of his forehead, exuding a slight puff of smoke. It looked like a tool concealed in a tentacle with a claw had drilled the hole and cauterized it. The tall man was lying on the mechanicus, arms spread out, a finger-thick rod sticking out between his shoulder blades with his half-coat pulled down, and smoking, too, reeking of burnt kebab.

    "Hey, you alive, asshole?"

    Mechanicus say nothing.

    "Damn," the girl said, feeling a strong urge to run away. And preferably as soon as possible. An even greater desire than to kick the unsuccessful rapists. But...

    She wandered to the couple connected by a pin, tried to pull the dead man off the mechanic's lying upside down figure, but to no avail. Then Olga carefully pulled off the hood, revealing...

    "Ouch!" She exclaimed, recoiling.

    The figure had no 'face' as such, or rather a mask instead, whether glass or polished metal with several slits. And this mask was very, very similar to the blind face of a multi-armed creature that the girl had met at the Ballistic Station.

    Two lens circles about five centimeters in diameter lit up green again.

    "No fire?" the mechanic asked. This time the voice seemed ringing for some reason, though with slight hoarseness. Where the man's mouth would have been, there appeared a symmetrically jumping band, like on an oscilloscope, Olga had seen such in movies.

    The girl shook her head negatively, feeling her throat dry. So the three-armed creep on Ballistic, the one who sent the fantasy visions, was also one of the gears...? A sorcerer-mechanicus?

    "Can I help you?" She held out her trembling hand.

    The ironman's left eyepiece is half-hidden behind a small flap, giving the impression that the master is squinting.

    "My body weight at the moment is roundly zero-eighteen hundredths of a metric ton. You can't lift me."

    The mechanicus turned his head and stared at the corpse of the tall one.

    "We have to move it. Turn it over. Uranium cutter. It's stuck."

    "Uranium? Is it used to cut uranium?"

    "It is a hypersonic cutter with a working part made of magnetostrictive material, an iron alloy with depleted uranium. It is safe for humans. As long as safety standards are met. If the obstruction is not removed carefully, the cutter can break."

    Olga grasped the dead body a second time and pulled it to the side. A click, a short hiss, and the freed corpse rolled over with unexpected ease. There was a machine sticking out of the hapless criminal's chest.

    "Broken," the iron man stated. "That makes a problem. But fixable."

    "What are we going to do now?" Olga asked.

    The mechanicus got up surprisingly deftly, pulling a tentacle with claws and a drill somewhere under his hood. It sounded like a chain being pulled across a metal threshold.

    "I called the servitors. In twenty-six minutes, order will be restored."

    "And those two that got away? Did they... What do you mean, you called?"

    The eyepieces turned into two narrow strips of green light covered by curtains.

    "Vocs. Radio signal. Aether. A way of communicating Omnissia's will to subordinate machines. That's how they do what I want them to do. The fugitives can only leave the service station by transport. Transports will be inspected. Violators will be apprehended."

    "I know what a radio is," Olga brushed it aside, "It's just that you said it like you... you... female."

    There was silence in the warehouse. The green slits became even narrower.

    "Was that a question? - After a few long seconds, the interlocutor asked.

    "Well, yes."

    "At the moment, I am technically genderless. I serve the Omnissiah and am evolving along the path of acquiring a pure mind, free from the constraints of imperfect flesh."

    The mechanicus remained silent as if giving Olga a chance to absorb what she had heard.

    "However, before I joined the sacrament of serving God the Machine, I was a female. Therefore, from your point of view, I have the female gender. I am a tech-priest Jennifer Wackrufmann. Tech-priest is my rank," she added after a second pause. "Your turn."

    "I'm Olga, the novice in the Purification Service," the girl sniffed and wiped her nose. The stress of it all manifested itself in the urge to weep, even though it was over. - "But everyone calls me Olla... because one silly fool couldn't get the name right and write it down.:

    Two servitors were approaching the scene of the beating, one flashing two yellow lights, just like an ordinary utility vehicle, the other dragging a large circular saw. Why he needed the saw, Olga decided not to guess.

    "Personal contact with outsiders by novices in the Purification Service is not forbidden?" The tech-priest grasped the iron sticking out of the bristling thing and yanked sharply. It came loose with a disgusting 'squelch'. Judging by the gleam, the ex woman's hands were also solid metal.

    "You? What do you think I wanted? With four assholes?!" Olga shot up in a huff.

    "The Imperium includes more than a million worlds, perhaps several million. Each has its own culture and rituals associated with intersex communication. Many are quite original and exotic. Some are known to me. Most don't," Jennifer set the 'cutter' aside on the shelf and headed for the claw bar. As she picked it up, she turned around, and the slits of her eyepieces turned back into a pair of round lanterns. "But that was even a good thing."

    Olga did not have time to explode in a hail of accusations that would probably have turned into hysterics. A hand with an outstretched metal index finger almost jammed into the girl's nose, just like the mechanic who had recently lectured her about Frankenstein.

    "This means that you obviously will not falsely testify in defense of the intruders against me. And you will have no negative feelings about my fully justified actions to neutralize the threat in terms of supplying the units stationed in the area."

    Olga suddenly felt incredibly tired. The rescue from rape, if not something worse, instead of giving her strength, literally sucked them out. And her head was dizzy again, the clicks of the servoscull mechanisms echoed in her like the blows of a carpenter's hammer.

    "I'll sit down..." she muttered as firmly as possible, looking for a stool or a bench.

    "Adrenal fatigue," Jennifer reported nonchalantly. "Decreased pulse, difficulty breathing, arrhythmia. Are you experiencing headaches, visual disturbances?"

    "My head," after the mechanic's words, Olga suddenly realized that she was really having trouble breathing. There was no stool anywhere, and she decided that it was better to sit directly on the concrete. Or lie down.

    "Pain in the chest area?"

    "I don't know... I'm going to sit here, okay? Or lie down."

    "...glucose in the blood, the electrical conductivity of the skin, and intraocular pressure," Wackrufmann's voice came from somewhere far away. Olga realized with the edge of her
    consciousness that she was being lifted with ease. "A very inefficient body. No self-diagnosis. When, as a child..."

    The darkness was soft and warm. And the girl thought of nothing else, gratefully accepting oblivion.
    * * *

    "Time to get up!"

    It took Olga a few seconds to realize that she was not in her bunk. And not in her own wagon at all. She jumped up, bumped her head lightly on something heavy and moderately hard, owed, and looked around.

    It was a fairly clean room, filled with a lot of different equipment, very well maintained, even if not new, judging by the scuffs and chips in the paint. Olga thought it was the first time she saw so many technical things in one place. Even in the wagon garage, there were less of them. Light from a large, cloudy - not because of dirt, but by the nature of the plastic used - window fell on the clean floor tiled with smooth tiles. Opposite the folding cot, where Olga now sat, was a long, narrow workbench, surrounded by unchanging shelving, not unlike that in the warehouse. A mechanic in a red and brown hooded cloak, trimmed with light embroidery in the shape of large rectangular gears, stood at her side.

    In the daylight, it was clear that her face was a solid mask of many elements of brushed light metal, with two round eyepieces instead of eyes and a screen in place of her mouth. Her arms, at least from the elbow down, peeking out of the folded sleeves of her hoodie, were also entirely artificial.

    "Uh-oh," she murmured, feeling around herself. Everything seemed to be in place and order.

    "Sleeping in your clothes is not culturally and hygienically appropriate, but I didn't undress you," mechanic Jennifer reported. "There's no heating in here. It's bad for your health."

    "Thank... you," Olga squeezed out.

    "In forty minutes, the 'Radial-12' self-propelled purification center will begin its morning inspection."

    "Ouch!" The girl exclaimed at the top of her voice, correlating the light in the window with this morning's inspection. "They must be looking for me by now!"

    And immediately executed for desertion.

    "No, your immediate superiors have been warned about the incident. They have no interest in publicity. But the next chain of command will start investigating if you are absent from the inspection in thirty-nine minutes."

    "Oh, thanks..."

    Olga felt herself breaking into a sweat, despite the aforementioned lack of heating. It's strange and somewhat funny, there are all sorts of nightmarish horror stories about the Unit in whispers. But so far all the troubles the novice had encountered were purely mundane - supply scams and the ordinary criminality.

    "By the way, I don't have any food suitable for you as breakfast. Also, I haven't had time to find out why you came to the warehouse last night?"

    "Uh..." For Olga's still dazed mind, the mechanic was jumping from one thing to another too quickly in the conversation. "Bertha said I had to pick up two magnets."

    Didn't I say too much?

    "Vehicle fourteen to forty-two? Unforeseen circumstances. There won't be two, I'll only give you one, for now, a restored one. But it's almost as good as new, within three percent, so pass it on."

    Jennifer pulled a heavy, complexly shaped iron from a shelf, examined the girl carefully (it suddenly seemed so, despite the artificial nature of the mask), and then pulled a canvas bag with a strap from somewhere under the workbench and shoved the load inside.

    "The second will be in four days. If it's you, you can come anytime, I'll sign you in at the servitor's."

    "We're moving on today."

    "That complicates the issue. But I will think about how to solve it."

    "Uh-huh," Olga took the bag and put it on her back. "Shall I go then?"

    "Of course, the servo skull will escort you. At an average human pedestrian speed of five kilometers per hour, you'll be there in nineteen minutes."

    Jennifer nodded. She nodded, and there was something in that gesture that made her eyes tingle. Something human, simple, and seemingly natural, which was somehow so lacking in this strange, cruel world. Obeying an impulse, Olga came up and hugged her, resting her face on her shoulder.

    "Thank you."

    A moment later, the tech-priest Wakrufmann also gently wrapped her firm arms around the girl. The warmth rising from somewhere inside literally demanded to freeze, and not to move, to stretch the seconds of this feeling of absolute security...

    "Hugging," Jennifer reported. "The anti-stress influence."

    "Uh-huh," Olga muttered. She wanted to close her eyes and hang onto the iron woman. "Warm..."

    "Forty-one degrees. I use the output of the cooling system on the outside of the body."

    Her words were so out of place that the girl giggled. Pulling away, Olga picked up the slipped bag with the 'magnet' and headed for the exit. Despite the expected scolding from Bertha - a failed attempt at gang rape was hardly an excuse for a strict mentor - Olga's mood was surprisingly good. And she caught herself wanting to get back to the Squad as soon as possible. To strangers, companions on a surreal and meaningless trip on an atomic train through the snowy tundra. Because no matter how strange, little-understood her new colleagues were, they turned out to be the most decent people the girl had met in years, whether in the old universe or here in the immeasurably distant future.
    * * *​
     
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2021
  27. Threadmarks: The Squad Chapter 9
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

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    Chapter 9
    * * *​
    That's how Olga missed the Vigil. There were no particular consequences. Only the Priest read prayers with her in two voices for almost an hour, and Bertha forced her to undress and examined every inch of Olga's body. In other circumstances, this would have looked insulting, but both the counselor and the shepherd looked concerned, and they approached the matter with absolute seriousness. But eventually, things calmed down.​

    As the late dawn flooded the tundra and the warehouse complex with dim light, the train set off again, ringing the snow-covered landscape with siren cries and the hymn 'Rejoice in worship'. Nothing happened for a couple of hours. The only noteworthy events were the picturesque grimaces of Flagellant Sinner, who was visibly suffering after his vigil. Olga even plucked up courage by offering to help the sufferer. She did not count on consent, but Sinner suddenly nodded with gratitude, and Driver brought a jar of smelly ointment. Kryp looked at it all obliquely, but no one asked him.​

    Rubbing the white grease into Sinner's bruised back, Olga looked curiously around his compartment. The atmosphere here, like that of the other detachments, was strictly Spartan, with plenty of religious symbolism. It gave the impression that every square inch of it was devoted to the worship of a cult. Small engravings, figurines, aquiles, collected, it seemed, on a hundred planets, so different was their style. Sacred texts are printed on single sheets and simply torn from books. Where there was empty space, there were again the aquiles, but they were hand-drawn, inaccurately but painstakingly, with the traces of numerous erasures and corrections.​

    From the intermediate level came the Madman's loud prayers. He seemed to have been screaming all night and had lost his voice, so the words combined into an indistinct stream, with 'Emperor' and 'Evil' breaking through like stones in a stormy river. No one interrupted the poor man, and that was most distressing as if everyone in the carriage sincerely believed that the indecipherable grumbling was really helping.​

    Having finished the procedure, Olga covered the sick man with a towel similar to a bath towel. The decrepit fabric was hidden under a lot of awkwardly and crookedly embroidered words. Something like 'Empirator vin' and so on. Returning to her room, the girl reflected and took note - no one was chasing the squad away for another drill and chores. In other circumstances, the whole squad would have long ago been jumping on the icy wind-blown roof and scrubbing the tank for the thousandth time. But now every squadron member was left to their own devices.​

    The rings creaked and the tarp pulled aside.​

    "Don't close," the Holy Man sternly pointed out. "Open all the curtains! And so until morning."​

    Olga shrugged her shoulders perplexedly. At the same time, she glanced askance at Kryptman's place. Fidus furnished the compartment about the same as she did. That is, almost nothing, in the style of beggarly laconicism. The only thing that somehow diversified the meager furnishings was a portrait in a beautiful metal frame, either a black and white photograph or a good stylization of a photograph. It showed Fidus, only obviously older, with his military 'hedgehog' haircut, and the edges of his lips curled down in a grouchy and discontented manner. Probably his father. Or an older brother.​

    The servitor sat silently on a shelf, next to a large box of riveted strips of metal. It must have held the parts and other gear necessary to maintain a living machine. Hidden in the flesh were mechanisms that buzzed and clicked quietly and generally contrasted with the stillness of the living machine. Kryp shaved the mechanical dead man's head with the utmost care, and then, armed with a rag and a spray bottle like deodorant, began carefully cleaning and polishing the contacts that went straight into the grayish-yellow skin. Servitor was left without his monstrous shotgun. Bertha had taken it away and locked it in the armory - anything more dangerous than a knife on board was strictly forbidden.​

    Olga was tempted to ask if there was any semblance of intelligence left in the metal stuffed head, but after some deliberation, the girl changed her mind. The hell with it. Instead of asking, she unscrewed the thumbscrews of the locks and looked out the window again.​

    The clouds seemed very low, surprisingly heavy, it seemed - stand on the roof of the 'Radial' and you could touch it with outstretched fingers. It was strange that the flagpole with the Squad's banner did not scratch the sky. On the left hand, there was a view of the ocean, unremarkable except for its scale. Otherwise, the Arctic is the Arctic, everything is dull and cold, encased in a solid ice shell. Olga already knew that the surface of the ocean is hardly used, but underwater farms are well developed. As a result, despite the eternal winter and stunted agriculture, the Ice Port was self-sufficient in food, processing algae biomass into dozens of types of food concentrates.​

    To the right was a vast expanse of identical squat buildings, as if they had been buried deep, with only the roofs protruding above the frozen ground. Pillars of thick smoke rose from long chimneys, revealing strenuous underground activity. In the distance, near the horizon line, there was a dark strip of what looked like dense construction, probably a city, maybe a huge factory.​

    The train rolled leisurely past a large building that resembled a traffic guard's booth, only many times larger. On the second floor, there was a tram-like carriage, and behind the windows, you could see some kind of movement, as if the carriage were an observation booth. And behind the booth was a factory complex, but strange-looking, like some gray concrete boxes after the war. The windows scintillated with broken glass, a dark brick chimney sticking out like the stump of a broken pencil. Outside were thrown bridges, scaffolding, and metal ladders that looked temporary and unreliable as hell. Figures of workers scurried about like ants, seemingly clearing and repairing things.​

    The outside light changed, the dim afternoon light filled with pinkish-burgundy hues as if the clouds themselves glowed grimly and menacingly. Olga blinked and rubbed her eyes, but the illusion did not disappear. The world around her seemed like a photograph, taken through a pink filter. The train began to climb up, climbing a high embankment. Here 'Radial' passed a continuous series of low hills, and Olga could not refrain from a silent exclamation of surprise.​

    Everything the girl had seen before at the 'Beacon'. It seemed well-maintained. Not too friendly, but quite settled. And now the armored train was rolling amidst an area of immense destruction. It was as if the whole coast had been massively bombed. There was nothing left here above human height, and it seemed that some force was stubbornly trying to turn the landscape inside out, burying the high and vice versa. The already low trees were jutting out in broken stumps, and numerous buildings had only foundations left among the piles of rubble and debris. Farms, towers, power trunks, and all the metal elements had become jagged, twisted sculptures of a mad installer. The eye clung to a few flying machines that were lying around as if they had fallen to the ground in mid-flight and were rusted through.​

    'Radial' was moving in a wide arc, giving a good opportunity to see everything in detail. The only thing that looked relatively new and intact here was a large bridge, running on high pylons parallel to the railroad track. It looked like a temporary, erected structure and crossed a wide barrier that looked like the dried-up bed of a deep river. Looking closely and correlating the giant 'scour' with the destruction, Olga realized that it was not a riverbed. It was as if something gigantic had crawled out of the ocean and moved inland through the coastal development, accompanied by a brutal bombardment.​

    "Who did that...?" She asked quietly.​

    "This, my child, is the work of the Evil," said a deep, familiar voice behind me, clearly marking 'Evil' with a capital letter.​

    "Six months ago, when the Squad was downsized by almost half."​

    The Priest pushed back the tarpaulin barrier and, anticipating Olga, explained:​

    "It is true, in such places and at such times one cannot be alone, unattended. But pastoral communion requires solitude when the troubled soul is calmed by coming face to face with the light of truth"​

    The bulky man sat on a creaking shelf and opened a bible, which was a brief extract of the social and political structure of the Imperium mixed with excerpts from various saints. A very convenient tool for enlightenment, all the knowledge at one's fingertips.​

    "Let's pray."​

    It certainly didn't sound like a suggestion. With her head bowed and her thumbs crossed, Olga diligently repeated after the monk the words of the prayer on duty. She already understood the meaning, but her knowledge of Gothic did not allow her to pronounce it fluently yet.​

    "So, let's go on," the Priest said as they finished.​

    "Yeah," Olga agreed as if she had a choice. She sat down, straightening her back and folding her hands respectfully in her lap.​

    "Have you thought well about our last lesson?" the shepherd sternly questioned.​

    "Yes," said the girl in a disciplined manner.​

    "Great. Then a question."​

    The Priest was quiet, still looking sternly and attentively at Olga.​

    "What is the weirdest thing about the Imperium? The most wrong?"​

    "The Imperium is the abode of humanity!" the girl said at once and without a stammer. "A well-appointed house, guarded by gatekeepers with a number of..."​

    She lost her way and, embarrassed, began to count by curling her fingers.​

    The Emperor and His Light, that is, the soul and guiding beacon of humanity. Ecclesiarchy, the heart of humanity. Arbiters, the bone of humanity. The Inquisition, the conscience of humanity.​
    The Guard, the slashing hand.​

    "Smashing hand." The Priest, in whose eyes there were sparks of benevolent irony, hinted.​

    "Yes, yes, the smashing hand... and shield. The Munistorum, the mind of humanity. Together they form a harmonious, perfect body. There."​

    Olga looked at the Priest in triumph. He nodded, paying tribute to his student's memory.​

    "That's right," he said, squinting a little, like a well-fed but attentive cat. "That's the way it is. But... So, what's the weirdest, the wrongest thing about the Imperium?​

    "So it's perfect," the girl glanced suspiciously at the shepherd.​

    "The Imperium is perfect, as an extension of the Emperor, of course," Shepherd agreed. "But it exists in the senses and understanding of a multitude of people. Because if there were no people, there would be no Imperium, right?"​

    "Uh... Yes," the student agreed cautiously.​

    She was not afraid. In several very helpful lectures-sermons, she had already understood that the Priest was not going to throw her into the atomic furnace for a wrong answer. The servant of the Ecclesiarchy was quite genuinely concerned about the new novice's soul and faith, and he was doing what no one else in the world had bothered to do. Telling her how the gigantic empire of a million planets was organized, who the local god was, and so on. But the girl tried not to forget that she was dealing with religion, and she could get burned for it. Probably.​

    "You're human, aren't you?" The Priest looked sternly at Olga. She nodded quickly.​

    "And you have your own opinion about the Imperium!"​

    Olga looked longingly at the Priest's collar. She felt like a schoolgirl with an unlearned lesson when she could not dodge it and had to answer something.​

    "Don't try to guess what I want to hear. Tell me what you think."​

    "Well... so... you know," the girl mumbled.​

    "Yes?" the minister of the cult encouraged her.​

    "It's... wrong," she just whispered the last word.​

    "Great!" the monk raised his index finger.​

    "What?"​

    "I told you before, child," the Priest sternly reminded her. "You can't be faithless in our work. It's not just dangerous, it's a path to death, and it's a path to far worse things."​

    Olga wanted to ask what could be scarier than death, but she bit her tongue.​

    "But faith itself is only a shield," the Priest continued. "We must be able to repel the blows that the enemies of humanity inflict on us. You are in doubt, and that is good. It means that we see a weakness that must be strengthened with good reasoning. So what seems wrong to you?"​

    "Well... It's huge," Olga spread her hands as if to emphasize the immensity of the empire of all people. "And everyone gets burned. Everyone believes..."​

    She fell silent, feeling confused, unable to express in words the feeling of general impropriety, the inconsistency of the idea of a grand cosmic empire with the slumbering fanaticism.​

    "Spaceships fly, but the machinery is repairing with prayers... Damn!" she bumped her fist on her knee, angered by the realization of her limited vocabulary.​

    "Where are you from?" Shepherd asked very seriously. "What planet are you from?"​

    "From Earth," the girl answered honestly.​

    "It must be a very heretical planet," the Priest stretched out thoughtfully, and Olga felt herself grow cold.​

    "And, apparently, not badly developed. Enough to assemble household machines, cogitators, simple machines, voxes... You're not intimidated by technology, you might even have a general idea of what electricity or a nuclear reactor are, so you think theocracy is wrong. Right?"​

    Fuck.

    "Well, at least it's clear why you're here," said the Priest as if nothing had happened. "It makes the task all the more interesting."​

    Olga remained silent, looking at the chain the monk was girded with. She wanted to cry, to crawl under the bench, and for the damned lesson to be over as soon as possible.​

    "Let's pretend that you..." Shepherd thought about it. "Well, let's say, the Emperor's chosen daughter. In the spiritual sense, of course. And he has called you to order his legacy. Have you imagined it?"​

    Olga nodded silently and sniffled, trying not to drop a tear.​

    Shepherd looked thoughtfully at the metal wall, in which there was a viewing slit.​

    "And there's a million planets in front of you. In reality, of course, there are many more. No one really knows how many."​

    "Really?" Olga was amazed, even forgetting from surprise that she was almost ready to burst into tears.​

    "Yes," the Priest nodded. "Try to imagine a million of something. Grains of sand, coins, people. It's an unbelievable amount."​

    "Aha... Olga imagined a thousand of thousand buttons. Or rather, she tried to imagine it, and it turned out rather badly."​

    "But for simplicity's sake, let's assume that there are exactly a million of them and none more," the Priest returned to the introduction. "And all are different. Among that million, no two are the same. Somewhere after the Dark Ages, they still walk with clubs, and somewhere they build spaceships. On one planet, a man and a woman marry, on another, a person marries to all the members of the spouse's family, as in my homeland."​

    "How's that?" Olga's eyes widened like saucers.​

    "It's not easy," the Priest smiled faintly. "But I think you get the point. Well, you have a million planets in front of you, and they must all live as one organism. Otherwise, the Empire will collapse and the era of decay and death will come again, as it has already happened before. And what will you do?"​

    "Well..." Olga wrinkled her forehead. "We have to set the same rules for everyone."​

    "And which ones?" The monk immediately answered a question with a question. "Here are two planets, one has culture and civilization, and the other gets married by first breaking the skulls of all their rivals. How do you equalize them?"​

    "By force," said the girl firmly. "We need the less civilized to live by the rules. Good, cultural rules. Because cracking skulls isn't good."​

    "So you're going to impose laws on people that are foreign to them, right?" the monk clarified. "They have to forget all the traditions their fathers and grandmothers lived by for tens or hundreds of generations. And since resistance is inevitable, you have to force them, don't you?"​

    "Yes..." This time there was less confidence in Olga's voice. The Priest's description did not sound as correct as she would have liked, but she could not accuse the pastor of unfair interpretation either.​

    "Are you ready to ignite a war on a humanity-wide scale?" the monk raised an eyebrow. "For everyone to marry, be born, live, and die by the same rules? By the rules of just a few planets that you think are worthy of the standard?"​

    "I... probably... I'll have to think about it."​

    "Think about it. But I'll give you the answer right away if you can - contradict it."​

    The Priest placed his hands on the book and touched the cover with wide palms with reverence and without an inch of pretentiousness.​

    "It makes no sense to reshape everyone to a single standard because if people in some world live this way, it means that this charter is the best for them. There is no way to make everyone live according to the same canon without causing genocide on hundreds of thousands of worlds. But there is no need to. The greatness of the Emperor is that he gave us the Faith as a single core, a common beginning for all and everything. The measure of all things, good and evil. One who lives on top of the hive world and one who adorns himself with the teeth of slain enemies are infinitely distant, will never understand each other. But they are united by a Faith that is simple, clear, and just. In radioactive deserts and on dead snow-covered worlds, in cosmic settlements and deepest dungeons, the Emperor is one for all and unites all."​

    Shepherd sighed, took a breath.​

    "Theocracy is the only way to unite a million worlds. And when you worship the Emperor, you are not merely entrusting your soul to the best of the excellent, who is greater than any mortal. You are serving the greatest design and plan in the universe, you are laying a brick in the foundation of a common and safe home for all people in all worlds. Isn't that beautiful? Isn't this a destiny worthy of pride?"​

    "But... I haven't been very long... here... Well, in civilized places," Olga quickly clarified. "But I have already seen various... injustices. For example, I have been caught, judged, sentenced. Nothing was explained to me!"​

    She was slowly turning on the attentive Priest, taking out her long-cherished resentment.​

    "I saved him," the girl almost shouted. "Just because I felt sorry for him! There was so much going on, so..."​

    She sniffed again, experiencing a sharp attack of self-pity. Olga was no longer worried about what Kryp might hear.​

    "A lot was going on... and I risked everything, I almost got killed there... more than once. And they punished me! I didn't even know about the emperor, I didn't speak Gothic. And they beat me because I didn't pray right!"​

    She did cry, softly, hopelessly. And then the shepherd's broad palms rested on her shoulders. The monk pulled the girl strongly, but gently, and patted her back. And Olga finally burst into real tears on his broad chest, covered by the hard links of plastic chainmail. She mumbled something intermittently, confused words, pouring out long-accumulated anger and a sense of universal injustice.​

    "Here," the Priest handed her a wide handkerchief, or rather, judging by its appearance, a piece of an old sheet.​

    "Thank you," Olga muttered, wiping her swollen nose. She felt better, though she felt awkward and wary. Who the hell knew how this cultist would take her breakdown?​

    "As I said before, idiots are the greatest misfortune of a good shepherd of men," the monk said, as it seemed to the girl, with undisguised sadness. But, by the way...​
    He raised two fingers significantly to the ceiling again.​

    "This is just in line with what I was just saying. Humans are imperfect. Alas, even the best of us, those who are supposed to carry His word into the universe, are imperfect. How do we correct this imperfection without killing everyone?"​

    "Faith," Olga sighed.​

    "Yes," the Priest smiled. "Now you've made another step in understanding."​

    He sighed.​

    "Sometimes I think how lucky we are," the monk said softly. "How lucky all people are, former, living, and unborn. He came to us. He gave us the goal and the means to achieve it. Without Him, what would have become of humanity? Life without faith, without purpose, without a sense of unity in a world where enemies are innumerable, where hell can break loose at arm's length... Such a world is scary to even imagine, not to mention living in it. It is not without reason that many have tried to destroy the Emperor's house, but there have always been many more who have defended it."​

    "It's all complicated," Olga tried to blur the subject somehow. "I have to think about it."​

    "Think," the Priest approved very seriously. "If you have any doubts or misunderstandings, come to me. I don't want your prayers to be filled with fear, but with hope and gratitude to Him. And it's time for you to confess. And now..."​

    He clapped his hands softly.​

    "Now, I think it's time to talk about..."​

    The Priest was interrupted by Bertha's loud voice:​

    "Gathering! Gather round, everybody! Three minutes!"​

    Strangely, the siren did not sound before the alarm was always announced by a special signal.​

    "Three minutes to go!" shouted the Mentor. "Eat, drink, finish and go to the briefing! Real alarm, real alarm!!!"​

    The Priest shook his head, hung the book on his waist chain, stood up, and with a fatherly gesture ran his palm over Olga's head. The short lock of blond hair had grown back a little and was prickling funny.​

    "I thought we were going to talk about Hell today," the monk said. "And why our Faith isn't just a collection of rituals. But I guess you'll see before you hear."​
    * * *​
     
  28. Threadmarks: The Squad Chapter 10
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

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    Chapter 10
    * * *
    And again the tank bounced over the snow-covered tundra, creaking with shock absorbers, thoroughly shaking the contents of the iron womb. This time Olga quickly, properly equipped herself, plugged all the connectors in the proper places, and in general felt a little more confident. There was considerably less space in the vehicle. Kryp was skinny, but his dead servant, with his multi-barreled shotgun, took up as much space as an ordinary man and a half.

    "Why is there only one tank?" Olga asked, standing up and leaning toward the monk. She used the weighty cart with the tank as an anchor and an additional point of support.

    "What?" the Priest looked at her incomprehensively, adjusting the gas mask hanging around his neck.

    "Our train, it's big," Olga patiently explained. "But there's only one tank. Is it a tank for the whole armored train?"

    "Oh, I see," the Priest shook his bald head with huge bald spots. "Well, you picked a hell moment..."

    It sounded judgmental, but the shepherd's pale gray eyes were filled with wisps of cheerful and slightly sad irony.

    "There was more," said the monk briefly. "Did you see the trail?"

    "The trail?.." Olga thought to the accompaniment of the 'Chimera's' rumble. The engine itself worked quite quietly for such a huge machine, but the tank was full of things that could rattle, jingle, bang - and did not hesitate to do so.

    "The trail from the sea," the monk said patiently. "We just passed it."

    "Ah, yes."

    "That's where they all stayed," the monk finished exhaustively, and with a stern look made it clear that the conversation was over.

    The girl sank back down on the cold metal, feeling a bitter lump go up to her throat. The danger of serving in the Squad was turning from an abstraction to a pressing problem before her eyes. And Olga knew for a fact that she had enough of demons, monsters, and adventures of all kinds.

    She met her eyes with Kryp. Fidus seemed funny and ridiculous in the standard overalls that hung over the long inquisitor like an old cloak on a scarecrow. But Kryptman looked calm and confident. So that she wanted to snuggle up to him, wrap herself in the folds of a suit of tarpaulin impregnated with the anti-fire agent, and think about nothing else.

    Wonder she'd hugged Kryp before, and he was very warm, cozy, almost like an iron Jenni with a heat output to the surface of her body. Well, yes, Fidus was wounded and feverish.

    By the way...

    Olga suddenly thought of a simple and very interesting thought. Why isn't there a medic in the unit? Don't they get wounds here? Or does everyone know how to heal, only she, by a misunderstanding, has not yet been taught the basics of first aid? That's a lot of weird stuff, isn't it? But when you think about it... Forty thousand years! An unimaginable pile of centuries. It's more surprising that she understands anything at all. And then the familiar and already hated red lamp blinked, heralding the end of the trip, the disembarkation, and a lot of adventure. Or, with luck, a false alarm.

    God, let it be nothing again! The girl pleaded, and the 'Chimera' stopped, gnashing its iron guts, which the tech-priest had diligently serviced and blessed.

    This time the squads arrived in an area built up with overgrown apartment buildings. If Olga had not known that she was separated from the Soviet Union by more than four hundred centuries, she might have thought that she was surrounded by an ordinary city with a non-standard layout and buildings adapted to the climate. The blocky high-rises on brick foundations seemed very familiar and homely. Just looking at them made her want to go up to the staircase, open the door to the apartment with the keys, boil cocoa water on the gas stove, and curl up in a warm blanket right under the central heating radiator. Better yet, with a cat. She remembered that in old Japan they used to sell special cats to take to bed in winter for warmth.

    Here, on the edge of the tundra town, a whole bouquet of local law enforcers gathered again. The cops, the Federals-arbitrators, the grim officers of the Inquisition. Olga slouched and lowered her gaze, trying to appear small and inconspicuous. Small helicopters, either single-seat or automatic, buzzed overhead. Not far away, a monstrous tank, twice the size of the squadron's Chimera, with a bulldozer blade and a real turret, was tossing and turning, mercilessly smoking its prometheum diesel and disfiguring the pavement. Only the cannon was strange as if it were not a cannon at all, but an inflated shower nozzle. Yeah, just like the nozzle of the acid sprayer the Priest have.

    It was cold, and it was getting dark-the sunset promised to be early and aggravated by the weather. Snowflakes fell sparsely from the gloomy sky. Bertha and the Priest exchanged a few words with the arbiter, wearing white armor that looked like antique armor. The arbiter was leaning on a shield, hand-painted with words of prayer, and seemed troubled. As the conversation progressed, the same expression flashed across the faces of the monk and the bodybuilder. The trio was joined by someone outfitted similarly to the troopers, only much better and more expensive. The conversation became heated, but apparently without mutual recriminations.

    "Don't be scared."

    Olga jerked in surprise, thinking that Fidus was a bastard and an asshole. Don't sneak up from behind like that. But it was Demetrius. He had a short-barreled rifle hanging behind him, and an elaborate medical-like backpack on his chest. Separate pouches were strapped to his thighs, went all the way around his waist, and even stuck out on his shoulders. The novice had the appearance of a man fully focused on a socially useful task.

    No, it seems there will be someone to put iodine on a cut finger after all.

    "I'm not afraid!" The girl turned her nose up, compensating for her fright with ostentatious bravado.

    "And that' right," the boy smiled softly, seemingly in no way deceived by his companion's demonstrative bravery. "Whatever happens to each of us has long since been accounted for in the Emperor's will, and will happen according to His providence."

    "That's reassuring," Olga gritted her teeth and once again thought that her tongue was her enemy. But Demetrius only nodded.

    In the meantime, the Mentor and the monk had finished talking to the arbiter and the 'chemist. Bertha spat greedily into the muddy snow, trampled by many boots, and readjusted her weapon and the respirator she wore instead of a gas mask. The Priest blessed himself with an aquila and placed his fists on his waist chain, gripping it like a handrail. Both returned to the small detachment that waited in silent patience, even Driver halfway out of the hatch and lifted one 'ear' of the tank helmet to hear better. With his reddish skin and silver beads, he looked like a mad Indian cosplaying a World War II tank man.

    "Turn around," Bertha traced an ellipse with her hand, making it clear that 'turn around' didn't mean 'go back' at all. Olga's heart thudded heavily in her ribs and seemed to fall somewhere in her pelvis. "Let's go inside. There's shit in the house. We'll have a look."

    "Whoever is weak in faith is a fool and a dead man himself," the Priest added. "Is that clear?"

    The team responded with a discordant murmur, spreading out in fighting order. Olga thought wistfully that the house was ladders, and dragging a cart up and down ladders was a total sh...

    "Let's go straight!' Bertha yelled angrily, knocking out all the outside thoughts. "Hurry up with your legs, you skinny!"

    "Well, here goes the work," Smoker said squeakily, running forward as a scout should.

    Savlar squelched disgustingly at the hole, drawing in the cold air. Olga remained silent, struggling to keep up with her flamethrower.

    The house was large and cordoned off on all sides. Olga saw the familiar symbols of the Ecclesiarchy, the Inquisition, and other badges. Instead of ribbons, they used real chains of light silver metal, maybe really silver. Priests in wide, richly embroidered gold coats were swinging their censers, chanting litanies. The police were beating someone with very long truncheons, clearing the area. The army brought up some real tanks, and the arbiters cordoned everything off with armored cars, with machine-gun turrets spinning menacingly on them. Along with the pillar supports for the barrier chain, the novices set up large roasting pits, pouring some pungent-smelling grass into the coals. All in all, it looked a lot like an advanced high-tech exorcism.
    A priest in the longest and most luxurious coat greeted the unit's Priest. The holy fathers exchanged a few words, then the unit was let through the fence. Everyone around, regardless of departmental affiliation, looked at the rather unrepresentative team with fearful reverence. Olga thought that she would look at a person in her right mind and mind sticking a hand into a terrarium full of poisonous spiders. The thought, of course, did not add to her calmness and optimism. The words to pray to the Emperor, which he had already learned, rolled on her tongue. On the other hand, it was even nice to be noticed and respected by serious people from imposing organizations, even if the deference was taken for hire, at the expense of the reputation of the Squad.

    They were taken not to the front entrance, but to the technical gate, through which the trucks were driven to the minus first floor. Olga was still waiting for some kind of briefing, but apparently, this empty formality was considered unnecessary here. Huge novices in chain mail similar to that worn by the Priest unlocked the rattling gate, padded with old zinc.

    "May the Emperor's mercy be with you," the coat-coated shepherd admonished in the well-pitched voice of a professional orator. "May He preserve your souls from filth, heresy, and faithlessness. May your spirit be stronger and harder than steel."

    "Verily, in Him we trust," replied the Priest.

    "Amen," the crew chattered, but sincerely, and Olga repeated after them:

    "Amen!"

    The girl had expected the squad team to go inside, accompanied by the reinforcements, thanks to so much and all piled up around the high-rise. However, the deed, by all appearances, was intended only for the 'purificators'. The girl felt herself getting into the spirit of service with every step.

    The sensation of attentive, pressing attention stabbed like the touch of a scalpel on a nerve. It wasn't painful, but rather unpleasant, alien. It was as if some entity had awakened from its slumber or deep reverie, opened its eyes, and glanced over to see who it was that had disturbed its tranquility. A quick, unfocused look from the basilisk. There was no malice, no human emotion of any kind, just a physical heaviness and tingling that made her want to tear her clothes and skin, to brush away her bare muscles and cure the nasty itch. This was how an animated trap, a living alarm system, might have looked. Olga furtively looked around, but either the sensation was only hers, or the others were used to it.

    "Masks," Bertha commanded softly, but impressively. "Lights. And forward, to the glory of St. Clarence."

    "The facility is sealed!" Someone behind the back yelled into a megaphone. "The maintenance company has started work! The area is closed until authorized by the Squad! For quarantine violations, burn on the spot! Watch the seals, the cordon shoots without warning!"

    God, be merciful, Olga pleaded to herself, pulling the gray muzzle of her gas mask that smelled like Chinese rubber with her trembling hands.

    The inside of the house was much larger. It also had a completely alien layout. Most of all it looked like the 'tower' from 'Judge Dredd', not the puppet menace with Stallone, but the real one, where the lower jaw of Karl Urban, who Olga had liked a lot in her time, played. A tough dude with a sad look... Anyway, back to the house.

    The building was built around a large atrium, which led in a blind well far up, to the gray roof. Olga shuddered, remembering that she had already seen a similar layout, and nothing good came out then. The impression was compounded by a large statue of some local saint in the center of the square. According to traces, earlier flowers and candles had been dragged to the statue, but now the flowers had been scattered and trampled, and the stone statue had been broken and stacked in a pyramid. Only the head with a mournful expression was placed separately.

    "Heretics," the shepherd condemned relishingly, and no one objected.

    Such a deliberate desecration of a shrine could only be conscious, and therefore heretical. The Holy Man quickly muttered into the tube of the radio that swung a folded antenna behind his back. Bertha silently waved her hand, Smoker understood correctly, and circled the perimeter of the atrium, shining a powerful flashlight.

    Olga noted that the three flamethrowers stood in such a way as to block any direction of attack without hitting each other. Crybaby was sobbing as usual, but the heavy flamethrower held firmly. She wonders how he manages to sob with his mask on...? The Priest was making some passes with one hand, not letting go of the handle of the acid cannon with the other.

    "No blood, no traces, no bodies," Smoker reported as he emerged from the side corridor.

    "Let's go," Bertha ordered. Olga sighed and wheeled the cart behind Crybaby.

    The building was a mishmash of corridors, some as if they existed by themselves, while others had rows of identical dark-brown plastic doors with stenciled numbers on either side. There was a system here, but to understand it you had to live here, or at least hang around. To an outsider like Olga, everything was the same and hopelessly confusing. At least the problem of carts was solved. All the stairs were accompanied by ramps, like wheelchairs. Instead of elevators, in some places, vertical wells were made right into the walls. These looked like one-person platforms, or a not-so-subtle load, like an escalator, used to roll up and down in them. Now everything was frozen in motionlessness.

    "Do you see it?" The Priest asked, pointing to the wall with the barrel of his weapon.

    "Yes," answered Bertha. The laryngophone transmitted the bodybuilder's grim tone almost without interference.

    I don't see' thought Olga.

    "Heretics," the Holy Man hissed with hatred, and then the girl realized.

    No symbols. Nothing at all, not even an image or a wax-stamped prayer sheet. A sterile, anti-religious emptiness.

    "Let's go higher," Bertha ordered and Smoker ran away again. The Holy Man kept muttering into his talker, seeming to be reporting live. It was a little reassuring, and there was a sense of attachment to the big world beyond the walls of the dingy and dreary building.

    In theory, they could do without lanterns, the lights under the high yellow ceilings were blinking properly. However, the squad was disciplined in shining headlights into all corners. Olga strained her skinny muscles, rolling the cart, which seemed to add a kilogram for every dozen meters of travel. The mask did not interfere with her breathing or visibility, but the noise of the valves when she exhaled was very annoying, soft but constant. Why not take off the stupid mask, if everything was still normal?

    The third floor, then the fourth. The troops wore underwear under their overalls and wool sweaters that looked like they were knitted from strings. It was supposed to absorb sweat well and generally dissipate excess heat. But the girl felt that soon the heavy boots would be bubbling with moisture, or maybe Olga would just run out of heatstroke. It was a good thing that Sinner - again, silently - had shown a trick a few days ago with a rag bandage on her forehead under her mask. Otherwise, the sweat would probably have puked out her eyes, or she would have had to pull down her gas mask to wipe her face and, accordingly, get the heat from Bertha.

    The Smoker ran in circles like a clockwork man, ducking into all the corridors, popping out of incomprehensible corners. The servitor stepped heavy and measured on the yellow-brown tiles, turning his bald head independently of the body's movements. A full turn to the left, to the stop of the vertebrae, then to the right, and again in the same cycle.

    "Not a soul," Smoker reported. "No one at all, as if they never lived there."

    The doors, Olga thought. All the doors were closed as if no one lived here. But some people had definitely been here, and not long ago. Along the way, the department came across signs of the building's inhabitants. An abandoned toy in the form of a peeling, yellow-painted Emperor. An ordinary mop with a wet rag was abandoned orphaned in the middle of the corridor as if it had been dropped in mid-movement. A book was left on a small chair next to a wheelchair cane. Olga immediately imagined some old man who used to pass the hours in the wide corridor, poisoning the lives of the neighbors. Or maybe the opposite, looking after children while their parents were busy. There seemed to be a lot of children here - toys were common, almost all old and very cheap-looking, many times mended. Apparently, they had served many generations.

    Olga did not care about the whole world of the theocratic future and its population, even if it lived on a billion planets.

    But kids...

    Looking at the painstakingly stitched balls with aquiles, the small tanks, the soldier figurines, frayed by many children's hands until the smallest details disappeared, the girl felt... not fear, but something else entirely. A feeling of the extreme importance of everything that was going on around her. And again her own importance, her involvement in a very serious and responsible matter.

    The adults might eat each other, but the children had to be found. The girls would once again have tea with bald dolls with shamrocks on their cheeks, and the boys would play with ugly figures of upright, fanged toads with truncheons.

    Then the squad met a fallen pot, from which spilled a brew of horrifying unappetizing quality. The squad made a stand, and the Priest studied the contents with such care and caution as if the crumpled tin contained a plague elixir.

    "Vegetables, not a scrap of meat," the monk finally reported, and everyone seemed relieved as they moved on. Only the shepherd lingered, turned the acid to the minimum, and poured a caustic mixture over someone's unfortunate dinner that seemed to melt even the tiles. Here was where the masks worked their magic; there was so much poisonous smoke that without gas masks my lungs would have escaped through my throat.

    "Shall we break down the door? - either ordered or suggested the Priest. After a short pause, Bertha nodded and pointed, seemingly at random, at one of the identical rectangles. The team immediately rearranged, it was up to Sinner to cover the assault on the apartment. Bertha moved her mighty shoulders under the shiny fabric of her overalls and with one kick took out the lock. And Olga leaned against the wall, letting the cart out for a moment. People very close by were bustling about, doing something important and useful, and the girl was again struck by the feeling of an outsider's gaze. Blinded attention and this time are much more intense. Last time, the blind eye had swept in, like a sauron's eye, in passing, only noting. But now it was aimed squarely at the group, like a searchlight finding a ship in a stormy ocean. It was as if the squad had been marked and tagged.

    And the most disgusting thing was that in this world you couldn't dismiss the sensation as an 'imagination...' First you're imagining things, and then a gut with tentacles comes out of nowhere.

    Bertha listened to the report, gave a brief order. Crybaby and Sinner, who came out of the apartment, took positions to cover the corridor with fire in both directions. The Priest raised the barrel of the acid cannon vertically and stood to spray anywhere if necessary. The mechanized suspension buzzed at increased speeds. The rest of the fighters took out three doors at once opposite the one already breached. The Holy Man spoke into the radio continuously, like a rapper at a battle, in a hard-to-understand shorthand. For a moment he stepped off the tube, said to Bertha:

    "The Madman is worried. Screaming, sobbing."

    The Mentor turned her attention to the girl, who clutched at the side of her cart, squirming as if in pain. Bertha put the combi-shotgun to the girl's forehead, leaned lower, peering into Olla's face through the large lenses of the gas mask.

    "What?" the Mentor asked in one word.

    "The b-baby..." squeezed out the blonde, biting her lip. She went pale as if she'd knocked over a powder puff.

    Oh, I had a powder puff at one time, Bertha thought to herself.
    I was once beautiful and kind and different...

    The Mentor shrugged the uninvited thoughts away, pressed the barrel of the combi-shotgun harder, pressed the stupid fool's head against the wall, pushing the trigger almost to the end. Now all she had to do was press no more than a hair's breadth to leave Olla headless and the Squad without a fighter.

    "Talk."

    Olga, who still didn't seem to realize how close she was to other world, squeezed through clenched teeth:

    "The baby... crying... footprints... on the walls!"

    She opened her eyes wide, blinked, and looked in horror at the big gun in Bertha's hands.

    "Are you recovered?" The Mentor asked gloomily.

    "Y-yes," Olga squeaked out, getting up and grasping the handrail of the cart as a saving point of support.

    "Hold steady," advised Bertha. "Everyone cracks at first. That side isn't kidding."

    "I-I got it," the girl said in a shaky, faltering voice. And she added more evenly, a little more confidently and firmly. "It will be done. Hold. Stand still."

    "Well done. Next time I'll blow your head off."

    Smoker came out of apartment three, holding in his outstretched hand a stick like a plunger, stained with something that looked like glowing ink. He held the stick out, and all the squadmates swung to their sides in unison.

    "In all the taps," the scout reported. "It drips if you open it."

    "People?" The monk asked curtly, gripping the grips of the acid cannon tighter.

    "Noone."

    "Are they left?" The Holy Man asked this time, seemingly not for himself, but by transmitting someone else's question over the walkie-talkie.

    "They're gone," Smoker shook his head. Even through the mask, you could see that the scout was perplexed. "No packing, no belongings, the locks closed. They just disappeared. That's all."

    Olga shook her humming head. She had told Bertha about the crying baby, but the feeling was much deeper and stranger. Yes, a clear cry, bitter, full of hopeless fear, more like unrelenting terror. Only it sounded... not in her ears. And the girl couldn't explain where the sound was coming from. Maybe it wasn't even a sound. It was as if Despair itself was knocking from the other side of reality, making the individual strings of the universe vibrate. Something about it was familiar... something tugged at the hidden corners of Olga's mind. It seemed to the girl that just a little more, listen even more closely to this crying, and it would become clear who was weeping and why. Who needs help, but dies without hope of support.

    "Well, everything seems to be clear here," suggested the Priest, with the silent agreement of the others.

    "Warp, heresy, machinations of hostile powers," said Bertha. "Most likely, unholy sorcery. But it could also be a spontaneous breakthrough."

    "Don't you talk stupidness," the Priest said quietly, pressing his head against his mentor's respirator. "Witchcraft is never pure," he added louder. "We have to go up to the end, let's see more selectively. Then it's up to the Inquisitors and the Ecclesiarchy.:

    "The plumbing system," Kryp put in, softly but confidently, turning to the Holy Man. "Have them pay special attention. If it's filled with this stuff, it might have acted as a volumetric antenna or a mirror. Or maybe a teleporter."

    "Copy that," said the radio operator.

    "The blockade will not be removed," Bertha affirmed, glancing at Fidus. "High danger, a complete cleanup with the elimination of all property. Let the Inquisition work first, then burn everything out so there's only a box left. Utilities to be completely replaced. Basements to be filled with caustic."

    "And a recitation by a team of Preachers, rededicate everything," the monk agreed, then added. "But let's check upstairs first."

    "Roger," the Holy Man reported, recounting the radio. "Waiting for the final decision and sanction."

    "Disco," Olga whispered, looking at the stick in the scout's hands. He just turned to the doorway and gently threw the filth back, trying not to shake off a drop inadvertently.

    "What?" asked Fidus quickly. Sensing the alarm in his master's voice, the servitor stepped from foot to foot, raised his shotgun, cocking his head.

    "Disco," Olga repeated. The crying melted into the void, leaving behind a feeling of hopeless emptiness and pangs of sadness.

    "And?" Fidus seemed determined to keep up. Bertha was about to slap her, but the Priest stopped her, silently placing a broad palm on her shoulder.

    "Well, disco..." Olga was still not thinking clearly and was confused about the words. "There's light and this kind of ink. It looks like very much. They use it for stamps... You can see everything in the blue lights."

    She fell silent, trying to describe the simple image of normal disco, glowing ink and stamps on the hands in words understandable to people of the future.

    Bertha understood first, seemingly even faster than Fidus, but it was the Priest who started the action. The big man in the chainmail released the spray gun, which the iron paw of the pendant automatically returned to its marching position with the barrel up. Then he tore the book from his belt and the mask from his face. The Priest raised the bible above his head and shouted in a completely inhuman voice so that Olga almost went deaf:

    "In His name, I reveal which is hidden!"

    The holy father was frightening to look at. He rolled his eyes so that only the whites were visible, pink with bursting vessels, his lips were quivering, the foam was forming at the corners of his mouth. The black-gloved fingers he had clenched on the book twisted like bird's claws, and the wooden binding cracked and cracked. It looked more like a momentary attack of madness than anything else, a real one that was ugly and very scary.

    "According to His will, let us see the unclean!" the monk bellowed. "Let us not fear evil, for He is watching with our eyes now!"

    "My God," someone whispered, maybe a Holy Man, maybe a Crybaby.

    "Run," Savlar muttered, gritting his teeth so that the laryngophone transmitted a sound like a frequent drum roll. "Let's get out of here..."

    The walkie-talkie behind the Holy Man's shoulders shrieked like a living thing, threw off a beam of bright blue sparks, and the receiver roared and squealed with interference. The ether seemed to die down quickly, drowning in an ocean of sudden interference.

    On the walls, on the ceiling, on the tiled floor, luminous symbols were slowly appearing, painted with the same paint that had stained Smoker's plunger. It was as if reality was melting away, revealing what was hidden in other layers of the universe. Very intricate patterns, woven from bizarre rune-like signs. They clung with angular little squiggles, twisted in spirals as if they were meant to catch any, even the most cursory glance, and not let it out, to confuse it and send it into an endless web.

    The whole house is painted, Olga realized, the whole fucking building is painted on the inside to look like a sorcerer's hohloma...
    [​IMG]
    "The labyrinth," whispered someone, maybe the Wretched Man.

    "No, it's the Gates of Empyrea," Fidus Kryptman said quickly and clearly, like a report. "They pulled out all the inhabitants at once. It's a ritual. A sacrifice. And the sorcery is still working."

    The priest collapsed to his knees, clinging to the bible as the greatest value in the world, as the only lifeline that could keep his soul safe. And Bertha snatched the walkie-talkie from the HolyMan's hands and shouted no more quietly than the monk, trying to break through the roar of interference:

    "Radial! Radial! Rocket Strike! Blast the whole block off!!!"

    The Savlar shrieked thinly, the Holy Man shouted 'fuck evil!', the Crybaby sobbed in his voice, gasping for breath. The Priest wheezed and sobbed like a man who had lost his voice. Olga sat upright on the cold floor, unable to feel her feet. Servitor Luct towered over her like a self-propelled combat tower, evidently, Kryp had made it a priority to protect the girl.

    Bertha looked around wildly and finished almost pleadingly:

    "Destroy it all!!!"
    * * *​
     
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2021
    Winged One, Bogdan, ATP and 1 other person like this.
  29. Threadmarks: The Squad Chapter 11
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

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    Chapter 11
    * * *​
    The legendary 'Kowalski' had recently come off the Iron Ring slipway, a mere two hundred and sixteen Martian years ago, and seemed juvenile compared to the elderly monsters that remembered the Olympic Treaty. But service in convoys ages prematurely.

    'Kowalski' was a heavy transport cruiser, so far the only one of its kind. 'Detect the enemy, engage, destroy'. This was the first and foremost task of a warship, and 'Kowalski' was well equipped to carry it out as quickly and efficiently as possible. And yet the main occupation of the ship remained the timely delivery of cargo with the ability to kick anyone who encroached on Mars property.
    With a displacement of just over thirty-six megatons, the 'Kowalski' was a deep modification of the famous 'Lunar' type, the predecessor of the 'Dictator' class cruisers. Five and a half kilometers long with a diameter of only seven hundred meters at the midship, with a rounded upper stem, a square cruising stern, and a ribbed, blind tank below the keel technical deck, 'Kowalski' seemed an amazingly fast, taut ship. It had a very menacing appearance.

    Since birth 'Kowalski' rarely sailed on traditional routes, and the crew knew no other life. Initially, the ship wandered mostly alone, carrying individual Collegium manipulas, sometimes escorting detachments of two or three heavy transports. Then it was switched to joint operations with frigates and buccaneer cruisers. Now, 'Kowalski' metaphorically speaking, didn't make a move without a squadron that belonged to the 14th Supplies Group of the Ships Forges. But in fact, 'Kowalski' had never been alone before. Entropy, the embodiment of destructive doom, was on its heels. As soon as it pointed the logarithm of the number of available microstates at Hive Tanker 'Goliath', the nearest star paled against the hellish explosion of solar plasma. Barely touched by the probability distribution of the 'Coffin', the latter, slashed in two by an enemy torpedo, entered the atmosphere in a swarm of debris of divine Titans in fiery swathes. Entropy enveloped the escort destroyer in thermodynamic dissipation, and it rushed into the lead-shining depths of the Immaterium, and the stunned, numb with terror crew begged only for a crack in the solid hull, bringing an instant merciful demise rather than an agonizing death from transformation into the Dark in a distorted metal coffin.

    Yes, everywhere 'Kowalski' appeared, Entropy appeared too - but it never touched him. It was a lucky ship, an invincible cruiser for whom Galactica was home.

    Invincibility was, of course, an illusion, but a carefully calculated one. The 'Kowalski' was designed for specific missions in specific environments, and the Iron Ring Forges knew their business. By the mere appearance of 'Kowalski', a knowledgeable Magos could tell that this ship was designed for the St. Evisser's Path.

    It was an unworthy name for half a dozen inhabited worlds (of which no more than two could be considered developed), scattered along an arm that could accommodate three or five sectors of the Ultima Segment. Too few even to declare the region a subsector. A single World Forge, far from the most advanced of the Adeptus Mechanicus strongholds, fully supplied all the Imperial Fleet, Guard, and Adeptus Arbitres forces stationed on the Path. And though the lifeless, barren star systems could not serve as a base for any serious xenos threat, prosperity had long since left the planets of Path. Once majestic temples that attracted pilgrims from all over Segment Solar now stood abandoned amidst dilapidated, half-empty metropolises.

    Through this void, however, was the shortest and most relatively stable route, the link between Sacred Terra and the Pacificus Segment. Fleet squadrons and Adeptus Astartes ships moved through the Gates of Fire to aid Maharia, Donian, and the Sabbat worlds.

    Navigational beacons, astropathic stations, supply bases. In general, the Imperium's infrastructure on the Path. Could not be protected by the usual methods, i.e. regiments of the Guard, orbital fortresses, and battleship squadrons. This would have required resources unimaginable and unaffordable for the feral worlds of the Path. So even a couple of old cruisers in the hands of renegades, or an Orc wanderer accidentally dropped out of warp, could threaten the Imperium's supply of troops. And they threatened with depressing regularity. In such a situation, only a fast-moving transport capable of promptly leaving a group of Titans or a legion of Skitarii on a besieged planet was a key element in the measured, stable operation of a transport artery. And 'Kowalski' had long ago become one of the key links in that system.

    Voidmancer-Captain Valler was experienced enough as a combat commander to know the value of the vigilance not only of the cogitators, but also of the techpriest at the detection posts, capable of calculating the best course for the combat mission. 'Kowalski' was the highest achievement of Adeptus Mechanicus since the Schism, the apotheosis of the desire to merge the gifts of Omnissiah, the God-Machine, and the Driving Force to create the ultimate instrument of destruction. A magnificent fighting machine. But only as long as it was under the control of a trusted cogitator, an experienced captain, and faithful techno-jerks who conjured up the binary code of the Spirit Machine. The cruiser, like any Bazilikon Astra ship, was only as good as the purity and loyalty of its senior Voidmancers to Omnissiah.

    And the 'Kowalski' Magosas were in a moment of collective bewilderment.

    Forty-six hours ago, one of the XJ-9 small escort ships came out of warp, hurrying to the rendezvous point, but received a directional transmission that came from a verified hexacode. The order to lower shields and stand by to receive cargo seemed to come from the void. The Auspexes registered along the direction of the beam an absolute void for millions of kilometers. The most careful analysis yielded no results. Among other things, the distortions typical of the Eldar holoshields were ruled out.

    However, an order is an order, and immediately after blocking the emitters of the void shields, several containers with Forges of Mars insignia teleported from nowhere to the receiving deck, along with a techpriest and three multifunctional servitors. The Adept of Mars then relayed an order, verified by the sigil of Parliament, to obey any orders from the messenger, and accordingly gave instructions to go immediately to meet the flagship of the squadron. That is, with the 'Kowalski'.

    The techpriest captain wisely decided it wasn't worth asking why his auspexes hadn't detected another ship. An anxious cargo couldn't just appear out of nowhere?! He even wanted to erase the log entry, just in case, which might directly or indirectly prove that the transfer or teleportation had taken place. But he thought better of it. To erase the information was heretical and immoral! He limited himself to multi-level encryption so that only Mars could unlock the recordings in a couple of hundred years.

    Magos was quite happy with his current position in the Basilicon Astra hierarchy, and he had forgotten about his career as a Voidmancer centuries ago. Considering that the Captain had outlived many of his comrades and colleagues who had attained command positions on the heavy cruisers and battleships of Adeptus Mechanicus, this approach was not unreasonable and wise.
    And now the Mars envoy appeared on the bridge of the 'Kowalski'. Theta's Perseus Monitor was a typical mechanicus that had gone quite far in perfecting the flesh, but not so far as to frighten the weak and uncommitted of Omnissiah. Too ordinary for an unconventional appearance.

    "The order is verified by the digital sigil of the Fabricator-General of Mars. Squadron XJ-Nine Basilicon Astra must change course. In twenty-six standard days, 'Kowalski' should move into high orbit 140101-55524-R54024-52928P10. The current operation is canceled, directives changed."

    "The verification of the sigil is complete," one of the servitors said indifferently. "Successful. Confirmed."

    Voidmancer of the cyber visionary sector immediately summoned a laser-beam woven fragment of the St. Evisser's Path star map. Not that it was necessary. The bluish light and whimsical shadows of holographic multi-tables had illuminated the command posts of Imperium starships for millennia, but the tactical displays seemed out of place, alien on the bridge of the Adeptus Mechanicus ship. The servants of the Omnissiah, who were allowed to control and make decisions, as well as the brainless automaton servants who maintained the machinery, had no need for lighting or visual displays, much less voice communication. Nevertheless, traditions were strictly observed, perhaps in view of infrequent visits from ordinary people. And on Martian ships, the screens often flickered as they did in the olden days when only the imperfect eyes of ordinary people could see the splendor of space.

    According to the visualized calculations of the cogitators, the prescribed task could well be accomplished in the prescribed time frame.

    The silence of the bridge - or rather, the natural acoustic background of the rustling fans and the hum of the thermal control systems - was broken only by the measured, pounding of the metronome. Perseus Theta's Monitor wonders as to why the Voidemancers needed such an anachronism. The dark wooden case and shiny nickel-plated arrow looked utterly alien amid the dim light and peculiar shadows of the holographic multitables. A fragment of an infinitely distant past, an antique piece, whose sole purpose was, to all appearances, to throw any visitor off-balance.
    Monitor Malevolis stood upright, remaining silent, trapped in his own body like a random guest. He was used to waiting. Besides, six months ago, the curious logis had endured a far more difficult and terrifying ordeal than the ticking metronome on the bridge of a warship. When his actions, dictated only by natural curiosity and his search for new information, drew the attention of Doturov himself. Alas, the attention remained, and the monitor became the executor of the Martian technocrat's will. And sometimes - literally, turning into a live puppet. As, for example, now.

    The bridge master, the squadron commander, finally stepped away from the holographic visuals and tilted his metal head toward Malevolis, with a necklace of red lenses running the entire circumference. Above the pale yellow schematic ball of some planet, blue half-orbits of ships circled. Judging by the parameters, they belonged to the Mechanicus. The captain's metallic, synthesized voice rang out, so unusual in the realm of numbers, mechanics, and radio waves:

    The goal of the squadron's current operation is to supply Farfallen, which, as I'm sure you know, is resisting the attacks of traitors. Sixteen transport 'Coffins' are currently being loaded on the eighth Forge of Magnos Omicron. Adeptus Mechanicus' actions in this project are seventy-six percent complete. Discontinuing them would be a waste of the Forge's resources. The diversion of the cargo would cause massive military losses and could ensure the triumph of the traitors.

    Voidmanсer-Captain Valler and his crew were clearly demonstrating their displeasure. So much so that the captain preferred to communicate with his guests by sound. For a man, this would have been tantamount to a dialogue with an exchange of notes through a messenger running between floors.

    "Voyd-man-cer-ca-pi-tan," Doturov pronounced in the rhythm of the ticking antiquity through the mouth of Monitor Malevolis. "Are you doubting Mars' competence?"
    Vallier shook his head, the closed circle of lenses impassively reflecting the light of the holoprojection. The translucent ships continued to move along trajectories determined by the laws of celestial mechanics.

    "No. Actions agreed to by Quaestor have a lower priority," Valier finally muttered. "We are obliged to comply. However, any decision is a compromise between the input conditions and the desired outcome. I do not know the changed plans for the transport ships and the expected benefits. But I am qualified to conclude that without the 'Coffins,' and any delay in supply, the Arbiters cannot effectively perform their duty. The consequences will be complex and negative and will unfold over many standard years, leading to unpredictable ramifications. Is this condition taken into account?"

    "Yes. This situation represents a failure of the Administratum and will indeed have devastating consequences," Doturov said dryly, dispassionately. "But it is not a Mechanicus duty to maintain the planet's level of development and security. We are allies, not subordinates of the Administratum, and we are not obligated to solve its problems at any price. Especially problems created by inadequate risk assessment and refusal to follow the plan. The strategy for securing the Farfallen polis is left to the Adeptus Arbitres and the planetary defense forces."

    The guest, whose real status remained a mystery, multiplied the captain's displeasure. Vallier did not like useless information exchange, with duplication of knowledge. However, he had to do the unloved thing, to ensure that there was no chance of error. So the captain continued communicating using acoustic vibrations, emphasizing the extent of his criticality. Logis, meanwhile, suddenly gained back control of his own body. The formidable patron and puppeteer at the same time retreated into the shadows, leaving the puppet to conduct further dialogue on its own. It was strange and like a difficult test, one had only to understand its purpose. But Perseus Theta decided to think it over later, for the moment the conversation and responsibility demanded all his intellectual resources.

    "The strategic situation on the planet poses a threat to the Imperium's supply lines and, in general, may be dangerous to Human settlements on the Path as a whole," Vallier showed stubborn opposition, albeit within acceptable limits. The mechanical voice was measured and dry, but the captain managed to add a palpable amount of displeasure to it.

    "The strategy to protect Farfallen accepted by the Department Munitorum is a failure," Theta said cautiously. "We have assessed its long-term effects and prospects. Mars no longer sees the need to actively continue to support it."

    "Even if we exclude loaded transporters from consideration, the Titans already on 'Kowalski' as well as their future crews could turn the tide on the rebellious planet. Perhaps with that in mind, the transport plans should be revised and at least some of the cargo should be delivered according to the original request."

    Vallier, to use the terminology of 'meat' people, looked sternly inward. The captain felt in his own soul the shadows of emotion, the harmful parasitic distortions of the mathematically precise and rigorous thought process blessed by Omnissiah. He felt them and could not overcome them, because unconditional acceptance of the visitor's logic meant...

    It meant that the best ship that ever came off the Martian shipyards had been doing nonsense for a year and a half, decomposing resources into non-recyclable and useless elements. The realization of this hurt the captain almost physically. A feeling is forgotten, alien, and therefore doubly painful.

    "Negative."

    At Theta's silent command, the modified visor of the logis went into holo-projection mode.

    "Let us recall that according to the results of the analysis of Estat Imperium, the use of a single corps of arbitrators was deemed acceptable for the success of the operation. The decision was witnessed by the governor's personal key and the Planetaris quaestor's DNA. They considered the reasoning of the expert panel, which recommended the use of at least three corps, insufficient. It is now clear that this was a mistake."

    "The First Expeditionary is the elite of the Marshal of the Path," the captain did not give up. He knew that, in human terminology, he was 'losing face,' and yet he could not admit the ruthless obviousness of the decision.

    "Quite right," agreed Theta, growing in confidence with every word. "And so the lack of a contingent of three hundred thousand was supposed to be compensated for by an elaborate plan."
    Logis was well aware of the Captain's motives and, having no instructions from Doturov, decided to be as merciful as possible in communicating with mechanics who deny ancient, evolutionarily imperfect mechanisms of emotion. In this case, the merciful thing to do was to provide the captain with more information (within his competence, of course) in order to reduce the degree of stochastic fluctuations in his assessment.

    "The troops were delivered to Farfallen in the holds of the 'Kowalski' one and sixty-four hundredths of a standard year ago. The Arbitrators were required to wait for the arrival of the XJ Nine ships to organize orbital support and deploy a satellite surface monitoring network. As you know, these conditions were not met either."

    "Lord Marshal preferred to use the surprise factor."

    "The First Corps landed two hundred and forty-seven days before the Adeptus Mechanicus cruiser group arrived. Engaged in active combat before the deployment of a satellite cover formation. Without guaranteed infiltration of native communication channels. At the same time, intelligence provided exhaustive data on the insurgents' possession of atomic munitions of the third and fourth classes..."

    "Primitive cruise missiles, unguided, at subsonic speed..."

    Now Valliere blessed the slow, unhelpful human speech. The sound gave a special weight, a meaning to the words.

    Theta ignored Vallières' remark, "The first massive use of which resulted in nine successful detonations out of one hundred and seventy-three. More than five percent, which is categorically unacceptable. With the deployment of the ship's constellation in orbit, as well as the reconnaissance satellites, all the missiles would have been destroyed before launch. Breaking the controlled perimeter of the bridgehead necessitated regrouping the arbitrator forces and reorganizing the planetary defense force with a halt to the offensive."

    The absence of lungs removed the natural constraints so that Theta's speech continued without pauses for breath.

    "The lack of accurate data on enemy operational plans, coupled with an inability to track the movements of radiation sources, resulted in eleven subsequent detonations at expeditionary corps positions in the north-northeastern sector. Losses amounted to seventy-four percent of the regular number of attached PDF divisions, with twelve percent of the arbitrator's personnel losses. Contrary to the recommended protocols, these numbers were not accepted as the basis for reducing the controlled perimeter and compacting the defense sphere."

    Logis shut off the projection.

    "The attempt to use transport ships as orbital weapons should be qualified solely as a ridiculous misunderstanding. Ridiculous and very expensive, given the losses of two pennants from airborne atomic detonations by manned suicide sub-carriers."

    By and large, Logis did not need to state the obvious, but the Martian noted the captain's high level of emotional involvement in his work. This, of course, should have been reported to the appropriate authorities. But Theta never missed an opportunity to give the errant a second chance. An opportunity to impartially assess and then correct the deviation. At this moment he imagined himself as a mirror, in which Valier should see an undistorted image of his imperfection.

    One could only hope that Logis's aspirations were somehow consistent with Doturov's values and principles.

    "The transporters of the Administratum are not optimized for thermoregulation at high energy inputs," the captain insisted. "Full impulse required increased dissipation surfaces, and deployed radiators..."

    "... increase atmospheric deceleration and, consequently, working substance consumption to maintain orbit. In other words, low-power laser armament required a descent into the mesosphere. Due to the natural atmospheric braking, the heat dissipation radiators could not be fully deployed. Because of the limited heat sink, the ships had to descend even lower and reduce their firepower. Maybe that's why the relevant Arbitrator protocols prescribe combat operations in the mesosphere by warships staffed by squadrons assigned to Adeptus Arbitres corps?"
    Vallier was silent. As far as Perseus Theta understood he was feeling real anger.

    Further testing of the controlled perimeter continued after the rebel naval strike near mark K-14, where, due to depletion and mass desertion of PDF regiments, most of the defense was supported by Arbitres. The Emperor's warriors traded their own lives for territory, with insufficient reasoning to hold the positions they occupied.

    "A retreat would have boosted enemy morale."

    Now Perseus Theta felt rather sad. The captain demonstrated deplorably human errors, senseless attachment to the results of his labor without regard to objective benefit. Apparently, this could no longer be corrected...On the other hand, though, the Voidmancer very accurately emulated the logic of the Administratum officials, which was a valuable quality when dealing with the disfavored of the Omnissiah. This situation should have been carefully analyzed, but later.

    "The morale of the rebellious natives was already exceptionally high," Theta stated. "And it was due, first, to the stopping of the offensive of the loyal Imperium forces, second, to the successful use of atomic weapons, which proved the very possibility of the destruction of Arbitres. And thirdly, the two ships that were shot down," Theta's voice was momentarily filled with anger.
    "At the same time, consolidated rebel ground troops, supported by the forces of three treasonous regiments, launched an all-out assault, causing a perimeter breach in six sectors to the south and northwest of the bridgehead. Within forty-eight standard days, the area held by Governor Farfallen was reduced to twenty thousand square kilometers. And that's for the entire planet. The number of Arbitrators in the formation has dropped to eighty-three thousand, which, according to protocol, is not enough to maintain the combat effectiveness of the corps. At the moment, the rebel counteroffensive can only be stopped by the use of sixth-class kinetic warheads by Adeptus Mechanicus cruisers that have entered high orbits. And I stress that the arrival of the cruisers to Farfallen according to the original order of 'Kowalski' is now seventy-six standard days away. Upon arrival, you will only be able to record the defeat of the Loyalists."

    "But the planned landing of the Titans will turn the tide of the campaign," the captain objected. "And destroy the rebels' ability to resist."

    "This is irrational," Theta ruthlessly cut them off. "There's no way the Titans group can be sustained by enough Arbitrators and loyal PDF troops to secure a ground bridgehead and establish a permanent base. We are sympathetic to the uncompromising position of the Arbitrators, but the Mars Fabricator General has assessed the situation comprehensively and assumes no further implementation of the operation is possible. It will be terminated, at least as far as we are concerned."

    "What is the position of Factory General Magnos Omicron?" The captain grasped the last opportunity.

    "The loading of the 'Coffins' is currently underway, based already on the new task. Although it is strange, I have to remind you that in the 'Worlds Sabbath' sector there is a multi-level and extraordinarily fierce battle for nine hundred and thirty-seven inhabited planets. Therefore, the transportation component of the St. Evisser Path is very important to Imperium and Mars. Protecting the beacon systems that point the way through the Warp Storm of the Gates of Fire in the current circumstances is far more important than helping inadequate planetary governors."

    Vallier froze for a second. Theta could guess how the 'Kowalski' Voidmancer felt right now. Through the fault of the Administratum, their ship had been wasting the resources of the only Fprgeworld on the St. Evisser Path for almost a year. It is hard to imagine a greater disgrace to the ship's Spirit Machine and the sacred aspects of the Driving Force.

    "Set a new course. Target 140101-55524-R54024-52928P10," Valier's code blared over the radio. "May I know the contents of the new squadron objectives?"

    To the captain's credit, he still managed to stop at the edge and accept the inevitable. This filled Theta's soul with restrained jubilation. From humility and acknowledgment to machine perfection, this path was not yet closed to the wayward one. The time used for the unfolding and primitive info-exchange was not wasted. Will Doturov appreciate it? It does not matter, because the main thing is that, to use the terminology of the Imperium, one of the lambs has lost its way, but returns to the shepherd.

    "Defending navigation in Magnos Omicron's area of responsibility. Countering the enemies of Humanity. Testing a new kind of tools to counteract the Dark Ones and their Imperium technoheresy," Doturov answered in the hexacode. Moving to normal communication, he felt like a weary wanderer dipping into a warm spring. May the Omnissiah that opened to mankind the golden path of perfection be eternally triumphant!"

    "What to tell the Titans crews?"

    For a moment Theta thought that Doturov, lurking like a digital ghost at the edge of the information array - logis consciousness - smiled. But Perseus Theta immediately erased the silly thought that the Martian Parliament's Lexic Arcanus might not be perfect enough on the way to the God-Machine.

    "Orders to crews: second degree of readiness for landing. Protocol 'Cortez'."
    * * *​
     
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  30. Threadmarks: The Squad Chapter 12
    RiP

    RiP Seeker of Silence

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    Chapter 12
    * * *​
    "Well..."​

    Inquisitor Schmettau pursed his lips, pulled a folding comb from his pocket, and carefully combed his hair. Not for the sake of improving his hair, but rather to take a short pause, to occupy himself with some fleeting duty. The artificial hair rustled faintly under the plastic teeth.​

    "Unexpectedly," said Schmettau quietly, folding up the simple instrument with a neatness (perhaps the least bit deliberate).​

    Essen Pale stood at attention in silence, looking now at the inquisitor, at the big screen, where a short satellite recording was repeated over and over again. First, a general plan, covering a couple of thousand square kilometers. Part of the industrial area and a section of the railroad tracks, where the armored train was parked. Houses and industrial complexes were decked out in lights, work continued around the clock, despite the threat of heretical invasion. Astropathic towers on the asteroids required a constant supply, especially now, with the steadily increasing traffic that fed equipment, equipment, and troops to the distant battle for the Sabbat worlds. The atomic train, on the other hand, was lurking in the darkness.​

    Almost a minute of recording, where the movements of individuals are indistinguishable, but one can see the blocking of all civilian vehicles and the pulling down of armored vehicles. Kalkroit did not need to listen to the radio conversations, he already remembered every last note. A rank-and-file report from the 'convicts', then the radio operator switches to a quick, hurried speech, and then... Yes, then things began to develop very quickly. Too fast and unexpected, given the drop in warp-storm activity and the long string of false alarms with the seers' mistakes.​

    Schmettau rubbed the hump of his nose with two fingers, just like a bespectacled man who had removed his spectacles, though the inquisitor never wore spectacles or pince-nez. His assistant sighed softly, shifting from foot to foot. It was pitch black in the corner of the screen, and all of a sudden it exploded in a shower of flames. "Radial-12," using a battery of guided missiles, exactly as per protocol and the summons from the mentor. A dense beam of orange trails crossed the darkened tundra with deliberate slowness and struck the suburbs, covering an entire block. A few minutes later, a second strike followed. It was help from 'Radial-64', giving a volley at the limit of missile range.​

    One wonders how many guards in the cordon were killed...? Technically, the referees and police had five or seven minutes between the request and the attack. Enough to save not everyone, but many. If the proper orders had been given, and Schmettau suspected that they had not bothered to do so in time. The long months of peace and near-zero warp disturbances had relaxed the local services considerably.​

    'The Emperor will protect,' Kalkroit said to himself, conjuring up an aquila in his mind as well. God is omniscient, he does not need pompous and public gestures, the main thing is faith in the soul. He created in His wisdom the Inquisition, giving it a perfect organization, which, among other advantages, helps to avoid the bureaucratic cumbersomeness of traditional agencies.​
    "Is there an estimate of casualties?" The inquisitor asked the assistant.​

    "No, sir," said Pale cheerfully and without pause, knowing full well what the patron was primarily interested in. "Presumably the whole squad is dead. At any rate, they are presumed dead.​
    Planetary rescue services are waiting for the fires to die down so they can start searching for bodies and evidence."​

    Schmettau once again scrolled through the passage with the direct hit. Sixty missiles... Yeah, there wouldn't even be ash left after that. Still, several square kilometers are blazing, as if a promethum pipeline had been brought to them. However...​

    "Check the armory," Schmettau ordered curtly. "Request information directly from battalion command. I want to know what the launchers were loaded with."​

    "Sir?"​

    "If the volley was a combination of volumetric and penetrating projectiles, there's nothing more for us to do here. The kill zone is plowed and burned to the rock bottom," Schmettau explained patiently. "But deliveries of large-caliber armor-piercing missiles are now irregular. It's possible the strike was a superficial one. And in this area, the catacombs are buried."​

    "They couldn't have come down that fast, I'll find out and report back."​

    What the inquisitor valued in his right hand especially was the rare ability to object, but at the same time meticulously execute the order. Alas, Essen had great problems with imagination and flexibility of thought, or rather these properties were completely absent in his assistant. And with diligence and for the benefit of Kalkroit himself. However, Pale's virtues more than compensated for some defects in his thinking process.​

    "The captain recommends we move to a higher orbit," Essen reported in the meantime. "Such proximity to the surface forces us to perform complicated maneuvers, we are consuming fuel, and the crew is fatigued."​

    Schmettau pondered the suggestion.​

    "No," he said. "First I intend to make sure that Kryptman is no longer among the living. Right after that, we'll leave the system. The team will receive a bonus for responsible service."​

    "As you command," Pale lowered and lifted his chin with machine-like clarity, turned on the spot, and then walked out, literally stamping his steps.​

    Schmettau sighed, shrugged his shoulders as if his jacket had become too tight for him. He relaxed perceptibly. He played the tape twice more, although he had already learned and memorized it to the last frame. Wandered around the office, hidden near the heart of the Inquisitor's ship. The place held many secrets and was a History in itself. How many secrets were revealed to the fastidious investigator among the white walls, how many hardened heretics confessed their terrible transgressions, weeping from the happy opportunity to repent...​

    Schmettau pressed a hidden lever, or rather a section of wall, unremarkable in appearance. Obeying unseen sensors, a secret hatch opened, and behind it a special vault, the existence of which even Essen, privy to all the secrets of the master, did not know. Here Schmettau erected an altar of hatred to his best friend and loyal comrade-in-arms, who turned out to be an enemy and traitor.​
    Kalkroit walked along the wall, barely visible beneath the drawings and picts, most of which were many decades old. The Inquisitor paced slowly, touching the yellowed picts with moments of former triumphs frozen forever with his fingers.​

    Here are two young referees who have just emerged from the walls of the Progenium Hall, they smile into the camera, not yet knowing that a few minutes later a discreet gray man will approach their friends and make them an offer they can refuse. But what kind of servant of the Emperor are you, then?​

    Here they are, but a couple of years older, at the first fire. A small, inconspicuous case, after which only a long code and a thin folder in the archive of Ordo Hereticus were left. Just a petty sorcerer, capable only of smothering old men and infants with sweat. He burned in the cleansing flames, long forgotten by all, most of all by the wicked lords he had served so poorly. But Kalkroit remembered.​

    Schmettau and Kryptman. Kryptman and Schmettau. Fear and Terror for any and all who have rejected the gifts and sacrifice of God the Emperor. Together they began, and together they walked the path of His service.​

    Their duo proved strong and effective because the inquisitors combined each other's strengths in the best way possible, compensating for their weaknesses. Kryptman was the epitome of fierce pressure, of brilliant improvisation. He was always pushing forward and only forwards. And Schmettau was someone who was inconspicuous and not famous, always in the second role, always behind the leader. But without number two, the leader is helpless and blind. Unlike his friend, Kalkroit always thought about 'what happens if...'. Always ready for any counterattack and invariably disappointed enemies, ready to escape from under the crushing blow Kryptman to strike from behind.​

    Kalkroit paused for a moment at the next pictograph. The yellow rectangle was a reminder of the deadly Heresy that sought to penetrate the soul of the Imperium. Yes, it was a grievous affair in the Schola Progenium on Hagia, where traitors had defied the very essence of His holy cause.​

    The Throne of Correction must suppress the misguided thoughts of the progenitors, not even heretical ones, but the simplest ones common to adolescents. If these thoughts introduce excessive deviations into the student's behavior. Enemies, on the other hand, have created imperceptible 'improvements,' turned the noble machine into a perverse mechanism that poisons the hearts of future commissioners, naval officers, priests, sororities, administrators. Drop by drop the invisible poison oozed into the souls of young people, the future backbone and core of the Empire. Changing students, already deprived of parental care; perverting the precepts of the abbots in the heads of children orphaned by the actions of the eternal enemy.​

    'Kryptman! Schmettau exclaimed mutely, addressing the ghost. 'You believed an under-educated Sororite who fled from Schola. You dismissed my objections. You convinced me to suspend the exploitation of an unregistered psyker in Sanyera and to send all the acolytes of our groups to Schola.

    Kalkroit clenched his teeth that could bite through a steel wire.​

    'You weren't wrong. And after that, I believed you without a doubt.

    With the tips of his fingers, as if a pict could burn artificial flesh and nerves, Schmettau touched the penultimate image. It was taken just after a meeting at which two of the inquisitors, no so young, were deciding how to play out the final notes of a composition that had lasted twenty-seven years. They had both long since given up their youth, but on that day each had to restrain with an iron will the feverish readiness and impatience. The moment of the greatest triumph was approaching, a victory that would rattle through the millennia and engrave two names on the tablets listing the Inquisition's greatest victories.​

    But this never happened.​

    In the moment that preceded the great triumph, the most faithful betrayed a friend, abandoned a colleague. Destroyed everything for which so much had been sacrificed. But most importantly, he did not admit a mistake. If Kryptman realized that he was chasing a mirage, say it out loud, and Schmettau would forgive him, and then help with all available resources and connections. All stumble, for only He, is blameless, and man is weak and imperfect, even the best of the best. And an inquisitor as great as Kryptman would have been able to level the damage done.​
    But the old friend did not admit the error. And though no one believed the tales of the terrible enemies of Mankind that lurked in obscurity. But after much deliberation, weighing Kryptman's explanations on the impartial scales of logic, the brethren decided that at that time the inquisitor's actions could be considered justified. When this happened, Schmettau nearly became a renegade because his world was turned upside down twice. Betrayal was not only accomplished but justified. The inquisitor kept from falling into heresy, but he did not forget or forgive anything.​
    The traitor had cheated for the last time by going to the other world, depriving Calcroyd of the sweet triumph of vengeance. But Schmettau knew that his thirst could be quenched in another way. Not all the way, not even half of the desired satisfaction, but at least a small fraction. After all, not only honors are inherited, but debts as well. Such was the case on his home planet of Schmettau, and he believed it was fair.​

    The last pict. A stern, sullen father whose lips have long since forgotten a smile, burdened with much knowledge of human weakness, of enemy treachery, of the unseen horrors that accompany everyone and are ready to enslave forever, if you let them slacken. And the son, a boy of about five or six, a child who already knows about the coming and inevitable destiny. The future apprentice, the inevitable heir to the deeds and glory of his famous father.​

    "Are you still alive?" Schmettau asked softly into the emptiness and silence. And he answered himself:​

    "I think so. You didn't take over your father's mind and will, but you inherited his survivability. You can't be killed that easily."​

    There was a long pause, during which the inquisitor froze like a statue. Only after many minutes did Kalkroit whisper:​

    "I believe in you, boy. Don't disappoint me. Don't deny me the pleasure of scattering your ashes with my own hands."​
    * * *​

    "Oh, God..."​

    Whose voice? Probably Savlar's, only he's the one who makes such a disgusting snarl. Or maybe not... Anyone with a broken nose.​

    Broken...​

    Nose...​

    What's broken on me this time?

    The girl moved her fingers and toes. Her body obeyed, though it protested. But her eyesight was worse; it was either blindness or complete darkness all around her.​

    "The Emperor is with us, my brothers and sisters."​

    A Priest, who else. Well, at least two companions are alive. That's three people so far. Progress, with Kryp on Ballistic there were two. That was enough to survive.​

    Someday I will be in the good universe, Olga thought, and it will be bright, warm, and safe around me. The next thought was sobering. Yes, someday, just not in this life, not in this future.​
    Olga stretched out her invisible fingers and raised them to her face, afraid to touch it. Her face was smeared sticky and warm, her forehead was sore, her right cheekbone was numb. She seemed to have been punched in the face again... Or she'd been hit herself.​

    Okay, the face. It's unmasked. The girl let out a sigh, remembering the dire warnings to never, under any circumstances, remove her gas mask at work. Bertha's and Priest's spells were reinforced by an impressive set of 'picts', that is, ordinary photographs, which should be used to illustrate the work of the mentally ill. Who was the 'lord of decay' Olga did not really understand, but judging by the pictures, he could do many things and all of them were amazingly disgusting.​

    But now, never mind... If she had inhaled a batch of evil germs, it was too late to be sad.​

    The flash of greenish light was objectively dim. It was physically impossible for a chemical lantern to burn brightly. But in the darkness it lit up like a little sun, hurting the eyes.​

    "Let us praise Him," the Priest cried, raising the source of light high above his head.​

    Hurrah, hurrah, eyes intact, thought Olga, trying to get up on all fours at least. A strong hand picked her up under her belly like a kitten and pulled her to her feet.​

    "Ouch," the girl exhaled, barely able to stay on her feet.​

    The Sinner, who came to her aid, looked at her very angrily, as if he were preparing to strike. But then he turned away, his lips pressed together angrily.​

    And when did I ever hurt him?

    Yes, something happened... But what exactly?​

    Apparently, her consciousness, overloaded with acute impressions, simply cut off some of the functions, because only now Olga began to remember - what actually happened? There were two reference points in the memory - the wild scream of Bertha, summoning fire upon herself just like in a Soviet movie. And... now. Darkness, drying blood on her face, the absolute uncertainty. And what lay between 'then' and 'now'?​

    She had to pull the scraps of memory out of her mind like small fish on a troll. Yes... Somebody was screaming to get out. Someone ran away. Or just ran away. Someone was hysterical, screaming that he didn't want to die. Surely Savlar, some jackal, not a convict. But on the whole, there was very little panic in the squad. Maybe just a little. But then, what happened then? And what made the Sinner angry? Olga looked for the cart with the cylinder and could not find it, though the cylinder with the fire mixture itself was found nearby. The memories continued to form a fragmented, but more or less coherent picture.​

    Yes, someone was surprisingly quick and clear in giving an estimate - there's about a minute or so to spare. It's no use running out of the house, so we have to go downstairs. And... they ran.Olga threw, her cargo and immediately got a strong smack from Bertha, accompanied by a gun at the very nose, so that the cylinder had to quickly throw over the cart on her own back. Good thing there was a suspension system like backpack straps special for such an occasion. Good thing the servitor helped, the Kryp's servant had the might of a robot.​

    The cylinder seemed insanely heavy, but death, which was already flying on the wings of launched rockets, drove forward better than a whip. They ran... and ran, someone leading them all onward and down a series of staircases and shabby corridors, where stale dust accumulated in the corners like a terrible cobweb and it seemed that no man had set foot in years. The balloon had a life of its own as it ran, skidding the runner around corners and bouncing against walls. The short but surprisingly fast legs of the flamethrower elf flashed ahead, and behind her someone was painfully pushing at her back. And Kryp was there all the time as if he decided to serve as a human shield, catching threats to his ward.​

    Yes, after all, this Fidus is not a bad man, even though he is a jerk. And while fleeing, Olga ripped off her gas mask and immediately lost it.​

    While the girl collected herself, Bertha and the Priest restored some semblance of order. Bertha walked in a circle and scattered glowing sticks that flickered with inanimate green fire, like radiation in cartoons. The monk, who had come out of his trance, raised the squadmates, sometimes with a kind word, sometimes with a simple clap of the palm, and once or twice with kicks. Olga saw almost everyone except Smoker. Was he dead?!​

    The compartment seemed to be tucked away in a basement or garage. At any rate, the layout was like that of an underground parking lot. The junk in the corners and some boxes with plywood doors made it look like a warehouse. Very old, with mold and puddles of condensation. It smelled musty and damp... but... The girl took a deep breath, cringing at the stench of laundry soaked for a week.​

    Fire. There was a palpable smell of burning, not like burnt wood, but more like charcoal and chemistry. And the smell was intensifying.​

    "Stand straight, stand proud! Don't drop your gear!" The Priest clapped his hands resoundingly, rolling his bloodshot eyes. "The enemy does not slumber, in line, all in line!!!"​

    Olga looked at the Sinner, who was standing half-turned toward her, crouched over, arched on one side. Judging by the movements of his shoulders, he was either flossing or pulling his nose. Olga remembered that it was the Sinner who had saved her... only it was unclear how. Yes, that's right! The girl missed the turn, accelerated with the cylinder so that she skipped past the jamb with the door knocked out. Kryp didn't notice, distracted by something, but Sinner did the opposite - and yelled loudly 'Olla, over here!!!'. Well, at least he can talk. But the girl's conscience still gnawed a little bit, after all, it was her fault (albeit a weak one) that the silent man had opened his mouth. Or whatever it was supposed to be called nicely for breaking vows.​

    Olga walked unabashedly around the Sinner, raising her hand to touch his shoulder and thank him. But he glanced at her himself, and the gesture was cut short at takeoff. The girl jerked her fingers away, pressing her palm against her chest as if afraid of getting burned. The Sinner did not brush his teeth. He had pierced his lips with a short awl or screwdriver and was now sewing his mouth shut with stitches of ordinary twine.​

    "God... Jesus... God damn it, God..." the girl whispered, feeling the tears flowing profusely down her cheeks.​

    Is it because of me?

    Olga vomited, unexpectedly and with one sudden, sane and sober thought - it was good that there was no mask, or she would have choked to death. The girl spat, wiped her mouth with her sleeve, and cursed quietly but fiercely. She felt no guilt, but rather an anger, a lot of anger at everything. From the uncomfortable, stuffy overalls to the stupid man who was doing unhealthy shit because of his stupid superstitions.​

    "So, work and work on discipline," the Priest concluded, looking around at the despondent troops. "The Emperor's chosen warrior even retreats with dignity, guided only by contempt for the enemy!" and added more quietly. I see no Smoker. Is he gone? How?"​

    "He didn't," Berta said briefly, but exhaustively. "He took a wrong turn. When it started pounding on the brain. Or maybe..."​

    She wasn't finished. The monk inhaled a whistling breath and shook his head bitterly.​

    "It's sad," he said sincerely. "It's so sad."​

    That seemed to be the end of the question of the missing squad scout.​

    The Sinner finished his hard work, cut the twine's protruding tail, and crossed himself with an aquila. Blood trickled profusely down his face and neck, making him look like a vampire. The Priest who passed by squinted and said nothing, trying to organize a semblance of a fighting formation.​

    "Old foundations," said Fidus, and turned on a powerful flashlight that shone like a small searchlight. The bright yellow-and-white beam circled the garage, picking out old junk from the dark corners.​

    "The house was built on something else," the Holy Man caught his thought. "It looks like an old workshop. So there must have been a way into the transportation network from the time of the first development. Even before the astropaths took over the Ice Port."​

    "It was buried so nothing goes out... all sorts of things," Crybaby doubted and was sad. He clearly did not want to go any deeper. Neither did Olga, especially after the remark about all kinds of things climbing to the surface.​

    "Not all of it," the radio operator said encouragingly. "There's a chance. We should go down," said the Holy Man, almost simultaneously with Crybaby, who, on the contrary, suggested. "We should wait here."​

    The small and weeping flamethrower spoke very seldom, and his voice was as frail and silent as his build so that in the green half-light of the catacombs the words sounded sorrowful and wistful.​
    Bertha and the Priest looked at each other.​

    "We can't," the monk shook his head, sniffing the air noisily again. "There's a big fire above us now. They won't smother it, the fire will go down..."​

    It was difficult for the monk to speak; he must have broken his voice in a fit of holy madness. The Priest was now and then breaking into an incoherent wheeze. Coughing, he added:​

    "And it will burn out the oxygen. If we don't burn, we will suffocate."​

    Bertha looked doubtfully toward the large double-wing hatch that closed the prospective escape route.​

    "We're going to need a miracle," said the Wretched Man.​

    "The Emperor is gracious," the monk said sternly, jumping up so that he could better 'fit' the mechanized suspension of the sprayer on his body. "But he only bestows miracles on those who try.​
    For it is said, 'Fight and shells will be given to you'. Besides, we are still breathing, so there is a supply of air. And definitely not from above."​

    The smell of burning intensified. It seemed to Olga that a wave of warm air came out of the ducts under the low vault, and it became harder to breathe. Apparently, the fire raging upstairs was getting closer.​

    "Let's pack up and go," the bodybuilder said very calmly, softly. "We can't stay here."​

    "Those without masks, go away and breathe through the rags," the monk commanded, lifting the sprayer and turning the regulator. At first, the girl did not understand what the militant priest was going to do, but then she realized that the priest would melt with acid the lock on the hatch. Apparently for the lack of explosives and cutting torch. The procedure, however, was far less toxic than destroying a pot of soup upstairs. The metal, unlike the tiles, melted and flowed under a faint trickle of acid, like wax in boiling water, almost without effect or smoke.​

    The Priest seemed to be saving his ammunition. He had no spare cylinder, so Bertha and Luсt finished the job with heavy boots. At last, the old metal gave way with a heartbreaking creak. The hinges were rusted, but not too badly. Kryptman shined the flashlight further.​

    Behind the broken hatch was a fairly wide passageway, running down a pronounced slope. There had once been a mechanized delivery tunnel, where wagons or small trucks rode. Unusual for a residential house, albeit a large one, but logical if there had been some kind of shop here before, on whose foundations the house had been built.​

    "All right, it's going down," the Priest thought aloud. "I'm sure it's not a one-way trip. We'll get somewhere," he looked back at the Holy One and asked for sure. "Anything?"​

    The man shook his head in silence, fluffing out the rocker's uncombed mane. The radio was alive, but picking up static and nothing else.​

    Olga really wanted to clutch in her fist the homemade eagle left behind by an unknown predecessor. But the aquila was hiding on her chest under several layers of clothing. Kryp silently pointed to the servitor on the girl's cylinder, the mechanical man extended a broad palm, but he was stopped by Bertha.​

    "No. He's a self-propelled turret now," the Mentor ordered briefly, angrily. And she muttered to herself under her breath. "Oh, I wish he had a heavy stabber with a box and a 'sleeve,' it would be just right on his arm..."​

    Kryp looked at Olga guiltily, the girl turned away and tried to pull the cylinder from the concrete floor. The iron cylinder was heavy, and the handler was tired, but Kryp still helped her silently.​

    "Line up, I'll go first, Sinner behind me, Crybaby closes in," Bertha continued to give instructions. "The Tower in the middle, he's the tallest, he can shoot over the heads."​

    The Tower, and who is it, thought Olga, and immediately guessed that it was the servitor's name. The flamethrower one goes behind, most likely because of her. The most unreliable link in the group... And to hell with it, after all, the girl didn't ask anyone about the Squad.​

    "A long way to the house!" Savlar shrieked, like a hungry cat in front of an empty bowl, in a searing and disgusting way. The shriek was cut short by the sound of a good slap. Bertha cut off the non-musical accompaniment in the simplest way possible.​

    Olga thought that there would be some more admonition or at least a collective 'Emperor protects', maybe a word in memory of Smoker, but everyone went without further words. They must have prayed and asked for protection for themselves.​

    And they moved down into the damp darkness, away from the approaching fire.​
    * * *​
    So, the rest of the story is in premium access yet. It will be translated later.​
     
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