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Mercidae Lost - Part One



I. Granum - Command Deck - Vespasarian


With a loud hiss the reinforced blast doors slid open, as if the minor machine spirits that kept the hydraulics functioning recognized the inherent authority of the approaching warrior and feared to wake his wrath. The dark hallway, scarcely brightened by ancient lumens, gave way to the main command deck of the Granum. Despite its large size, the chamber already felt crowded. Along the bulkheads stood dozens of stations, from the main external vox relays and sensorium readers to the gunnery targeting systems and primary engine controls, each crewed by multiple mechanicum adepts, human crewmembers and half-braindead servitors. While each station was designed to be able to function with just one person attending it, the Empire was built on redundancy and oversight.


The crowd of human crew parted in awed reverence to allow the new arrival to pass, bowing and making aquilla signs with their sweaty hands. At the center of the command deck, on a raised dais of ancient brass skulls, stood the ship’s command throne. The ancient massive chair was made from the same brass alloy as the skulls on which it stood. In it, the Shipmaster sat, connected to the vessel’s mighty machine spirit by technology understood by only a few on board. Thick bundles of cables connected the metal seat to the Granum. Clearly altered to accommodate the ship’s cabling, the throne looked haphazardly constructed and out of place, as if taken from a different time. Salvaged by the mechanicum from a dead ship, Granum’s command throne was of an indeterminate age, maybe even as old as the gold clad giant that now approached it.


Vespasarian strode up to the command dais and placed his auramite gauntlet on a side terminal. The intricate machine network of his armor connected to the dais’ and sent a short request to the Shipmaster on the throne. A request of attention, if at all possible, much more polite than necessary, given the status of its sender. The Shipmaster may very well be in command of the Granum and its crew, but the Granum was part of Torchbearer fleet Mercinae, which had been placed under the command of Vespasarian by none other than the Primarch Roboute Guilliman himself. Whenever Bastion Vespasarian, shield-captain of the Adeptus Custodes spoke, he did so with the authority of the Regent of Terra, and thus the Emperor of Mankind.


Granum’s Shipmaster was deep within the heart and mind of the ship’s machine spirit when the call to attention reached him. Normally, when connected to the command throne, he retained consciousness, which allowed him to hear and respond to the crew of the various stations on the command deck. Not that he needed their input when he was linked to Granum directly. Whatever information their pict screens displayed was sent directly in to his mind. Still, there was tradition and decorum to uphold, so he would generally only give his orders after information had been relayed to him by his crew. Now however, he had sent his mind deep down the link in to the vast depths of Granum’s spirit. It was like diving in to an ink black ocean with nothing but a flare to light your way. It felt like he had been down there for hours, although it was more likely only half-an-hour had passed. His search for answers had led him ever deeper, strengthening his bond to the machine spirit, but weakening the connection to his own body. It had been some time since he had received any input from his own senses. The custodian’s request came through the command throne itself however, and broke his obsessive concentration. He realized what he was doing was dangerous. Every young cadet was taught the dangers of losing oneself to the machine spirit. He tore himself away from his search and began dissolving the bond between himself and his ship. He could feel Granum resisting, urging him to remain, tempting him with sensorium data of distance stars and pict images of colorful nebulas. The Shipmaster’s resolve was still a match for the vessel’s. Slow at first, but ever faster, he returned to his body.


It was his sense of smell that returned first. The command deck reeked of sweat, oil and ozone. The sudden assault on his olfactory sense hit him hard and he had to fight to keep his stomach from turning. Sound came next. The constant electric buzzing of the cogitators, loud whispers of the crew and the background hum of Granum’s engines. When he was finally capable of opening his eyes, the Shipmaster was greeted by the sight of Vespasarian patiently waiting at the foot of the dais. Even though the command throne stood upon a platform three feet high, the custodian was still taller than the Shipmaster as he carefully got to his feet. His legs felt numb and his muscles weak. Compared to the half-god giant in front of him he looked like a sick child. Still, Vespasarian bowed his head in respect as the Shipmaster got to his feet and waited for the man to regain his footing before talking.


"Well met this day, Shipmaster. Have your enquiries unearthed anything new?” Vespasarian spoke in a low and well-mannered voice, that carried across the command deck, despite his attempt at whispering.


Still a little unsteady, the Shipmaster used the throne’s armrests as support as he stepped down from the dais. “I’m afraid not. Whatever command has overridden Granum’s systems is buried deep within the machine spirit. It does not want me anywhere near it. Whenever I got close, it tried to distract me or scare me away.”


“So we are still no closer to regaining full control?”


“No. We remain in control of many systems. Void shields, weapons, internal systems, …”


Vespasarian raised his hand to interrupt the Shipmaster’s explanation. “But not the engines?”


“Engines and navigation remain out of our control. Coordinates are locked in and we are moving at maximum sub-light speed.”


The custodian reached for a data slate and handed it to the Shipmaster. “I may have some information on that front. The astropath was able to determine the origin of the original message.”


“It’s the same coordinates isn’t it?”


Vespasarian nodded. “Whoever sent that command code wanted to us to come and meet him.”


The Shipmaster, once again finding his footing, started making his way across the crowded command deck. The crew parted just as easily, if with less reverence, for the Shipmaster as


they did for the custodian. A small hatch on the starboard side of the deck gave entrance to the Shipmaster’s private chamber. He entered, ducking beneath the bulkhead with practiced ease and sat himself down on the chair behind an old desk. Vespasarian followed a little way behind. The custodian had a harder time getting through the small doorway, his incredible size and bulky armor offsetting his natural grace.


When the augmented warrior finally reached the desk, the Shipmaster activated its integrated hollo-systems, displaying a map of the Ultima Segmentum.

“The coordinates locked in to navigation are located here, deep within the Eastern Fringe. We have little to no information on what is out there. Imperial records only name the system Aoke. That name stems from a Rogue Trader’s report filed over 2000 years ago. No other imperial vessel has been there since.”


Vespasarian made a mental note to check his own order’s records on Aoke. The Adeptus Custodes had access to information beyond the imperial archives, beyond even the records of the Inquisition. While he didn’t have access to his order’s entire library, the collection of data he had stored within his armor’s systems and external data rods and slates was quite impressive. “Given its distance, we would have to utilize the empyrean to get there.”


Shaking his head in confusion the Shipmaster replied. “That is another thing I don’t understand about this lock out command. Why lock us on to a trajectory that requires warp travel to reach but not include the warp engines or Gellar fields in the commandeered systems?”


The custodes thought about that for a moment. “Maybe whoever wrote that command didn’t want to risk the crew’s lives in an automated trip in to the Empyrean. Or maybe he thought we would make the jump willingly.”


“Why would we do that?”


Turning to the small round window in the chamber’s outer wall Vespasarian looked out in to the cold black void. “To find out who and why is sending for us. Who knows who is out there waiting.”



II. Granum – Enginarium – Lothaire


Magos lothaire Bell of Mars re-entered the same command code for the 42nd time. The cogitator calculated for 2.36 seconds before rejecting the input. The vox grill of the servo skull attached to the enginarium’s third input station crackled to life and repeated the same response, also for the 42nd time.


“Error. Command priority not recognized. Alpha priority command in progress.”


Lothaire sighed, a strangely human response of frustration coming from a creature that had been more machine than man for over a century. He reminded himself that once, in terra’s distant past, someone had defined insanity as repeating the same action while expecting a different result. While Lothaire found the notion of such a simplistic view of the unstable conditions human minds could find themselves in both laughable and dangerous, he could not help but apply it to his own attempts at regaining control of the Granum. He turned to the two servitors that were always close by, he sometimes sarcastically referred to them as his apprentices, and handed them the date rod he had been using. Although he knew their higher brain functions had all but been removed or pre-empted by their primary operating functions, he found it helped him focus to talk to them.


“This is of no use. Our codes have been locked out. Even my emergency control codes, those capable of overriding even the Shipmaster are not accepted.”


Both servitors stared at him blankly, awaiting a command their limited biological cogitator brain could recognize and execute.


“This forces us to take a step back from the practical application of possible solutions and retreat in to the realm of the abstract and hypothetical. The question remains the same: who has taken control of this ship and how is he able to do this?”


Lothaire stepped away from the input terminal and began pacing up and down the wide metallic gangway above the tertiary induction coils. The immediate vicinity had been cleared of all crew at his request. Lothaire found he did his best work when unbothered by those lesser minds beneath him, his “apprentices” excluded. Both servitors remained stationary at the terminal, only moving their heads to track the magos’ movement across the metal grates. “The Granum was built in the shipyards of Mars only five standard years ago. Its construction was completely according to procedure. Therefore …”


“Error Dicitur.” The loud metallic voice of one of the servitors echoed down the cavernous enginarium. Lothaire stopped his pacing and stared at the simpleminded biological automaton.


“What did you say?”


The servitor fixed his gaze on Lothaire’s face and for a moment the magos thought he could see a spark of intelligence in his otherwise dead eyes.

“Error Dicitur. False statement.”


“Explain!”


“Construction of Granum fell behind projected schedule during second standard year. Schedule was recalculated. Allowances were made to increase production efficiency.”


Lothaire stopped himself from sighing again. Once was a fluke but twice in one day would be unforgivable. “Yes, yes. Integration of reclaimed hardware was allowed against the wishes of Archmagos Dominus Cawl. I have considered this. It is not a sound theory. The only part of Granum taken from another ship was the command throne, and not even that in its entirety. I oversaw the inspection and cleansing personally. There was no xenos or empyrean infection. Besides, why would an enemy incursion leave us our weapons and defenses?”


For a split second the magos expected the servitor to answer, but then he recalled what exactly he was talking to.


“No, we can rule out any interference from outside the imperial sphere. Which leaves us with only a few dozen different potential culprits. Every one of the adepti could have a use for a fully equipped battle barge. But who would dare to go against the wishes of the Regent? Who would dare face the wrath of the Custodes and over a company strength army of Astartes?”


The list in Lothaire’s mind grew considerably shorter. Only a member of the Council of Terra would have the influence and power to survive that kind of politics. A few months ago, when Torchbearer fleet Mercinae was launched towards the Eastern Fringe, rumors had been growing that the Council was preparing to openly oppose the Regent Roboute Guilliman. The Magos had disregarded the rumors as foolish fearmongering. No matter the power of the High Lords, the Regent commanded armies of Astartes similar to those unleashed during the Great Crusade. Legions worth, one could say. Not to speak of the Adeptus Custodes, navy fleets and entire regiments of the Astra Militarum that had sworn allegiance to the Regent personally. Still, could this be part of some ill-conceived plan to gain wealth, power or influence back on Terra? The thought made him feel incredibly uncomfortable, raising his levels of frustration and fear to unacceptable levels.


Lothaire stopped that particular train of thought and banned the implications from his mind. He concentrated for a moment and managed to regain enough control of his remaining biological organs to realign the hormones in his bloodstream, eradicating the frustration, fear and insecurity caused by their imbalance. The only way to solve this problem was through cold logic, pure science and faith in the Omnissiah.


Despite his reliance on cold logic, he found himself turning to his “apprentices” once more. “If we accept that there is no xenos or empyrean infiltration and that there is no other imperial faction attempting to take control of the Granum, who are we left with?”


Once again the servitors remained devoid of useful responses. Lothaire considered calling down one of his subordinate techpriests. Most were working in the enginarium’s control chamber, running useless commands through the cogitators or performing endless rites to plead the ship’s machine spirit back in to compliance. He had already determined that their attempts would be as fruitless as his own. Once again he found the only thing he could do was go back to the beginning and attempt to deduce the solution from the facts.


“The message received by the astropath contained a high level numerical command with the express order to input it directly in to the command throne. While the message’s sender was cloaked, the astropath confirmed it was authentic and contained the necessary psychic imperial ident signs. So we know the message came from high up the military ladder. The throne recognized the command, even though neither me nor any of the other Omnissiah’s blessed priests did. Seeing as how we oversaw the construction of the Granum and the installation of its systems, this should be impossible. Unless, …”


On a hunch Lothaire returned to the enginarium’s third input station. The mechanical fingers of his enhanced hands flashed across the keypads many times faster than any biological human’s ever could, entering diagnostic command lines in Lingua-Technis. After a few minutes he stopped to allow the cogitator to process the commands. The pict screen flashed with a faint green light periodically, indicating the machine was going through it’s vast database, looking for an answer to the magos’ inquiry. 365,87 seconds later the grating voice of the attached servo skull sprang back to life, reading aloud the information that was beginning to appear on the station’s pict screen.


“Command inquiry confirmed. Alpha priority command predates activation of Granum systems. Alpha priority command original input on 3.477.010.M40.”


Finally some success. The command was over 2000 years old. It must have been slumbering in the cogitators of the command throne taken from the dead ship. Because it was an imperial high level command it must have slipped past his inspection. Lothaire felt he was almost there. He once again turned to the input station with further inquiries.


The answer came back quicker this time, as if the station’s limited machine spirit had anticipated his request. His own bionic eyes read the data on the pict screen before the skull’s voice sounded. He stumbled back in surprise as the answer echoed through the deserted part of the enginarium.


“Alpha priority command input ident confirmed. Rank: Primarch. Designation: Vulkan.”



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