53. Intelligent

A short detour to the armoury unearthed the other three. They had just finished equipping themselves for war and were content to wait for the rest of Aegis to do the same. Together, they made their way into the bowels of the ship.
It turned out that the Space Marines knew the ‘Hammer’ better than Nostromo. Areas their training did not cover, Vox and Titus walked at night when they had to stay awake.
Trustingly, the navigator followed their lead to the specified area.
In a corridor they found Kalin Ruhr. He wore half a dozen power units like a grenade belt around one shoulder and was in the process of overseeing his adequately deadly training servitor dismembering several Orks. The number of body parts on the floor told the expert eye that they were by no means the first victims.
Beyond these proceedings gaped a breach in the hull that should have evacuated the whole sector within seconds.
“Kalin, what is going on?”, Nostromo demanded and overtook the kill team to speak to the tech-priest.
In his red robe Ruhr looked as odd as ever. His mecha dendrites wiggled around his shoulders with a life of their own. A greyish sheen danced over his mechanical jaw as he cocked his head. In the shadow of the hood, there was the gleam of one bionic eye.
“You have to see this”, he said instead of an explanation and started to creep up to his servitor. While Aegis stood by in an interested but relaxed fashion, Nostromo followed him in slightly bewildered caution.
“I have never seen this kind of bionics on Orks”, Kalin Ruhr announced while he carefully skewered a severed Ork head on a dendrite.
When he had obtained the head, Ruhr slowly backed into the navigator who blocked his retreat. A confused moment later, the civilians had sorted themselves out.
Back with Aegis, Ruhr presented Tiberius with the head. It had indeed several cables dangling from it and a metallic plate on one temple. Their techmarine turned it around thoughtfully.
“And they are trying to lay cables?”, he wanted to know.
“Yes”, Ruhr confirmed. The two of them had a short exchange in ear-wrenching binary.
“So?”, Titus wanted to know casually when they had finished. “Silica Animus?”
Tiberius stared at him. Probably the mention of the term alone was blasphemy against the Omnissiah. It meant artificial intelligence and they were forbidden and despised among the cult of the Machine God. A machine had to have an organic part or it was considered tech heresy.
“What in the Omnissiah’s name makes you think that?”, Tiberius managed after seconds of baffled silence.
“Those are servitor implants, right?”, Titus said with a winning smile.
“And instead of mindless violence, these Orks show coordinated, purposeful behaviour”, he continued. “Sounds like some vicious machine spirit gone crazy to me.”
“This remains to be seen”, Tiberius said cautiously. “Vox?”
“Lay down the cards.”
“We’re in the warp”, Vox reminded him laconically.
Their leader gave an annoyed sigh.
“We’ll follow the cables then”, he decided.
“I demand to be taken along!”, Nostromo and Ruhr said in unison.
Tiberius signalled his approval with a non-commital shrug.
“We will need transportation”, he mused. “It is likely that we will have to travel to the core of the Hulk and that might easily take us days even with vehicles.”
“Then we should think of supplies”, Titus noted.
Tiberius sighed again.
“Hyron, Vyron”, he ordered. “Find us a suitable breach with a lot of cables and clear it while we pack.”
“Right ye are! Don’t forget your bucket and spade!” The two of them scuttled off.
“If you have any sensible contributions, go and see to them”, Tiberius said. “We’ll meet here as soon as possible.”
“I’ll get provision packs for our armours”, Dankwart informed them and left.
“I’ll see if surveillance has portable vox relays for us”, Titus declared and followed.
“We’ll pack our things and find transportation”, Nostromo said after a short glance at Ruhr.
“I’m concerned for Titus”, Tiberius mused thoughtfully when they were out of earshot.
“Why?”, Vox wanted to know.
“The first thing he thought of was a vox.”
“Young love”, the librarian said sarcastically. “Doesn’t it warm your hearts?”
Tiberius shot his friend a glance.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get the hang of this humour business. I didn’t mean to joke. You shouldn’t take this lightly”, he clarified.
Vox’s manner of turning these blue eyes full of attention to him had always unnerved Tiberius. Especially when it happened like it did now. The sudden intensity in the librarian’s demeanour caused him to avert his gaze.
“I don’t”, Vox declared firmly.
“I’m sorry, Vox”, Tiberius mumbled. “I know you don’t… I’m just concerned.”
“I know. And I share your concern but I’m out of options. The Emperor has charged me with a sacred mission. I have obligations to meet. On Almond, I slipped and I would be dead if it wasn’t for our brother.” Vox took a step closer and Tiberius wanted to shy back. Standing his ground was all he could do.
“Can you begin to fathom what he did?”, Vox asked. “He came for me, Tiberius. He came for me in the rain, he came for me in the rift, he came for me when we were falling and he came for me afterwards. You were in sus-an and Dankwart…” Vox’s shoulders sagged.
“I’m sorry, Tiberius.”
“I know”, the Ultramarine was hasty to declare. “I know, we are not enough, even while we’re awake…” He fell silent under this gaze full of pain.
“Please don’t think that you count for nothing”, the librarian said quietly. “But… Einir dead. Amun’Rha dead. Vargov dead. Arrick MIA, very likely dead. Athuriel gone, Corven away… And after Corred…”
Tiberius reached out a massive hand to lay it to the friend’s shoulder guard.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you…”, he said. “You knew that warrior in black, didn’t you?”
“By name”, the librarian replied meekly. “That was one of mine, Tiberius. Something erodes my chapter from within and I’m not there. I’m here, searching for clues, so I don’t fall prey to whatever threatens my people! I found some leads but I’d need to double check them and I don’t have the clearance for the right library sections…” Vox halted, searching for words. “Look, I know I shouldn’t hang onto our brother like I do”, the friend finally blurted out. “But I have to! I’m living for many others. I have to get through this, not for me…” Again the voice faltered and then something happened which Tiberius had witnessed many times before. He dreaded the day it would fail. Vox got steady. From somewhere, resources were drawn and a little chuckle erupted where desperation had ruled before.
“And personally”, Vox said. “He caught me. Can you begin to imagine what that means to a psyker?”
“I can not”, Tiberius had to concede. “I can accept it, however.”
Vox shrugged and grinned bravely.
Tiberius patted the shoulderguard again. He loved and respected his friend in the shy and simple way that came naturally to him but words had failed him.
Like in many silent moments before, it was Vox who reached out. Speech was unnecessary. All lay in the gestures. A gentle pat to the side of the head, a deep glance into the techmarine’s eyes. The psyker could see his troubles.
In his own awkward way, Tiberius knew that he would remain merely a receiver in this connection. He had started this conversation because he wanted to help but they had entered territory he was unable to navigate far too quickly. There was a reason why he rather dealt with machines than people after all.
A slightly desperate smile fleeted over his face.
“Now”, he drew his mind back to business. “Do you have anything sensible to do?”
“Yes”, Vox answered with a reassuring nod. Where had all this pain gone? It had been there a moment ago.
“I’ll write you an Oath of Arms and need to check the wording.”
“Thanks. I’ll update the auspex with any data surveillance has gathered so far. See you then.”

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Guide Me Through the Darkness by Julia M. V. Warren is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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