This week’s story is an old idea that has been sitting in my head for years. I think it requires just a little bit of set-up for context. It takes place in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Warhammer 40,000 (or 40k for short) a table top war game that I used to actively play. It has a very rich background and has been the setting for dozens and dozens of best selling paperbacks. When I was in my late twenties I played one of the spin-off games, Inquisitor. Unfortunately this game is no longer supported by Games Workshop so I don’t have a link to it specifically. In that game you get to create a variety of characters and the subject of this week’s story was one of those characters, Sergio Malik. He, along with his boss, Inquisitor Guildenstern, and Judge Regina Burgun would race around the galaxy hunting mutants, aliens and demons. It was a really cool, really geeky game. In fact, here’s a picture of them that I took for a campaign we were running:
|Regina’s a bit out of focus, but that’s OK, she’s not in this story.
Anyway, this story is written assuming that you are familiar with the universe. For those who aren’t I’ve included THIS LINK to the 40k wiki so you can look up anything you have questions about. For those of you who just want to get to the story know this: it is the far future, the 41st millennium, humanity is on the downslide and fighting wars on every front. Humanity worships it’s greatest leader, the God Emperor who’s body is kept barely alive by a machine called The Golden Throne. Technology is no longer understood and treated like magic. In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war.
A Tale of Sergio Malik
The ferrocrete of the partition began to crumble under the punishment of stubber slugs and laser blasts. The echo of the impacts rattled Sergio’s head and made him dizzy with a staccato repetition of beats as each shot aspired to find a chink in the wall. Each blast wanted to kill Sergio Malik as much as his attackers wanted him dead. It was not the first time he had faced death, and it was most certainly not the last time he would either. It was also not the first time he had fought alone, although he never liked to; its so much better to have someone watching your back, or at least someone – anyone – who could take a bullet in your place. He had managed to hide himself in this little cubby, a small box of ferrocrete that once must have contained some artifact of the Adeptus Mechanicus that could have maintained this section of the hive or heated water or whatever those things do. Now it was just a four-foot square of wires and empty tubes three feet above the floor and one foot below it, with a dash of Sergio’s blood for color, and while it was providing his only protection it could just as easily become his final resting place. They knew where he was; that much was plain, and it was only a matter of time before they figured out that he wasn’t shooting back. Sergio’s stubber was empty, the three clicks he heard, actually felt more than heard, were evidence of that. His revolver, Tania the Angle of Salvation, had only three full chambers; each one was loaded with a simple slug, none of them were explosive or ‘smart’ or filled with an acid that might cover the whole of the area. Nope, just a three simple dum dums. Dum dum, that’s how he felt now.
The shooting had stopped. Footfalls and scuffles along the floor; they were moving! Maybe they thought he was dead? More likely they were closing in for the kill. Kill? More like slaughter. Instincts honed by decades of running in low circles kicked back in. Without the distraction of the swarm of bullets he felt much more like himself.
The footsteps stopped and there was some hesitant shuffling. “He might be dead.”
Another voice called out, “I didn’t see him go down.”
The first voice, closer than the others, called back, “I got ‘im I know it!”
Another voice called, it was coming from Sergio’s left, “You never get ‘em!” Laughter erupted from the men he was fighting. It sounded like four altogether.
“Quiet!” a voice commanded. That made five of them left, but only one of them sounded like he knew what he was doing. Still, five was two too many for three bullets. “Gersh, go look; make sure Tygon really did get ‘im!” Another burst of laughter. Good they were distracted! The walls of the cubby suddenly felt cavernous as Sergio prepped to leap up. This was a gamble, a horrible gamble. There was no way to guarantee he would get out of here alive, but maybe dying was a lot better than definitely dying. The quilted flack armor that Sergio wore was now tattered and had a few more holes than he was comfortable with; the plate of ablative armor that he had attached that very morning was now dented and useless. The blue of his vest was now crimson and purple in some places where he was dripping life, although thankfully that was abating. Everything was sore, even through his rising adrenalin, and Sergio knew that, if he lived, tomorrow he might be sorry that he had. The metal of the hive’s decking betrayed Gersh’s location as he closed in on Sergio’s cube. Sloppy, just plain sloppy; it was a wonder that any of these weird cults ever got anything done, ‘course usually all they want to do is raise a menace and try to sew the roots of dissent among the populace, things like that were simple with a gun in your hand. A gun in his hand, that was actually essential to Sergio’s plan. Surely they wouldn’t send someone with an empty weapon to investigate? Actually they might, but he needed to believe that they wouldn’t. He would use one precious shot as Gersh leaned over the rim. One shot that would kill him and then he would pull the body, and his weapon, into the cubby so that Sergio could use it. As Gersh got closer, Sergio got ready and the pain that he had been feeling lifted.
Gersh got closer and confidence seemed to fill each of his steps. A shadow, both deadly and hopeful, hesitantly peered over the edge into the cubby. First a beefy arm that ended in a gun barrel, which was then followed by a hooded head that eclipsed the light directly above Sergio’s head. As Sergio’s eye’s adjusted to the new dimness he could see the moment of realization come over Gersh’s face that Sergio wasn’t dead and then the moment of horror as Gersh saw Tania, the Angel of Salvation, pointed at him. Time rubber banded as the hammer fell in Tania and a chemical explosion pushed a slug of soft, dense metal forward at super sonic speed. It spun down the barrel of Tania and escaped in a cloud of heat and residue. Gersh’s face didn’t even have time to change expression before it was cratered and torn apart. Sergio reached up with his right hand and grabbed the cultist by the robe under his chin. He gave one sharp tug and the body, complete with rifle, fell into the cubby next to him. Then the rubber band snapped and things felt almost too fast to handle.
Sergio’s hand wrapped around Gersh’s rifle as the sound of yelling and feet came running at his cubby. A las gun, Guard issue and with a healthy charge; these dissidents were well equipped for a bunch of cultist scum – maybe the boss was right to check them out. Sergio grabbed it and clicked it to burst fire with his right hand while his left put Tania back in her holster. This wasn’t how he was supposed to spend his day. This wasn’t even how this investigation was supposed to go. The plan was to integrate into the hive, see what the locals could tell him about the dissidents in the Under Hive, and then report back to the boss whether it was worth further investigation. The las gun in his hands was proof enough that there would need to be a full Inquisitorial investigation. Now he just needed to escape.
Before this all began, before he was seconds away from dying in a hive city thousands of thousands of light years away from where he started, Sergio Malik was enjoying the benefits that went along with being in the personal entourage of an Inquisitor of the Ordo Hereticus. Of all of the people in the God-Emperor’s galaxy no one was granted more respect or freedom than a member of His Inquisition. They lived in lavish homes with full support staffs of servitors and serfs. Sergio had access to some of the most impressive weaponry in the universe, although he preferred his own guns since they had never let him down. He was given medical care that some worlds in the Imperium hadn’t even imagined, much less had ever seen. And the food, oh the food! He had access to things he didn’t even know could be cooked, and they were all delicious! But these kinds of perks don’t come without earning them and as a gunfighter employed by one of the most dangerous men in the galaxy investigating some of the most hostile forces in the galaxy you never knew if the last meal you ate would be your last meal period. The last thing he had eaten in the hive before getting pinning in the cubby was a bowl of noodles with a protein paste broth. Definitely not as nice as the seared Rotan game bird with a lactic bean salad and a bottle of wine that was near impossible to pronounce. When he got out of here the first thing he was going to do was learn how to pronounce that wine!
His boss is Inquisitor Balthazar Guildenstern of the Ordo Hereticus. He is a tall man with sharp features, a lean body and no hair whose mission is to root out and destroy the cancer of political and religious heresy in the God Emperor’s Imperium. It’s a grand job and not for the faint hearted. Sergio had met the Inquisitor when he was employed by one of the navigator houses as a body guard. He had been assigned to one of the children of a prominent house, an adult child with a terrible gambling problem. During a particularly expensive game where the boy had gambled away nearly all he had except for his warp eye, the gambling den was raided by Inquisitorial storm troopers. The den was in a particularly seedy part of a city that was known itself as being particularly seedy on a planet that was thought of as seedy in the first place, so when the troopers burst in the response from the gamblers inside was immediate. Weapons of all types were drawn and used. Tables were over turned to create cover. The den itself wasn’t very large, about the size of an average hab unit with two sleep spaces, so the amount of cross fire was thick and deadly. The boy panicked so Sergio, doing his job, shot and fought his way past three of the troopers, aiming for the few vulnerable spots in their armor, and dodged past and under the shooting. He grabbed the boy and dragged him into a back room where, during his earlier scouting, he had spotted a “rat hole” exit that the proprietors probably expected to use on just this sort of occasion. The proprietors didn’t make it. Sergio tossed the boy through the hole and then followed after. They made it out, he tossed a grenade back down the hole and they were just about home free when they were stopped by a squad of storm troopers lead by Inquisitor Guildenstern. The grenade went off shortly after, only the boy reacted.
Sergio holstered his weapons and the boy pissed himself. “I am Sergio Malik, body guard of the Navigator House Shantoom and this is my charge. I understand, as a citizen of the Imperium, that it is my responsibility to surrender to the will of an Inquisitor, but I am also bound by the laws governing the safety of the Navigator Houses to return this boy to his family before allowing him or myself to be taken by any acknowledged authority.” The speech was practiced and relaxed, almost blasé. Sergio knew they had been caught and wasn’t going to be able to fight his way past a squad of anyone out in the open, much less highly trained storm troopers and an Inquisitor.
Inquisitor Guildenstern smiled a small smile that looked like it almost cracked his face, “You managed to escape a gambling den full of miscreants and criminals as they were being raided by some of the best trained soldiers in the Emperor’s galaxy?”
“I did. It was surprisingly easy.” Sergio made firm eye contact with the Inquisitor, but inside he was nervous. “I should also apologize; I had to shoot a few of your troopers to do it.” The storm troopers grimaced and aimed at Sergio for that.
Inquisitor Guildenstern raised his hand to stop them, “That’s all right; you do have a duty to your house and the boy. Even he, with his degenerate habits, is more valuable than the whole of this storm trooper platoon. My question for you is could you do it again?”
Sergio was surprised, “Yes, provided there was time to scout and prepare.”
The Inquisitor nodded to himself, “Let these men go. See that they make it safely back to their transport. You, boy, curb your habits. I will speak to your elders about how I found you here. And you, Malik, inform the House of Shantoom that Inquisitor Balthazar Guildenstern wishes to retain your services for an indeterminate amount of time. I will send for you once this ruckus is cleaned up.” And then he walked away. Sergio didn’t know at the time, nor would he learn until well after, that the Inquisitor had actually had him under surveillance for over a decade. During that time he had watched how Sergio had fought his way out of a hive city, much like the one he was trapped in now, as part of the planetary defense force when it was attacked by Eldar pirates. He saw that after his discharge the only jobs he was good at were related to violence. Sergio had been an enforcer, money collector, and gun fighter for whomever could afford his price. What the Inquisitor liked about him was that, even as a mercenary, he had integrity and actually did care about the future of humanity. That was rare, especially in a universe wrought with so much temptation. The House of Shantoom released Sergio and it was immediately apparent that he had traded up.
That is, until you get stuck in a box with four well-armed cultists of the Dark Gods bearing down on you. Grabbing the body of Gersh as a shield, he stood and shot at the four cultists as they approached. Las shots snapped off sounding like repetitive whip cracks. Sergio had sent short bursts of fire in the general directions of the attackers as he popped up, mostly as cover and for the shock. He didn’t hit anyone, though. Now that he had clear sight, at least as clear as his sight could be around the lolling head of Gersh, he was able to place his shots better. Impacts hit Gersh’s body making sounds like popping over-ripe fruit. The stink of flash burned robes and flesh filled Sergio’s nostrils. His shots, better aimed now, downed three of the cultists quickly, their red robes flapping as they fell looking like flames that were burning out. Sergio felt a burn on his left shoulder, it was the leader. He was a better shot and in a better position. After trading shots back and forth he could feel the wet of Gersh’s viscera starting to spill on his legs. This shield wasn’t going to be good for much longer. He dropped with the body as he heard shots slap into the cubby again. The power pack on the las gun was low, only a few shots left. He was still stuck!
“You’re not getting out of this!” The cultist shouted, “I’m sending you to your corpse god and then feasting on your heart!” Then he laughed a deep guttural laugh. Sergio frowned hard and looked around at what he had: a nearly empty las gun, two slugs left in Tania, a dead shot up body, and a series of hoses and tubes in the cubby hole, none of them big enough for him to slip through…
The leader stopped laughing and noticed that, besides the hum of the machines this deep in the hive, there was no noise. He took a quick peek around the corner, no motion by the cubby hole. He swung around with his rifle and popped off a couple shots. No response. “Hey, gun fighter, lost your nerve?” No response. The leader got brave and dashed to a bit of cover closer to the cubby. No shots were fired. “I’m coming to get you, gun fighter! I won’t go down like Gersh!” No response. He dashed to a bit of cover much closer to the cubby, no shots; no movement at in, in fact. Steeling up his nerve the cult leader popped up and ran yelling at the cubby, shooting blindly over the lip into the center of the box! Nothing, only Gersh’s body and a lot of blood all over the floor, a lot of blood; a body’s worth of blood. The leader rushed to the other side of the cubby, maybe the gun fighter had crawled out while he was hiding behind cover? But there was no blood trail, no body and no real escape route that wouldn’t have been visible. He spun in place, checking all the angles, even above. The gun fighter had vanished! Not sure what had happened, but satisfied that he was no longer in danger, the leader went and checked on the bodies of his fallen team. The three on the deck were dead. He collected the guns and power packs to take back with him. The rats and milipods will take care of the bodies. Then he headed to the cubby, Gersh was still there. He wondered how much of the blood in the cubby was from Gersh and how much was from the gun fighter. The leader jumped into the cubby and grabbed the discarded las gun, leaning it against the side of the cubby. Then he flipped over the body…
It wasn’t Gersh, what was left of Gersh after all the shots the body had taken was stuffed down between the pipes and tubes. Sergio had thrown on the robe and laid over the mess to wait for a chance to escape or kill. He said, “The Emperor Protects” and pulled the trigger. Tania spit one of her last two shots right between the cult leader’s eyes and he fell, limp, to the floor of the cubby. Sergio was quick to stand and throw off the robe. The stink of cultist blood was all over him. He grabbed the las guns, used the straps to hold them over his shoulder and made his way to the nearest Adeptus Arbites precinct to report. There were cultists on Muldavia, and the boss was going to have to do something about it.