Author Topic: Old, New, Borrowed and Bloody  (Read 1326 times)

Offline Koval

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Old, New, Borrowed and Bloody
« on: January 19, 2013, 10:54:20 PM »
The atmosphere was truly oppressive in the cathedral, and Langley found herself acutely aware of how hard she was breathing. Incense from the servo-skull-mounted burner flying overhead was catching in her throat, and although it wasn't enough to make her cough, it still made her throat feel incredibly dry. Everybody was looking at her and it took all of her willpower to stand still and listen for just a few more minutes.

The priest was droning on in front of them, some reverend father Langley had never heard of talking at her about the sanctity of marriage and the need for faith and stability in "these troubled times". How insignificant it actually seemed outside the cathedral walls, Langley reflected; how much people wanted to keep up appearances when it mattered, but how little they cared when they were in their own company.

And how much it hurt.

"I require and charge you both," the priest intoned, "as you will surely answer before the Golden Throne at the Time of Ending, when no heart can conceal its secrets and no tongue speak false, that if either of you know any reason why you may not be joined in the eyes of the God-Emperor, you shall confess it."

Langley looked across at Atherstone, doing her utmost to keep her expression as calm and measured as she possibly could. She prayed that he didn't spot the faint quiver of her lips as her composure started to crack.

"Thus do I also charge the faithful gathered in the house of the Lord of Mankind," the priest continued. "If any man or woman can show any just cause for why these two may not be joined, I bid you now speak, or else hereafter forever hold your peace."

Silence fell and Langley suddenly felt her mouth go dry as four, five, six seconds passed, the only sound in the cathedral hall coming from the servo-skulls as they went about their work. The priest turned to Atherstone, making eye contact as the situation demanded. In contrast with Atherstone's bespoke black-and-brown three-piece with the distinctive silver buttons that could only have belonged to him, the priest's off-white cassock and mitre were entirely unremarkable and might've been worn by just about anybody. For all Langley knew, the priest could just as easily have been the reverend father in charge of the cathedral as someone they'd had to draft in at short notice; all priests looked the same to her, and excluding the drill abbots and military chaplains, she trusted none of them.

None of these civilian clerics had seen the horrors she'd fought in the course of duty.

"Mikael Davide Marcas," the priest began. "Have you a free and unconstrained will to take as your wife this woman, Isabel Jemima, whom you see before you?"

"In the Emperor's name I do, father," Atherstone answered without hesitation, the faux pomposity of his accent eroding Langley's patience. She didn't want to have to hear that voice again, but the Emperor demanded that some sacrifices had to be made.

The priest inclined his head towards Langley.

"Isabel Jemima, have you a free and unconstrained will to take as your husband this man, Mikael Davide Marcas, whom you see before you?"

Langley looked first at the priest, then at the congregation in what must have looked like a sudden attack of nerves, before finally resting her eyes on a very expectant Atherstone. She turned slowly, looking him in the eye as her sheer disgust finally boiled over.

"No," she stated.

It was as if her words had been a knife in Atherstone's belly as shock and horror wrote themselves plainly across his face. The priest recoiled, astounded and flabbergasted by this deviation from the chain of events, and although Langley had since narrowed her world down to just Atherstone, she was sure the congregation was in turmoil as well.

"What?" Atherstone gasped.

"I said no," Langley repeated, already unfastening her bridal overdress. The tailored, yet slightly ill-fitting white suit underneath stood out in stark contrast to Atherstone's own attire, and seemed almost to shimmer as she discarded the cumbersome wedding garment.

Without the loose overdress to conceal it, a distinct -- if not especially pronounced -- roundness became visible upon Langley's waist. The priest's eyes fell on it immediately, recognising the bulge for what it was, but Atherstone ignored it entirely.

"But I am the scion to House Atherstone!" he protested. "For the Emperor's sake, Isabel, we--"

"Don't you dare, don't you frakking dare bring Him-on-Earth into this, Mikael!" Langley scowled, and Atherstone was stunned into silence by her outburst. "You've already broken His laws by coming in here, completely unrepentant for what you've done. You said you loved me. Promised me anything. Offered me a commission in exchange for this political formality you orchestrated to strengthen your position."

There was no longer any point in trying to conceal her emotions, and hot tears of rage were already welling in her eyes.

"And for what, Mikael? I know what you did. I know whose company you shared last night, in whose arms you shared an embrace and into whose ear you whispered your honeyed words."

"You lie...!" breathed Atherstone, fright overshadowing any conviction he might've hoped to convey.

"Give the sergeant an officer's commission, you said. Send her off to war and wait for her name to show up on the casualty list."

"That's--"

"Not true?" Langley sneered, half-mocking him. "Oh, you must think that I am so stupid. Allow me to give you a child, and then send me off to die so that you can have the child of a martyr to succeed you, while you elope with that bitch from House Tolcis, safe in your newly elevated position and with your legacy safe and sound."

She reached into her suit jacket, unfastening the concealed holster and drawing a small pistol. She was aware of the congregation exploding into panic and confusion, but she no longer cared.

"But if you think I'll be your pawn in all this, you're sorely mistaken."

"What the hell are you doing, Isabel!?" hissed Atherstone.

"Making sure you live with the knowledge of your sins," Langley informed him. "Or don't you know that I'm pregnant with your child?"

Atherstone blanched as Langley inspected the gun, disabled the safety, and pressed the muzzle to her stomach. Somewhere off to her right, the priest had fainted, but her world had collapsed down to just herself, Atherstone, and the gun. Everything and everybody else was irrelevant.

"A child that you'll never have?"

"You wouldn't... how can you..."

"Emperor forgive me," Langley muttered, closing her eyes.

There was a loud bang, a searing flash of agony, and then darkness.


---


"We still consider your survival to be remarkable," Cals commented, "even though your present good health renders this a foregone conclusion."

"That wasn't the best bit," Langley remarked dryly. "I missed. The child survived."

Cals paused, turning his head to look straight at Langley. "We are not aware of your descendant's existence. Please clarify."

"You wouldn't be. The Inquisitor took care of it."

Langley produced a note, handing it to Cals. "A girl named Theresa Stanton was given over to the care of the Ecclesiarchy on Erstenheme. Eight months old and they're already eyeing her up for the Adepta Sororitas."

Langley sighed, absent-mindedly fingering the bullet scar over her stomach. "Must be something to do with being born four months premature and still surviving."

Cals brought the note closer to his face, then held it away at arm's length, as if he were adjusting to a new pair of reading glasses. "Based on the data available from surveying a small infant, we believe that the Ecclesiarchy are failing to exercise the necessary level of patience. This would correlate with observed behaviour patterns."

"She'll be enrolled into a Schola Progenium on Erstenheme before long."

Cals cocked his head to one side as if mildly amused, but declined to comment further as he returned the note to Langley.

"I'll still never know how the Inquisitor knew to attend my wedding, or why I'm now an Inquisition agent," Langley continued, "but I guess being ready to shoot yourself to defy your enemies has to count for something. And you're probably aware of the sanctions that got imposed on House Atherstone."

"Archived data indicate that Mikael Atherstone has since committed suicide. We suspect that he did not wish to live with the burden of disgrace."

Langley smiled weakly. "Yeah."

She took a sip of her caffeine. "So what's your story?"

"We do not understand the question."

"You must've been made an Inquisition agent for a reason that didn't involve shooting yourself, right?"

Cals looked blankly at Langley. "We have been in Inquisition service for one hundred and thirty-two calendar years, and have served under multiple Inquisitors. Please refine your query."

"I can't even imagine living to that age," Langley remarked. "Alright then. Why are you with this Inquisitor?"
« Last Edit: January 20, 2013, 09:38:32 PM by Koval »

Offline Koval

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Re: Old, New, Borrowed and Bloody
« Reply #1 on: January 20, 2013, 10:13:53 AM »
"Your claim is invalid."

"But we're Inquisition operatives!" protested Lozano. "We're acting on the authority of the Carthaxian Conclave. How can that be invalid?"

"You have no way of verifying that," answered the Inquisitor. "I must repeat: by order of the Abraxian Conclave, this zone has been declared regio interdicta. Stand down and surrender yourselves to our custody, or in the name of the Emperor we will destroy you."

Lozano sat and pondered for a moment, and Cals looked out of the bridge window. The Abraxian frigate, a Sword-class, was just close enough to see without the need for visual aids, and to their Vagabond freighter it was a considerable threat. It wasn't travelling alone, though, and Cals was aware of the Sword's sister vessels trailing behind it, invisible to the naked eye but showing up clearly on the holodeck.

In the wake of the investigation into the Arch Worlds, the Abraxian Conclave had blockaded Scylla, not to defend Scylla from outside invaders, but to protect against what could come through the Gate. The Arch Worlds themselves connected Abraxis, in Ultima Segmentum, with Carthax in Segmentum Pacificus. Cals' own investigation had sent him to Scylla, but he'd been tasked with feeding information to another Inquisition operative working on the other Arch World, Kharybdis Alpha, in Carthax.

The Warp behaved strangely around the Arch Worlds, linking two worlds that were a galaxy apart, and Cals had used the Gate several times already, with or without his ship. How unfortunate it had seemed, to suddenly be faced with the wrath of the Ordos Abraxis upon this most recent return to Scylla; evidently, just being in the employ of an Inquisitor wasn't enough, and Cals suspected that it would take a genuine Inquisitor to bypass the Abraxian blockade.

"I ask again that you agree to your unconditional surrender," the Inquisitor warned them. "I await your answer. You have ten seconds."

"Here's my answer, Inquisitor: frak off," Lozano growled, abruptly closing the connection.

Cals was already on his way to the life pods when the first volley annihilated the Vagabond's bridge and killed Lozano instantly.

---

"So you're now tarnished by reputation?" wondered Nowatschenko, idly twiddling a small stylus in his fingers.

"Unlikely. We have no reason to believe that one member of the Adeptus Mechanicus standing in the background of a holovid would be visually distinct from any other, particularly when wearing the robes of the Martian Priesthood."

"So that's a no."

Cals leaned forward. "However, we appreciate your concerns, and have already pre-empted them."

"How so?"

"We approached the Carthaxian Conclave and were granted amnesty."

Nowatschenko stopped twirling the stylus and turned his attention back to his amasec. "You told me you did that already. So that makes twice?"

"Correct. Once in the wake of Inquisitor Osmond Johm's death; twice to absolve ourselves of the encounter in Abraxis."

"I can never work out whether you're referring to just yourself or other people as well when you say "we", Willem," Nowatschenko sighed, raising the amasec to his lips.

Cals nodded slowly, aware of Nowatschenko's lack of comprehension. "There were three of us in total."

"And this Lozano wasn't one of them."

"Arbitrator Oscar Lozano was killed over Scylla, together with Trooper Ivor Kass. The Conclave has pardoned them posthumously."

"So that leaves...?"

"Savant-Warrant Gerlach MacKay and Sergeant Jarec Tobin came before the Conclave with us. Were it not for their efforts, we would not have returned to Kharybdis Alpha."

"Huh."

Nowatschenko drained his amasec. "That MacKay person sounds like a psyker."

"Correct."

"And I've heard of Kharybdis Alpha. There's a reason I've never been. And this Gate you mentioned... well, if it's Warp stuff, I guess he got you back through?"

Cals nodded. "Transporting a life pod through the Gate, in order to land on Kharybdis Alpha instead of Scylla, was a considerable undertaking. The Ordo Hereticus have since performed a neural rewrite on MacKay to stabilise his mind and excise corruption."

"And this Tobin guy?"

"Also subjected to a neural rewrite."

"Damn. They're big on mind-wiping in the Inquisition," Nowatschenko commented, going back to twiddling his stylus.

"We are aware that the Inquisitor is vigilant against corruption."

"But she didn't get you."

"We have been deemed more mentally resilient."

Nowatschenko raised an eyebrow, only partially believing Cals.

"We are curious," Cals continued.

"Yeah?"

"We needed to inform Sergeant Langley in person that the Inquisitor is female. How did you come by this information?"

"That would be telling."

Cals stared directly at Nowatscheko.

"You're serious?" Nowatschenko asked.

"You know of how we came into the Inquisitor's service," Cals pointed out. "Sergeant Langley has also shared her own account."

"Good point."

Nowatschenko poured himself another amasec. "Make yourself comfortable and don't be too quick to judge. This isn't pretty."
« Last Edit: January 27, 2014, 09:11:49 PM by Koval »

Offline Koval

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Re: Old, New, Borrowed and Bloody
« Reply #2 on: January 20, 2013, 03:58:00 PM »
"War profiteering?"

The voice wasn't coming from the man in front of him, but from a servo-skull hovering across the table, a vox-caster embedded in its underside.

The glint in its eyes suggested vid-recorder lenses, and the shallow mesh domes on either side were almost certainly acoustic pickups. Antennae jutted from the back of the skull, pointing straight upwards.

If Nowatschenko had any doubts about who the skull belonged to, the emblem of the Inquisition etched into its forehead dispelled them immediately. It was't a symbol with which he was especially familiar; before today, he'd seen it maybe once or twice in devotional vids, denoting the highest Imperial authority. However, he knew enough that a triple-barred letter I meant that he was in deep trouble.

"I wouldn't exactly call it that," Nowatschenko offered, shifting in his chair. They'd tied his hands behind the chair, and his legs to the chair's, so he couldn't move. It was crude and simplistic, but practical, and they didn't exactly need anything overly sophisticated to keep one criminal under control.

Not when they'd left that man in the room, anyway.

"Then what would you call it, Gavril?" the servo-skull asked him. "Good business sense, perhaps? Or maybe you do away with the fancy language and call it extortion?"

The voice was clear, or at least as clear as it could be through a servo-skull's vox-caster. It belonged to a woman, and one used to a position of authority at that, but Nowatschenko had difficulty discerning anything else about the speaker.

"Look, I just let the boss handle what goes on behind the scenes," Nowatschenko protested. "I'm just there for security during a transaction."

"And by transaction, you mean robbing refugees blind."

"You'll have to talk to the boss."

"I already did, Gavril," the servo-skull told him. "I didn't like what I heard."

"Well, frak."

The other man in the room came closer to Nowatschenko, and in the dim light he appeared to be clad entirely in black robes. He'd left his hood down, and long auburn hair framed an old face with strangely emotionless eyes. The air around him smelled of ozone.

"Hey, lady, do you think you can get this guy away from me?" Nowatschenko asked as the man grabbed him by the shoulders.

"I don't think so. Ser Valdez?"

The man ran his eyes up and down Nowatschenko, and he wriggled in an attempt to get away. To his utter surprise, the man released him and stepped away after only a few seconds.

"This Gavril appears to be clean," the man reported. "Although he is afraid."

"Of what?"

"I do not know. A full body search, maybe?" Valdez speculated. "Or perhaps the thought that we do not believe him."

"And do we?"

Valdez stared intently at Nowatschenko. "His body language and physical activity do not suggest dishonesty, rather a reluctance to cooperate."

"And anything we missed earlier?" the servo-skull inquired. "Concealed pistols, bombs in his shoes, that sort of thing?"

"I am always thorough."

"Lady, if I had a bomb in my shoe then you'd know about it," Nowatschenko interrupted. "You'd be the one that put it there."

"That's not my style," admitted the servo-skull.

"Then what is?"

"You'll remember I mentioned talking to your boss?"

Nowatschenko's stomach dropped as he tried to imagine what was coming.

"By now, his estate's been reappropriated by the Adeptus Arbites, and I think his body's found its way into a biomass reclaimer. And the servo-skull you're talking to? Twelve hours ago, this was his head."

Nowatschenko felt the colour and warmth drain from his face. "And everyone else?"

"Most likely clogging up a prison, or joining the back of a servitor processing queue," the servo-skull stated matter-of-factly.

Nowatschenko's eyes bugged out as he tried not to imagine a gaggle of servitors with his partners' faces. He wanted to throw up, but miraculously he kept his churning stomach under control.

"You don't mess around," he gasped at long last.

"Messing around is also not my style," the servo-skull stated coolly.

"So why am I still here and not being turned into some maintenance drone?"

"Because for all you and your boss did to those refugees, you're at least done one thing to redeem yourself. Do you remember Shavaun?"

"Who?"

"Thought not. Perhaps the Wild Thorns?"

Nowatschenko raised an eyebrow as he remembered an encounter with the Thorns.

"You might've known. You might not," the servo-skull continued. "But where you'd been merely making a profit from the refugees, they'd been actively preying on them. Kidnapping, raping, murdering, the works."

"I remember shooting a few, but that was because they'd tried to attack one of our warehouses two weeks ago and they'd showed up in our territory again."

"More than that. You saved a girl they were trying to rape. More importantly, you shot one of their ringleaders dead and hamstrung their operations. The raid they were planning on a refugee camp in your territory didn't happen."

"And that's why you spared me?"

"Yes."

Nowatschenko shifted again in his chair. "But if we're gone, the Thorns--"

"Are also history. Don't worry about the refugees. Right now, the Enforcers are in Thorn territory killing the whole damn lot of them."

Nowatschenko sighed audibly, feeling a strange mix of trepidation and relief.

"Gavril Nowatschenko, I'm going to make you an offer," the servo-skull went on. "Between the opportunity to turn your life around, and the Inquisition taking an interest in your affairs, this isn't one you can refuse."

---

"So who was Shavaun?" Langley asked.

"No idea. That girl the Thorns had, I think," Nowatschenko shrugged. "Whole lot of people showed up on Alcis out of the blue when the Orks hit this place called Nova Sagittar."

"Never heard of it," Langley admitted, "but at least they got away."

"Mmm."

"And this operation your gang was running..."

"I'm not exactly proud of it any more, Isabel," Nowatschenko sighed. "You've fought the damn things these people were running from. What does that make me?"

"Someone making the most of a second chance?" Langley suggested. "Yes, it was a frakking stupid thing to be a part of, but the Inquisitor is obviously willing to let it slide. Man the frak up already."

"Yeah. I guess hindsight gets the better of you."

"Or maybe you just never thought you'd be sharing a drink with a soldier."

"There's that too."

"But it does seem like a flimsy reason for the Inquisitor to recruit you," Langley pointed out. "Unless there's something particularly special about your encounter with the Thorns."

"Well, there were six of them and they got my backup. I was outnumbered and outgunned, and had to kill most of them myself."

"So you were brought on because you're a good shot?" Langley queried.

"And because I hamstrung a gang on my own so that the Enforcers could take over. The Inquisitor said something about "demonstrating loyalty and the strength of my convictions", but that's about it."

Nowatschenko leaned back in his chair. "It's more or less the same reason as why she let me live."

"I wonder if we're all here only because the Inquisitor let us live?" Langley speculated.

"Maybe," Nowatschenko replied. "It's not really worth thinking about."
« Last Edit: January 20, 2013, 07:53:56 PM by Koval »