Friday, 13 December 2013

Tales From Beyond the Table

For the first time in months, the hull of The Emperor's Hand began to resonate with the solemn moan of its grand pipe organ.  Atticus let his hands wander of their own accord, choosing keys carelessly while his mind swelled with unwanted memories; leering demons, twisted alien monstrosities and the unforgettable image of his own mangled body.  His normally iron resolve had been shattered by weeks of insomnia.  The dreams that awaited him were far more terrible than the creeping cost to his health.

A particularly discordant note stirred Atticus from his thoughts and he steadied his hands, moving subtly from brooding adagio to a focused presto.  Turning his mind to the keyboard he brought the voices together, rising in glorious canon until the final cadence seemed to reverberate not only within the empty hall accomodating the organ, but within the endless void itself, visible through the ceiling-high observation windows of the organ-tower.

---

His nerves quelled by the familiarity of the music, Atticus rose to his feet and began to pace the room.  His entire person had been shattered and rebuilt so many times over the past year he was beginning to think his current state of sleepless confusion would become his life.  And yet he had been feeling different the past few days, strange epiphanies were creeping through his mind during quiet hours.

When he discovered just over a year ago that he was the ignorant heir to a grand family legacy and an imperial warrant of trade to go with it, he had emphatically seized at the chance to break free from the boredom of his comfortable life as a middling noble.  He sought to travel to the most dangerous regions of the galaxy in search of any challenge that might win him some respect, with a wide-eyed curiosity for the wonders of the far universe.  What he had found was more horrifying than he could ever have comprehended.  There was no heroic adventure to be found in the Koronus Expanse, this was no playground for petty one-upmanship between vain ship captains.  He had found a teeming mass of cosmic horrors, perched on the doorway of the imperium, at any moment capable of bursting through and extinguishing the flame of humanity.  Atticus had never thought much of the needs of common folk, he would openly admit it, yet the thought of his homeworld being visited by legions of murderous automatons, bloodsucking alien parasites, or elder things born of ancient warp dreams.... it shook him to his core.

Feeling a sense of urgency Atticus moved swiftly to his study. Venting his thoughts at an autoquill, he began to formulate his plans.  The Koronus Expanse was too vital for him to flee from, the terrors lurking in its corners must be confronted and dominated if humanity are to ever feel truly safe within their borders.  If his life's mission was to contribute a grand legacy (and Atticus was certain that it was) to the histories of the imperium it would be this: to carve a bastion of true civilisation in the expanse, whatever the cost.  The corrupt instruments of imperial authority here could not be trusted to protect its people.  His heart beat rapidly when considering the heresy of his thoughts but Atticus knew them to be true.  The inquistion were more concerned with their futile and cowardly quest to expunge heretics than with defending innocents.  Imagine if they had aided his mission to The Dread Pearl, working together they could have harvested incredible riches from that planet and put them to use, fortifying the interests of the imperium.  No, only he could be trusted to carry out this sacred task, Atticus mused, and he knew in his heart that the emperor's favour would be with him.

---

When Atticus woke he knew immediately he had been sleeping for hours, perhaps half a day.  Feeling a renewed sense of purpose he pored over his notes.  His immediate priority was to develop his fledgling colony with all his resources.  He must find a way to swell its population and defences to serve as a suitable base for his new colonial state.  Next he must develop trade links among all the independent planets of the expanse, to secure defensive alliances and preferably to gather more wealth for himself with which he would use to construct a great defensive fleet.

Only one problem remained.  The Koronus expanse was swarming with self-obsessed parasites, rogue-traders by name but persons of pitiful character compared to Atticus Havelock. They would take every opportunity to sabotage his plans, but as the future of human civilisation depended on them Atticus knew that this could not be allowed to happen.  An arrogant ex-navy captain and a jacked-up gangster had already proven themselves dedicated adversaries but there was one in particular Atticus knew could never be trusted to serve him in the quest to reforge the expanse.  His instincts told him every misfortune that plagued his last 6 months came from but one devious mind.....

Atticus underscored one name at the top of his list.