World 61: The Light of Terra, Part 7

THE LIGHT OF TERRA, A WARHAMMER 40K GAUNTLET

PART 7 – Steel Sky Black Mud

Previously: The How Very Special

Themesong: The Sky Above, The Mud Below by Tom Russell

AN: Happy Halloween

As improbable as it may seem, hitting the command console of the former Righteous Path had somehow fixed enough of what was wrong with the ship that it could move… sluggishly… on its own. A few short jumps through the Warp and Ark Magna had arrived in her new home almost a week earlier than the plan had called for… which turned out to be a good thing, as, as soon as we arrived, we started picking up all sorts of troubling biosigns from in system. What in the name of Fug (Fug the Merciless, a 3 cm semi-metallic slug that Alex claimed was responsible for the weather) was going on?

At first I was certain that the Preemptive Retaliation had gone out of control and was… I dunno… randomly humping transports or whatever a pubescent living starship does… but no… what was going on was, if anything, stranger.

The larger of Paradise’s moons (which I’d had to resist the desire to name Bitor and had instead decided to call Hexen… her sister was named Vexen) had changed color and was busy vomiting… things into space. Both groundside and Haephestus had shuttles on scene and were monitoring, but there wasn’t really anything they could do besides watch as things unfolded. I left the not yet rechristened Path / soon to be Ark Magna and took my own shuttle in system as fast as we could, but the first reports from survey teams on the moon were already coming in by the time I got on location.

As best they could determine, a few hundred meters below the lunar regolith, there were countless gargantuan fibrous roots, all threaded together to form the rootmass of a collosal supraorganism that, at the very least, accounted for in excess of 6% of the lunar mass and could, in fact, be the moon entoto. But for whatever biological reason, it had bloomed and what had once been a grey ball of pretty much useless rock was now rapidly being covered by a still growing mass of pale red fungus. From the surface of Paradise, reports were streaming in as my people watched it creep slowly across the surface of Hexen and from where I was in lunar orbit I could see the massive fungal spires surging up, up, up, growing hundreds of meters every hour.

I was trying very hard to resist the urge (spurred by literally tens of thousands of hours of playing Starcraft… it had been on my computer when I’d been taken from my homeworld and I’d had a lot of free time over the last few millenia…) to Exterminatus the bioform before masses of zerg, vord, tyrannids, or orks boiled out of it… but I wasn’t going to be that person… not until something hostile actually happened, and I had all my war ships well back… just in case. Then again, I wasn’t in the habit of giving command to triggerhappy morons.

Each spire had a definite maximum size and as each reached that limit, they began firing off spore packets deep into space, something the oldest spires had been doing since we’d arrived in system.

I had my ships pick up samples and they were quickly analyzed. Despite my expectation that they’d be full of Mindworms or some other fungal parasite designed to destroy entire worlds, thus requiring the sterilization of the moon… and probably every other body in the system… nothing of the kind was found. Rather, initial assessment was the at the bloom was utterly harmless… and had (almost certainly) resulted in the fungal covering of Paradise itself sometime in the distant past. In fact, thanks to one brave and rather foolish ex-Redeemer lab assistant who mistook one of the samples for lunch, it turned out that the substance was extremely tasty.

Further analysis revealed that it was nutritious, filling, and seemed like it would last for centuries before spoiling… if not longer. It was clearly an interstellar lifeform designed to spread like the vord… but harmless… and potentially sellable. There was far far more of it than my people would need over the next few centuries and, unless I missed my guess, I could maintain the superfungus’s bloomcycle indefinitely just by making sure it didn’t run out of water.

It must have bloomed every time an ice comet or asteroid crashed into the moon, and thanks to the processing plant I’d established near Hexen to break up the massive space ice into smaller loads, enough water had been falling moonward to trigger a bloom. So there were potentially hundreds of thousands of tons of harvest bloom left from this batch alone.

A few days later, things had mostly quieted down and the first Hexen Mushroom Miners were settling into their new digs at Harvester Base One… when I received news that, in a billions to one chance, one of the earliest spores had struck something. That something turned out to be an Imperial Transport ship that had just happened to drop out of the Warp in Paradise’s system… and promptly blasted to smithereens by pure accident. Only the bridge remained… a bridge with enough documentation for my dataminers to work out that the transport, named Virtuous Vendor, had been carrying a food shipment to sell at an Imperial Hiveworld in Segmentum Solar.

Virtuous Vendor’s sadly deceased Captain’s Log indicated that there was a major trademeet happening there soon and he had been expecting to sell his cargo of low quality food bars for an exorbitant price. Huh… I had a ship… I had a source of surplus food… I had the location of a market… and I even had documentation proving that I had the legal right to move cargo from one to the other. I didn’t even need to think up a plan… it all seemed to fall into place… convenient that.

In fact… almost everything this decade had been like that. I’d been burning luck like mad… and yet every time I figured my luck had to run out… it got better instead. If I was one who believed in Karma I’d be wondering when I’d been this good in a previous life. Instead… I loaded the Faustian Bargain up with spore cakes and headed for the most notorious Hiveworld in the Imperium. Necromunda baby!

Even with all the things I’ve seen in my very long life, I don’t think I’ll ever forget (unless I get the power to delete my memory back and choose to I mean) the first sight of an Imperial Hive. The mobile mini-hives of Zayth were one thing, but the real thing? Imagine a spire that reaches quite literally into space. It was a man-made mountain that was big enough to lose Mount Everest inside it and still have room for half a dozen other giant mountains. It was a testament to the miracles worked during the High Dark Age of Technology and the fact that so many of them still remained from so long in the past when the tech to make them was almost lost was both impressive and saddening.

Necromunda was possibly the second most populous Hive World in the Imperium, second only to Holy Terra itself. Covered with several thousand mountain sized hives (of which Hive Primus, or The Palatine was only the largest, at 10 miles tall and a reported 3 miles beneath the ground)… the smallest of which was home to more than a billion people. That those mountains appeared like islands punching through the clouds of horrific pollution that blanketed the once lush world testified to how huge the population could have been had this been a true ecumenopolis like Terra. My ship’s cogitator counted nearly a thousand hive clusters, each ranging from three to thirteen or so individual hives… which put the planetary population well into the low triple digit trillions… a far cry from the quadrillions who lived on Terra, but still a metric fukton of people.

To make it soo much worse, Necromunda has only one spaceport. The planet cannot support itself and has to import food… the ships arrive by their hundreds every hour of every day at that port and the transports continuously pour out of Hive Primus in a never ending loop to take that food, largely neutri-paste and recycled protein bars, to the far distant hives. In exchange, they load up the manufactured production of a world of factories to ship elsewhere. Oddly enough, this was (though I doubt anyone realized it) slowly turning the world more biological, not less. Still Real Food was at a premium here where everything was recycled almost endlessly.

The docking fees were quite reasonable and no one would dare question the right of a Lathimon to trade in the Emperor’s (or Primarch Magnus’s) Name. Still, the Customs Officials were clearly overworked, because it took a quarter hour for them to clear me for entry to the Hive. I busied myself with looking at the various fliers and notices posted for passing Captains to review. Most of them consisted of ancient and contradictory shipping legislation that I would blithely ignore as a Rogue Trader, but one poster did catch my eye… for three very glaring reasons. I’ll reproduce the text and you can judge for yourself why before I comment further.

The Zombie Plague is one of the many foul contagions spread by the followers of Nurgle. It is a combination of a Chaos infection and a physical malaise. The plague degenerates those it infects, although a portion of the victim’s life essence is retained by the body even after physical death has occurred. The disease is a spiritual contagion as much as physical one – afflicting those lacking in utter faith. Plague zombies act like archetypal zombies – mindless, shambling and cannibalistic; they are hard to kill and generally require a traumatic blow to the head to kill them. It has been observed that some Psykers appear to be able to control the actions of the zombie hordes.

Do you see it? I know! This was just… weird. A piece of public information that somehow mentioned CHAOS? That mentioned a CHAOS GOD BY NAME? In the imperium? And this Hive hadn’t been eradicated by orbital fire? I took it down and folded it it up. That it mentioned ‘Archetypal Zombies’ was just… weird. Fiction was not common in the Imperium (many people were illiterate and those that aren’t are more likely to watch propaganda than fiction.) and Zombie Fiction wouldn’t make it past Imperial Censors in a millennia of sundays. No… There was no logical explanation for this poster… except that it had been placed here specifically to warn me. Which meant a powerful psyker had done so… and it had to be one that a) knew about Chaos, b) knew about Nurgle, c) knew about me, and d) knew I was a Psyker…

~Thanks for the heads up.~

~Oh, Tzeentch! You again? You know I’m busy being all EVIL and stuff, right? I have Fenris to destroy, Robot’s return to plan for, and you keep interrupting my scheming!~

~Yup. But thanks. I appreciate the warning.~

~I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU”RE TALKING ABOUT! STOP CALLING ME ON MY PRIVATE MINDSCAPE!~

Ah friends… the people you annoy the most. And speaking of…

“Hey, Carwyn.”

“What?”

“You know what a Warlock is for?”

“Yes, for defending the Eldar against their enemies.”

“Nope. It’s a device for securing large scale conflict.”

“What?”

“War… Lock.”

“I loathe you so much right now.”

“Yay!”

My clearance was granted at that point, some low ranked clerk named Lars spent longer apologizing for the wait than I’d actually spent waiting and I was allowed into the city. A few inquiries later and it became apparent that, while I could sell my cargo to the nobles of the upper city (those who lived in the part of the Hive that started at about five miles above ground level and went up through the stratosphere, I would need to parcel it out bit by bit. For a quick, major sale, I’d need to move down into the Hive City, the vastly larger bulk of the Hive where food was scarce and quality would sell at an incredible mark up. The Hive City ran from ground level up to the massive adamantine plate known as The Wall which separated the billions of Guilders and Gangers from those above. Beneath the Hive City was the Undercity, a lawless region far from the eyes of the planetary enforcers and where the Houses Major of the Hive City fought their endless wars for power and resources.

I was told that, in no uncertain terms, that if I wanted a quick sale and a ready market, I would need to ally myself with one of the Houses Major, of which there were officially six, but in practice there were eight… not that I’d ally myself with one of those, since the Scavvies were freaking cannibalistic mutants and the Ratskins were extremely primitive. Then again, the Ratskins were a degenerate branch of humanity that filled the Skaven-shaped hole in the Warhammer Sci-Fi Verse (The Skaven are ratmen from the Warhammer Fantasy Verse)… though at least they civilized… in fact they were more civilized than most of the Hive Guilders…hell, they were pacifists in a universe like this…  I almost considered siding with them, but they weren’t exactly wealthy or connected or technologically savvy, and I was not here to reform Necromunda from the bottom up. I had enough trouble just dealing with Paradise.

My choices then were limited to the six recognized Houses… and you shouldn’t think of these as noble houses. No… think of these as rival mafia families… in hell. They were Houses Orlock, Goliath, Escher, Van Saar, Delaque, and Cawdor. Of them, I immediately discounted Houses Goliath and Escher, who maintained their power entirely on the strength of their reputation as merciless combatants. It wasn’t that all the houses weren’t skilled fighters. I mean, these were large collectives of gangers allied with one or more central hereditary pseudo-noble families. But Houses Goliath and Escher produced nothing of substance besides pain. Even though house Escher was almost entirely peopled by women (a hereditary defect made their menfolk shriveled and imbecilic apparently) it didn’t make them better than Goliath’s largely masculine attitude and personnel. Goliath were brutes who ran the Fighting Pits and the Feast of Flesh… I didn’t ask. Escher were more finessed than their rivals… but still vicious cunts for all that… and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what they actually did for money… then again, I wasn’t trying very hard. All of the houses manufactured something… but aside from misery, I couldn’t actually pin down what Escher produced.

House Delaque had a rep as being underhanded and sneaky, secretive in the extreme, and of either working for the Imperial House of Helmawr (the rulers of the entire planet and actual nobility… if not particularly noble) or of secretly controlling entire Noble Houses (there were at least seven real noble families on the planet.) There too I had trouble finding out what they produced exactly, but they did run supplies up to the upper city, so they per probably producing something. That all indicated they were discrete and could keep secrets… Unfortunately, they also had a rep as being swindlers and that counted them out.

Out too was House Cawdor, the House of Redemption. They were rigid adherents of the doomsday Cult of the Redemption… which not only sanctioned proscribed crusades… but believed that the only way for humanity to be save humanity was to cleanse it of all sin by fire and blade. Every sin had to be purged… along with the sinner. That I was both a psyker and a heretic (though they couldn’t know either of those things) meant that, as far as I was concerned, they could suck exhaust and if I could spare the manpower I’d have invaded Necromunda just to obliterate them… unfortunately, the Imperial Fists chapter of the Adeptus Astartes (Spez Murheens! Hoy!) had a fortress inside the hive itself and might take the invasion personally.

Which left Orlock, the House of Iron, masters of the deep ferrous slag pits, miners who recycle the debris of ages past… and House Van Saar, The House of No Fun… Wealthy, disciplined, structured… known for the quality and precision of their work. Most of their gangers are ex-Imperial Guard. It really wasn’t a contest.

House Van Saar was renowned for the quality of its technical products, precise in its manufacturing and a name in highest quality finished materials that sold at a premium. If anyone could afford my Mushroom Cakes (Rebranded as “Paradisian Manna”) it was them… and if anyone had stuff I might actually want myself… it was them. Sure, they were serious and humorless, but they had a deeply ingrained sense of order and practicality. They also had the Hiver equivalent of Fremen Stillsuits, which was just cool.

The tight fitting body suit was designed to protect and sustain the wearer in the hostile hive environment. Semi-permeable membranes in those suits reduced the loss of body moisture whilst various spots on the material changed color to warn the wearer of airborne toxins and reduced oxygen levels. I decided to include the design specs in my bargaining. A little tinkering with those suits and we might be able to use them on Paradise… We had something similar, but it was bulkier and hadn’t had a few thousand years of testing. I had no doubt we could improve the Van Saar design… but first we had to have it.

Dealing with the Van Saars had another benefit… a twofer in fact. Quality Goods and Prices to match. The negotiations went on for several days… and to be honest, more than once any progress we made was clawed back a few hours later by those obnoxious sticklers… though I suspect that they would have said as much about us. Still though, the sheer length of negotiations turned things in my favor when, at long last, their exhausted chief negotiator signed the trade agreement that I was, finally, happy with. As for the Van Saar Negotiator? A few seconds after I left the suite, I head a single gunshot ring out. Ah well, some people can’t take stress.

I was loving all the components I’d seen the plans for. Beautiful things, all built with several redundant systems, all fit for the finest of fighting vehicles. With them installed, the Light and Ark Magna would be able to continue to fight at virtually one hundred percent effectiveness regardless of any but the worst damage, making the ships next to impossible to knock out and incredibly easy to repair, even in the middle of combat. If it wouldn’t have been beneath my dignity, I’d have skipped… as it was, I was so happy that Carwyn slapped me upside the head.

“Stop that. You’re broadcasting!”

“I’m happy!”

“I can tell… so can the mindblind MonKeigh. There are insane cultists around here, don’t forget.”

I sighed. This universe SUUUUUCKS!

Still, now that negotiations were finished, I was kinda expecting a few days of peace and quiet. Not quite what happened, of course. As far as everyone else was concerned, I was a Rogue Trader who’d just walked into town and started throwing around a truly epic amount of credits. Before I’d even reached my hotel above the plate, a string of runners had located me to politely inform me that I had been, in order, been upgraded to a better room, upgraded to a better suite, given ownership of the hotel, upgraded to a better hotel, and finally loaned a manor compound by one of the heads of the Merchant Guilders’ Council. Not bad for someone who just came to get rid of some extra mushrooms.

I arrived at my temporary home to find that the Choirs had secured it and swept for bugs, chaos, and (according to Luna) pixies. That Lilith was nodding and not sneering at the suggestion of pixies worried me slightly. But not as much as the fact that all 9 of them were a) working together and b) here! I’d left them behind on Paradise… at which point they’d teamed up with not only each other but the rest of Carwyn’s bodyguard (Which we’d also left behind) to seize control of the Preemptive Retaliation and follow us. During the long summit with House Van Saar, they’d apparently caught up and steadfastly refused to leave. Apparently it had been Maggy’s idea.

She and her siblings were jumping on the bed in the simply ridiculously vast main bedroom when we arrived, throwing the piles of invitations up into the air and trying to decide which sounded the most fun… clearly I’d neglected their education… social functions among planetary nobility are not fun… they are warfare.

After chastizing them for running away from home and commending them for taking over a hundred psychopathical loyal and terrifyingly competent bodyguards with them, I gathered up the invites to discover that I had been asked to join the Necromunda Glitterati at a dozen balls, eight dances, and fifteen soirees… as well as been moved formally onto the Guilders’ Preffered Customer List. They were offering a collection of rare and unique artifacts and had one of the same education systems that I’d found aboard the Path, some kind of ancient information dissemination system that could be used to upload “schemas” (skills and abilities coded as mental engrams) into a person’s mind. They also knew how the machines worked and had hundreds of Schemas, ranging from banal (sump-pump operation) to insane (how to fall any distances up to six stories without getting hurt). Really interesting stuff, though most of it was combat related and not suff I personally was willing to let anyone fuck around with my brain to plug into my head. I had hardcoded combat skills and could augment them with biological upgrades at need.

What I did find odd as I examined the list of available Schema was that, while the last update stamp on most of them was decades or centuries old, one appeared to have been added to the list for the first time approximately the same time I arrived… not in system or on planet… but in the Guilders Hall… it had, obviously, never been updated. It was called ‘Dive’ and the colofon said simply ‘Something you might find useful’ and then a list of details that amounted to a massive mental archive of information on guerilla warfare in deep urban chem-wastes… like the kind that apparently filled the very very bottom levels of hives like Hive Primus. Why would someone…

~Thanks.~

~I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT!~

~Okay.~

~You know, most beings are scared of me.~

~Meh. It’s the nipple horns.~

~Most psykers are sane enough not to contact me on a whim. That includes most THOUSAND SON LIBRARIANS!~

~Yeah. But that’s because they think you’ll destroy them for bugging them.~

~What makes you think I won’t destroy you?~

~Me? I’m the closest thing you have to a friend besides Ahriman and I’m pretty sure you’re still pissed at him over the whole Rubrik thing.~

~You just keep poking and poking and poking, don’t you.~

~You know he didn’t mean to fuck up cataclysmically.~

~Your metaphor is not as subtle as you think it is.~

~I’m not being subtle. I’m being a friend. Oh. Gotta go.~

~You don’t get to hang up on-~

“Who were you talking to?” Carwyn asked.

“An old… really really old… friend,” I commented, chuckling as I considered if I trusted the Schema and its source… something that was confusing the hell out of the Guilder Schemasmiths… I was going to have to hire a few dozen of these guys to run my set up back home… I wonder if Lorcanus had hired his from here. Ah, what the hell. If you can’t trust a Traitor Primarch and Daemon Prince of Tzeentch, who can you trust? “I’ll take the Dive Schema,” I told the desk guard, “And the Interior Decorating one too.”

I have no idea what the normal procedure was like, for normal people. None. I’d told Carwyn to stand by to make sure nothing was added or removed from my brainmeats that I didn’t want in there… when the archeotech that had replaced my brainstem interfaced with the Schema Inductor and downloaded the information from their system… all of it. Granted, the vast majority of it wasn’t useful, none of it was installed in the proper place in my head so it was little more than information, but the two schema I’d actually wanted had been largely informational in the first place and so I found that I suddenly had clue one as to why gold and skulls where goddamn everywhere… not that I agreed with the logic, but at least I got the jist. These people were fucking crazy, that’s why. That was 1,000 credits well spent.

If the Guilders offered mental upgrades, they also offered physical ones… you know, for those people oddly unwilling to allow ancient, poorly understood machines of dubious maintenance to fuck around with the insides of their skulls. Instead, those people could get ancient machines of dubious maintenance to install other machines into their bodies. Hurray for cybernetics!

Most of it was weird or pointless or, in at least one case insane… ceramic sheathing that made bones unbreakable… and did bugger all to the flesh around them… kinetic energy had to go somewhere. Even if I couldn’t repair my own bones with but a thought I wouldn’t touch that one with a ten foot pollock. Nor would I take the arm mounted Rock Drill, Buzz Saw, or Magnetic Catapult. I would also not be taking the Synthacardiums on offer. Artificial hearts were for people who still had one… I had eleven distributed all over my body, and a circulatory system that pumped blood all on its own through micro-contractions in the arterial walls… the hearts just kept the whole system pressurized.

I was about to pass on all the offerings in the Cybershop… when Nerve Wiring caught my eye. “Thousands of times faster than ordinary human nerve tissue?” I asked, barely able to process that. Human nervous conduction velocity maxed out at around 120 meters per second. Thousands of times faster was… obscene… that was moving into (admittedly) very low fractions of the speed of light.

“Yes Lady Trader. Between three thousand for the slowest nerves and fifteen thousand for the greater ones… but the process is quite time consuming… and… err…”

“I believe the term you are looking for is excruciating?”

“Ah. Yes… we have to remove the entire nervous system…”

“And numbing the nerves wouldn’t do much. Right… in fact, the sensory overload is going to be a problem at the beginning… Right… fuck it. I’ll take it.”

~Are you sure?~ Carwyn asked, sounding concerned.

~Yeah. I mean, yeah, it’s a risk, but I should be able to repair any damage the conversion does and if I don’t like it I can grow back my original nervous system… plus having a secondary cybernetic system… a synthetic one… might not be a bad thing.~ I reassured her.

~But the pain…~

~I’m a biopath. Pain is only a problem if I choose to allow it to be.~

In the end, it was more a curiosity than a horrible experience. They mapped my nervous system, then replaced it bit by bit with a synthetic fiber that functioned very much like a low bandwidth electronic relay of the same general power output as human nervous fiber, but with a greater throughput for the same size… It was also better shielded from nerve induction technology. The pain I set my mind to all but ignore. Acknowledge but don’t respond.

After the four day procedure, I had to learn how to move slower. I did so by having the kids throw things at me and trying not to hit myself in the face with my own arms as my sensory inputs hit my brain and sent out the responses at speeds that were no longer needed. It wasn’t conscious, of course. Conscious thought took comparative ages (as I’d been aware of since having to return to flesh and blood computation instead of optronic ice computation) but reflexes happened at the speed of perception with lag, a lag that began with the fact that every synapse in the perception-decision-reaction chain added about two milliseconds to the reaction time.  My lag was now, for all intents and purposes, nil when dealing with prepared reactions. I responded as soon as I perceived something that triggered an automatic response

At first the flesh protested… but my flesh adapted, the fast twitch muscles getting faster as they got used to the strain. I increased the speed of my blinking to counter the flutter caused by increased optic nerve speed, and tweaked my gene-code to bring back the nictitating membrane hidden deep within… really, the genome is fascinating when you know what each and every length of code does.

Still, the flesh was… limited. My reaction speeds were now superhuman… but not magical. I could casually flick a fly out of the air, adjusting my motions to its reactions to the turbulence my hand caused as it moved. I couldn’t, however, dodge a laser blast… if I didn’t see the gun being aimed my way. If I did, and you weren’t a precog better than me, you weren’t going to be able to shoot me.

Oh… yeah, I did mention that, right? I’d been getting lessons in Precog from Carwyn. It was the one major area of Psy power I wasn’t really familiar with from pre-Warhammer stuff. My primary psychic specialization before this had been blocking precogs… now, if I wanted to do that, I’d have to out Xanatos them at their own game.

Carwyn, being a Farseer, was skilled in this kind of nonsense, so I had asked the expert and while I wouldn’t be an Alpha Precog like Eldrad, I should be Beta Plus like I was pretty sure I was in everything that wasn’t my specialization. Alphas weren’t bad in any area… they were just better in one way. If I could get Three Pounds of Dreams, the thing that had allowed my psychic powers to grow without limit, back… I’d be able rival even Eldrad or Magnus… or the Emperor… in time. Of course, if I had it back, chances were I’d also have all my willpower perks… and all my other psi-powers… like PK Games, my Ultimate Psychokinetic attack.

So I was a precog with preternatural luck and preternatural reflexes… so why did I feel like someone was aiming a Jovian Pattern Nova Cannon at my back? I shook off the feeling and went back to practice.

The deal was done, the paperwork carefully filed, and the glacial slowness of Imperial bureaucracy engaged. So why was I still here? I had to stay for the celebratory dinner the Guilders were throwing me, didn’t I? They were pulling out all the stops. And I might need these people in the future. Plus, something big was coming… I could feel it… plus Magnus would not have left those clues for me if there wasn’t something in the works. I had to see this through, if only for the story I’d be able to tell when I got back.

All told, the meal was pretty incredible, even if I did have to spend most of the time between courses alternating between being introduced to a string of nubile (marriageable) young men (and women) or older ladies and gentlemen who’d taken full advantage of the rejuve and body sculpting technologies available to only the richest of the Imperium’s citizens. Both groups kept dropping hints about me paying them a social call for the evening. I could feel Carwyn, Fredrika, and Lilith all trying to incinerate the newest flirt with the unfettered power of their gaze… actually, come to think of it, at least two of them were showing remarkable restraint since none of those flirts did actually spontaneously combust. Fun with tsundere psykers, right? Wooo!

Of course, like everything else in my life over the last few years, things couldn’t just stay calm and reasonable… thank god. I was being very awkwardly flirted with by one Captain Carkadus Geno of the Imperial Fists… and if you think that wasn’t uncomfortable you are not under 5 feet tall and very petite while being loomed over by someone whose arm alone outmasses you by a factor of two… five in that armor… when the party was interrupted by the arrival of a messenger. I was across the crowded and lively ballroom, but I still managed to pick out the words “Him”, “Valois”, “Zombie”, and “Plague”. As Gru from… Mission Impossible?… No… hmmm… I seem to have forgotten what movie… uh… the thing with the little yellow dudes… they were yellow, right? Fuck… The Lorax? No, that was Dr. Spock… umm… it’ll come to me in a bit if I stop thinking about it. Not fucking Pac-man you stupid cybernetic implant… too much had been lost between my arrival and my upgrade… I was always having moments like… damn, almost had it… anyway, he did this thing where he said “Lightbulb!” no, wait… that was when he had an idea… shit, this has really gotten away from me. Shoulda gone with Archimedes and Eureka.

While I was trying and unsuccessfully trying to remember Despicable Me, the Arch Arbite of the Adeptus Arbites had been apprised of the situation and had taken to the podium on a balcony overlooking the crowd. “Esteemed Ladies and Gentlemen of The Palatine and Guests, please, forgive this interruption, but there is a situation developing. It seems that Karloth Valois has returned. Already his hordes are attacking the walls of Girder Falls and Slag Gultch. Please return to your compounds and ready yourselves. We’ll rally our forces and prepare a line of defense. Captain Geno, if your forces will assist us?”

I ignored the Space Marine Captain’s response. It seemed the party was over, time for me to get the hell off the planet… heh. As if. Karloth Valois must be a Psyker who had control over a Horde of Plague Zombies… and apparently he’d attacked before… and, unless I was missing my guess completely, he was somewhere in the Underhive, sending his legions against the city.  Which probably meant that he was either with that horde (if he was stupid) or busy raising more forces far far below.

I left the hall at a run, motioning for my companions to follow me.

“Where are we going?” Fredrika asked, catching up first of the trio who’d been inside with me.

“To get the others and gear up… then we’re going down… all the way down. And someone find someone who can tell me about who the hellfire Karloth Valois is!” I snapped, accepting my weapons from Sierra as I left the hall.

“I believe I can help you with that, young lady,” came a voice that made me want to claw my ears out. It had the tang of fanaticism and that undefinable tang found only in the most dedicated priests of really disastrously awful religions. I looked over and found myself face to face with Arch Cultist Providence Incendio (I hoped to the Emperor he hadn’t been born with that name), leader of the Cult of the Redemption. Yes, this was the Pope of Blood and Fire and he looked even creepier than he sounded. “I take it you’re prepared to assist us in finding the abomination and… … … … (yes the pause was that long, as if he was savoring every passing second) purging the sinner?”

I smiled a smile that was surpassed in falseness only by its bloodthirsty relish and chuckled dryly. “I do not like tainted, nor those who would send the ravening hordes against the Emperor’s faithful.” Nothing I said was untrue… but it was carefully worded to include this jackass as well as Karloth Valois. If the Arch Cultist noticed, he didn’t comment.

Instead, he launched into a narrative as Lilith and Fredrika ran off to get their sisters and Carwyn summoned her strikeforce with a thought, “Originally a denizen of the Hive-City, Karloth was one of those cursed by the forces of darkness and heresy with unclean mental powers, no doubt thanks to mutation on the part of his parents.” Every word was laced with hate and bile, but powers and mutation were especially vicious. “Rather than submit himself to the Black Fleets of the Imperium and serve in the blessed Astronomican, he chose to flee down into the Underhive and even deeper to the hive bottom, driven on by what he described as nightmarish prophetic visions. Ever seeking to distance himself from those who would judge him if they learned he was spying upon their thoughts, he ended up in the Badlands of the hive bottom, where he nearly died many times.”

“While scavenging for whatever meagre supplies can be found in such a desolate place he was set upon by a pack of Plague Zombies. They chased him through the abandoned tunnels and vents until his exhausted muscles gave way and, collapsing in the filth, he succumbed to death… but it was not to be. As the Zombies began to consume his wasted flesh, something awoke inside him. He suddenly sensed the tiny fragments of a mind that remained to the Plague Zombies, the insatiable unclean hunger that drove them, the base instincts that governed their actions. Above all this he recognised he could control them, make him serve them as their dark overlord.”

“No offense, but how do you know all this?” I asked, honestly curious.

“He told this story to the gangers that he allied with… but I’m getting ahead of my story,” el Priest con Creepy said. “Using his unholy powers and the last of his dark strength he succeeded in quelling the Zombies’ hunger and forced them to stand back and leave him alone. He lay alone in the impenetrable gloom of the hive bottom, surrounded by the Plague Zombies as the virus spread through his body and into his brain… and then he discovered another terrible gift. The virus that should have killed him instead allowed him to draw the tiny slivers of life-force still within the Zombies into himself and use them to ward off the death that is natural to those of less than pure flesh.”

“Great. Lovely. So he sustains himself by draining the living? Can he do that to anyone or just Plague Zombies?”

“He can drain the life-force from any living thing and absorb it into himself, but that this is his only form of sustenance. He is forced by this dark hunger to prey on the living in order to survive, and survive he must, for he has seen the damnation eternal, the fires of the Emperor’s holy wrath, that lie beyond the boundaries of this life, sensed the unimaginable torment that lies in store for him, and vowed that he would never let death take him.”

“And he can control Plague Zombies?”

“Indeed! Somehow the neurone plague had altered Karloth’s powers and those abilities he had first used to save his life he could now use to a much greater extent. He could control the minds of Plague Zombies within a distance, heightening or lessening their hunger, even focussing what little sense of self they still possessed in order to make them more efficient and lethal killers.”

“You said something about allies?” I asked, checking on my people and sensing they were at least five minutes out, which gave me time to listen to Herr Exposition some more.

“Karloth took to a wandering existence, travelling the wastelands of the Underhive, preying on the living when he could and using his packs of Plague Zombies to force others to give him what he needed when he had too. In time his reputation grew, to the extent that Gangs would make terrible pacts with him in order to secure his assistance. And all the while Karloth’s power was growing, as was his horde of undead, until it inevitably drew the attention those who would do something about it.”

“That’s when your Cult enters the picture?” I sat back on the foot of a statue and checked my guns as I watched the old guy’s face with my other eye.

“Yes! The ranks of the Redemption in the Underhive grew and even more began to flock down from the Hive City to join their brothers and sisters in order to oppose the man who was now called Soul-Thief and Life Taker. Rumours spread that he had made a pact with the Dark Gods and we Redemptionists marched in an all out crusade to bring his reign of terror to a halt!” The fervor in his voice redoubled, even as his voice cracked with age. “The Gangers were unwilling to face our cleansing fire and Karloth found that he was suddenly left alone, with no allies to turn to. Everywhere he went he was turned away, people’s fear of what he had become and what the Redemption might do to them outweighing anything they might hope to gain by helping him! He retreated into the poisoned lakes and sumps of the Underhive inhabited by the Scavvies and the Mutants but the Redemption pursued him there also! We pursued Karloth all of the way to the edge of the Abyss where… with his back to the fathomless emptiness… he finally turned to face us! His horde of Zombies charged into the flamers of the Redemption, dried burning flesh raining down to be swallowed by the darkness of the pit below. Karloth drained the life out of my brothers as his Zombies tore into their flesh but we stood against him, our red-robes soaked in the bile of that dark place and were not swayed!” He was yelling now, eyed burning with fanatical fire, and his mind was back in that place, no longer in this guilded hall.

“We pressed on inexorably. In the end, Karloth escaped the flames and his inevitable fait as  a Heretic by turning and diving into the bottomless darkness below, crying out in defiance of death to the end! We searched the Abyss for weeks looking for any evidence of Karloth’s remains but found nothing. But, as every Underhiver knows, nothing can be found in the Abyss which does not wish to be found,” his voice softened as he returned to the present.

“Now it seems, the Zombie Lord has returned. For vengance?” I asked, hoping for more insight but not counting on it.

“Perhaps it is a hunger for the life essence of others? We may never be know what dread desire fuels his continued existence. What is certain is that hordes of Plague Zombies already threaten to overrun two major settlements within the Underhive, and doubtless more will come under attack in short order.” He favored me with a conspiratorial grin, then whispered “The bounty on Valois head was never claimed, and while his attention is elsewhere, a small team may be able to fight their way down into the Sump, following the tracks of the Zombie Horde all the way back to the Life Stealer himself…”

I nodded, “That was my thought as well… well, pretty much. But if I do this, your Cult will match the official bounty, won’t it?”

He eyed me, then slowly nodded, “We will. For those brothers who gave their lives to bring down the Soul-Thief the first time, we will pay your blood money, trader.”

“Excellent. May the Emperor Judge you as you deserve, for this.”

“I’m certain he will,” He turned and slid into the darkness as my armored aircars arrived.

The further down the hive one goes, the worse things get. Just below the Titanic Adamantine wall the separates ground level Hive City from the Underhive proper, the area is merely ghastly. But below that, after the first mile and a half, it becomes all but uninhabitable… but things get rapidly worse and below the Underhive is the Sump, a nightmare of ruins and toxic effluvia that have seeped down from far far above for countless thousands of years… go deep enough into the Sump and not even the Scavvies and Raskins can survive… that, then, is the Abyss. Light there is a myth and everything will kill you if it can.

At first it was just… unspeakably awful as we followed the Zombies’ backtrail. Everything, every surface, every wall, every floor, every half-rotten doorway, was covered in a thin, slippery green coating. It was some horrible slime mould that had colonized everywhere and it wasn’t just slick… it was a god damned organic super-lubricant. Anything but the slowest movements would see me and mine sliding face first into walls at best, into jagged metal shards covered in ages of filth or off walkways to plunge onto said jagged metal shards at worst. Worst of all, the gods-be-damned Plague Zombies exuded something that made the Slime move away from them, clearly out of their path.

For a few long minutes, this was (barely) acceptable. But the first time the PZ’s attacked and it was us not them doing the shambling, I roared “FUCK THIS NOISE” and plunged my hand into the slime, grabbed a mouthful, and ate it, studying its biostructure… and then moments later I bent over double, vomiting a swarm of blue-black flies… No, it wasn’t the slime… I’d engineered the flies to eat the slime. They were ravenous, insatiable, and would replicate with horrifying speed… they also could only feed off that slime and would die in less than an hour without it, their metabolism burning out their limited energy reserves like wildfire.

As Luna and Verona commented “Sooo coool,” while Carwyn looked a little ill, I grumbled “We’ll wait twenty minutes to give the flies time to… do their thing… maybe thirty.” We were attacked fifteen more times in that period, but by then we’d also had time to rig climbing spikes to our boots (okay, in my case they were closer to teeth, fangs to be precise… I really regretted not being able to levitate everyone, but that would have burned through too much of my (admittedly vast) reserves just before what was promising to be a major battle. Same reason I wasn’t asking the Eldar to do it. Also, some of the areas we were moving through were tight enough as it was without the flying. It was amazing we were getting Verona through them, but she’s pretty slick when she wants to be…and yes, that’s as gross as it sounds. Ex-Nurglite. The slime hadn’t even phased her.

As if the Slime wasn’t horrible enough, we soon ran into something so much worse as we headed deeper, something I couldn’t just generate a phage for… well, I might have been able to… but it would have taken a lot more of them and orders of magnitude more time. It was a thick layer of cloying chemical slime that spread as far as our light could spread, knee deep and fairly viscus, I didn’t have to be precog to know that it would hide dozens of pitfalls that would swallow a person in seconds. I looked out over it and growled.

“Helmets on. Sisters? Light it up. I want to know if this shit burns before we step into it.” Thankfully, it wasn’t flammable, which meant that we’d have to brave it… and the PZ’s no doubt trapped in it, waiting to strike. Thankfully, I had an Eldar Farseer and a Chaos Sorceress. “Carwyn? Lilith? Map a path, if you will. Sisters… shoot anything that looks like it might be thinking of moving. Decima, Verona, watch our backs.”

And the PZ’s came, came like a wave of black slime-horrors, thrashing through the mire and roaring their hollow groans into the emptiness of the Sump… and, seeing as how I was flanked by Sisters and Ex-Sisters, all armed with the finest Flamers money could buy… we (to quote Trogdor) burninated them. The goo might not have ignighted, but it still burned… everything burns if you get it hot enough, and we got them hot enough that by the time a path was found we could almost have walked across the floating bodies… I probably could have if I’d taken off my armor and left my weapons behind… but that would have been uccky… even more ucky than wading through that goo must have been for everyone else. I rode on Decima’s shoulder. I would have ridden Verona, but the ceiling was too low.

After more than an hour of that… ugh… and of me doing my best overwatch, we passed through the open area of the sea of goo and moved into an ancient factorium… where the goo was still knee deep and there was still slime on most exposed surface, but something had stirred the ancient machines of the underunderhive back to life. Cogitators deranged by centuries of neglect flashed awake as we passed and spun up half-rotted machinery to continue work on half remembered tasks given to them by men turned to dust five millennia ago or more. The area rapidly became a hell of industrial madness, colossal devices working at random, smashing into each other as they struggled to complete tasks that were as impossible now as they were meaningless. It was like one of those horrible industrial levels in a video game… only made so much worse as we had to wade through crap to clear it.

We made it through that area thanks largely to my precious Space Marine Meltagun, which worked just fine to destroy any piece of machinery that got too close to one of my companions or blocked the path ahead. THere, the horrid sludge helped immensely by smothering the flaming hunks of metal that exploded off of whatever I’d just shot. Even Decima seemed impressed… and the best thing about that endless traverse was the fact that any PZ who entered that zone was dead and smashed and diced and fried long before it reached us. Well, good for everyone besides Alicia, who was convinced that she could get a headshot if the damned Zombies would stop dodging at the last moment. Why she wouldn’t accept a cybernetic eye when I’d offered upstairs I do not know.

Moving beyond the manufacturing sector, we found ourselves in a vast shaft that plunged down, down, down, down, at least a football field across and at least 1200 feet deep. It was flanked by metal stairways that spiraled down its sides and and crisscrossed by metal catwalks at a hundred different levels and heights. Or at least it had been. Now rust and disuse and zombies had taken their toll and many of those were all but impassible. Still, the Zombies were getting up from below, so there had to be a way down… if there would be a way back up was anyone’s guess… But I had a good feeling about it.

We pressed on… and nearly lost our lives for it. Not from the rust or rot or zombies… but from lightning. I felt the shift a moment before the lightning filled the shaft and launched myself one way and my companions back into the hallway as a bolt lanced through the structure of the pit. Hives like those of Necromunda have to be well protected from external weather conditions. Lightning poses a major threat as raging storms that can last for weeks circle the upper levels of the Hive’s largely metallic structure. To that end, huge metal pylons syphon the energy into batteries and power traps… at the higher levels. Unfortunately, if a bolt strikes down to a lower level, it is less controlled, and more likely to strike deep into the substructure. A storm had, of course, been raging when we’d left. It had been a dark and stormy night… and down here it was always night.

We used jump packs to rappel down the shaft rather than trust to the stairs and catwalks, grateful we’d decided to bring them and relying on our armor and reflexes to keep us far enough from the arching electricity that wanted very much to destroy us. As a group, we suffered more than a few burns and had to downcheck Sabine’s jump pack halfway down… Which meant leaving her with Alicia and telling them not to get killed before we got back. Alicia was not happy to be left behind… but then, neither was Sabine. I had to force them to promise not to walk off and try to rejoin us since then we’d have no fucking clue where to find them and I was very much not looking forward to playing hide and seek down here if I could at all help it.

It was just as we reached the bottom of the shaft that the dragon appeared. Of course, it wasn’t really a dragon. In fact, according to my new ‘Dive’ Schema (which had been spectacularly if sporadically helpful in this ruin of a lost age) a Deep Crow… and a truly ancient one at that. It was a breath-stealing horror out of some abyssal nightmares. It looked like all the worst parts of a rabid panther, a carrion gorged crow, and a demon-eyed spider. Its oily wings covered in feathers as black as a sinner’s heart and not half as friendly. Its maw was in four parts, a combination insectile mandibles and avian beak, a dragon in all but name, a creature born of equal parts dread and madness and ancient unforgivable neglect. It was an abomination and in the face of abomination, there is only one proper response.

As the permacrete shriek’d and tore to ribbons ‘neath the claws of that cyclopean shadow come to terrible terrifying life, four battle cries challenged the monstrosity’s roar. From a dozen Eldar throats and minds came the cry “For Altansar!” (the Craftworld that was home to the Phoenix Lord Maugan Ra, founder of the Dark Reapers and father of Carwyn). From the Choir of Righteous Fury came the familiar “For the Emperor!” and from their lost counterparts the call of “For Necoho!”… and from my lone throat came the call “FOR GREAT JUSTICE!”… and we opened fire with everything we had, bullets and flames and blasts of sorcery struck at the creature, sending bits of ichor and fur and feathers flying but it came on, relentless as time and thrice as ugly.

With a roar, Decima lept forward, chainaxes roaring to life as she sought to distract i, but it swatted her aside with contemptuous ease, sending the berserker skidding into the shattered wreckage at the bottom of the shaft, the scene lit by the actinic light of a lightning blast as twelve anti-material weapons punched huge holes through the creature as the Eldar braced themselves against the permacrete walls and I braced myself against  the universe as a whole. And still it came.

Alessa burned into the air, dual wielding her holy heavy bolters, the kickback slamming her into a catwalk that bent under the force of impact and yet she kept firing. Lilith’s sorceress fire lashed the Deep Crow again and again as Verona stepped forward in her massive armor to oppose the rush, skidding backwards as it hit her head on. The remaining sisters flanked left, pumping fire at the Crow’s legs as the Ex-Nurglite grabbed its head in two massive fists and began to squeeze.

For a moment, I thought it would be enough, and then a vision ripped through my mind, a scene from seconds in the future, one where Verona’s armor failed and she was bisected by that maw and then a second later where Sierra, Luna, and Fredika fell to those terrible claws… and then the Eldar went down one one by one as they tried in vain to fight the creature in melee.

I blinked, then roared “This SHALL NOT BE!” and i popped every seam on my armor as I grew. Bigger, bigger, muscles rippling with eldritch might, eyes blazing with warp fire, six feet, eight feet, ten… twenty, and as I grew, my skin hardening to something like terminator armor, I  stepped forward and, with my now massive hands, I grabbed the Deep Crow’s wings and, with a roar that shook catwalks loose a thousand feet above, lifted it away from my friends and hefted it over my head, then back further as I fell, suplexing the abomination and driving my elbow against its throat with the combined force of our fall, its wings crunching under my back in a distinctly unpleasant way.

With the beast pinned, its claws could only lash randomly and its roar was a thing of helpless rage as its murderers closed to finish off the task. It was anything but clean… as was I. Shrinking hurt worse than I can express, and I’d be paying off the energy cost for weeks… and it took Lilith half an hour to seal the rent I’d ripped in the fabric of spacetime. Thankfully, the only daemons who’d looked through had seen a battle squad of sisters of battle, ex-sisters of battle, a chaos sorceress, several irate eldar, and me trying to put my armor back together as Decima refused (loudly) to be vomited on or to let Luna patch her up, which meant she would continue to bleed heavily from the half dozen injuries she was suffering. I refused to heal her because she was being silly. In the end, after cauterizing the smallest of the wounds with the superheated barrel of a melta, she decided that Luna’s way was less… grotty.

Big babies, the lot of them… I was naked here at the bottom of the world! Didn’t see me complaining this much. Unless you were telepathic I guess.

By comparison, our confrontation of Karloth Valois was almost anticlimactic… at least that’s what I’m saying here. To hear the others tell the tail, it will no doubt become a much loved and much told tale throughout Hive Primus with great rapidity. I don’t remember much of it, it was that hectic. Even an embellished tale will probably fall short of the truth.

It was fought in almost pitch darkness lit only by blasts of life stealing or incendiary warp fire (depending on which of us was attacking) it was a frantic skirmish on a platform surrounded by a horde of flesh hundred dead held at bay by eighteen stalwart souls as Lilith worked to keep the out of control Necromancer from drawing power from the horde.

The sudden silence as I struck down Valois was almost deafening, the horde falling still as he staggered back, the center of his chest burning outward from the massive hole my last attack had punched clean through him. He made a strangled sound and then, to the sound of his staff falling to the floor like a monstrous, unearthly bell, he went up in a pillar of eldritch fire, burning green in the blackness.

As my companions regarded the remaining horde and checked their exposed skin for bites or scratches that might serve as plague vectors, I found myself fixated on the fallen staff. It would make an excellent trophy… and if the horde attacked, I might not have a chance to grab it. The idea of it being lost here, trapped under a drift of slain Zombies or knocked into one of the chasms or sludge pits was a touch too unsettling.

My hand was wrapped around the Staff before I realized I’d moved.

After that? I don’t even remember passing out. When I woke up, staff still clutched in my hand, surrounded by the unconscious bodies of my companions, the horde was gone. Completely gone… and so was the pile of ash that was all that remained of the Life Stealer… fuck. Ah well. Chances were good that I’d be long gone before he decided to bother Necromunda again… and I had his staff.

It was seven feet of coiled black metal topped with an elaborate and highly decorative set of metal bat wings, exactly like one would expect of a Necromancer. Somehow I knew that it was called the Wyrd Staff and that he wasn’t the first owner. Not by a long chalk. He’d found it in a labyrinth he’d stumbled upon in his travels, long before his first defeat, a labyrinth he’d never been able to find again… and I could feel strength flowing from it into me, my muscles filling with power drawn from… elsewhere. And it wasn’t just my body.

The Staff held the power of the Wyrds, those blessed with psychic power who weren’t quite psykers. It could, I knew now, be used to distort or even nullify the psychic powers… though I also sensed that it had allowed itself to fall from Karloth’s grasp when he’d come up against a superior psyker… namely me. And in claiming it as my own, it had granted me access to the powers of a Wyrd… I could even name the powers as they unfolded inside my mind.

Beastmastery, giving me command of lesser creatures without a thought. Pyromania, as rare among Wyrds as Wyrds were among the common populace, it was the ability to project flame as intense as a melta gun from finger times or to throw fireballs, or even going full human torch. Of course, Telepathy and Telekinesis were old friends. To a normal Wyrd, these powers would manifest as one or two tricks, but I understood them far better. I wasn’t limited to a single application and instead I absorbed the limited flow of the Wyrds into the much more powerful source that was my Magnus Awakened Gift… and then, I reached out, finding Alicia and Sabine, wrapping them, and myself, and all the others in a blanket of light… and, raising the staff high, I brought it banging down upon the platform.

A moment or an eternity later, we were no longer in the deeps, but rather at the edge of where we’d entered the Sump. I was so tired.  And the others were more than a little confused as they woke up… although not quite as confused as I was as three massive… I mean bear-sized… rats blinked from the darkness and, squeaking, ran over to nuzzle me like I was their momma. What, the ever living… oh god they smelled so baaaad. And I could feel them in a small part of my mind.

“Rats. Why did it have to be…” I thought of all the ghastly creatures that the Dive Schema said lived down there, and shrugged. “Rats… Could be worse.” I only wondered what Amaryllis was going to name them… and how easy it was going to be to give them baths… and what it was going to take to get the stink out… bet the Guilders had something for that… as well as my Emperor be damned MONEY! I wasn’t doing this for candy, no sir.

Next: Light of Terra, Part 8

OMAKE: Relationship Chart

If you like what I do, please consider supporting me on Patreon

I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in progress here. Please Check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too.

Resources: BuildDocument

Author’s Notes

Well, first off, thanks for reading this. I know it wasn’t long since my last one of these… probably the fastest I’ve written 10,000 words. Literally 13 hours. I wanted to write this yesterday, sunday, but I got roped into family stuff and then was too migrained out to write last night. So I cancelled all my plans today (monday, Halloween) to write it… it had to come out today… it’s the Zombie Episode!

So, details. Well, first, House Van Saar. I explain exactly why I went with them… well, not quite. See, originally I had a lot more Schemas and cybernetics in my build… but as I went I decided more and more that they just weren’t things that Essjay would take, so I scrapped them and that made Van Saar just more about thematics. It was the house I’d side with among them all… maybe the Ratskins… but I doubt I’d have ever found them really. They’re isolationists. So Van Saar it was.

As for what I decided to keep… well, originally I wasn’t going to by Dive. It’s pointless after the jump… but the thematics and survival bonuses for this section just made sense to get it. Honestly, it was for story reasons more than anything. And I had to do some mental gymnastics to do that. I the author know these things are safe from tampering and chaos… but Essjay doesn’t and had to take them on faith… and faith is hard in Warhammer, 40K or Fantasy. Making Magnus the source honestly makes it more trustworthy, because if anyone doesn’t need the trick, it’s him.

As for the Nerve Wiring… I honestly don’t know if it was a good move or not, and if Essjay really needed it, what with Biomancy, or if it’ll be useful after this jump (probably not). But honestly, I had so many points and felt I had to buy something. It’s a good story beat. Really, I could have walked out of this section with 2000 CP and was tempted to… but I just don’t need that many points for part 3 of the main jump.

As for the dive itself… originally I was going to do three complications… but after I thought about it, I decided to do 5… just because it worked better. I did alter the order I rolled them so that the biggest threats came last, because it made rising drama and gave a serious boss fight. Seriously, Valois is a little anti-climactic after the Deep Crow, but it’s a better fight and I have more control over it (the Valois fight is preordained to a degree… I could have changed it… but the point of this exercise is to show how much flex there is in the story while still allowing the scripted elements to play out as much as possible… plus, I hadn’t had a giant monster kill yet.)

As for the rewards… I got super lucky. Seriously. My rolls were 61 (Pick Primary Power… I picked Beastmastery), 63 (Roll four times, pick one. I got 51 (roll 1d6 Wyrd Powers… I got a 3, which would be #43 Cause Pain, #23 Spider Man, and #64 Pick 1 minor power) then 66 (Pick 2 Primary Powers), then 55 (Warp Shootist), then 24 (Zen Shootist). Of course I picked the 66.)… and my third roll was 21 for the Pyromaniac Primary Power. So I had two prepicked Primary Powers and two unpicked Primary Powers… and there are only 4 Primary Power groups. Now, sure, each of them are (as I later learned when I actually looked up the game rules, 6 random powers in each of Telepathy, Telekinesis, and Pyromaniac, and random creatures under Beastmastery)… but I’m an Alpha Fucking Psyker. I figured that having access to all 4 Wyrd Primary Powers pretty much means that I’m upgrading to Alpha Plus. That’s my wank, if you’re wondering. Normally, a Wyrd is a way lower rank than an Alpha and would just be swallowed up in that… but CP is a weird mistress.

Anyway, next time, SQUATS!

 

Advertisements

World 61: The Light of Terra, Part 6

THE LIGHT OF TERRA, A WARHAMMER 40K GAUNTLET

PART 6 – The How Very Special

Previously: The Pagan Path

Themesong: This is Halloween from Nightmare Before Christmas

AN: This was not the part I originally planned to write… but sometimes needs must when the devil dances. Also, it made me laugh.

“Bah. That creature does not look so tough,” the bald, red-skinned, battle-scarred woman was insisting, glowering at the hand-drawn image in her hand. “My Biggles would clearly win! He is an unstoppable engine of death and slaughter!”

“Nuh huh,” said the tiny girl sitting on the back of said unstoppable engine of death and slaughter, wearing a hybrid red-ridinghood-bo-peep outfit, complete with staff. “Ziggy may look harmless, clueless, and fluffy… but he can destroy a city in minutes if he gets too rambunctious,” she insisted, defending her drawing, which showed Biggles and Ziggy frollicing through a forest of towering mushrooms (or so she claimed… it was typical artwork for a 10 year old)

“Ziggy is a stupid name for a daemon,” Decima grumbled, kicking a rock that had offended the berserker’s sensibilities by daring to share the same road with her. The rock, being the tip of a much bigger boulder, didn’t move at all. The massive flock of speeps trailing behind the trio didn’t comment, but clustered around Biggle’s ankles for protection. The gigantic hellbrass daemon, a Juggernaut Engine, gave a sound halfway between a roar and a low of confusion, clearly unable to cope with things that were not afraid of it and were, instead, seeking protection in its lee. It stepped daintily, though the speeps were, at least, sensible enough to avoid being where those massive clawed feet landed.

“Ziggy isn’t a daemon… he’s a Fuzz Monster and Kaiju!” Amaryllis announced sagely in her piping voice, muffled only slightly by the filter mask, not much thicker than a bandana, covering her mouth and nose. It had an oxy feed integrated and was far less cumbersome than the original masks.

Then again, the planetary oxygen levels had tripled over the last seven years. They should have… I had a fleet of 8 atmo-tankers which did nothing besides make runs back and forth between the two oxygen refineries I had running in one of the system’s gas giants… the refineries also pulled in H3, argon, and other useful gases as well, which we were bunkering or selling as opportunity arose.

In addition, the enviro-dome covering the city did triple duty. It was, essentially, the same kind of forcefield that ships used to keep atmo in their launching bays, but far larger. It kept the atmospheric pressure (roughly equal with Denver, Colorado) inside the dome constant, that was one. It kept the local wildlife out (kaiju and spores alike)… that was two… and it would, at need, stop an orbital bombardment cold. Every city on the planet… I had four now, ranging from the 120,000 strong outpost of Trackmead (Alex got to name that one) to my capital at Argos, which had a population of over a million… was covered in not one by three such domes, and ringed with enough firepower to Exterminatus anything less than an Imperial Battle Fleet. Give me another century, and I’d make Paradise strong enough to rival the defenses of McCragge or Terra. I had the tech edge, after all… and no idea if this exile would ever end.

I was, at that moment, sitting at one of the cafes which ringed the large park I’d left in the center of Argos. On one end was the Tabernacle (seat of government), on the other end the Civic Health Center (hospital, training camp, and stadium rolled into one), and running along its sides were the ritziest properties on the planet, shops and apartments for senior members of the Septs. No one who wasn’t pledged to one of the Clans (we had resident aliens now) was allowed to live in the city center. Most of them weren’t even allowed into the city center at all, in fact. I was at a table by myself, trying not to twitch as the berserker took her pet and Amaryllis took her pets… yes, three hundred plus speeps were officially her pets… she could, somehow tell every last one of them apart… for walkies.

It wasn’t that I was nervous about Decima being around the kids. Honestly, she was like a momma bear around the little ones, perfectly willing to utterly brutalize anything that even thought about getting close to them with ill intent… or an unhealthy snack… or was the girl’s mother. Decima and Cirno haaaaaated each other. If there was such a thing as soul-mates of hate, they were that. But Amaryllis thought Decima was awesome. Then again, Amaryllis thought everyone was awesome.

And so, while I was, in fact, at my table, alone… my entourage was taking up all the rest of the tables at the cafe… and I could feel their eyes boring into my back… when the various table-occupants weren’t glaring at each other. I say my entourage… and I don’t mean my bodyguards… I didn’t have any of those in this place. There wasn’t a need and, in theory, I wanted my people to feel free to come up to me to talk about whatever problems they might be having. Bodyguards would have spoiled that.

Of course, it was spoiled anyway, and by two simple facts. The first was, my people were treating me, despite my best efforts, like I was, well… sacrosanct. I had the sneaking suspicion that this was what the Emperor had had to deal with from Lorgar, but I’d intended to be the remote saviour to avoid screwing things up initially… but it had grown from reverence into something very much like awe. It was bad enough that I was forced to generate a low grade calming field around myself whenever I was out in public, just to keep people from kowtowing. Not bowing… kowtowing… i.e. full prostration and banging their heads against the floor. I have no idea who taught them that, but if I found out…

The second fact was, well… I pretty much couldn’t go anywhere without being followed by not one, not two, not three, but five… FIVE!… contingents of very scary people. Ever since my return from the Court of the Heathen Star with the twin Choirs, the powers that be (Frankie & Mini, Carwyn, and Tokimi & Yuzuha) had decided that I was not to be left alone… or I might bring back more. Somehow, the Choirs had seen this as a challenge, and so, in addition to Alicia and her friends and Alessa and her acolytes, I was followed by Carwyn and her Exodites (four of whom had turned out to be female and all of whom were beginning to modify their armor in subtle ways… the color scheme was looking decidedly more green and silver than black and blue… though still far darker of hue than my own armor.), as well as representatives of both the Seraglio (my official lovers or their spies) and the Fiancee Squad (Tokimi & Yuzuha… plus Cirno for some reason… or their spies). And each of these groups was growing. They were forming power bloqs, gaining hangers-on of their own, people… usually the most fanatical and attractive of my people… who were willing to model themselves on whatever central ideology they believed each faction represented.

I was sitting alone because to be sitting with someone would have been seen as favoring one side over another and I really… really… was not equipped to be the center of what was rapidly becoming the most hideously unbalanced love polyhedron ever. It hadn’t started out overly complex. Five of the six members of what an outsider might term my Harem, two associate members in that I’d never slept with either though there was an emotional connection, Carwyn, my… girlfriend? I guess… and nine soldier fanatics. Almost all the lines had initially radiated inward… making me feel like some kind of attraction singularity, being squished in by the force of others’ regard… but such a system is unstable…

And so, other lines began to grow. Some were pre-existing, such as Mini & Frankie being together or Yoiko and her brother… yes, yes, ewww incest… grow up, they’re waaay past the consenting adult stage. Others were based around origin. The two choirs were not keen on sharing… especially not the members of the Choir of Lost Voices, all of whom were prone to jealousy and envy… but if they weren’t willing to share with each other, they double-triple nonono weren’t willing to share with anyone else… especially not Alessa and company. So competition had fueled internal closeness, deepening friendships and, strangely, some personality pairings across alliances… if only I could push those into friendships or more, it would lighten things on me… hopefully… maybe… at this point I wasn’t certain it could hurt.

But, if the mutual internal alliances were stressful to deal with, they were nothing on the growing rivalries that linked individual members of each faction… such as the situation with Decima and Cirno… or Ryoga and Carwyn… or Alicia, Alessa, and Carwyn… or Yoiko and the 12 foot tall Verona, or Yuzuha and Luna, or Sabine and modesty… it was all way more than I was willing to deal with… but a glare from me was enough to make (almost) everyone back off and retreat to their separate corners. Only Lilith, Luna, Cirno, and Tokimi were unphased by my glare… Lilith because she didn’t really have eyes as far as I could tell, Cirno because she was an idiot, Luna because she clearly didn’t understand glares as a challenge, and Tokimi because when I did that she would usually bite me. I don’t know why.

I’d tried to head this off… I really had. On the way back from the Court, after neither group of Sisters had indicated their willingness to leave me alone… especially not with THEM!… I’d tried making other arrangements.

~Magnus? You in?~

~Who? Wait, how are you… What do you want?!~

~I need a favor.~

~We are not on social terms. We are not friends nor are we collegues! It was a one time arrangement!~

~Uh huh. Right. So, I need a favor.~

~How are you even doing this?~

~Dude… you did almost exactly this trying to reach your father right before you smashed the psychic defenses of Holy Terra.~

~Yes, but… I’m me!~

~Right, right. Gotcha. So, the favor?~

~I’m me and you’re you! You should not be able to do this!~

~You live on a planet of psychic energy in the Warp. The Warp does not confuse or confound me. Your defenses are not even close to those your father erected, since he was trying to, among other things, keep your boss from getting to him and you specifically are not trying to keep Big T Monkey from contacting you. Plus, I’ve been to the Planet of the Sorcerers… lovely decor. Really. Been to your private library too. I never forgot things. SO, favor?~

~Oh for the love of Tzeentch, whaaaat?~

~So, I found these five ex-chaos sisters of battle. They’ve decided to follow Necoho-~

~NECOHO?! Necoho doesn’t exist!~

~Course he doesn’t. It’s just your dad faffing about to annoy your boss and his cronies.~

~What?!~

~Emperor… Massive Atheist, hates the Chaos Gods… Necoho… Massive Atheist, hates the Chaos Gods. Emperor, massive psychic presence in the Warp, worshipped by quadrillions… Necoho, if he did exist, would be a massive psychic presence in the Warp.~

~Oh… fuck me…~

~Size differential.~

~What? No! I wasn’t offering. But yes… that would be… get thee behind me Slaanesh. So, you found some crazy bints who used to work for my father and then tossed him aside to work for one of the real gods… only to start worshipping what is either not a real god, is a god of hating itself, or is my father trolling the gods?~

~Pretty sure you don’t want Slaanesh behind you, dude… But… l… right… there are five of them. Their leader used to be all ‘Yay! Chaos Undivided!’ while the other four include a former Nurglite Terminatrix, a Sorceress of Tzeentch, a Khornate Berserker, and a Slaanesh Noise Marine who is allergic to clothing.~

~And you want me to do what? Show up and scare them back into the arms of righteousness? Turn them into iguanas? Be best man at your five way wedding of damnation?~

~I was hoping you might take them off my hands, actually.~

The laughing went on for far too long. It was very hurtful.

****

Meanwhile, someplace that may or may not exist, in a scene SJ has no way of knowing is happening… if it is indeed happening…

“Don’t exist! Hmpph. I’ll show them doesn’t exist. Am I not the great and powerful… wait… I might not exist… hmmm… So maybe… But she called me The Emperor! That’s just insulting! I have a mind to… or am I the Emperor? I could be? Couldn’t I be? But if I was the Emperor I’d definitely exist… wouldn’t I? Yes I would. Maybe… I’m confused. But I’m also angry!”

“Whyz you talkin’ to youzelf?”

“Shut up Gork, you don’t exist!”

“Dats hoitful, dat iz! I’z Mork.”

“Well then, shut up Mork, you don’t exist!”

“Youz don’t exist neiver Necoho, yet youz be talkin’ to youzelf.”

“I’m the only one of us who does exist… maybe… I’m not sure. Shut up. I’m looking for something.”

“Whatcha lookin’ fo’?”

“If I existed, then there is someone… something… Ah… here it is.”

“Waz dat den?”

“It’s a favor!”

“A favo? From who den?”

“The Council of Benefactors!”

“Whatcha gon’ do wif dat den? Gonna Benfact somat?”

“No! I’m going to… Yes… Yes I’m going to benefactor someone. Someone who thinks she’s soooo damned smart. Let’s see how she handles the Wrath of NECOHO!”

“Who’z Necoho?”

“Shut up Mork. Wait, it’s ringing… yes, hello? Is this the Council of Benefactors? It is? Excellent. I’d like to… oh… you know already. You’re watching… yes… I see… Well then… what are my options? No… Medical Drama? Really? I don’t… Cooking Show? Umm… not really… Do you have anything that’s full of despair and hopelessness and just endless humiliations where people point at my victim and laugh and laugh and laugh? You do? Excellent, I’ll take that! Wait, what do you mean allow four to six months for shipping and handling!? Hello? Hello?”

“Dey hung up on youz, huh?”

“No, they hung up on me! ME! Necoho! I’ll show them, I’ll show them all! Soon, Soon these two shall know my wrath and then-”

“De Univerz?”

“No, don’t be stupid Mork who does not exist. The UNIVERSE!”

“Oh, Dat’s different den.”

“Where are you going?”

“To get de popcorn… an Gork… He’ll be roit chuffed if ‘e misses dis.”

*****

And so, there I was, trying not to listen to the whispering behind me, half my attention running through the progress reports on the Righteous Path… we’d finally begun moving her thanks to the inertialess drives mounted around her icy tomb, and she was nearing the edge of the system she was in and would be ready for warp to Paradise when I arrived to helm her back in a week’s time. I glanced at my chrono… still about 7 hours until the Preemptive was done with her checkup… she was completely converted now and molting, but the techpriests assured me she’d be ready in time for departure. The other half of my attention was on my children, frollicing in the park.  Well, Alex was frollicing, playing death commando with Fredrika, Frankie, and Yuzuha. Maggy was fiercely debating sorcery with Lilith and Mini. She did everything fiercely. Great kid. They all were.

That’s when the vending machine plummeted out of the clear pinkish sky and, totally ignoring my shields, thunked into the pavement a meter and a half from where I was sitting, the impact knocking most of the tables over and startling Biggles so badly that… well… let’s just say that a couple of Amaryllis’s Speeps were going to need a bath or six.

I blinked… then tried to dive out of the way as the screen flared and a beam of light shot out of it. It was, in every way, like one of those TV shows or movies where the Arcade Cabinet shoots out a beam of light and sucks in some hapless rube… except, in this case… I was said Hapless one.

“Welcome, Player One! You have been recruited by the Starleague for a full ride scholarship to the Grid! Please Select your Starting Ship!” a disembodied voice said. It sounded vaguely like Wil Wheaton doing a Darth Vader impression. A series of four panels appeared before my eyes, but what they contained definately wasn’t starships. Instead, it was a picture of Anonymous from 4chan, a picture of Frasier Crane from Cheers and Frasier, a picture of Joey Tribbiani from FRIENDS and Joey, and a picture of Kramer from Seinfeld… I certainly hoped there wasn’t a Kramer show. Above them were the respective legends ‘Drop-In’, ‘Smart-Guy’, ‘Charmer’, and ‘Oddball’.

What. The. Every. Living. Fuuuuuck? Someone had sent me a VMoD? Here? In the middle of Warhammer Space? In the middle of this Fiasco? Was this the Banker trying to reach out? Was this my rescue? Was it Mensarius trying to fuck with me? I looked around but the rest of the space was formless.

After who knows how long, a timer counting down from 10 appeared beneath the four images that said “Random Pick in 10… 9… 8…”

Shit. If this was the Banker, it wasn’t his style… if it was Mensarius, it could be a bluff… I wasn’t going to give whoever the satisfaction of accepting their CP willingly, even though at the moment I had no defenses as far as I could tell against such things as being forced to take on CP corruption, if that was a thing. ‘7… 6… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1…”

The anonymous symbol flipped around to a ‘?’ and then started spinning faster and faster until it was a blur. After a long moment, it settled on Charmer. A text box appeared, telling me that I was now Sexually Attractive and Romantically Experienced… but not necessarily good at anything else… and then new memories began popping up in my head. Memories of realizing the… power… I tended to have on members of the opposite sex, as well as some members of my own… and of learning to use that to get what I wanted… a long and illustrious love-life (with a few comical mishaps along the way… I felt a little… queasy. I was what’s her name from the L Word… the hot one… well, not her specifically… but…

“Starting Zone Selected, loading LA and The L Word onto the Grid.”

Oh, fuck… the grid wasn’t Tron’s grid… it was  a TV programming grid… I was going to a world populated by Sitcoms… not just some of them… potentially all of them. I think I’d rather go back to Gorkamorka and become a full time racer. Where was the cancel button!?

“WELCOME JUMPER! Your Drawbacks have been Randomized at the behest of your Sponsor. You have been credited +100 CP since we are unable to load your previous CP Pattern due to some form of interference. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

Four Line Items appeared next to me, three valued at +100 and one at +300; The previously mentioned ‘Interference Pattern’, plus ‘Do the Catchphrase’ and ‘Very Special Episode’… both of which sounded absolutely cringeworthy… and the utterly horrifying sounding ‘The Urkel’. I very gingerly tapped them in order, hoping they weren’t as… icky… as they sounded. I was wrong… they were worse.

Interference Pattern said “Due to circumstances beyond central broadcasting’s control, all abilities and items from any reality other than your home reality are currently disabled or unavailable. We do apologize. Enjoy this complimentary bag of Planters Honey Roasted Peanuts, on us.” There was a thunk and a can of, yes, Planters nuts landed at my feet. It wasn’t Honey Roasted, and it was Mixed Nuts… I had a feeling this entire experience could be summed up in those differences.

‘Do the Catchphrase’ was, of course, worse. I mean, yes, being cut off from my abilities was bad, but I’d just had that happen for 7 years and could cope… Sitcoms weren’t known for EXTERMINATUS. But they were known for inane catchphrases… and apparently I was well known for mine… a thing I despised saying… I didn’t know what it was yet, but I was guaranteed to be asked by virtually everyone I met to do it for them… and even my closest friends wouldn’t be able to resist asking from time to time. I had to remember that shooting people was bad and wrong… so was having Decima have words with them. I did get another product placement. This was a year’s supply of Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco Treat! It was all Beef and Chicken Flavors… i.e. that one with carrots and that one that is so fucking bland that white rice sued. Yaaay. At least they got the product name right. Apparently ‘year’s supply’ meant 365 boxes. Who eats the same thing every damned day?

‘Very Special Episode’ was, of course, a mawkish trainwreck waiting to happen… waiting between 2 and 7 days, because it was guaranteed to come up at least once a week and sometimes several in one week. Occasionally, I’d wake up and have a ‘Very Special Day’… a day with few laughs to be had and where I’d have to tackle serious, real-life issues like racism and drug use… a day in which I’ll be generally angsty and or overly sentimental. Exterminatus was sounding extra good right now. Several times a week? For +100? Several times a year would barely be worth this kind of emotional manipulation. Fuuuuuuuuu… oh, and another paid product. Kotex brand Tampons… yay? I needed a wall to bang my head against… a concussion would make this go away, right?

I could feel the info box on ‘The Urkel’ lurking there… but really, I already knew what it would say. Some insanely annoying character… no… person… they were real people and there wasn’t a screen between me and them to keep them away from me… would be pretty much wherever I went in this world of laugh tracks and very special episodes and stunning bouts of illogic… They’d get more and more popular as time passed and have some idiotic catchphrase… I tapped it… it was worse than I’d thought in almost every conceivable way. Everything I’d assumed would be there was there… but they’d get more popular with everybody except me and be followed by vast legions of manic fans who would spout said catchphrase wherever I went. I would be unable to hurt them and any attempt to hinder them in any way would backfire horribly… and just to add insult to injury… this Drawback was sponsored by Diet Pepsi… DIET… PEPSI! DO I EVEN NEED TO EXPLAIN? I resolved to drink nothing but Coke for a decade.

“As a Charmer, you have been granted several Perks. Perks are Skills, Abilities, and Powers. They are guaranteed to work in this reality and in any future reality you may choose to visit,” the system informed me, as if I hadn’t done this loads of times… but then, maybe the system was defaulting since it couldn’t read me? I was more and more convinced that this was neither the Banker nor Mensarius. It had said that the Drawbacks were randomized at the behest of a Sponsor… I doubted PepsiCo, Planters, Rice-A-Roni, or Kotex could sponsor a jump… As far as I knew, only Benefactors could… Benefact… but could a subscriber, I don’t know, pay the Benefactors to send someone like me to a specific location… could I pay the Benefactors to send me to a specific setting?

“HELLO?” I yelled. There was no response. “CAN YOU HEAR ME?” No response. “DO YOU KNOW WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE BANKER?” No response. “YOUR MOTHERS WEAR ARMY BOOTS!”

“As a Charmer, you have been granted several Perks. You may review them here,” A window popped up, surrounded by a frame that looked like the one from FRIENDS. “You have 850 unspent CP remaining.”

“Wait… What?” I asked, startled. What had happened to my 1600? I grumbled, not expecting any response, and none came. I tapped the window and saw that I’d been granted ‘Humorous (by Snickers, obviously)’, ‘Laughter Track (by Orville Redenbacher Popcorn)’, ‘One of the Gang (by Verizon)’, ‘Looker (by Maybelline)’, & ‘Loadout (by Century 21)’ for [Free], and because I’d both selected my Identity, apparently the system had defaulted to buying me everything in the Charmer Line, which included the previously mentioned ‘Looker’ as freebie, plus ‘Eyyy! (by Maytag)’ (which I’m pretty sure is a reference to Fonzie from Happy Days, the guy what jumped the shark on a jet-ski or water-skis or something… I’ve never seen an episode except the one where Mork first showed up… from Mork & Mindy. Robin Williams is awesome.), ‘How You Doin’? (by Este Lauder)’ (which is definitely a reference to Joey Tribbiani from FRIENDS), and ‘Loveable Rogue (by Playboy)’. Those had cost 600 total… the other 150 had gone into F.R.I.E.N.D.S. (If it was an acronym, I have no idea what it stood for). I could deselect none of them… apparently they were all Sponsored and the Sponsors might get upset. Lovely.

Fiiiine. I’d read what they were. Perks can’t be bad things, right? Just… sub-optimal… Right? Freebies.  Free is Good. Free can’t be bad. I’d be safe if I started with the Free, since I clearly wasn’t being given a damned choice about almost anything. I was going to find this Sponsor and kick their ever-living ass once I figured out how. If I chose ‘Go Home’ at the end of this… would I go back to Earth? Or Paradise? And which did this jump think was my home reality? I guess I’d find out if I still was a psyker in La-La Land.

I tapped the Freebies one by one. ‘Humorous’ made me naturally funny, capable of sizing up a room and know what would make people laugh… great… I could be a comedienne. Yay. ‘Laughter Track’ provided my life with a toggle for canned or live studio laughter… and allowed me to decide who could hear the laughter… that was frankly horrifying. Sure, seems harmless… but how many horror movies do you know where sourceless laughter is used to great effect. I could subject my enemies to said laughter which they’d have no idea how to cope with, and make sure I never had to hear it. I know some Sitcoms are torture to watch… but that was just evil.

‘One of the Gang’ meant that I’d be an established member of a group of friends or a family from a real sitcom and have memories of and close bonds with those people?  Wait… what? Oh, for the love of… I was now remembering my childhood… I was the daughter of Charles Emerson Winchester… The THIRD! Wait… how was that possible. Winchester was in his 30s in the 1950s… The L Word took place in the 2000s… I was, apparently, in my 20s… that would make dad in his 60s when I was born… I mean, it’s doable… but he didn’t look like he was 80-90 in my memories… I wracked my memories… Papa graduated from Harvard College (lettering in Crew and Polo) in 1943, and Harvard Medical in 1948, then worked at Boston General, where (prior to being drafted) he was on track to become Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery. The Korean War ran from June of 1950 to July of 1953, or just over 3 years. That meant he was 32 years old when the war ended. It was now 2004. He was 83 years old. I was 24. And a serious disappointment.

The system pinged and 200 CP vanished from my total. Okay, well, that was weird. Apparently I was no longer a serious disappointment… just a little bit of one. I remembered my childhood, full of music lessons thanks to dad’s passion for classical music… and I was good at them, surprisingly. Violin, Cello, Viola, Piano, even Harp and Harpsichord, and, though dad disapproved, guitar (I don’t know why people don’t think of guitars as classical instruments; they predate the violin by centuries.). Part of me had loved the praise, part of me had hated that it seemed like dad loved the music more than me… wow, maudlin… and now here I was living across the country from my aged father, being inexplicably well paid to play music for a living and flirt with my fans for fun.

I was currently cello soloist with the LA philharmonic which brought in attractive older women and wanna be artiste-girls, as well as the guitarist in an experimental punk-rock band called Mad Monarchs fronted by Drummer / Singer Phyllis Waverly… which brought in all the cute young things who wore so ridiculously little that they would embarrass the streetwalkers, but that was okay because reenacting Pretty Woman with barely legal teenagers who thought pretending to be a hooker was ‘cute’ was one of my favorite activities. Wow… I was a lothario… lotharia? And this was just strange.

I was not used to elements appearing in my memory piecemeal. I was used to coming up with a way things fit together and having the entire history flower inside my awareness in a single moment of satori. Memories did not normally change… and since I had a perfect memory, I wasn’t used to things in my memory disappearing and being replaced wholesale… but then again, I didn’t have the protections I once had had. Most frustrating. Shit. I did not want to have to start this process all over again.

If nothing else, breaking in a new Benefactor would be a pain. Fuck.

I sighed, then looked around to see what had triggered that change in my personal history, and saw that the line item ‘Professional (by Prada)’ had been added for 200. I tapped it, wondering at the fundamental conflict between a loose-living playboy and a professional mindset. The new perk gave me a job that I was ‘damn good at’, good enough to make a very good living, good enough that I was considered a real expert in the field… and it made things a little easier to learn things related to my field. Well, that’s nice. Not sure I’d have picked music… but I guess it was a good fallback. It also had a footnote stating ‘Professional greatly improves your Loadout.” Huh. Cool? I don’t know what a Loadout is, but cool

Of course, I still didn’t know what any of the perks Charmer had given me did at all, so I checked. ‘Looker’ made me unusually attractive. I hoped that was a good thing. Unusually was a strange word to use. Was I attractive in an unusual way? Or just more attractive than those who were just normally attractive. ‘Eyyy!’ was even weirder, especially since it was split into two distinct halves, one much more impressive (and strange) than the other. The lesser half was a downright ridiculous degree of skill on a jet-ski (I guess Fonzi used a Jet-ski), while the greater half was the ability to bang malfunctioning machinery to repair it. Errr? Yayyy? Certainly not something I’d normally buy, but whatever.

‘How You Doin’?’ was even more extreme, and even more questionable. It made me so good at seducing people that I could do so with little more than a few stock phrases or gestures… and gave me the well-practiced lovers skills that came with so much… hands on training as it were. Great. I’m sure that my harem would be just ever so thrilled with all the strange I was getting slash had gotten. I was going to be mercilessly killed. I was doomed. Yup.

Then I read the last perk, the Charmer Capstone and flinched. It was practically immoral… or more a license to be a scoundrel… then again, it was called ‘Lovable Rogue’. Apparently, I got around, people knew it, and simply didn’t care. They’d find my unfaithfulness slash multiple partners amusing rather than heart-breaking… and when my relationships did end they’d tend to do so with humor instead of tragedy. It came with a less than iron-clad guarantee that, in matters romantic or prurient, things would be always less work and a great deal more relaxed, with everyone’s feelings less likely to get seriously hurt… Well, it was a sitcom kind of thing… but I don’t know if I could bring myself to use… oh, who am I kidding… it was the kind of corruptive power that would siren’s song me into using it.

I was already a flirt and prone to sleeping around… Being able to get away with it was going to make not jumping at every opportunity so much harder. Bad, bad me. More than half of me was looking forward to the buffet that southern California presented. Mmm… Yum.

The other 2/5ths of me decided to tap ‘F.R.I.E.N.D.S.’, hoping it was a Companion import so that some of my people could try and keep my libido under some kind of control. As it turns out… the number of my people following me would be 24, three purchases of the 50 CP item that granted each companion an Identity, a Loadout, a body at my discretion, and all perks that would be free for them. And the reason for 24? That appeared to be everyone who’d been at the cafe with me… oh good. Sitcoms with the Sisters of Battle… and Carwyn… and her four nutters… and my kids and their mothers. Good… fun for the whole family with kids that did not grow up. It was like living in Springfield or South Park… I wondered if I could visit cartoon sitcoms.

The system pinged. “There are two remaining 50 CP items. Since you have refused to commit to spending any points through positive action, you will be presented with both options and asked to remove one. If you fail to select within 10 seconds, one will be randomly assigned.” I flicked off the darkness. Apparently that was a mistake. “Guest Stars deselected. Unrealistic Living Arrangements by Fierro Rocher is assigned by default. You have 600 CP remaining. Personality analysis indicates you to be rely on brains more than luck or subterfuge. Plotter by Apple has been selected. Zero CP remaining. 10 minutes to Insertion. Thank you for your participation, and enjoy your Sojourn.” The ‘Bitch’ was unstated.

“Well, that was pleasant,” I said to the darkness, then looked at what the system had saddled me with. ‘Loadout’ turned out to be my living situation and belongings, upgraded by Professional of course, which meant I had a large, artistically distressed apartment with an even larger bedroom, a chaise lounge (for some reason) and an enormous and immensely comfortable bed… and a well stocked liquor cabinet. Also lots of money, an extremely expensive motorbike and a couple of cars that were worth more than most people made in their lifetimes. Holy fuck… how much was I making as… oh… that was a lot. Damn. Triple Diamond Certification… It had been a while since I’d been on Earth… or payed attention to the music scene… but I think that means 30,000,000 copies of an album sold. Pretty sure that was unlikely for Punk-rock.

And that left ‘Plotter’… which made my diabolically skilled in the art of planning and predicition, particularly when such predictions were based on the actions of other people. My plans would nearly always go off without a hitch despite seeming to have massive holes or relying on people to act in extremely specific ways. Well… that was just… What plots was I going to get up to in Sitcom-landia? Seriously. A cunning plan to… a cunning… could I visit Blackadder? Oh… I must do that. Verily.

I noticed a 4×6 grid with my ‘Companions’ names on them. “Who are Caitlyn, Caerdwyn, Caytrin, and Tess?” I wondered… then realized they must be the actual names of the four Exarchs. I know it was bad, but I’d never bothered to learn their given names, since they honestly were virtually indistinguishable from each other. I just yelled “Exarch!” and one of them would come over… or more likely, would stare at me until I had Carwyn relay the information I needed relayed… only that hadn’t actually been the case over the last year or so… the four female Exarchs were more likely to look away and or blush when I talked to them than ignore me… Huh… my new Sitcom persona was interpreting that in an entirely different context than my Warhammer one had. Warhammer me had thought those blushes were flushes of anger… maybe they weren’t… or maybe I had four psycho elves with Tsundere… I hoped it was Tsun or Kuu and not Yan… personalities… and great, now I was imagining a menage a six (cease… not six) with Carwyn and company… I needed a cold show…

OOOH fuck fuck fuck coooold! I was standing in a very cold shower. Damnit, that was cold… fuck… I think I’d managed to miss my window to modify any of the Companions. Had the system picked or had they picked. I guessed I’d… the tiles of my shower shifted to a 4×6 grid as the water warmed back up. I tapped one at random.

Mini’s face popped up above the grid, taking up the same amount of space. There were six buttons, three to each side, framing her face; Randomize, Identity, Customize, Companion’s Choice, Scan & Plan, and Confirm. I hit ‘Scan & Plan’.

“Our system shows that Smart Guy is the best persona fit for this individual, and that she is your lover. She has a basic body mod package which suits the setting, though her default age is listed as ‘unacceptable to conventional society’ for a relationship with someone of your current age. We recommend making her a med-school student who lives in your guest bedroom. We further show that she is in a long term relationship with the companion ‘Francesca’, who also has a body mod acceptable to the setting and fits the persona of Charmer. We recommend that she be a police officer who also shares your abode. The scans further note that the three of you collectively have two children, Alexander and Margaret, who were also included in the collection field. Alexander fits the profile of a Charmer and Margaret a Smart Guy. We recommend they be placed as school children.”

“Further, since they register the child ‘Amaryllis’ as their sister, and you register Amaryllis’s mother, Cirno, as your servant, we recommend Cirno be added to your household as your maid. She fits the profile of an Oddball,” I had to laugh at that. “All three children lack body mods, but an approximation can be made. Cirno’s hair color is non-standard and will be edited to be what is referred to as ‘a dye-job’.” A list of all these details popped up on screen and I quickly flipped through just to verify I didn’t have any problems with any of the forms they’d been assigned by the system, then hit confirm. Those 6 squares went dark, though they glowed with the names Cirno Bergerac, Amaryllis Bergerac-Winchester, Francesca Striker, Margaret Striker-Winchester, Minerva Wiseman, and Alexander Wiseman-Winchester.

And so it went. Yuzuha Jones (Drop-In) became my Chauffeur, Tokimi Stevens (Smart Guy) became my Nanny, Yoiko and Ryoga Hess (Oddballs) became my Chef and Butler respectively. My apartment was getting larger, but (thankfully) it stopped there.

Alicia Dee (Charmer), Decima Rais (Smart Guy), Verona Blavatsky (Oddball), Lilith Crowley (Smart Guy), and Sabine Cagliostro (Oddball) became my more dedicated (psycho) fans from my Punk work. Alessa Saint-Homme (Smart Guy), Fredrika (Drop-In), Sierra (Charmer), and Luna (Oddball) became a mother and her three daughters who were my more dedicated classical fans… Alessa was married to a very rich older man who was never in town. As for Carwyn Elder (a Charmer), she was my next door neighbor, therapist, and lover. She lived with her sisters, the triplet Drop-Ins (Caitlin, Caytrin, and Caerdwyn), and the Oddball, Tess.

I finished all that reveiw just as a pair of hands reached past my head and a not insubstantial bosom pressed against the back of my head as a soft, sultry voice asked “Why are you poking the wall? Wouldn’t you rather be poking me instead?” I ran through my new memory’s mental catalogue of the voices of all those it would be even vaguely appropriate for me to be naked in the shower with… not a single one of them matched. Unfortunately, Tess’s voice did. Tess, who was 18 this week. Tess, who had come over to use my Jacuzzi. Tess, the reason I’d apparently been taking a shower at 2:30 in the after-noon.

Great. I was not only sleeping with most of the Help, and my therapist, I was cheating on my two live in girlfriends with my therapist’s baby sister. This me had the sexual morals of… Hawkeye Pierce, MD. Oh good lord. No wonder my father disagreed with my lifestyle. And now she was nibbling my ear.

Look, I try to be a good person, really I do. I defend the weak, uplift the downtrodden, destroy the evil. I’m a good leader, a great provider, and I love my kids, pets, and families. I have two major vices… three if you count an obsession with games, but that’s not a real vice so it doesn’t count. The first is that I love food. Really, really love it. Good food is like… it’s better than almost everything else besides ferrets and my kids.

The other thing I like is sex. This me just liked it a great deal more than usual for me. It was her central motivating want. And here was me, without my layed willpower and hundreds of personas to defend myself against my own desires.

All this is in service of explaining that what followed was not even close to PG rated and I’m not going to go into any details… but I’m also not going to apologize… well, not to you. Not to any of the others… well… maybe Carwyn. She hadn’t had to put up with my… less than exclusive ways for nearly as long. All the others knew I wasn’t exclusive nor did I demand they be. If Carwyn hadn’t figured that out from contact with Cirno, Yoiko, Ryoga, Mini, and Frankie yet… well then… still… her sister/bodyguard? Yeah… I was baaaad. I grinned… maybe she’d spank me.

Wow… apparently this me was kinky as well.

After a shower that in no way was responsible, Tess and I headed out into the larger bedroom, one I recognized as being in the lush apartment of Carwyn Elder… and specifically the Master Bedroom which belonged to Carwyn and not the live-in maid’s quarters that Tess occupied since she was essentially freeloading off her older siblings. The triplets occupied the smaller guest/family bedrooms… Carwyn’s place only had 6 bedrooms total (one of which was used as Carwyn’s meditation room.  My place had 8, counting the maid’s and master… Maggy, Alex, and Amy had their own rooms, Cirno lived in the maid’s room. Yoiko & Ryoga shared a room, as did Tokimi & Yuzuha, and the last bedroom was for guests… two guesses where Mini & Frankie slept. It was a crowded apartment… which did not explain why I’d decided to shower at Carwyn’s place after watching Tess get out of my Jacuzzi.  

I searched my memory… and froze. My master shower was broken. This me had called the building’s maintenance engineer, and he’d come right up. He was tall, handsome in an odd way, and quick with a joke and a smile. Pretty much what you’d expect from a token male in a lesbian themed sitcom… competent too. Everything checked out there… except for one thing… his name was Frank Necoho. I’d left what was probably a Chaos God in my apartment with my kids and family while I had a fling. I barely grabbed my clothes before rushing out of Carwyn’s room, leaving Tess to dry her long red hair.

“I’ll kill him,” I muttered, wondering if he was at full power in this universe.

I skidded to a stop as a male voice asked, “Kill Who?” I looked around. I was in Carwyn’s Lesser Kitchen (the one attached to the family living room) and not the main kitchen designed for bigger meals in the Dining room… did I mention that, were this not a sitcom, this apartment would cost about 3 million dollars. Mine made hers look small.

In the kitchenette (one standard sized cooktop, one fridge, a counter / bar island, 1 sink, no dishwasher or oven.) stood Frank, pulling together the contents of a respectably large (but not quite comicly large) sandwhich. Without thinking I breathed “Oh… Necoho.”… and the audience cheered. Seriously… that was my Catchphrase? That? I was going to kill… oh.. Oh no… sweet merciless Emperor of Mankind… Necoho was the URKEL! THis was going to be a decade of torment.

“Heya Miss W. Got your shower fixed. Turns out it was clogged with wool. You been bathing sheep?” he laughed. I wanted to punch him in the face.

Instead, I just smiled. “Must have been Amy, you know how kids are.”

“Hey, do I!”

“I don’t know… do you?”

“No. No kids. But yours seem nice. Maybe they’d like a father?”

“Necoho… you flirt with me again, I’ll smoosh that sandwich into your face and punt you off my balacony so hard you end up in Anaheim.”

“Oooph. No offense, Miss W. Still don’t know how you managed to get three kids without, you know, wedding tackle.”

“Special proceedure. Converts an ovum into a sperm. My dad’s connected in the medical world. Why are you here?”

“To tell you I fixed your shower.”

“Why are you eating here, I mean.”

“Oh, cause Miss Elder’s got the best pastrami in town. Flown in from New York, it is!”

“Doesn’t she mind you eating it?”

“Prolly, but she ain’t here right now, and you won’t tell her cause you was fuckin’ her sister in her bedroom.”

“Oh, Necoho…” I growled. “I wouldn’t be too certain about that.”

That’s how things went with him. I got him fired, he won the lotto and moved into the building… then lost all his money and begged to be hired back. Things simmered for a while, then he got drunk and we had a very special episode about sexual assault and he ended up in jail… but then it was revealed he’d been drugged by someone and it wasn’t his fault and he got hired back. I got him fired again, he ended up inheriting the building. I got invited to his wedding, which was in England… ended up in Coupling.

Coupling… great show… got to debate sexuality with Patrick… he offered to show me his collection… then offered to let me be in a video. I pointed out that he was in love with Sally and I wasn’t interested in him… ah… good times. Might have slept with Jane… we were pretty hammered.

While we were in England (trying to avoid Necoho and his new bride “Svetlana”) we took a tour of historical london and ended up in Blackadder 2… or rather Carwyn and I did. Somehow Frankie and Mini and the kids ended up in Eastenders and Yoiko, Cirno, and Tokimi ended up in Blackadder 3. The way these sitcoms interlinked is just… weird.

Necoho showed up as a friend of Edmund Blackadder in my time… but it wasn’t the same Necoho… no, this was Frederico Necoho y Necoho, a famous Spanish Explorer who was trying to get Eddy to invest in his scheme to find a northern route to China. Thankfully, Edmund was too busy trying to turn lead into gold at the time and was fresh out of cash.

I picked up a really nice set of Elizabethan clothing while there, plus a period lute and Carwyn decked Baldric for grabbing her ass and then claiming it reminded him of a potato. Then there were hijinx as we tried to get the group back together… somehow we ended up in France where we ended up spending a very strange month among the inhabitants of Hélène et les Garçons / Salut les Muscles… I also got into a fight with Simon from My Worst Buddies over a statue.

That saw us fleeing to Denmark with Elodie Bradford hot on our tails believing we’d stolen said statue… where we ended up taking refuge in Christianshavn with the Clausens until the heat blew over.

From there we jumped from country to country, crossing through Poland, Estonia, Russia, Khazakstan, Mongolia, China, Korea (ending up as part of Frank Necoho Sr’s Travelling Wartime Circus to entertain the folks at M*A*S*H 4077… Thankfully it was durring Frank Burns’s stint so I didn’t have to bump into Dad…) but I tell you, I had no idea what the shows I was crossing into were at all at this point.

It got sooo much worse as we crossed into Japan… every block seemed to be another insane sitcom, some animated, others live action… my entire cadre got scattered across tokyo and we kept running into fans of Necoho in all his incarnations… and fans of me, demanding I “Say eeet!”

I like the Japanese. Really… but I really, really wanted to murder a few thousand otaku by the point I finally got everyone together… except Amaryllis… who’d been kidnapped by the Masked Hoho and was being held at Tokyo Tower. The ransom was that I perform a concert for him and his fans while wearing Gothic Lolita Fashion.

I was not happy… but I agreed. If I could have hurt Necoho, I wouldn’t be taking this lying down… but that wasn’t on the table. I tell you, nothing like having your daughter being held hostage by a Chaos God cum Comedy Foil to make you play your best… and that’s sarcasm, in case you didn’t know. Having him join you on stage midshow to metaphorically twirl his moustache and leer salaciously… not helping.

But that’s when my fans attacked his fans with firehoses. Never let it be said that fanatics are bad. Fanatics are only bad when they’re inconvenient for your plans… no matter whose side they’re on. The tide surged back and forth, prim and proper and punk clashing with visual kei and faux edwardian. And that’s when The Idiot Prince embraced the villain ball completely and pulled Amaryllis out from inside a fake amp and threatened her if I didn’t call off my fans.

“Oh, Necoho… you shouldn’t have done that,” I growled, eyes flashing as I forgot I couldn’t hurt him… and drove the base of my electric guitar into his face as hard as I could, muscles hardened by thousands of hours of exercise. I grabbed my daughter from his hand before he could drop her and the masked moron moaned in pain as he clutched his shattered teeth.

“OOo urt eeee! Ooo thuden be abu tuh urt eeee! Urgul theed ooo ooden be abu to urt eee!”

“Awww… so sad,” I sneered, hugging Amaryllis to my chest and glowering at him. “Touch my kids again and I’ll fucking smash your face to paste. Understand?” He nodded jerkily and I kicked him in the nuts and stomped off stage.

“That was fun!” my daughter piped. “I liked the music… can I be kidnapped again next week?”

I groaned. Children… still, how the hell had I managed to… I brought up the text… read it… then laaaughed. “Wow. Bad English for the win!”

Amaryllis looked up at me, “My english is perfectly good papa.”

“Not yours. Tell me what is wrong with this passage,” I instructed, then repeated the text verbatim. “There is an insanely annoying person that you despise and will be pretty much wherever you go. Worse still, they will get more popular every day with everybody except yourself until they have vast legions of manic fans all spouting out their inane catchphrases wherever you go. You cannot hurt them and any attempt to hinder them in any way backfires horribly.”

“Ummm,” She bit her lip, then said ‘Well… the first sentence is wonky, and should have a ‘which’ or ‘who’ between ‘and’ and ‘will’ so that the clauses are balanced. But I think you mean the object confusion in the third sentence. Since it follows the second, which contains two subjects… does the third sentence mean the annoying person cannot be hurt or the manic fans cannot be hurt… or both?”

“That’s a very good question. As it turns out… it means the manic fans.”

“Oh. Is that why Uncle Necoho ran away so fast?”

“Yes, and don’t call him Uncle.”

“What should I call him?”

“If you see a Necoho, run away and find one of us. Don’t talk to him. If you get kidnapped by him again, remind him that he doesn’t exist and that you don’t believe in him. And that Malal can kick his non-existent ass.”

“I’m not supposed to say ass.”

“You can in this circumstance.”

“Can I have ice cream?”

“Yes.”

“Can I be a sheep that says #44 on it’s side for Halloween?”

“Why #44?”

“Because that’s as high as I ever manage to count before I fall asleep.”

“Ah. Then yes, yes you can.”

All in all, it was a mostly relaxing stay in Sitcom Land. The Very Special Episodes grated on my nerves, and most of them were just… shmaltz. A few were genuinely awful. Cancer Episode, Sexual Harrasment Episode, Racism, Sexism… the one about not letting spying on your neighbors was fun… and then followed immediately by one where a neighbor commited suicide because no one cared about them. Yeah…great. Don’t spy on your neighbors unless they’re terrorists or suicidally depressed. That’s a great metric.

Halloween did come that year… Often in fact. Pretty sure we had (in the grand old MASH tradition) at least 16 Christmases and more than 20 halloweens. I have a perfect memory and even I can’t tell you how many. I can, however, tell you what everyone wore the year Amaryllis dressed as a Sleep Sheep. Her mother went as a Teddy Bear. Her brother? Jesse James. Her sister? A NASCAR DRIVER. Auntie Mini? Athena. Auntie Frankie? Amelia Earhart. Uncle Ryoga? A shirtless Bruce Lee. Auntie Yoiko? A Geisha. Tokimi and Yuzuha went as a Hamster and Dracula respectively. Carwin, Caitlin, Caytrin, and Caerdwyn went as Isis (daughter of Ra, badumbum), Set, Nepthys, and Osiris respectively. Tess went as a Pumpkin… she was extra sexy. The Legion of Superfans, setting aside their pack of eternal snark for one evening every… 6 months? Seriously, how many damned Octobers were there in the year?… even came in costume to the party… despite not having been invited.

Alessa was Horatio Nelson (Eyepatch costumes that aren’t pirates are hard to find). Sierra was Joan of Arc and looked very nice in her costume armor. Fredrika was Princess Leia… her gown was nearly transparent it was so sheer. And Luna was Tinkerbell… and clearly high on something stronger than Pixie Dust. Alicia came as Judge “I AM THE LAW” Dredd. Lilith as ‘A Witch… doesn’t matter which Witch’… it was very meta. Sabine came as a Sexy Clown… but that wasn’t much of a stretch from normal… just slightly more facepaint and a novelty g-string. Verona came as the Jolly Green Giant… obviously. And Decima came as ‘I’m BATMAN’… not just Batman, but specifically ‘I’m Batman’. I dunno why, but she nailed Christian Bale’s voice cold.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t until my 8th year in Sitcomtopia that I managed, finally, to make it to New York. It was part of a four city tour (Chicago, DC, New York, and Boston) with the Philharmonic and I dropped by Central Perk to flirt with Ross until Rachael’s eyes bugged out of her head, then poured a glass of water down Joey Tribbiani’s pants. Coooold water. Very odd that, since I’d run into the older Joey on his own show in LA years earlier. Time… wow… so weird here.

After that, I swung by CSC’s headquarters, using my celebrity to get a tour of Sports Night… now in it’s 7th season. Maggy wanted Natalie’s Autograph. Alex wanted to know why they didn’t cover more shooting sports. Amaryllis wanted to appear on camera doing a remote live from the Central Park Duck Pond. She got her way, as usual. Won an Emmy for best guest Anchor on a Network News broadcast… I wasn’t aware that was a category. She dressed the statue in a hoody cause it looked ‘Chilly’.

On that tour we also met Punky Brewster, now 16 and a big fan, and Murphy Brown… now well into her 50s and worried about who her son was taking to prom… I did mention that time clearly was broken in this world, right?

At the end of the trip, of course, was old home week and Dad got to meet the kids and the not quite wives (still wasn’t legal in the vast majority of the US… was in Massachessets though) and I could tell Dad was flipflopping between wanting at least one legitimate grandchild and being outraged that I had two partners who were clearly into each other as well. Still, he was most excellent to the kids and they told him all about their adventures… and then Necoho tried to spoil everything with a bomb threat… Amy kicked him in the knee as he was pulling the pin on a grenade and he accidentally swallowed it and choked to death while we watched.

“Oh… Necoho…” I said, shaking my head sadly. We gave him a Bostonia Funeral… which is like a viking funeral… except we dump you into the sewer system after lighting your gasoline soaked corpse on fire. Didn’t stop a different Necoho from showing up a month later… but what can you, recurring characters gonna recur.

And then, one day… poof, we were sitting back in the park at Argos. The VMoD vanished, a piece of paper fluttered down onto my table which was not overturned, and (as the rest of my group did a collective double or triple take) I read the note. “Thank you for participating in Jumpchain. Your limited sponsorship has expired. If you’d like to continue your jumping, please contact your local ROB at necoho@nowhere.warp. And remember, with the Council of Benefactors, Adventure is Transitory, CP is Forever.”

I shook my head in bewilderment, then stood up and announced that it was time to return to the station and to head out to retrieve the Path of Righteousness… I was soo going to have to change that name. Lorcanus Ryn had permanently stained it.

It took almost a week to get between Paradise and the resting place of the Path, a week I spent contemplating the meaning behind the note and its explicit acknowledgement of the existence of a Council of Benefactors… If only there was a way to contact them directly, I could find out what was going on with the Banker and Mensarius. Unfortunately, the only contact information was for Necoho… and I couldn’t and wouldn’t use that if my life depended on it.

I sighed. I’d figure something out, I guess.

The Path was still largely encased in ice when we arrived. The ice was, in many places, holding the ship together and chipping it off would have made the whole process so much harder… it would also have been noticeable to anyone watching. Instead, we’d taken the whole thing. Because who notices a drifting chunk of ice in a system of billions of drifting chunks of ice.

Still, we’d installed another Cobra Destroyer on the outside to control the Necrontyr inertia drives… But, on a whim, I decided to take one last look around inside the frozen hulk. She really had been a pretty ship, and in a way she’d become an ark for her people, bringing them from their homeworld to Paradise… though I can’t imagine it was an improvement.

I stood on the bridge, running my hand along the command console and gave a meloncholy sigh. “Ark Magna” I said.

“What?” Carwyn asked.

“Ark Magna. Her new name. In honor of the people she carried and the one who was responsible for her recovery.”

“Are you certain you want to name her in honor of… him?”

“We all make mistakes, Carwyn. His just… were a few orders of Magnitude worse than most.”

“That was a terrible pun,” she said, favoring me with an ill look.

I shrugged, then hammered on the command console. “Let’s get the show on the road!”… and that’s when the entire ship, dead for centuries, shuddered to life all around us.

“How did you…”

I shrugged “Ehhhhey?”

Next: Light of Terra, Part 7

OMAKE: Relationship Chart

If you like what I do, please consider supporting me on Patreon

I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in progress here. Please Check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too.

Resources: BuildDocument

Author’s Notes: So, what can I say about this part. It was largely unplanned and developed out of the writing. Originally, it was to be the Necromunda DLC, but I wanted a scene with me trying to ditch the Choir of Lost Voices, and that turned out so silly that one of my pre-readers asked if this was Warhammer or a Sitcom… and that led to the Sitcom jump’s insertion as a jump within a jump within a jump… for extra weees. It also solved a problem, since I really wanted to have a Holloween dress up event, and doing that in Warhammer would be… suboptimal.  

As for how the build came about? That’s a bit of a compromise between truely random and workable. I decided to randomly pick one of the four origins (unweighted) and take everything on that list. It seemed the most reasonable choice. My preference was for Smart Guy, and my worst option was Oddball… but Charmer works almost too well. Ah well.

As for Drawbacks, I didn’t completely choose randomly. Instead, I compromised. I eliminated Axed (which replaces all the sitcoms I know with cheap knockoffs), Back to Normal (weekly continuity reset), Foreign Language Version (everyone speaks a language I don’t and can’t speak), Reruns (events repeat and repeat), and Lowest Common Denominator (everyone is dumb). Those were nixed for story reasons, because they make writing a narrative, even one as disjointed as this, impossible… at least for me.  I also tanked Ratings and Off-Screen Death, both of which are chain-fails waiting to happen. Including them for a lark would be idiocy of the highest order.

That left a 300, a 200, and three 100s. Those I randomized. I also gave myself 100 CP since I’m cut off from my Warehouse (even stuff from 40K) and powers still (but not the stuff from 40K). That’s me deciding that Ricky Ricardo’s shtick would get old fast and wouldn’t fit the story I wanted to tell.

That left Companions, and yes, I know that normally the two choirs count as a single import each, and Carwyn’s group of bodyguards are more an NPC bodyguard squad than companions, but I counted up everyone I’d included in the scene besides Biggles and the Speeps and discovered it to be 24 exactly. It worked too well not to run with it.

I looked for what perks would fill out the remaining points the fastest and decided on a 600 and 200 and 50. Professional and Plotter fit the background I was developing, so they went in. That was pretty much it. I flipped a coin for the last 50 CP.  

 

World 61: The Light of Terra, Part 5

THE LIGHT OF TERRA, A WARHAMMER 40K GAUNTLET

PART 5 – The Pagan Path

Previously: A Night at the Opera

Themesong: First of the Year by Skrillex

AN: Welcome loyal readers. I’m so glad you’ve returned. Brace yourself, it’s a wild ride.

“Sweetie?”

“Nnngg?” I asked coming awake slowly. It had been a very long series of days, after having had to negotiate a treaty with seven local planetary governors of the Calixis Sector who’d taken exception to the way I was running roughshod over their unalienable rights to be total douchecanoes. To whit, they’d to try taxing me for using their space. I had no real problems with paying reasonable excise on goods I was buying or selling on their individual worlds… but I was not going to pay duty on the contents of my holds when those holds were merely passing through these idiots zones of control. I had insane wealth… but that didn’t mean I was stupid.

The negotiations had gone on, and on, and on for six weeks, made all the more difficult because I flat out refused to allow any outsiders to know where my home system was. Only my navigators knew where Paradise was and that’s how it was going to remain, even as I built a larger defensive fleet… moving the wreck of the Path would take a huge amount of towing power… but until that time I wanted my planet and the pre-heresy tech there protected by everything I could get my hands on.

None of the Navigators or senior officers could possibly tell anyone where the system was… it was biologically impossible for them to do so… a regrettable step, but the memories were contained in memory designed to be dumped if they were questioned with more than moderate intensity and that memory was as telepath proof as I could make it.

Thankfully, my colony on Paradise was thriving and we’d just hit 250,000 thanks to the birthrate and immigration from Angelis and Krystallian. Not bad for six years. But I’d been working endless weeks and sleeping on when I had to… and I’d had to.

Now I was being woken by Mini and I had to remind myself that it wasn’t her fault I was so tired.

“Whazup?” I asked, rubbing my eyes as I lifted my head off the body morphing chair I’d scavenged from the Path… Pre-Heresy Ergonomic Chairs… you can barely imagine the comfort… She looked worried.

“Maggy and Alex are 10 now… and I’m… concerned.”

“Nnnn? Don’t worry… won’t hit… ummm… puberty for… umm… while….”

“What?! What did you do?”

“N? Nothing. They’re Asgardians… it’ll take about a century for them to hit puberty.”

“I was worried and you… ooooo… you should have told us! We were worried they were small for their ages!”

“Min…” I rubbed my eyes, “They’re the size of six year olds and have been for 2 years. Mental maturity of them too. It’ll slow down even more. You just noticed, didn’t you?”

“Well… umm… I was… I was looking at how fast the other children were growing and it hit me.”

I pulled her into my lap and kissed her nose. “They’re fine. Healthy as horses. Whatever took our abilities hasn’t harmed them that I can tell. They’re biologically fine… exemplars of their species. Amaryllis is half-Fairy… I’ve no idea how long it’ll take for her to mature… Cirno still hasn’t.”

Mini stuck her tongue out at me and rested back against me. “This sucks. I miss the others… and the warehouse. This universe tastes icky.”

“Universes don’t have a flavour. It tastes fine. YOu’re just grumpy.”

“I’m allowed to be grumpy… I’m stuck in the body of a 16 year old. I haven’t aged either… none of us have.”

“None of you age except when we’re in jumps. And you reset to 15 when we’re out of a Jump. This is no different.”

“16.”

“Nooo… Luccini is 16. You’re 15. You’re 10 months younger than she is.”

“Why does she get to be 16 for all eternity and I’m stuck at 14?”

“The universe is unfair. Toph is 13. I have no idea what determines your warehouse default form’s age. And it’s not like I can ask. None of us are older than 30. Reggy’s 12 or so. Gaius and Caine are in their mid 20s. Most of the others are closer to the 18 to 24 bracket.”

“Maybe it’s because you look so young.”

“Baby, I’ve looked the same since I was 14 the first time. Well… I’m in better physical condition. But… anyway… don’t worry. Did you share your concerns with the others?”

“N… no. I came to you first. I was just worried because the twins aged faster!”

“They were born Jurian. And they’ve been 15 for centuries now. They didn’t even age when they were imported. Didn’t you notice?”

“Oh… no… I didn’t. Weird. Why?”

“Yuzuha is a First Generation Jurian Tree. She can sustain pretty much unlimited numbers of people at optimal youth. I don’t know why that’s 15 instead of 25 or so… but for those two? Who knows. Maybe she just feels like it? Maybe that’s how they choose to look.” I stroked her hair and leaned back, planning to get a bit more sleep… and then Sound Four-Seven (Clan Joyhab, Sept Blackadder) a scanner tech paged me (yes, I know, two in a row, but I get like 15 of these pages a month, so not that unusual).

What was unusual was the content. The signal was weak and broken by the Warp. It had been barely coherent when it reached one of my listening posts, a string of electronic pops and hisses, the crackle of static reminding me of a wounded lion snarling in stiffled rage. I was about to ask Sound why she’d summoned me, but then, abruptly, the static cleared and a voice rang out… or rather at least a dozen voices… or rather, one voice, but a dozen different times, all layered atop one another… and as we separated them apart, it became clear they could not possibly all be from the same timeline unless this woman was mad as a hatter.

For the next few hours I listened to the message, hearing her voice somber with sadness as she calls for a ship to bring her home after a fruitless quest, hearing her voice utterly euphoric as she speaks of ancient reliquaries and artifacts recovered, hearing her screaming for rescue that will never even be dispatched as things out of the dark cut her down. Finally the signal ended and all the recordings blinked once… and the data bases emptied themselves as if the sound had never played.

I ordered Sound to replay the recording, just in case.  I was expecting nothing… but instead what I got was a string of co-ordinates… and nothing more. Just the quiet background hum of the universe.

I looked to Mini and sighed, “It’s a trap, of course.”

She nodded. “You’ll take at least three ships, right?”

“I will. And I’ll be careful.” I kissed her and asked “Sound, have Lapsed Pacifist, Preemptive Retaliation, and Faustian Bargain readied. We leave in 12.” He nodded and got on the Vox-caster, informing the captains of those ships that leave was cancelled.

The Conquest Class Faustian Bargain was a 5 kilometer long hauler and armed with macro-cannons and (finally) had a half crew of nearly 31,000. It’s guns were almost purely defensive. The Lapsed Pacifist, a smaller Carrack Transport, was less than half as long, but its relatively modern design (the Conquest class was first laid down Pre-heresy, while the Carrack was less than a thousand years old) meant that it was easier to crew intensive (it only took 18,000), and she was faster and somewhat more robust. Although big for a freighter, that’s what the Bargain was, and not the warship she resembled. Though she was longer ranged and capable of planetary bombardment if needed… The Carrack was just… ordinary, and not likely to draw attention.

However, the Cobra Class Preemptive Retaliation was none of those things. While designed to be an escort (and so also mostly purely defensive in fleet engagements), it was almost four times as fast as the Star Galleon (2.1 gravities vs 7.6 gravities), and a third the Star Galleon’s 5.1 kilometer length at 1.5. Equipped with a pair of torpedo tubes in its armored prow, and a single Macro-laser battery on each side and in front… its greatest strength was its sensor suite, useful in targeting and controlling the very long-legged Torpedos from beyond the energy range of enemy ships… and often from beyond the enemy’s own scanner range.

Normally, the more powerful ships would be my flagship, but I decided to go aboard the escort for several reasons. It’s sensors and speed meant I would be in a better position to flee if the need arose (caution, not cowardice) and the presence of bigger ships with more guns meant that the Retaliation would be a less likely primary target. Unfortunately, this also meant that I was in relatively uncomfortable quarters, since the PR was not designed to have a high ranked officer aboard. Even a squadron of six of them would seldom see someone higher ranked than a Captain as the squadron’s flag officer. The Cobra was an independent warship… but only barely. It was, in fact, the smallest non-carrier based ship in the Imperial Fleet.

It took almost seven days to arrive at the co-ordinates provided by the cryptic message… which would, from time to time, play without warning, fragments of it blasting out of nearby speakers and Vox-Casters seemingly at random. Thanks to my machine memory, I recorded each of the messages… and, out of boredom more than anything else, I began to compare them. Either she had a time machine or she was repeating several different variations on the same general events, with each version playing out differently as she and her companions attempted to sift through the ruins at what she refers to as the Court of the Heathen Star. Sometimes she managed to obtain incredible treasures… sometimes… well… sometimes i would be snapped out of my revery by the sounds of flesh being torn from bone.

It was like living through a nightmare… someone else’s nightmare at that. The terror and confusion mixed uneasily with the boredom of travel and, the closer I got to the mysterious coordinates, the stronger my sense of deja-vu became… had this happened before? I couldn’t tell, but my nerves were beginning to jangle and I was regretting not bringing Carwyn along, but she and her Reapers were on maneuvers pacifying some of the local kaiju who were damaging a mining encampment.

Finally, finally, finally… We reached the spot. Nothing. A vast, empty expanse of space. What the hell? We fired a few thousand laser blasts through the area, but they hit nothing.

“One more day, then I’m buggering off ho-” I began grumping, when like a bubble bursting, reality was torn asunder as something… something horrific pushed through the thin fabric of time and space and what could only be the Court of the Heathen Star was revealed to me in all its obscene glory… a star system sealed away beyond what appeared to be the Gateway of the Damned. The sun was in the middle of collapse, of folding in on itself to degenerated into a collapsar or maybe a black hole… but something had… frozen it there… the surface of the dark-light sphere twisted and roiled… but it did not shrink or grow… it just… died… eternally.

And around it swirled what could only be described as a limitless flotilla of ancient, desiccated vessels and ruined, mouldering worlds, each drawn across the eons by some slumbering and monstrous evil. A million-million vessels danced in the swollen gravity of the Heathen Star… a million-million and more. There was a sea of xenotech and archeotech and who knew what else beyond that glaring rift.

“How long will that rift remain stable?” I snapped at my sensor-techs.

“I… mm… I think several weeks? But it’s impossible to tell for certain. It could destabilize at any moment, Lady Lathimon.”

I considered, then nodded. “Take us through. I want to at least have a look. Drop a sensor buoy near the gate… two of them. One inside, one out… I want to ping them every 15 minutes. In case something changes.”

“Yes Lady.”

We moved into the gravity well of the massive black star, taking in the vast belts of shattered hulks, the tangled remains of great and terrible fleets left gutted and broken by one or more of history’s innumerable battles. The rings were so distant that they all but blended seamlessly together into a series of rust red rings that slowly spiraled around the horror at the center of this terrible space. It was a slow, almost stately waltz, a passing of countless billions of tons of ruined and shattered dreams spinning in a dance of destruction around the lord of this domain, collision after collision reducing the once glorious ships to dust to be blown outward, scouring other ships and planets alike.

The deja-vu was growing stronger… as if drawing me towards a certain spot. I could practically hear the deep, droning hum of… of something… stellar winds? Destiny? A coming doom? Something… I could feel it in my bones

A tiny pinprick of light caught my attention… a flicker of bright crimson against the dull browns and rust reds of the belts… that spurred me to action. I directed the Retaliation inwards, her sleek prow knocking away the smaller chunks of debris as we wove through the sparse and stationary hulks of the outermost belts towards what seemed like the sole spot of color in this hell.

A few minutes later, a ship came into view, a retrofitted transport ship bearing the markings of one of the orders of the Adeptus Sororitas… the Emperor’s Brides… better known as the Sisters of Battle… things… things were crawling across her hull… things that, under magnification, turned out to be humanoid figures swarming across the Sister Ship, but massive, larger than even a space marine. They were wearing armour that appeared to have been patched together from wreckage and they moved through space by use of what had to be horrifically unsafe makeshift thrustpacks.

They weren’t so much attacking the ship as dismantling it, peeling away the superstructure bit by bit by bit. Then, almost as one… they noticed the Retaliation and, like evil ants, they launched themselves into the void, thrust-rockets flaring as they moved to rip apart my ship.

“Security! Scramble! Prepare to repel boarders from the Hull! I want all teams, repeat all teams, on the hull asap. Don’t forget your packs and thrusters, and bring your bolters. Repair teams, you too. Secure all airlocks and hold fast!” I ran from the bridge, pulling on my helmet and checking my guns. I was packing a fair amount of spare ammo this time.

Of course, I was among the first on the hull. When I’m out and about, I wear my clothing over my eldar armor, so it’s little more than grabbing my helmet and I’m out the door. The things were big, each unique, but strangely homogenous regardless. Each had maneuvering gear, a massive hydraulic cutting claw on one arm and a short ranged fusion beamer on the other. They were massively armored, even if that armor was mostly scrap plates welded to each other.

Unfortunately, they were clearly experts at fighting in zero-G and in space… something my people, even those who had been Void Walkers, weren’t the best at. There hadn’t exactly been a lot for them to fight in the void around the Light except each other. The distances are all fucked up in space and you can see a lot further than you think, since there isn’t any atmosphere to attenuate your vision. If the attackers were bigger, I’d have targeted them with the ship’s weapons, but they’d been designed to deal with attack craft, not invaders.

I leveled my bolter at the first attacker and began shooting them one by one, aiming not for their heavily armored forms but for the more lightly armored fuel tanks and hydraulic linkages. I saved the Shuriken Catapult for killshots as they got closer, punching the blades into their heads whenever I could get a good judge of distance. The bolter hit harder, but didn’t penetrate as deeply, so it was a trade off.

Soon enough, the hull of my ‘little’ ship was bristling with weapons squads, the airlocks spewing out heavy weapons teams who clamped anti-tank weapons to the outside of the ship and began to seriously repel boarders. Soon enough, we’d cleared them from the hull of the Retaliation, then the space around her and, with my crew still on the hull, we moved to assist the Sisters of Battle.

Flinging myself across that void between ships was a thousand times better than skydiving, plunging through the several kilometers between hulls with reckless abandon. I slowed myself by aiming my bolter between my legs and, holding it in both hands, firing a steady stream of armor-piercing rounds as I slammed into the center of a cluster of… whatever they were. Ah, the joy of battle, the mad fire of war. Nothing like it to make you feel alive… nothing like it to make you want to hide as well.

I jerked at the sound of the voice. It asked “Well aware as I am that I shall not like the answer, I will still ask. Why is she so… sticky?”

It was a good question and it took me a moment to realize it was being asked of me… but rather about me. Why was I sticky? Where was I? What happened? I groaned… oh… one of those… things had been swinging a chunk of ferrocrete on a post at me… I’d thought I’d ducked in time… but, if the throbbing in my head was anything to go by, I’d gotten clipped pretty hard. I decided to just lie there and be sticky until I had the faintest clue what was going on… and until my head hurt less… I was going to need a new helmet I suspected… I focused on repairing the worst of the damage as a second voice responded.

“I wanted to verify that our saviour was uninjured,” Voice Two said, sounding less than hinged, if I was to be honest in my assessment.

“And that explains the stickiness?” Voice One asked archly. I knew that voice… it was the voice from the recordings… oh… this was less than good.

“I rubbed the sacred ointment all over her body while she slept,” less than sane girl responded. Yes, female… I recognized female voices. Both were female. Wait, did she say “All over”? Riight… I was naked and sticky and…

It was probably better to be awake now. I opened my eyes to discover two women staring down at me. The first was a towering dark-haired woman in jet black power armor who, it must be said, did a fine job of radiating authority, while the second was a massive copper-haired younger woman… no… wait… not massive… just very very close to me. Waaay inside my personal space and with an expression that was not comforting. It and Smile were technically cousins, but if Smile was the cousin you invited over to all the family functions… this was the one you had a restraining order against and never spoke of outside the clan.

I was reasonably certain she hadn’t blinked once since I’d opened my eyes, but I was disinclined to make eye contact long enough to verify… her grin grew larger as she realized I was awake and she said ‘Hiiiiiiiiiii!’ in a way that was both somehow off and very worrying. “Areyoualright? Doyou neeeeed moreointment? Foryour booodeeee?” Very off… it was like she didn’t know where words ended… or what personal space was… and why was this ointment sticky? She leaned in even closer and whispered, “It rubs the ointment on its skin.”

“Okay, thanks for your help, but get her away from me now,” I growled, palming crazy lady in the face and pushing her back as I sat up. My system was telling me that the ointment wasn’t actively harmful, but it wasn’t good for my system in the slightest and so I changed it’s biochemistry as my skin soaked it up, leaving the glisten but losing the… tackiness.

The other woman took a step nearer and, putting a hand on redhair’s shoulder, pulled her back to a more reasonable distance with a firm, no nonsense gesture. I sighed with relief a bit and glanced around the room, looking for my armor and weapons.

“Please, excuse the behaviour of Initiate Luna. While she will, one day, make an exceptional Sister… possibly in one of the Orders Hospitaller, her zeal and drive to… heal… the faithful does sometimes get the better of her.” She took a breath, and a moment to clean her monocle, perhaps thinking about what to say next, perhaps just drawing attention to the fact that she could actually pull off wearing a monocle. It was a good look for her and matched well with the scar that crossed her other eye, clearly blinding her on that side. “I am, of course, Celestian Alessa Valrayan of the Order of the Obsidian Rose. These are my initiates,” she gestured to each of the others in the small chamber. “Initiate Luna, our Scholar Medica.” Luna waved cheerfully with a smile that was just a bit too big. She needed drugs, and not in a good way.

“Initiate Fredrika or ‘Fi’ as the others call her, is our expedition’s record keeper.” The Celestian motioned to another young woman, one with green hair, who was seated quietly in a corner and radiating an aura that said ‘pay no attention to me’. She was also reading a copy of ‘Archdeacon Malovich: The Collected Sermons’ and was (apparently) deeply enraptured… except that, from where I was lying, I could make out the bottom of a second (smaller) book tucked inside the tome. The Celestian noticed as well, because her voice took on the merest hint of annoyance as she continued, “Who one day hopes to be accepted into one of the Orders Dialogous.”

Fi ignored the older woman and the Celestian sighed. “And… rounding out the last of our merry little quartet… is Initiate Sierra, who, should she ever deign to spend time actually studying the holy scripture, instead of cooking!…” I knew that tone! That was the tone of a disappointed mother! Alessa’s nose flared as the door opened and what must be Sierra entered, holding a covered tray… There was a bit of family resemblance, mostly in the eyes, though Sierra was light while Alessa was dark, though both were pale-skinned. “Will doubtless prove to be an exceptionally capable member of the Order Famulous.”

I blinked. I didn’t remember that one. “Which are they?”

The newcomer smiled a soft smile, “The diplomatic corps of the Adeptus Sororitas.” She was blonde, round faced, and smiling. An honest, even, balanced, calming smile. I liked her… also, she had the food.

As I tucked into said repast, the Celestian explained. “It occurs to me, friend Rogue Trader… I assume you are a Rogue Trader since you are wearing custom-fitted Eldar armor and have a Cobra Class Destroyer as your personal transport?” I nodded, not saying anything.  The food was excellent. She nodded and continued, “It occurs to me that we may be of some use to each other here.”

“By ‘use’ you mean you would like a ride out of here?” I asked between bites.

She nodded gravely. “Our transport lacked the weapons and personnel needed to fight off the Hollow Men and there are only four of us, as you can see. Most of the crew perished before you rescued us. I propose an exchange of services.”

“I’m amenable… though I do have to wonder where my people are and why they haven’t come for me.”

Sierra smiled warmly, and said, “Oh. We explained that you’d been injured and we were treating your wounds and would return you shortly. There are a thousand of your people on the hull of both ships and we’re currently not being attacked.”

“Ah. Very well then… while I get dressed… I assume my clothing is around somewhere?” Fredrika pointed at a shelf next to her with a thumb and, hopping up from the bunk, I found my armor in the bin on the shelf. It had been oiled and apparently sanctified to remove the Xeno-cooties or something. I glanced over at Fi’s inner book and mmm’d. “Can Love Bloom in the Battlefield? Any good?” I whispered.

The green-haired sister blushed deeply and stammered. “I… umm… you can borrow it… later… if… if you like?” I shrugged.

“Sure,” I responded, wondering who ‘LIIVI’ was and why she was thinking about him/her so… passionately. I looked to Alessa. “So, how do you believe you can assist me?” I didn’t mention that I’d be more than happy to help get these four out of this place without need for recompense. Charity is all well and good, but if someone is offering to pay and can afford to, it is often better for their self-esteem to allow them to do so. Also, the wise course of action was to determine if, indeed, they could be of assistance.

“We may not have funds, but we do have what little information we were able to find out about this place.”

“You came to investigate the ruins and in some timelines you returned in triumph, others in disappointment… and in more than I care to remember, you died horrifically,” I said. The others gasped and the Celestian blinked her single eye.

“What do you mean?” she asked coldly, reaching for the sidearm attached to her power armor’s hip.

“I was drawn here by well over a hundred vox-caster messages… all in your voice, all relating various reports you… or versions of you… would have sent out. It was clear that either you were a time traveller or the reports were from different potential timelines. Most of them ended badly.”

She bit her lip but released it immediately as she realized the others might see her expression, but only Sierra seemed at all worried. Fi was too wrapped up in her book… and Luna… was taking something… apparently, she already was on the drugs… maybe all of them. She still hadn’t blinked. Finally Alessa cleared her throat. “Well then, I guess we owe you additional thanks. And so, this is what we know of this place; this is the Court of the Heathen Star. Legends say that it is the largest ship graveyard ever to exist, and that it appears from out of the fog of time seemingly at random, persists for a few days or weeks… then vanishes again only to appear someplace else years or centuries later. It is always accompanied by such messages as you received, but I have never heard of anyone actually knowing who sent those messages… or having so completely analyzed them.”

“I remember everything I experience,” I commented dryly. “But please, continue. And include exactly what you were seeking here in this… tortured realm.”

She nodded, cleaning her monocle again as Luna packed up her med-kit and the others began to prepare to leave. My helmet was, indeed, dented, but had begun self-repairing… wrathbone is like memory metal I guess. “There are three worlds trapped in the ambent of the Heathen Star; Blight, Decay, and Oblivion. Blight is the outermost, and neither the largest nor smallest of them. It is a dead, desiccated place, hollowed out like an apple devoured by worms, a honeycomb of ship-sized tunnels and caverns, some clogged by the shattered remains of vessels drawn in by the planet’s weak gravity. The local pirates, who call themselves Wrath’s Carrion, seem to frequent it for recruits and parts for their vessels. We had a few brushes with them but managed to fight them off or escape… until a lucky shot disabled our engines and the Hollow Men attacked.”

“Yes… they seem… unplesant. I take it they’re called that because those suits are empty?”

Fi spoke up, “We don’t know… but they don’t communicate with us or anyone and seem utterly indifferent to the crews they murder as they cut ships apart. They’re ghouls.”

Alessa continued, “Yes… well… Ghouls they might be… but we have no proof of that. They seem to make their home on the smallest of the worlds, the stygian Decay. If they have a repository of treasures they have harvested over the eons, it would be there. And then there is the innermost world, bigger than either of the others, it is cloaked in boiling grey clouds, so say the records of those who have gone in so deep. All three worlds lie in what is called ‘The Outer Sea’, the vast bulk of the system, thick with the ruined remains of vessels of every manufacture, race, and function, all drawn from the galaxy outside… or even torn from the greedy claws of the Warp… such is the scale of the sea that to look upon it is enough to drive most explorers to despair… I’m sorry… you probably know all that.”

“Yeah… pretty much. An explorer could spend a hundred lifetimes here and barely touch a tithe of a tithe of a tithe of all there is to see. If this is the Outer Sea… what lies beneath?”

“The Carrion Depths,” Fi said darkly. “Beyond Oblivion the sea thins out to almost nothing, it is said, and the thick fields of wrecks and debris give way to scattered space hulks and broken, blasted fragments… rumors say that there, beneath the very gaze of the Heathen Star, the greatest vessels are drawn to bathe in the twisted light of that turbulent and necrotic star.”

“No known explorer has ever ventured that deep and returned to tell the tail, however,” the Celestian commented dryly.

“All very interesting… but why are you here?”

“We were searching for a… a rumor. A mystery,” The older woman seemed to blush softly. “A thousand years ago, a member of our order set forth a prophecy that ‘The Choir of Righteous Fury’ would ‘Journey to the Court of the Heathen Star’ and there they… we… would learn the fate of The Light of Terra.” She blinked her solitary eye at me as I laughed softly. “Such prophecies are no laughing matter,” she scolded sternly.

“Oh. No doubt. No doubt. So, the Light of Terra… Gloriana Class Super Battleship? Commanded by Lord Captain Drakken Grigobritz?”

She blinked. “You know of it?”

“Oh. Sure. I own it.”

You should have seen her jaw. Really. Almost cartoonlike in the drop. “Own… it?”

“Yes. I’ve been rebuilding her for the last 6 years. She was in pretty terrible condition, I’m afraid.”

“You possess the facilities to refit… a Gloriana?”

“Indeed. A pre-heresy automated repair and refit facility. Big enough to completely engulf the Light. Now, tell me… is there any particular thing aboard the Light that you were seeking?”

She narrowed her eyes, as if judging if I was mocking her, then considered it unlikely. “The Light of Terra was the flagship of the Eleventh Legion, before whatever happened to it. We were hoping to learn something about that lost legion and maybe discover the world that was home to its Primarch.”

“Ah. Well, I’ve found no such information aboard her. She was in Imperial service for a long time after Leman Russ took out the Primarch of that Legion, I’m afraid.” Her eyes (even the blind one) were bugging out and I blinked. “What?”

“Leman Russ? The Space Wolves’ Primarch? He…”

“Oh, yes. He was the Emperor’s Executioner. He took out both the Second and Eleventh Primarchs, or at least was assigned to by…” I barely refrained from profaining the Great Golden Git, “His Imperial Majesty.”

“How do you know this? Such is not included in the Imperial Truth.”

“I know many things that are not common knowledge in the realms of the Imperium. Such as the line ‘I don’t have time to die! I’m too busy!’ being the last thing Goge Vandire said before Saint Alicia cut him down. Goge Vandire… seriously… is there a more evil sounding name ever?” I smiled, then pulled on my helmet. “We should leave and figure out what we’re going to do next. I believe we have limited time, and if I want to get to the Carrion-” At that moment, just as I was stepping out of the bunkroom, there was a moment of unnatural cold and the shadow beside the door darkened by a tenth of an umbra (think candle, but of darkness).

I know unnatural cold. I do. And if I was feeling that cold through my armor (which is an enviro-suit too), it was damned cold. In a time less than it takes to blink, I launched myself away from the darkness and, before I hit the deck, I’d already drawn my Shuriken Catapult with one hand, my bolter with the other, and, as I landed, seeing a black shape emerging from the shadow, fired seven times, six with the catapult and once with the bolter.

The figure stumbled, hands dropping the knife and flying to its throat, gacking, choking… and then it fell face first onto the ground, twitching violently. I stood, eyes locking on the figure expiring on the floor, and held up a hand in commanding fashion to the Sisters to stop them from asking anything. Kicking away the knife, I watched as the four armed (yes, four) figure jerked, and stopped moving. The top of its head was missing completely.

“Mandrake!” the Celestian hissed as I leaned over it and tried to flip it face up.  My grasp didn’t do that… instead, the figure’s skin peeled free of the body with disturbing ease and I could see that the body within was already liquifying. Within moments, I was left with a strange mandrake skin and a pool of what had once been an assassin.

“What, in the name of Terra, is a Mandrake?” I asked.

“Dark Eldar Assassin,” Fredrika explained. “Founded by Kheradruakh the Decapitator, they’re shadow-walkers. They make murder into an artform… and you… you just… how?”

“Unnatural Cold. I know it better than… anyone. This skin… radiates it. It’s almost mind numbing… Hmm… weird… it seems almost like suede. Anyone know how to sew?”

Luna raised her hand, still not blinking, and the Celestian frowned. “You cannot be thinking of…”

I grinned though she couldn’t see it. “The weapon of my enemy shall become my weapon. They will fear me as the coming of change, even those who have never known fear before. Celestian, I am older than the oldest Primarch. I have walked the sands of Terra back before there was a Millennium One and dined with the Emperor when he was no more than a Man.” And it was true. He was, for some reason, hanging out on the Civilization Earth. No idea why.

They looked at me with a combination of awe and wonder, and even the Celestian wasn’t crying ‘Heresy!’ and trying to shoot me. Which was good. Instead, Fredrika asked, “What was he like?”

“Tall. Charismatic. Focused. A little foolish at times, but well meaning. A little distrustful of the common man, but still willing to do almost anything to protect them. Hated religion with a burning passion. Really, really did not approve of Lorgar’s belief that he was a god.”

The Celestian narrowed her eyes, “Are you saying the Emperor is not a god?”

I laughed, then, pretending to lower my guard as I handed Luna the skin, “He would be offended at the suggestion that he is one… but with quadrillions of worshippers, if he wasn’t a god back then, he’s one now. Being a God isn’t something you get to say no to. I’ve been a god in my time too. My empire was vast too. But the Magi are long gone in this time.”

Fredrika blinked. “Magi? I’ve… heard of them… one of the great star… they hmmm… It’s all rumors and legends from the Dark Ages of Humanity.”

I nodded, unsurprised. “No worries. It was long ago. They call me many things. I have had many, many names… but in this time and place, I am called Sigismonda Lathimon the third, and I am the dynast of the House of Lathimon, master of the Light of Terra and the Righteous Path, Governor of Paradise, and Manifest of the Magi Reborn. Now, let’s get you ladies and any of your surviving crew over to the Preemptive Retaliation and head inward. I want to see these Carrion Depths for myself.”

It became rapidly clear that the Celestian (despite being technically married to the Corpse Emperor) was… infatuated with me. Very strange. Very. But she was incredibly calm in her deeply focused way, hanging on my every word in a way that bordered on veneration. She also insisted, in our second skirmish with the Hollow Men, that she was a good shot… she wasn’t. Not only did she have no depth perception, she refused to adjust her aim for that fact. One eyed people can be good marksmen… she wasn’t. She was, however, death in close combat.

Luna, in her own goofy, slightly crazy way, was fun to be around… and I suspected she’d be even more fun during some of my people’s religious ceremonies… but she really, really needed to learn what ‘Personal Space’ meant. And could maybe use a nap. That much stay awake drugs couldn’t be good for anyone. She once asked me if the rag she was holding smelled of chloroform. I woke up sticky again after that. Sigh. Then I modified myself to not react that way to knockout gas.

Fi, it turned out, liked absolutely terrible romance novels… but they were amusing enough and it wasn’t like I had an over abundance of things to do as my crews moved us deeper and deeper… barring looking at scans of some obscenely large lifeform that Fredrika ID’d as a Void Kraken… and a young one at that. We kept a constant scan lock on the bastard, which was several times larger than the Retaliation, and kept moving through the cloud of debris. Fi had been blessed with a nearly perfect memory, which was nice, because it meant we could argue the minutiae of the books she shared with me, and she was deeply logical about everything that wasn’t romance novels.

She was also the group’s quartermaster and oversaw the other two in their physical fitness regimens… which I joined in (and not only because it was nice to see all that sweaty bare flesh… they were very attractive in their own ways) because I usually did my exercises with others back on the station and hadn’t brought anyone along for that purpose on this trip. Luna was the slender one of the group, long of leg and arm, and smooth of skin (thanks, no doubt, to all that ointment), but she was the least muscular of the trio. Fredrika was… extremely fit. Muscular and corded, she approached physical fitness the same way a fitness instructor would. And then there was Sierra…

Sierra was, don’t get me wrong, incredibly buff. She was a Sister of Battle, after all. She was also very curvy… almost rubenesque over the muscles and she didn’t have the clear definition of Fi or the svelt slenderness of Luna… and the other two mocked her for it until I told them to knock it off and read them the riot act for body-shaming. Sierra wasn’t unhealthy… far from it… and was clearly embarrassed by their comments, even though she didn’t let them dent her relentless cheer.

She was also incredibly good at reading people… like sixth sense good… and she soon had many members of my crew wrapped around her finger… which she used to supplant my butler and personal chef. Good lord could she cook.  Especially desserts. Good thing I burned through fucktons of calories each day.

All four of them were welcomed by my crew, and in the next six days… and 8 battles between us and the Hollow Men or the Pirates of Wrath’s Carrion (all of which we won, duh), they began to factionalize my crew into fan clubs… and shippers. Apparently, there was debate among my crew about which of the four would be the first to be inducted into the Lady’s Harem first. I also began to find that my fleet’s data net was carrying a heavier load than normal… which turned out to be because my crew was getting into a shipping war… art and stories included.

There was also rampant claims that such was Heresy and that I (and my love life) was sacrosanct. That I put a stop to immediately by explaining that I was not infallible, that under no circumstances was anyone to be called Heretic or anything like it in an attempt to defend my person. If I was offended, I personally would explain why and deal with the offender… like the one crew member who found himself breathing vacuum for writing snuff-porn featuring yours truly doing rather unspeakable things. His works were erased and I, after spending a little time in his head, ended up giving him my own mercy. Then I spent a bit more time wishing, in vain, for brain bleach. Unfortunately, my cybernetic hindbrain didn’t have a delete switch. I’d have to fix that at some point. Gaaah.

As we were passing Oblivion’s orbit, though about a fifth of the way round the massive solar abomination from the actual planet, we received a distress signal… one with a carrier signal that Fi recognized. It was a Sister’s of Battle Basilica Ship called ‘The Last Martyr’ and she was, according to the garbled report, under attack by… someone. Seven imploring eyes made me sigh, then direct the transports to keep moving inward as stealthily as they could (which was not very), while I took the Retaliation towards the distress signal.

“The Last Martyr has been lost for almost six centuries,” Fredrika supplied. “It disappeared in the Obergard Expanse, under the command of Canoness Alicia Domina. She was a converted merchantman…” I continued listening to Fredrika’s breakdown, but mostly I was studying the scanner readings, tracking my other ships and the distant Kraken (It was moving about a fair amount, but was currently 8 AUs away), all the while searching for the slightest sign that we were sailing into a trap.

What I found was a burning hulk, scarred and cracked open, venting atmosphere as figures tore at her outer hull, flares of brilliance from fusion beamers leaving dancing lights flickering in front of my eyes. Hollow Men were cannibalizing the ship. Most of her crew had to be dead already, but I had a bit of a hate-on for the faceless murderers at this point, so I ordered my people out to save whatever could be saved.

By this point, I’d pretty much figured out how the Hollow Men functioned and they never seemed to really vary their strategies too much… but then again, those I’d met really didn’t have much of a chance to tell the others about the experience. It was a damned good thing I’d packed a lot of ammo, because I was burning through it with the reckless abandon of a profligate. Slow and bulky and cumbersome, the Hollow Men were still heavily armored, but squad weaponry was something they were no match for, and we mowed them down like wheat before a scythe.

Still, the damage they’d inflicted upon the Last Martyr was not making our rescue mission easy. The ship was collapsing in on itself in various places, massive emergency bulkheads falling free of their moorings to shear through decks like colossal razorblades, the air thick with toxic smoke. Visibility was almost non-existent.

Ahead of us as my party moved deeper, one of the Hollow Men stumbled out of the smoke, burning with a bizarre blue-purple fire. The hulking figure collapsed almost at my feet, the remains in turn collapsing in on themselves as the eldritch flames consumed it utterly. There had been not a sound.

We headed in the direction it had come frome, discovering more and more signs of battle and soon enough we found the first corpses of slain Sisters of battle as well, littering hastily made and smashed apart barricades. More and more, it became apparent that whatever killed the bulk of the Sisters came from behind them, from within the Ship and the area they sought to fortify. The Hollowmen, it seemed, had only managed to bring down a handful of the warrior-nuns… each of whom was dressed extremely oddly.

Up ahead, I picked up a new sound, one different from the tortured sound of shifting metal as the weight of the ship tore itself apart. It was the sound of combat. We pushed on, almost at a run now, expecting the worst. We found it.

Bursting into the Basilica itself, we found that the central shrine to the emperor had been desecrated and filled with the insignia of Chaos… And that had, in turn, been defaced.

Standing in the center of the madness were five women, back to back and fighting hard as they cut down the last of the Sisters… sisters it was now clear, thanks to lack of smoke obscuring things, that had fallen to the forces of Chaos.

So too had the five… though in a way that boggled the mind. All five bore the marks of the Ruinous Powers… or at least they had. On the ornate armor four of them wore (and the heavy shoulder-pads that were all the fifth was wearing) were scarred patches where the insignia  of Khorne, Slaanesh, Tzeentch, Nurgle, and Chaos Undivided had been gouged away.

My four Sisters were stunned momentarily, as were the five ahead of us, and I shot the last half dozen corrupted sisters in the back, then held up a hand to the ladies at my back. “Don’t attack. I would know what, in the name of Terra, is going on here.”

The other group turned to regard us for a moment, then one stepped forward, her movements that of a predatory creature, one utterly, completely confident in its prowess, well aware that the world contains terribly dangerous things… and that she was one of them.

“Well, well, well… what do we have here?” Her voice was supernaturally charismatic and I threw up telepathic shields and wards at once. Her skin was also the black of obsidian and she was breathtakingly lovely. She was clearly the leader and had once served Chaos Undivided if her armor’s symbology was any indication. “I do hope you haven’t travelled all this way to worship here in this place of imaginary sky-monsters.”

“I prefer to think of them as Psychic Tumors on the face of the Immaterium, and no… we have come to answer the distress signal… So, you’ve turned your backs on Chaos?”

“We have pledged our allegiance to Necoho The Doubter.”

“Uhh… He doesn’t exist,” I said.

“We know that,” the obsidian woman snapped.

“Who is Necoho?” Sierra asked.

“Chaos God of Atheism… Quite likely he’s the Emperor fucking with the Ruinous Powers.”

“WHAT?” Both groups snapped at me. I shrugged.

“Think about it. The Emperor has an incredibly strong presence in the Warp, thanks to the Astronomican, and Big E was dedicated to destroying… oh… right… you guys never met Emps… look. The Emperor of Mankind was not a fan of religion. Haaated it. Called it baseless superstition. Despised it and all its trappings. After he emerged to unify Terra, he and his Thunder Warriors burned every single church, temple, basilica… every single shrine to any of the gods of mankind… and there were a lot of them. Probably burned a few dedicated to me too… if anyone remembered me… what?”

The nine were just staring at me. All of them (with the possible exception of the former Tzeentchian Sorceress who I was having trouble reading the mind of) were very close to BSOD at the logical conflict.

“Right… Look. The entire Imperial Truth? The state religion? That was started by Lorgar. I told you gals about that… I told them about it… Lorgar was convinced Emps was a God and needed to be worshipped.  When Emps told him to knock it the fuck off, Lorgar went all sulky and decided to find some beings who would let him worship them like gods… that’s pretty much it. That’s why the Ecclesiarchy exists. And why half the fucking Primarchs fell to Chaos… well, why 7 of the 9 did. Magnus fell because he was too embarrassed at being a fuck-up and who the hell knows why Alpharius-Omegon did anything… The twins were weird. And you’re looking at me like I’ve grown two heads again.”

They really were. Luna giggled, patted me on both shoulders and, after a long moment of not blinking, said “No, still only one.” That made the 12 foot tall ex-Nurglite laugh… which was just… weird. She was wearing Terminator armor and was green-skinned… great… two crazy green ladies.

“Right… so… why were you slaughtering all these…” I motioned around. “I take it they objected to your… change of allegiance?”

“They… they spend all their lives blindly devoted to some higher power,” the ex-Khornite began, eyes blazing under an utterly bald pate, the massive hellbrass daemon that I’d taken for a statue shifting uneasily behind her. “Pledging allegiance to a god who isn’t a god, then… then… then we… they… discover new gods, gods who seem like gods, and we… they… pledge allegiance to that… only… only to discover they don’t actually exist at all… and then, when we tried to have a civilized… CIVILIZED CONVERSATION! about it, they attacked-”

“Lady Lathimon, we’re under attack.”

“While this is all very fascinating… and I’m sure I’d love to discuss the various ways in which we’re all heretics and deserve a right good spanking… apparently we are currently under attack. Ladies of the Emperor and Ladies of Necoho who might be the Emperor having a larf… may I suggest we get the fuck out of the dying ship and-” The dying ship jerked as something hit it very hard and a statue of Slaanesh toppled forward towards the five.

Without thinking, I grabbed all five with my mind and shoved them out of the way. My technique wasn’t subtle or refined, but moving people across a room I could once more manage. The statue smashed down with a massive crash, the head snapping off and bouncing straight towards us. The Khornite wailed “BIGGGLES!” as Alessa grabbed me and tossed me sideways into Sierra’s arms as the massive head smashed through the space where the Celestian was standing, her armor screaming as she tried to keep the thing from crushing her.

The ship rocked again and I stumbled as Sierra set me down. “Luna, see to the Celestian. Fi, figure a way out of here. Sierra, help Luna.” I turned to the others. The Khornite was going utterly berserk, hacking at the statue with a pair of chainaxes and scream-sobbing for someone called Biggles. The others were picking themselves up from where I’d flung them. The Sorceress looked over to me, eyes very wide.

“How?” she asked, sounding a little breathless at my narrow rescue. She’d felt what I’d done, but sensed nothing about my having the kind of power needed.

“Alpha Psyker. Who the hell is Biggles?” I explained and asked in a single breath, fumbling at my belt for a caltube.

“Her Juggernaut,” she explained.

“It’s hellbrass, right?”

She nodded.

“Great, help me with this, my TK isn’t as good as my other powers at the moment.”

Together we lifted the statue off the heavily injured damon, and the Khornate Berserker went from psychotic battle machine to simpering in a heartbeat, snapping out of her rage in an zero point zero seconds. She then began cooing… cooing! at the massive and clearly insane engine of destruction and death. The Nurglite burped once, then vomited all over the beast… I flinched… then blinked in surprise as, somehow… it seemed to be being healed by the disgusting bile.

“Well, that was… umm… let’s get out of here?” I suggested, turning… and nearly tripping over the biggest damned pistol I’ve ever seen. Seriously… I mean, I’ve seen Adeptus Astartes (Space Marine) artwork, so I’ve seen how ridiculously big their meltaguns are… but they’re being held by people that have mostly the same build as a human (in power armor) so the guns just look big… but that belies the fact that Space Marines are 10-12 feet tall in armor and have massive frames even for that size. The gun was fucking huge!.. It was also very pretty. I snagged it and slapped it onto my back. I’d no idea how it had gotten there, but maybe it would be helpful. Meltaguns are like plasma-powered flamethrowers… kinda.

Okay, not really. The Meltagun was a handheld fusion gun. Powerful, short-ranged, anti-armor, they carried an ammunition canister which contained highly pressurised gases in an unstable sub-molecular state that, when the trigger was pulled, unleashed a highly energetic beam of almost pure heat… heat like the surface of a star hot, and capable of melting through almost anything.  Just don’t use them at too close of range or you’d learn the meaning of ‘backblast’ right quick.

“Ladies… if you want to live to serve your non-existent god another day, I recommend we run. Helmets on… it’s fucking nasty out… does she have any clothing?” I asked the Sorceress, looking over at the nearly naked… and amazingly well tattooed and pierced… amazon warrior slash punk bitch that had clearly once served… and likely serviced… Slaanesh.

“Sabine? Naw. She’s gonna need help.”

I bit my lip, not meeting the Sorceress’s eyes (which were two columns of purple-blue warpfire.) Unfortunately, that meant I was staring at her breasts, which were barely contained in the skin-tight blue bodysuit that reminded me of Samus’s Zero Suit… though the ex-Tzeentchian wasn’t as tall or buxom… still stunning though. She noticed… and preened a little.

“Right. Escape now. Argue about who needs help later… I have a friend you five should meet. You especially.” We ran for it, Sierra and Luna supporting the heavily injured Alessa. I was hesitant to take time to heal her now, or to ask vomit lady to do her trick on her. Chaos was still Chaos, no matter how much they might not like the Chaos Gods.

Getting out of the ship took much less time than getting in… because we ran out of ship. One moment, we were pounding down a corridor full of smoke… and the next we were out of the ship and into the void between. The whole area was lit by the hellfire of ship to ship weapons as the Retaliation took on several smaller attack craft, each marked with a stylized skull and crossbones.

I wrapped my TK field around my four Sisters and checked that the Sorceress had her compatriots (and Biggles) in tow as well. I sent a telepath burst of information to her explaining what I was thinking, and she nodded and we crossed the several kilometers separating us from the nearest attack craft in moments.

The battle against the pirates of Wrath’s Carrion was not pretty. The competition between the two groups of Sisters was palpable, and while Luna, Fi, and Sierra were nowhere near the match in battle of the Lost Sisters, they tried damned hard.

The Lost Sisters consisted of Canoness Alicia Domina (yes, the one time captain of the Last Martyr and now living Obsidian Statue and violently militant atheist… And it was Domina not Dominica… finding out that the founder of the Sisters of Battle had fallen to Chaos would have been B-A-D bad. This Alicia was merely named for the Living Saint who’d assassinated Goge Vandire, would be Imperial tyrant), Lilith Carthagos (former devotee of Tzeentch and violent atheist (and newest member of the quartet), Sabine San Leor (former Noise Marine of Slaanesh, naked, drugged up, and violent atheist with her dial turned permanently up to 11 and a half), Verona Amicii (ex-Nurglite Terminatrix, snuggler, green oni (complete with forehead horn) and, surprisingly, not a violent atheist… armed with a Bilethrower and 12 feet tall… a Bilethrower is a freaking disease version of a flamethrower… this is my Plaguenwerfer… it Werfs Plague.), and Decima… just Decima (Still a berserker, just no longer a Khornate one, and just plain violent. All the time. With her mount Biggles… who was an ickle cutey according to crazy McPsycho. Also an atheist.)

The pirates really didn’t stand a chance between the 10 of us. They did however fight to the last, refusing all quarter. We cleared the first ship in twenty minutes of hard fighting, snagged a breaching pod, launched ourselves towards the third (the second had been taken out by one of the Retaliation’s torpedoes), and in fifteen minutes, we’d slashed our way to the bridge of the 800 meter long sub-warp ship.

“Who, the zog, are you freaks?” screamed the pirate captain as I used my brand new toy to rip through the bulkhead protecting his bridge as if it were tissue paper… I wasn’t certain, having never used a meltagun before… but I was relatively certain they weren’t supposed to be able to just… chew through reinforced metal that easily. The recoil was amazing though… oww…

“I am she who encompasses your fukken doom. Your little game hurt my friends!” The captain, whose name had been Raslor Harfinch, barely had time to scream as the blood in his body literally boiled, his eyes exploding, smoke pouring out of his ears as the high fat material between his ears combusted… and then he was a pillar of fire that rapidly turned into ash. The nine looked from the smear on the deck, back to me, then almost as one, flinched away. I breathed out slowly, “Lets get out of here.”

I sent teams over to vacuum the computers of the two pirate vessels and we were able to find their base… and cleanse the universe of the murderous scum. As we returned the favor and looted their possessions, Decima commented, “I don’t expect you to understand, since you have not lived it… but there is no such thing as ‘enough violence’. One can have violence, more violence, and… on a good day… you might even get a lot of violence, but never in a million years will there be enough violence. It’s a fundamental impossibility. Yet today? Today was a good day.”

I laughed. “Decima… I’ve lived it. Would you like to see some of the days I’ve lived, violence wise?”

She shrugged. I’d come to realize that, as insane as she was, she was also by far the most intelligent of her cadre, though heavily focused and utterly dedicated to battle.

So, I showed her. I showed her the battles I’d fought, the extermination of a million cybernetic super-soldiers, the hordes of nazi-zombies that filled streets like a tide, the fire nation war, the battles against Hollows and Shinigami and Quincy, against abominations, witches, and food critics.

In the end, she nodded. “Looks like fun.”

Ah well; to each their own.

From the pirate base, we scavenged a suite of Counterfire Defenses, a system that had, once upon a pre-heresy time been a common ground based support system, designed to deal with charging Orks. The CFD suit incorporated predictive logic circuits to ensure that assaulting enemies were met with a withering wall of hyper-accurate fire.  This CFD system had been retrofitted to serve as a base’s point defence system. It wouldn’t be hard to integrate it into the Light in the same role, and combined with the Microlaser Defense Grid, should make getting close to the Light a very very bad idea.

We also pulled the base’s central power core… it was a monstrous thing that they’d clearly stolen from some serious techbase. It was labeled (according to the equally stolen tech manuals) an Ashen IV Reactor and the output was just… it made the old core look half-asleep. Apparently Ashens World was a renegade forgeworld in the Kronus Expanse and the reactor was powered by dark matter. The output was, in fact, so high, that it was potentially dangerously overwhelming to the ship’s systems… But better too much power than too little. Maybe we’d have to leave all the lights on.

Once we were back on the Retaliation, the strange harem comedy dynamic of the sisters began to reach weird levels. Decima was a Tsundere (and a violent one of course), Sierra and Verona seemed to be competing with each other to be nicer to me, Luna was creepy, Sabine was fucking nuts (as in she found some powder in the pirate based marked with a skull and crossbones and asked if I wanted to snort it off her breasts crazy) and had as much concept of Personal Space as Luna did… and Lilith, Alicia, and Alessa were all, clearly, maneuvering against each other. Both leaders were managing to keep their respective groups together… but it was like… watching harem comedies is one thing. Being fully aware that you’ve somehow ended up as the lesbian protagonist of one? Faintly terrifying. Especially when surrounded by militant fanatics armed with incredibly dangerous weapons and or psychic powers.

More than once I’d been forced to stop fights caused because two different Sisters were both trying to sneak into my quarters for a little bit of… let’s call it holding hands. Yes… that’s a good thing to call it. It eventually got to the point where I just decided to stop sleeping until I could find some place to be safe from those attempts. Exactly two (Alessa and Lilith) of them knew what the word consent meant… or at least cared in the slightest about it. Okay, okay… that’s not fair of me. Only two (Luna and Sabine) actually didn’t care at all.

Fredrika understood it… but, having based all her knowledge of relationships off of trashy quasi-porn, had no frame of reference towards lack of consent being a bad thing. Decima knew what consent was… and thought worrying about it was for wimps… and was completely willing to debate it with you… or punch you in the face. Alicia was perfectly willing to use her charisma to get what she wanted. Ditto Sierra and her emotional blackmail… I mean intuitive skills. And Verona just hugged… a lot. All the damned time. That (out of armor) she was built like a very curvy bunker made the hugs not unpleasant… and she honestly was a great listener… and she smelled like a garden, which was just… odd.

But all of them were some degree of nucking futz!  Gaaaah.

Still, they’d been useful, each in their own ways… like Fredrika finding out that the Meltagun I’d found was a Doom Legion (loyalist Space Marines) relic that was, somehow, extra effective against things like vehicles, buildings, and starship components that are supposed to be resistant to being shot. It had a kill-record so long it was kept in a vault on Watch Fortress Erioch and was named ‘Death of Steel’. I secretly called it Boob-Crusher… oww… owww…

Finally, we reached the Carrion Deeps and began scanning for large, interesting wrecks… and got very lucky. Thrice. The first was time was in a derelict warship from the Pre-Imperial period, an Automated Repair System that was capable of generating a swarm of tiny maintenance drones that could surge through a vessel, repairing it in real time, even in the heart of battle, and with a cogitator that could be instructed with the pattern of the ship it was attached to and linked into CNC to govern which systems it prioritized. I didn’t want to think of my ship getting damaged… but reality said it was likely, and better to be prepared for it. Maybe the system could speed up the refit.

That warship also provided a Gravity Wave Projector, a system that could generate a spherical (or semi-spherical) pulse of high powered gravitons around the ship it was mounted on. Not only could this graviton wave repulse nearby enemies, it would slow their advance to a crawl… or halt them altogether. Combined with the microlaser defense grid and counterfire system, attack craft and enemy torpedos would be sitting ducks.

Our second piece of luck was found in the shattered remnants of a xenohulk, a ship that looked more like the corpse of a long dead metallic whale than anything recognizable as belonging to any of the local factions. Deep in the heart of this strange ship, we found several organelles which contained a prize both weird and worrying. The organelles were, from what I could intuit, analogous to the ship’s lymph nodes and the substance they contained was infected with a virus that could transform metal into metallic flesh. It could, in a word, bring a ship to life, allowing it to evolve and heal as if it were a living thing. It was clear it wasn’t particularly contagious, but any ship those organelles were transplanted into would become a void-dwelling being… I had no idea if it would be a dumb beast or a genius… but the research potential was fascinating.

We salvaged as many of the semi-truck sized glands as possible and stored them aboard the Faustian Bargain… all except one, which I had installed along the spine of the Retaliation. It was the smallest of my ships and, ultimately, the most easily replaceable if everything went wrong. It was also the best place for me to monitor the progress personally. Verona seemed just as fascinated… and, oddly, so did Decima. I hoped Biggles wouldn’t get jealous.

But if all of those were finds worth almost any price, they paled in comparison to the ultimate prize of the expedition, and the one which the claiming of nearly cost me everything. Deep inside the Heathen Star’s gravity well and perilously close to the Void Kraken’s hunting ground, was a chunk of what could only be a Necrontyr Void Fortress. It was, even in its fragmentary state, titanic, easily the size of Asia, and it drifted in a fixed spot, utterly ignoring such things as inertia and gravity. I sent the other ships back to the safe edges of the Deeps (if there could be said to be anything safe about the deeps… we’d been struggling just to keep the ships from getting sucked into the star and the grav-tides were getting worse… and the horrors we’d had to fight off in those shattered wrecks were things of nightmares… thankfully, so was I.) and took the Retaliation in close to the fortress… and then into its passages, easily large enough to swallow a ship the size of Retaliation as if she was a fly in a ventilation duct.

On one side of my bridge, the Sisters of Battle were clustered around the sensors, looking for anything threatening. On the other side, the Lost Sisters were monitoring the grav-scanner, trying to localize whatever was keeping the fortress in place. I was in the middle, trying not to be distracted by their whispered conversation.

“Why does the Trader/Lady put up with them?” Fredrika and Lilith whined in almost exactly the same tone at nearly the exact same time.

“They are likely allies of convenience,” Alicia and Alessa both responded in turn, same laconic tone, with a hidden edge of frustration and placation. “Surely someone as wise/noble, as the Lady/Trader can see that they will turn on her the moment they are free to act.”

“I don’t know…” Verona and Luna sighed in unison. “Maybe they’re not so bad… a few hugs/massages and they might come around to our way of thinking. We/They were once like them/us. Perhaps they can be convinced to see the light/error of their ways.”

“But… they’re Heretics/True Believers!” Sierra and Sabine complained.

Something was very strange in that. How could these two groups be that in sync with each other… and yet so diametrically opposed. It was like two different timelines had produced two nearly identical groups, counterparts to each other… and only the abhorrent nature of this place, this place that warped time and timelines, had brought them together. Had there been a timeline where I’d only met one of these groups? Or neither? Or was I, outside the nature of this place entirely, as much an anomaly as the Heathen Star itself? I had no way of knowing.

I spoke up then, “Personally, I think Heretics get a bad rap. Clearly they’re just cold.” It took both several long moments for them to realize I was making a very bad joke… after all… the Inquisition’s battle cry might as well have been “BURN THE HERETICS!” Their collective glares amused me to no end.

We drifted deeper, deeper, into the faux egyptian tomb-bays of this ship, occasionally blasting a Necrontyr Sentry pod driven insane by the warping of space and the destruction of central control… and then, far from the unlight of the solar horror, we found what was keeping the place in place… a Necrontyr Inertialess Drive system… in perfect working order, even after perhaps millions of years trapped in this hell. With all due caution, we slowly extricated the nodes of the system, pulling them out one by one and very carefully monitoring the stability of the station-chunk.

Unfortunately, our careful monitoring of the chunk meant that we might have lost track of the Kraken, and since the chunk began to plummet into the star as we yanked more and more of that which was keeping it from doing exactly that… we were in a bit of a hurry to get out of the now doomed ruin before it could pull us in with it.

Note to self, it is a bad idea to just strap alien technologies to the outside of your spaceship and hope they work. Of course, it wasn’t like we had much choice. Each of the Drive-Nodes was a tenth the size of the Retaliation and there were 8 of them. We had had to scavenge brackets from the chunk itself just to moor them in place to the bottom (6) and stern (2) of the smaller ship… running power relays had been a job and a half as well… it was not a system that was designed for longevity… but it worked long enough.

It’s amazing what you can do when you can just flat out ignore inertia. The struts we were using to hold the two drives we’d actually rigged to the Retaliation’s Power Core should not have held… but lacking inertia, the struts did little more than keep the drives aligned correctly and we zipped through the tumbling chunk’s corridors like the kilometer long craft was a Harrier Jump Jet… and very nearly flew right into the waiting maw of the Kraken.

What followed was three days of terrified flight as we, barely, stayed just out of reach of the Kraken. Our ships all seemed to respond ever more sluggishly as we struggled to reach the portal back to real space, even more than the holds full of resources, equipment, and treasure would have explained and only by actually flipping the Retaliation like she was a Star Fury and, coasting backward for a precious few minutes, unloading every remaining torpedo straight into the face of the Kraken were we able to slow it enough to get away from it… and doing so cost me the entire prow of the Retaliation, as one of those flailing tentacles smashed it clean off.

Somehow, as our flight continued, the crippled Retaliation slowly gaining on her sisters, I came to realize that the Heathen Star was, even now, struggling to keep what it had claimed long ago. It was a futile attempt, as, finally, we moved through the Gateway of the Damned and back into the somehow brighter darkness of the void… and the portal snapped closed just as the Kraken too had slithered through, a roar of energy sending shockwaves rippling through the fabric of the warp strong enough to make both Lilith and me stagger. Seems like the Heathen Star is something of a sore loser.

The Kraken considered my fleet for a moment, then the universe around it… and squirmed off into the endless black. Apparently we weren’t worth the trouble.

“So, Ladies… can I drop you anywhere?” The looks that simple question elicited  filled me with a disquiet that, were Cthulhu himself in my shoes, he’d have decided that going back into deathless sleep was preferable. This… was not good.

Next: Light of Terra, Part 6

If you like what I do, please consider supporting me on Patreon

I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in progress here. Please Check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too.

Resources: BuildDocument

Analysis and Commentary

I love this part. It’s a lot of fun. And the choices and challenges it includes are great… except one. But I’ll get to that in a bit. First off, the visuals of the place itself and the menace of the Hollow Men is very cool, and the dynamic of the Choirs, whichever group you end up with, is amusing, and frankly terrifying… but I’ll get to that in a bit too.

First, as you no doubt realize, I adjusted the timing of when I got the two transports I used in this part to within the other DLCs that I did before this. The Retaliation I kept here, and went with the Cobra because it has the best scanners, something ideal for dealing with treasure hunts and pirates and void krakens.

This part grants a stipend of 400 CP, and while that’s nice… it comes (essentially), in the form of two mandatory drawbacks. For 400, you have to fight off the Hollow Men to save whichever Choir you should encounter (Righteous Fury for those who don’t break the Dead Light, Lost Voices for those who did)… and for 0 (yes, zero, fuuuuck… its why I didn’t feel bad doing something I did) you have to survive an assassination attempt by Kheradruakh the Decapitator.

I thought for sure this guy would end me. Honestly. I gave myself a 1% chance of victory and rolled a d1000. Any triple number would mean I’d managed to kill him, with the lower numbers indicating an easier fight. I got triple 3. Chump got pwn’d. It was as if the Luck of the Damned perk was actually reaching out into the real world to touch my dice… the same also occurred in DLCs 4 and 5, as you’ll see later, though not to the same insane level. As I said, you get zero CP for having to deal with him, but you do get a Shadow-Step Cloak out of it… which is nice. I also used him as an excuse to bend the rules, because narrative trumps… whatever.

I took another 1200 CP worth of Drawbacks to pay for everything I wanted… and was still 600 CP over. This was an expensive section… though Death of Steel I really didn’t need. I just like it. Included in those were another 300 CP for having to deal with the Hollow Men more, 200 CP for having to deal with the Pirates, and 500 CP for the Void Kraken. The last 200 were for going to the most dangerous part of the system to hunt treasure… but I had to brave it to get the Necrontyr Drive. The choice of any one ship upgrade from any faction other than your chosen one was just too big a reward to pass up. Also, the Drive makes our eventual escape from going that deep reasonable, especially on a ship as fast as the Cobra already. (three times the accel of a transport)

I also calculated odds for dealing with the various threats. The Kraken got a 50% to escape, and worse odds to avoid or defeat it. It nearly destroyed the PR. The Pirates got a 80% to defeat, a 20% to subvert… I ended up having to kill them all. The hollow Men were a bit more of a threat, but not much of one as long as we kept moving and shot to kill. It was a good challenge, all told.

The biggest challenge for me was, ultimately (aside from deciding which components to buy), figuring out what to do with the Choir… or rather Choirs. See, the Lost Voices are a fascinating group and, yes, terrifying, but I felt it was almost worth breaking the Deadlight to get to interact with them… but then I’d have to deal with Cultist Chan, and she’s not worth it. I don’t like Bacon that much.

Also, the chance to have the two Choirs interacting with each other was, to my mind, too good to pass up… so I ignored the unwritten rule that said a jumper couldn’t pick both. The relevant text is contained in these two statements: 1. The Companion introduction you read is determined by if you destroyed the Deadlight artifact or not. 2. Should either of the Choirs survive the adventure intact, you may take them with you as a companion. Each group counts as one companion.

The first indicates strongly that you can only have one of the two… but the second says that should either survive and that each group counts as a single companion. If it were not possible to get both, it should read “Should your Choir survive the adventure intact, you may take them with you as a companion. The entire Choir counts as a single companion.” I am aware it’s a flimsy argument… but I had to fight Kheradruakh for zero CP. I took both groups. They amuse me… and since they’re all obsessed with me, I reasoned they’re too focused on me to piss me off by fighting each other. Think of them as two heavily armed rival fan clubs… where none of them wants to share, but neither group wants to see the others win. Thankfully, none of them are actually Yandere. Narrative trumps hard and fast rules.

Also, future shenanigans.

It was also important to me to wrap up the central mystery of the voice on the transmission, which the document itself promptly forgets as if it has no other purpose than to bring you there. I wanted to resolve it, but also to play on the concept that the Court of the Heathen Star was more than just merely a pocket of space. I wanted to explore to some extent the idea that multiple timelines could exist within the space until actively observed, a Schrodinger’s Graveyard as it were.

Now, as for what I bought, that was a mixture of totally practical (Counterfire Defenses, Ashens IV Reactor, Grav-Wave Projector, Automated Repair), Rool of Cule (Death of Steel), and Too interesting to pass up (Fleshmetal). I pretty much cover the practical points of the first four in the text above and the utility is pretty obvious. The Death of Steel just amuses me… and no, I have no idea how 4’10” me is using a handcannon designed for someone twice that tall and wearing power armor too boot. I assume by tucking it under one arm and treating it as a huge fucking shotgun? No clue. Rule of Cool.

The Flesh Metal is pricey as fuck… but unlike all the other systems, it can easily be expanded to any number of ships or vehicles. It is also probably not the smartest thing to really take in a setting like 40K… since nothing guarantees this new lifeform’s loyalty… and since it’s a virus, unless you rule like I did that it’s not contagious unless you install the organelles, it should realistically infect every machine that comes in contact with it. That seemed extreme to me, so I limited it… but since it is quasi-biological, I can, in theory, infect all my ships with it. Narrative trumps cost.

DLC1 – THE Heathen Trail

The Litany of Litanies Litany

The Lapsed Pacifist

Pre-Emptive Retaliation (cobra)

Choir of Righteous Fury, all four survived, but the cannoness was injured badly

Skirmish with the Hollow Men [+400/400]

The Carrion Deeps [+200/600] and Necrontyr Inertialess Drives: Masters of science, the ancient Necrontyr mastered the construction of inertialess drive systems before humanity even existed. These drives allow virtually incomprehensible acceleration and maneuverability as the laws of physics are essentially ignored by the vessel.

Kheradruakh the Decapitator +0… I know unnatural cold when I feel it. And I’m lucky as sin. 1% chance of victory, degree of ease 3/10. Chump got pwn’d.

Void Kraken [+500/1100], use sensors to keep track of and cobra torpedos to kill if needed. Can’t avoid it. Can’t defeat it, barely escaped it but it damaged the Pre-emptive Retaliation (246 out of 500)

Wrath’s Carrion [+200/1300], shoot to kill. 80% chance, 768/1000 degree of difficulty. Hard fought, they go down with their ship.

Hollow Men [+300/1600], shoot to kill, 50% chance, 226/1000 degree of difficulty.

Counterfire Defenses [300/1300/1600] (yellow, consider replacing with Gwave, same price point)The Counterfire Defence System was a reasonably common type of Support System before the Horus Heresy. These AI sensor suites, first designed for ground based weapon emplacements to counter the threat of charging Orks, incorporate predictive logic circuits to ensure that assaulting enemies are met with a withering wall of accurate fire. It was only a matter of time before they were adapted for use on naval assets as point defence systems where they excel.

Ashens IV Reactor [300/1000/1600] (green): The IV Reactor is a new and experimental energy system developed by a renegade forgeworld in the Kronus Expanse. Powered by dark matter, the IV Reactor allows steady production of potentially dangerously overwhelming amounts of energy to the ships systems.

Death of Steel [300/700/1600]: Death of Steel is an Astartes meltagun originally belonging to the Doom Legion that is especially effective against vehicles and buildings. The kill-record of this marvelously-crafted meltagun is kept in a vault on Watch Fortress Erioch, and lists on it innumerable armoured vehicles and monstrous beasts, felled in blazes of atomic fire. It is also credited with the destruction of the heretek-crafted battleship Impious Judgement – an honour achieved by allowing a Deathwatch Kill-team to pierce the vessel’s heart when their supply of explosive charges was insufficient.

Automated Repair System (blue) [400/300/1600]: Another once standard feature of Pre-Imperial shipping, when activated, tiny maintenance drones swarm over the damaged vehicle systems and repair them in the midst of battle.

Gravity Wave Projector [300/0/1600]: This Projector emits a high-powered graviton wave that repulses nearby enemies, slowing their advance to a crawl or halting them altogether. Most effective against attack craft, this can also be used to hold torpedos at bay until they explode harmlessly.

Fleshmetal [600/-600/1600]: An extremely unusual ship upgrade, the origins of the Fleshmetal virus have never been successfully discovered, though more than one Imperial Inquisitor who has observed the effect has postulated it to be the result of a brief alliance between Khorne and Nurgle. If so, it represents a very worrying development indeed. Machines infected with the virus slowly mutate, metal transforming into metal flesh, veins carrying plasma and molten metals worming their way through the newly developed tissue, vital systems transforming into living organs of bizarre yet clearly alive technology. Eventually, the ship itself will awaken as a living, void dwelling creature, one capable of learning, growing, and adapting to new situations.

World 61: The Light of Terra, Part 4

THE LIGHT OF TERRA, A WARHAMMER 40K GAUNTLET

PART 4 – A Night at the Opera

Previously: A Grand Tour

Themesong: The Race by Yello

AN: Thank you so much for your friendship, readership, and support. It means so much more than you know. If I could give you all CP, I totally would.

As it turned out, the year was to get even better. I’d gone out for a third regularly scheduled shopping trip (I bought a Cobra Class Destroyer called the Preemptive Retaliation, and a Conquest Class Star Galleon… think combination destroyer / transport designed to conquer entire ‘primitive’ worlds from orbit… called the Lapsed Pacifist… the names amused me enough to keep them) and, once again, loaded them and the Bargain with more metric fucktons of wealth and another 150,000 people-popsicles. Upon my return, I found another pleasant surprise waiting for me.

“Carwyn! I thought you’d gone!” I almost squealed, leaping down to the spacestation’s dock to where the Eldar was waiting outside a large Eldar shuttlecraft, several dozen of my more trusted followers (mostly from Clan Velpetra’s McClintock Sept and Clan Anamelia’s Hornblower Sept) pointing their guns vaguely at her, while several more (these from Clan Zigsoffi’s Mothra Sept) were manning the docking bay’s heavy weapons turrets and focused on the craft. I appreciated their vigilance, and could almost taste the Eldar’s annoyance and amused patience on the air as I approached her. None of my people dared try and stop me, and many of them were Lejens who’d been with us back in those first frantic weeks, but they weren’t taking any chances.

I flung my arms around Carwyn and hugged her, relieved to see her more than I cared to admit. I’d missed her and worried about her in equal measure. “Where have you been? And why did you run off as soon as we arrived?! I wanted to introduce you to my friends and… why are you looking at me like that.”

She wasn’t wearing her helmet and her smirk had transformed into a moue of disappointment and confusion. “I… how are you keeping me out of your mind?”

I grinned hugely up at her, and chirped, “Oh. Just something I picked up. Cool huh?”

“Errr… yes.” She was definitely flustered, but trying to play it cool and collected. “As you say… Very nice.” She hated the expression ‘cool’… or really, most of my slang, which did not translate well in the Eldar language. “I… guess… It is not as if I enjoyed messing around inside your mind or anything.”

I laughed into her chest plating. “Nooo… of course not! I would never assume that!” I glanced up at her face, still trying to come to grips were her emotional state. “Anyway. I’m glad you’re back!”

She waved it away with one hand, trying to pry me off her with the other. “Oh. Well… I wasn’t doing anything important this decade. Decided to-” she succeeded in pushing me back and I noticed something different about her.

“Did you change your armor?” I asked, cutting her Tsuning off… or was it here Dereing? I speak fluent japanese (and about 15,000 other languages) and can’t keep the halves of Tsundere separate. Can not. The two halves in my head just… share a definition called ‘annoyingly girlish behaviour typical of someone too immature to be in touch with their emotions’… it was totally different from me. I was in touch with mine… I just found them to be a bit of a nuisance. I took in the new armor and the robes over them. “It looks nice! Different, but… fancier, I guess”

“I… yes,” she blushed deeply. “I’ve been elevated to Farseer.” She was adorkable when she was embarrassed! Excellent! Must do this more. I wondered if I’d ever get to show her my elfin forms and what she’d think of them.

“Congratulations!” I beamed at her. “That’s serious, right? Eldar Farseers are major mojo.” I was legit happy for her, though I was curious why it had happened now. Was the promotion a reward for passing some test that the Light of Terra episode had been for her… or was it just… No… this was Warhammer… nothing was happenstance. I was betting it had something to do with Eldrad. In my experience with Warhammer, there were six Keikaku Doori masters in the 40K universe; the Chaos God Tzeentch, The Emperor of Mankind (better known as the EMPRAH!), the Dark Eldar Capo de tutt’i Capi Asdrubael Vect, The Eldar Laughing God Cegorach, the C’tan known as The Deceiver… and the Eldar schemer named Eldrad Ulthran. If she’d been promoted right after meeting me… Hmmm… I’d have to think about that.

“Mojo?” she asked, unfamiliar with the english word.

“Power slash importance,” I explained, trying to focus on the here and now instead of the possible past-future. I didn’t currently have the brainpower to handle multiple high level computations simultaneously.

“Oh!” she exclaimed. “Yes. It’s-”

It was then that I actually looked behind Carwyn and squeaked, “Holy shit! There’s a massive dino-thing behind you!”

“Yes,” she was smirking again. She has the most annoying smirk. “Yes there is. I… thought you might like it.”

I looked up at the three meter tall… raptor. It like something out of the Prince Roger Books (how appropriate my guards were McClintocks)… I bounced up and down. “It’s for me? Cool! What is it?”

“An Exodite Dragon.”

“It’s a riding beast?” I asked, noting the saddle and bridle. I’m observant… sometimes. “Is it sapient?”

“Not really. But yes, it’s for riding. Battle trained.”

“Awww! I didn’t even get you… oh… hold on.” I ran back inside my shuttle, returning a minute and a half later with an exquisitely made and heavily bejeweled cloak. “Here,” I said, handing it to her. “I know you know I didn’t get it for you, since I didn’t know if you were ever… but it was nice and I thought… I don’t know. I just thought of you when I saw it. I’m pretty sure the crystals are some kind of wraithbone. I think the main stone there in the clasp is the Spirit Stone of Omer’harath.”

‘I…” she blushed, examining the cloak that had cost me the price of a small Warp capable ship… I’d been rich before… but never really this rich… I hadn’t really conceptualized that it was possible to be this rich. Planetary economies have limits that galactic economies just… don’t. In Treasure Planet I’d gained similarly huge wealth… but I hadn’t been able to spend it. I’d been a billionaire before… but even with only four trips to the Righteous Path, I’d smashed clear into the quadrillionaire level and my wealth was still rising as I restored the fortunes of the Lathimon Dynasty and pushed into the truly ludicrous range. Even a single STC schematic in hard-copy was worth potentially billions… and I had thousands of hololithic, interactive schematics to trade, not to mention so much archeotech and portable wealth that I could choke Nurgle with it. I focused on what she was saying. “This is lovely… thank you!”

“Well, it’s the least I could do. I’d never have survived without you!” I bowed slightly, showing her deference in front of my people. “Now come on. I want you to meet my friends and family… especially the girls… and Ryoga.”

“Girls? Yo… you have lovers?!” She looked almost terrified. “And you want me to meet them?”

“Awww, is the big spooky Eldar Farseer nervous about meeting my family? That’s adorable!”

“I am not NERVOUS!”

“Uuuhuuuh. Surrrrrre,” I agreed sardonically.

“Don’t you smirk at me Mon’Keigh!”

“Make me.”

“That doesn’t make any sense!” She actually stomped one foot.

“Yeah, well, I’m just preparing you to meet my children. They don’t make much sense either. Now come along… are we being watched?”

She looked at the 200 strong guard force standing around us with guns no longer pointed at the Eldar and quirked an eyebrow.

“Not by them, you pointy-eared git. Someone… you’ve got friends in your ship?”

She rolled her eyes. “They’re not friends. They’re my bodyguards. I didn’t ask for them.” She was sulking. SULKING! This was awesome! “And how did you know they were there?! How are you keeping me out of your mind!” She stamped her foot again and the Exodite Dragon mimicked her, looking a little like a giant bipedal scaled akita.

I couldn’t help laughing, but I turned to face the ship and waved, then broadcast ~Yooohooo! Elllldaaaar! Aspect Warrrriors! Come out to plaaayy!~ I was reasonably certain I was the only person in this entire reality who got that joke. Ah, well.

Carwyn gaped at me. “You…” she trailed off, at least on the sonic level. ~TELEPATHY? How… you… but… before… do you have the other powers you claim you lost back too?~

I glanced back at her, then shook my head a fraction of a millimeter so slight that no-one who wasn’t an elf would have been able to catch that it was more than involuntary twitching. Did you know Elves (and Eldar) don’t do that? No involuntary motions at all, except when young or very very old. Elves are absolutely motionless when they stand still. It’s eerie.

~New powers. Alpha or Alpha Plus Psyker on the Imperium’s scale. Don’t know how that compares to you Eldar outside of my speciality… What?~ She was staring at me as if I’d grown two additional heads.

~ALPHA? That… that’s not… that’s not possible!~

~It’s good?~

~No one just… becomes an Alpha psyker in three years!~

~Oh. No, Sweetie… about 40 days.~

Her eyes nearly bugged out. ~I… in the imperium’s scale I’d be a Gamma or… maybe a Delta. It’s taken me thousands of your years to… 40 days?~ I nodded. ~That… I… You cheated! Somehow you cheated! You cheating cheater! How can you be an Alpha!? ELDRAD is an Alpha!~

Aha! So she knew Eldrad… or maybe she just knew of him… he was probably pretty famous among the Eldar. If only I could remember which Craftworld he was with… stupid holes in my stupid memory. I waved the paranoia away. Not only was it never helpful, it could be damaging to the psyche. ~Yeah, it was enough to startle Magnus too…~

She just stared at me in dawning horror. ~Magnus? MAGNUS? Thousand Sons Primarch MAGNUS?~

I shrugged. ~Interesting guy. Very shaggy. Very Red. He didn’t believe me either when I told him that I knew how to be a telepath and telekinetic already. Still getting used to what little PK I have. And I’m still pushing the limits of my primary psyker specialization in this reality. Never been a Biomancer before. Very very useful. The Clans are even more convinced I’m the Messiah ever since I began healing their mutations and regrowing lost limbs or eyes.~

~But why would a champion of the Ruinous Powers help you? Di…. did he…~ She trailed off, looking worried now.

~I helped him with something, he helped me find some of my mojo. Don’t worry. No Chaos Corruption here.~ I tapped my head. ~My willpower’s pretty solid and I know all those tricks and more that Grigobritz taught us.~

~You just happened to run into Magnus the Red and he was all… Foolish Mortal! I will now awaken your psychic powers!?~

~Naw. He needed the fact that I’m not from this reality to hide from Tzeentch for a while. We went on a treasure hunt. I’ll tell you all about it… once you introduce me to your bodyguard like a big girl and I can sense when you’re changing or avoiding the subject.~

She glowered, then glanced to the ship and the front hatch slowly lowered, revealing 60 Eldar in black and white armor. I recognized them from one of Carwyn’s many Eldar Data Dumps. They were Dark Reaper Aspect Warriors… the most sinister of them, in fact. And 5 of them were Exarchs.

How to explain Eldar Aspect Warriors… I guess it all begins with the Bloody Handed Eldar God of War and Fire, Khaela Mensha Khaine… who would be Khaine to his friends, only he had exactly none of those, being pretty much rage incarnate. One of the Old Ones who created most sentient life in the galaxy besides the Humans and Necrontyr, Khaine is one of three Eldar Gods to survive the near extinction of the Eldar at the birth of Slaanesh (Cegorach the Laughing God and Isha the… nature goddess… kinda… I mean, she survived… but she’s now Nurgle’s plaything… ewww… being the other two). Except Khaine didn’t really survive either… it’s complicated.

When Slaanesh was born, killing trillions of Eldar as part of the birth process, it really pissed off the Chaos God Khorne (second oldest of the major quartet and a deity not know for keeping his cool at the best of time). So, being a being of rage and hate and violence, Khorne beat the everliving crap out of Slaanesh… accidentally knocking Khaine (who was trying to fight off Slaanesh at the time) out of the Immaterium so hard that the Bloody Handed God became the Bloody Shattered God. Those shards are what make summoning an Avatar of Khaine possible… and the shrines those shards are stored in are home to the Phoenix Lords.

Yes! More Terms! Embrace the fuckery! So, Phoenix Lords are the founders of the various orders of Aspect Warriors and they were (when they were alive alive, rather than having their spirits merged into their armor alive so that whoever puts on the armor gets overwritten by the original Phoenix Lord’s personality / memories… hence Phoenix… alive) the purest expression of their Aspect.

There are at least a dozen such aspects, and Aspect Warriors are like Eldar Battle Monks. They practice a kind of mental segregation whereby they hone their martial abilities via psychic means, creating a deliberate split in their persona. This new persona is called a War Mask and it protects the Eldar’s Mind against the horrors of endless combat, making them immune to things like PTSD, the Yips, Battle Fatigue, Hesitation… and Mercy. Seriously. Under the War Mask, Eldar (even fresh out of the box never seen combat before newbs) are stone killers. And then, after the battle is over… the War Mask would be put away and the Eldar would be their normal workaday self once again… Unless…

Unless they went too far down the Path of the Warrior and… forgot how to come back. Those were the Exarchs… people who’d subsumed themselves into the War Mask so far that their original persona had largely faded away. Exarchs, like the Phoenix Lord, were bound spiritually to the Spirit Stone in their armor, and if killed their Stone would be shared with other Exarchs to pass on knowledge and skills. It sucked, but since the fate of any Eldar not bound to a Soul Stone after death was to be consumed by Slaanesh? Eh, there were worse fates than being sealed in crystal. And that Phoenix Lord rebirth thing? Yeah… that usually happened to an Exarch, so it wasn’t like what was being overwritten had much of an identity to speak of.

And then there were Warlocks. Warlocks were Aspect Warriors who’d left the Path of the Warrior to follow the Path of the Seer, the Eldar who focused more on psychic combat than physical… though Warlocks were more focused on blowing shit up with their minds than the pure divination of the Farseers who had been on the Path of the Seer their entire lives. Farseers, in turn, were to the Path of the Seer what Exarchs were to the Path of the Warrior… except they didn’t lose their personality… but their mobility, as the older they got, and the more intune with their craftworld (Eldar, having lost all their homeworlds, now lived mostly on enormous arks called Craftworlds… except the Exodites who lived on Maiden Worlds and eschewed psychic powers and much technology… and the Dark Eldar, who lived in the Eldar Webway’s ruins and were fucking crazy psycho assholes…) the more they slowly turned entirely to crystal and shed their bodies completely to merge with their Craftworld’s Infinity Circuit (think artificial afterlife to keep their souls from becoming Slaanesh Snacks.)

And of course, now I had a Warlock cum Farseer and her retinue of Dark Reapers… who were dedicated to Khain in his aspect as ‘The Destroyer’… Eldar Sniper Assassins… Anti-Tank Snipers… 60 of them. Yeah, that would make anyone a bit nervous… of course, if you could see a Dark Reaper, you probably weren’t in much danger. They were like Ninjas that way… except slower. Their guns were extremely large, so large that they required stabilizers and clamps on the lower legs and boots of their powered armor to deal with the recoil and keep them in a steady firing position… and their helmets were covered with specialized sensor vanes and mind-link gear to connect them to their weapon. Sure, it meant they almost never missed, even against a moving target, but it also meant they were considerably less maneuverable than others and they were definitely not geared for close combat in any way. Which was fine, if they had allies or kept well back… I could probably take all of them if I hit them hard and fast enough… maybe. But that might piss of Carwyn, and I only liked doing that when it was funny. Oh, and the Phoenix Lord of the Dark Reapers, Maugan Ra, the Reaper of Souls… was still alive alive… and a scary BAMF from all reports… as in defeated an entire Tyranid swarm by himself BAMF.

“I thought you were a Dire Avenger before becoming a Warlock?” I asked, referencing the most common form of Aspect Warrior, and the ones most likely to deal with Exodites… also the ones typically equipped with Shuriken Catapults. Dire Avengers were Khaine in his Noble Warrior Aspect.

“I am… was,” she blushed a little, seeming embarrassed by the psycho deathsquad behind her who were still wearing their helmets.

“Then… why?”

“Mfthrismgnr,” she muttered, voice so low I could barely hear it  even with my enhanced senses (Biopat… mancy… 10,001 uses!)

“What?” I asked, pretty sure that she hadn’t meant to call me a dyspeptic aardvark in gruhunguish.

She glared at me, then sighed and hissed, “My. Father…” she swallowed. “Is…. Mau…”

“No shit? Cool. So your dad told these guys to follow you around and look menacing?”

She nodded and palmed her forehead as one of the Exarchs thought something annoying at her, but I didn’t catch it… my Telepathy isn’t nearly as strong as my Biomancy.

“What did he  say… er think?”

“Nurgath said… thought, ‘HA! Told you we were intimidating!’,” she said with a sigh.

“Wow. An Exarch who is a geek. Right. Will remember that.” I looked to the Eldar and snapped, “Right, you lot, leave the giant shooty things in your shuttle and get those helmets off. You’re in my station and you’re not shooting anyone or embarrassing Carwyn.”

They looked back and forth, then at me, then to Carwyn’s back. None of them took off their helmets or set down the anti-materiel plasma weapons and anti-squad heavy weapons. I tried again, ~You are among friends… or at least not among enemies. You are also inside a space station that is irreplaceable and I will personally flay anyone who discharges an anti-tank weapon inside my station. You are, if you haven’t noticed, outnumbered and in close contact with no way to escape and no chance of winning. If we were planning something, you’d already be dead. So, act like adults and stow the battle kit. And if you need a further reason, you’re making your protectee look like she’s a coward. You have my word of honor, as long as you start nothing, no harm will come to you from me or mine. If any of my people start anything, they will be punished, by me. This is a promise, and a warning. Defend yourself and your protectee… but do not seek retribution against those who cross you. Many of my people are… skittish around outsiders… but only a few of them have your level of training… and your heavy weapons have no place in a brawl.~

“You talk too much,” Carwyn said, ruffling my hair.

“Yeah, yeah. Missed you too. Come on. Tell the idiots,” who still hadn’t put their weapons down, “that they can either follow you or keep the weapons and stay here. Their choice. Oh, and if that Exarch with the number 17 (actually 19 in base 10, Eldar use a base 12 numbering system) doesn’t stop smirking at me and thinking about trained animals, I will break his nose. Telepaths should understand that concrete thoughts are a provocation and constitute ‘starting something’.” With that, I turned towards the hab sector and started walking. Carwyn followed… and, one by one, her escort did too.

“Jons! Get the Eldar settled in sector 14. Carwyn, tell your followers that they can have one squad following you at a time. No more. I don’t need 60 of you traipsing around. 12 is fine for planetside, but otherwise, 6 is going to be overkill.”

She thought to the others and 57 of them peeled off to follow Jons to sector 14, which was relatively isolated and not near anything too sensitive. It was in the shaping and refining district of Hephaestus and had only one way in or out, which I had no doubt would be guarded from their side as much as mine. Integration would or would not happen in time, but I wasn’t counting on the Exarchs especially wanting to socialize much… lost to the path and all that.

Watching Carwyn interact with the others was an experience and a half. It’s a shame Velma was missing (still worried about that, about all the missing members of my crew and family)… but watching Mini & Franky studying the Eldar so intently that it made Carwyn uncomfortable amusing. Yoiko and Ryoga wanted to challenge her to a fight to establish dominance… and Cirno asked if Carwyn was a Genius… then loudly proclaimed that she (Cirno) was the smartest and best still and was going to go have cake. Tokimi glowered at the newcomer, Yuzuha asked her if she used to be evil, Rayray said she wasn’t green enough, and Dyna accused her of being a pod person.  

Carwyn clearly had no idea how to deal with any of them. And that was just my family! The Hardliners (Gaius, Reggy, Meetra, Bart, and Kagetane) were all against having an alien assault force aboard and wanted them moved planetside asap. The Schemers (Uriel, Bao, Caine, Toph, and Beth) of course immediately countered that they should be moved to the resource fleet. The Seraglio Guardians (Lizzy & The Bookers) all wanted them around to protect the kids.

And the kids… all 7 of them thought Carwyn was excellent. Yes, 7… no, the last four weren’t mine. Toph’s 11 month old Buji (fathered by Bart) and Beth’s 8 month old Simon (fathered by Caine) were the newest additions, but Gaius & Reggy had granted us a second set of twins in the form of Lucida and Placidia, who were almost 2 and the apples of their big brothers’ eyes. Amaryllis thought the babies were awesome… Alex and Maggie thought they were stupid and boring.

But Carwyn? The infants cooed at her, the toddlers tried climbing her, and the kids… were kids. Amaryllis was terribly shy but kept telling her things in the “Guess what, guess what, guess what…” style while Alex wanted to wear her helmet and shoot her gun and Maggie kept up a steady stream of questions on any and all topics that crossed her mind.

Eldar have fantastic patience… it took my family exactly 41 minutes and fifteen seconds to break Carwyn. She actually pulled the ‘Oh! Look at the time!’ thing and claimed to be tired after a long journey. She did it very well… it might have fooled… Cirno. Maybe Amaryllis. Okay, Ryoga and Yoiko too. Buji started crying. Carwyn flinched and practically fled.

When I managed to get my laughing under control, I went to look for her. “Not used to dealing with changes, are you?” I asked softly, finding her looking out at the planet from one of the lounges.

“How have you built so much so fast? Everything we Eldar do is so… deliberate. This seems recklessly swift.”

“Survival has a clock all its own. I had people to feed, to house… and a ship to repair.  And another ship after that, if I can get her here at all.”

“I…”

“I’m glad you came back. I did miss you…. Even if you are a giant pain in the rear end. Did Eldrad send you?”

“What? No! I… I came back on my own. I… I’ve met Eldrad… he and father know each other… but I… why do you ask?” she asked, eyes narrowing suspiciously.

I shrugged, radiating calm. “Carwyn… you met me and then, miraculously, within only a few years, you’re a Farseer with a cadre of deadly warriors at your back. I know you fought as a Warlock for many centuries… but, be honest… isn’t the timing suspicious?”

She creased her brow and considered, then sighed. “It might… maybe… you think this is one of his Schemes?”

“Magnus came to find me because I’m outside Tzeentch’s plotting. How likely is it that Eldrad might want someone outside of Slaanesh’s webs as a potential tool?”

She nodded, then sighed “Very. So… does this mean…”

“I think you earned and deserve to be a Farseer. I don’t think he’d have done anything like rush your ascension… no. I think he just forced the Council of Farseers to accelerate their timeline for doing something about it. You Elves do everything so slowly.”

“Deliberately. Not slow… What is an Elf?”

“Eldar are a type of Elf,” I explained, projecting images of thousands of other varieties of elves, some more fictional than others.

“So many!?” she gasped.

“It’s a big Omniverse out there, baby. Someday, maybe I’ll show it to you. Anyway, you said you were tired. I have a nice big bed…” I waggled my eyebrows at her. I didn’t tell her that the likelihood was we’d be awakened quite early by children jumping up and down on said bed and demanding I play with them. That was if nothing disastrous happened during the night. I gave that a 20% chance of happening… high I know… but the Galaxy never sleeps.

****

Things were going fairly well. The fifth Founding Day celebrations had been four days ago and it was reasonably quiet aboard SJSS Hephaestus…. Then again, it was not quite midday… the calm was already starting to worry me.

Thankfully, that was when Ledge Nine-Ninety (Clan Joyhab, Sept Harkness) burst into my office, panting and flushed. Ledge was one of the… sigh… Enginseers… what a stupid title… of the Kin of Iron and was responsible for monitoring the system’s network of early warning platforms. I had them strung in a sphere all the way out to the system’s Kuiper Belt and even scattered further out on random and slowly shifting trajectories. The entire inner system EWG was multiply redundant and dynamic… much like Ledge. He was yelling almost incoherently and waving a printout at me.

I calmed him down with a touch and took the page, trying to discover what had the man in such a tizzy. As it turned out, it was a mayday signal, one from an Adeptus Mechanicus survey ship… which had apparently collided with a space hulk (a massive derelict… and often Nid, Ork, or Chaos infested starship ruin drifting in space. The Light had been all but a hulk when I’d found her). The AdMech ship had, according to the message, crashed into the world they’d been surveying… a world not too far away.

I tapped Ledge’s nose and pointed at the readout’s Date of Transmission… The Signal was over six hundred years ago. I watched him visibly deflate as he realized that he wouldn’t be organizing a daring rescue that would make him the idol of all the female AdMechanics he’d clearly decided the ship was crewed by… maybe I should organize an intertribal cotillion to match up some of the unmarried settlers. And get some of my station techs breathing planetside air for a while…

The Clans had been maintaining a pretty steady 4.3% growth rate per month for the first three years… which had been staggering, don’t get me wrong. 13,000 children in 3 years out of an initial colony size of 12,000… pretty much every female had been pregnant at least twice in that time…. However, since I’d gotten my hands on the cargo of The Righteous Path, I’d been supplementing the tribal numbers with Krystallians… all of whom had been largely mindwiped by Ryn and reeducated according to his seriously fucked up priorities. The strong as laborers or gladiators, the pretty as maids and sextoys, and the children as docile and fearful. That had brought the tribal growth rate up to a staggering 12% per month, about the limit of what I could integrate without straining things to the breaking point. Thankfully, I had Ryn’s education machines to help temper the brainwashing and to impart actually useful skills… though I didn’t exactly have templates for much besides what Ryn had… unless I wanted to copy an existing person, and that seemed wrong. Ryn had apparently had techs skilled in custom editing templates… I didn’t. Still, what I did have was a colony of just over 100,000 humans.

And that didn’t count the Tarellians who’d joined me, who added another 41,000… and it wasn’t nearly enough. Crewing the Light and the Path along would take more than a million. Crewing the dozens of lesser ships I’d need to supply and escort them, a couple million more. And feeding and supplying them from Paradise? Millions and millions on top of that. 42 Septs was looking like it might not be nearly enough.

But still… population issues were taking care of themselves with time and good old biology. For now? An entire Space Hulk… right there… ripe for the plucking… maybe a third ship? Tempting.

A few days later, as I looked down from the bridge of the Faustian Bargain upon the world the signal had originated from, things were looking decidedly less tempting. The hulk had apparently crashed too and was visible from space… as was the massive Ork towns built into and around the ruined craft’s two major sections. There were bound to be plenty of resources down there, but obtaining them was another matter. I didn’t have nearly enough ammunition for a planetary bombardment against Orks… and then, as it turned out… I didn’t even get the chance to try, as… with a burst of ozone and a huge crackle of energy that shorted out no less than 18 consoles, I simply found myself elsewhere, no longer aboard my command deck, but instead inside a circle of still sparking, shuddering, and highly Orky ‘teknologee’… I use the term loosely, as Orky gear doesn’t operate by science, but rather because the race collectively warps reality and believes their shit should work. They also believed things that were red went faster… and so they did. This was to be important shortly.

Before I could react, a Mekboy charged in, roaring out “Boss! Boss! We’s firin’ dat Gitfinda now, Boss!” Yes, Orks talk like Cockney ruffians…. In English! No, there is no explanation of this. Yes, this is stupid. But Games Workshop’s gang of hacks and lunatics thinks it’s funny. I… found it vaguely insulting.  Not the accent… I wasn’t sure, but I suspected I was being called a ‘git’

The Mekboy (Ork what is good wif tekstuf, natch) saw me and stopped, scratched the back of his head, shrugged, and yelled “Boooooss! Boss! We’s found a git, Boss!” Now I was definitely insulted.

Just before I could commence hostilities and introduce Mekboy to Wallboy, something landed on my head. It was, apparently, a hand… though I could only justify that because the massive thing was attached to an equally massive arm. I looked up… and up… and up… It was an Ork… I think.  An ork wearing a perfectly tailored purple leopardskin suit, leaning on a telephone pole of a pimpcane tipped with what looked like a diamond bigger than my head, and (yes), with an enormous hat with a feather that was actually bigger than I was tucked into the brim. I was instantly envious… that was an awesome hat.

The Ork… Pimpboy… was that a thing?… opened its mouth and emitted sound that was so deep and resonant I could feel it in the longbones of my legs and it literally made my teeth ache and my eyes water. “We and I be Abak Manyfingaz, my fine lil ‘Umie, and you be gon’ win fer uz da Kannonball Run, now aintcha?”

Before I could protest, or ask what in the blazes the Kannonball Run was (aside from a movie about a coast to coast race across the USA released years before I was born back on Earth), I’d been handed a sack full of something that clunked and chattered and pushed out the door, with Abak’s voice echoing behind me as he helpfully suggested, “Find youself a crew lil ‘Umie, an’ best not be wastin’ time, da race startz t’morow, at dawn!”

I stumbled out into the bright, nearly blinding light of the two suns of this dry world with no real idea where to even start looking for a crew. I shifted my corneas to block out much of the glare, making my eyes look almost mirror shined, and lowered my internal temperature a bit to deal with the nearly weapons grade heat. Another batch of minor adjustments for the dry and dust, and then I looked around, stepping out of the main street and into a corner to catch my breath and figure out what the hell was going on… and what was in the bag. I looked into it and found… Teeth? TEETH? EWWW… What the fuck?

I heard the sound of lasguns humming up to ready and looked around in surprise. Another human… several, actually… all wearing what look vaguely like Imperial uniforms… and all pointing lasguns at me. That… I wasn’t expecting. I held up the bag of teeth and shook it. Jiggle Jiggle Jiggle… oh… god… that was a mistake. The sound of all those teeth grinding and clicking together was one of the most horrifically vile noises I’ve ever heard… And I’ve heard a Naagloshii howling.

However, it did make them lower their lasguns. One of them, a man who looked as if he was desperately trying to grow a goatee, watched me while the other three huddled up, talking low enough that I couldn’t hear what they were saying without boosting my hearing, and doing that in such a way so as to not also pick up the desert wind and the sounds of a town full of Orks would have been very… noticeable… growing rabbit ears usually is.

Still, I could just about hear some of it. Most of it revolved around shooting me and taking the ‘Teef’… but, eventually, and with a lot of swearing, one of them motioned me over, looked me up and down, sighed, and lit up the foulest smelling cigarillo I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter… seriously… it was like… like… an asshole full of burning feathers… I wonder why I thought of that? Finally, the old, grizzled gaffer smiled faintly, then nodded toward one of the others, a young woman,. “Fill ‘er in, Kid,” he ordered, then turned and led everyone else off.

I looked up at the woman, who fell into step next to me as I followed along after the others, wondering why there were humans on an Ork world. She looked back, then took a breath and said, all in a rush, “So, once upon a time a Space Hulk full of Orks crashed into the Admech ship our ancestors were on then both crashed into this lovely desert world of Angelis, and miraculously managed to not kill everyone in the process. Since Angelis is a barren wasteland empty of life, the ticked off Orks are dedicated to gathering up all the technological scrap they can from the wastes and building themselves a new machine in order to get them off of the planet and get back to the Waaagh! Due to certain little incidents, like the orkish inclination towards factionalism and a civil war that destroyed the first miracle machine since they couldn’t decide whether it looked like Gork or Mork, the Orks of Angelis are ruled by their Mekboyz, who are busy working on Gorkamorka – the aforementioned miracle machine mark two – and keeping the other Orks distracted by making them fight to gather the most scrap. Doing so is essential to get “tags”, which will assure the bearer of a place on Gorkamorka when it’s finally finished. Grots… those are the littlest Orks… don’t get tags, so they rebel, get slaughtered, run off and start a revolution. Meanwhile we’ve been stuck here trying to salvage enough parts from both ships to build a transmitter powerful enough to tell the rest of the Imperium where we are. We win the race, we walk away with a mass of scrap and hopefully a few useful parts. Easy Peasy, Puddin Pie. Also Hi! I’m Destraine!”

I blinked… wow… and people said I was chatty. As we walked, Destraine Symm told me about herself and her compatriots, collectively called the Dust Rats Imperial Remnant Racing Team…  She was the Navigator (apparently the race was quite long and not on a standard track… not that Orks knew what the word standard meant). Their commander, the grizzled old grot who looked like living jerky and smoked the foul chemsticks was Graf Renik, who she claimed was a Boss Boss. Their driver, oh he of the miserable excuse for a goatee, was Valten Shoehern, who was also their mechanic, but one who prefered working in a garage… “He’s a little particular,” she said, by which I assumed she meant fastidious and prissy. And last was the Gunner, Soloman Sykes, a gun fanatic and ‘dependable at long distances… not so good when they get closer’. Excellent. A Navigator who was a scatterbrained flibbertigibbet, a farsighted gunner, a commander who might die at any moment, and a mechanic-driver who didn’t like repairing stuff in the field. Still… it could be worse… they could be Orks!

Not long after, we reached their garage… and I took in the sight of the SSV. It was not what I’d have picked for a race. The AdMech had, in its wisdom, outfitted their explorer ship with a large fleet of Support and Salvage Vehicles, anticipating that those worthies might have an opportunity or three to strip out a massive amount of xenotech / archeotech / salvage for study / recovery / recycling. That never happened, thanks to the crash, but almost the entire fleet had been still sealed in deep storage and were unharmed by the rough landing.

After the survivors’ first few encounters with the Orks, it became apparent that something heavier than light scouting vehicles were required, and so extra armor had been added to the SSV, cargo compartments reengineered, small but comfortable crew quarters installed, engines tuned up… and soon Ork Trukks were up against something they couldn’t just roll over.

By comparison, and as way of explanation, a Wartrukk is an Ork vehicle primarily used for the transportation of Orks across the battlefield at breakneck speeds. Because Orks don’t really have much of a concept of personal space, Wartrukks are often piled with as many Orks as won’t fall off, if not more. Sometimes they even came equipped with runners mounted on the sides so more green-skinned idiots could cling to the sides and get stuck in faster. Sometimes those idiots even remembered to wait for the Trukk to slow down before jumping off of the runners. Wartrukks were usually outfitted with a massive gun (Big Shoota) on the front, as well as rather spiky bullbars or a cowcatcher so the driver wouldn’t miss out on the thrill of combat. Because of Orky ‘inventiveness’ no two Wartrukks ever looked quite the same.

On the other hand… the SSV was probably the most advanced vehicle available, featuring such luxuries as an actual suspension! A windshield! And actual gears for the driver to shift between… possibly at will! The SSV was almost as tall as the average Ork Trukk (according to Destraine) and about twice as long (according to Graf). Designed for long range salvage patrols, it carried a surprising amount of food and water, and mounted a heavy bolter, a lascannon, and not one but three multilasers, which was, according to Soloman, the most feared anti-infantry and light vehicle weapon on Gorkamorka / Angelis. However, being that it was a couple dozen tonnes of steering resistant reinforced metal, it was, according to Valten… a bitch to control at speed, a proposition made no easier by all the extra weaponry and equipment bolted onto the behemoth.

Not the least of which was the massive Servo Mounted Electromagnet, a titanic magnet mounted on an equally titanic robotic arm. Designed to allow the SSV to lift tons of scrap at a time, it could, I realized, serve a more intimidating purpose in what I was rapidly coming to realize was an Orky version of a Death Race… light vehicles could be picked up and disposed of and even larger vehicles could be locked onto or even flipped completely.

Once they’d shown me all this, they looked at me expectantly.

“What?”

“Well… you see…” Graf began. “We need a sponsor.”

“Aaaah. And you figure, since I’m a human carrying a big bag of… er… Teef…”

“Exactly.”

“As it turns out, you are, indeed, in luck. I was looking for a team to take me to victory. I am the Trader Sigismonda Lathimon the third… and, if you nice folks win the race for me… I’ve got a ship in orbit and am very much willing to evacuate you and your families off this planet.”

They looked at me with frank disbelief and I shrugged, “Believe me or don’t. I have you a sponsor, and I’ll bet I can get a second mechanic-”

“Why would we need a second mechanic?” Valten asked, sounding aggrieved.

“Four reasons,” I said, fixing him with a cold stare. “First, you’re the driver, and can’t be spared to fix guns or light vehicles in the middle of the race. Second, you’re clearly more comfortable with a machine shop than jury-rigging in the middle of the desert. Third, two mechanics are better than one. And Fourth, you’re not an Ork and we’re going to be racing other Orks. We need someone who thinks like they do.”

“You want to bring Orks onto our-” Graff began, but I glared at him next

“You want to win? Because I see 5 of us and 5 guns on the SSV. I also see two light dune bikes over there,” I pointed, “And that’s, what? A light recon vehicle under that tarp?” They blinked at me. “Yeah. Thought so. So we need at least 6 more people. 8 if I can get them. Meanwhile… you guys need to do some upgrading. Reinforce the cargo area, I’m going to get you three big fuel tanks… and find a way to make the docking bay for those bikes and the recce a bit bigger. I want to stick an Ork Warbuggy in there too, if I can find one small enough.”

“How’d you know there was a docking bay?” Destraine asked me.

“I assumed you brought them with you and were taking them out of the SSV to lighten the load. Wrong move. Unless I miss my guess, this is an endurance race. We need every advantage. I’m going to go talk to my partner and you’re going to get me a list of everything you’ve got… do we have enough supplies and water?”

“For us… you too I guess… but not for six or eight orks,” Solomon said, looking annoyed.

“Yeah. I figured. I’ll pick up some. Do you have spare weapons?”

“Yes? Why?”

“Well, if you mount your spare multi-laser on the boom for your magnet, it can get good range on enemies from above… make sure you can depress the angle. And mount your spare Lascannon on the Recce’s front, so the driver can fire at things right ahead. The multilaser on the roof is great for anti-personnel, but not so hot against vehicles. And if you have a spare heavy bolter as well, rig it on the rear in a small armored turret, just in case. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to find some more Dakka and some Boyz.” I strolled out again…

And bumped into Carwyn.

“There you are!” she said, looking annoyed.

“Here I am. How’s the bridge?”

“A mess, I took a shuttle down and landed over there behind that ridge. My guards are watching the shuttle. Come, if we hurry you can be decontaminated by… where are you going.”

“To find my employer, I need to talk about the rules of this race with him,” I was already walking back towards Abak’s place.

“What race? What employer? Where are you going!” She stomped her foot and then hurried after me.

“The people who managed to pull me off the bridge did so with a teleporter that managed to target me specifically and pull me out of a ship in orbit. I want that tech, or at least a good look at it. And they offered me a job… well… told me I was going to win the Kannonball Run for him… and it sounds like it might be fun. Anyway, there’s a colony of humans on this planet that are descendants of the AdMech explorators. I promised them that, if we won, I’d help them get off the planet. I want these techs for my fleet.”

“You don’t need to win to help them get off the planet! We can just do that anyway! You’re being…. Ooooh… you’re being so… so…”

“Human?” I asked brightly, then pulled open the door to Abak’s. “Honey! I’m hoooome.”

“You’z betta have a good reasun fer bein’ bak ‘ere, my fine lil ‘Umie,” the deep voice growled.

“Oh. Sure, Sure. Buncha. Found a crew with a vehicle. Humies like me. Hope that ain’t a problem?” He grunted, so I continued. “Want to borrow your Mekboy for my crew too. Need him to install some upgrades, and show me where the shopping is.” Another grunt, one that sounded slightly doubtful. “That way everyone will know it was Orky knowhow that really won the race, not Umie smarts and trickery.”

He grunted what might have been laughter, then called his Mekboy into the room and muttered to ‘him’ (Orks are neither male nor female. They grow from spores given off by adult Orks almost continuously over their lives, or in large numbers when they die.). The Mekboy looked annoyed, but finally agreed after being cuffed soundly upside the head by the much bigger Ork. Orky social hierarchy is largely based on bullying.

“Anyfing else?”

“Yes. What are the rules?”

“Rulz? What Rulz? You’z startz when dey wavez da banna, and stopz when you croz da finish line, ain’t it?”

“How far apart are the start and stop? What’s the course? How many other drivers? Are sub-vehicles allowed? Can we shoot other teams?”

“Oh! Doz Rulz! It’s from Mektown. Datz where we iz roight now, lil ‘Umie, down the Skid what the ‘Ulk left when it crashed, see? You go to where the Skid ends, at Skid Row, where the other chunk of the ‘Ulk is, now isn’t it? Den bak up here to Mektown, right quick. It’s a ways. 870 klicks each way… plus a bit round da row, right?” I nodded.

He went on to explain that there were usually about 120 teams or so, but a good 70% of them could be expected to take each other or themselves out of of the race at the traditional start of race brawl. Tampering with other vehicles or attacking other racers or their vehicles before the race was cheating, but totally fair once the flag dropped… there weren’t any rules besides having to reach the end of the Row and come back all in the same vehicle and flying wasn’t allowed or they’d shoot you down with Flakkadakka. And yes, sub-vehicles were fine… but didn’t count for the main vehicle which had your team’s number on it and had to be the one to cross the finish line.

He also indicated that there were a number of racers he would be be quite happy if I could make sure were well and truly out of the race… apparently, betting on survival or finishing at all was a big market here in Mektown. He gave me a list of the other teams, with checkmarks for which teams he’d bet against… and I stared at it in growing horror… this had to be a joke.

In addition to teams like The Grechin Revolutionary Committee, The Slagshifta Brothers, The Snakebit Boyz, Da Krusha, and Baus… all fairly reasonable names for Orks… there were Burt and Dom, Da Squig, Da Speedy Raca, Da Red Grot, and (worst of all) Snidely Squiglash… each of which I was relatively certain was an Earth Reference… namely Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLouise (the stars of the original Cannonball Run movie), The Stig (of Top Gear fame), Speed Racer (of anime and wachowski infamy), The Red Max (of Whacky Races), and Snidely Whiplash of Rocky Bullwinkle fame… He wanted me to make certain that Snidely, Speedy, Krusha, Baus, and Doomrider didn’t finish the race.

“What’s this symbol next to Team Toppa for?” I couldn’t tell if that was a reference to Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann or not, but it could just be the Orky way of saying Topper.

“Dem is our boyz! Dem is da best! Deyz a buncha lovable idjits what makez der own zooma… sept, none of dem is a Mekboy, in’it?”

“You want me to take them out?”

“Nawww, See!  Jams ‘Kaptin Slow’ Mayday, Apocalypz Klarkson, and Da Hamsta… deyz my favorite! You still gotta win, see, but you gotta make fer certain dey don’t get demselves krumped, see? Dey gotta survive de race wit all der bits still attached, and dey can’t know youz helping dem, or it would break der hearts, reckin?”

I just stared. Oh god. The Top Gear Crew as Orks. Malal was laaaughing somewhere. “So, the others have to be taken out of the race for good. But not dead unless I have to… and the idiots have to survive. Gotcha.  I guess I’ll take Mekboy here and go shopping. See you when I win, I guess.

If Doc Teeftaka the Mekboy thought it was strange that the diminutive little humie had an Eldar friend waiting outside, he didn’t say. Instead, he started talking the minute we exited Abak’s den. “Mektown! Dere’s no uvver place like it on da planet! Come to fink of it, there IS no uvver place on the planet. Mektown is IT! It’s the oldest, biggest, most excitin’ an’ definitely the only settlement in the whole world. That is unless you count the Digga holes and the Pyramids, which is pushin’ it, plus wherever the Grots, Snots, an’ Muties hide. They all live under rocks and that’s hardly what you an’ me would call civilised, now is it?”

He had a map he unrolled, showing all of the area. Apparently the Pyramids were the Human encampment, a bunch of pyramid-shaped metal desert survival buildings. It was hard to talk in Mektown, thanks to the gouts of smoke and light and gruesome smells and thunderous chugging, banging, howling, shooting noises that flooded the ramshackle quasi-slum… but Doc Teeftaka compensated by yelling as loud as he could.

“Most like it ain’t Mektown youz findin first but Da Skid. Da Skidz a ded straight valley, steep sidez an ol, wif Mektown at da fat end. Find da Skid, ride long it and you’z come ta Mektown sure as teef is teef. Da Skid’z quite da place too. Is da best spot ta find quality wreckage. Most is ‘alf buried, but somez is just lyin’ about outside da Skid, hidden among da rocks. Dere’s plenty o’ wreckage waiting for themz as wants it. Course, dere’s all sorts o’ nasties wot livez in da Skid, ‘specially at da pointy end where dere’s a zoggin’ big, long chunk of da old wreck. We calls dis Skid Row and dat’s where lotz of bad Grots hangs out, a’long wif a buncha nasty types that is best avoided if you know wot’s good for you. Still, I’ve had many a bash in da Skid an’ carried me off some top tucker tek, as you can see by the size of me janglies. Ah it’s a good life an’ no mistake – Gork an Mork be praised.”

He did know where to get the best equipment… or Gubbinz, and we picked up three massive fuel tanks, each with enough fuel to run the SSV for 800 klicks (plus the 400 klicks its main tank could run. If we couldn’t make a 1800 klick run with 2800 klicks of fuel, we didn’t deserve to win. Also got enough fuel to fill up the tanks on the Recce (range about 600 klicks, on fuel that would move the SSV 100), the Bikes (range about 300 for 20 klicks of SSV fuel), and Warbuggy (Doc Teeftaka estimated a range of halfway to the Row on a full tank and the tank took about 45 klicks of SSV fuel). When I stopped to get armor plates fitted for the Fuel tanks, Doc Teeftaka blinked at me, then grinned tuskily. “Put some armer on da most explody bits of da trukk? Sometimes Humies do have good ideas!”

I also had him source a set of 12 oversized tires that would fit the SSV, and got the front four spiked, then the middle four chained, and left the last four alone. The SSV was a 10 axle vehicle, with a pair of single tire axles in the front, a pair of double tire axles in the center, and four double tire axles on the back end. By putting the spikes on the first and second axles, the chains on the third axle, and the last quartet on the very end, it would help spread the weight of the vehicle across the sand, and with the floating independent suspension built into the SSV, it would easily adjust to the difference in wheel heights.

We also picked up a Dozer Blade… obstacles are much simpler to deal with when you can go through them. As my dad used to say, “Any Restaurant can be a drive-thru with sufficient armor plating.”

And, of course, we picked up some red paint. Carwyn was confused. ~Why are we painting the SSV red?~

~So it will go faster.~

~Color does not affect speed.~

~Ork tech works on belief, not physics. Red will go faster than other colors because the crowd thinks it will.~

~That is insane!~

~Welcome to Gorkamorka.~ I agreed.

“Doc Teeftaka, we need a really big shoota,” I said outloud.

“What kinda Shoota, gov?”

“The kind what blows up enemy tanks, reckin?”

“Ayup! Youz wantin’ a Killkannon, Aintcha!”

“Sounds like. And a Boy what knows howta Krump armer, aye?”

“Aye Gov. I gotcha. I knowz a Tankbusta whats got his own Killkannon. If we mounts it and buys the shells, he’ll blow the gob right offa the other racers and no mistake,” Doc Teeftaka said, eyeing a street vendor selling fried squig on a skewer.

“Looks tasty,” I commented, then bought five for 3 teef. I handed two over to Doc Teeftaka and offered one to Carwyn, who looked as if she’d rather chew her own arm off. I shrugged and chowed down. Very tasty indeed, like portobella mushrooms, but with more texture and a little more pungent. I could pretty much eat anything, so I wasn’t worried about making myself sick… but they were decent even without that. Not high cuisine or anything, but as street food went, edible.

While we walked, Carwyn kept up a steady stream of incredibly racist commentary, but to be fair… Orks were a race without the faintest concept of diplomacy. I’m not certain it was possible to insult them with racial slurs. The Doc mostly nodded and said ‘ayup’, each time Carwyn insulted his species.

In the end, we recruited one Krumpa McGirk the Tankbusta and his Killkannon ‘Big Smokey’. And Doc managed to scrounge up 11 shells for the huge weapon that was often mounted on the heaviest of Ork vehicles. Like all Ork weapons, it would make a deafening amount of noise, and hopefully very large holes in other racers and their rides.

I explained what I was looking for in extra personnel as we picked up supplies for 10, just in case. “For the Buggy, I want veterans who know how to handle themselves… someone who can drive and someone who can shoot… and if both can do both, even better. For the Bikes, I want small fast orks who know how to shoot one handed and drive with the other… or throw wrenches one handed.”

“Oh! Youz wantin Lootas for da bikes. Deyz havin’ Deef Cannons!” I asked, and discovered that Lootas were Ork thieves, often equipped with shoulder mounted cannons that they could fire without needing to put a hand to the weapon at all. We picked up two of them, Toof-Snatcha (yes, Taka and Snatcha… wonderful… no relation) and Muffin da Destroya (I got nothing), and two Skarboys (Veterans of the Ork Wars) named FISTMASHA BOB (yelled at full volume or not at all) and Buzzsaw Da Buzzkilla (kinda a downer, but on our side)… and even a quartet of Homing Squigs.

What, I’m sure you’re asking, is a Homing Squig? Imagine a two legged porcine ball with a gaping maw and almost no brain. And no interest in politics. That’s a Squig. There are thousands of varieties. A Homing Squig is one of those breeds of squig that is very fast… and has a very large bomb strapped to its back.  Toss a homing scent that smelled like Squiggy’s mom on a rival driver’s vehicle and…. booooom.

Once we’d spent all the Teef Akab had given me, we headed back to the Dust Rat’s lair and unloaded, making introductions and getting everyone stowed and ready for the race. The Lootas took the bikes on a short ride to get used to them and the Warbuggy was… shaved a bit to fit in the bay… not the launch bay, the Magnet’s bay. We’d have to use the magnet to bring the buggy back on board or deploy it. Veltren and Doc Teeftaka spent most of the night arguing until I told both to sack out and get ready for the dawn.

And so, as the light of day began to creep over the horizon, I got a look at the other teams and the start of the race. It was, of course, a madhouse. I also did a little pre-race preparation.

Team Toppa got sent a case of Greenskin beer that had been liberally spiked with something guaranteed to make their reaction times much better for about 20 minutes before knocking them out for at least 8 hours after that. They’d end up stalled in the desert when the engine fell out of their ramshackle car.

Snidely (Who was busy sabotaging The Mystery Racer’s ride) and Baus (an Orky prettyboy who looked like a green but otherwise extremely handsome human male) got their vehicles scent marked… and Doomrider… who, it turns out was the Slaaneshi version of Ghostrider (does cocain, head is on fire, was a daemon)… I traced a ward circle into the ground ahead of his vehicle, scent marked it, sent him 3 kilos of hallucinogenic fungal powder, and traced a small warp glyph on his engine which would eventually get hot enough to glow in a pattern that should, in theory, summon a Khornian Bloodletter (smaller and less totally bugfuck psycho than a Bloodthirster).

As for Da Krusha… I didn’t do anything to him. He was going to be even slower than we were. I’d figure something out when we were on the way back and he was approaching the other way.

That left Speedy. He would have to deal with our Lootas and guns.

The crowd at the starting line was insane.  Then again, so were the drivers… myself included, I’d hazard a guess. Madness incarnate, that was Orks for you. I honestly had no idea how good the SSV was or how good a driver Veltren was or, in fact, how good of a driver/shooter/whatever any of the others were. I assumed that Speedy and Da Squig were top notch, because somehow they’d gotten names that were linked to Earth figures known for their racing prowess. But who could say?

As the sun began to rise over the desert landscape, the banner waver waved and the race began… in theory. In actuality, the brawl began. Guns, cannons, axes, and garbage cans loaded with crazed squigs were levelled against the other teams as those in front lept to an early lead (and put giant targets on their backs), while the rest either hung back like sane individuals, had engine trouble like people who’d been sabotaged, or tried to kill each other and the audience like normal Orks. Fucking madhouse.

My plan was to skirt the melee entirely, so we’d been parked along the viewing area, a tarp covering our number until the flag fell, at which point we bulldozed the retaining wall and smashed into the course, ramming Speedy into the far wall so hard his vehicle split in half. If he was alive, he wasn’t going to get back into the race… but to make sure, I unloaded several rounds from the multi-laser into the underside of his car. “Not so speedy now, eh, Green Boy!?” I yelled, then winced as the massive Killkannon krumped and smoke enveloped us.

A moment later, bits and pieces of Da Krusha’s warmachine came poinging and spanging down from the sky and the flaming ruin rolled passed us as we managed to slew turn onto the course proper and begin accelerating toward the distant end of the skid. Ahead of us, Team Toppa’s ludicrous machine was burping along the track, barely under control as its rocket engine flamed… and died, the craft sputtering and veering out into the desert.

The Doomrider was a flaming ball of nightmares as he rolled forward, the wards eating away at his demonic craft even as he flamed through team after team, the blaze growing brighter and brighter as he picked up speed, rocketing past us and howling in insane words of power.

The massive bulk of the Slagshifta, a huge heavy-lift vehicle, swerved out of the way of the Doomrider’s hellride and plowed, head first, into a rock the size of the whitehouse at better than 40 kph. The Doomrider didn’t even notice. Instead, it continued to rocket down the stretch, bearing down on the Gretchen Revolutionary Committee’s wind-powered racer… I waited for the explosion… but when it came, it wasn’t because the GRC’s sailbarge had been hit, but rather because Burt & Dom had plowed head first into the Doomrider, apparently having lost control.

Ahead of us, Da Squig was pulling further and further ahead, as were Snidely, Baus, and The Mystery Racer. Behind us, the Snake Bit Boyz, an incredibly ugly Ork Nob called Shagnasty, and even the Slagshifta (dented but not daunted by the rock) were pulling ahead of the rest of the crowd.

I lay on the roof and sighted for the gunners, calling distances and windage as we gained speed, moving faster and faster. I was mostly worried about taking out the trio behind us before they could catch up… though I’d tried sniping Da Squig three times and missed disabling his beastly machine… probably because I could only vaguely guess what was powering it.

“Unleash the Squigs!” I commanded as Snidely and Mystery closed on each other and Baus slowed to make it through a sandbog up ahead. The squealing was… appalling. The explosions were gratifying… but when the dust cleared, somehow Mr Squiglash was still racing, while the Mystery Racer was a smoldering crater. Of Baus… we saw a wheel bouncing downfield as we plowed the flaming wreckage of his race-mobile into the bog.

Next I ordered out the Boys to cut Snidely’s fuel supply free, and watched, grimfaced, as we pumped laser blast after laser blast at the giant Squiggoth (think fungal elephant-pig) being used by team Snake Bite instead of a race-car… but the thing’s hide was dense enough that all we were managing was to confuse the poor thing. When I saw Snidely’s black racer stalled and smoking behind us, I smirked. The Lootas had done their job and were racing back towards us.

I frowned then as another black vehicle, this one a flatbed hauler, zoomed onto the course and, using a magnet that was the twin of the one on the SSV, scooped up Snidely’s disabled car and started rolling after us… I saw Mechboyz swarming across it and understood. No rulez… moving repair station. Not as fast as the racer, but he’d lose less ground this way.

I turned back to the front. I’d worry about Squiglash when he showed up again… and I saw, somehow, Team Toppa had caught up with us, their rockets flaming with hellish white-blue light. “Carwyn! We’re going out! Get in the Recce!”

“I’m already in the Recce… why are we…” she questioned as I lept into the back and had the smaller vehicle launched.

“We’re going to convince some Orks that they don’t want to continue racing today. I’m going to steer and you’re going to use your runestones to figure out what part of their vehicle we have to disable to get them out of the race!”

“This seems silly! Can’t we just shoot them?”

“No! We’re trying… I’m being paid to keep them alive, so I’m going to keep them alive as long as they’re not actively a threat to me or you.”

We utterly failed to figure out how to disable the Toppa Raca… I guess we weren’t orky enough.  Or weird enough. Or something. In the end, Carwyn projected an audiovisual illusion that convinced the idiots that they were having an argument and they managed to crash their rocket-car into a dune as they fought over the controls. Idiot orks.

And, of course, by the time we got back to the SSV, Snidely was back in the race, bearing down on us. I snarled as he tried to sideswipe our smaller vehicle… the one that had me and Carwyn in it to keep us from hooking back up with the main vehicle. I’d had enough of cheater boy. He was no Professor Fate and I was no Magnificent Lesley to let him live. I blasted his car with Bioelectricity and ended up in Carwyn’s lap as the Squiglash 2000 went up in a small atomic fireball. Woooooo My earsss. Carwyn has nice boobies when I’m concussed.

The explosion was enough to completely stun the Snake Bit Boyz’s Squiggoth, so it burrowed into the ground and refused to come out again. The blast also sent the Slagshifta off course, into another massive rock, but this impact was enough to cause several wheels and axles to snap free of the giant ore-hauler and it was pretty much out.

Now it was just the vehicles ahead of us…. Or So I thought. There was a whoomp and Speedy Racer’s white and red Mock Foive just… appeared on the track behind us, blazing and swirling with eldritch fire… and it took me a moment to realize that, somehow, Speedy’s car and Doomrider had merged. The car was not doing well, as it had a massive and very angry Khornate Daemon on it ripping it apart, but it was burning down the track at an alarming speed. I just stared for a very long moment, then yelled “FISTMASHA! BUZZKILLA! Sic’m!” and hammered the arm to launch the warbuggy.

I left the terror behind us to the Scarboys and looked ahead to where we were finally gaining on the Gretchen Revolutionary Committee’s windpowered and ramshackle craft. I felt sorry for the little bastards, I really did… but I suspected that if they actually won, they’d be stomped. Orks are not big on social reform. I considered sending out the Lootas to take care of them, but instead I just had the laz-gun opened to maximum dispersal and burned off their sails. Berift of power, they slowed, shuddered to a stop… and fell over with a crashing crunching sound.

That left Da Squig ahead, Shagnasty and the Abomination behind… or so I thought.  At that moment, the SSV’s engine coughed, the massive vehicle shuddered from end to end… and we skidded sideways into the wall as we too lost power to the wheels.

“Veltren! Doc! Get us moving!” I yelled, then swore.  Fuck. Fuckity fucking fuck. “Come on C… we need to get out and… stall.”

“I thought we had already stalled?”

“Har. Har… no… you need to figure out where I need to shoot Da Squig’s car so it takes him out of the damned race.”

“Don’t we need to catch up with him in order for… why are we walking?”

“See that rock?” I pointed at a massive regolith about the height of a 15 story building.

“It’s hard to miss,” she snarked.

“Vantage Point. I figure from the top of that thing, I should be able to see the entire width of the Skid.”

“And?”

“Da Squig has to come back this way. We aren’t catching up with him before he rounds the Row. We’re fifty klicks from the Row ourselves. The Squig hasn’t lapped us yet… but it can’t be long.”

“Oh… makes sense… wait…” She yelped as I grabbed her with one arm and told her to hold onto my back as I transformed my hands and feet into large claws… then I scrambled up the basalt pillar, toting Eldar and Heavy Bolter along. Grrr.. I are ripped!

Atop the lookout rock, I was able to survey a fair distance in all directions, and by focusing my eyes I could make out pretty much everything worth seeing. We’d been passed by Shagnasty and the Abomination Mobile now, and of the other teams, I could see nothing but roiling dust. I had no way of knowing what teams remained, but as far as I knew, only three teams were ahead of us for the time being.

I pulled out the coms and hissed “How’re the repairs coming?”

Veltren yelled back “We blew the main power transfer coil! We should be able to get it fixed in two hours?”

“Doc? Help Veltren. You’ve got 30 minutes!” I looked to Carwyn “Well? How’s it coming?”

She was huddled over her runes, studying them very closely. “You… you’ll have to shoot him. The Car won’t stop.”

“Great. Wonderful. I really don’t want to murder him just because he’s beating us in a race. Seems… unsporting.”

“You don’t have to kill him. Just… shoot him in the shoulder as he crosses…” She looked around, then pointed at another rock, this one a chipped alabaster about the size of a size bus… it looked like m e like a sleeping frog… a very big sleeping frog at that.

“Good! Good! Give me two more shots. This guy’s been lucky as… what is that noise?”

I looked up and realized that the dust behind was growing thicker and, leading the dust, was a vehicle from the very back of the pack.  The Dirt Booma, driving by Groga Grotmasha and Kraga Skullcracka… with their gunner Dakka Dakkadakka. The Dirt Booma was a rocketsled and it was charging down the field at an alarming rate… headed straight for the TKO’d SSV. And then I heard the sound of the Squig’s engine… fuck. Two targets, enough time to get in position for one… “Carwyn… where do your runes say to hit him for maximum effect?”

She threw as I lined up on the white rock and adjusted my grip on the rock with my toes. I was counting down as the Squig roared onward and the Dirt Booma hammered the same into microquakes with the force of its passage. 10… 9… 8… 7… 6… 5…

“Shoot his luck token!” 2… 1… I breathed out as the bolt left the gun, cracking the air, punching through the windscreen, exploding the pair of white fuzzy dice that were hanging from his roof. The cockpit of his race was filled with a flurry of fluff and he jerked sideways, clipping the white rock and send shards of alabaster flying into the air to bounce almost high enough to hit us.

His vehicle spun, drunkenly, bucked, skewed across the Skid… and slammed, point first, into the Dirt Booma, driving the rocketsled into the wall two hundred yards up-skid from where the SSV rested. There was a scream of pain over the radio.

“What happened?”

“Yer Umie Weird Boy caught ona ‘is wormy bitz inna wrench, in’it?” Doc said, dryly.

“Great. Wonderful. GET THE ZOGGIN SSV MOVING YOU GROTS OR I’LL SMASH YER HEADS in For Ta Make Soup fer my Sprogs, RECKIN?!!”

“Koor… no need ta swear, missus. We gotcha.”

Carwyn and I scrambled down to the SSV just as the engine coughed twice, then belched and roared back to life. Veltren was nursing his hand… it looked as if he’d broken his finger and Destraine was wrapping it.

“Didums huwt u’ms widdle finger?” I teased.

“It really hurts!” Veltren complained as Destraine laughed at him.

“Great. Don’t care. We need to be moving, and since you’re the driver, get driving!”

“I-”

“Veltren, look me in the eye and ask yourself if I look like I give a festering rat’s carcass if your finger hurts. We have a race to win and by all the Ruinous Powers and the Emperor Combined, I will, if you make us lose because of your boo-boo… build a giant robot out of spacemarines and use it to kick your ass from here back to Holy Terra. AM I CLEAR!”

He blanched, gulped, then scrambled into the driver’s seat. A moment later, the massive vehicle began moving, lumbering back up to speed with the slow ponderous grace of a blue-whale on roller-skates.

As we neared the end of the Skid, we saw a brawl between the Bloodthirster and Doomrider, the flaming remains of Speedy Racer’s car burning around them. Veltren gulped and looked like he was about to stear around the duo, but I just put my hand on the wheel. “We don’t swerve for Chaos.” A moment later, the two were a smear on the sand behind us as the 40 tonne truck flattened both into so much oozing gore. Krumpa finished them off with a round from his Killcanon and we began the long turn round the Row, only one racer remaining between us and victory.

As we came on strong, burning the remaining fuel as fast as we dared, we began meeting the remaining racers come head on at us. Our guns blazed, blowing away the other teams before they could try and stop us and I, at last, understood completely the terrible beauty of the ork race. Civilized it wasn’t… but a brutal winnowing for the Waugh… very much so. Thankfully, they were slowing Shagnasty down more than they were slowing us and by the time we crossed the 3/4ths mark we were back in sight of the Nob and his killcruiser.

I took the arm to full extension, getting as much height as I could and aiming the lazer down at the beast, trying to target as I swayed back and forth at the end of my jouncing bouncing pillar. Finally, I just closed my eyes and, praying to the universe in general… unleashed a full power barrage at the wall above where I thought he’d be in 20 seconds time. The massive energy blasts tore the compressed bedrock apart, sheering stones the size of cars off and dropping them in front of Shaggy’s path.

He slowed and swerved. It was much, but it was enough. Within moments, we were alongside. I thought we’d made it, but sparks were coming off the arm and it took me a moment to realize it was rapid bolter fire, ripping away at the heavy machinery. I grabbed my com and yelled “Toof-Snatcha… Come pick me uuuuup!” as the arm gave way and I plummeted towards the sand and rock far below, my skin hardening and expanding as I inhaled to make an improvised air cushion around my internal organs. I relaxed my entire body, falling back first. Cats could land on their feet, but the safest landing position is back first, especially if your back is armored.

I bounced, rolling into a ball in the air, flipping over, still going close to 70kph, then landed, indeed, on my hands and feet, my legs already having transitioned to running mode as I took off after Shagnasty and the SSV, burning calories like mad until the bike-riding Toofsnatcha circled around and scooped me up.

“Wotcha Boz? Back ta da Race, figur?”

“Bugger that. Get me close ta da nob what dropped me. We’z gon have wordseeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…” I gasped as the Dust Rat bike roared off to catch up with the Killcruisa, my claws growing longer, legs growing stronger… and as we pulled even with Shagnasty’s vehicle I leaped. I pulled my Shuriken Catapult off my hip and, pressing it against the back of the chugging smoking engineblock… unloaded then entire clip into it on spreadfire. The killcruisa bucked, slewed… and, as I leapt clear once more… flipped sideways and smashed, roof / head first, into the skid at 72kph… I swear that that section will probably be renamed the Smear.

From there, it was smooth and easy sailing. No one was left in our way and we cruised up to the finishline looking dusty and crusty and grinning tusk to tooth. Abak was waiting, looking utterly pimptastic and was just so thrilled he almost was coherent.  It was nice.

I took my leave of the ork, who was nice enough to give a handheld link device that Doc says will ‘tellyport’ me back to Mektown and its markets at will, wherever I may be. They weren’t exactly convinced that the Tellyporta Array would be survivable for non-orks… so instead I took the Gitfinda targetting system instead… The massive weirdtech would probably quadruple the range and double the effectiveness of the targeting matrix of Light’s sensors… if only I could replicate the madness… ah well.

After that… Carwyn and I were hosted to a victory celebration at the local AdMech pyramid and I extended my welcome and offered to send a ship to pick up all 40,000 survivors and to integrate those willing to serve into my fleet and to resettle those who preferred to work planetside.

The fact that they’d all have to go through decontamination and a complete medical… that didn’t even slow them in their rush to sign up. It really was a miserable world… but it was a fine day at the races, I’ll tell you that.

Next: Light of Terra, Part 5

If you like what I do, please consider supporting me on Patreon

I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in progress here. Please Check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too.

Resources: BuildDocument

 

Author’s Notes

Once again, the design required a creative approach, but this time for a completely ridiculous reason. Nothing on offer in this section is particularly awesome… but it’s a load of fun and so I designed the build to reflect that. I actually gamed out the race, and gave every team stats and rolled for them. Of course, this being an Ork Race, I cheated outrageously.

There isn’t a drawback section for this DLC, but rather a ‘Rival Drivers’ section. Each other team is worth a few more Teef, and I took 1550 Teef worth of them, over and above the starting 3000… that said, it really doesn’t make much sense to standardize Teef prices with Orks so I didn’t do any such thing in the writing. I mixed in stuff the team I already had with stuff I could scrounge or that Doc Teeftaka could finagle for me. I came very close to losing. The Squig made every damned roll until the very very last one.

I won’t go into detail on what I bought. THere isn’t much point. But I will comment on who I decided to race. Team Toppa I took because I love Top Gear. Simple as that. Da Krusha and Baus I took because I could easily defeat them. Ditto Bert & Dom. Da Speedy Race, Doomrider, and Snidely because they each provided a unique challenge. I added in Shagnasty as an homage to Dresden, but also because I wanted a better tough-guy ugly-guy enemy than the Cyberjunky that was Da Krusha.

Thanks to my peeps at SB for providing the Ork Names. I’m terrible at naming them.

Omake: The 42 Septs of Paradise

Clan Kendrazane

  • Sept McClintock
  • Sept McClaine
  • Sept McCloud
  • Sept McAlister
  • Sept McDougal
  • Sept McVoltron
  • Sept McKean

Clan Velpetra

  • Sept Wiggin
  • Sept Sherlock
  • Sept Atreides
  • Sept Hawatt
  • Sept Poirot
  • Sept Marple
  • Sept Fletcher

Clan Anamelia

  • Sept Harrington
  • Sept Hornblower
  • Sept Leery
  • Sept Nelson
  • Sept Aubrey
  • Sept Janeway
  • Sept Vorkosigan

Clan Joyhab

  • Sept Connan
  • Sept Tarzan
  • Sept Bond
  • Sept Flint
  • Sept Harkness
  • Sept Carter
  • Sept Blackadder

Clan Zigsoffi

  • Sept Rodan
  • Sept Gamera
  • Sept Gojira
  • Sept Ghidorah
  • Sept Mothra
  • Sept Gigantor
  • Sept Megalon

Clan Franjay

  • Sept Tiamat
  • Sept Baphomet
  • Sept Zizz
  • Sept Jormungandr
  • Sept Typhon
  • Sept Bahamut
  • Sept Jasconius