The Cybernetics of the Hydra
¤/¤ Confidential ¤/¤ ……… High Administrator of the 373rd Expedition fleet.
Jaccobio Orsso ……………… Surveillance and Security Control Officer.
Rozeff Rivera ……………….. Lower decks CCTV operative.
The “Acquirement” Battleship of the 373rd Expedition fleet
Alana Von Ravensburg ………… Captain of the “Acquirement”
Aural Impash ……………………Techanic from Voodan Prime and local legend.
The Adeptus Mechanicus
Skoal ………………………… Emissary from Stygies VIII
The XII Legion ‘World Eaters’
Egar ………………………… Captain, First Auxiliary Assault Company
The XX Legion ‘Alpha Legion’
Alpharius ………………………… Primarch of the XX Legion
Thomas Prinailua ………………..s Operative
John Ems ………………………….Operative
The Cybernetics of the Hydra
How does a multi-headed reptile think?
Would they jump on you when in a brink?
With the first one, the second, and then the third
Treason is their game, and they will have you served
A single head can fall but they’ll endure
Beyond the shadows they’ll plot, be assured
From the Alpha to the Omega, hear them say
The Alpha Legion is here to stay
Remembrancer of the “Acquirement” Battleship, 373rd Expedition Fleet
The orbital scenery of Voodan Beta was a beautiful balance between humankind and stellar nature. At least that is what Alana Von Ravensburg was thinking, lost in the magnificence of the planetscape. She was wearing her fitness training suit, Alana liked to train close combat at this particular time. From the captain’s day cabin, Alana had a privileged view for a couple of hours a day. Nothing better than to unwind with practical exercises and a beautiful view she used to think. The beauty wasn’t only given by the colors inherent to the Voodan system. The gases or the prismatic atmospheres present in its planets and moons where only part of its splendor. It was the proportions and the composition of the space-scape that captured her mind. These recently discovered planets didn’t have an artificial ring around their atmosphere yet. Although commerce was abundant and diverse, the space around didn’t feel crowded nor saturated with artifacts. The system star’s light shining through the edge of Voodan Beta and its moon’s atmospheres was accompanied by many small ships flying around. In front of them, taking center piece in her panoramic, the 373rd fleet stood at peace. Out there, and even in her own battleship, the legions celebrated their recent “victory”. The losses required substantial repair and provisions. This is what completed Captain Alana’s majestic panoramic view. Among the large ships you could see the little ones swarming around. Merchants and Administratum ships moving like insects from and toward the planet.
Behind Captain Alana Von Ravensburg stood a line of officers wearing their training suits. The group of officers was collection from all the battleship’s staff sections. It included all leaderships and other of her confidants. She made them train with her every day. Whenever asked about this, she would say it is how she made sure they kept the battle flame alive during training.
The door opened and Jaccobio entered with one shoe in his hand. He apologized and stopped to remove the other shoe, put it aside, and run to formation in the line with the other officers. The mood wasn’t tense. The officers were Captain Alana’s inner circle, and you could tell. Now that everyone knew who their captain’s sparring partner would be, the room was even joyful.
“Shall I, Captain?” asked Jaccobio Orsso, always understanding his duty.
“Proactive and swift. Let’s see if your body can catch up with your quick-witted brain, Jacobi.” said the superior.
They both walked to the center of the room. As they reached the center, Jaccobio stood immediately in battle stance. Jaccobio was surprised that the captain was in front of him, but again staring through the large windows.
“It feels me with rage, Jacobi. And this goes to everyone.” she said in a serious tone. The same that she uses when grim commands or punishments are delivered. Jaccobio felt a cold tickling in the bottom of his spine.
“What happened in our last mission was not a success. I would personally feel hurt if you join these vain celebrations. Abide to the narrative of victory only to keep operations going, but don’t believe it. And prevent your own confidants from believing it. The massacre imposed to our fleet was preventable.” She paused for a second. “We now have the evidence. The Alpha Legion’s recklessness has hurt us more than duty can hold.” she said firmly.
The security officer was shocked to hear that from the captain. Would she abandon duty? Why would she say this? What if one of us is a rat for the Alpha Legion? Thoughts kept coming to Jaccobio’s brain.
“Sometimes, the lack of discipline and honor corrupts duty.” continued the captain. “So never put one over the other; and remember to leave aside the one that fails.” she spoke.
The room was silent. Alana decided to go the point and stop justifying her actions.
“War is based on losses. As the Stygian say, it is known. But any loss is measured in perspective from something else. From where I stand, my friends, this is treason. Disproportionate loss without a justification. And now we have what we need to prove it.” continued the captain.
“And how wil…” Jaccobio’s question interrupted.
With only a single and precise push Jaccobio lost balance and fell on his ass. The captain instinctively smiled with her sorrowful face. He was immediately standing up.
“I’m sorry, Captain.” He raised his guard. This attempt at correcting his martial mistake was enough to make her get serious.
“It is me who is sorry, Jacobi. I’m starting to behave like them now! Alpharius’ vermin!” she was getting mad again. She stood in battle stance and nodded to a tall white-haired official. The tall woman counted down to begin the sparring.
“Three, two, one, go!”
In a blink, she was leaping towards Jaccobio. She didn’t cheat, she jumped as soon as the veteran officer had said ‘go’. The predictable path of Jaccobio’s blocking arm facilitated her move. After a second, she was pinning the officer down with all her weight.
“Them snakes!” she shouted. Jaccobio struggled in vain, and she released the lock.
Another count down. Another beating. Jaccobio tapped the floor desperately this time.
“Ok, Jacobi. That’s enough for today”.
He went back to the circle of officers. He was hurting but relieved. The losses their community had suffered were too painful to forget. Hearing that Captain Alana was boiling with the right weapon, made him feel rallied. As a security officer all this felt reassuring, both personally and professionally. She may be rough around the edges and the core. But there wasn’t a doubt for Jaccobio. He felt safer with Alana than with any other leader he had served.
After the training there were intense briefs for the leaderships. In charge of the internal security and control of the “Acquirement”, Jaccobio had to make a lot of errands and arrangements for the XXth Legion. This time, orders were received to assist the case of Aural Impash. A longtime hero of the 373rd fleet, not a soldier but a leader of men, although surprisingly fit for battle. Rumors aboard told that Aural Impash had died. But, as everything else with the Hydra fellows, the mist of secrecy was too thick. Nevertheless, Captain Alana Von Ravensburg and her crew had considered him dead a long time ago.
“Jacobi, make sure you tie down the legionnaire’s loose ends.” ordered Alana.
“Yes, Captain!” said Jaccobio with the proper salute.
As he left the captain’s day cabin, he didn’t know exactly what to do. He walked confident because in the end it didn’t matter. A lot of his work was now easier, as he had lost much of his autonomy as an officer. He reported directly to Captain Alana, but he couldn’t reject any order coming from the Alpha Legion. So, he got used to rest his faith on the Alpha Legion’s own organization and logistics. He had hated it at first but had surrendered as months went by. But now, after the meeting with the captain, he had reasons to question the legionnaire’s leadership again. The XXth legion had been clear about the basic way of operations. Intriguing and untrustworthy as they may be, their approach was usually very simple. His own work had been reduced to automatically abiding by some few rules. He was now walking down the corridors of the “Acquirement” battleship, diligently making his way to the corner where one emerald armor was making guard. He looked up trying to have some eye contact. At least look the space marine into his helmet’s red eye-visors. Even though Jaccobio was a big man, he couldn’t compare to the inhuman proportions of the Astartes. The metahuman warriors in ceramic armor were the ultimate soldier of fortune.
“Sir,” he said timidly at first, then he raised his voice “we want to comply with your needs on Aural Impash.” he saluted the marine with firm raised hand next to his peaked cap. “If you could..”
“Follow me.” interrupted the armored giant.
The huge soldier began sprinting through the corridor behind him. Jaccobio followed him, hurting from the training with the captain. For such a bulk of ceramic plates, the marine moved fast. And, for some reason, making considerably less noise than he would have expected.
Fatigated after a couple of minutes he stopped in a corridor crossing. He had lost the marine and didn’t know where to go. He slouched looking down, hands on his knees, sweating. A tap on his arm startled him.
“This is the complete order.” said the marine. The Alpha legionnaire provided an encrypted data by a neuro-link. “It will automatically delete itself in six hours.”
“Thank you, Sir.” Said Jaccobio. Ignoring his lousy and sweaty appearance. “Ave Imperator.” he concluded.
“Walk now! And be quick.” said the marine.
Jaccobio turned around and did so. The encrypted data was minimal, so it was clear that the original order was edited. He was ordered to erase some security camera footage and to talk with Aural Impash’ widow, make sure she wouldn’t spread inappropriate information. Not falsehoods, those were the habit now with Alpha Legion aboard the “Acquirement”. What they wanted is to buy her, to have her willingly on their side. He would need a shower before fulfilling this errand.
Once he was reasonably far from the marine, he relaxed and started to walk gracefully as he usually did. He was proud to be the Security and Control Officer. He walked down the corridors filled with hope. He could act the part, but he saved his rancor as many others did. Power can submit, and the titanic force of the Emperor’s legions seemed to be boundless. The 373rd fleet was composed by ships with Alpha Legion, or XXth, and the World Eaters, the XIIth legion. He was grateful not to have been chosen for the twelfth. The twentieth legion was a cradle of snakes, but the World Eaters bluntly honored their name. They were ravenous, outspoken, and unscrupulous. They maimed and killed enemies and allies alike in the heat of battle, not their brothers but supporting companies of the Imperial Army. Compared with them, the Alpha Legion seemed sophisticated and clever. They probably were, but they also had an absolute disregard for their human fellows. He had seen it with his own eyes.
Jaccobio’s big body barely fit the stretch shower in his cabin. This moment was his favorite. He could freely cry and let the tears disappear. All his rage flowed in frustration. The memories of battle were too fresh. He was only a ship officer, who had the wrong idea that he would never see combat first-hand. The Alpha Legion had sent him on several battles to regain Voodan Beta. He remembered being in the front line, always hidden in the trenches. The crisp recollection of him standing behind the blue and green armors, the marines shooting their boltguns frantically, he was all pissed and shaking. Among all the death and panic, a single image crept to the bottom of Jaccobio. That feeling that the shower could never wash away. It was when one of the marines decided to take a turret and shoot for an incoming air strike by himself. He ran to the gun turret, capturing Jaccobio’s attention with the gracious sprint. As the Alpha Legionnaire got to the turret, he pointed his boltgun to the soldier manning it. The human looked at him in disconcert, he immediately knew what was going on. Before the marine pulled the trigger, the soldier released the turret in shock. The shot was not aimed at his head, but his chest. Once the special boltgun had fired, Jaccobio saw the upper torso of the soldier disappear. A splatter of limbs and blood fell back, and the rest of the body was pushed away by the marine. All with the same grace, the marine had run, shot, and hopped on the gun turret with smooth cold movements. This time the memory was different. A new feeling of hope had touched him again.
“You will see, snakes.” he mumbled to himself. “Captain Alana has got you now!”
She sat silently at the other side of the table, fully aware that she couldn’t trust her guest; or anyone alive in the marshlands of Voodan. As most people at some part of their lives, Tabatha believed she had seen it all. She saw herself as a tough-skinned brave mother. She had lost some of the boldness of her youth, that was true. But this was merely because the new lifestyle didn’t require being bold. In practical matters, her willingness to disregard rules never really paid off, but she still considered her guts as a secret weapon. So, Tabatha thought that she had seen it all, lived it all, and plowed through it all. She was right, until last night. A deep treason had severed her few links with reality, the ties of love and family had been cut. Luckily, she was still young enough not to deny this. Her mind didn’t have to accommodate the fact that she had been played and used, she understood clearly. The feeling of a deep dark void within her had brought memories of her first broken heart. Although profoundly hurt, it was not her feelings what distraught Tabatha; it was her thoughts. She needed to make sense of everything, and her time was running short.
“Everybody lies, you know?” said her guest, a sizable officer who had surrendered to the complacency of the Imperium’s bureaucratic life.
“Does he do anything but lie?” she growled.
“We all lie, Tabatha. Aren’t you a bit old for me to tell this?” mocked the officer.
“I don’t understand why you come here, then.”
“I am here to see that everything is fine with you, Tabatha. That the household of our honorable late Aural Impash will not go to ruin. And, of course, I am here to make sure that you understand that what you know about your departed husband is valuable for us.” the man stopped to take a sip of coffee. Jaccobio Orsso didn’t like coffee really, but he would accept anything he would be offered as a guest. He was playing the part of a harsh imperial officer, attempting to intimidate her and accelerate the process. He only wanted to go back to his real work supervising the internal security of the battleship.
“I don’t belong here. We will be traveling to Prime in the next…”
“I’m not done.” interrupted the security officer. “We know about your plans and your family in Voodan Prime. Your authorization has been revoked. You and your child will wait here until further instructions.” he emptied the cup with a single swallow and walked to the door. “It has been an honor. Thank you for the delicacies.”
He opened the door and the whole inner dome’s mutter of communal life flooded the apartment. There were two guards waiting outside Tabatha’s place. A second before closing the door behind him, the man turned back, his head poking out the door. “And again, Mrs. Impash; my most deep condolences to your family. Aural Impash will be remembered for the great man he was”.
After shutting the door behind him, silence reined back into Tabatha’s central room. Anger flowed within her, but the frustration had to wait. The sound of her daughter sobbing in the next room was the only thing she could hear. While comforting her child, she would clarify the suspicions and find out what happened to her husband.
A Captains’ meeting
The meeting was scheduled in the office of the High Administrator. Jaccobio was waiting with the other security officers in a separated platform, below the floor of the room center. Their direct superior, Captain Alana Von Ravensburg, waited stoically in the central platform. There was a small round table in the middle, and only one big chair at the periphery of the larger platform. She had been standing in silence right on the scheduled time. A few minutes later, the Administrator entered through the main door in the rear; a direct access to his study and bedroom. Slowly he approached his chair in the edge of the central platform. He walked fast for a man his age, and he never stopped listening to the updates listed by a clerk behind him. Jaccobio pitted the poor adeptus, such a tedious labor. The Administrator raised a hand, and the clerk silently left the room.
“Morning, Captain Von Ravensburg.” said the High Administrator. “It seems our spirit brothers are running late as expected.” his smile only coming from the lower half of his face. The Administrator was an old man, too tired for charades. His attempt to be cordial was merely because social protocols are part of the job. And anything that was part of its duty, was essential for the old man. This was one of the few things he shared with the Astartes. Whenever in their company, he never failed to remark that only in death does duty end.
“Good morning, High Administrator.” said Captain Alana, nothing more.
Not a minute later the Administrator opened his pocket watch. Jaccobio appreciated his hurry. Similar to the Administrator, Jaccobio was a dutiful man, though he didn’t appreciate the attending of meetings as a fruitful activity.
“Send for those war maniacs!” ordered the old man in the chair.
“Those of us that are to be here, already are.” said a modulated voice that captured the gaze of most participants. Out of thin air, a tall and fully armored marine appeared walking from one of the modular platforms. The armor color, as the true nature of the Alpha Legion, seemed to shift, changing between blue and green all the time. Jaccobio and a few others, including Captain Alana, were baffled before their fooled perception. Their trickery borders the magical and sinister. Snakes! Rotten snakes! thought Jaccobio, the usual anger crawling. He was standing next to the assistant of the battleship’s astrotelepath, she bowed in front of Jaccobio to capture his attention with a cold stare. He felt the psychic warning, it came like of his own volition. As a practical and operational individual, Jaccobio usually forgot the depths of those skilled on the beyond. He did the best attempt at silencing his incriminatory thoughts.
On this mishap, Jaccobio’s attention dwindled. His mind now rejoined what was discussed by the higher officials of the ship. Captain Alana, standing directly in front of him, immediately took his interest. He was mostly attracted by the emotional and eloquent argument presented.
“And thus, I would like to officially request that the massacre in the outer rings of the Voodan system is revised.” concluded the captain. She fiercely looked at the legionnaire with emerald armor.
“That matter is closed, sister. Is that all?” said the Alpha Legion emissary.
“Don’t be a fool, captain.” replied the Administrator. The Alpha Legion was secretive even in the higher spheres of the Empire’s hierarchy. And so, even in this room they weren’t sure about the identity and rank of their emissaries. The highest rank in the ship was expected to be a Company captain, so they treated any emissary as the ‘captain’.
“Although this has been addressed and decided before, the very point of this meeting is to reconsider. Correct, Captain Alana?” added the old man pseudo-smiling to her once more.
“Yes, High Administrator. Would you deliver on this? Or should we raise this to higher authorities?” asked her with outmost neutrality.
“I may interrupt.” affirmed the legionnaire. “This would not be tolerated. As per the commands of our Emperor, only other company captains of the Crusade should decide on these expedition fleet matters.”
“Do you have a document to back your words, Alpha marine? And have in consideration that I am the Captain of the Acquirement.” howled Captain Alana.
“Don’t bring your toy navy titles to the table. Legion is the only authority we will abide. Priest! Make a request to communicate with Captain Irriak.” said the Alpha Legion captain to an adept of the Mechanicus beside him.
Jaccobio felt the tension in the air. It wouldn’t end up in physical violence, but it was common to get into verbal abuses. This would only stir the pot, create more nuisances and inefficiencies in his work. It felt weird that Captain Alana and the High Administrator didn’t refute the legionnaire’s request. But it had some logic, Alana wouldn’t go beyond what the Administrator would allow; and the old man understood the reality of the legion’s authority. Suddenly a projection flashed in one side of the central platform, in front of the Administrator’s chair. Another legionnaire appeared in the screen, fully armored and proudly wearing the colors of the World Eaters, the distinctive white body and blue shoulder armor. As he appeared in screen, they saw how he was reading the summary of the meeting so far. Jaccobio rejoiced thinking that the Administratum’s tedious work managed to save time on some occasions. The legion captain in the projected screen replied.
“The Emperor’s time is valuable, old man. You should rule this disorder, clean up the way for the emperor’s champions. No reconsideration. Death is part of the deal, Alana. Stop whining.” The transmission stopped suddenly. The brute figure of the World Eaters captain disappeared from the projection. And stayed only in Alana’s raging eyes.
The Alpha Legion representative was already exiting through the door. The meeting was over.
It had been a long night. Skoal was tired of moving broken parts of servitors all day. It was a gruesome labor, moving torsos, legs, or combinations of body parts. When he was struggling with a large and greasy thigh, he had the bad luck of crossing the team lead. Skoal’s legs shaking from the weight made his movement slow as usual.
“How are we hanging, fluffy butt?” said Aurelio, the team leader and Skoal’s new instructor.
“Do… iing… good… Sir” struggled the novice technician. He disliked the new pseudonym, for much appropriate it really was.
“What did I tell you about such formalities, little one?” remarked the instructor with a playful severity. “Come on, fluffy. Leave those thighs there and get moving. Take the electronic kits, we will rewire the census servitors. You could use the break, eh?” he claimed as he spanked him. The whole team in the census bay rejoiced in laughter.
The thought of such an inappropriate behavior was becoming a habit for Skoal. This wasn’t the first that Aurelio had behaved in such an archaic fraternal way. Skoal had been in the census bay for a little longer than a week and he was still the newest addition. In the few moments they had been alone, Aurelio didn’t appear to be such a dominant macho. Skoal concluded this was part of his act, a very successful leadership act. The team was a bunch of local young men from the Voodan bourgeois. You would expect some manners from them, but there is no proper way to judge an industrial society.
“Do you take that much time when in bed too? The ladies must love you!” the census bay shook in laughter once again. The act went both ways, the crew also performed as duly assistants and laughed at every single joke.
“Sorry sorry.” said Skoal. “I’m ready to go, sir. Aurelio! I’m ready to go, Aurelio.”
“Good! The pack of servitors that need maintenance are in the launch-bay. We will also rescue some broken ones in the sub-levels.” he said while strapping a large backpack.
They left the census bay in the Enginerium and walked towards the elevators. Aurelio had lost his alpha male smirk and kept a casual and honest conversation as they walked. Skoal preferred him like this.
Aurelio was a charismatic fellow. He did not miss a single opportunity to socialize with each tripulant of the “Acquirement”. When they got into the elevator, Skoal was relieved to finally be alone with Aurelio and cut the socialization. The feeling was short, interrupted by a huge blueish armor that filled the whole elevator. The two organic figures squeezed into the corners.
“Good morning, Alpharius.” said Aurelio with a goblin face, looking extraordinarily comfortable. Skoal’s curiosity and panic clashed as he waited for the space marine’s response. He wanted to see what happened. Is he really Alpharius? Why would the Primarch of the Alpha Legion would be taking such a gritty elevator? If he clearly is not the Primarch, then wouldn’t this be some sort of insult? Such train of thought was moving into the conclusion that panicking was the correct choice. If the Astartes got pissed off and decided to kill Aurelio, he would die just as collateral damage.
The huge armored meta-human turned slightly and looked over his shoulder. The glossy red of his helmet eyes had an intermittent light within them. He nodded. After a second, he slowly moved to his original stand.
Skoal couldn’t hear clearly, the elevator grinds were too noisy. “Funny one, Aurelio.” he thought the marine had said.
“Just making the most of the day. I wish you have a great one.” shouted Aurelio with his goblin smile.
The elevator stopped, the Astartes got down and returned the precious personal space that Skoal needed. He did this without letting go the elevator’s doorframe. Once he was ready to let go, he looked again at Aurelio.
“We enjoy your presence in the battleship; so, keep your wits upon you. And even though not all of us have the same humor, we are all Alpharius.” he had released the door so when he finished talking the encounter forcibly ended.
Aurelio went pale and mute. Sharing any information was a gift if it came from the Alpha Legion. Secrecy was their prerogative and predicament. He realized that this declaration of friendship was also implying he should reconsider his behavior with Aurelio.
The silence was interrupted by the rowdy cogs of the mechanical elevator moving again. Although Aurelio seemed gravely affected by his interaction with the Legionnaire, he appeared to be back to his characteristic composure. He smiled and nodded at Skoal seconds before the elevator stopped and doors opened.
“After you, little one.” he said with a friendly face. After they had moved far away from the crowd waiting at the elevators, Aurelio resumed their conversation.
“I bet you have a couple of questions in that little head of yours, eh?”
“Re-check your equipment, once we are in the narrow service corridors we can talk liberally.” said Aurelio, and Skoal knew exactly what he meant.
Friends with psychopaths
It had been a while since they started working, abandoned in the silence of concentration. They were in the sub-level vents, no sentient life around. Then, after they got used to the solitude, Aurelio decided to respond to Skoal’s question.
“I am friends with the Alpha Legion because I work with them.” said Aurelio with what seemed the first honest expression of emotion, proudness. Skoal stared him for a moment and then looked back to the servitor he was fixing.
“Do you believe they trust you?” said the novice technician.
“They don’t seem to understand that word as verb, boy. There is no trusting among the masters of secrecy.”
Skoal understood he wasn’t the wittiest pup in the cub, but he hated when someone knowingly condescends him, particularly when it was obvious that he already knew this. Everyone knows that the Alpha Legion lives in shadows beyond even the Emperor’s awareness, stop fooling around thought Skoal. Then he simply added.
“You know what I mean.”
“Hey hey, little boy. It is important for you to know that the stereotype of extreme secrecy goes beyond than a masterful cloak and dagger.” responded Aurelio, noticing the triggering sentiments from Skoal.
“Beyond how? Different in what sense to the common understanding?” asked the novice.
“Let’s say I don’t trust them, they don’t trust me, and you also shouldn’t trust. But you asked why we were friends with an Astartes from the XXth Legion, right? Well, before I explain it is important to know that we are not friends. But I do know what you mean. I can’t tell one from another so you can’t really begin relationships with them, you know. I think there are a couple of them that interact with me more frequently, I call them Adam and Bob. Still is kind of hard to tell them apart! Around five years ago one of them reached out to me, presented himself as the Primarch and proceeded to assign me to several projects. Clearly, even if this interlocutor was a fake and he was the lowest of their legion, I still didn’t have a choice to say no. I kept working on whatever they assigned me to, always with the most engineered secrecy. They have valued that I do, I learn quick and remain unseen. Those are skills natural to you too, so watch out.”
Skoal’s expression was the only reaction that Aurelio needed.
“I haven’t told this to another soul. I’m talking because I know who you are, Skoal. The drop-out student of the Xeno-anthropology School at the Unitas University from Stygian Prime. And it is now imperative that what I know, you should know too.”
Security and Control Center
“I simply cannot understand how they expect us to work with the twentieth legion, officers. No matter what we do, their obscure and cryptic ways find a way to mess it up! Captain Alana will kill me when she hears that we lost a whole cargo at six hundred hours.” complained Jaccobio. Or as his crewmen knew him Controller Orsso, ten years in command of the surveillance operations. Jaccobio turned this a daily habit after lunch; he went on blabbing away with the latest incident he had to fix. Yesterday, a squad had taken the wrong ship when deploying for a special operation.
They all stood in an elevated platform in the control room. It was a bright area with several windowpane; it was consequently clean too. Jaccobio stood looking at the main projectors while a tech-priest performed a daily ritual beside him. Two ranking officers sat in their stations. Feder, logistics supervisor, and Rozeff, closed-circuit monitoring supervisor, were Jaccobio’s right hand. They mostly relayed orders from Jaccobio and briefed him with any difficulties. Both officers sat straight and mindful of their work panels. Feder had spent several years in that chair and had nourished the vertical relationship with Jaccobio. Rozeff didn’t, and under his personal experience it didn’t weigh any difference. Still, Feder felt that adulation was the road to glory. And so, he did not waste any single opportunity to elevate Jacob’s stance.
“You are right, Sir. I think these incidents should be reported properly, Sir. Particularly based on its periodicity and the considerable burden given to the operations of our ship.” said Feder.
“That would be nice.” said the Controller. After that, there was a second too long of extra silence. Feder looked away, back to his workstation, and then looked at Rozeff. His colleague read his face.
“Maybe it would be better if the priest wraps thing up first. Sir.” said Rozeff.
Jaccobio nodded. The priest focused on her chanting paid no attention to their secrecy. They revised other minor issues of the day. After a few minutes, the priest was gone.
“What is it?” said Jaccobio.
“It is the legionnaires, Sir. We have video records of a space marine of the twentieth legion abandoning his post. That would make him accountable for at least one of the transport ships during the operation.” Feder paused to let it sink in. The loss of three thousand and seventy-eight souls; all family and friends.
“Is this what was conveyed to Captain Alana this morning?” asked Jaccobio.
“Yes, I did, Sir. I’ve tried to get a secure communication with you.” the logistics supervisor shivered.
“I know. There is nothing to worry here, kid. A meeting was called and the decision stays. Flawless victory for the three hundred seventy third!”
“But they are wrong, Sir. They committed war crimes!” pressured Feder.
The Controller’s face turned sour. “Wrong, you say? Feder you should mind your words even in our privacy. Remember the ancestral saying: ‘Be like water’. Do you need me to say it again? The High Administrator, Captain Alana, the XXth legion captain, and Egar, from the World Eaters! And his madness was raging. If the nails take on him, it could be disastrous. So, if you keep pushing on this, Feder, you can choose between dying from a ravenous marine with a chain sword or poisoned in your sleep. Eaters or hydra we are to shut up now.”
They all stood in silence.
“I will not push, but I won’t stop informing you.” Feder sat down.
Rozeff felt scared. His usual denial was out of control after last month’s massacre. Jaccobio’s answer clicked something in him. This time it wasn’t frustration or despair, it was genuine fear. He had also seen footage of suspicious behavior. He was used to it after several months with the Alpha Legion. But he was now up to something rotten. Or at least, under the current situation, with the World Eaters overrunning the basic humanity of the “Acquirement”, the perverse footage was enough to trigger the panic. The panic shook his body and he excused himself to the restroom. Feeling a bit relieved, Rozeff washed his face and regain his posture. He needed to share this with Controller Orsso. They were in severe danger.
He reached out to grab a towel and dried up. In the reflection of the mirror, he saw the door bouncing against the wall and a huge cerulean marine stood in the frame. Rozeff couldn’t hear the voice from the intercom in the marine’s helmet, but he could hear the Alpha legionnaire loud and clear.
“Target confirmed.” said the marine.
He wanted to tell them “They are killing us! Right now. In the corridors, in front of our own eyes. They will kill us!”. But it was now too late. His body fell down squirting blood from the severed neck. Small blood dribs were spread on the room’s mirrors. Another marine came with inflammables and burned down the corridor and restrooms. Sadly, the closed-circuit supervisor was not there to check the cameras recording the crime. He would not be able to be at his desk when the marines would come to erase all evidence.
What happened to Aural Impash?
Aurelio told him all the details of his life after he met the “Primarch”. The pain he, his family, and his friends carried because of the demanding requirements of the Alpha Legion. Once Aurelio told him about what happened last month, Skoal stopped his tinkering and removed his spectacles. He was shocked by the severity of the damage he had caused.
“You are telling me that you faked your death without telling your family. And then, after the funeral and a month of grievance, you appear back home only to tell them this was all a farce. And to top it, you would still disappear from their lives. You did this and didn’t even mention a thing about the Astartes?” asked Skoal distrustfully.
“Part of the job. Not my idea to go back and tell them; I was ordered to.” replied Aurelio.
“Don’t you miss them? Can you even realize the pain that you inflicted?”
“Thank the Emperor, not my case. At least they now know that I’m alive!” said the foreman technician.
“From all the civilizations I’ve studied, I’d say that this is something that most of them would find sacrilegious. You know, against their sacred values or what not. They may be one or two out there that didn’t, there is always an exception. But overall, that doesn’t take away the reality that you are frecked up.” said Skoal. His face neutral with an honest expectation towards what Aurelio would say.
“Is that your professional opinion, boy?” laughed Aurelio.
Not knowing what to say, Skoal put the spectacles on again and resumed the precision tinkering. The complex arrangements of cables per census servitor made him question why they weren’t using automation for this. They could have some servitors repair the rest of the lot. At least they could use some algorithmic detection to avoid connecting the wrong outlets. Aurelio glimpsed at the beginner without moving his body and keeping his hands in the servitor his working on.
“Is not my intention to mock you. I know that I’m that you would call a bad apple. Bad company. They know it too, that’s why I’m here and in this particular mess.” confessed the instructor. “What I’m scared about is why they sent you here. A smart man would know to think twice about dealing with the Legion.”
Skoal stared him for a second with his hands frozen in the air. He shrugged the inappropriate turn of the conversation and focused back to his task. The fact that they were alone wasn’t enough to raise the stakes like that. He was impressed with the honesty and blunt audacity of the technician. But he wouldn’t talk about why he is aboard the Acquirement. Much less if all that Aurelio was telling him was true.
“Oh, but their system is not flawless, child.” the instructor kept talking. “And a mind like yours would be the only requirement to figure this out, with some evidence of course.”
Skoal was not a brave fellow, unless it meant an opportunity to explore the horizons that he sets his mind upon. The invitation was too appealing, the curiosity already kindling. He wouldn’t lose an opportunity to follow this line of reasoning.
“I know you spent several years in the Magisterium. So, when you say evidence, do you mean failures like Tesstra Prime? Or you are talking about proof of a systematic inefficiency among the Alpha Legion? You know, relevant proof that could really turn the tides of war.”
Aurelio stopped what he was doing and stared at him. Skoal stared incredulous when Aurelio’s laughter broke the silence and filled the room. His loud and genuine laugh was contagious and Skoal nervously giggled back. The instructor approached him and gave him a pat in the back.
“You are dangerous, little one. We’ll need extra measures to protect that fluffy butt.”
“What happened to Aural Impash?” was the only thought in Skoal’s mind. He was alone in his quarters as usual. Sitting down as he tied up his boots. Staying alone was a common thing that he enjoyed, left uninterrupted to read stories or treatises of far away people and highly abstract thought. Consequently, he was usually found reading in bed when in time off. Not tonight though. Because the matters that occupied him today were very different from the usual, they were about the here and now. He was preparing to go out and socialize. Although he preferred the coziness of home, he would spend his evening in the common area of the upper floor. As it was generally known, this was the best place to have a good time and catch up with the daily rumor. All thanks to the Alpha Legion’s authorization for recreational alcohol.
When Skoal got to the common room, he wasn’t surprised to see only a bunch of groups having notoriously quiet fun. It had been like this since the rearrangement, the Alpha Legion brought the booze but also established overseers in every bar. A single Astartes holding guard on each common area. There it stood in front of him, a hulk of shiny armor. Looking immutable and stiff as a statue, he dragged the journeymen’s joy by judging them from the center of the room. Of course, there was a reason for such a waste of an Astartes time. Alcohol broke only laughs at first, but as the hours pass, it brought high spirits that end in violence. There were the other effects too, as it is known. Many suspected that the legion did this for the additional benefit of information, which was candidly and voluntarily provided by drunk workers and soldiers.
Skoal got something to drink from the barman and casually sat in an empty table. Being here was already a victory in his book. He wasn’t surprised he managed to do it though, the weight of his curiosity was heavy. Here was the only place to look for answers. Even if there was an Alpha Legionnaire in the middle of the room, these men and women wanted to share, to bond. He only needed to approach his fellows now and ask about this intriguing Mr. Impash. Skoal measured his beverage, estimating how much he needed to gain minimal momentum. He didn’t need courage, he needed sympathy; to vibrate in their same frequency, and most importantly, to enjoy it. Skoal had concluded this was the way to smoothly interface with peers. As he gulped half of his glass, two journeymen holding two jars each, sat in Skoal’s table.
“What’s happening, Fluffy Butt?” said one of them and Skoal rejoiced. He didn’t care about passive aggressive bonding, at this time he appreciated how the foreman’s insult was working at his advantage. But this interaction was sooner than expected, so Skoal didn’t stop drinking. He slammed the empty cup in the table.
“Woah!” said the other one, “We will need more booze here!” he exclaimed while passing one of his jars to Skoal. “Here, it’s on us!”.
Skoal made a mental note. Reconsider the human need for closeness.
“What do you know…” mumbled Skoal, his eyelids winking slow “do you know about Aurelia Irion? Aurelio. Hm?”. His company, in a similar mental state, responded only with mumblings and a hand waving a negative. This was the third group that Skoal had reached out to. As he moved from table to table, the bonding became easier and easier. But the quality of conversation declined proportionally. Now, after a series of disappointing and intimate discussions with his peers, he sat in front of two drunk journeymen. One was already sleeping uncomfortably hunched over the table, the other one struggled to pay attention to Skoal. Another failure. Nevertheless, he felt empowered; the loosening from the alcohol and his delusional belief of self-importance made him restless. He looked back at the common area; most tables empty now. A few moments ago, it was filled with the unrestrained energy of a drunk crowd. He noticed that asking the last fellow about Aurelio had been a blunder. The Astartes in the middle of the room could have clearly heard him. An Alpha Legion is a snake first, and a warrior second reminded Skoal. As he stared at the marine, he forgot about the other drunk, who was now taking his sleeping friend back to their quarters. Lost in intoxication and dreams of curiosity he got up and walked firmly towards the Astartes.
“Hey, Alpharius!” he screamed a feet away from the cerulean golem. “Where the fuck is Aural Impash?”
The sound of Skoal’s limp body hitting the floor was the last sound heard in the room. The bar man and the few fellows stood in silence staring incredulously at their mate’s body. Even though Skoal’s is known for his lack of wit, it is unfair to compare the nervous system of an augmented human with those of an Astartes.
The huge, armored soldier stood with one fist upwards and his feet in a fighting stance. Only the bar man had been looking at them when it happened, and he was the only one that saw the body of Skoal react. Like a rag doll, the body of Skoal flied in a parabola across the room. The Alpha legionnaire recaptured his passive stance.
“Good night, boys.” said the marine. Immediately the bar man made some signals and the few drunks sitting around ran out of there. Among the fear and scrambling fellows, the Astartes walked towards the body and picked Skoal up.
Into the rabbit hole
Jaccobio woke in a stone prison cell. At first, he thought he was dreaming. After all, there wasn’t any single room aboard the Acquirement like this. Then he heard a stranger’s voice, the mere detail and seriousness of the voice revealed this wasn’t a dream. Possibly a nightmare, those that you live through with cold blood and hope to end up alive. The voice was Skoal’s.
“Hey, brother. Can you hear me?”
“Yea.” responded Jaccobio. His large unconscious body was sitting in the floor with his back to the wall.
“Uh, good. Did you see what just happened?” asked Skoal.
Jaccobio kept his blank stare toward the horizon and released an ironic laugh.
Skoal approached and kneeled in front of him. After the beating they received from the Alpha legionnaires, Skoal decided that Jaccobio’s stare could mean he was concussed. After a serious inspection, he raised three fingers in front of Jaccobio and spoke.
“How many Alpharius do you see?” he joked. Like a work of magic or a talented hypnotist, Jaccobio came back to his body and turned to Skoal.
“Who are you?” Jaccobio asked firmly.
Skoal took his identification badge and extended it. The protocol to assign all tripulants with a data badge was something a security officer like Jaccobio rejoiced on. He immediately looked at his cell mate known background.
“A drop out? What were you doing in Voodan Beta when they recruited you? Who authorized this?! A techanic on servitor repairs?” without waiting for answers Jaccobio kept throwing implication after implication. As he did, the security officer stood up. He may not be athletic, nor particularly muscular, but his large shape was still an intimidating force for the scrawny Skoal. Jaccobio crouched slightly to put his face closer to the skinny one.
“Care to explain, Skoal?” he asked with threatening tone.
“Are you blind to your situation, brother? You are incarcerated in a cell that doesn’t smell or look like anything in our radar. I’d say we probably are in Voodan Beta; I don’t think I was out for too long. Although I don’t remember much after the bar.”
Jaccobio shoved him hard with both arms. He could barely stay standing.
“Who are you, Skoal without a name of family? What in the infinite chaos hells are you doing aboard the Acquirement!?” he screamed this time.
“I’m just staying alive without casting a shadow over the Emperor’s work.” he said calmly, knowing he had nothing to justify after all he had gone through. And if there was anyone he should explain his actions to, it wouldn’t be an officer like Jaccobio. He raised his hands and continued in the same reassured fashion.
“I was hired by Aurelio, the team lead on the servitor repairs. He made the arrangements between the Mechanicum and the Imperial Navy. I was assigned to another expedition fleet, but after he interviewed me, the position was changed. I’m here to assist the technical work on the servitors.” confessed Skoal.
It was mostly the honesty that made Jaccobio relax. He was convinced that if that wasn’t all or part of the truth, he would be able to extract it out of this little cell mate.
“Interesting fellow, to say the least” said Jaccobio as he dusted off his uniform.
“Aurelio? Oh yeah, a puzzle with a heartbeat”.
“I meant you, Skoal. You and I are not done yet, remember that. But you are right, this fricking jail must be from one of the subdued lords on the northern continents.”
“Sounds about right!” Skoal was spurred by such clear and irrefutable deduction.
“Which means we are in Imperial territory.” Jaccobio said this standing next to the iron bars.
“Eh,” Skoal couldn’t believe he was so astute a moment ago, now he wasn’t connecting the most obvious dots. “It was the Alpha Legion. We are their prisoners.” he stated. “And I don’t think they brought us anywhere but to the nest of the hydra.”
Jaccobio appreciated that his company would be useful to stay alive.
“When you woke up, they had just left. The Astartes said his name was Bob. That he would take us to a meeting with his superior. Demanded our total cooperation so we can return to the battleship. He said that if delay they will not be able to hide our disappearance from the Acquirement. And if did not cooperate we would dead before nightfall.”
“Alright.” said Jaccobio. “So, we play their game. That’s fair after all.” spoke Jaccobio. He paid more attention to cleaning his suit, dusting off all the dust and wrinkles. Skoal sat down beside him. He looked up to him.
“And what kind of officer are you?”
Chapter 10 incoming :)