Project Artemis

Started by Sheepz, July 18, 2012, 01:57:17 PM

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Quote from: Alienscar on March 14, 2013, 07:55:03 AM
I disagree Sheepz whilst there is a lot of chat none of it is boring. The pace is also spot on and in some way this chapter is the perfect counter point to the intensity and suspense of the previous chapters. The ending is more than a bit cliched and maybe slightly diminishes the overall effect and there is something bugging me about your use of "part of the course" that I can't quite pin down. These are minor, and probably just my own, problems in a chapter that is equally one of the best.

Hey Alienscar,

I'm gonna stick with the ending for now, as it felt like it fleshed the characters out - even just a little - and was easier for me than rounding off the chapter with some random warblings. In hindsight, I may end the chapter with Quail and Tvastar's exchange, and move Fraiser's thoughts on the delegation to another chapter. I agree with part of the course. It doesn't fit the dialogue or the Mechanicus very well and was just lazy writing on my part. I'll have a think about it and change it.

Not sure how I like these next two chapters. They're a bit jumpy and contain a lot of it was stuff I never envisaged being in it, so it seems a bit shoehorned and the rest of the story - reading through - doesn't really suffer for large parts of it being missing. It seems to be words for the sake of words. But anyway, I'll post it up now for completion and then when I edit the full version we'll see how it sticks. It also - since the entire story is a bit of a cheesy homage to various films I enjoy - contains at least one blatantly stolen line as a nod to one of the all time greats. I'll see if you can spot it. Ten points if you can read it without cringing.

Automerge is preventing last bit of chapter getting posted.


Seven – Dead Lieithar

Prime Magos Solomon had said it the moment the delegation arrived. Forlorn had twenty-one personnel. The Tech Lord had been informed of bio-adept Huwell's premature departure from mortality. He was not included in the count. Of the remaining staff on the manifest, Kramer and three of her underlings had parted ways. That left seventeen.

Ten were the Skitari security detail, a full squad of Mechanicus Infantry. Then there was Quail and his assistant Crane, Tech Magos Tvastar who kept the machinery running, and the facilities resident psyker – Rachel. The last three were the remaining bio-adepts. Biologis in training, each specialising in a different field of research and medical science.

Bio-adepts Lowell, Drecker, and Mikkael were sat in the empty, dimly lit conference room, picking at the remains of the meal.

"They say the old man is up for techno-heresy," said Orderly Mikkael. He was in his late twenties and the wearing plain white scrubs of an intern. He was a young man, and had a young man's arrogance.

"Lord Quail," said Lowell, not looking up from his books. He automatically reached for his cup and took a sip of recaf, eyes never leaving the page. Lowell was in his early forties and was soon to undergo final examinations before ritual augmentation. After that, he would be worthy of the title Biologis.

"Lord Quail," scoffed Mikkael, drinking some wine from the bottle. "The Lord Quail and his faithful companion."

Drinking was not strictly against Mechanicus principles. Since the flesh was weak and worthless anyway, poisoning it in small doses wasn't frowned upon unless it led to idle behaviour and inattentiveness.

"Have some respect, Mikkael," said Drecker. She shuffled a stack of papers and adjusted a lens over one eye. "Lord Quail has been good enough to take us on with this project."

Drecker was in her thirties and also studying for her final examination. She had risen through the priesthood faster than Lowell on the simple basis that Drecker was more intelligent, quicker to grasp concepts and less prone to worrying. Another key feature of Orderly Drecker was that she did not tolerate bullamphetamine parrot.

"Sure," said Mikkael. "The generous Lord Quail. Mucking out lizards and fetching stool samples and bringing him recaf. I bet Huwell was thanking him all the way through being eaten."

"That's enough," said Drecker, looking up sharply. "Bio-adept Lowell and myself are trying to concentrate. If you were any kind of student, you would be doing the same, instead of pickling yourself in wine."

"You think they'll make you a Magos?" he sneered. "Science, its man's work."

"Biologis Kramer is a Magos," she replied, glancing at her notes.

"Biologis Kramer is a be-atch," he retorted.

Drecker gave him a cold stare.

"Whatever," he said. "I'm going to bed. You two can clear up."

*   *   *

The figure paced in an empty hallway.

It was so clear, the Voice! It had made so much sense, if only they could remember what had been said. Such wisdom and guidance! And such ambition! If only it would speak again. To hear it was to understand.

But how? There was a way, but it was fraught with peril and almost abhorrent in method, but there seemed no alternative.

Someone was coming.

Mind racing, the figure ducked inside a room. Their room, proffered by those blind priests and their clockwork god. They groped for understanding like men in darkness. They were blind. They did not hear the Father's Voice.

An idea came. A brilliant idea. It fixed itself inside the mind, solid, shining and pure.

A drawer was opened quietly. Inside, there was a gun.

*   *   *

Mikkael grumbled to himself, leaning one arm on the wall for support. His head swam uncertainly as he looked at the bottle in his hand. It was empty, and so he must have drunk it. He should have been more attentive. But his mind was on that be-atch Drecker and bookworm Lowell. They never did any real work anyway. He busted a gut for the Cult Mechanicus, but no. It was the two of them who got assignments, favoured treatment. Them! Of all the pointless...

There was a figure in front of him.

"Oh," said Mikkael straightening up. Forced sobriety hit him like a tonne of bricks.

"Forgive me, my lord. I did not see you."

The Other smiled.

"Surely you are not Bio-Adept Mikkael?" it asked, "This is a most fortuitous meeting!"

*   *   *

"Contact!" screamed the pointman.

He could not remember his name.

Lieutenant Fraiser, Lieithar Planetary Defence Force, braced himself against a wall, pistol gripped in white knuckles. It was his first command.

Gunfire erupted front and back as the column came under attack. Men crashed into each other in the tight corridors. His tactical read-out had overlapping signatures.

"All squads go loud!" he said, fighting to keep his voice level. "Mission has been compromised. Converge on primary objective."

There was a string of acknowledgements. One of the rearguard screamed as multi-segmented limbs burst through a prefabricated wall and pulled him through into the darkness.

"Move!" said Fraiser, snapping off shots from his pistol.

"Enemies front!"called the vanguard.

It couldn't have been more than a few minutes since their cover was blown, but already scattered reports from the surface indicated that Lieithar was in turmoil. The Planetary Chief of Staff had been assassinated. A bomb had detonated at a nearby airfield. There was confused, contradictory information flooding the tac-comm with updates of widespread, calculated public disorder.

"Cut through them!" he called, "We are out of time!"

*   *   *

"The Prime Magos had much to say about you," the figure said congenially as they walked through the corridors. "He praised your dedication, your commitment."

"Prime Magos Solomon?" asked Mikkael, his head still swimming, "Prime Magos Solomon mentioned me?"

"Yes," replied the other. "He is not a man taken to emotion, as you may know, but he reminded Magos Quail of the importance of correctly valuing your contribution to the Holy Mission and appreciating the hard work you have undertaken."

The Bio-Adept felt a surge of pride.

"He did?"

"Absolutely. I am taken to understand that he is concerned that Magos Quail may fail to recognise your true worth."

Mikkael was beaming. He knew it! Quail was passing him over because he was jealous of his natural, innate brilliance.

"Did he say anything else? About the others?"

Lying was easier than expected. Bio-adept Mikkael was one of nature's fools.

"In good time," his companion, pausing at a door as if their feet had carried them to it by accident. "This is the generatorium, am I correct?"

"Yes," said Mikkael. "Would my lord like to spend some time in the presence of the hallowed machines?"

The figure beamed, full of false surprise.

"Indeed, I would be honoured to see such a shrine."

"I would have to accompany you, of course," said the Bio-Adept, "Since you are not one of the priesthood."

"That would be most kind," the Other replied, "In fact, I would not have it any other way."

*   *   *

"It's in there!" yelled a trooper braced against the doorframe. "Whole room is crawling with 'em."

"Bring up the dem-charges!" Shouted Fraiser. Combat engineers moved to the front, squeaking and grating in their full-plate carapace. He gestured with hand signals.

"Covering fire!"

The engineers stormed into the room, as things moved and snarled in the darkness. Wild lasgun shots bounced around the interior. For just a fraction of a second, Fraiser caught sight of something monstrous moving in the shadows. Something ancient and alien. Dark eyes reflected in the ruby strobes of gunfire. Things flooded his mind, alien and terrible. It was like being kicked in the head.

The Lieutenant clutched his temples. Inside the room, the engineers staggered, screaming, struggling to tear off their claustrophobic helemets. The swarm was on them at once. Fraiser gritted his teeth and recited the catechism of command. The solider next to him continued to fire blindly into the cavernous room.

"Sit-rep?" asked Sergeant Thorn, heading a squad of reinforcements.

"Lieutentant is out of it," replied the other over bestial screams and the din of gunfire. "Target Ultima is inside the room... gods... it's clawing at my mind."

Thorn risked a glance inside, but saw nothing. He knelt next to Fraiser.

"Lieutenant?" he yelled, "Sergeant Thorn, Sah. Pleased to meet you at last. We're waiting on your orders, sah. If you are able."

Fraiser looked up from the floor, his mind reeling and vision swimming. He felt sick and retched, shaking his head.

"Bring up the launchers!" Thorn called.

*   *   *

"And this?" said the figure, pointing at a large, rectangular box of dull grey metal.

"The relay," said Mikkael. "And those are the plasma batteries," he explained, pointing a series of glowing blue-purple coils. He had used his gene-card and keycode to access the sprawling generatorium. Lights blinked off and on in the darkness, and the air was filled with the scent of incense and the gentle hum of machinery. His companion had not show the appropriate deference, he thought. That, and the endless questioning was beginning to make him annoyed.

"And this?" the Other continued, almost ignoring the answers. "What is this?"

"Tracking Systems Master," replied the Bio-Adept. "My lord, I feel we have lingered long enough in the Sanctum. If I may, I ask you to accompany me back outside."

The figure knelt and began to wrestle with the cover.

"Don't do that!" shouted the Bio-Adept, his polite resolve cracking. "By His Name! This is a Shrine."

Mikkael stalked forward, and the Other turned swiftly. There was something in their hand.

"Oh," said the Bio-Adept, shocked into silence.

It did not matter what aspect of science a person undertook in the Cult of the Machine. Everyone understood the basic principle of a gun.

*   *   *

There was a whoosh of displaced air followed by the rumble of multiple detonations. Bricks and plaster came tumbling through the doorway on a cloud of dust as the missile teams retreated.

"Reload!" called Thorn underarming a few grenades into the room, "Keep up the suppression."

The PDF moved to comply. Fresh rockets were inserted and the AT teams moved up again. Another barrage of explosions drowned out the continuous shrieks and cracking of gunfire. More debris flamed out into the hall, then there was an ominous silence.

"Mission complete," he said to Fraiser, who rose unsteadily to his feet.

"We have to check," the Lieutenant whispered hoarsely. "We have to be sure."

The Sergeant nodded.

"Incinerators front and centre," he bellowed. "Squad form on me, spread out to secure the area. If you find enemies, burn them."

Fraiser refused his arm of assistance with a shake of his head. The soldiers piled in. A few random las-shots rang out as the troopers fanned out, executing the wounded and stepping gingerly over the bodies of comrades and hybrids alike. To their horror, some were one and the same. A chunky, visceral mess was plastered across most of the far wall. But there was enough left to be recognisable.

"Charlie One to Control," said the Lieutenant, "Threat eliminated. Repeat, the Patriarch is down. Threat eliminated."

"Affirmative Charlie One." Came the drawling response. "Ah, standby. We've got a lot on our hands up here. Situation topside is fluid. Secure location and await further orders."

"Received," Replied Fraiser.

From the far corner, there was an intermittent thudding, getting louder and louder. It was interspersed with quicker, lighter tapping, as well as scrapes and clicking. The noises began to echo down side corridors, and dust drifted from the ceiling.

Thorn had just enough time to shout a warning as the far wall collapsed under the charge of a hulking monster. Twisted figures poured through after it, weapons clutched in extra limbs. Behind them were purestrain genestealers.

*   *   *

The words and symbols were completely meaningless, and yet so meaningful.

The Other had never known the secret language of the Machine Cult. It was revealed in increments only to those who served the Clockwork God. The figure gazed at the blinking lights and buttons on the panel. They remembered, but the memories they held were not their own. Carefully, it unscrewed the faceplate – revealing the innards of the machine. Wires and circuitry were laid bare, and the magic and holiness of the Omnissiah was stripped away when left so ashamedly exposed.

"What... what are you doing?" whimpered the Bio-Adept in the corner.

The Other withdrew a shock maul from the recesses of their clothes. Ignoring him, it pressed the tip of the baton against some circuitry under one of the symbols. For a second, the mace flared. Sparks flew from the machine, which growled in protest.

"No!" called the adept, "Stop! You're hurting it!"

The mace glided horizontally, skipping boards and wires at random until it found the next target. It repeated the trick. More sparks flew from the terminal, and a pair of lights flickered and died.

Methodically, the Other replaced the face-plate.

Now, the Voice!

The figure crossed the room, casting long, frightful shadows up the wall in the flickering candle-light. It moved behind a stack of computers. The outlines blurred and danced as a monitor was engaged. The sound of rhythmic tapping echoed through the generatorium.

With the final press of a button in confirmation, one light amongst thousands dimmed and was extinguished. The grid was secure, there would be no notification. The Other smiled, closing his eyes and exhaling deeply. Memories flooded in, carrying images of stars and of worlds. Feelings of unconditional, unquestioning love. Adoration. There was no competition, no petty squabbles. No selfishness carried by evil men. There was only love, belonging. Still more memories came. They brought ambition, truth and understanding.

The Other could not tarry here. The accursed false-priests would be aware of what was transpiring. Haste was needed.

"Come, Adept Mikkael," the figure instructed. "I have somewhere else I need to be."

Trembling, Mikkael rose obediently.


Might be a bit redundant now but I thought I'd post in case you were waiting to post the rest of the chapter. I hope someone else finds the film reference you mentioned as I don't watch a lot of films so probably won't find it. As a bit of an aside and on a related point I am reading Revenge of the Dwarves at the moment and Markus Heitz uses the phrase "my precious". I hope your reference isn't as cringe worthy as that. Damn near made me throw the book away.
Quote from: Starrakatt"Russ, get your work done or you won't see your damn console for the next month!"
Quote from: Cavalier
Honestly Alienscar, we get it... you dont like painting!



Yeah, needed a post for the rest of the chapter, it's only a bit. I'm concerned the Chapter jumps too much, and I'm not sure the flashback scenes were entirely necessary but I wanted to break up the activity going on elsewhere and flesh out Fraiser a little. It's something to think of for the editing later. Of all the Chapters (2 aside, since it's a mess), this, the previous and the following one are all the ones I really didn't enjoy writing and am concerned about. I think they're weak in the scheme of things. But hey ho, we'll see.

*   *   *

In seconds, half of his remaining men were dead. Gunned down or torn apart by monsters.

Berserk with rage, the Broodlord screamed and charged through the melee, smashing aside soldiers and crushing its own beasts under grinding hooves. It tore through man and alien alike, howling in bloodlust.

"Charlie – One to Control," cried the Vox operator next to Fraiser. "We are under attack at location Ultima, taking heavy casualties. Request immediate extraction!"

More stealers and hybrids began to pour out of the side corridors. Planetary Defence Force troops fell all around the Lieutenant as his brain raced to catch up. The gunfire was deafening as the soldiers gave it everything they had.

"Withdraw!" bellowed Thorn, once again taking command. "Fall back by Squads and lay down a suppressive fire from the flamers!"

He grabbed Fraiser in an iron-tight grip.

"Come along now, Sah," he whispered.

Fraiser snapped back into action, squeezing the trigger of his pistol. A purestrain went down inches from one of his men. It was no use, a second and third tore the unfortunate trooper to pieces.

"Fall back!" he called, "Move your arses!"

The PDF tried to reorganise, but they were in tatters. Anyone could see it was about to become a rout. So Fraiser stepped toward the enemy, grabbing fleeing men as he did so. Rallying them with the voice of command and the force of his will.

"About face, solider. Lay down supressing fire!" He roared. He had never been so utterly terrified and yet utterly alive. He was in full command, Sergeant Thorn at his back. For a moment, it looked like they would rally and fight their way clear.

A genestealer leapt with amazing speed, only to be impaled on the Sergeant's chainsword. Still, the alien's death-relex gutted the man next to the Lieutenant, and sprayed Fraiser with acidic blood. It splashed his face and he screamed in agony.

"Come on," yelled Thorn, snatching up a fallen incinerator and sending out a non-stop jet of flame before him. "Enough of the heroics, sah."

The Broodlord turned.

It dropped the limp body of the vox operator, snapping off his head with a twist of the neck. Twice the size of a man, it bellowed at the soldiers as they fell back, Thorn half-carrying the injured officer, spraying promethium as he went.

Then it charged.

Captain Fraiser, Fourteenth Brimstone Dragoons, awoke with a start. In response to his movements, dim lighting rose from the edges of the room. He reached out and took a glass of water from the bedside table. The shutters clattered and shook as the electrical storm began to gather pace.

Lieithar. He hadn't thought about Lieithar in years.

Thorn had saved him that day. By some miracle, they'd gotten clear. Few had.

He was transferred to an orbital hospital ship - Mercy's Folly. It contained only the best medical facilities, and he was the nephew of the Governor of Lieithar himself – It was without saying that he would be aboard. At his personal request, Sergeant Thorn had joined him. The bio-acid scar would stay with him forever.

Within days the ground based insurrection had been put down, and Imperial Order had been restored. His actions, and the sacrifices of his men had saved Lieithar, they told him. Him. He had beheaded the cult. He had saved the world.

Two weeks later they were fleeing. Mercy's Folly was lightly armed, but it had been no consolation to the private traders and other space-faring vessels he had watched burn from the viewports as their panicked gunnery crews opened fire. The planet had erupted into insurrection once again. His father had been killed on the first day of the uprising, along with the Governor. Even as Fraiser and Thorn had clattered down the corridors seeking a shuttle home, the Shadow had fallen.

And when the Shadow fell on Lieithar, it never lifted. Mercy's Folly fled in terror and in shame, abandoning his world to its fate. They had killed the Patriarch, but that was not enough. They had been careless. They had not made sure. And Lieithar had paid the ultimate price.

Dead Lieithar.


It was Thorn. He stood in the doorway, polite concern etched onto his weathered face.

"Are you alright?"

"Yes, Sergeant." He said with a confidence he didn't feel.

"Just bad dreams."

And outside, the storm raged.


Gonna see if it lets me double post since some time has elapsed. This is chapter eight. I'm not particularly much more struck on it than the previous two, but the story ups the ante considerable in Chapter Nine. A lot of it is written from 9 onwards and even if it is a bit pulpy in places I did enjoy writing it. Anyway, here you go.

Eight – Storm

"That is odd."

"What?" enquired Quail tiredly. He and the Techmagi were in a half-dark Control, preparing for the coming experiment.

"Surveillance and motions sensors have just gone down on level one," said Tvastar blankly. His eyes refocused with a hum while fingers flew across a keyboard.

"Could it be the storm?" Asked Quail.

"It shouldn't be," replied the Enginseer sliding his chair to another terminal. As it crossed the floor, it crushed reams of discarded reports and printouts. The Techpriest tapped another keyboard. The overhead monitors were blank.

"Shall I send for the Prime Magos?" asked the Engineer.

"Absolutely not," hissed Quail. "His reverence is making devotions, and his honoured guests are sleeping. Today has been traumatic enough without telling him that we are losing systems. Print out some reports and get working on it. Is Containment Security still online? That is our primary concern."


"Monitor it, and get those systems working again. We have an experiment in nine hours and I do not want to start the day explaining that some of our most vital security spirits are malfunctioning. I will go to check the Generatorium and make sure the blessed equipment is working."

"Understood," replied the Techpriest, frowning. Lightning crashed and the lights flickered.

"Could just be the storm," said Quail as he reached the door.

"Could be," replied the Tech Magos, hammering on a keyboard. The orange pits of his eyes narrowed in a squint.

The Magos Biologis opened the door to the control room. Warm, amber light flooded in reassuringly. He took a step forward and hesitated before turning. Quail crossed over to a nearby desk and unlocked the drawer.

He removed a bolt pistol, checked the magazine, and left.

*   *   *

The lights flickered, and the howling of the gale cut through even the adamantine walls of Forlorn, moaning in the cracks like the spirits of the dead. The shutters rattled and clanged like an unholy orchestra.

"There is nothing in here," stammered Mikkael as he opened the door. "It's just a storage room. No one ever..."

He stepped through the doorway and turned. Horrible realization dawned.

"Please, I don't know what you..."

The stub-pistol had a heavy suppressor. It gave two, three, four muffled coughs. The Bio-Adept crashed to the floor.

The Other stepped inside. The only light came from the lamps in the corridor. Without a pause, two more bullets slammed into Orderly Mikkael's skull.

Then it softly closed the door and waited in darkness for the Voice.

*   *   *

Quail reached the door to the Generatorium. A glowing cardport blinked back at him.

He was gripping a firearm, he thought. In his own facility. This was ridiculous.

He carefully deposited the pistol into his robes, and accessed the room. The candles still burned brightly, and the smell of incense filled the air. In the half darkness, he walked the hallowed spaces between machinery, chanting softly as he did so. The Bioglosis approached the Tracking Systems Master terminal and removed the faceplate. A puff of acrid black smoke drifted out, and the air smelled like melted plastic.

"Tech Magos," he whispered, "Looks like a burnout."

"Shall I attend?" asked Tvastar.

"Negative," said Quail irritably. "You have been keeping up with the required rites of maintenance?"

"Affirmative," replied the other in monotone.

"I sincerely hope so," replied the Biologis as mechandrites slid from under his robe. Tech Magos Tvastar might be Forlorn's engineer, but Quail was versed enough in the machine to replace some wires and circuitry. "You will be sure to investigate this in the morning. I do not want it to happen again."

"Yes my Lord."

The flatness of Tvastar's tone irritated him. As a Magos, he strove to cast off the weakness of the flesh, and the illogical churning responses of emotion. But the other man was serene. There was no fight, no spluttering denial. He was not wounded by his superior's rebuke, he simply accepted it.

Quail sighed and bent to his task.

*   *   *

The storm raged.

The figure was battered by hurricane winds and soaked by the rain. Lightening tore the sky asunder, and the rumble of its voice was almost deafening. Clinging to the rails and almost crawling on all fours, it reached the summit of Forlorn. Overhead, giant communication towers groaned and swayed in the gale. The black silhouette of the great satellite uplink dish stood as a bulwark against the night. Rain cascaded down the concave structure, falling like a waterfall from the lowest part of the lip.

The Voice urged him on.

*   *   *

"It is done."

"Affirmative, pict-feeds are back online. Motion Sensors are cycling, filtering out pollution."

Quail straightened up, intoned a silent prayer and replaced the faceplate. Everything else in the Holy Sanctum seemed untroubled. A thousand twinkling lights gave silent praise to the Omnissiah, and the works of His Faithful. Satisfied, he left.

The Biologis did not know what dragged his steps away from Control. He wandered aimlessly, lost in thought. Burnouts were not uncommon, but Tech Magi Tvastar was the most diligent of all the Engiseers he had ever worked with. The components were regularly checked for wear and blessed with holy urgents and anointed with sacred oils. The Techpriest seemed to know every circuit, conduit, and drive. Every wire and tiny light belonged to him.

His feet stopped outside the external door. It was shut, but the floor was wet.

"Techmagi, has anyone recently exited the facility via southern roof access?"

"Unknown," replied Tvastar. "Motion Sensor and surveillance logs have not been active for the last ten-point-four-six minutes."

Quail hovered indecisively for a moment. Then he opened the door.

*   *   *

The Other crouched in the shadow of the uplink dish, the rain forming a barrier between him and the bastion of Forlorn. Warm amber flooded out from the open door. Silhouetted against the welcoming light was Magos Biologis Quail. Damp, numb fingers sipped as they struggled to insert bullets into the stub pistol. A stray shell clattered onto the metal catwalk. The sound was lost in the howling gale and the crash of thunder.

The False-Prophet! He must not discover what is being done!

Kill him.

The Other was not sure if the thought was their own, or belonged to the Voice.

A stub pistol was steadied against a horizontal girder. Rain dripped from the end of the suppressor.

*   *   *

Quail was battered by the wind. Gingerly, he took a step out onto the metal catwalk. Rain lashed him, and the sky was split by a deafening crack of thunder. Lenses slid down to protect his eyes. He scanned the roof slowly.

In front and to the left groaned the relay towers as they took the worst of the battering. A hundred feet above the mountain fastness, their aviation warning-lamps blinked red in the darkness. The giant uplink dish squatted between them, a deeper patch of black against the turbulent sky. Nothing looked out of place. He moved to take another step.

A blast of icy wind hit the Biologis, carrying with it rain which soaked into his already damp robes and trickled freely down his face, running into his eyes. He cursed and wiped them with the back of his hand.

This was madness. No one would be stupid enough to be out in this. It felt like the sky itself was trying to tear down the mountain. Lightning cut through the inky black, followed by another crash that was almost lost amongst the non-stop howling of the maelstrom.

Quail turned and headed inside.

*   *   *

The Other exhaled deeply. The False-Prophet was gone, and now it was time to follow the Voice's divine instruction. Pipes and cables were laid open, and hands formerly unused to technology deftly rewired them, following with memories that were not their own. The work took many minutes in the freezing, driving rain, but soon the transformer was completely changed, dangerously circumventing failsafes, fuses and earthing and hooking directly into the grid. A jury rigged cable ran from the transformer box to the nearest communications tower.

The towers were frequently struck by lightning, but their conductors safely made sure the surging power was directed into the ground. Such safety features had been removed, and instead the lightning rod terminated a couple of feet above the rock. Copper cables linked it to the transformer, exposing delicate circuits to the mercy of the elements. It guided the power of nature into the very soul of Forlorn's electrical systems.

Even then, a little blast of raw electricity would not damage the grid. It would be shut out by various intricate systems devised by the cunning priests to protect their Clockwork God. Even bypassing these safety features, a the most powerful strike might cause nothing more than the lights to flicker, a few terminals to go offline. For the spirits that powered Forlorn to take damage, it would take a blast of raw energy delivered at a time when the generator was already stretched to capacity. A powerful discharge at a crucial moment.

Lightning blasted through the sky.

Now the Other must return and wait. If this truly was His Divine Plan, the elements themselves would do the rest.


I wonder who that is mucking around out there ;D!? Nice update, I think your chapter two and three are well done, I like the action in between the weird guy's scenes, definitely gives some insight into how the guard function :).
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Quote from: Sheepz on March 20, 2013, 05:58:14 PM
This is chapter eight. I'm not particularly much more struck on it than the previous two, but the story ups the ante considerable in Chapter Nine.

I only agree with part of your concerns here Sheepz. Whilst I agree that chapters 7 & 8 may have a few issues it is my opinion that there is nothing wrong (apart from the cliched ending) with chapter 6.

Quote from: Sheepz on March 18, 2013, 05:41:47 PM
I'm concerned the Chapter jumps too much, and I'm not sure the flashback scenes were entirely necessary but I wanted to break up the activity going on elsewhere and flesh out Fraiser a little. It's something to think of for the editing later.

The flashback scenes are well written and paced and really add an insight to Frasier's character. Due to the way you have written the previous chapters I believe the flashback scenes should be considered an essential part of the overall story and you have written it that well I think it could be a chapter on its own.

Quote from: Sheepz on March 18, 2013, 05:41:47 PM
It's something to think of for the editing later. Of all the Chapters (2 aside, since it's a mess), this, the previous and the following one are all the ones I really didn't enjoy writing and am concerned about. I think they're weak in the scheme of things. But hey ho, we'll see.

Quote from: Sheepz on March 16, 2013, 02:08:52 PM
Not sure how I like these next two chapters. They're a bit jumpy and contain a lot of it was stuff I never envisaged being in it, so it seems a bit shoehorned and the rest of the story - reading through - doesn't really suffer for large parts of it being missing. It seems to be words for the sake of words.

I'm sorry Sheepz but I agree with your sentiment here.  For me the first "shock" is the introduction of new characters this late in the story. For a moment it was very much like reading a different story. The slightly different pacing and the new characters add to the whole jumpy experience you speak of. Chapter 7 really suffers from the old Star Trek "red shirt" problem.  As soon as Mikkael is introduced the reader realises that he is a dead man. I hope you don't mind this feedback Sheepz but the biggest problem with chapters 7 & 8 is your perspective. In trying to keep one of the characters a secret you have presented yourself with a grammatical challenge. Chapter 7 is slightly better in this respect than 8 as the use of "other" just about works. But in one part you move to the 3rd person "their" after using the 1st person for most of the chapter and it just throws the reader off somehow.  The narrative voice is also, in my opinion, the only problem with chapter 8. The 3rd person "it" doesn't work when applied to a person I feel and if you could fix this you would have a brilliant addition to your story. If you are of a mind to I think you would be better off writing chapters 7 & 8 using the mysterious figure as the 1st person voice so as to remove your problem of referring to his/her gender.
I hate to add this after so much negativity but the word be-atch has such modern connotations that it doesn't seem to fit your story. Old fashioned be-atch would work just as well. 
Quote from: Starrakatt"Russ, get your work done or you won't see your damn console for the next month!"
Quote from: Cavalier
Honestly Alienscar, we get it... you dont like painting!


Hey Alienscar,

Lets hit it off right. I value your feedback, it's critical and honest and it is a great help to me. If I disagree with something you say, I will say so. I'm really greatful you give it, and its all good stuff, rather than 'NEEDS MOAR GUNS'. So thanks.

Quote from: Alienscar on March 25, 2013, 07:55:20 AM
The flashback scenes are well written and paced and really add an insight to Frasier's character. Due to the way you have written the previous chapters I believe the flashback scenes should be considered an essential part of the overall story and you have written it that well I think it could be a chapter on its own.

I was concerned the flashback scenes were lazy and a bit too pulpy. They were inserted to broaden Fraiser's character while breaking up the interactions of the Other.

QuoteI'm sorry Sheepz but I agree with your sentiment here.  For me the first "shock" is the introduction of new characters this late in the story. For a moment it was very much like reading a different story. The slightly different pacing and the new characters add to the whole jumpy experience you speak of. Chapter 7 really suffers from the old Star Trek "red shirt" problem.  As soon as Mikkael is introduced the reader realises that he is a dead man.

Don't be sorry! Especially not for agreeing with me. It does suffer from late induction and redshirt syndrome. The two other orderlies appear later on so I wanted to tie them in, but they're probably better being named extras rather than having portions of a chapter dedicated to them. 'The Other' could get about quite easily without them, so I think on the proper edit they will be completely removed. However, as that entails re-writing pretty much these two chapters I will leave it for now. But yes, thanks. I agree completely.

QuoteI hope you don't mind this feedback Sheepz but the biggest problem with chapters 7 & 8 is your perspective. In trying to keep one of the characters a secret you have presented yourself with a grammatical challenge. Chapter 7 is slightly better in this respect than 8 as the use of "other" just about works. But in one part you move to the 3rd person "their" after using the 1st person for most of the chapter and it just throws the reader off somehow.  The narrative voice is also, in my opinion, the only problem with chapter 8. The 3rd person "it" doesn't work when applied to a person I feel and if you could fix this you would have a brilliant addition to your story. If you are of a mind to I think you would be better off writing chapters 7 & 8 using the mysterious figure as the 1st person voice so as to remove your problem of referring to his/her gender.

It's brilliantly obvious now you put it like that. I was a little bit concerned the change of voice might not work out but I'm happy to give it a shot now. It will be changed with the removal of the adepts later.

QuoteI hate to add this after so much negativity but the word be-atch has such modern connotations that it doesn't seem to fit your story. Old fashioned "be-atch" would work just as well.

I think that's your swear filter. Or mine. Or both. I wrote the old fashioned term, the other is too gangsta ;). Check to see the other swearing in Chapter 7, and see if that registers as something that isn't about anphtamine parrots, or whatever the filter reccomends.

Cheers alienscar! All very helpful and very valueable. I'll be having a good look at them.


The flashbacks should have been their own chapter, possibly before the introduction of the bastard lurking around sabotaging things to ratchet up the tension a little.

The introduction of some Mechanicus grunts is good, despite their "late" introduction, though that is relative to how long the story is actually going to be.


Thanks for the continuing feedback guys. I promise I will edit the entire document once it is finished. As it goes now, it's just a slog to get through. This is Chapter Nine. It is not the whole chapter on account of the wordcount and such. It was the second chapter to be written (the first being the Epilogue) but has been edited a bit since then for continuity.


Nine – Specimen Three

The heavy lead shutters rattled as gale-force winds howled slammed the mountainside. The breakfast table was more sparsely populated than before, with Rachel in a coma and Delaine, Borsch and Quinn absent. Marlowe had apparently overcome her earlier reservations and was digging into some scrambled eggs. It was Fraiser's turn to push the food aimlessly around his golden plate while staring off into the middle-distance. The previous night's dream had vaguely unsettled him. He mumbled a few names under his breath, testing them to see if they fit against the faded images of his former comrades.

"I trust you both slept well?" Enquired Prime Magos Solomon. He was not eating, but sat at the head of the table, as if chairing the breakfast somehow. Fraiser and Marlowe nodded and made appropriate thankful noises.

"Unfortunately, it seems the Confessor and our representatives from the administratum could not be in attendance," he continued. The lack emotion or any kind of voice tone made it seem like he was leading a requiem. "I do hope they will be joining us for the experiment. It promises to be most fascinating."

"Remind me again what we will be witnessing," said Fraiser. "Just for clarification."

The Captain had risen early and gone over the day's itinerary with Sergeant Thorn, but the technical side still didn't make a lot of sense. Solomon inclined his head to Quail, who barely stifled a yawn.

"Last night, myself and Techmagi Tvastar – assisted by the Bio-Adepts – moved Specimen Three from Level Two Containment in the laboratories to the main workspace visible from Control..."

It was not entirely true. Bio-Adept Mikkael was not present to assist, and a rudimentary search had failed to turn him up. Quail was not interested. Mikkael displayed neither promise nor devotion. His absence would be reprimanded severely once he came out from whichever rock he was hiding under.

"...Currently, the creature is sedated while we finalise our preparations and ensure all appropriate rights and libations have been made. When we are satisfied that we have the Omnissiah's blessing and protection, we will begin the process to revive it from slumber. Once awakened, the Specimen will be subject to a number of external stimuli to test reactions and response, as well as monitor brain activity and cognition. The purpose of this is two-fold. Firstly, this will provide the Priesthood with a better understanding of the creature's psychological make-up and resilience. Secondly, during the experiment, we will be paying particular attention to the type of pheromones the Specimen exudes, and comparing their chemical make-up with ones previously harvested. We will also be recording which pheromones are produced in relation to which stimuli, and recording new chemical compounds with a view to forming a complete pheromone map."

He paused, allowing Fraiser and Marlowe to catch up. Their glassy expressions softened after several seconds of concentration.

"Such a map would greatly increase our understanding of Tyranid behavioural patterns. The results, of course, will be artificially reproduced and their effects tested on the lesser-beasts you saw in The Cage yesterday with particular attention to behaviour prediction and manipulation."

"Sounds good," said the Captain. Marlowe nodded before dabbing her chin with a silk napkin. A new voice cut in over the comm system.

"Honoured Lord Solomon, Lord Quail. Magos Biologis Crane and I have finished preparing the Specimen for treatment. With your permission, I will begin the revival process. It should take approximately twenty minutes before the Specimen is fully alert."

"Proceed, Techpriest." Replied Solomon into the thin air. "By His Will."

"In His Name," replied the echo.

Solomon and Quail rose as one. The Head of Research looked at his superior with a solemn expression. The Prime Magos clicked in binary, and Quail responded with a nod and a few more tapped syllables.

"If you have finished eating, we are eager to begin." Said the Mechanicus overlord. The air was charged with mystery and a palpable anticipation which hungered at the promise of knowledge.

Captain Fraiser and Brigadier Marlowe brushed themselves off and made ready to leave.

*   *   *

They gathered in Control. The air was thick with incense, and light from dozens of candles danced around the room. An entire wall seemed to have moved to reveal huge armourglass panels. Fifty-feet below the windows, a gleaming laboratory was laid out.

In the centre stood a huge metal X frame, with an additional horizontal bolt to accommodate the lictor's extra arms. The creature itself was held in place by adamantium restraining clasps that crackled with barely supressed energy. The giant upper forearms were kept restrained above the creature, their scything talons hovering menacingly overhead. A pair of limbs terminating in rending claws were pinned to the horizontal beam, exposing the thorax, while the legs were spread between two lower pillars. Finally, the creatures razor-tipped tail was pinned to the floor. The entire scene looked like a weird crucifixion.

It hung limply from its restraints, breathing shallowly, barely moving. Every now and again a feeder tendril flickered from its mouth, testing the air. The great bulbous head rolled from side to side drunkenly. Specimen Three looked almost pitiful.

"I estimate the creature will have regained full cognition and awareness within the next five minutes," said Tvastar. He was tapping away at one of the many computer terminals that littered the room. Read-outs whirred happily from a nearby printer, updating every few seconds. Solomon paced slowly in front of the viewing window. A few feet away in the shadows, the ever silent Centurion Markus watched his Lord unblinkly, face impassive behind a bronze mask.

"You have done well," said the Prime Magos finally.

The three bowed in acknowledgement. Quail slid onto a nearby chair and booted up his own terminal. Crane was monitoring a tall display unit monitoring the creature. He was reading bio-signs and occasionally tweaking the dials according to a dataslate in his free hand. Some servo skulls circled the room, relaying information and recording the experiment on their pict-casters.

The door opened and Borsch entered, followed by Quinn. The Band-Clerk was muttering apologies before he'd even got through the entrance. Fraiser knew that face. He'd seen it on many of his soldiers following a conflict. It was the face of a man who had consumed too much wine in celebration of still living, before waking up to realise he had battles left to fight. And also a headache.

"A thousand apologies," said Borsch. "I was up late, attending to some documents."

"You are a guest of the Cult Mechanicus," replied Solomon smoothly, "No apologies are necessary. We seek to accommodate."

Borsch nodded and put down his briefcase on an abandoned desk. Papers and documents tumbled onto the desk. With a little care, he managed to herd them into a rough pile.

"We are ready to commence." Said Tvastar. The Techpriest had not left his chair, but was managing to glide it between banks of computers with the aide of a mechandrite.

"There is no one down there," enquired Borsch, whose understanding of science required the experiment be performed by men in white coats who prodded things with a stick.

"No," said Quail without looking up. "The laboratory below contains an unstable xenomorphic lifeform. Experimentation is conducted from this room. We maintain the highest standards of safety in this facility."

The Band-Clerk nodded mutely.

"It is a shame the Confessor is not present," continued the Biologis.

"I am sure he is merely making devotions," replied Solomon. "Matters of Faith cannot be rushed. We shall demonstrate the fruit of our labours to him at his convenience."

Fraiser knew that the Magi were probably relieved that Confessor Delaine was not present. That way he couldn't tax anyone's patience with his zealous rage. The Captain looked down at the monster below him. The Priest was not wrong, it was an abomination. A born killer, counted amongst the most dangerous organisms in the universe. It was awake now, waving its feeder tendrils futilely, shrieking like a screech-owl and thrashing against the restraints.

Solomon appeared next to him. The huge frame of the Mechanicus overlord leaned forward, staring through the glass with glowing orange eyes.

"Commence the experiment."

*   *   *

Outside, the storm raged, slamming into the cliff-top fortress with the force of an angry god. Hurricane winds battered the groaning communications masts, which swayed in protest. Lightning tore across the sky, east to west and west to east, like the heavens themselves were duelling.

A clap of thunder rumbled through the complex, even down into the hermetically sealed control room.

"Fascinating," said Solomon as the lictor screamed in agony. Electricity danced across it.

"Can you increase the voltage?"

Quail tapped away on his console and looked over to where Crane was monitoring the bio-signs. The other geneticist nodded.

The electricity stopped for a second, and the lictor fell back heavily onto the X frame. The creature had defecated onto the floor, and its thorax rose in heavy, desperate gasps. Fraiser was not entirely convinced this was scientific. It looked more like torture.

The electricity restarted a nano-second before the screams.

"What is the current psychological state of the Specimen?" asked the Prime Magos.

"Agitated," replied Biologis Crane, "Receptors registering fear, pain, aggression are all showing high returns."

Science, thought the Captain.Bloody marvellous.

"The secreted pheromones could be used to deter – rather than lead – lesser broods. Perhaps to keep them away from sensitive areas?"

"That would be my hypothesis," said Quail. "We shall test it using the samples in the cage."

"You have already found the chemical make-up for prey." Stated Solomon over the shrieking lictor. "Later, I will be analysing your progress on the pheromone map."

"As my Lord wills."

Borsch was watching with horrified fascination. The blue lightning danced on the reflections of his eyes. Marlowe was deadpan, but there was a tiny flicker, Fraiser realised. He couldn't tell if it were revulsion or satisfaction.

"Increase the voltage once more," instructed the Prime Magos. "The Specimen must be tested to the brink. If the chemical secretions are incorrectly identified, I would theorise that the following broods could react in a volatile, unpredictable way."

"Indeed," replied Quail from his terminal, tapping away constantly. "If we merely isolated the response for anger and understated the chemical compounds for danger, we could increase aggression in the lesser-beasts. It would have precisely the opposite impact, drawing in peripheral members and making them frenzied."

"It can take it," said Crane, confidently. "The beasts' distributed nervous system allows for higher pain tolerance, although the muscles are showing signs of involuntary convulsion and spasming."

All looked to Tvastar. He glanced up.

"My Lords," he said, "The machine spirit is already functioning to a high capacity. I am concerned that further power-drainage would jeopardize the grid."

"Tech Magos," said Quail levelly, "Prime Magos Solomon wishes to increase the voltage."

"I understand," replied the Techpriest, "But the machine-spirits are currently running thousands of individual processes, consuming enormous levels of..."

Markus took a step out of the shadows toward the beleaguered Magos. His eyes glowed fiery crimson behind his mask. Solomon raised a hand.

"I know you, Tech Magi Tvastar," said Solomon quietly. "You have left a margin. You are conscientious in your devotions. You will increase the power."

The giant Techpriest wavered for a moment. The deep shadows of his hood concealed his face entirely, but a small light flickered briefly where his eyes would be.

"As my Lord wills."

The lighting in the room began to dim, and the noise from cooling fans almost drowned out the roars of the terrified alien.

"We are experiencing some power-shortage." He said. "Nothing essential."

"This is acceptable." Said Solomon. He turned to Quail. "Again, Magos,"

The creature screamed.


I been dithering about whether or not to leave feedback on this chapter for a few days now. I've read this chapter and some of the others about 5 times now just to see if I change my mind. Even as I write I don't know whether I'll click the post button. So far I've managed to not offend and I really hope the following continues that trend.
For me the chapter gets off to a jumpy start as the first sentence seems to either have a redundant word or words missing. That is, "....howled slammed" doesn't read smoothly. It's like you wrote the sentence and then changed your mind and forgot to delete some of the original sentence. I've done this myself when writing emails at work so know how easily it can happen. This jumpy start is for me reinforced by the sentence "Some servo skulls..". When I say it out loud it doesn't sound right and it might be better off as "A few". That might just be me though.
Something else that spoils the rhythm of the chapter is the sentence "The air was charged with mystery and a palpable...". The lines "who barely stifled a yawn", "Their glassy expressions..", "Sounds good", don't add up to the supposed mystery and leaves this reader a bit perplexed.
I don't want to pile on the misery but I also feel that in the first half of the chapter Solomon's character seems to have changed a bit and he seems a bit soft.
To finish on an upbeat tone I have to say everything after "Frasier knew that the Magi..." is brilliant. Gripping, disturbing and just really well written.
Quote from: Starrakatt"Russ, get your work done or you won't see your damn console for the next month!"
Quote from: Cavalier
Honestly Alienscar, we get it... you dont like painting!


Hey Alienscar,

Again, don't worry about the feedback. It's good to have it. I agree with your point about the skulls, and will look again at the mystery thing. I'll do some changes today inbetween shifts at work. The howled slammed bit is exactly what you said happened. I changed the sentence and didn't take enough out.

I do have to disagree with you a bit on Solomon's character. I'll look at it again to see if I can improve the tone, but I'm not entirely sure about how he's coming across as softer. I think I intentionally wrote him a bit more polite as the delegation had a rough day previously. Maybe I should try and make that clearer. I'll make the relevant changes to the other stuff today and have a good read through of what's going on.

In other news, my lack of posting is just down to an extensive holiday in Ireland without my datastick. So yeah, I haven't vanished.

Cheers for the input, don't hesitate to stick at it. You make some great critical points and it's good to hear from you. Here's the second part of chapter 9. The bit from "Somethings wrong!" was the second or third thing I ever wrote for this story (after the epilogue), so keep an eye out for wild personality changes.

*   *   *

Lightning crashed against the peak, hurling chunks of semi-molten rock high into the air to tumble the thousands of metres onto the plains below. It lanced out again and again, drawn by the magnetism of the metal communications array.

*   *   *

"Once more." Instructed the Prime Magos.

He paced in front of the glass, occasionally glancing at nearby terminals. Information was being updated every second. The read-outs worked on overtime, and a thousand lights blinked off and on. Terminals hummed and cooling fans worked, creating tiny vortexes of loose paper and dust.

"Tvastar, increase the power." Said Quail.

"The creature is close to exhaustion," Crane confirmed, "Another one should do it. Heart rate is elevated to upper limit. I do not advise we continue after this."

"Understood," replied Solomon, "We shall have what we need."

The delegation clustered closer to the glass, Borsch almost rubbing his nose against it. Marlowe checked her chronometer, glanced up, and then checked it again. Quinn tapped away on his dataslate, recording the experiment in minutes.

Tvastar stared at his read-out. The generator was dangerously stretched. He compensated by shutting down some lesser functions on the uninhabited levels. They could be restored later. It gave him a margin, albeit a small one. Fingers flying across the keyboard, he re-routed the energy back into the grid and whispered a prayer to the Omnissiah under his breath.

"It is done," he said.

"Again, Biologis Quail!" said Solomon, his firey orange eyes burning bright. "We almost have it!"

Quail input the command.

*   *   *

It was inevitable.

The lightning smashed through the ruined sky, striking the top of the southern tower. Power surged down its length, throwing up sparks. The metal screamed and buckled in places, but the mast remained firm. Raw energy coursed it's length, tearing downward in the blink of an eye.

In a normal situation, it would have come to the unyielding rock of the bastion and stopped. On another day, it would have been safely grounded in the earth. But the Other had done their work well. The copper cables danced and convulsed, directing the fury of the storm into the power grid.

In a spectacular blast of heat and light, the transformer box exploded. Burning metal flew in all directions, gouging rents in the communications uplink dish and severing aerials and cables. Unhindered, the energy continued down as fast as light, right into the heart of Forlorn.

*   *   *

Ruby red warning lights cut through Control, carrying a wave of terror with them.

"Something's wrong!" called Crane as the warning lights continued to flash. An alarm sounded nearby.

"There is a surge!" reported Tvastar tapping frantically at his console. "Exceeding capacity."

There was a bang, just a regular, solid bang, like a firework exploding, and the entire room plunged into half darkness. Some terminals continued to operate, while some shut down with a heavy sigh halfway through processing. The red-emergency lights continued to illuminate Control.

"What happened?" demanded Fraiser.

"Surge", replied Quail without looking up, furiously imputing commands into the terminal in front of him. "Something overloaded the grid. We're completely dead."

"What about security?" pressed the Guard Captain. "Can that thing escape?"

"Negative," replied Tvastar, "vital systems are still operating on the backup generator, including containment for all Specimens."

He glanced at his terminal, and his eyes refocused in confusion.

"Error 5149 - Surveillance Failure, all levels. Error 5150 - Motion Sensor Failure, all levels. Error 5151 - Auto-Turret Failure, all levels. Error 1003 - Communications Uplink Offline. Error 1007 - Communications Transponder Offline. Lights... heating... air-recyclers... everything has failed. By the Omnissiah, the machine spirits are angered."

"Appease them," growled Solomon.

"There's no power!" replied the  Techpriest. "Primary generator has failed. The back-up generator is operating at full capacity just on containment and essential systems."

He tapped some more.

"Maintenance is offline. It is a total grid failure. Essential systems remain uncompromised."

"Throne preserve us," whispered Marlowe, looking down through the armour glass into the laboratory. The others followed her gaze.

The lictor was still held by the giant machine, anchored in place by crackling restraints, but it no longer seemed aggressive or violent. Instead, the beast was completely motionless. Standing before it, tiny by comparison, was Confessor Delaine.

"What is he doing in there?" asked Borsch, confused.

"Delaine," said Quail into a microphone. "You are in a dangerous, restricted area. Evacuate immediately."

"How did he get in there?" questioned Crane, "It was sealed."

"Surveillance is offline," replied Tvastar. "I cannot access the logs. I am unable to discern the Confessor's movements at this time."

Prime Magos Solomon leaned forward for a better view. His hulking frame obscured an entire section of the armourglass.

"Centurion Markus, take two teams and secure the laboratory."

The Skitari acknowledged with a clicking of binary.

Delaine stood stock still for several moments, staring straight at the lictor. It stared back calmly.

"Confessor," tried Quail again. "You are in violation of sacred Mechanicus laws. The area contains an unstable xenomorph creature. Please withdraw until the situation is under control."

The ecclesiarch stared vacantly up at the armourglass panels. Small, distant figures waved futilely at him. He moved to a control lectern nearby.

"Emperor's Mercy," shouted Crane to Tvastar, "Stop him! Lock him out."

"I cannot comply," replied the Techpriest. "System has overloaded. The machine spirit has sustained damage."

"This could be catastrophic," said Solomon calmly.

"What's going on!" asked Fraiser. "Talk to me Quail!"

"Confessor Delaine is manually overriding the containment field," replied the Biologis without looking up. "He is attempting to free Specimen Three."

"He can do that?" asked Band-Clerk Borsch incredulously. "How can he do that? Only a Tech Magi..."

"I assume at this juncture that Confessor Delaine is being influenced by forces outside of his knowledge and beyond our control," assessed Solomon.

There was a blast on the hazardous warning alarm. Quinn tapped away on his dataslate, recording everything meticulously. The Tech-Adepts battled in vain.

"Emperor save us," whispered Marlowe as the restraining clamps retracted.

*   *   *

Confessor Delaine stared blankly at the creature before him. For a moment, he could hardly reason that such a being was a servant of the Divine Emperor's Will. It was hunched, broken and exhausted. The creature stank of sweat and rotten meat, mixed with an aura of rage and hate. It was a boiling, bubbling sensation that stung the back of the Ecclesiarch's throat. It had an oily texture. It was repulsive.

All of this hit him in a single wave.

Then he remembered the words of the Voice. That the only way humanity could put an end to strife and overcome the multitude of its own tribulations was to become a single entity. One consciousness, united under the all-knowing God-Emperor of mankind. The Tyranids were merely his Holy Tool, unwitting pawns to His Divine Will.

Once they had consumed Holy Terra, the Emperor's godlike power would break free and usurp the control of the Hive Mind. All humans that had been consumed by the Tyranids would live on in their evolving genetic legacy. Mankind would have transcended individual burdens and become united as one, free from the woes of the mortal flesh. Under the benevolent gaze of the Hive-Emperor, a single human consciousness would rule the galaxy as was intended. An end to the isolation of human individuality. The prison of confusion and fear that autonomy wore would be smashed. Humanity would truly be one. One with one another, and one with Him on Earth. How could he have not seen it earlier? It was so perfect.

Delaine barely screamed as the lictor tore him to shreds.

*   *   *

Borsch stumbled away from the viewing deck and pirouetted like a drunken ballerina, spraying chunky yellow vomit as he did so. Unable to tear her eyes away from the carnage, Brigadier Marlowe flinched in sympathy as the man was ripped apart. The Band-Clerk crashed to the floor, his jowls wobbling as he was wracked by enormous sobs, before being interrupted as a second round of stomach-lining sallied from his nose and mouth. Quinn had stopped writing and held the data-slate limply in his hands.

"It's eating him," said Fraiser in horror. Biologis Crane had gone pale.

Even as the room watched the visceral drama unfolding below them, the lictor's skin began to shift, greasy black becoming mottled greys and blues as the chameleon blended to its surroundings.

"That's interesting," commented the Prime Magos with academic dispassion.   


Well, I suppose we all knew this was going to happen at some point ;D. Solomon seems fine in this chapter, to me at least, I think he's at his best when he's pushing the demanding experiments.

Wonder what will happen next!?
- Blog #6  A Five Star Comeback!


Hardback Version - Work in Progress

Audiobook production still going strong!


And now for some good old fashioned fighting. I'll make the changes I promised later on this shift, but I thought I'd get this up first. It's a bit trashy and a bit pulpy, but I was watching classic action/horror films whilst drunk when I wrote it originally. So there you go. The story was always going to be a bit of a tongue in cheek homage to two of my favourite films/books - Jurassic Park (the novel) and Aliens (the film). Hope it gels well and isn't too jarring.


Ten – Lockdown

"The chamber is sealed," reported Centurion Markus through the vox link. Overhead, a cluster of ceiling-mounted monitors displayed a rolling feed from twenty personal pict-recorders, each one overlaid with the vital signs of the Skitari to which it belonged.

Confessor Delaine had killed the two guards outside the doors, entered the laboratory and sealed himself in. Somewhere inside, standing stock still, was Specimen Three. It had completely faded from view, blending perfectly with the white walls and silver-grey machinery. Blue-grey smoke from the fried computer banks drifted lazily across the floor, adding to the confusion. Overloaded by the surge, the observation recorders were down, denying those in Control the ability to see remotely or with a variety of visual aids, such as heat sensitive infra-red.

Tvastar had managed to get one of the operational terminals to print out a damage report while he worked to bring some of the more crucial systems back online. It had been running for five minutes, churning out a seemingly endless list of offline or damaged processes. The Tech-Magi was not happy. The lingering smell of dried vomit hung in the air.

"Biologis Crane," said the Prime Magos, "Would you be so kind as to escort Band-Clerk Borsch and the Archivist to their quarters? Our esteemed colleague from the administratium looks unwell."

As ever with the Mechanicus executive, it was a statement phrased as a question. Crane nodded.

"As my Lord wills."

Gently, he lifted Borsch to his feet and let him to the door, trailing Quinn behind them like a lost child. The exit slid shut behind them, and the remainder turned back to the pict-casters.

"Breach the entry and initiate combat spread omega five," Instructed Solomon. "Remove hotshot packs and engage with light armament. No fire from the heavy bolters. Creature is to be recaptured alive and placed in secure containment."   

In addition to the twenty Skitari, a pair of heavy-duty combat servitors had joined them, eight feet tall and built for melee. Finally, a Sentinel power-lifter moved up, dragging a large flatbed on caterpillar tracks. Lashed to the cargo-hauler was a huge box made of metal and reinforced ceramite. It looked like a giant humane mousetrap.

"You cannot be serious," said Captain Fraiser. "They'll be torn apart."

The Mechanicus executive ignored him.

"Be advised, situation is fluid. Location of xenomorph unknown, but suspected to be still in the vicinity. That is all."

He had said suspected, but what he meant was 'definitely still inside the room, unless it can turn ethereal and walk through walls.' The Prime Magos realised his mouth was very dry and found this to be disconcerting. His mouth was never dry, but maintained at optimum moisture by some internal processor. 'This is irrational', he mused, 'I am exhibiting signs of nervousness'. The flesh was indeed weak.

"Understood," replied the distant voice of Centurion Markus. The Skitari moved to follow Solomon's orders, removing their hotshot attachments and tweaking their hellguns. A pair sporting suspensor mounted heavy bolters moved to the back, unfastening their bulky ammo belts as they did so. The two with flamers moved forward, ignition torches glowing blue.

Overhead, twenty monitors focused on the door, bobbing slightly as the cyborgs they were attached to repositioned. There was a blinding flash as the melta-charge went off, temporarily knocking out all the screens in a wall of white light. From the top of the viewing deck, the Prime Magos watched as the lab doors flowed apart like candle wax and the Skitari pointmen entered the room.

"Negative contact," reported one, standing in the doorway and scanning the room with his hand held device. "Auspex read-out normal."

"Nothing on thermals," said one of the pointmen, a ruby lens slid down over his left eye.

"Spread out and secure," replied the Centurion as he strode through the door. He stepped over the bloody rags that marked Delaine's final resting place. There was nothing left of the Confessor but his shredded robes, a few scattered rosary beads on a snapped chain, and a single shoe, still with a foot in it.

"Switch to thermal imaging. Check your spacing. Harassing fire only."

More and more Skitari moved in. Above them, the Imperial Guard captain leaned closer and closer to the glass, straining to see anything. A flicker of movement, a displaced shadow, a falling drop of saliva. There was nothing. Tense seconds ticked by as the Skitari glided between machinery, hellguns against shoulders.

"Clear," reported one.

"Impossible," spat Solomon, "It's in there. What about the auspex?"

"Negative, my lord," replied one of the soldiers. "Too much interference. There is EMP charge still present from the surge. Multiple overlapping bio-signs."

"Prime Magos," Interrupted another, "I believe I have found an exit point."

All the heads in the control room moved to focus on the Skitari's shoulder camera. It was pointed directly at a ventilation grate, six feet off the floor. The wire mesh had been torn open. The Mechanicus soldier moved forward and shone the beam of his flashlight down the length of the shaft. The sickly finger of light waned in the long darkness. There was nowhere else it could have gone.

"If it has gotten in there, it could be anywhere by now," muttered Marlowe, straightening her PDF uniform and fidgeting with the holster of her pistol.

"It is the only place..." began Fraiser. He was wrong.

With a scream of protesting metal, one of the med-labs huge hanging light fixtures tore loose from the ceiling and plummeted to the ground. Before anyone could react, it landed with a sickening crunch on two of the Mechanicus infantry, crushing them to paste and ringing like a cathedral bell. In the enclosed space, the noise was deafening. One of the unfortunate troopers held the squad's incinerator, and the weight of the debris ruptured the unit's promethium canister and sent clear sticky gel splattering in all directions. The fuel ignited instantly, bathing the laboratory in fire and sending another man stumbling drunkenly as the flames enveloped him.

Two of the overhead monitors went black, the bio-readings signifying life-flat lining immediately. What had previously been a flashing zig-zag representing a pulse had became a horizontal line, ominously still. Another camera was enveloped entirely in fire, the howls of the immolated soldier ringing down the vox link. Distorted by the channel, the screams seemed otherworldly, running like ice down the spine. His own biosigns raced in terror for a few seconds, before going silent.

"Contact!" Called the Centurion, "Roof level."

The remaining Skitari began to move with a purpose, spreading out and aiming skyward. In the control room, Captain Fraiser contorted his body, straining for a view of the lab ceiling. For a second, he thought he saw something move impossibly fast, shadowing one of the emergency lights.

"I don't see it!" Called another trooper, "Confirm position?"

At that moment, the crushed soldier's reserve promethium canisters ignited in a fireball that shook the ground and threw furniture across the lab. One Skitari was pinned beneath an upturned metal table, struggling to free himself. A second was crushed against the wall by a toppling computer stack without even enough time to scream. Bright blood sprayed almost artistically across the grey concrete. Two more were caught in the backwash, one badly, the hungry flames consuming him even as his squadmate managed to put himself out.

Overhead, more monitors went dark. The rest of the pict recordings danced crazily as the soldiers reacted to the situation, the images were grainy, clouded by acrid black smoke and crackling blue electricity. Nervous and confused faces swept past, scanning the ceiling. Everything was bathed in a hellish orange glow. The view down from Control was chaotic, most of the room obscured by soot and billowing plumes. Men struggled to douse out their burning squadmate. Solomon knew it would be in vain. The man's weak flesh had absorbed too much damage. It was chaos.

"Damn it all!" shouted Quail, swiping a microphone, "In the Omnissiah's name, fire control! There is valuable data in that room."

"Markus, comply," said Solomon, his mechandrites flexing like a nervous twitch. Unquestioningly, the Centurion allocated three nearby soldiers to sling their weapons and grab fire suppression units. Across the room, chemicals touched off in the heat in a secondary explosion that showered glass in all directions and bounced off the walls like razorhail. No one was seriously injured, but everyone flinched.

From the top, the room was almost entirely concealed in thick black clouds, with only the sinister glow of flames and the blinking of the Skitari suit-lamps indicating the carnage unfolding below. The tension was palpable.

"Four," said the Prime Magos dispassionately, looking at the blacked out viewing screens. "Five," he corrected, as the previously flaming one expired on the floor in considerable agony.

"They're getting slaughtered," said Marlowe angrily. "Pull them out!"

Quail looked at Solomon nervously, his hands still clutching the thin microphone. The Prime Magos ignored her comments, his face impassive.

The entire debacle could not have lasted more than ten seconds. Eight point six, if you were Prime Magos Solomon.

A huge shadow skittered across the window, causing Fraiser to leap back with a cry.

"Contact, left!" someone called. Ruby laserfire pierced the smog. It was disciplined but dancing wildly in all directions, as if firing at something incomprehensibly fast. Lost in the smoke, the Centurion bellowed orders at his squad. There was a scream, and another of the overheads went black. The monitor next to it registered a blur of darkness and movement, before that too went offline.

"Seven," said Quail, his hands trembling.

As swiftly as it had come, the creature disappeared again.

"There's too much heat," someone complained, "I'm blind."

"Switch to normal mode," said Markus calmly, lenses sliding away from his eyes and swapping out with others. "Servitors on me."

The eight-foot combat behemoths shambled into the carnage. Silence reigned for a few moments.

The next strike was silent and completely unexpected. An isolated Skitari providing overwatch was impaled on a two-meter talon. Immediately following the first, another erupted from his chest and in the blink of an eye the soldier was torn in half before he realized what was happening. Then entire attack lasted less than a second and was captured on Markus' pict-transmitter. Lasfire followed the beast as it leapt back into the smoke. From somewhere in the shifting, cloying shadows, the monster screeched in defiance of its hunters. A primordial chill ran down Fraiser's back.

"Live fire," said Solomon with a heavy sigh. "Engage and destroy."

The Skitari were only too happy to comply, strapping their hotshot packs into place. The heavy bolters re-attached their ammunition belts.

"Regroup" instructed Markus. "Line formation. Watch your spacing. Keep an eye on the ceiling."

While the soldiers reformed, the servitors shambled forward into the gloomy laboratory to try and flush the creature out. The flames were dying down, casting long shadows up the walls. In the red glow of the emergency lighting, the room looked strange and the light played havoc on the eyes. Pockets of smoke still clouded most of the interior. There was something about the far wall that drew the Guard Captain's attention. The way the shadows fell just didn't look right. Something moved.

"Contact right!" he warned, a fraction of a second too late. The Lictor burst from behind a stack of crates and equipment, scattering boxes into the Mechanicus soldiery as they tried to react. As it bounded across an open space, long sinuous cords whipped out, wrapping around the Centurion and hauling him off his feet. The man writhed as the fleshhooks bit into his armour, bionics and skin. He was dragged across the floor with considerable speed, firing his hellgun in defiance as he ploughed toward oblivion. The Skitari leader disappeared behind a row of terminals. There was the sound of tearing metal and a wet squelch. A single shrill cry rose in anguish before being abruptly cut off. Markus' monitor turned black.

"Opening fire!" reported one of the specialist troopers. Heavy bolter rounds tore through the laboratory, shattering the terminals. A heartbeat later, the second heavy bolter opened up, laying down a wall of suppressive fire.

"Who's firing!" called the Biologis into his microphone, "Three-Twenty-Six, that is expensive, nigh irreplaceable technology. Cease fire immediately!"

The panicked Skitari ignored him. On the overhead monitors, intersecting lines of fire roared amber in the pict casters.

"Where's Markus?" Shouted one to another, taking him by the shoulder and seeming to yell directly into the video feed. "Where's the Centurion?"

In the background, the heavy bolters paused briefly, tracking for a target. A trooper on the right screamed in horror as he was wrenched off his feet and into the swirling smoke. His monitor recorded a mass of alien horror before cutting out.

"Ten! Emperor on Earth!"

Biologis Quail looked anxiously at the Prime Magos. Solomon's eyes narrowed in anger.

"Withdraw," He said finally. The remaining Skitari closed formation and backed up towards the door, stepping through the breach. The heavies came next, fingers tightly on the trigger, pulverizing anything in view. The Servitors stomped after them, ducking to bring their massive frames under the top of the ring of molten metal left by the melta-charge.

"Powerlifter," he voxed. "Use the cage to steal that breach."

The Sentinel moved to comply, Skitari stepping out of the way as it hauled the giant ceramite and metal contraption to cover the doors. A welding torch fired up, and the remaining monitors were bathed in flickering blue.

"We are in lockdown?" He asked Tvastar.

"Correct," replied the Tech-Magos without looking up from his terminal. Sparks flew from a socket on the wall as the devotee of the Machine Cult struggled to repair damaged systems. "Lockdown initiates automatically in event of a power-failure."

"So it can't get far," concluded Solomon, seeming a little more appeased. He did not seem concerned by the loss of so many soldiers.

"What about the ducts?" asked Marlowe, managing to keep an edge of panic out of her voice.

"All ventilation shafts, access tunnels and waste conduits seal during lockdown," said Tvastar, "To prevent the transferral of any airborne hazardous material should a leak occur. It has limited movement, restricted to level one. The negative side is that we only have enough oxygen for twelve hours."

"We're sealed in? With that... ...that thing?" the brigadier said in stark disbelief.

"Correct," replied the Tech Magos. "Forlorn is compartmentalised for security. A lockdown seals each cluster and each level to prevent transference of hazardous materials. I am working to rectify the problem now. Until I have brought our generator and backup systems online, we shall have limited or restricted access to most of the facility. As will Specimen Three."

"Twelve hours will be sufficient to recapture the creature," said Quail earnestly, a glimmer of hope working its way into his voice. Prime Magos Solomon inclined his head in agreement.

"I thought you were going to destroy it?" said Fraiser, tearing himself away from the viewing window.

"That remains to be seen," replied Solomon, "It would be preferable if such a valuable creature could be taken alive. Destroying it would end our work here until a replacement could be found."

"Can we access the hanger?" Asked Marlowe, "Evacuate the wounded and civilians?"

"Negative," replied Tvastar. "The hanger bay is sealed off to us."

The brigadier erupted in anger. As she raged and the Mechanicus staff argued back or attempted to placate her, Fraiser let out a heavy sigh and glanced back at the viewing platform.

The lictor was hanging upside down from the ceiling. Its face was pressed against the window, and its sole eye burned with inhuman malevolence. It was starting directly at the Captain. Feeder tendrils slapped against the glass, leaving slippery trails of saliva.

It hung there for just a fraction of a second, before disappearing.


Quote from: Sheepz on April 13, 2013, 07:56:51 AM
I do have to disagree with you a bit on Solomon's character. I'll look at it again to see if I can improve the tone, but I'm not entirely sure about how he's coming across as softer. I think I intentionally wrote him a bit more polite as the delegation had a rough day previously. Maybe I should try and make that clearer.

I thought you might disagree Sheepz as I am fairly sure that most people reading this will have different idea's regarding Solomon's character. I haven't got a lot of time spare at the moment but here is a quick bit of background for why I think Solomon appears softer than he should.

Quote from: Artemis
Permit us to dispense with the pleasantries, Biologis." Replied the other,"
"There are only fifteen souls assembled. Explain."
Solomon did not smile. Solomon never smiled. It was not becoming of an Adeptus Mechanicus Prime Magos.
"You are too human, Quail."
"That's interesting," commented the Prime Magos with academic dispassion.

It's not everything and obviously everybody's interpretation of a character will be different but from the examples above I hope you can see why I think Solomon seems a bit softer in the first half of chapter 9. My feeling, derived from your description of Solomon so far, is of a person that wouldn't make allowances for someone suffering from a hangover. His apologetic nature just doesn't seem right to me. So long as you are happy with the way you have written it that is all that counts really.

I've been a bit slack with my feedback of late Sheepz so now I have a bit more time I thought I would catch up.
The second half of chapter nine and all of 10 is brilliant. Your characterisation, world building & story telling is just excellent. I've said it before but I'll say it again your writing is at its best when you are describing the world of Forlorn and when you are writing actions scenes or moving the plot forward and these chapters really pile on the suspense and drama. I have to say Sheepz that I am reading Revenge Of The Dwarves, A Clash Of Kings & The Walking Dead trade paperbacks at the moment and a lot of the time your story is my second favourite reading matter.
Watt's in a word? Plainly I should have written "what's" in the first sentence but I just want to make a point. The words a writer uses are just as important as the way in which they are used. Words are more than just the letters that they are made of. So, even though "watt's" sounds the same as the word I should have used some people will think about electricity and some will think about the name James when they read it whilst other people might not even notice. For those that do notice the use of the wrong word whatever I was trying to say will have lost a bit of impact because the readers mind has wandered. This kind of mistake is a malapropism or catachresis (not sure which to be honest). For me malapropisms are worse than spelling mistakes because as long as all the correct letters have been used most spelling mistakes are easily ignored when reading but the use of the wrong word can drastically alter the pace, feel and meaning of a sentence and just generally disrupt the whole immersive aspect that a good story induces. My point? Whilst you haven't made many spelling mistakes I've noticed over 20 occurrences of instances where the wrong word has been used and if/when you edit the story you change these it will really make a difference to the flow of the story. There are also instances of missing words or additional unnecessary words that interrupt the reader's concentration.
I don't know what you, or anybody else who is reading this for that matter, thinks but I think a writer should stick to one measuring system when referring to heights or weights. It is only a small matter but you change between metric and imperial measurements quite a bit and I personally find it a bit disconcerting. On the subject of weights the expression "like a ton of bricks" has been around a lot longer than metrification and I personally don't think it should be written as "a tonne of bricks". That may just be my personal preference though so it would be nice to know what other people think.
I know you have said that you have been inspired by Alien and Jurassic Park but I must say that as I was reading chapters 9 & 10 I thought that it was very reminiscent of The Thing and I can't help thinking that your story will have a very similar ending. That is, everybody must die to stop the danger spreading to a wider environment. This is not a criticism though Sheepz as The Thing has got to be one of the finest thrillers ever written.
I was thinking of making a point about the use of mixed metaphors but have decided not to as I think I have probably said more than enough already.
Quote from: Starrakatt"Russ, get your work done or you won't see your damn console for the next month!"
Quote from: Cavalier
Honestly Alienscar, we get it... you dont like painting!



I now work 4 jobs and have a plethora of other responsibilities, so I got dragged screaming into the void. I'm trying to get back on track, although I'm not totally down with Chapter 11 it feels good to have something written. The story is at least half-way now, and turned out a lot bigger than I expected.

Now you highlight it and I have a bit of time. I agree about Solomon. I'll toughen him up a bit in an edit sometime. I hope he hasn't lost his edge here, either.

'I've noticed over 20 occurrences of instances where the wrong word has been used and if/when you edit the story you change these it will really make a difference to the flow of the story. There are also instances of missing words or additional unnecessary words that interrupt the reader's concentration.'

I apologise. I'll have a look myself, but if you have any time or energy to dig them up, I'll look at them again. In future, I really don't mind if you drag up things as they go. They might seem like little quibbles to you that you don't want to mention, but as I've said in the past, it's great having another pair of eyes and some substative feedback. I really value your contributions and I'm sorry I haven't looked at this for so long.

"I don't know what you, or anybody else who is reading this for that matter, thinks but I think a writer should stick to one measuring system when referring to heights or weights"

I agree. In future I shall endeavour to use one system. Until the grand ole massive re-edit stage, there may be still a bit of fluxuation, but I'll try to stick to metric. I use metric a lot of scenarios but Imperial in the pub (pints, halfs ect) and Imperial at GW or when measuring rooms and stuff (feet, inches) so I have a really weird mixed up system. I'll try and straighten it out to metric because it seems more precise and 40Kish than feet, inches and tons. The ton/tonne of bricks thing was more a coloquialism. But it is one that isn't necessary and can be substituted.

The Thing! Yes, I get that actually. Maybe it's a subconcious acknowledgement. Some of the scenes - labs, containment - were inspired by Jurassic Park - book, not film, I guess - whereas the fight scene was a lot more Aliens vs Colonial Marines. Especially the cheeky 'Where's the Sarge?!' reference that might be a bit too OOT.

Anyway, enough blather. As mentioned, comments, criticism and questions are welcome and appreciated. As well as clarifications if I get my science in a mess. And also just post anyway, because of the way the double posting mechanic works.

Eleven – Emergency Protocol

It had been one-hour, seventeen standard Shelter minutes since containment was breached and lockdown initiated.

"Mea Culpa, Prime Magos." Said Quail, bowing low.

"With respect, My Lord," added Tvastar as he ran through the endless damage reports, "This is a major systems malfunction. I do not know how Confessor Delaine managed to achieve such a catastrophic result."

Solomon's eyes flared.

It had been a bad day for Prime Magos Solomon. The final butcher's bill from the laboratory was ten terminated and another six wounded. They were mainly chemical burns, light shrapnel injuries, and a failure by one solider to account for residual EMP charge that had damaged his circuitry. Then there was a dead Ecclesiarchal priest which was bound to cause awkward questions.

Half the facility was completely offline, and the other half was battling to keep it operational. The Logic Engine had initiated lockdown, sealing off entire sections of Forlorn and would being 'Emergency Protocol' if power was not restored within twelve hours. Containment was breached and there was now the very real possibility of a highly intelligent and aggressive Tyranid vanguard organism on the loose.

To compound this, the catalogue of failures by his subordinates had humiliated the Priesthood and called the Divine Mission into question. Just as Magos Biologis Quail's research had developed promise, as soon as the Prime Magos had taken a direct interest, it had all come crashing down.

"Your apologies do not annul your responsibility, Magos Biologis. This difficult situation has been brought upon us as judgement for your complacency. Save your pleas for the Omnissiah."

"Prime Magos!" Breathed Quail nervously, "If I could..."

"You cannot. You have proven that already. I have no use for your protestations, Quail. You will do what must be done."

"My Lords," said Tvastar, daring to enter the conversation, "With the generator offline, we have limited power. I cannot begin to repair the damage."

"We will accommodate you, Enginseer," replied Solomon, his fiery eyes never leaving Quail, "The Magos Biologis will provide a solution."

Quail nodded. Fraiser and Marlowe watched on from the shadows, completely adrift in an alien sea of terrible possibilities horrifying consequences. The door hissed open and Crane returned silently from his errand. It did not take a psychologist to assess the current atmosphere in Control. He crossed the room and sat in a chair, staring at a blank monitor with his fingers steepled.

Biologis Quail took a deep breath. He turned to Tvastar.

"Correlate damage reports and advise necessary prerequisites to restoring key systems, re-capturing Specimen Three and lifting lockdown."

"My lord," the Tech Magi replied, "It is a total grid failure. Without the primary generator, I cannot undo the damage we have sustained. We must manually restart the generator."

The words hung heavy in the air.

"But," he continued, "Such a task means leaving Control."

There was an unspoken implication.

"Failure to act could have catastrophic consequences."

"The creature," said Fraiser, "It can't leave the laboratory..."

"Right now, I wouldn't be surprised if it had escaped, travelled all the way to Lothis and was masquerading as the Bishop of Haalm," cursed Marlowe. Watching Specimen Three take apart two squads of elite Mechanicus infantry had left her doubting the viability of any of Tvastar's security protocols.

"That is unlikely," said the Prime Magos without a trace of humour, "But the sentiment is not inaccurate. We must ascertain the location of Specimen Three before we proceed."

The lictor had faded into the grey and white laboratory like a chameleon. Even if it were still in the wreckage, it was not moving and ergo completely invisible to most conventional detection means currently at the disposal of Forlorn's remaining staff.

"Pict-casters are offline." Said Tvastar, not afraid to state the obvious.

"Indeed, and without power they cannot be restored," replied his superior.

"Sounds like a no-win situation," Offered Marlowe sourly.

"Not entirely," Solomon continued, "There is a way the pict-casters can be brought online temporarily in a specific local cluster. A single camera does not require vast quantities of power to operate. Were we to isolate a recorder from the rest of the surveillance network, it is possible that we could power it from this room."

He paused.

"Biologis Quail, you will interface with the Surveillance Directory for this laboratory, isolate a feed and power it up using your internal processor. You will determine the presence of the Specimen in the room below."

"My Lord," whispered Crane, "It is dangerous to interface with damaged spirits, more so to power them from one's own processor. To share a heart with an injured machine? The mere connection with the damaged technology almost killed Lord Quail yesterday."

The Prime Magos gave him a cold, emotionless stare.

"Then let us hope he is better prepared this time,"

All eyes turned to Quail, but there was no room to argue. This was his responsibility, and to his Lord Solomon, it was also his penance. With heavy footsteps, Quail approached the terminal. Its carapace was dark, with not a single neon glow to signify life. He whispered a prayer to the Omnissiah, feeling their eyes on his back. Then he interfaced.

*   *   *

For a moment, everything around him was dark. The console was completely dead, and it gave the impression that he was standing in a giant, empty void. No roof, no floor, no walls, but an eternity of night stretching in all directions. To power the console, he would have to share some of his own energy. The internal processor that maintained the rhythm of his body and powered his augmetics would give life to the pict-caster's Machine Spirit. Reluctantly, he began to re-rout power, first from his limbs, then from his vital organs. He felt his heart rate elevate slightly as fear surged through him. His internal processor attempted to correct it, with limited success.

There was a blinding flash of white light as the machine powered up. It focused the world into a single tunnel. At the very centre, he hazily glimpsed the ruined laboratory, as if through a crystal ball.

Instantly, the world around him changed to amber and red. Feeds from the data streams filled the void with numbers and letters, reeling off damage reports. The Machine Spirit was in agony, and Quail's disembodied soul heard himself scream in pain. It was otherworldly and distant. Here, inside the Surveillance Directory, was ten thousand times ten thousand miles away from his body.

His consciousness was surrounded by glowing circuitry, crimson stabs of pain lancing into his mind as the Machine struggled to cope with the lack of power. The terrified feeling of separation from its core processor. He sensed its hurt, fear, and anger. The injured rage of the God within the Machine.

*   *   *

"He is losing," said Tvastar.

Quail's body shuddered. Light spilt from his eyes and mouth.

"Do something!" said Marlowe aghast. "Techpriest, you have to help him."

"He is beyond my reach," said the Magi in monotone. Tvastar had a good heart. A great heart, in fact, one of the best currently available to Initiates of his rank. He felt sorry for Quail, he just couldn't articulate it. Deep in his electric soul, the Techpriest mourned.

"Lord Quail is capable," said Biologis Crane with a certainty he did not feel. "We must trust his ability and plead the grace of the Omnissiah."

*   *   *

Quail's consciousness battled toward the end of the tunnel. Every second brought nausea and pain. The distance was immeasurable, and the end seemed a lifetime away. Greedy systems grasped at him, throwing numbers at his ethereal consciousness, attempting to steal away the precious life that powered his mortal body. Databanks spilled their contents, threatening to drive him mad as the information poured into his mind at the speed of light. Maddened security procedures tried to restrain him, and every one he shut down with the force of his will. Grimly, Quail pressed on.

*   *   *

Above his protesting frame, a single monitor blinked on and shut down repeatedly as the Biologis forced his way towards the pict-caster's unblinking lens. Finally, it powered up, quivering and flickering. Every eye in the Control room watched the only visible sign of Quail's spiritual struggle. Words appeared on the screen.




A tense minute passed. The shuddering body of Quail went still, before slumping forward. The overhead monitor flatlined and went dark. There was a stunned silence.

"He is dead then?" asked Fraiser finally.

Solomon remained motionless. Biologis Crane rose slowly to approach the body. He passed Marlowe, whose eyes never left Quail. Her face was made of stone.

"Disconnect him, Tvastar," said Crane as he grasped Quail's limp shoulders. "It's over."

"Patience." Instructed the Prime Magos. His eyes were fixed on the prone form of his subordinate.

"Do not touch him."

The monitor flickered back to life. It filled with random numbers and letters against a blue screen, scrolling for what seemed like an age.

"Magos Biologis Quail," said Solomon. "Focus. We are waiting."

A moment passed.

"I apologise, my Lord." replied the vox system.


Welcome back Sheepz. I haven't read the new chapter yet but thought I would reply in case you had any more of the story to post.
Quote from: Starrakatt"Russ, get your work done or you won't see your damn console for the next month!"
Quote from: Cavalier
Honestly Alienscar, we get it... you dont like painting!


Hey! You're still around. Cheers! Here's the rest of the chapter.

*   *   *

"Now Infra-red."

The overhead monitor changed to overlapping colours, ranging from yellow-white where small fires still glowed, to dark blues and blacks showing the cold metal workstations and ceramite walls.

Fraiser squinted at the screen.

"Aren't they cold blooded?" He asked.

"Not always," replied Crane. "Specimen Three appears to be biologically adaptive."

"It's just, you know..."

"Because they have a somewhat reptilian visage?"

"I guess," shrugged the Captain. "I've never really thought about it. I just assumed..."

His voice trailed off.

"Thermobiology is - as far as we are aware - environmentally dependent. The Tyranid cadavers recovered from Pandora indicate that they thrived in an environment incremental to most life due to the close proximity of the system's binary stars. In fact, the level of thermoregulation far exceeded that of even naturally evolving indigenous species. Conversely, the reports from Gracia stated that up to fifty-five percent of the initial invasion force died from exposure within one axial cycle."

"Gracia being an ice-world." Mused the Captain. "Meaning they are cold blooded?"

"No," said the Biologis with a hint of frustration. "Meaning they do not always adapt. These creatures are bio-engineered lifeforms. They are a miracle of evolution. We cannot even begin to replicate that level of genetic perfection. On Statius, which is tidally-locked, the Tyranids were able to thrive in both the hot-zone and frozen environments without any degree of impedance."

He paused.

"Look at Genestealers, for example. They can survive for limited periods in vacuum. Broad horizons of heat and cold. They can willingly enter torpor for extended periods of time. Tyranid physiology is a marvel. And that is why we study them."

"So Gracia was an anomaly?" asked the Captain, who was unwilling to let a good point go so easily.

"Yes and no." Replied Crane. "Tyranids have been found succumbing to extremes of temperature in various conflicts. It is not a frequent occurrence, but it is not without precedent. Sometimes nature makes mistakes."

At that moment, the Prime Magos - who was not following the interesting scientific divergence - interrupted.

"Quail. Grid 4 by 5.5. Magnify seventy-five percent."

The camera moved to refocus on a corner of the laboratory, five feet up the wall. The picture was mottled blues and blacks, but there was something unnatural about the way the colours fell.

"I believe this to be Specimen Three." Said Quail's disembodied voice.

"It could be," admitted Crane.

"Shouldn't it be yellow, then?" Asked Fraiser, barrelling back into a conversation which was already out of his depth.

"Specimen Three has degrees of control over thermobiology, adaptive camouflage and cardiac rhythm," replied Crane. "In layman's terms, it can exert control over its core temperature, skin texture and colour, and heartbeat. An invisible predator."

"I concur with Magos Biologis Quail. I am sixty-nine percent certain that is the Specimen," continued Solomon as if no discussion had taken place. He was actually 68.777  - reoccurring - sure that the lictor was in the room. He had rounded up for Captain Fraiser's benefit. Fraiser, on the other hand, treated words like 'certain' as black and white. Something was either definite or unknown.

"Can't we check for a heartbeat?" Asked the Guardsman.

"That subroutine is slaved to the motion-sensor, not the pict-recorder." Said Tvastar. "It would need to interface with a member of the Priesthood to become operational, in the manner in which Lord Quail has demonstrated."

"Magos Biologis Crane," said Solomon. "You will interface with the motion sensor and assuage the Captain's fears."

Crane's eyes bulged in terror. He looked at the Motion Sensor terminal as if it were the anthropomorphic representation of Death.

"That won't be necessary," interrupted Captain Fraiser earnestly. "I defer to your judgement, Prime Magos. I would not wish to burden Doctor Crane."

"Magos Biologis Crane, Captain."

"Magos Biolgois Crane, my apologies."

Satisfied, Solomon turned his attention to Quail's inert form.

"Magos Biologis Quail. Return to us."

The monitor blinked and died. A second or two later, the Biologis on the floor let out a low groan. His uplink mechandrite withdrew from the terminal.

"Do not trouble yourself with movement until the internal processor has stabilised your body. There will be some disorientation."

Quail coughed twice and rolled onto his back. His eyes were glassy and unfocused. Jerkily, hands moved to caress his temples.

"All that remains now is to re-activate the Primary Generator," continued Solomon with a blatant disregard for Quail's well-being. "A member of the Order will have to go to the generatorium and restart it manually."

"That thing could be out there," said Marlowe, moving closer to Fraiser to back him up.

"Hypothetically," countered Solomon, turning his bulk towards the two uninitiated. How they taxed his patience with their false caution and palpable ignorance!

Both of them would touch a wall marked with 'wet paint' signs, just out of curiosity. Conversely, they would follow suicidal orders to the letter if issued by a superior officer. Humans, he mused, were a curious mix of wilful ignorance and blind obedience. Present them with a statistical probability based off centuries of accumulated knowledge granted to them freely by one of the finest minds in the entire universe, and they counter and question! Human nature was a terrible and unpredictable impediment to progress.

"However, I do not believe it statistically probable. It is most likely that Magos Biologis Quail is correct in his analysis that the distribution of heat patterns indicate the presence of Specimen Three."

They looked unconvinced. He could ill afford any more of their negative opinions.

"I'll go," said Fraiser. "I'll start the generator."

"I cannot let you do that, Captain. The generatorium is one of our most holy sanctums. Even were you to gain access, the intricacies of the machine would be lost on you. It must be a member of the Order."

Tech Magos Tvastar rose, his monotone voice echoing around the room.

"I shall go, Prime Magos."

"Omnissiah Bless and Keep You, Techpriest," replied Solomon. "I cannot accede to that request either. Without your ministrations, the damage could be irreparable."

And just like that, there was only one remaining candidate. Magos Biologis Crane rose wordlessly.

"I would be honoured, Prime Magos," he said wearily.

"It is decided." Said Solomon, "Biologis Crane will egress to the generatorium and restart the fuel pump, bringing the primary power generator online." He turned to Crane.

"Be sure to perform all the rites and ordinances as appropriate. The Omnissiah has suffered a great defilement this day. More blasphemy would be intolerable."

The geneticist nodded mutely.

"You will take one Fire-Team of Skitari in escort, and will use the stairwell on access route D. This is the path of least resistance. The stairwell should permit the greatest travel distance before you encounter any sealed doors."

Tech Magi Tvastar took over.

"Regrettably, you will have to take breaching equipment. The Logic Engine will not broker any attempts to over-ride the locking mechanisms. Such an attempt may trigger the Emergency Protocol. I cannot perform any actions from this room that will aid you, but I shall instruct you further once you have reached the generatorium."

"This 'Emergency Protocol' you are so fond of..." asked Fraiser, "what exactly is it? It seems pertinent now."

There was an awkward silence.

"Given that we have limited time," groaned Quail from under a desk, "I believe the Captain should be enlightened."

Solomon nodded reluctantly.

"It is a final failsafe." Said Tvastar. "If I cannot restore power and lift lockdown in the remaining ten hours and twelve minutes, the Logic Engine will flood the facility with a special type of gas. It is has a highly corrosive reaction to organic and synthetic substances. It will burn through skin and armour in seconds. It is highly efficient, terribly painful and entirely fatal."

He'd suspected as much.

"Well," said the Captain., "We have work to do."

"Indeed," replied the Prime Magos. A mechandrite reached from his back and began to rummage in a drawer behind him. It produced Quail's bolt pistol. Holding it gingerly by the grip, as if the gun was some dirty thing, it leaned over Solomon's shoulder and proffered itself to Biologis Crane.

"Mea Culpa, Magos. I don't know how to use it," Crane said, embarrassed by the confession.

"That is unfortunate," replied Solomon. "The Cult of the Omnissiah holds that knowledge is power, Biologis Crane. You would do well to remember this tenant for the remainder of whatever life you are blessed with, lest you find yourself in another unenviable situation."

"By His Will," replied the Biologis meekly.

"In His Name," echoed Solomon. "Now go, the Skitari will meet you enroute."


Quote from: Sheepz on July 29, 2013, 11:11:09 AM
They might seem like little quibbles to you that you don't want to mention, but as I've said in the past, it's great having another pair of eyes and some substative feedback. I really value your contributions and I'm sorry I haven't looked at this for so long.

There's a couple of reasons I haven't mentioned the missing/misused words before Sheepz. One is mr_mich's rules for fluff that puts the onus on the writer to get the simpler things correct. The other is that I was foolishly trying to generate a bit of activity in the Fiction board. In my mind it must be quite difficult writing creative fiction and I'm guessing just a bit disheartening if you don't get any feedback. So understanding that not everyone wants to give feedback on someone else's writing I thought I would point out little things like the weights and measures and malapropisms in the hope that some of the other viewers of this thread might join in.
Quote from: Starrakatt"Russ, get your work done or you won't see your damn console for the next month!"
Quote from: Cavalier
Honestly Alienscar, we get it... you dont like painting!


Hey Alienscar,

Yes, you're quite right about the onus on the writer. Hopefully when I do my edits this will be alleviated somewhat. At the moment I'm just hammering it out and posting it with little to no proof-reading on a chapter by chapter basis. Not the best way to write, I guess, but consider it a draft. I don't finish enough stories so I'm keen to get this one done.

Cheers for the input!

More still to post. But here is the first bit of Chapter Twelve.

Twelve – Crane

It had been two-hours, twenty-eight standard Shelter minutes since containment was breached and lockdown initiated.

Crane leaned against the stair-rail and tried to control his breathing.

The bolt pistol in his hands was heavy, unfamiliar. As a biological scientist, he wasn't entirely sure how to use it but he'd taken it anyway. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but a mass-reactive diamantine-tipped .75 calibre bolt shell fired from a hand held rocket launcher could take an arm off with a glancing hit, which was a phenomena Crane had yet to encounter in office stationary.

"Biologis Crane, report your position." It was Solomon.

"Honoured Lord," he gasped, "I am on the stairwell, level three."

"The Skitari detail is waiting for you. Do not test their patience. Or mine."

"By His Will," replied Crane, gritting his teeth.

"In His Name." Echoed the Prime Magos. The comm link went dead.

Crane descended the last flight of stairs, boots ringing on the steel. He turned a corner, heading down one of the service corridors, littered with access doors to various smaller shrines, swtich-rooms, storage areas, libraries and chemical deposits. Each entry was marked with a genereader or cardport. The terminals which previously glowed were blank. Unlike the heavy ceramite blast-doors that compartmentalised the base, these flimsy internal structures could be prized open by a couple of strong men, their mag-locks useless without power.

The blood red glow of the emergency lighting flickered and died, plunging the world into darkness. Biologis Crane froze in terror.

"Tech Magi?" he whispered into his inbuilt comms unit. "Emergency lighting down, level three, access route E."

"Forgive me, Magos," replied the distant engiseer, "Bio Adepts Lowell and Drecker are sealed in The Cage. I have had to re-route power from the emergency lights to bring the air-recyclers online. Without them, they will suffocate in thirteen minutes."

Crane muttered some profanity under his breath.

"Magos Quail's hallowed pistol has a torch attachment," continued the Techpriest "Just under the barrel."

The Biologis fumbled in the darkness. With a dull click, a deathly pale finger of light shot down the corridor, dissipating into the inky black.

"Proceed with haste, Magos," urged Solomon.

Hundreds of meters away, deep in the bowels of the fortress, Crane set off gingerly. Clinging to the walls, he moved down the corridor. The torch bobbed up and down, occasionally glinting off some polished metal. Keeping one hand on the wall, he pressed on until without warning, his boots slid across the floor. Biologis Crane fell heavily into a shut door with an echoing thump. He looked down, moving his feet in horror.

"Blood." He whispered.

"Repeat statement." Instructed Solomon from afar.

"There's blood on the floor," said Crane, quickly stepping out of the half-congealed pool and directing the pistol to the door. "Storage room Seventeen, Level Three."


Against his better judgement, Crane leaned against the panel. It didn't move. His free hand repeatedly palmed the genecode reader for no effect. He tried to slide it, but it did not budge.

"I cannot access the room. Honoured Lord, what is happening?"

He heard whispered voices down the commlink. One was Tvastar's rumbling monotone.

"Biologis Crane," instructed Solomon, "We cannot access the surveillance logs. Continue on course, the Skitari are moving to your position."

"My Lord," said Crane, panic edging its way into his voice, "Has the Specimen escaped? Is everyone accounted for?"

"Your objective has changed. Continue to rendezvous with Fire Team Alpha and proceed to The Cage. Secure Bio-Adepts Lowell and Drecker and egress to Generatorium post-haste."

The biologis swallowed hard. He backed away from the door, turning sharply to view the darkness all around him. In the endless night, things scratched and clicked.

"Prime Magos?"

"Focus, Magos Biologis. You have your instructions."

Crane set off.

*   *   *

The Medical Bay was sealed, but the doors still worked. Aside from Control, it was the only compartmentalised area of Forlorn that would operate normally under lockdown. The Cult Mechanicus at least had the foresight to not include procedures that would cut them off from emergency treatment during a catastrophic breakdown.

"Astra-Telepathica Rachel is in Medical, along with the warriors injured in the laboratory earlier. It is hermetically sealed and all vital medicae equipment is functioning on the back-up generator," intoned Tvastar. He tapped away on his keyboard, eyes refocusing in the darkness of his cowl. "In view of their itinerary, Orderlies Drecker and Lowell are trapped in The Cage. Adept Mikkael is still missing?"

"Drecker and Lowell will be in The Cage," sighed Quail, running his fingers through his short dark hair. "They observe proper timekeeping. Adept Mikkael was not present when moving the Specimen, and when I spoke to Drecker prior to the experiment he was still absent."

Tvastar said nothing, but continued to type. Captain Fraiser rubbed his bio-acid scar. Everyone stayed quiet, but a glance at Marlowe confirmed she shared his thoughts. Mikkael was probably dead.

"How many operational combat resources are available?" asked the Prime Magos.

"All organic servitor units are still functional," replied the Magi. "We have six Skitari lightly wounded in Medical, and the remaining four are standing guard. Of our warriors, ten were terminated in the laboratory along with two guards outside. Five are escorting Biologis Crane, and the remaining three are sealed in the Hanger Bay. All thirty souls accounted for."

Eighteen, thought Fraiser grimly. Eighteen souls. Twelve are dead.

"Where are Borsch and Quinn?" said Marlowe.

"The Band-Clark and Archivist are in the Living Quarters. Along with Captain Fraiser's honour-guard."

"At your request," muttered the Captain bitterly.

"It was not a request." answered Solomon tactlessly. "It was an instruction, Captain. Magos Biologis Quail is Head of this Facility, and I am his superior. The Priesthood does not need more uninitiated running amok during this delicate time,"

There was an uncomfortable silence. Fraiser knew arguing was useless. He was an outsider in a facility run by unpredictable cogboys. It was easier to defer to the Prime Magos at this point, although as completely separate organisations, neither had jurisdiction over the other.

"Are they unsecured?" Asked the Brigadier, returning to the topic.

"Affirmative," said the Techpriest. "Everything is offline, including mag-locks, gene and card readers." He did not voice any further thoughts.

"They are safe," intoned Prime Magos Solomon, "Biologis Quail has identified the presence of Specimen Three in the laboratory below."

"I think they should be brought back to Control until Biologis Crane has restored the power."

"Your thoughts have been noted, Brigadier," replied Solomon. "However I do not intend to repatriate the civilians to this Command Centre until the damage has been addressed. They will remain where they are."

Fraiser thought Marlowe might have something to say about that, but the PDF Officer did not challenge Solomon's decision.

"In which case, I think I shall join them. Keep me informed as the situation develops."

She turned to the Guardsman.

"Captain, there are matters we should discuss."

Fraiser nodded.

"I will take my leave," he said following Marlowe's smart march to the door. He stopped off at the desk where Borsch's paperwork lay scattered, gathering it up and tucking the files under his arm. While shuffling the documents, he mentally noted a few interesting pages to look at later. Fraiser reached the door and turned, offering a friendly parting.

"May the Emperor Guide your steps."

The Mechanicus staff ignored him.


*   *   *

"Biologis Crane."

The Skitari emerged from the gloom, glowing like an ethereal being. Augmentics gleamed, reflecting the light from their eyes, suitlamps, laser sights and torchbeams. Each heavily augmented warrior was lambent in the darkness. Their vac suits creaked with a reassuringly solid quality, and their heavily modified weaponry clicked and hummed as it was fed a steady stream of combat data from circuits hardwired into the user's brain. Biologis Crane began to relax, exhaling with relief.

"What is your directive?" He intoned formally. Now wasn't really the time for reciting catechisms, but Prime Magos Solomon thought his devotion was lax, so he observed the ritual.

"We guard the Secrets of the Machine, vanquish the foes of the Omnissiah, and protect the Keepers of His Knowledge."

"By His Will."

"In His Name."

"This way, Lord," said the Fire-Team leader, identified as Seven-Two-One. The cyborg solider gestured toward another Skitari, who was apparently pointman. Crane positioned himself in the middle of his entourage and set off, still gripping his adopted weapon.

*   *   *

"I will be with you shortly," said Fraiser, looking in through the door.

Borsch was pale and trembling. The snivelling Band-Clark had been seated at a table in the Captain's room with a tall glass of the officer's personal amasec before him. Quinn sat next to him, fingers steepled and eyes wandering in thought. Marlowe was snapping off instructions to Sergeant Thorn, who had an impassive look on his face. Former PDF himself, the Sergeant fully understood the Brigadier's authority, but behind his nonplussed face Fraiser knew what he was thinking. The Sergeant's eyes betrayed it.

They'd both been in the Brimstone Dragoons for too long. The Guard's view of PDF soldiers was dim at best and it had taken a lot of time and hard work for the two outsiders to gain the trust and respect of their new brother's in arms. The superiority complex was infectious and difficult to fight. Compared to the soldier's of the Imperial Guard, Marlowe was just a civvy in a fancy jacket. Still, he seemed to be humouring her. The rest of the honour-guard were suited and booted, their reinforced carapace armour on, combat visors down and weaponry – both standard and non-standard – held ready and alert. It was reassuring.

"Do you require assistance, Captain?" asked Thorn over Marlowe's shoulder, taking the opportunity to ignorantly bellow directly into her face. He was playing the 'dumb solider 'card, thought Fraiser. It wouldn't work on Marlowe, though, she was a solider herself.

"Negative, Sergeant," He replied. "I am just returning Mr. Borsch's papers to his room."

The Band-Clerk smiled weakly.

"Thank-you, Captain. That is most kind."

Fraiser smiled but said nothing. As soon as he was out of sight, he began to rummage through the documents. Most were contractual decrees, codes of conduct, technical specifications and copies of the Mechanicus' alleged breach of trust. He opened the last folder and struck gold, carefully depositing a few bits of paper inside his tunic. The rest he left on Borsch's desk.

*   *   *

With a grunt, the pair of Skitari forced the door open. There was a blast of electricity and a shouted challenge.

In the darkness - illuminated by the electric glow of a ten-thousand volt shock-prod – was Orderly Drecker. Lowell was sat dejected on the floor behind her, sweat rolling down his face.

"Biologis Crane? My Lord, forgive me!"

"Orderly Drecker." Crane said walking into the room, "Orderly Lowell, stand."

The serf hurried to his feet.

"My lord," he breathed.

The Skitari filed in, dragging the metal bulkhead shut behind them.

They were in the observation and control area for Specimen's Four – Eleven. The blast shutters had lowered to cover the glass. Containment was still in place, otherwise Drecker and Lowell would be dead. It was strange to think he had stood in this very room with the delegation not one axial cycle before. It seemed a million years ago. Suddenly Crane felt very tired.

"Are you both in good health?" he asked.

The two adepts nodded slowly.

"Lord Crane," asked Drecker, "We were in the middle of feeding and routine medical examination when we lost all power and went into lockdown. Then the emergency lighting failed. Has something happened?"

"You have not been in contact with Control?"

"Negative, my lord," she replied. "We have both tried, but Lord Tvastar and Honoured Lord Solomon will not commune with us. Lord Quail told us nothing more than to remain here. His implant was deactivated shortly after. Is he injured?"

Tvastar and Solomon's silence was not unusual. The Techpriest had been reprimanded by Quail over his inability to recognise heirachy or professional boundaries. The Head of Research had felt that Tvastar was too friendly with the lower orders, and imparted knowledge too freely. Quail had banned him from making further communication to any other members of the facility besides the two Biologis.

Solomon would not answer them. He did not even recognise their existence. To Solomon, serfs were worse than servitors, due to an annoying necessity to eat, sleep and defecate. Their contribution was minimal. No, a Prime Magos would have nothing to do with them.

Quail probably just had a lot on his mind.

"Why did you not contact me?" he asked, immediately feeling a pang of guilt that he had not tried to contact the adepts himself.

Drecker looked awkward for the first time in her entire career at Forlorn.

"We are locked out of your audio implant, Lord Crane. I did not presume to question your motive."

Solomon! That bastard had changed the security settings, no doubt so that Crane would be in sole contact with him and Tvastar.

"So you are," he replied as he reversed the Prime Magos' interference. "An oversight, my apologies. There has been an... ...incident... ...involving Specimen Three in the Control core labs. Containment has been breached and lockdown was initiated."

"Omnissiah preserve us!" the adepts gasped in unison.

"Indeed," said the Biologis. "The Specimen remains trapped within the core laboratory, although we have not been able to effect a capture on limited power."

"Is anyone hurt?" asked Drecker. Crane knew she thought very highly of Forlorn's Mechanicus staff.

"There have been fatalities," he admitted. "We are en-route to the generatorium. You will accompany us."

There was a dull thump from the shutters.

"It's starting again," said Lowell, looking nervous. The thumping increased in intensity, rising into violent drumming. The ceramite shutters began to rock, but held firm. With a thrill of horror, Crane realised what was happening. The remaining six Hormagaunts were taking turns to headbutt the glass. The banging was rhythmic, co-ordinated, and seemed to echo from the centre. They were trying to escape.

"They have exhibited this behaviour before?" he bellowed.

"Yes my lord," replied Drecker, also shouting. "When you and the team passed this location previously."

Crane went cold. The Bio-Adept sensed his unease.

"Roughly ten standard minutes ago." She offered, as if hoping to jog Crane's memory. "There was someone in the corridor. We heard movement beyond the door."

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