‘Vectors …cked, final app…ch to bay … c…irmed. A…al in …nutes.’
The voice of the servitor pilot blurted through vox emitters into the passenger bay of the short-range shuttle. Techmarine Berenike noted the breaks in the transmission and added a maintenance request to the shuttles flight log. If all was well the issue would be rectified before they made the return trip to the Argo.
Berenike accessed an external pict-feed from the shuttles forward arc and their destination filled his view. The Ark Mechanicus Kintara. She was a behemoth, easily the largest vessel in the crusade fleet. Larger even than the massive Astra Militarum troop carriers or the line cruisers of the Imperial Navy. She bristled with banks of macro cannons, lances, and more esoteric weaponry. Only the Argo, battle barge of the Void Trident space marines could hope to match her in power. For now, though, she was dark; her engines quiescent, weapons stowed, no transmissions coming in or out.
Berenike blinked off the feed and surveyed the other occupants of the compartment. Everyone in the cabin shared the same livery, the deep rust red of sacred Mars but the similarities ended there. Seated to his right were his fellow Techmarines Eris and Tonius. Unusually for space marines they were blood siblings, twins in fact, who had shown similar aptitude with machines and followed the same path in the chapter. The twins were not identical; while both shared the genehanced bulk and flattened features of all Primaris, Eris was more imposing, his shorn scalp and permanent frown mirrored his sober personality. He sat rigidly in his restraint harness, pointedly ignoring the exchange going on around him. Tonius in contrast was the more open of the pair, his eyes always seemed to be smiling at a joke only he had heard. He kept his hair in a short mohawk which bent chapter regulations a little. Berenike suspected he did it because it annoyed his staid brother. Tonius had been engaged in lively conversation with their counterparts from the Mechanicus seated opposite for most of the duration of the short flight.
Clad in the rust red robes of their cult and deeply hooded, the two priests outwardly displayed none of the variety of form that Berenike had witnessed during his training on Mars. Their only visible difference from base humanity being the four glowing optics that shone green within the darkness of their cowls. Berenike flicked through the different visual spectra of his augmetic eye, but none revealed any significant variation between the pair. Unlike the twins they were, for all intents and purposes, identical.
‘Isn’t that right brother?’ said Tonius.
It took Berenike a moment to realise the question was aimed at him.
‘I apologise brother,’ he said, ‘Can you repeat the enquiry?’
‘I was just saying to our friends here that they should try to get back to Mars someday,’ said Tonius.
‘We have never been to sacred Mars,’ said Darlo Theta Pi, ‘We were born on the Ark.’
‘What? Both of you?’ asked Tonius.
‘That is correct,’ said Darlo, ‘Many of the priesthood in the fleet can trace their origins to the Kintara.’
‘In fact both Darlo and I were part of the same gestation cycle,’ said Chulda.
‘Then this is a homecoming of sorts then? It must be exciting to see the old girl again?’ said Tonius.
‘I do not believe they feel excitement brother,’ rumbled Eris, ‘and neither should you. We are on mission.’
‘Don’t be so taciturn brother,’ teased Tonius, ‘It’s very boring.’
‘You would be wise to be less frivolous brother,’ retorted Eris.
‘A little excitement may be permitted I believe,’ said Berenike before the spat escalated, ‘the Kintara, I am told, is a place of wonders.’
‘Aha!’ said Tonius.
‘But, as Eris has rightly pointed out,’ interjected Berenike, ‘we are on mission. We are to ascertain the cause of the blackout, assist in repairs if necessary, and report.’
‘I believe we will find all to be in order,’ said the other priest, Chulda Epsilon Four, ‘Archmagos Arachnis will have good reason for the disruption I am certain.’
‘He had better,’ said Berenike, ‘We are about to pass through an area of high-density debris. Fleet coordination is critical.’
‘…e mi…te unt…’ screeched the pilot.
‘All shall be as the Omnissiah wills it,’ replied Chulda, settling back into the restraints clearly finished with the conversation.
As Berenike disembarked the first thing he noticed was the activity. He had expected desperate repair crews or worse, an abandoned space, but the landing bay was thronged with hoards of priests, menials, and servitors all moving with purpose around innumerable inter-fleet tenders. There was barely any room to manoeuvre and he had to pause more than once to let a servitor crewed loading truck pass by.
The second thing he noticed was the atmosphere.
‘Tech Priest Darlo,’ he said, ‘It appears there may be more problems than we originally anticipated. The life support systems must have significantly degraded for the temperature and humidity to be so far from normal ranges. It is as if we have stepped into an equatorial jungle.’
‘Your assumption is incorrect,’ said a new voice, ‘the Kintara is an explorator vessel first and foremost. She is designed to sustain both mechanical and biological systems. The conditions you are experiencing have been determined to be the most amenable to both.’
‘And you are?’ asked Berenike.
‘Ah, how impolite of me. I am Magos Ortun Kalimedes, emissary of the Archmagos, the most exalted Arachnis of the Kintara, at your service,’ said the priest.
‘Techmarine Berenike, Second Company, Void Tridents. These are my brothers Eris and Tonius. We have come to investigate and assist with any difficulties you may have. This vessel had been dead in the void for many hours.’
‘There is nothing remiss I assure you, the Archmagos has everything in hand,’ said the Magos, ‘You are welcome to tour the ship for yourselves if you wish?’
‘That would be acceptable.’ said Berenike.
‘Excellent. I shall escort you to the Archmagos myself,’ said the Magos, ‘I am sure you are keen to behold some of our wonders.’
‘That will not be necessary,’ said Berenike.
‘Nonsense brother, it will be my honour to escort you. Darlo Theta Pi, please show brother Eris to the enginarium decks. Chulda Epsilon Four please take brother Tonius to the bridge. I shall take brother Berenike and show him to the core of our operations. This way brothers, the Kintara is vast; it will take some time to traverse.’
Berenike stood in the transport pod as it sped through the interior of the Kintara on a cushion of electromagnetic force. The contrast with the noisy mechanisms of the ancient conveyors on the Argo was jarring. The acceleration of the transport was so smooth it barely triggered the internal gyroscopes of his battle plate. The single hemisphere of armour-glass that made up the front of the pod periodically flashed with lights as they passed transit hubs and junctions.
‘The Kintara is a most impressive vessel Magos,’ he said, ‘How long have you been assigned to her?’
‘All my life,’ replied Kalimedes, ‘I was gestated within her.’
‘Your tech priests told us the same thing, is this practice widespread on the Ark?’ asked Berenike.
‘It was not always the case, however once the Archmagos instigated the process three generations ago we have increased efficiency by 157 percent. By maintaining physiological consistency we have optimised performance and control,’ said Kalimedes.
‘So, you eschew the individual path of augmentation?’ said Berenike.
‘To a degree yes,’ replied Kalimedes, ‘Priests may, of course, upgrade and augment their form as they interpret the will of the Omnissiah, but they are encouraged to follow a broad path so as to integrate more ably with the systems of the Ark.’
At this the Magos spread his arms wide, the voluminous sleeves fell back revealing an additional pair of augmentic limbs.
‘This is the most obvious similarity. The majority of ship interfaces are configured for simultaneous input of four controls,’ said Kalimedes.
Berenike flexed the servo arms that branched out from his backpack across each shoulder.
‘It appears we have a little in common Archmagos,’ he said.
‘I hope so, Brother Berenike,’ said Kalimedes, ‘Ah, you may wish to observe this next transition, it’s really quite something.’
Berenike turned back to the transparent front of the pod as it left the tunnel. Suddenly, he found himself suspended over a vast hall. The space was enormous; he estimated it occupied a significant percentage of the internal volume of the ship. A great forested plain stretched out below him, alien biology present in myriad forms from fern-like organisms to veined constructs spewing billowing gases. Small clouds had formed near the roof of the cavernous space and a gentle rain was falling. As he watched a flock of small leather winged creatures flew parallel to the pod then wheeled away.
‘Behold brother Berenike, the heart of the Kintara!’ Said Kalimedes.
Berenike was taken aback and blink clicked an icon in his helmet display.
‘Brothers, progress report.’ He said.
‘We are approaching the main engine decks, estimate time to arrival 18 minutes,’ replied Eris over the vox, ‘The temperature has increased significantly but there do not appear to be any faults so far.’
‘We are on the bridge already brothers,’ said Tonius, ‘I am performing a review of the communications systems.’
‘Very well,’ said Berenike, ‘We are approaching the Archmagos’s position. Access my armour feed, there is something you should see.’
He heard the tell-tale click as remote access protocols engaged and twin link runes appeared in his display.
‘What are those towers brother?’ asked Eris, ‘They look xenos in origin.’
‘I concur,’ said Tonius, ‘what are they doing on this ship?’
Berenike faced Kalimedes once again.
‘My brothers are concerned about the origin of these constructs Magos, as am I. What purpose does this facility serve?’ He asked.
‘It is a research enclosure nothing more, a vivarium of sorts,’ said Kalimedes, ‘The primary objective of this vessel was always within the remit of the Divisio Biologis. The search for knowledge must not be limited to the study of the mechanical. For what is life but a complex machine after all? The Omnissiah teaches us that all knowledge has value no matter its source.’
‘But these are xenos organisms Magos, this is bordering on heresy,’ said Berenike.
‘Not at all Brother. The hands of the Omnissiah are in all things. We must not limit our search to the mundane, less we miss the keys to our salvation,’ said Kalimedes.
The pod reached the midpoint of the chamber and began to descend to the floor of the vivarium.
Tonius walked through the halls of the Kintara on the way to the bridge. He and Chulda had left their transit pod early to cover the remainder of the distance on foot. Tonius had initially resisted but Chulda had insisted the slight delay would be worthwhile. Now as they traversed the chambers he understood and he was wont to agree with the priest. The interior spaces of the command decks were unlike anything Tonius had ever seen. Rather than the austere metal and stone he was used to, the halls of the Kintara felt more like the ruins of a temple on a jungle world. Baroque sculptures adorned the walls, the bass relief images of the Cult Mechanicus intermingled with more obscure iconography. It was difficult to get a closer look at it though, as every surface was overgrown with exotic plants and creepers. Concealed pipework fed water features cunningly designed to appear natural and amongst the myriad flora flew tiny insects and a few larger creatures that darted in and out of sight. The perfume of a hundred worlds assaulted Tonius’s senses and he briefly considered donning his helm to escape the scent.
‘Is the whole ship like this?’ Tonius asked.
‘Most of the habitation, laboratorium, and command decks yes,’ said Chulda. ‘The Archmagos insists that we use all available space to explore the divine mysteries of the Omnissiah’s biological works.’
‘It’s fascinating. What of the enginarium?’ Tonius asked.
‘Sadly that must remain free of these wonders; it is a purely functional space,’ said Chulda.
‘What a shame,’ said Tonius with a wry smile.
Tonius spoke into the vox pickup in his gorget.
Eris marched through bare metal corridors of the enginarium decks. He had replaced his helm some time ago, ostensibly to better analyse the surrounding structures through its advanced optical sensors, but in reality he wanted an excuse to ignore the whittering of Darlo. The tech priest seemed intent on explaining every last detail of the vessel with a fervour that bordered on fanatical. After the shuttle transfer and the interminable transit pod journey Eris had had enough. He was now several dozen meters ahead of the priest and had no intention of slowing his gait to allow him to catch up. His vox bead buzzed as a connection was initiated and Tonius spoke to him.
‘Eris how do you fare?’ said Tonius.
‘I am fine brother,’ said Eris, ‘What do you want?’
‘Just checking in brother. The command decks are incredible, the variety of species on display is remarkable. How is the enginarium?’ said Tonius.
‘Dull brother. As they should be,’ said Eris.
‘Come now brother. Are you not enjoying the company of your priest?’ said Tonius playfully.
‘I am not, as well you know,’ said Eris. ‘Now please concentrate on your objectives and I will on mine.’
With that he cut the link and continued his advance, the dull throb of massive machines growing louder with every step.
‘Rude,’ said Tonius to himself as the link was cut.
Tonius stepped through the circular armoured portal onto the bridge. Rather than being met with the wall of noise he expected the chamber was strangely quiet. No shouted orders or queries greeted him, instead there was nothing but the gentle tapping of mechanical digits on input surfaces and the occasional blurt of binharic. Eris surveyed the ranks of command stations, not a single one was occupied by a techpriest or even a baseline human rating. Every single station was manned by a hardwired servitor, mono-tasked to whichever specialisation was required. A command throne sat in the centre of the space on a raised dais surrounded by an array of floating data screens and hololith projections. A red robed Magos was connected to the throne’s many input jacks by innumerable mechadendrites and neural jacks. The platform slowly rotated to face Tonius and Chulda as they made their way into the chamber then, apparently satisfied, returned to its original orientation.
‘Where are the crew?’ asked Tonius.
‘They are unnecessary,’ replied Chulda, ‘The servitors perform all the required functions with an exceptional degree of compliance.’
‘Surely they cannot be relied on in battle?’ asked Tonius, ‘Any losses would potentially render whole systems unusable.’
‘Not so,’ replied Chulda, ‘the stations are networked with multiple levels of redundancy. Ultimately any position may be directly controlled by Magos Incarselis on the command throne. It is most efficient.’
‘Very well, if you insist, but I cannot see a servitor outperforming a conscious mind any time soon,’ said Tonius, ‘Please direct me to the communications and signals sub section.’
The corridor was dark and the heat had risen by over sixteen percent in the last two hundred metres. Eris stalked through the gloom a few paces ahead of Darlo. The tech priest had finally given up on attempting to engage Eris in small talk and had been blessedly silent for some time. It was strange for a priest to be so communicative, mused Eris. In his experience they were as taciturn as he was. They approached a massive door deeply embossed with the skull and cog motif of the Mechanicus. Darlo stopped before it and extended all four of his primary upper limbs to the access controls. The priest entered the code sequence and with a slow grind of gears and a hiss of pneumatics the portal irised open.
‘The primary enginarium halls are not far now Brother Eris,’ said Darlo, ‘I hope everything is to your satisfaction.’
‘We shall see, priest,’ replied Eris, ‘Have we not passed this way before?’
‘I can understand your confusion, the Kintara’s decks can be a labyrinth to those unfamiliar with the layout. I assure you everything is as it should be,’ said Darlo, ‘All is as the Cardinal Omnissiah has proscribed.’
Kalimedes walked through the undergrowth slightly ahead of Berenike. Artificial sunlight penetrated the canopy at irregular intervals sending pillars of illumination into the gloom. The vegetation was dense, with mature trees and smaller shrubs interspersed with more exotic flora that Berenike found difficult to classify. If it hadn’t been for the distant wall of the chamber that was periodically visible, the impression of being on a jungle world was complete.
Kalimedes had become even more animated since they had left the transit pod behind to complete their journey on foot and was currently regaling Berenike with a potted history of the Kintara.
‘…which brings us nearly up to date,’ said Kalimedes. ‘Our last mission before we joined the crusade fleet a century ago was to prove to be our most auspicious. We journeyed deep into the Harkess Rift in pursuit of an STC fragment. What we found was so much more.’
‘What did you discover?’ asked Berenike.
‘Now, now, I don’t want to spoil the surprise,’ said Kalimedes.
‘I do not like surprises,’ said Berenike.
He thought activated several subroutines in his armour: priming secondary weapons systems and charging servos.
‘Calm yourself brother,’ said Kalimedes, ‘You are too tense. You will be enlightened soon enough.’
They walked on in silence for another few minutes. The atmosphere was thick with moisture now and a sheen of condensation coated every surface. At last they reached the edge of a small clearing. The canopy was thick above them and little light fell into the small enclosure. Berenike could make out movement at the far side but there was little detail visible between the massive trees that surrounded the space.
‘Come brother,’ said Kalimedes, gesturing at the twilight world framed by the trees, ‘see for yourself what wonders the Archmagos has wrought.’
Berenike checked the status of the network links to his brothers, noted with concern that they were disconnected, then stepped into the clearing.
Tonius leaned over the servitor to view the data spooling down the hololith. Whatever the advantages there might be to permanently fixing the lobotomised creatures to their stations it certainly made it awkward to access their stations. He reached around the grey skinned cyborg with a servo arm and adjusted an input dial. More data scrolled rapidly across his vision until something caught his eye. He stopped the feed. Sending a pulse of thought to the servo arm he dialled the data back until he found what he was looking for.
‘That’s strange, he said to himself, ‘Magos Chulda, what do you make of this? It looks as if the signal blackout was deliberate. Magos?’
The shadows beneath the canopy were deep and it took a moment for Berenike’s eyes to adjust. A bank of cogitators stood incongruously to his right and he was about to move to investigate when a figure was revealed on the far side of the glade. It was tall, nearly as tall as Berenike and carried a lengthy staff. The rest of the newcomer was hidden by robes that trailed on the floor. They may have been the red of the priesthood but in the gloom they appeared black as the abyss.
‘Archmagos!’ gushed Kalimedes, prostrating himself.
‘Magos Kalimedes,’ came a voice heavy with expectation, ‘you have brought our guest.’
‘I have, oh exalted one!’ said Kalimedes, prostrating himself.
‘Then your function is complete. Leave us,’ said the Archmagos with a dismissive wave.
Berenike stepped forward and stood tall, power axe held loosely at his side.
‘Archmagos, I am brother Berenike, tech marine of the Void Tridents second company. I have come to determine what is happening here. Your priest tells me you will enlighten me, is this so?’
‘Oh yes,’ replied the Archmagos as a cerulean blue glow sprang into life in the depths of his cowl, ‘you shall be enlightened.’
Berenike gripped his power axe tightly, fibre bundles and servos adding power to his already prodigious strength. It was to no avail, he couldn’t move, he was locked in place by the psychic might of the creature that stood before him.
‘What is the meaning of this, Archmagos?’ he growled.
‘Not Archmagos I’m afraid,’ said Arachnis, ‘You may call me, aha, Magus Arachnis of the Cardinal Omnissiah.’
The Magus drew back his hood to reveal a face that, while still recognisably human, possessed architectural changes due more to genetics than augmentation. The skull was large and hairless, a small mouth was filled with sharp teeth and a heavy brow lay over those piercing eyes.
‘I am glad you are here brother. Your presence has removed a small roadblock to our plan that may have been a challenge to overcome,’ said Arachnis.
‘What do you want creature?’ spat Berenike.
‘Why to spread the good word of our saviour of course,’ said Arachnis, ‘He found us in the Rift and hid himself away within blessed Kintara until we were ready to see. Until we’re ready to serve.’
Berenike became aware of shapes emerging from the undergrowth at the edges of the clearing. Yet more appeared in the trees themselves. A familiar sight that chilled Berenike to the bone. Genestealers slowly crept forwards until they formed an arc in the clearing centred on Arachnis. They seemed to be waiting for something and they did not have to wait long. From behind Arachnis a great shape was emerging. As Berenike watched, it moved into view; A massive head atop a powerful body, six limbs with razor claws and a whip like tail.
The Genestealer Patriarch regarded Berenike with ancient inhuman intelligence and hope fell away.
Arachnis gestured to the throng of xenos.
‘Go. Kill his brothers,’ he commanded and the genestealers disappeared into the forest as swiftly as they had arrived.
‘Now do you see?’ said Arachnis.
Tonius turned in time to see Chulda throw off his robes and leap towards him with a roar, all four arms extended. Tonius spun his axe in a blur as the priest reached out for him and landed a single devastating blow. Tonius fell as Chulda tumbled into him and crushed the servitor station with his armoured bulk.
Tonius pulled the remains of Chuldas arm from the wound in his side with a wince. The rest of the priest was some distance behind him, having been neatly bifurcated by Tonius’s power axe. The attack had been swift, far faster than should’ve been possible for a tech priest. Tonius had seen skitarii fight and knew well the capabilities of the mechanicus warrior caste, but this had been something else. How was a question for another time though, for now he needed to warn his brothers. He stalked towards the command throne as it slowly rotated towards him and the ensconced Magos began to rise, connections sliding free. Tonius didn’t give him the chance, pulling his sidearm he put two bolts into the Magos, one in the head, the other centre mass. The twinned explosions scattering blood, oil, and viscera in great clouds.
Tonius stepped onto the dais, ripped the remains of the Magos free and began to access the controls. A quick series of commands and the blast doors ground closed sealing the bridge. Next, he spun through the hololith menus and located the internal security pict feeds. Moving methodically, he began to search for his brothers.
Tonius worked along the network of internal pict feeds, tracking both Eris and Berenike from the landing bay to their destinations. He’d lost Berenike as he had departed the transit pod and entered the false jungle, but his twin had been easier to follow. Tonius watched as Eris walked the corridors. Eris had his back to Darlo and Tonius felt a growing horror as the priest, or whatever he was began to shrug off his robes. In the darkness around him xenos creatures began to emerge from ducts and vents. Looking for a way to give warning, Tonius spotted fire control.
‘Pay attention brother,’ Tonius muttered to himself and triggered the suppression gas.
The blast of super chilled carbon dioxide caused Eris to turn in time to see a blast door slam shut, separating him from Darlo. His vox chimed as a connection was made.
‘Brother? What is happening here?’ he asked.
‘Genestealers, we must contact Berenike and chapter command,’ said Tonius.
‘Genestealers? Here? How can this be?’ asked Eris
‘I do not know brother, but the threat is severe,’ said Tonius.
There was a bang, followed swiftly by a scraping noise and the blast door began to visibly bulge.
‘I suggest your location is not tenable, brother,’ said Tonius.
‘Agreed,’ said Eris breaking into a loping run, ‘can you locate Berenike?’
‘I lost him as he left the transit pod, I shall try to reestablish his whereabouts. Wait one…,’ said Tonius.
The line went dead and Eris took the opportunity to look over the deck schematic as he ran. He located a suitable position and activated his vox.
‘Heading to plasma control station gamma 436-811,’ he said.
‘Understood brother, I am sealing all blast doors behind you,’ said Tonius.
‘Have you found Berenike?’ asked Eris. ‘I fear he has been led into a trap.’
‘I concur brother,’ said Tonius, ‘By the way, there’s something very odd about the signal data…’
‘You will bear witness to a dawning of a new age!’ said Arachnis, ‘Begin the transmission. Send word to the brotherhood, the time is upon us!’
More shapes emerged from the shadows and began to operate the cogitators, vox stations, and data stacks. Now that the need for subterfuge was over these creatures openly displayed their unholy forms. Mechanical limbs were interspersed with chitinous claws, hoods fell back to reveal faces replete with both augmentation and sharp toothed maws.
‘Now is the time for our baptism. In fire our crusade shall be reborn with higher purpose. I am sorry that some vessels will not survive the coming trials, but your chapter brothers are too great a threat to our supremacy. Those ships that make it through will be so very grateful for our assistance which we will happily provide,’ said Arachnis.
‘My brothers will stop you,’ said Berenike, ‘This ship will be your pyre.’
‘I think not,’ said Arachnis, ‘You have no way to warn them and it will soon be far too late.’
As the Archmagos paced the clearing giving orders to his minions, Berenike extended a mechadendrite from his backpack. Slowly he snaked the cable through the mulch until he connected to the base of the nearest cogitator. As carefully as he could Berenike began to infiltrate the device.
‘I’ve found him brother,’ Tonius said over the vox, ‘He is somewhere in the vivarium. He appears to be in conversation with a Magos. There is no vox feed so I cannot determine what is being said.’
‘Can you get to him?’ asked Eris.
‘I do not think so,’ said Tonius, ‘Sensors show a great many xenos are converging on the bridge. It is sealed for now, but I doubt it will be so forever.’
‘If you cannot make the journey then I must,’ said Eris.
‘As I mentioned before brother, the corridors are rather full of xenos at the moment,’ said Tonius.
‘Can you vent the atmosphere?’ asked Eris.
‘What do you take me for brother?’ said Tonius, ‘That was the first thing I did. They barely slowed.’
Eris examined the control panel once more pulling up a schematic.
‘Can you transmit your sensor returns to my station?’ he asked.
‘Transmitting now,’ replied Tonius.
Eris accepted the data inload and overlaid it onto the schematic. He smiled grimly.
‘Prepare for emergency atmospheric vent, brother,’ he said.
‘What atmosphere?’ asked Tonius.
‘This one,’ said Eris, triggering a sequence of controls that opened plasma conduit valves into the engineering decks. Once silent corridors filled with scrabbling predators now echoed to the rush of sun hot flame and the screams of dying xenos. Tonius watched as the vast open deck before him was consumed by fire until emergency blast shutters slammed into place and he was plunged into darkness.
Minutes passed. The cogitator systems had gone dead as the screens had fallen, some emergency preservation protocol enacting to save their delicate systems. At long last the primary screen booted up, a green cursor blinking in the top left corner. Slowly a line of text formed.
<That went well brother.>
Eris tapped out his reply.
<The xenos have perished.>
<True, but now you find yourself trapped by a more banal force. The plasma has damaged many internal systems. The venting was only partially successful.>
<Then what can we do?>
<I do not know. I am receiving broad spectrum vox transmissions from the fleet. Widespread reports of engine and shield failure>
<This can be no coincidence. There is a greater scheme at work here.>
<I agree brother, the fleet has been sabotaged. Hold. I will try and re-establish vox.>
The vox caster screeched, interference and static interlacing into a cacophony then settling to a low buzz.
‘Brother?’ Tonius said.
‘I hear you. That is better, I do not relish the duties of a scribe,’ said Eris, ‘Have you contacted Berenike?’
‘No. He has contacted me,’ said Tonius.
The connection rune blinked on and off in rapid succession spelling out the message in code older than the Imperium.
‘F.l.e.e.t…d.e.a.d…i.n…v.o.i.d…s.a.b.o.t.a.g.e’ it read.
Painstakingly, blink by blink, Berenike sent his reply.
‘Berenike is trapped but we have managed to communicate,’ said Tonius, ‘What systems can you access from your position?’
‘I have limited facilities brother,’ said Eris, ‘Primary reactor and enginarium controls have been rerouted. Can you override the communications array?’
‘My access is likewise limited,’ said Tonius, ‘The whole bridge is a facade.’
‘What can you access?’ asked Eris.
‘I have auspex, a few auxiliary systems, some minor fire control. I could potentially take some control of engines and voids but I doubt it would be long before that was wrested from me too,’ said Tonius.
‘We could vent the remaining atmosphere,’ said Eris.
‘We could but this ship is vast. I fear it would be too slow to have an appreciable effect,’ said Tonius
‘Transfer auspex,’ said Eris
‘Done,’ said Tonius.
Eris opened a panel on his left vambrace, connected a cable to the cogitator and transferred the auspex data to his own armour systems. A small hololith of near space projected from a tiny transmitter on his wrist. Eris examined the feed, expertly manipulating the field of view until he found what he was looking for.
‘If we cannot shut off the signal we must disable the source of the transmission.’ said Eris, ‘Input this burn sequence into the engine controls and wait for my signal to activate.’
‘Any burn we initiate will be short lived brother. Our control is temporary at best,’ said Tonius.
‘Then we shall make it more permanent. The tech priests on these decks are all dead so they cannot exert local control. I will destroy the remote data conduit once the command is sent,’ said Eris.
‘Are you forgetting the plasma brother?’ said Tonius, ‘The temperature outside your chamber exceeds your armour’s protection.’
‘I am aware brother,’ said Eri,s keying the door sequence, ‘On my mark.’
‘Brother…’ said Tonius.
‘Be prepared brother,’ said Tonius stepping into the inferno, ‘we shall need to be swift.
Tonius staggered through the flames. Super heated deck plating buckled beneath his feet as he made his way towards his destination. He was blind, his helm optics darkening to almost complete opacity to protect his vision. He relied on his suits inertial navigation system to direct his course. Mechanisms and bulkheads collapsed around him as structural integrity failed. The air in his suit began to grow warm then hot as the recycling systems struggled to hold off the soaring temperature. Finally he reached the data conduit, a shielded tube nearly as tall as he was.
‘I am here brother, initiate the command sequence,’ he said into the vox.
‘I can still vent atmosphere brother, I will find a way to clear the deck,’ said Tonius.
‘It’s too late brother,’ said Eris, ‘My armour systems are on the verge of collapse. Send it now.’
‘It is done., said Tonius. ‘Brother I…’
‘Later., said Eris, ‘We will speak later.’
He cut the link and hefted his power axe. Swinging with all his prodigious strength he managed to tear a hole in the heat stressed metal exposing the delicate cabling beneath. He primed a pair of frag grenades and tossed them into the gap. He made to leave but found that his boots had melted to the floor. As the seconds counted down, for the first time in years, Eris laughed.
Tonius let the silence hang in the air, it stretched out, nearly breaking him with its weight. Finally with a sigh he let it go and activated the comm link to Berenike once again.
‘b.r.a.c.e…f.o.r…i.m.p.a.c.t.’ he sent.
‘U.n.d.e.r.s.t.o.o.d.’ came the reply.
Tonius turned towards the primary oculus and withdrew the blast shields from the armourglass. Slowly the massive face of an asteroid began to fill his view. He keyed a command to drop void shields and sent his final message.
The magus staggered as the ship made a sudden lurch. Inertial dampeners overloaded by the rapid acceleration.
‘What is happening?’ Arachnis yelled at the Kalimedes who was seated at the cogitator array.
‘We are accelerating Magus,’ replied Kalimedes, ‘We are entering the debris field.’
‘Too soon, this is much too soon,’ said the Magus, ‘No matter though, we shall forge a path and await the fleet on the far side. Stand ready to offer our assistance when they cry out for it.’
A tocsin began to wail as emergency lighting snapped on.
‘Proximity alert, Magus. Debris approaching critical density,’ said a priest.
‘Do not bother me with such things. The Kintara’s voids are too strong to concern ourselves with space rocks,’ said Arachnis dismissively.
‘Magus the shields are down,’ replied the priest.
‘Raise them at once!’ screamed the magus.
‘We cannot my lord,’ said another priest, ‘It’s too late.’
‘What have you done?’ said Arachnis turning on Berenike.
‘Our duty,’ replied Berenike calmly as the ship shook with the first impact.
The false jungle lurched and cracks tore through the earth exposing the steel beneath. Distance smoke belching towers fell, collapsing under their weight as their centre of gravity suddenly shifted. On the front wall a panel blasted free and fire began to pour into the vivarium in vast sheets. Along the flanks red lights flashed on indicating saviour pods had begun initiation sequences. The assembled priests and magi began to flee through the undergrowth, desperate to escape the destruction. Many were caught by falling trees or immolated in geysers of flame.
Arachnis screamed as he turned to Berenike, his eyes flashing with power.
‘I will destroy you! I will cast you to the flames myself!’ He yelled. ‘I will…’
Arachnis was cut off as the Genestealer Patriarch landed heavily on his back crushing him into the ground. The massive creature looked ready to attack Berenike, but turned as the bulkhead collapsed further and fled towards the saviour pods.
The death of Arachnis freed Berenike from his grip and he pursued the xenos through the burning vivarium leaping over fallen flora and ducking as burning brands fell from the cavernous roof.
Soon the chase became easier as they reached the gently sloping sides of the chamber, mulch and soil giving way to stone and metal. Berenike bounded up the rough steps aiming shots with his plasma pistol as he ran. The genestealer was too fast to hit easily and those shots that landed were shrugged off by its ancient hide.
At last it slowed as it reached the saviour pods and folded itself inside. The door began to roll close but was stopped by an axe head wedged in the frame. The patriarch reached out a claw and gripped Berenike around the waist. Ceremite cracked as it exerted all its strength, hate filled eyes met Berenikes as thunder rolled.
‘None shall escape our wrath!’ said Berenike as the death throes of the Kintara consumed them both.
Apothecary Faris made his way through the corridors of the enginarium decks of the Argo. He had been busy for hours assisting the human crew with numerous medical emergencies. Like everyone he had been shocked by the loss of the Kintara, but its destruction had somehow resulted in the restoration of power and control to the rest of the fleet in time to navigate the debris field. The investigation of how these two events were linked was currently consuming a great deal of resources both from naval investigators and the inquisition elements that were embedded in the crusade. They would be scouring over what little remained of the vast vessel for a long time to come.
Faris entered the secondary enginarium, seeking out the tech priest who had requested his presence. He found him hunched over a long table covered in all manner of augmetics from full limbs to ocular implants. The priest did not immediately react to his arrival, continuing to examine some small device, turning it over and over in his mechadendrites. Faris coughed to announce himself.
‘Ah you have arrived. Excellent, excellent,’ said the priest.
‘I am sorry for your loss,’ said Faris, indicating the black edging to the priest’s robes.
‘What? Oh yes,’ replied the priest, ‘I mourn the passing of the Kintara. Her knowledge has returned to the Omnissiah waiting to be uncovered once again. To lose both her and the Archmagos is a mighty blow. I shall miss them both.’
‘You knew her well then?’ asked Faris.
‘Oh yes,’ replied the priest quietly, ‘I was born there.’
The priest spread his four upper limbs wide, indicating the spread of augmetics on the work bench.
‘Shall we begin?’
About the Author
Andy Clark is an avid reader of all things Warhammer having rediscovered the setting with the Horus Heresy series. He’s recently got back into painting models after a two-decade gap and wonders why he ever stopped. This is his first foray into writing 40k fiction.