Suffer Not the Alien
A Deathwatch short story by Tim Peers
No ownership of or challenge to any copyrights is intended or implied.
Brother-Sergeant Antariel was pinned, and it didn't look like reinforcements were on the way. He was well versed in strategies for every conceivable tactical situation, but on this the Codex Astartes was silent.
The damnable woman just wouldn't stop talking.
He stood by priceless Bantaxian crystal windows, holding an unused champagne flute of similar value in an armoured hand comically too large for it, as the toxic rains of Lyrian VII streamed down them. Ordinary glass would have dissolved in moments under that onslaught, and right now, Antariel would envy it. At least such a death would be quicker and less painful than.. this. The woman's name was Dame Ophelia Kyran Randal-Lyrantis, and Inquisitor Yolanda had introduced them as soon as they had arrived at the Governor's reception. The woman had stuck like a melta-charge to a Chimera, with what felt like similar results.
As Dame Ophelia chattered, telling him the latest gossip and details of the social lives of every single dignitary in the room, Antariel cast a despairing glance over at Inquisitor Yolanda. He had sworn to obey the orders of the Ordo Xenos Inquisitor without question, but the wisdom of this course was beyond him. The Inquisitor looked far more comfortable than he, despite having replaced her usual Sabbat-Pattern form fitting power armour with a massively voluminous dress. To see someone who was usually such a beacon of Imperial might on the battlefield reduced to an ungainly peacock twisted a part of Antariel's heart that he didn't know he possessed. Only the Inquisitor's head was visible amongst layers of cloth, jewels and feathers, but she had assured him that in noble company, it was armour of its own sort.
The worst of it was, he would remember every moment of this colossal waste of time. Even for a Space Marine, Antariel was blessed- at least, it was usually a blessing- with an exceptional, almost eidetic, memory. His ability to recall facts had swiftly earned him the Deathwatch nickname 'Codex', but right now it meant that for a century to come, he would remember that Mikhail, Grand-Duke of Upper Spire A3, had an artificial leg having lost the original in a card game with Rogue Trader Petraus Lux.
Finally, mercifully, Yolanda called him over, causing Ophelia to stop abruptly. He nodded to the woman, and strode over the black marble floor- probably priceless as well- towards the Inquisitor. She was a tall, imposing woman standing a little over six feet. She barely came up to Antariel's shoulder.
“Ah, Brother-Sergeant!” said Yolanda, beaming, “Might I present to you Governor Achilles Damask, whose timely message alerted us to the Xenos threat on this world?”
The Governor was a tall, slim man, in stark contrast to most of the overstuffed nobles at the reception. His black, pointed beard was impeccably trimmed and shot through with the merest hint of grey, and he wore a simple, black suit in an austere cut. Antariel recognised the bearing of a former soldier. He favoured the man with a short, respectful nod. “Governor.”
The Governor bowed deeply. “Brother-Sergeant. A shame the rest of your team were unable to join us.”
“They have already departed on a new assignment.” said Antariel. “Inquisitor Yolanda requested that I accompany her to this function before joining them.”
The Governor smiled, and took a small sip of his ice-wine. “Surely an interminable bore for a warrior of your stature, Brother-Sergeant. I humbly thank you for your forbearance.”
“I am not required to enjoy my assignments.” replied Antariel. “Merely to obey.”
A waiter-servitor rolled over, bearing a tray of small, round delicacies that smelt faintly of some sort of fish to the Marine's enhanced senses, though they had been dusted with sweet spices. The Governor clapped his hands together. “Excellent! My Lady Inquisitor, this is Denebrian Caviar, part of a small shipment I received in gratitude for our efforts in helping to equip the 327th Regiment at short notice. Of course, the swift deaths those brave men and women will bring to the enemies of the Most Holy Emperor is the greatest reward any man could wish for, but I am sure you will enjoy this more immediately tangible bounty.”
Yolanda took one with a look of evident delight, and popped it into her mouth. Antariel simply glared at the proffered plate. “An Astartes shall eat not for pleasure, but only out of necessity. Food is a gift of Him on Terra to keep our bodies hale and our arms strong, no more.”
“Of course, of course.” said the Governor, amiably. “I would dearly love to partake myself, but this is the last of the shipment and it would be a poor host who put himself before his guests.” He waved his hand at the servitor, which rolled smoothly away. Antariel watched the slave-device go on its rounds of the room. There certainly were more guests than servings, and many loudly and politely declined so that others could have their share. They would probably boast equally loudly of their generosity later.
“You certainly are very accommodating to your guests, Governor.” said Yolanda with a smile.”Tell me, how is your most recent settling in?”
The Governor stepped back in evident shock. “My Lady? I.. I must admit I am unsure of what you are referring to.”
“What, indeed?” said Yolanda, the smile now broader on her face though absent from her eyes. “Not 'who', after all. It is insidious, is it not? Which is it now, full control, or merely a whisper in the back of your mind? Perhaps it has integrated itself so completely that neither of you know where one ends and the other begins?”
The entire room was watching the scene, now, except for several guests who seemed to be struck by a fit of coughing. Antariel scanned the room for potential weapons. His bolt pistol had been left in a secure antechamber at the Inquisitor's insistence, but there was a sturdy-looking carving knife on a nearby table that looked like it could serve. Yolanda suddenly let out a gasp, and bent double, retching.
“You will learn soon enough!” hissed the Governor, all signs of his previous respectful demeanour gone. The liveried guards stationed at the doors of the banqueting hall now all had short-pattern lasrifles trained on Antariel. Contemptible weapons, but dangerous in numbers. “Jaakatii brain-worm, Inquisitor, the microscopic egg secreted deep in your little treat. Soon, you will know-”
Yolanda abruptly straightened, and seized the Governor by the jaw in a lightning fast motion, choking off his words before his men could react. “Know? My dear Governor, I am the Inquisition. There is nothing, nothing I do not know!” She leaned in close to the stunned man, and for a single, ludicrous moment Antariel thought she was going to kiss him. Instead, she spat a dark, bloody gobbet into the Governor's mouth and clamped it shut with terrible force. As the man writhed in her grasp, crimson blood began to pour from his every orifice.
“For example,” said Yolanda, so quietly that only Antariel, and possibly whatever was left of the Governor, could hear, “I know that Jaakatii brain-worms cannot penetrate a digestive tract lined with Jokaero nano-fibre, I know exactly how long they take to gestate, and I know that they are horribly, fatally jealous.”
They were almost certainly dead, thought Antariel, even as he gauged the distance to the nearest guard, but at least the Inquisitor had taken this small victory. At that instant, as fingers whitened on triggers and the Brother-Sergeant tensed to spring, the lights went out. The effect was instantaneous. By the time fumbling hands had found the switch, six men were dead and both Inquisitor and Marine were ensconced in cover behind a heavy iron-wood table. It took Antariel a shameful split-second longer than it should have to register that they had been joined by Dame Ophelia.
“Brother-Sergeant” said Yolanda conversationally as she snapped off rounds with a pilfered short-las, “May I present Sister Famulous Ophelia of the Order of the Key?”
“The lights?” said Antariel, raking the advancing mass of xeno-tainted nobility with burst fire.
“Just so.” said Ophelia, all trace of the twittering Dame now gone. “These things see poorly in the dark, it seems.”
Antariel realised that the ornate broach on Yolanda's breast was glowing faintly, and even through the din of the fire-fight he could detect a faint buzz from the device. A short-range alert transmitter, then, but surely no local force would reach them in time, for the situation was still grim. They were outnumbered in the region of fifty to one, and armed only with las weapons hard-wired to high yield fire. His captured weapon and the Inquisitor's held barely thirty rounds between them. The opposing masses were being reinforced by more guards streaming in from the antechamber, though the corpse of their supposed leader now cooled on the marble floor. Pinned down for the second time in one day, thought Antariel.
Pinned down.. his memory went to work.
There- the Duke of House Decatiel, who breathed with the aid of a tank of hi-ox. A well-aimed lasgun round, and he became a blazing fireball that scattered twenty men in a screaming heap around him. Over there, the Dowager Duchess Kandria, accompanied as always by a pampered cyber-mastiff with a berserker trigger wired to her heartbeat. Another shot, and the enraged beast rampaged through a nearby fire-team.
The power-cell of Patriarch Garrik's cybernetic arm, notoriously unstable, went off like a frag grenade with a clean hit. Finally, with his last five rounds, the hairline crack in the great eastern window that the gossips said was an accident waiting to happen proved to be just that. Toxic rains blew in, and men melted.
Antariel dropped down behind the rapidly disintegrating table. “I do like an attentive student.” commented Ophelia.
“Much good it does us.” grunted the Marine, sweeping up a large carving knife. “My Lady, the south exit is unguarded. I will buy you all the time I can to escape with the Sister.”
He vaulted the table, and took a single stride before the world fell in. A huge, steaming, black shape smashed through the vaulted ceiling of the banqueting hall, retro-thrusters blazing like Vulkan's own hatred. Before the clanging echo of its arrival had died away, the drop-pod's doors crashed open, and the Deathwatch was there.
First, as always, was Donatal, 'Breach'. Las-fire pinged harmlessly from his boarding shield as he pounded down the ramp and stood fast, providing cover for Trajan, 'Thundercloud', to brace his heavy bolter. The Dark Angel said nothing, as always, but his weapon spoke for him, and the xenos knew well its meaning. A mob of guards tried to rush the position, but received a Hellfire shell for their efforts, dissolving where they stood. From another egress point, Kendrak, 'Jinx', emerged. The Red Scorpion strode boldly forwards, bolter blazing as he poured dragonfire on the enemy before a shot punched clean through his pauldron. Cursing, he rolled into cover as Veteran Walkus stepped out from the rear of the pod, bearing a spare boltgun and helm. Walkus had no nickname. None would stick.
Acid rain hissed from the Blackshield's armour as he tossed the helm to Antariel. “Might want this, Brother-Sergeant, weather's turned foul.”
Antariel caught the helm mutely, and the hypno-block in his mind dissolved as he donned it. The Genestealer cult they had come to eradicate had been detected too soon, too precisely, for any normal Hive authority to achieve. Despite publicly burning the bodies, Inquisitor Yolanda had secretly studied the corpses of some of the slain hosts, and in several, found the remains of the brain-worms. The creatures were clever, stealthy, and jealous, and would brook no interference in their nest. No more than a handful of Hybrids had been spawned before the Deathwatch had arrived to slaughter them.
Of course, the creatures were far too careful to challenge the Inquisition directly, but if a single Inquisitor could be isolated and turned to their cause, what a prize that would be! The xenos had moved carefully to achieve their aim, and Yolanda, determined to find the root of the infestation, had chosen to let them believe they had succeeded. The Deathwatch Frigate, Indomitable Fire, had left as scheduled, but in its wake had been a single drop-pod in an orbital pattern, awaiting the Inquisitor's order to fire its descent thrusters. The pod was powered-down and virtually undetectable as the Kill-Team within relied on their armour and superhuman constitutions for survival until the call to action. Finally, all knowledge of the plan had been blocked from Antariel's mind by deep hypnosis, because as Yolanda had said, “Astartes are peerless warriors, but hopeless actors.”
All this came to Antariel's mind in an instant, as he took the proffered bolter and hooked into the assault force comm-net. A dull boom from deep below heralded the first breach as Arbites Enforcers and the Sisters of the Blazing Chalice began to storm the spire. The xeno-hosts fell back from the hall in disarray as bolter fire flayed them mercilessly, though the shredded remains of many of their number would never stir again. In the brief quiet, Antariel turned back to the Inquisitor, who had removed her ungainly, blood-stained dress to reveal the slim-fit golden armour beneath.
“Insertion complete, Lady Inquisitor. Local purgation forces advancing. Your order?”
“Suffer not the Alien to live, Brother-Sergeant.”