These are simply backstories for my character involved in text-based RT here: http://kevinswatch.ihugny.com/phpBB2/viewforum.php?f=88
From the Dynastic Archives.
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Amphael Personnel File:
Amphael Dynasty Scriptum File: PF-A/M-0000001-01A
Sub-file: Employment Records: (Ref: PF-F/A-0001221-01A to PF-F/A-0001221-06A)
Date of reference: M41 816.133
Subject: Zarkov, Darius V.
Homeworld: . . .
...ERROR #657: No Homeworld found
Criminal Record: Clean
Employment History: Acquired by Amphael through military channels 805.M41. Originally contracted to command reconditioned Dynasty vessel Mallear's Wrath on initial shakedowns and weapons testing. Relinquished command to Ducaste Amphael upon completion of trials. Contract extended 807.M41. Reassigned 808.M41 to the Invictus Aeterna. First Officer from 808-815.M41 under Laurent Amphael (deceased). Continues to serve Amphael's growing influence in the Calixis sector.
Ex-Imperial Navy. Access records? Y/N
ACCESSING IMPERIAL NAVY RECORDS...
CHECKING SECURITY PROTOCOLS...
Imperial Navy Records - Calixis Sector
Sub-section: Personnel M-Z
Administratum note: Some files removed by Imperial Edict. (Authorisation Censorus Lustrum. Code: 473692. SECURITY CLEARANCE LEVEL XII REQUIRED).
~Ignorance is Strength~
Lieutenant Commander Darius Zarkov (Ret.)
Records begin 780.M41
780.M41 Warrant officer aboard the Battlecruiser Infinite Fury
783.M41 Battlefield promotion to Sub-Lieutenant during Ork incursion into Sepheris Secundus system
785.M41 Lieutenant promotion
787.M41 Reaches rank of Lieutenant Commander after repeated distinguished actions in the Calixis Sector. Assigned to Gunnery Command of the Infinite Fury
791.M41 Loses left leg in the Battle for Iocanthus. Infinite Fury sustains heavy damage. Salvaged by Tech-Priests and sent to Mars for extensive repairs (Ongoing - Refer Sub-section: Battlefleet Calixis. SECURITY CLEARANCE LEVEL IV REQUIRED)
792.M41 Transferred to destroyer squadron in Battlefleet Ixaniad. Full command of squadron granted in light of combat record
794.M41 Takes up position as Executive Officer on the Light Cruiser Vengeance. Redeployed to the Calixis sector. Detached from Battlefleet Calixis and assigned to scouting patrols in the Drusus Marches
797.M41 Vengeance and destroyer escort ambushed by Eldar Corsairs while in deep patrol. Assumed lost with all hands
798.M41 Lifepod recovered by Adeptas Mechanicus Surveyor in the Drusus Marches. Darius Zarkov found to be sole survivor of the Vengeance
800.M41 Returned to System Hub for court martial after surveys completed. Found clear of taint and fully exonerated
801.M41 Honourably discharged from Naval service
Imperial Naval Records - Calixis Sector
Scriptum File ends
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25 years ago - The Battle of Iocanthus
The screech of rending metal filled Zarkov's skull, reaching a crescendo before his implanted automatic dampers engaged, cutting back the sound of howling adamantine to a piercing whine and bringing everything back into sharp focus. The Gunnery Command Bridge had received a direct hit, and bodies of the dead and the dying lay scattered about the deck. Medicae-servitors picked through the wounded, administering basic treatment or a quick death where it was needed. A targeting control terminal, its power source hit by a lucky shell, exploded spewing forth great gouts of electrical flame and immolating its operators. Two servitors trundled towards the scene with foam cannons to extinguish the blaze. The acrid smell of burning flesh and ozone filled the air. Zarkov looked around in a daze. A shield officer was screaming, but no words were audible.
As his aural dampers disengaged the noise of battle flooded back into Zarkov’s head. "...ard shields are down! Repeat we have lost forward shields!" The voice of the officer was high and stressed, Zarkov could now hear his fear. His face a rictus of terror; eyes glazed and vacant, it was patently obvious that this was his first fleet action. Zarkov's attention was pulled away as Captain Fulvium’s voice filtered down via Vox-caster from the Command Bridge. "Commander, give us a targeting solution on these impudent greenskins, and do it now!" "Yes, Captain." Zarkov turned to the crew. "Hold heading! Ahead flank!" he barked, ignoring the shell-shocked officer. A few seconds later the main engines began to wind up; hundreds of Tech-priests in the engine room screaming obeisance to the Machine Spirit within. The other ships of the line held position, the lances of the Gothic class Indomitable reaping swift death on the opposing Ork armada.
The battlecruiser accelerated ponderously out of line, still taking hits from the attacking Ork ships off its port bow as it began to forge toward them. The smaller Imperial ships fell behind as the xenos concentrated their fire on the unshielded bow of the battlecruiser. The ship reverberated as shell after shell hit home, its heavily armoured prow weathering the worst of the fire. "Hold heading!" Zarkov shouted, "The Emperor is with us!" The Infinite Fury came alongside the leading Ork vessel just as it reached flank speed, its surprising advance leaving the savages with no time to react. A full broadside from the macrobatteries struck the Ork vessel starboard side at point blank range, even as it tried to turn about and bring its forward guns to bear. Holy fire engulfed it as it shuddered and began to break up.
The other attacking Ork ships, momentarily distracted by their leader's fate, began to turn to face the battlecruiser. At the same time they turned away from the main Imperial line, exposing their flanks. Zarkov checked his tactical display. "Deactivate port engines and activate retrothrusters on my mark. Three...two...one...MARK." The Fury's port engines suddenly winked out, while the starboard engines continued to propel the ancient vessel at maximum burn. The entire ship shook and groaned as it began a sweeping turn to port. Massive retrorockets decelerated the vessel and tightened the turn, and the ship, not designed for such stressful maneuvers, began to list violently to the left. Her gyroscopic gravity generators, thousands of years old, were unable to compensate for the list, and several crew members lost their footing, skittering across the deck or plunging over railings to their death. Swinging wildly, the massive chandelier on the bridge ceiling detached and fell four storeys to impale an unfortunate rating.
The battlecruiser completed its turn, now facing the Ork ships. "All stop." Starboard engines shut down as Zarkov concentrated on the largest of the xenos vessels, a captured Lunar class cruiser, still trying to turn and face the Imperial ship. “Range to target, 255 kilometers..." the mechanical voice of the targeter intoned. A perfect firing solution. Zarkov smiled. The voice of the captain again filtered down to Gunnery Command. "Excellent work, annihilate this alien filth!" Zarkov nodded to his men. "You heard the captain! Forward Lances fire; concentrated pattern Delta IV. Annihilate them in the name of the Emperor!" The gunnery crew gave out a hearty cry as the forward weaponry of the battlecruiser powered up, glowing with an unnatural light. The intense Lance barrage, silent in the void of space, cut through the Ork vessel's shielding and devastated its superstructure. Incoming macrobattery fire from the opposing imperial ships added to the conflagration. The xenos were caught in a pincer, and the gap was closing. Lances aboard the Fury began to overheat from the sustained fire as the leading Ork vessel continued its turn, slowly coming into firing position.
Soon Ork shells were impacting the bow in massive numbers, some even penetrating the armoured prow. Thousands of crew perished as explosions wracked the forward section of the ship. Her forward macrobatteries fired again and again, but somehow the Orks continued to forge towards the battlecruiser. "Range to target, 47 kilometres and closing." Zarkov glanced at the tactical display. The leading Ork vessel filled the screen, its bow a mass of fire and explosions. Even as he watched, the enemy ship loomed larger, closing the distance. "The primitive scum are going to ram us! Prepare to repel boarders! Lance concentration maximum!" Tech-priests in the bow increased the fervour of their libations, but it was not enough to appease the ships Machine Spirit. The forward Lance batteries overheated from the sustained fire and shut down, leaving the Infinite Fury without its main forward armament.
"Curse the Omnissiah!" Zarkov spat. At this, several Adeptus Mechanicus on the bridge made the sign of the Machine-God, and prayed silently for absolution. The voice of the captain boomed again in Gunnery Command. "Very well, if they wish to ram us, we shall respond in kind! All ahead flank!!!” In the bowels of the ship Tech-priests and servitors struggled in vain to restart the ancient engines as the Ork vessel continued to advance. The Fury hung in space, macrobatteries still firing. The Tech-priests on the bridge whispered amongst themselves, while the wailing, desperate obeisances from the lower desks became loud enough to reach Zarkov’s aural implants. The engines would not respond. "Range to target, 11 kilometres and closing." Zarkov grimaced as he stared at the tactical display. Collision was now unavoidable.
The stricken xenos vessel, still on fire and beginning to disintegrate, plowed into the Infinite Fury's prow. The disabled Lances were torn asunder by the force of the collision, and the ship shuddered violently. Zarkov was thrown from his command position as explosions resonated within the hull. The forward macrobattery magazine, penetrated by the collision, detonated in a massive blast that vaporised the crew, most of the prow, and half the Ork vessel itself. "...ctivate...retrothrus...pull...way!" came the captain's broken voice from the Command Bridge. The Ork ship came free as the Infinite Fury slowly pulled away. Secondary explosions blew the floating hulk into several pieces, which drifted off into the void. Aboard the Infinite Fury, communications were in chaos, and warnings flooded Zarkovs aural implants, threatening to overload their fragile neuro-circuitry. Filtered messages painted a grim picture. "ZZTT...Engines still down, sir." "Sir, the remaining xenos are flanking us from above and below." "The Machine Spirit has been affronted! We must appease it!" Voices were cut off or replaced by screams as shells from the flanking Ork ships impacted the Command Bridge, and once more the sound of tearing metal filled the room. "Comms are down! We've lost contact with the Command Bridge!"
"Sir, we've lost shields on the starboard sector!" The shield officer’s voice cracked as his will finally broke. Approaching Zarkov, the officer raised his hands in a gesture of supplication. "Sir, the ship is unresponsive and the Command Bridge destroyed! Our shields are down! The Emperor has abandoned us!" Zarkov pulled his bolt pistol from its holster, and in one fluid movement shot the man through the face. Shards of bone and what was left of the officer’s brain matter sprayed onto the bulkheads behind him as he twitched and fell to the floor. A pair of servitors quickly disposed of the still spasming body, while another servitor began to idly clean skull fragments and flecks of hair from the wall.
Zarkov reholstered his bolt pistol and strode back to his command position. As he did, Captain Fulvium descended into Gunnery command, his features bloody and disheveled. "Captain on the bridge!!" Zarkov reflexively saluted as the captain approached through the chaos. Fulvium waved away his salute, and grasped Zarkov’s hand, grinning. "The Command Bridge is lost, but we have struck the filth a telling blow on this day my friend!!!" "Yes, Captain." Zarkov remained at attention. "Damage to weapons systems is extensive, and our shield generators are still overloaded, Sir." Fulvium laughed heartily. "The Fury will prevail. She has seen through worse battles than this." "Indeed she has Captain," said Zarkov, relaxing from attention, "though not within our lifetimes." The Captain nodded. "Aye...true." He paused. “Well then, perhaps today is a good day to die!" Turning, his voice rising, he addressed the crew. "Men! This may yet be our finest hour! Our ships are closing the gap, and the foolish xenos seem to be concentrating all their firepower on us! A perfect pincer maneuver! We shall not falter!!!" The captain drew his power sword, holding it above his head. "Let fly with everything we have remaining! Our lives will cost them dearly! FOR THE EMPEROR!!!"
"FOR THE EMP…" Zarkov began, but his words were cut off as a massive explosion engulfed the Gunnery Command Bridge. Massive chunks of adamantine rained down as shockwaves ruptured the ceiling bulkheads. Zarkov struggled to remain upright as more Ork shells impacted the bridge. An errant shell, its proximity fuse malfunctioning, skidded to a stop near the primary macrobattery command console. Detonating, it took the console and crew with it. Shrapnel exploded outward, shredding all in its path. A shard of twisted adamantine tore through Zarkov's left thigh, amputating the leg above the knee and leaving a messy, ragged stump. Blood instantly began to gush from severed arteries as Zarkov slumped to the floor, staring at his leg and struggling to stay conscious. The searing pain was the only thing he could concentrate on, and his head spun as he voided his stomach contents on the bloodstained deck. Broken, indistinct thoughts swam in his mind. Die...it was right for him to die here…ship of birth…in battle...yes...a fitting end... The captain was still screaming orders at the crew, and while Zarkov could hear his words, he could not decipher them. A good day to die…good… His vision blurred as a Medicae-servitor trundled towards him. "Blood loss, critical." it droned to itself. Selecting a promethium cauterizer mechadendrite, the appendage clicked twice before igniting. The last thing Zarkov was aware of, before he passed into unconsciousness from the pain, was the smell of his own burning flesh and marrow as the servitor staunched his wound with fire.
19 Years Ago - Aboard the Light Cruiser Vengeance on deep patrol in the Drusus Marches.
The macrobatteries of the Vengeance were quiet as Zarkov walked slowly through the dimly lit gun deck, checking and rechecking the shell calibrations and stopping to converse with officers and Tech-preists. His limp was not marked, but the cybernetic leg replacing the musculature and bone of his left leg was. The implant was large, cumbersome and difficult to manage, but Zarkov relished the discomfort. His weak flesh had been replaced by pure steel, and regardless, any penance the omnissiah wished of him, he would endure.
It had taken him a few months after his transfer to learn the gunners sign of the Vengeance, the deaf gun crew had developed an efficient but distinct set of signs, which Zarkov had found difficult to penetrate. A less vigilant officer would have simply remained at the bridge and ignored the gun crew altogether, trusting them to do their jobs, but Zarkov liked to be among the men. It was one of the only benefits of serving on a smaller vessel, he mused. It was possible on the Vengeance to simply take a grav-lift from the bridge to the lower decks, and from there it was only half a kilometre to the macrobatteries.
Certainly the position he held now as First Officer was preferable to his destroyer command he had held in the Ixaniad sector. At least the Vengeance carried punch for her size, and could match a cruiser in armament, if not armour and durability. She was a newer design, and one of the fastest light cruisers in the fleet. A heavily modified Dauntless class, she was based on the Vigilant pattern, but fielded a supplemental Sunsear system in addition to her six torpedo tubes, dorsal lances and multiple lateral macrobatteries. This increased weapons loadout had seen her through many engagements and earned her the nickname "The pocket Tyrant" from the crew.
Still, he lamented the loss of his old position on the Infinite Fury. He had seen his career stagnate since her pilgrimage to Mars. The Tech-priests would see her repaired and put back into service, but it might be centuries before her guns fired in anger again. Thus the Navy had saw fit to use his skills elsewhere. While Captain Fulvium had recommended him to command a cruiser, a destroyer command was the Navies decision. While commending the defeat of the Ork armada off Iocanthus, Naval authority deemed the loss of the Fury to be partly the result of overzealous command. Captain Fulvium accepted responsibility and was demoted, but Zarkov blamed himself. It was he who had cursed the Omnissiah, and left the ship hanging in space with no engines and deactivated weapons. He deserved to be punished for his lack of faith.
Zarkov snapped out of his reviere as warning lights and klaxons went off all around him. The ship had moved to Status Red. "BATTLE STATIONS!" he bellowed reflexively, though the gun crew could not hear him, nor the loudly blaring klaxons. Zarkov began to run back towards the grav-lift, his pace slowed by his bionic leg. Struggling to remain upright, he reached the bridge and ordered an immediate status report. The officer in command of the Auger Arrays stood to attention. "Sir, 5 minutes ago we picked up several unusual anomalies in our baffles. We were unable to get readings on any of them, Sir." Zarkov scowled. "Let me see that." Pulling the screen towards him, he surveyed the readout. "Helmsman! Bring us about! Escorts are to shadow us." The Vengeance began a tight turn to starboard as Zarkov studied the Augers readouts. The cruiser had been extensively refitted with enhanced sensors for this mission, and her scanners were as good as any ship in the fleet.
At that moment, Captain Stark entered the bridge. His face was troubled. "What do we have, Zarkov?" "I'm not sure Sir, appears to be an anomaly of some kind, possibly warp based." Despite the improved sensors, Zarkov could not reacquire it. Suddenly, a speck appeared on the augers readout. Zarkov started. "There, Sir!" "Send the destroyers the targeting information, order them to fire on the anomaly!" the Captain yelled. Suddenly, the Augers readouts spiked. "Multiple unidentified contacts off the starboard bow sir!" "Aye, I see them; FIRE!!!" Zarkov did not have to wait to identify the targets, anything lurking this far out in the Drusus Marches was definately not Imperial, and therefore was to be destroyed. Macrobattery fire streaked towards the contacts location, but no impacts were registered. The targets had disappeared as soon as they had arrived. "Sir, more contacts off the stern!" Zarkov scowled again. A young ensign approached him, ashen faced. "We've lost the escorts sir." "What?!" The ensign swallowed nervously; Zarkov's reputation preceded him. "They're gone, Sir. Both of them." "Emperor protect us." Zarkov's voice echoed the captains.
At this, the Vengeance was rocked with a series of impacts. Enemy ships materialised around her, their alien weaponry covering the vessel in crackling energy. "ELDAR!" Zarkov spat, his voice filled with hatred. He had encountered these treacherous xenos before, and they never ceased to disgust him with their underhandedness. This sort of sneak attack was exactly the kind of trickery they were wont to employ. "Bring us around, target the xenos off the starboard bow!" yelled the captain. Zarkov ordered the Sunsear batteries to fire as soon as the first Eldar ship came into line. Fiery death spewed towards the alien vessel, but it danced away, staying out of reach of the fire while continuing its energy assault.
"We've lost communications! Power is overloading!" Filthy xenos tech, thought Zarkov. The hull integrity was nominal, and yet somehow the Eldar were manipulating the power grid with their energy weapons. "Keep firing! Destroy these arrogant xenos!" The Sunsear batteries continued to fire, now joined by the Vengeance's lances. The lead Eldar vessel, unable to avoid the sheer volume of fire, disintegrated. "Sir, the power grid is compromised, we have lost weapons control...experiencing power overload." The Vengeance's systems began to go haywire, with enginseers screaming and performing self-mutilation in a vain effort to appease the machine-spirit. The Sunsear batteries, their power source destroyed by the Eldars strange weaponry, overloaded. The pure energy released sparked and crackled down the halls of the Vengeance, frying all in its path. The Sunsear crew were the lucky ones, their proximity to the batteries meant they were vaporised instantly. The rest of the crew were not so lucky. Officers stumbled about with blackened and cracked flesh...burnt but not on fire. The screams of the dying filled the halls.
The captain called for order as chaos filled the bridge, but was immolated mid-sentence by a stream of energy. He fell to the floor, bubbling fat seeping from under his uniform. Zarkov knew his death would leave him in command, in command of a crippled vessel with no weapons and no chance of survival. Flashbacks from Iocanthus hit him like a wave. "Comms are down! We've lost contact with the Command Bridge!" Zarkov shook the memory away as he approached the captains body. Amazingly, he was still alive, though not for long. Zarkov knelt by his commander. Captain Stark looked at Zarkov through one lidless eye, and gestured towards the escape pods. His last words hit Zarkov like a tonne of plas-steel. "Get...out..."
Zarkov rose from the captains lifeless body, his face a stormcloud of anger. A disembodied voice screamed desperately from somewhere on the bridge. "Sir, plasma drives are approaching critical mass! Overload imminent!" Zarkov railed against the xenos as more bolts of unchained Sunsear energy coursed through the ship. The entire gunnery complement was reduced to charred corpses by a single surge. He had seen enough. The ship was lost. And yet, Zarkov was not prepared to die here, as he had been on the Fury. It was somehow wrong to allow the Eldar to claim him like this, when he could not retaliate in any way. He laughed, sounding not unlike Fulvium. "Not a good day to die." he muttered to himself as he walked towards the bridge escape pods. Energy spears flew all around him, impaling crew members and frying consoles. Only one of the pods had functioning lights, and Zarkov opened the hatch and secured himself within. The pod jettisoned automatically, firing out and up. Either the Eldar Corsairs didn't notice the pod or decided it wasn't worth the trouble, as it remained unassailed. The Vengeance, on the other hand, was doomed. Zarkov saw the flash as the plasma drives went critical, and felt the shock waves emanating from her death throes. Then there was nothing, just the cold, silent embrace of the void, and all the time in the world to contemplate it.
18 years ago - Somewhere in the Drusus Marches
The pod floated seemingly lifeless in the void. It mirrored the abyss: dark, silent and cold as the grave. No running lights or flashing beacons pierced the blackness. The sole occupant lay, eyes glazed, in a state of semi-consciousness, bodily functions reduced to a bare minimum. Tubes providing life-support pulsed and vibrated around him, piercing his bloodstained uniform and shrouding his face. The pods oxygen supply was faltering, and noxious gases seeped through the filters. It had just enough power remaining for a weakly repeated distress signal, broadcast on all Imperial bands.
Suddenly, a cold white light illuminated the capsule. Metallic tendrils terminating in electromagnetic clasps drew the life pod towards the light. The bulk of the Mechanicus cruiser dwarfed the one-man pod, stretching for miles in either direction. The pod was swallowed by one of the many docking spires emanating from the vessel's dorsal ridge.
The occupant stirred as docking clamps swung into position around him and locked onto the pod. Hissing, the capsule's door depressurized, lifting up and away. Outside sound poured into the pod for the first time in months; loudly clicking binary and choking rebreather's, a veritable cacophony of mechanical white noise. The aural chaos was broken by a deep synthesized voice, loud and commanding:
"I am Chief Explorator Presius, of the Mechanicus surveyor Omnissiah's Light. What is your business in this Mk. IV Salvator?"
Zarkov's head swam. Was he dreaming or dead? His eyes opened fully for the first time in weeks. The first thing he saw was a flash of red, blurry and indistinct. As his vision focused he could make out the robes of a tech-priest; flowing red and crimson. The mechanical voice repeated the question, now amplified further. "Respond. What is your business in this Mk. IV Salvator?" Zarkov, still groggy, realised the speaker was referring to the life-pod. He heard the sound of a meltagun being charged as he tried to speak.
"Left...Lieutenant...Comman-...Zarkov, Battlefleet Calixis." His breathing was haggard, and speech was difficult. The Mechanicus regarded him with a cold stare. "First Officer...the Vengeance."
The techpriest's cogitator implant whirred to itself, accessing relevant dates and records. Tech-guard and kill-servitors waited silently. "Scout-cruiser Vengeance ceased broadcasting data to system hub nearly a solar year ago...confirmed lost for 6 months. The Mark IV Salvator has a maximum sustainment period of 5 months following ejection. You are lying." The Skitarii surrounding the Explorator raised their weapons in unison, as if following some unspoken command.
Zarkov coughed, thick phlegm running from his mouth. "No." He took a laboured breath, lungs stinging. "With respect, Brother...Explorator, may the Omnissiah...strike me down...if I am." The mind-scrubbed Tech-guard remained unmoving, but some of the Enginseers behind Presius looked shocked. Presius himself took a step back, making the sign of the Machine God. He paused, looking Zarkov over with bionic eyes, noting his augmentations. The cogitator implant whirred again, emotionlessly calculating.
"It appears you have lost nearly twenty percent of your body mass through holy progression to the machine. This perhaps accounts for how the Salvator was able to extend your survival. We will commune with its machine spirit and judge you later."
Zarkov burst out in another fit of coughing. His vision was fading.
"Regardless, you must be cleansed of any foul influences you may have come in contact with while floating in the void." He turned. "Brother Rohkus! Have this...man taken to the chem showers at once. See that a psyker is present. Keep the Skitarii with you. If he moves, shoot him."
The Mechanicus made a strange motion with his hand and multiple tubes disconnected from Zarkov's flesh. He fell forward, legs buckling, to the floor. The Explorator knelt beside him.
"Your flesh is weak. See how the muscles have atrophied around your bionics. Even now you bleed."
"Take him away."
18 years ago - Adeptus Mechanicus Surveyor Omnissiah's Light
Zarkov woke in a cold grey room, surrounded by hexagrammic wards. A massive multi-lensed camera stared down at him from the ceiling. He tried to sit up, but could not - he was restrained by thick metal belts. His muscles protested and head pounded viciously. Grey spots intruded on his vision as he tried to look around the room.
The mind-scrubbed tech-guard trained his shotgun at Zarkov's head. The left half of the man's face had been shorn off at some point, and an ungainly mechanical implant replaced it. Zarkov stopped, looking at the Skitarii. The man stood in front of an access hatch emblazoned with the cog symbol of the Mechanicus, and Zarkov suddenly remembered where he was. An ornate skull mounted on the wall began to glow.
The hatch behind the tech-guard opened and the chief explorator entered, flanked by several more Skitarii also holding shotguns. Presius towered over them, his presence breathtaking. Numerous other tech-priests huddled behind him as he spoke, his synthesized voice echoing in the confined space.
"It seems the adepts have found you are clear of disease and chaotic influence, Zarkov. We are to deliver you to the Navy after our surveys are completed." Zarkov coughed in surprise, struggling to find his voice. He had expected nothing less than execution, a quick end to his life. Redemption. Now that he had been spared, he could not find the words. "M-my...faith. Kept me pure." he stammered.
"Yes...your faith..." The Mechanicus trailed off. A tech-adept handed him a data-slate, looking suspiciously at Zarkov. "Your naval record," Presius held the data-slate in front of Zarkov, not looking at it. "It appears your story checks out." Zarkov could only nod, still amazed. "What your record did not show however was the coordinates of the Vengeance's last transmission. That information was classified, and required a little more effort."
A mechadendrite extended over to Zarkov, holding a mapslate. A three dimensional projection of the Drusus Marches floated above his head, tiny pinpoints of light marking charted systems. A small beacon marked the position of the Vengeance's final signal. "The transmission contained only routine reports on activity in the Tygress System." The tech-priest looked squarely at Zarkov. "There was no mayday transmission, why?"
Zarkov coughed again, clearing his throat. "It happened too fast, the Eldar disabled our communications in the first few seconds of the...engagement." He grimaced, pinching the bridge of his nose forcefully. Spots danced in front of his eyes. "The ships systems went down one after another; it was some energy weapon I had never encountered before. There...there wasn't time." Guilt weighed heavily on his heart as he looked around the room. Cold, metal faces stared back, unfeeling.
"Eldar..." The tech-priest paused. "And yet you managed to make your way to a working escape pod." Zarkov nodded. "Perhaps the machine spirit saw fit to save your life. For what purpose...is yet to be seen." The tech-priest's mechadendrites clicked together in what Zarkov could only assume was contemplation. "The Mark IV Salvator revealed to us that its life-support systems were almost depleted. The ceramite reentry plate suffered heavy plasma scoring, consistent with a considerable detonation." The Lieutenant Commander nodded again. "The energy weapon caused the Sunsears to...malfunction. The drives went critical shortly afterwards." The mechadendrites ceased clicking.
"A catastrophic plasma overload."
"The Eldar's heresies are indeed telling. A powerful and blasphemous weapon this is." The explorator turned, addressing the adept in rapid binary. Finally, he turned back to Zarkov. "What was your final position?" Zarkov held his hand out to the rotating map-slate, and the metal restraints fell away. He sat up gingerly. "We were en-route from the Tygress System to Vasenrule, through several warp routes judged safe by the navigators. At each juncture we would activate our scanners and scour the area. The attack occurred here," Zarkov's finger stabbed the image, "Sector 133-4 by 466. 250 million VU's galactic north-west of Vasenrule."
"133-4/466/CS/NW." Presius intoned the coordinates in a clicking staccato, his cogitator implant whirring once more. "You are sure of this position?" The map-slate magnified to better show the sector of space around the Tygress System. "Yes." Zarkov's finger stabbed again. "This warp juncture was significantly more rimward than the others. Here."
"Very well." Presius inclined his head. Zarkov heard a strange clunking noise, and then the distinctive shudder as the Omnissiah's Light left warp space. He looked at Presius, confused. "We have left the Tygress System, continuing on our original survey route towards Sentinel. Your case did not necessitate further investigation...until now." The ship shuddered again, retrothrusters realigning it in the void. "And now?" Zarkov asked, his mouth dry. Presius turned away towards the hatch, which slid open. He paused in the opening as the warp engulfed the Omnissiah's Light once more.
"We go to find the Vengeance."
18 years ago - Adeptus Mechanicus Surveyor Omnissiah's Light, en route to the Tygress System
Zarkov was once again alone in his cell as the Omnissiah’s Light streaked through warp space. The ever present tech-guard remained outside the door, but did not speak or give any outward signs of sentience unless Zarkov made to exit his prison. Then they would raise their shotguns in unison, and warn him to remain still.
Hours passed, and Zarkov slipped in and out of a fevered sleep. His dreams were delirious, filled with the faces of the dead. The visage of Captain Stark, eyes lidless and damning, stared silently at him. Vile pus oozed forth from Stark's burns, dripping from his chin. Zarkov tried to speak, to atone for the loss of the Vengeance, but the skin on Stark’s face peeled away, leaving a grinning skull. His eyes burst like overripe fruit, and now-empty sockets burned with malevolence.
He woke with a start as the hatch slid open and a diminutive enginseer shuffled in. No, not an enginseer, Zarkov thought, his eyes focusing. A tech-adept. He recognised the trappings of rank; this man had almost completed the trials required to become a higher tech-priest.
The hunched figure carried two trays over to Zarkov’s bedside, laying them on his lap. Zarkov looked at the tray, puzzled. It held only a glass of water and a bowl what he assumed was meat. Why would they send an adept to do such a menial task? Zarkov wondered. He offered his thanks, but the adept remained silent and began to disinfect the walls, muttering prayers.
Zarkov drank deeply. The water was oily and tasted metallic, but it quenched his thirst. The mincy meat mixture tasted faintly of grox, but saltier. The oily tang permeated it as well. He swallowed, and a bitter aftertaste lingered on his palate.
"What is this?" he asked.
"A sustenance ration paste with an organic protein base." The adept's voice was harsh and scratchy, completely devoid of emotion. "Lubricants and mild stimulants are included, along with essential dietary supplements." The Lieutenant Commander swallowed again, wincing. There was something under the oily taste, a cloying sweetness…and something else he could not place. He took another sip of water to wash it down. "Do you have synth-meat?"
The adept looked disinterested. "Of course. Our Manufactorum synthesizes approximately 27.5 flesh units per megacycle. Most are used in creating and replacing servitors, but defective or damaged flesh from the synth-vats is rendered into sustenance paste."
Zarkov paled as he looked at his fork. The mixture slid off the end and back into the bowl with a disgusting plop. He thought he saw a fragment of what might have been bone. The Tech-priest nodded and continued to speak. "Servitors and Skitarii at the end of their service lives are also used in the rendering process. Thickeners are added to maintain consistency and..."
The adept appeared slightly annoyed, as if this should be obvious. "Most of the Skitarii still have intact digestive systems. It was found to be the most efficient method of delivering the necessary nutrients in the field, while simultaneously recycling defective flesh units. This is a Mechanicus ship - efficiency is paramount."
"Yes. The logic is indisputable."
Zarkov, though ravenously hungry, found he could not finish the macabre gruel. He pushed the bowl away, suppressing a strong urge to vomit. Trying to change the subject, he asked the adept about his life in the Mechanicus, but the hunched figure became reticent, and would only reply to Zarkov's probing questions in convoluted proverbs:
"Praise the Omnissiah, for the Machine Spirit protects."
"Soulless sentience is the anathema of all."
"The Omnissiah knows all, comprehends all."
Any questions regarding the inner workings of the Machine-cult were simply not acknowledged, and after a while the repeated proverbs became muttered prayers again. Eventually, the hatch slid open and the adept shuffled out, leaving Zarkov alone with his thoughts.
He wondered what, if anything, would be left of the Vengeance. He didn't even entertain the thought that there might be other survivors, having already begun to view his escape as something of a miracle. Zarkov doubted if they could even hope to find a debris field. It was a grim prospect, and he tried not to think about Stark and the others. He vaguely wondered what his old Captain, Fulvium, was doing. Perhaps he had been reassigned, or had even retired. He suddenly had a powerful urge to know, to talk to his old friend and mentor, but again he found himself falling into a troubled sleep. The faces of the dead would not leave him so easily...
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