Author Topic: Ad Vitam Aeternam  (Read 2179 times)

Offline MarcoSkoll

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Ad Vitam Aeternam
« on: August 23, 2010, 12:22:59 AM »
An Inquisitor's work is never finished as long as one person still believes in it.

... and that's possibly one of the few quotes Marco said that actually made sense. It's over idealised crap, but still - I can remember it two millennia on.
The year is M44.374, and as of the coming month of Septimus, I will be two thousand, four hundred and nine years old. My name is Jacqueline Lynn, and... well, right now, I'm hiding in a wooden crate, and my tail itches.

As you've probably guessed, I'm not quite human. I was born in the mutant hovels of Hyran IV, and as a result of whatever genetics I got from my parents, I'm just about immortal. I can heal from nearly anything, death included, and I haven't aged a day since the 41st millennium.

That was probably my cue to boast that I've seen civilisations vanish into history, stars die and worlds explode. I have seen such things, but by overwhelming majority what I have seen is civilisation stand still for two thousand years.
They said the Imperium was on the brink millennia ago. There were a million and one threats, but humanity has survived. Some of these threats are long since gone - replaced by other horrors. Some of these "threats" even proved to be our salvation.

I would name myself in that category, if it weren't incredibly pretentious. But it's not entirely untrue - I, a mutant and therefore a threat, hold one of the oldest Inquisitorial mandates in existence. Penned by the hand of Inquisitor Skoll over two thousand years ago, it charges me with the role of completing Marco's work.

And, while in the eyes of many that mandate has long since lost any force, that's exactly what I've been doing since. It's not been easy - without personally holding Inquisitorial authority, I've been forced to resort to other alternatives. But to tell you each and every one of them would take longer than your lifetime.

Instead, I suppose I had better start by telling you how I ended up in a wooden crate. Said crate is on a world known to the inhabitants as Narrilla. Officially, it's called "Klaros IV", an average size civilised world near the Galactic north of the Carthax sector and positioned on one of the warp routes which spread out from the local "hub" of Euphrosyne - but I prefer Narrilla. It's more poetic.

I arrived here on the Ynys Mon - a freighter which has been in my possession for most of my life, left to me by a very old friend, the first "normal" human to look past the fact I was a mutant. I was told the name is taken from an ancient island on old Terra, but how he actually knew remains a mystery to me.

Standing in one of the assorted viewing rooms, I looked out over the planet. It's hard to believe that it has never been terraformed - it bears huge resemblance to what is still known of how Terra was before it was subsumed into the hive world it now is.
Sixty five percent surface water, an atmosphere roughly one fifth oxygen, gravity of about  ten metres per second squared and a generally inhabitable climate. There are differences - a slightly lesser axis tilt, a day of nearly thirty hours and a year of about 1.2 Terran standard because of an orbit further from its larger sun, but the world has still gained no small notoriety for the similarities.
With its "pure" environment, it is a popular haunt of the moderately wealthy. Not quite a paradise world, but certainly an upper class Gamma world.

I was interested for a different reason. Last year, the Ecclesiarchy managed to restore their influence in the Narrillan government, something they had not had since mid M36.
The governors have been devout men, so their personal preachers have no doubt had many an opportunity to get their words heard, but no member of the church has taken any major official role in the planet's affairs for nearly eight millennia.
Had I seen this shift coming, it would have been another matter, but as it was, the sudden change concerned me.

Many would take this as a personally driven move against the Ecclesiarchy, an irreligious heresy.
It is true there is little room in my life for religion - an  afterlife and talk of mortal sacrifice to purge the sins of impure mutation are trivialities when death is denied to me - but regardless of my own beliefs, I have to admit it has a role to play in humanity.
The populace see hope in believing that this life is just a trial, and they will gain their rewards in the next. People need such optimism in a galaxy torn by war, and it is not my place to take that from them.

I turned away from the viewing window. It remains as stunning a sight today to see a world from orbit as it has ever been, to see a trillion trillion tonnes reduced to the size of a small fruit by sheer distance, but sometimes I even do not have an eternity to waste. And before you point it out, I know Narilla isn't quite that heavy. Like I said, I like things to be slightly poetic.

Taking the main corridor back to the primary sectors of the ship, I contemplated the various possibilities for lunch. At just about the point I had reached a consensus with myself about instructing the servitors to prepare the Pexirian pastry dish that had once been a favourite of an old comrade, a figure surged from the shadows.

Wielding a sword, it was a woman, a little taller than myself, but also more slightly built. As she lunged for my guts, I struck away the flat of the blade with the back of my left hand and grabbed her wrist with my right. Twisting sharply, I tore the sword from her hand and sent her tumbling with the same deft movement. In the moment before she  hit the ground, I darted my tail under her back, softly catching her. I looked down.
   "Hello Rae"

The sword was blunt - a wooden replica. And Rae... well, she's a long story all of her own.

The young woman is the latest in the Skoll line - it surprised me as much as it did anyone else that the Inquisitor and the guardswoman I once knew had stored embryos. Their work prevented them from having children in their own lifetime, but I'm grateful to them for what they did. For five dozen generations, their descendents have kept me company. Five of those generations are currently aboard - about thirty individuals in all, making them the largest part of my human crew.

Rae herself is only seventeen years old, and like a very significant proportion of the family now, a void-born. She is not truly part of my crew yet - she has real potential, but there are many things she has still to learn before she can play the part she'd like to.
She has her heart set on following in the wake of her father Tyrell, who has been a trusted part of my crew for the best part of a century. Often joining me on my work, he's a competent fighter who acts as a form of lieutenant and, possibly more importantly, a minder. Being the mutant I am, the most effective disguise is often my playing the part of a slave with one of my crew members pretending to be my master.

Gratefully, unlike the majority of humanity, the Skoll family has always accepted my mutations without prejudice, as each and every one of them has grown up with me as something of a third parent. That was my second promise to Marco - that I would look after his family.

As for why Rae came at me with a sword, that's pretty normal around here. I have to keep on my toes even more than any Inquisitor, so it's considered the done thing to test my talents on occasion, either with planned sparring or unexpected ambushes. Rae is a reasonable swordswoman already, but she's going to have to improve quite a bit before she can get the jump on me. I have had a lot of practice.

I pulled her back upright. As I let go, she began massaging her wrist.
   "Ow. I don't fix like you do."
   "Let's see."

Reaching out, I took her hand, carefully studying the joint. Over time, I've had cause to learn a lot more about human anatomy than perhaps I care to. Invaluable knowledge, but I would prefer that I had learnt less of it from my own internals having been on display. Shifting her wrist around, I shook my head as I let go.
   "No, that's fine. It'll be stiff for an hour or so, but there's no actual damage."

It was obvious she had more to say, a hint of envy for my traits, but we've had the discussion about my mutation and its social drawbacks many times, and she'd be no more able to get her head around it this time than the last.
Such things plague my conscience somewhat - while it's refreshing to talk with someone who doesn't quite how much of a stigma blood red eyes, mottled skin and a tail is, it is also unfortunately a sign that she's been deprived of contact with normal society for her entire life. I'm not sure that's really fair on her.

It was this side of my mind that supplied what I said next.
   "Rae? I've been discussing things with your parents recently, and between us, we've been considering when's the right time for you to go planetside. The decision is up to them of course, but I think Narrilla is a good start."

She immediately forgot her sore wrist, looking up in complete surprise.
   "Are you serious?"
   "Pretty much. It was a very similar world where I first took your grandmother to the surface."

She degenerated into a fit of excited squealing and hugging that gave away the young girl that was so often hidden behind the woman she was trying to be, the one so striving to impress me.
It took me several minutes to calm her down enough that we could actually go and discuss the idea. I didn't mind in the slightest - I was glad to see that side of her again.
« Last Edit: February 14, 2015, 01:53:07 AM by MarcoSkoll »
S.Sgt Silva Birgen: "Good evening, we're here from the Adeptus Defenestratus."
Captain L. Rollin: "Nonsense. Never heard of it."
Birgen: "Pick a window. I'll demonstrate".

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Offline MarcoSkoll

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Re: Ad Vitam Aeternam
« Reply #1 on: January 21, 2011, 10:25:26 PM »
The surname Skoll has actually been gone from the shipboard lines for a very long time. But not everyone has stayed aboard, so there may be descendents who do still bear the name. I don't know - I can't know. Today, Marco's offspring could outnumber the individual seconds of my lifetime.
So, the man I was looking at across the sizeable hold of the Ynys is Tyrell Kinrick, and the woman atop the stack of crates is his wife, Carlisa Layne, both well over a century old.

Rae's long legs and practised agility carried her across the distance between them and I far quicker than I could be bothered to follow. When I finally caught up, she had evidently just finished relating a paraphrased version of what I actually said.
   
   "Did she now?", Tyrell looked over at me as his daughter's explanation finished, an eyebrow raised quizzically.
   "Subject to your veto.", I said, making a guess at Rae's story. Her glower at me and his look back down at her said it all.

By this point, Carlisa had worked her way back down the pile of cargo, and was wiping some form of grease off her hands. It looked like she'd been unjamming the crane pulleys, which seemed to be seizing more and more often these days. I made a mental note to have the enginseers replace them.

   "You sure she'll be safe down there?", she asked.
   "I won't jinx it - still, civilised world, low crime levels, mostly safe wildlife, and the latest Officio Medicae reports say there're no nasty infections going around. "

That last one is a big deal for someone who's always been aboard a relatively sterile ship. Voidborn, particularly on a relatively small craft, frequently have weak immune systems. Rae has been kept well immunised by the ship's medicaes, but that can only go so far.

   "And you think she's ready to go down?", he queried, a thoughtful expression on his face.
   "I'd say so, but it's up to you. I'm just a family friend."
   "Jacqueline - you're much more than just a family friend."

I smiled at the complement. I was about to thank him, but...
   "You're an OLD family friend.", he finished.

My smile turned into shooting him a glare, although it betrayed a certain amount of amusement in it. Tyrell's humour often involves teasing me about my age.
   "Yes. You're very smart. Shut up."

He smirked at my response. Scratching at the three or four days worth of stubble around his jaw, he looked over at his wife.
   "Carla?"
   "I said everything last time. We can't delay it forever. "
   "... and I'm still coming with you?", he turned, addressing me.

I answered with a nod - I wouldn't have suggested it if he weren't going to be there. There was a long pause as he looked down at his daughter.
   "Well... I guess you're coming with us then."

Finally promised what she had wanted for almost all her life, Rae's bottled anxiousness over her parents decision burst free in one go, embracing her father, mother, then me all in turn while issuing the words "Thank you" over and over, end to end. I couldn't help but smile at her giddy happiness and infectious enthusiasm.

   "All of this of course... is dependent on her following instructions to the letter, because if she doesn't she'll be back up here faster than she can blink, and will be confined to the ship until the Emperor's reincarnation. Do you understand that?" I said this very deliberately, making sure she was listening.
   "Of course.", she nodded, still attentive to every detail.
   "Good. You're too important to me."
I looked up at her parents,
   "I think that's enough for now. How does setting down the ground rules - pun not intended - over dinner sound?"

Carlisa glanced at Tyrell, who shrugged indifferently in response.
   "I can't see a problem."
   "Well, I'll leave you to your work then. Talk later."

Casually waving a farewell, I left Rae to assist however she saw fit and made my way back across the hold to return to the more habitable areas of the ship.
I still feel a certain degree of guilt at so frequently leaving the menial tasks of cargo management to others, but the transport side of things is merely a money maker - one of the manners by which I finance my greater commitments. When I actually try to help, I am oft chastised by my crew and told that I have more important things to be getting on with. They're old habits, I suppose - I was, after all, a slave once.

The corridors were populated by the occasional servitor and, rather less often, a human. I tolerate the half-dead only with profound disappointment. I'd rather a ship buzzing with interesting and vibrant lives, but each and every person aboard is one more to trust.

The kitchens, where I was heading at the time, are exclusively populated by servitors.  The place practically smells of lobotomy, and they have nothing of the culinary artisan to them, preparing food  that, while technically near perfect, has as much soul as they do.
But the crew are content with it, so I keep my complaints to myself. They'd only make me hire myself a chef if they knew.

As always, there was a gamut of different sounds and scents as I entered. Almost immediately I had to sidestep to let a pair of servitors past, hauling between them a large crate marked in stencilled and faded black letters as GROX MEAT. They scurried past another chopping some form of root vegetable with a heavy blade welded directly on to one arm and a mass of fine mechanical tendrils approximating its other hand. A flame leapt up in the corner, a pan being stirred furiously over its tremendous heat, and the distinctive clatter of the kneading machines whirred away in the middle of the room.

It is all too easy to get distracted in there, watching the endlessly moving individual cogs in one of the machines which keeps the Ynys running. For a room filled with the half-dead, it is always alive, constantly catering for two hundred human crew serving endlessly overlapping shifts. Tearing myself away from watching, I went to find the head servitor. It didn't take too long - it's half a foot taller than the others, with a scissor arm lift that holds its upper half above a tracked base unit in place of anything that resembles legs.
 I took a moment to instructing it as to my lunch order, and that I wanted it delivered to my office. Offering a monotone response, its eyes went even blanker as it computed instructions and rolled off to administer them to its underlings via the interface ports embedded in the back of their skulls.

I didn't wait around - I had more important things to be doing. Leaving the kitchens, I headed for my office.

After the final junction, there were occasional quiet pings as I moved towards the thick alloy doors, the sound of security systems deactivating as they identified me in turn, studying the contours of my face, the particulars of my walk, deep scans of my skeletal structure and a dozen other sensors and auspexes. Satisfying the approach scanners, I entered my personal access code on the gene-coded keypad, the magnetic locks disengaging on cue with a series of low frequency metallic thuds.

I stepped inside, into an office nearly identical to when Marco used it all those hundreds of years ago. I've never seen the need to change much - even the faded pictures on the walls are the same ones that adorned them all that time ago.

Taking a seat, I keyed the vox controls built into the desk. Now we were finally in orbit, my first order of duty was a lengthy transmission to Narrilla's navigation authorities to negotiate landing clearance, preferably sometime before Rae's eighteenth birthday. I will spare you any recollections of that conversation, all formal procedure and regulations that will never make a good story.
I managed to pull a few strings to secure permission for three days later, an unusually short wait for a civilian flight on such a busy world. But still three days I'd have rather been on the surface.

Despite that, the time could still be used. Any planet of this level of technological development produces a colossal quantity of information, most of it broadcasting out into the depths of space, and so I began scouring the pict-transmissions and data streams.
Disregarding the outright inane and trivial, I turned my attention to the newsfeeds. As is common the galaxy over, these were heavily censored and otherwise doctored. But often, it's as valuable to know what the authorities don't want known. And it does not take a genius to know that when there is a dearth of information relating to such a major recent political shift, someone doesn't want something known.

In between eating the food the servitors had delivered, I began to search deeper underground. I've had long enough to develop a rather wide network of sources, either directly or indirectly.
It's more than a few years since I last set foot on Narrilla - what many would consider a lifetime - so my options were a little limited. The best I could hope for is that someone in Old Man Roydon's network would be prepared to speak to me.
« Last Edit: February 21, 2013, 09:57:29 AM by MarcoSkoll »
S.Sgt Silva Birgen: "Good evening, we're here from the Adeptus Defenestratus."
Captain L. Rollin: "Nonsense. Never heard of it."
Birgen: "Pick a window. I'll demonstrate".

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Offline MarcoSkoll

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Re: Ad Vitam Aeternam
« Reply #2 on: July 07, 2011, 12:16:11 AM »
Known as "Old Man Roydon" by most because he keeps a complexion of wrinkles and age, rather than the supple skin of rejuvenated youth, Carluth Roydon is an information broker - the best in the subsector, if he's anywhere near as good as his ego would tell you he is.

To be fair, given his network of spies, infiltrators and eavesdroppers is so vast and deep that it hears everything short of Inquisition secrets - although quite a few of those too - his ego probably isn't exaggerating. As the old adage goes, knowledge is power, and so he is one very powerful man, with rumours of the backing of more than a few Inquisitors, planetary governors and Rogue Traders.

...and myself. He is as suspicious as most about mutantkind, but I can pay handsomely in coin, experience, connections, information of my own or - in exceptional cases - favours, so his greed outweighs his reservations. I also suspect that he cares to know where I am in the sector, although he has yet to be fool enough to sell that information.

However, his acceptance of me is not necessarily shared by his underlings. And so I spent a short while compiling a message requesting an audience, sending it as an encrypted burst transmission tagged with some appropriate hailing and clearance codes.

I wasn’t expecting a response straight away, of course - and indeed, I didn’t get one, which made the rest of my afternoon little more than a fairly exhaustive, yet fruitless, search of my other avenues of information.

But, nonetheless, it took the quiet beep of the ship’s internal vox to draw me out of it. It chirped for a few seconds before it automatically accepted the incoming transmission. 

    “Hey - Spots? Are you down there?” , came Rae’s voice, slightly crackly through the speaker.
   “Yes, I’m down here. But are you ever going to stop calling me Spots?”
    “Probably not.” , she laughed, “It suits you so well. But if your mottled tail isn’t so busy we can’t borrow it, we’re missing you at the table.”


I looked up - in quite some surprise - at the chrono on the wall. Indeed, it was far past the ship's evening meal time.

   “Saints above. Sorry, I was lost in work.”
    “Particularly interesting?”
    “Anything but. I’ll be up there in five.”
    “Five?”, she said with a hint of amusement, “I’ll be counting.”

I was forming some sentence about figurative statements when my mouth decided to say something quite different.
    “…you know what? You’re on.”

My boredom exploded in a sudden flood. I was on my feet and heading for the door before the saner bits of my mind could tell me it was a stupid idea. As I passed, I slapped the door lock control, although it should have sealed by default when it realised I had left.

With the open corridor offering both a way down and through the hold to the left, and a maze of corridors to the right, I took the gamble of going for the stairs leading down to the cargo bay. It was further, but instinct told me it would be easier to negotiate than the corridors.
 
That logic was still echoing in my head as the first flight of steps flew past underneath me, clearing them in one leap. Three more sets offered similar resistance to my progress, the ornate rail offering a handhold to swing myself around into each.
This put me on a level where I could get to the cargo bay walkways, and I sprinted around the next two corners. An open cargo bay door, although entirely against ship's protocol, saved me a few seconds. I was in the hold.

Turning back after I had locked the door, I broke into my run again. My boots hit the steel mesh of the walkway solidly, a crude drumbeat in sprint time that provided a brief moment of distraction and curiosity for those on the deck floor below. It had also drawn the disinterested attention of the servitor trudging the walkway ahead towards me, which froze up in the face of unexpected sensory input, blocking my path.
Unwilling to wait around for it to respond to orders, I charged forwards and seeing my chance in the corner of my eye, I sprung up, planting a foot on the handrail. Forcing off hard, I leapt over the barrier, arcing onto the rows of crates below.

I tucked on landing to roll into the impact, flicking my tail around hard to regain my balance on the exit. As I recovered my stride, I passed my gaze over the stacks of crates ahead. Realising they would be much slower to negotiate at ground level, I stayed atop the piles, jumping over the paths left between them as I made my way.  I had to dodge a crane winch as it whirred across the hold, but the route proved little trouble otherwise, and it was mere moments later that I flipped down off the last stack, adding the unnecessary flourish for its own sake.

I threw my shoulder into the hold door, straining at the rusting hinges and cursing at the technical servitors until a gap finally levered open. Forcing through, I twisted back and forced myself into the other side until it conceded to grind shut. Yanking on the locking lever almost as an afterthought, I sprang across to the access ladders on the opposite side of the corridor, scaling them

Each floor I passed offered a different snapshot of ship life. Rikeit on the maintenance crew replacing a century old wiring run. Servitors chasing down vermin. An utterly dark and lifeless corridor.

Seven floors later, I clawed my way out of the top of the access tube near the dining hall. Rae was already standing outside the door along the corridor, and I dashed along towards her, at least until I saw her expression.
She was looking incredibly smug, and I didn’t even have to ask if I was late. Petering down to a walk, I looked down at the floor.

    “…Damn it. What was the time?”, I muttered.
    “Five thirty-two.”
    “Not even close.”, I sighed, “I really thought I could make that.”

I paused for a moment, breathing heavily.

   ”I shouldn’t’ve done that.”
    ”… Did you break something?”
    "No. It was just stupidly self-indulgent."
    ”Spots, if anyone deserves to let their hair down once in a while… well, you know what I’m getting at.”

I smiled.
    “I do. Anyway, I’m here. Late twice over, but here. Shall we go in?”

She nodded, and lead the way into the hall. The tables were largely empty, although they still would have been even if every crew member were to be dragged in here at once. The ship’s mechanisation has left the remainder of us with a great deal of unnecessary living space.

   “What’s the menu?”, I asked by way of conversation.
   “Well, I had whatever the stew was. Possibly a bit spicy, but went well with the…”

She was interrupted by someone shouting my name from across the hall. I turned to look at the speaker, who turned out to be Hunt, one of the bridge crew.
    “Yeah?”
    “Cralen wants to know how long we’re likely to be in orbit.”

(Cralen is the Ynys’ head navigator. If I’m not mistaken, he had been in charge of our final exit from warp space.)

   “Months, probably. It’s not likely to be a short stop. Is he looking for shore leave?”
   “I don’t think so. More likely he wants to know how long he can retire to his quarters for.”

I laughed.
   “Well, you can tell him he can kick back and drink as much sacra as he likes, as long as he’s not totally pickled when we need to leave.”

There was a smattering of chuckles as I dragged out a chair opposite Tyrell and Carlisa, sitting down next to Rae. I have described the three of them to some extent already, but given their role in the events to come, it is worth elaborating.

Just about out of adolescence at seventeen years old, Rae is pretty tall at most of six feet, but also slight of build, both traits easily attributed to her voidborn nature. However, most of her other voider traits are subtle and easily missed, the extensive range of her ancestry utterly avoiding the inbreeding so typical in the voidborn.
Her face has hints of a youthful version of the guardswoman from whom she ultimately descends, with much the same wry smile, neck length red-brown hair and a green tint to her eyes, although this many generations on, it owes nothing to family resemblance and almost everything to coincidence.
She has a strong desire to impress – often to the point of rashness, but it gives her impressive potential.

Tyrell, by contrast, is little like his ancestors of old. I have already mentioned the stubble building up around his jaw, a light shade of brown like the rest of his short straight hair. While also voidborn, he has a heavily developed and toned physique earned from taking time out to help his wife with her cargo handling duties.
But more importantly, his quick mind and talent for adopting personalities and identities on the fly make him one of my primary “shore crew”, although at times more impulsive than I would perhaps like.

And Carlisa, like many partners taken by the Skoll line, is a worlder. But as that world is the hive world of Pexir, it may go a long way to explaining her daughter's resemblance to her long distant ancestor.
By far the more level-headed of the couple, she serves as one of my head cargo overseers, taking care of the shipments we take as a cover for our moving between worlds.

Several others were still around the tables as well. Further up was Erena, Tyrell's mother. As always, she wore a psy-damper - for her own sake, rather than that of anyone else.
Psychic ability is not entirely uncommon within the Skoll line, showing up every few generations. In Erena’s case, it developed as telepathy, which very nearly cost her sanity. Targeted electrochemical mindscrubbing mostly brought back the girl we once knew, but I know that echoes of it still plague her dreams, and the scarring where she clawed at her own face has never fully healed. To this day, she still seals off her power for fear of what it could do to her.

Two places to my left is Floyd. He has no surname, hailing from a feral world at a cultural state where such things didn't exist. I saved his life about eighty years back, at which point he swore a life debt to me, as was his culture, vowing that he would follow me until such a time as he had repaid the favour. He didn't give me time to tell him that would be a very long wait that would take him amongst the stars.
However, he has taken to his new life like a fish to water. The realisation there was more than just the simple existence he had once lived fascinated him - and nothing more than technology. Far from the stereotype of feral worlders barely knowing one end of a lasgun from another, he has developed an astounding talent for the machine - and it leaves me wondering what miracles he could have achieved had he received full training from a young age.

And near the far end, we have Baika. At least, that's what we call her, as none of us can pronounce her real name, nor she ours. She is of the Typhis race – known for a biskeletal structure, where the armoured exo-layer gives a somewhat insect-like appearance.
Our trouble is that Typhis vocal structures bear not the slightest resemblance to the human larynx, giving them a language more akin to clicks and bubbles – unpronounceable to humans, although mostly understandable.

I looked back at the others, addressing Tyrell first.

    “Do you want to lead on this one?”
S.Sgt Silva Birgen: "Good evening, we're here from the Adeptus Defenestratus."
Captain L. Rollin: "Nonsense. Never heard of it."
Birgen: "Pick a window. I'll demonstrate".

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Offline MarcoSkoll

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Re: Ad Vitam Aeternam
« Reply #3 on: October 13, 2013, 02:35:41 AM »
Tyrell paused for a second, swallowing the mouthful he had been eating.

    "Sure. I think can remember most of the ones you told me all those years ago anyway.", he said, then turned to Rae: "Well, the most important one is you must listen to us at all times. So, if we tell you to do something – or, not do something – you do it."
   "Good memory.", I lied. I knew I had said that one earlier.
   "Is that not what I have to put up with anyway?"
   "Rae, this is serious.", I chided her.
   "Oh, lighten up., she rolled her eyes, "Of course I'm taking this seriously - I've wanted to see a planet my entire life."
   "...fine. Pass the Agaricus bread, please."

She did indeed push the bowl in my direction. I picked out one of the slightly misshapen lumps and started tearing it into chunks.

   "Number two. If you’re ever separated from us, then you immediately head for the safe point. That might be our lodgings, it might be somewhere else we’ve agreed. If in doubt, head back to the lodgings."
    "But do try and avoid getting separated in the first place.", I said around a mouthful of food, "We'll have your cochlear implant patched in to the vox-grid, so we should be able to talk to you and should even be able to track you with it at a pinch, but you really don't want to get lost in a large city."
   "You’re making planets sound incredibly dangerous."
   "Relatively, a lot more so than a three thousand metre ship where everyone knows you, yes.", I finished before swallowing.

   "Number three. If anything goes wrong - for the love of the God-Emperor, do not panic, and do not get involved unless you are in imminent danger otherwise. Leave it for us to deal with."
   "Fair enough. You're the experts."

   "Now, number four..."
   "I'll handle number four.", I interrupted him, before looking straight into the girl's eyes, "Rae, I'm taking you to the surface - that does not, in any fashion you can conceive, extend to an invitation to get involved with my work. If you don't stay clear, if you follow me on any of my work, and it doesn’t kill you, I will dangle you out of an airlock by your intestines."
   "Ouch. Message taken."
   "Good. Now, next - worlders tend to be a bit suspicious of void-born. You’re only part void born, but you’ll probably still get a few odd looks until you learn to blend in. But your cover should explain it. You’ll be posing as a Rogue Trader’s daughter, so…"
   "A Rogue Trader’s daughter?", she said, her expression one of mild surprise.
   "Like Rina Hydronus. You met her a few years back when we were handling the Tersesi gems."
   "No, that’s not what I meant. Whose daughter am I supposed to be?"
   "Your father’s", I smirked.
   "Hilarious. And you tell me off for not taking things seriously."
   "No, I'm being serious. The Simiro trade warrant?"
   "… Sorry, but who's Simoro?."
   "Oh. Sorry. I thought you knew about that one. I'm Simoro. Or I was. I spent a few decades when I was about six hundred pretending to be Mira Simoro, an Administratum shipsmaster who kept interfering in politics until Lord Grane decided he wanted me quietly out of the way and bribed me with a trade licence."
   "Sounds unusually bloodless." Her tone again bridged sceptical and perplexed.

   "Not exactly... he sent assassins first. I eventually 'let slip' a story that I had excellent bodyguards and a mess of body doubles, so he decided it was easier for me to get myself lost or killed in the Velgorth Expanse. Of course, that didn't happen with any great rush.
Mira officially died in 731.M42, but the terms of the licence are hereditary, so it's been used as a cover identity by your part of the Skoll line. Can't be anyone else really, as I used Evena Skoll's biochip as part of Mira's identity - others would get flagged by the gene-key."

   "And, currently, that's my job.", Tyrell finished, "Jaskilus Simoro, her twenty-nine times great grandson."
   "An identity we've not used in a few years. It got a bit too hot back after Angelstrod in three fifty two - now I actually think, about five years before you were born - so we spread a story about Jaskilus heading off to tour the expanse. We still write his reports every year or so and use a couple of our allies in the astropathic stations out there to bounce them back. I'd hoped to leave it longer, but we need its political clout for this one."

   "Sounds good. Have you got a briefing?"
   "Yes. But I hope you like heavy reading. And that reminds me - how's your High Gothic?"
   " Suus diu iam, ita cogito sum probabiliter eget praxi. Si ego necesse ad, ego potest experiri ad meliorare?"
   "It couldn't hurt. Talking about practice, I need to run you past the gauntlet."
   "Ah. I was hoping you'd forget about that."
   "Fortunately for you", I smiled, "I don't forget."

~~~~~

Most of the rest of the mealtime conversation was of little relevance to this tale; we mostly discussed what news the data-nets and astropathic feeds offered of the seventeen days we had been in the warp.  I'm sure you have your own opinions on the major events of those weeks - the then growing Ork threat in the southern reaches of the sector, trade disputes in the Maedan orbital docks or perhaps that scandal between the New Gemini nobility (which, contrary to rumours I am told circle within the Carthaxian Conclave and as this account will hopefully do something to prove, I had nothing to do with) - so I will save on recounting any of it in detail.

After the meal, I took Rae to the Librarium vault, passing her the rather bulky tome that serves as the falsified history of the Simoro trading house.
I would spend most of the next hour weaving through those same shelves trying to find copies of the seventeen Administratum forms that I would need to forge for Rae's cover identity to pass through the scrutiny of Narrilla's ports. Every now and again, I would again pass close enough by that I could see her at the reading tables, diligently studying under the arc-candela lighting and occasionally stopping to inscribe several notes as she tried to commit this wealth of detail to memory.

I eventually dropped the last necessary form on to the stack I had been cradling on my long walk and returned to the tables myself.
It took another two or three hours for me to forge the swirling calligraphy of Master Adept Rayan Gruun, a process where I was intermittently interrupted by questions about the minutiae of Simoro history until such a point as my questioner had actually slumped into unconsciousness.

I stayed at the work long enough to lay the final looping curl on to the parchment. I then gathered up the exhausted girl, carrying her back through the ship to her quarters and leaving her work alongside her for the morning.

A check of my office showed I had yet to receive any response from Roydon's networks, so I myself retired to the small and unsophisticated space that serves as my own rooms.
I threw my clothes into a heap in the corner, left for the cleaning servitors to process. My weapons were hung up on the mannequin by the bed, and I climbed naked under the sheets, waiting for sleep to settle upon me.
S.Sgt Silva Birgen: "Good evening, we're here from the Adeptus Defenestratus."
Captain L. Rollin: "Nonsense. Never heard of it."
Birgen: "Pick a window. I'll demonstrate".

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Offline MarcoSkoll

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Re: Ad Vitam Aeternam
« Reply #4 on: November 02, 2013, 12:22:53 AM »
My dreams started, as they always do, as a whirlwind and patchwork parody of my memories of both life and death. Beyond that, I cannot describe them - they are so unlike even the fragile sanity of the mortal world that Imperial Gothic has no words for them. To describe it to you would be like trying to describe red, blue or green to the blind.

Nor would I wish to. It has destroyed the sanity of telepaths who have glimpsed even the shallowest of the depths of my soul. It was this knowledge that blighted Erena when her untrained power saw through me.
I know few crueller tortures than fearing what lies beyond the mortal veil - the madness where the only escape is what you fear most. That is the ordeal from which we had to spare her mind.

But these thoughts do not trouble me. They are so familiar as to be mundane and I have no reason to fear the grave I always escape. As my body eternally restores to health, so does my mind always return to lucidity.
Perhaps this is why I have no tolerance for madmen who believe their fantasies - I am as incapable of experiencing illness of the mind as I am illness of the flesh.

Something, probably one of the ship's many resident noises, interrupted me from my slumber and I awoke sprawled sideways across my low bed. Looking sideways, I could see the illuminated digits of the chronometer on the wall reading shortly before six o'clock ship's time. I had been asleep less than three hours, brief even for me. I lay for several minutes in the dark, hoping to fall back to sleep, before finally resigning to sitting up and groping for the light switch.

As it flickered into life, the glowstrip cast a dull light across the room and its modest furnishings.
Brushing at the rheum accumulated in the corners of my eyes, I reached for the glass of water set out on the side table and took a hefty swig.

I looked over at the door, contemplating returning to the work in my office, but I still didn't feel entirely awake yet, with some part of me yet rebelling against consciousness. Setting the glass back down, I cracked my neck firmly to side to side, then pushed aside the blankets and stood up.

I shuffled into the connecting washroom, performing a number of arm stretches on the move until I found myself facing the mirror.

I ran my hand through my hair - it must have been around two inches long, although it had been trimmed to just half that only a few days before. Such rapid growth seems to be another side effect of my mutation, although fortunately nowhere near as accelerated as other aspects of my physiology.
I would shortly have to trim it back again with the auto-razor, as my life can no longer afford such a vain liability as when it once grew free.

But that was for another time. I instead showered, dried off - mentally scolding myself for reaching for the towel with my tail, even as I did so - and dressed.

Weapons buckled back into place, I left my quarters.
S.Sgt Silva Birgen: "Good evening, we're here from the Adeptus Defenestratus."
Captain L. Rollin: "Nonsense. Never heard of it."
Birgen: "Pick a window. I'll demonstrate".

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Offline MarcoSkoll

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Re: Ad Vitam Aeternam
« Reply #5 on: February 14, 2015, 02:05:28 AM »
I started this tale by talking about the near stagnation of the Imperium. But it perhaps interests you more to know what has changed.

At the time, I knew little of what was going on around me. In my youth, my world was just a mutant ghetto, and even until quite some time after I had met Marco, I had heard nothing of the grand conflicts of the Age of Sorrow - or what was once called "the End Times".

You probably know the names of the grandest of those wars, despite their ancient passage into history - Ezekyle Abaddon's Thirteenth Black Crusade, the Tyranid Hive Fleets and the Necron reawakening - but to all but the most diligent scholars, their details have fallen into history.

There are those amongst the Inquisition who call themselves the Antiquarti - seeking to predict what is to come through study of what has gone.
I do not believe in such grand prophesy, but I do know a quote whose origins are lost to ages far older than I: "Those that cannot remember the past are destined to repeat it". And so, I will tell you what I recall of those false days of ending... but all in good time.

~~~~~

When I reached it, the office was marginally more welcoming than I had anticipated - the teletransmitter's indicator light was a dull green, a sign of a stored vox message. It proved to be a fairly to the point response from Roydon's agents.

They had offered me an audience - so presumably they had information to trade - although not quite the one I had requested; their chosen date was a day earlier and they would set the location only hours before the meeting.

This would stretch our timeline, being so much sooner after landing, but it wasn't unexpected. This arrangement allowed them to extend as little trust to me as possible, by stealing every second I might have to turn the meeting into an ambush.
Even then, there would probably still be at least the equivalent of a platoon there on the assumption I might be mad enough to waste my connection with Roydon by double-crossing him.

Payment was to be in gold ingots. Even given the degree to which these people love extortion, they clearly felt they had information of value.
But I did have ingots on hand; I guess they've figured out the "secret" of just how many fungible materials are kept in the Ynys' vaults. Digging out a networked data-slate, I added a cache of gold to the manifest for our surface visit.

Following that, I returned to the previous day's research, which frustratingly still refused to add up.

To give as concise a lesson in Narrillan history and politics as possible, the highest levels of Narrillan government have been fairly consistent since the Age of Apostasy. All authority in the system is de jure derived from the planetary governor, although in practice he has only a few privileges he can exercise.
Most of the law is instead delegated via the High Council, historically formed of twenty-four individuals of assorted providence:

- Six hereditary Lords, hierarchs of the planet's oldest noble families.
- Six plutocrats, their positions bought in grand auction for prices that can fund battleships.
- Twelve elected representatives of the people. Those people that that meet the strict laws about voting rights, in any case.

The system is not without flaws, but it nonetheless works; The lords and plutocrats bring along many connections, and often have direct experience of politics, finance, diplomacy and war, but their personal interests are tempered by an equal representation for the lower classes.

And so we come to 'Orrens' Proclamation', which closely followed the close of the Age of Apostasy. As part of the sharp backlash against the Ministorum's direct involvement in bureaucracy, this document revoked the privilege of the church to assign six bishops to take a further six places on the council.

And this is the privilege was now apparently returned. By extension, it followed that Orrens' Proclamation had been defeated, retracted or otherwise invalidated, but the specifics were elusive. All I could turn up was a wash of conspiracy theories from the less regulated parts of the planetary data-net, each less plausible than the last.

The only thing I could be sure of is that it would have to come back to the planetary governor, Horace Chorl Gratien III, as all law is eventually signed into power in his name.
However, I was looking to do something a little less overly direct than kicking down his office door and beating the answer out of him.
S.Sgt Silva Birgen: "Good evening, we're here from the Adeptus Defenestratus."
Captain L. Rollin: "Nonsense. Never heard of it."
Birgen: "Pick a window. I'll demonstrate".

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Offline MarcoSkoll

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Re: Ad Vitam Aeternam
« Reply #6 on: July 29, 2015, 02:36:29 AM »
My time delving into the all too secret politics of Narrilla had not passed quickly, and I had entirely tired of it once it became apparent that I would be wholly reliant on Roydon's network to give me a head-start on this investigation.

It was now closer to thirteen o'clock by the ship's internal time, and I had diverted to my appointment in the ship's training rooms. The firing range was almost eerily quiet - while often in use, with almost everyone at their own jobs and preparing for a descent onto the planet, today there was only the occasional quiet snap of las-fire to fill in for all of the normal shipboard sounds deadened by the range's soundproofing.

To no great surprise, the range's occupant was Rae, evidently doing some last minute preparation for her Gauntlet, engaging semi-transparent holo-targets with the laspistol I had given her on her 12th birthday, a custom piece in a wood and brass feudal styling.
Not wanting to disturb her, partly as courtesy, partly as safety, I waited patiently to one side until she had finished.

"The Gauntlet", as it is slightly ominously known, is the demonstration of the skills I insist on my crew being able to show if they if they want to visit the surface. Primarily, these are minimum (although strict) standards of marksmanship, unarmed combat and urban agility.
Working for me is a far greater risk than working for an Inquisitor, with all of the threat and none of the protection; these skills are often the vital bridge to that gap. But even so, old age is a very rare cause of death amongst my allies.

   "Good morning.", I spoke as she drew back from the firing position, "Ready to start?"
   "I hope so."
   "Great. Now, before we start – as I said to your father, his mother, her mother, and so forth, there’s absolutely no give in these tests. If you miss the final mark by even a single point, I can’t let you onto the surface. I’m already being as lenient as is safe, and while I hate being the monster in this,  I'd hate myself even more if something happened to you. Understand?"
   "...Yes.", she said, although with a certain amount of anxiety in her voice.
   "You really don't need to worry. The test is more of a formality - a goal, if you like - than an actual challenge."

She nodded, although it was only once the range servitors had engaged the test and she had started actually moving and engaging simulated enemies that her expression rose. She even started to look confident. And she had, after all, trained for this all her life.

I'm pretty sure I started to look rather pleased too as she took cover behind a pretend corner, glanced out not an instant longer than necessary and put two shots straight into her target's skull.

And so, three minutes, twenty nine seconds and six holographic corpses later...

   "Excellent. A better hit ratio than your father managed in his test, actually."

She beamed at that one. There has long been a generous degree of familial rivalry in the tests.

   "Still, watch your grip. It's low - fine for a las, but it'll result in excessive muzzle rise with a recoiling firearm."
   "Now, this won't count, but...", I pulled one of my stub-autos from its holster, "...can you do it with one?"

Ejecting the magazine and racking the slide to clear the chamber, I span it around in my hand, presenting it to her.
   "I'll try.", she said, taking the grip. As she took the weight, I saw her eyes widen a fraction in surprise.
   "Heavier than a las?", I smiled.
   "Just a little. It's ages since I last used one of these."

She went to take the magazine I was holding out, but I drew it back.

   "This is my carry load. Don't abuse it."
   "How? Swearing and beating it up?", she deliberately misinterpreted.
   "You know what I mean", I rebuffed her sarcasm, "It is going to kick."

We re-ran the test. To her credit, she handled the unfamiliar firearm very respectably, quickly getting a sense for the pistol's balance and recoil.
As she dropped the sixth target for the second time, I took a look at her final accuracy and speed on the data display screen, tracing a finger across to the relevant readouts.

   "That's... still a pass, as it happens. And not a bad one either."

I looked at her, expecting the same confident expression as after her first test, but this time I was greeted by a slightly embarrassed grin as she unloaded the stub-auto.
   "Thanks. But can I give this back now?"
   "Not quite your thing, then?"
   "It moves too much. The weight steadies it a bit, but all the shifting parts feel like they're constantly trying to spoil my aim."
   "That's just unfamiliarity. We'll need to work on that... another time", I quickly added, seeing a slight flicker of panic in her eyes.

I took the stub-auto back, loading it with a fresh magazine and returning it to its holster, bringing a measure of balance back to my extensive personal armoury.

   "So, press on or break for lunch?"
   "Press on", she responded without a second's hesitation. 

Press on we did, moving on to the unarmed combat test. The scoring here is looser, as it's simply a sparring match between the "runner" and myself. We were about twenty seconds in before she realised just how loose the scoring was.

   "You're not trying."
   "Of course not.", I deflected her roundhouse with a low block, "There'd be no point in me breaking your arms".

For exactly that reason, we were both clad fairly generously in foam armour.

   "You had me half way to terrified. Holo-targets are one thing, but you?"
   "That's part of the point. Why do you think I don't tell anyone what the tests are?"
   "Because you keep changing them?".

Cheeky. She seemed to be relaxing again. Good, perhaps.

   "No..., I started, but quickly reconsidered, "... well, yes, but other than that."
   "The assessment is supp...".

She was cut off by me deciding to illustrate the difference between confidence and complacency, grabbing her arm as she threw a jab and jerking her forwards. I twisted around, swept her feet out from under her with my tail and let her fall into the impact mats.

   "... supposed to evaluate responses to stress? That's cheating, you know.", she pushed herself up and gestured at my tail, "Most people don't have those.".
   "I said I wasn't trying. Not that I wouldn't cheat."
   "Yeah, I know. People don't fight fair."
   "Well then, you're learning."

I struck a stance.

   "Again!"
S.Sgt Silva Birgen: "Good evening, we're here from the Adeptus Defenestratus."
Captain L. Rollin: "Nonsense. Never heard of it."
Birgen: "Pick a window. I'll demonstrate".

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