First, sorry. Moved house to a place with no internet so I have to do this on the sly at work. Second, you make some fine points yet again and I will let you know my own and change some things shortly. But right now it's late and I'm due a bus home, I'm also concerned about the word count so here is the next chapter. Once again I'm over word count, so I need a reply to post the second half of the chapter.
Five – Specimen Zero
The creature was in a large glass tank, suspended in green amniotic fluid. It must have been ten to twelve feet tall. Wires and tubes floated lazily in the murk, and a long, oval head bobbed up and down against the glass. Trailing off from the elongated snout, translucent feeder tentacles drifted weightlessly.
It was curled up like a sleeping pup. A tail cumulating in a vicious spike wrapped protectively around the torso. Arms with diamond hard claws floated in front of its reinforced exoskeleton. Further back in the brackish waters, two enormous scything talons hovered. Even sedated, the creature radiated malice.
“This is Specimen Three,” said Quail, easing himself between the startled humans. “It has been instrumental in our quest to map the structure of Tyranid pheromones.”
“It’s a lictor,” said Captain Fraiser, glancing around. None of the others had ever seen live Tyranids before today, and their reaction was a mixture of natural horror and blind curiosity. Fraiser was more intimately familiar with the Hive Mind, and wasted no time in vocalising his disagreement.
“That,” he said pointing, “Is an Emperor-Damned Tyranid vanguard organism.”
“Correct,” replied Quail, glancing at Crane as if for confirmation.
“Captured on Dusk,” said the other Biologis in a conversational tone. “Kill team brought it in. Very efficient work.”
“Are you completely insane?” asked the Captain incredulously, looking around for support, but the rest of the delegation were staring at the shrouded mass of terror before them. Borcsh’s eyes were like saucers.
“It is sedated…” Crane began.
“It’s still armed!” He raged, “It’s a bio-engineered killing machine. What is it even doing here? I’ve met some disturbed cogboys in my time but – “
“Enough.” Said Solomon flatly.
Silence reigned for a few moments. The Prime Magos stared rigidly at the monster in the tank. He was impressed. It would yield much knowledge.
“Why does it still have those blades?” asked Marlowe, her brain finally catching up. She reluctantly pocketed the sidearm. Her mind was reeling, despite knowing that there were Tyranids in Forlorn, seeing them up-close was spreading seeds of doubt. Fraiser was right, the entire thing was a deadly weapon. She couldn’t even begin to fathom how it could be less dangerous without claws, but it would be a start.
“Previous specimens did not react well to losing their appendages,” said Quail. “They refused food and nourishment, became inattentive and sluggish. They knew they were powerless, and they just seemed to shut down. We did not find that with the, ah, undamaged one.”
“Undamaged?” said Fraiser. “It’s missing an eye!”
“Bolt-round,” said Crane, who appeared to be the resident expert on the creature’s background. “The wound was inflicted by the Kill-Team during capture.”
The Imperial Guard Captain said nothing, although deconstructing Biologis Crane’s cheery tone read thus: The monster had been shot in the face with an explosive projectile capable of blowing a man in half. This constituted to a superficial injury.
“Is it absolutely necessary to keep such a… such a heinous, blasphemous miscreation alive on this world?” Asked Confessor Delaine, once-again making the sign of the Aquila and invoking divine protection.
“I assure you, Confessor, if there were another path to enlightenment, the Priesthood would rejoice to undertake it.” Said Quail, solemnly, “Unfortunately, there is not, and we must endure this unholy burden for His glory.”
The Ecclesiarch played nervously with his rosary beads and muttered a prayer under his breath. Their fear retreating to curiosity, the delegation moved closer. Quinn’s tapping resumed.
“Numerically,” said Fraiser, his analytical mind reaching a horrifying conclusion, “If this is Specimen Three, where are the other two?”
“I’m sorry?” Asked Quail, stalling for time. There was nothing wrong with his enhanced hearing.
“Specimen’s One and Two,” replied the Guardsman. “What happened to them? I assume they are catalogued in numerical order.”
“Ah,” muttered the Biologis, “Yes, there were problems with the other two.”
“Did they start eating people too?” Captain Fraiser asked, his eyes narrow with suspicion. He rubbed the acid scar on his cheek.
“No!” Said Quail, holding his hands up, palms out like a shield. He laughed nervously as the delegation stared at him with one mind. “No. Specimen One was DOA. He… …it, had been handled too roughly during capture and died in transit. Specimen Two never arrived.”
And that was it. It was the truth.
It was not the entire
truth. Specimen Two had not arrived because the cargo-hauler on which it was stored – Demeter
– had broken warp on the edge of the system, drifting without power and running dark. The Mechanicus Recovery Vessel, X-000100011
had met it half-way between there and the arranged drop off. An away-team of Skitari discovered the ship to be a charnel house. The entire crew and their families, over one-hundred souls, were dead or missing.
The navigator had sealed his pod and had expired during the trip. Huge lacerations had gouged the metal bulkhead without success. X-000100011
took no chances, destroying Demeter
with concentrated fire from the lance batteries before the boarding team had even returned to their assault boat. Their loss was acceptable, the risk of contamination was deemed too high.
“No,” he repeated after supressing a shudder at the brief internal recollection. “Nothing untoward, I assure you.”
Marlowe looked at him accusingly, but said nothing.
“We can go over the security measures in place over the evening meal, after the tour has concluded,” Biologis Quail continued, smoothing his coat. “We have the most stringent procedures and observe all sacred rites as a matter of course.”
“Excellent,” said Solomon, taking charge once again. “And now I believe it is time for our guests to receive their mid-day nourishment.”
* * *
Borsch was a noisy eater. Every time he moved there was a scrape, a slurp, or a squelch. Marlowe pushed her food around with a glimmering silver fork. It was the behaviour of someone with a lot on her mind, Fraiser concluded. They had returned to the conference centre and found a light buffet had been laid out. The menu was not typically inspiring, but the Mechanicus had tried hard to accommodate their guests.
“Your honour guard have already eaten,” said Crane, who was the more affable of the two clearly-insane scientists. “They were put through some drills by the Sergeant this morning,”
“That sounds like Thorn,” said the Captain.
Sergeant Thorn had arrived with the delegation from Shelter, leading Captain Fraiser’s Honour Guard whilst on official business. They were skilled and motivated grenadiers from the Captain’s own company, and he had hand-picked them carefully. Whilst not anticipating trouble, Fraiser was aware that the Emperor tended to protect those who had five dependable armed men better than those who did not. They were currently residing in the living quarters next to their mark, rather than the barracks reserved for Mechanicus soldiery. Thorn had filled the time with drills and briefings on the Tyranid threat they were facing in the Titus system. The irony was not lost of Fraiser.
“We are aware you have quite a reputation for demonstrating concern for the rank and file.”
“Many thanks,” said the Guardsman. The platitude was barely out of his mouth when the thinly veiled tension in the room snapped with a ringing of cutlery.
“These xenos are abominable!” shouted Confesser Delaine, throwing down his fork. “In his treatise on warpcraft and the arcane, Father Gerrund wrote that ‘It is not for man to know the will of man, nor stare into the abyss, or wander the dark and terrible void of inhuman minds.’”
The room went silent, and the meal was abruptly abandoned.
“Faith shields us and knowledge arms us,” replied Quail, quoting a passage The Catechism of Enlightenment, a popular book in the more devout wing of the Priesthood. “While utterly abhorrent, understanding them brings forth its own fruit.”
Delaine looked at Prime Magos Solomon. As head of the Mechanicus delegation, Solomon would be instrumental in bringing a charge of techno-heresy, was there a case to answer.
“In matters of spiritual attainment,” the Prime Magos said, “Magos Biologis Quail is quite correct. The proper liturgies have been conducted. The rites of the Omnissiah have been upheld. Theologically, Magos Quail is acting according to the divine guidance of the Machine-God, and has performed no wrongs. Conducted thusly, the study of the xenomorphic creatures, while repulsive, is a necessary evil performed for the Holy Work and the benefit of all Mankind.”
“This does not satisfy the Church.” Said Delaine, flatly.
“This is unfortunate,” replied Solomon. “Perhaps when you have seen more of our learning, the Emperor may speak to you and soothe these concerns.”
The priest’s face said ‘not likely’, but to utter something like that would be unthinkable.
“It is Him I serve,” he sighed.
“Indeed. As do we all.”
There was an awkward silence. With the greatest of stealth, Borsch reached for his discarded fork.
“Ooooh,” said Rachel excitedly. She had been following the group all morning to no discernible purpose and up till now had been content spreading a hot sauce across sweet cakes in an effort to breathe fire.
“Show him the one in the basement!”
That was it. With those simple words, all activity stopped completely. Quail sighed, and ran a palm down his face.
“Specimen Zero,” he said to Solomon.
“Ah yes,” the Prime Magos acknowledged reluctantly.
“There’s more?” asked Fraiser, politely covering his mouth with his hand while he swallowed. “More Tyranids?”
“Just one,” said Quail quickly. “We keep it in the strictest security, of course. I did not wish to… …overwork the delegation, or burden you with unnecessary concerns.”
“Then we had best see it!” declared the Confessor, leaping to his feet with fire burning in his eyes. He smelt the beginnings of a conspiracy. Where facts were withheld, there were untruths. And where there were untruths, there was heresy.
Borcsh wobbled to his feet, dabbing an enormous chin with a greasy napkin. Taken as a sign of a vote, Quinn, Marlowe and Fraiser made ready to depart too. Reluctantly, the Mechanicus delegation rose as a single entity.
“At this time,” began Quail, “I do not think it is appropriate to –“
“Lead us,” said Solomon. It was not a request.
“Prime Magos, with respect…” began Quail.
“If respect is your intention Biologis then do not presume to counter me,” replied Solomon curtly. “The Confessor and the Band Clerk shall accompany us as delegates of this tribunal. The scrivinor and my Honour Guard shall remain behind.”
Quinn did not seem perturbed at his exclusion. He didn’t really seem much of anything. The best word to describe Archivist Quinn was ‘grey’. He seemed to exist only to perform his function, as and when required, and had no strong feelings beyond that. When not needed, it was assumed that Quinn folded himself into a box.
Biologis Quail bowed his head, concealing a face swathed in anger and frustration.
“As you wish, my Lord.”
* * *
The final level, in the deepest part of Forlorn, was accessible only by cargo elevator. It was in the very heart of the mountain. Fraiser felt his comm bead tickle in his hear as it lost signal. The platform was big enough to accommodate a battle-tank, and the vast darkness that loomed overhead was unsettling. Finally, it came to a halt outside a large pair of reinforced doors. A glowing bio-port was visible on both sides. As one, Quail and Crane took up positions, simultaneously chanting and inputting data. After a moment, the terminals beeped in harmony and the doors began to grind open.
“What is Specimen Zero?” asked Borsh nervously. He received no answer, but Rachel giggled disconcertingly.
They entered the room. Ceiling mounted assault cannons tracked their progress across the laboratory. It appeared to be empty, save for vast banks of glowing computers taking up the opposite wall. It had only one entrance, Fraiser noticed. On closer inspection, the wall to the right was not made of adamantium and ferrocrete like the other three, but made of tough, reinforced glass which reflected the brilliant quartz lights. Without prompting, the delegation lined up in front of the glass expectantly.
“I warn you,” hissed Confessor Delaine, “Damnation awaits those whose minds wander in dark places.”
He turned to the others.
“Steel yourself against this horror. Do not let curiosity, which comes from the Adversary, cloud your thinking. Harden your heart, and think only of Him.”
“By His Grace,” responded the faithful.
Quail glanced at Crane. The Biologis shrugged.
Fraiser rotated his shoulders, trying to relax his muscles. He wasn't nervous, but there was certainly a contagious tension in the air. Marlowe’s face was like stone. Band Clerk Borsch had gone white, and the cup of recaff he’d picked up was trembling in his hand. Rachel just rubbed one arm and glanced around, looking confused.
“Open it,” intoned Solomon. “Show us Specimen Zero.”
“As my Lord wills,” replied Magos Quail.
With a hiss and a grinding of gears, the great heavy shutters that covered the glass internally began to slide upwards, revealing a second pair sliding sideways. The delegation strained for a view as drifting incense and escaped steam clouded their vision. Then they saw it, it was barely a creature at all.
Speimen Zero was restrained by heavy clamps. They gripped the beast around the waist and at the wrists. The entirety of its legs were encased in adamantium. Scything talons were held in place by shackles that flashed with barely concealed power. It had no head, only a curious, oval-shaped helmet of shining metal and jet-black glass. Pipes and tubes looped from behind, fitting snugly into the unusual headgear. Feeder tendrils dangled from under the lip.
“Well that was underwhelming.” Said Marlowe, flatly. Fraiser agreed. He was not sure what he had expected but the beast couldn’t have been any bigger than the lictor upstairs, was sixty percent encased in machinery and wearing a rather fetching hat that covered up the worst part – it’s face. Borsch stopped trembling and even Delaine looked fairly surprised.
“We take security very seriously at Forlorn,” said Biologis Quail solemnly.
“I can see that,” said the Confessor, perplexed. “What in His name is it?”
The two scientists looked at each other. Solomon’s eyes flared, very briefly.
“It is a Broodlord.” Said Magos Quail. “A fascinating creature.”
“A Broodlord?” said Captain Fraiser in utter disbelief. "You have a Broodlord in the cellar!?”
“It is hardly a cellar, Captain,” said Quail reproachfully.
“Captured on Dusk,” added Crane enthusiastically.
“By a Kill Team, no doubt?”
“The very same!”
Fraiser stared back at the monster behind the glass.
“You know they’re psychic?”
“Of course!” replied Quail as if the question was offensive. “It is in a Null Room. Also known as a Psychic Void. We are completely shielded from any adverse effects. And we have auto-turrets, motion sensors, reinforced blast shielding, tracking…”
“Why is it wearing a hat?”
“Excuse me, Captain?”
“A hat,” pressed Fraiser. “Why is it wearing a hat? A helmet? An Emperor-damned scrumball mask?!?”
“Ah,” said Crane. “A hat.”
“It is not a hat.” Replied Quail. “It is a Psi-Shroud. It performs many functions and allows us to monitor brain activity. It also covers the eyes.”
“The eyes!” hissed Rachel. She glanced around in a panic.
“Indeed,” said the Prime Magos. “We understand the hypnotic, suggestive qualities of the Genestealer Genus and its ability to propagate. We have taken precautions to ensure that it does not… …unduly influence any visitors.”
“I’m sorry,” said Borsch, “but what exactly is a Broodlord?” The absurd little clerk strode almost up to the glass and took a theatrical gulp of coffee.
“Scientifically speaking, a Tyranid Broodlord, known by the Higher Name of Tyrann…