‘Then’ turned out to be more than an hour later. Gathering what they needed on a several kilometres long ship took its time.
The last to arrive was Tiberius. He came even later than Nostromo and Ruhr, who had brought three chariot shaped servitors to transport them. The things had mummified figureheads staring out of a richly ornamented front and looked displeased to see them. The tech priest was just performing a rite to make the servitors remember their route when their techmarine walked up and apologised. He had been working on a way to update his auspex with surveillance and was already receiving interesting data.
“Brothers”, he called them together after earning their blank expressions of uncertain approval. “We will take an Oath of Arms.”
On cue, Vox handed him the oath scroll.
“Our line is ‘Engage the linkage’”, their librarian informed them.
“Omnissiah, to you we call!”, Tiberius intoned.
“Engage the linkage!”, the others answered.
“Your lenity we ask!”
“Engage the linkage!”
“Your might we need!”
“Engage the linkage!”
“In the Emperor’s name, guide us! For humanity’s sake, shield us! Against the xenos, make us victorious!”
“For the Emperor, for humanity, against the alien, we stand!”
Vox sealed the narrow scroll to Tiberius’ shoulder guard.
“Guys, you have to see this”, Hyron burst out as soon as they were done. He led them over to the breach they had inspected earlier. The adequately deadly training servitor and the Ork servitors had worked themselves to an impasse there. Nothing moved, dead faces only stared into space.
“Priest Ruhr, could you get that out of the way, please?”, Vyron asked with a nod to the defender.
Beeping the necessary and rather lengthy rites for it, the tech-priest ordered his creation aside. Vyron lifted his heavy bolter expectantly. As soon as the shadow in the breach had disappeared, the Ork servitors started to move in. One after the other, the Space Wolf shot them down.
“Do you see that?”, Hyron asked.
“Do you mean their movement patterns?”, Titus inquired after a moment of contemplation.
“Yes!”, the twin confirmed. “It’s as if they take turns to move.”
“And the last one always just stands around beeping”, Vyron added and lowered his weapon when he had come to the last servitor. “We thought it might be your machine language.”
Indeed Tiberius and the tech-priest listened attentively.
“Warning! Malfunction! Replace brain and reboot?”, Tiberius said disbelievingly and turned to his human counterpart.
“That’s what it says”, Kalin Ruhr confirmed. He seemed quite puzzled for a tech-priest so far advanced in his art.
A second later, Vyron shot the thing down.
“Sorry, we tested this”, he said with a lopsided grin when they all turned to him. “It beeps a while, then it attacks.”
“Which the others didn’t, right?”, Titus wanted to know.
“Yep. They just walk around dragging the cables”, Hyron confirmed.
“Master Ruhr, please reinstate your servitor. We’ll leave now”, Tiberius decided. “Have you found a better breach than here?”, he inquired of the Heartrocks.
“Nope. One’s as good as the others”, Vyron supplied.
“Then move out!”
The Space Hulk was easily as large as a small moon and every ship was different. They encountered spacecrafts built by every race ever to travel the warp. Some they could identify as Eldar or Dark Eldar. Some were Orkish but some defied classification. The occasional imperial structure was a welcome sight in the maze.
All the ships were connected. Some had crashed into each other, some were linked by tunnels built of debris and all of them were ventilated and had gravitation. This made crossing from one ship to the other an interesting affair. Sometimes the gravitational zones stood at angles to each other. They always considered themselves lucky if their servitors were able to cross by themselves but more than once they fell from a ceiling that had been a floor a moment ago.
In this labyrinth, only the cables made navigation possible. As long as they followed the bundle they had arrived by, they at least could tell that they were heading away from their point of origin.
The cables sometimes disappeared into Space Marine high, metallic cubes. Tiberius and Ruhr reckoned that they were repeaters. Everybody else had to accept the existence of cubes with cables stuck in them.
True to his plan, Titus had obtained half a dozen vox relays. In placing them at strategic intervals, the group revealed another strange thing about the repeaters. When in contact with a cube, the relays stopped transmitting messages from the ‘Hammer’. The new signal seemed to be nothing but a harsh, shrieking noise but their tech-priests agreed that they would be able to decrypt it. On appeal they graciously postponed this endeavour to some other time. To avoid complications, they opted for placing the relays as far away from the cubes as sensibly possible.
Following the track was no entirely trivial task. The ‘Ghost’ was infested by hordes of standard Orks without servitor add ons. In this context Titus was interested to learn why the Space Wolves habitually left their helmets off: With Vox’s senses rendered almost useless by the warp, they were the ones who smelled approaching foes before they came into sight.
The Orks were a small problem for the battle hardened Space Marines but proved to be a bottomless sink for ammo and explosives. Halting for every encounter, on the other hand, was time consuming. Not even the Space Wolves wanted to hunt them down anymore.
On and off they found remains of all sorts of life forms. They presented themselves in different stages of decay and degrees of destruction. Whenever they discovered a body in one piece, Hyron and Vyron reckoned that it had died of boredom but most of them had clearly found a violent end. This included every single Space Marine and Chaos Space Marine on the way. Those corpses usually were to be found in more than one place.
After twenty hours of Ork-infested odyssey through this ghastly tomb of legions, they found an Astartes battle barge of the Storm Giants. The Storm Giants were a successor chapter of the machine affine Salamanders and Tiberius insisted to detour for the first time. Since he led them to the armoury of the ship, nobody questioned his decision.
The next few minutes were characteristic for Aegis in the context of free weaponry.
Tiberius had fun with explosives, Hyron and Vyron restocked on ammo for their heavy bolters. Dankwart took a better force shield and exchanged his chainsword for a power sword. Titus found himself a power axe and Vox proved awkward.
From now on, their only concern was to keep the civilians from falling off the chariots while they slept. That Vox was starting to feel the effects of six days without sleep, was a less widely regarded problem.
They had been on their journey for forty hours when they entered another imperial ship. The kill team blended so perfectly into the black and silver ornamentation that it was almost obsolete to find the Gothic ‘I’ of the Inquisition at the end of the first corridor. They had entered a ship of the Deathwatch.
It took only a short exchange with the ‘Hammer’ to hazard the informed guess that they had found the ‘Anima Profundis’.
After the repulsive xeno technology, travelling in the glorious scenery of the venerable ship was a pleasant interlude. Not only brought the ‘Anima Profundis’ respite for their strained sense of piety, she also harboured the destination of their journey.
Close to the core of the ship, next to a high, narrow gate, the cables ran into a wall.
Followed by the humans, Aegis left the transport servitors to approach the room. With majestic gravity, the gate swung open before them.
They exchanged glances.
“I don’t think we should go in”, Hyron said, hoisting his heavy bolter nonchalantly on his hip.
“Why?”, Tiberius wanted to know.
“Because that servitor over there just wrote on the wall ‘don’t go in’”, the Space Wolf said and pointed over his shoulder.
They turned. Indeed, there was an Ork servitor smearing oil onto the wall. Shaky letters warned: “Don’t go in, he is trying to kill you.”
“How is he trying to kill us?”, Titus inquired and shrugged defensively when they all looked at him.
The servitor wrote “G a z” before it turned around suddenly. Equally abruptly it was shot down by Vyron.
“What?”, the Space Wolf wanted to know when the others turned to him now. “It’s what happened with the beeping ones! One minute they are coherent, next thing you know they go hostile. Well… If I say coherent…”
“There’s another one!”, Hyron cut in.
Indeed. Beeping something, another servitor stumbled out of the shadows.
“It says ‘run’”, Ruhr translated flatly.
Aegis managed to shield the tech-priest and the navigator just before the servitor exploded.
“Move!”, Tiberius ordered. Abandoning their vehicles, they made haste to bring distance between them and the cable room.