Assassins Sextet: Nice and Subtle
30/11/2008 in Warhammer 40K
‘Who are you?’
Nate’s gun wavered in his sweaty hand. He was not at home with violence, not visible violence, not the kind that was close up, close enough to see the blood, close enough to be anything like a fair fight for his opponent. The trigger was slippery on his finger, the gun too heavy on his wrist. He licked his lips and repeated the question.
The man smiled.
‘You look uncomfortable with violence. It’s okay… I am too.’
The man didn’t look it. He had that blank face that you knew never changed, no matter what he was doing, whether he was stretching, speaking or gloved in slick gore to his elbows, fingers grabbing, scraping, digging. Nate had a brief mental image and was nearly sick. The gun dipped, and nearly fell. He swallowed and steadied it. The man steepled his fingers and smiled at him.
Nate flinched from that word like a slap. He was an assassin. Nate knew it. He was. His plans had been so well thought out, complicated skeins of alliance and betrayal, of back-room deals and secret transfers, of lies and falsehoods, all laid down perfectly, waiting to be triggered as one. A vast scheme, its threads reaching to ends and consequences so great and terrible that even he, its architect, was impressed and… a little frightened. Just a little, though. It was his scheme, his child.
The man sitting in his chair cocked his head at Nate’s pistol, eyes almost bored as they seemed to trace the thick length of the barrel, Nate’s fear-pale finger convulsively stroking the trigger.
‘Are you going to shoot me?’
Nate’s finger nearly squeezed. He didn’t want to. He knew a man in his position should have the courage, the balls to do it. He knew anyone else would empty the clip and dance through the blood-spray, no doubt dedicating it all to the Master, tongue extended to catch the drops.
Nate didn’t fire. The man smiled wider.
‘Only… I pressed the alarm button under your desk about thirty seconds ago, and if you wait your guards can do it for you.’
Nate’s heart started to hammer harder. What was this? Man breaks in, through security Nate had put together himself, and damn well if he did say so himself, and just… sits.
Slight smile on his face.
Calls the guards himself.
I am dead.
He really was. This was a trick, some horrible bit of sadism to torture Nate before they put him into the real thing. Nate had met Inquisitors. He had seen some of their work, and while a little part of him had thought oh that’s… pretty… every molecule of him wanted to avoid the same fate himself. He had been caught. This was it.
The door slammed open and Nate stifled a shriek as men in black carapace armour, visors down like sunshades to hide no doubt cold and merciless eyes, shotguns held like lovers, stormed in and dropped to their knees, guns racking and rising in terrible unison. He nearly swallowed his tongue. Their leader, an insectile brute with a golden stripe down his helmet, turned to Nate, matte-black gun never wavering. The soldier’s voice was calm.
The threads of a sickly smile found their way onto Nate’s face.
The men filed out to spread around the man in the chair, their weapons steady and cocked, wielded as calmly as Nate’s most resoundedly wasn’t. He dropped the too-heavy pistol to the silk carpet of his office and turned to the sergeant, patting him gingerly on an armoured shoulder.
‘Yes… yes, good job.’
The man was still smiling, fingers idly tapping each other in a nonsense rhythm that started to make Nate’s nerves twitch. He decided to interrogate the assassin right here, to have the men beat that stupid tune out on his flesh with their gun-stocks, and he would drag answers out of the black-clad bastard himself. Nate’s hands had stopped shaking and he was warm with anger.
‘So…. an assassin. Why?’
The man’s voice was soft as he leaned back in his… no, in Nate’s chair. He had no fear of the men’s loyalty wavering if they heard Nate’s plans or allegiances. They were loyal to him. Nate felt a thrill of that same arousal again. Power.
‘You, Planetary Governor Nathaniel Roe, are a worshipper of the Ruinous Powers, more specifically the devil-god of lies and secrets. Abusing your power, status and connections, you have over the last six years put in place a great scheme to completely and anonymously destabilise a large part of this subsector. At a single, no doubt mildly theatrical phrase from you, your anonymously-chaired companies on two dozen worlds will go bankrupt, destabilising their economies to the point where starvation and dispossession is a certainty for millions of loyal Imperial citizens. At the same time, cults started by trusted men under your control will strike designated targets with pinpoint force… pinpoint force already co-ordinated and planned to a tee by you. These medi-care centres, granaries, government buildings will fall, exacerbating the crises, while other, unconnected and expendable cults rise up and preach anti-Imperial sentiments to an enraged and vulnerable populace.’
Nate blinked. The man continued.
‘While these cults will be swiftly put down by Imperial powers, and no doubt with heavy prejudice, other more subtle cults will move to raise support for their martyrs, no doubt including the fallen innocents in their call for vengeance. This will correspond with the discovery of ‘Imperial’ weapons stockpiles, at least one of which containing a nuclear device, funded by your private fortune, tipping the balance briefly in heretic favour. You aim for at least one planet to suffer Exterminatus, thus making it easier for other heretic cults to garner support on surviving worlds. This is your plan. To start.’
Nate watched the ten soldiers slowly turn their heads towards him. He swallowed.
The man took a deep breath and smiled at Nate.
‘How am I doing?’
He didn’t wait for an answer, but rubbed at his mouth and started again. Nate began to wish he had not dropped his gun, but emptied the entire clip into this man and danced in the blood. That would have made much more sense.
‘The very nature of your scheme is incredibly intricate but also supremely co-ordinated; ready to happen at a moment’s notice, a great fall of dominoes across twenty worlds. Such planning, such deviousness, is sacrosanct to your lord, and so not only is your aim to indirectly murder millions a prayer to him, but the very intricate nature of it is as well. You’re praying by the nature of your praying. It’s very clever… so very nice and subtle.’
Nate’s throat was dry as he forced the words out.
‘That was the point.’
He walked over to the drinks cabinet in his office and opened it, running a shaking hand over bottle lids before selecting his best ghommis, the ice-chilled bottle older than he was. He picked up a glass and filled it with the inky liquid, trying to appear nonchalant, trying not to order the men to shoot the man to paste so Nate didn’t have to talk to him anymore. The liquor was harsh on his lips as he sipped, and as it spread fingers of barbed warmth through his throat a chill of mindless bravado ran through him and he retorted before he could think.
‘Yes, but we’ve caught you! You useless fool assassin, how are you going to stop me now? Hah, what shrine teaches the great art of sitting and talking? You’re not a freak-beast Eversor, or one of the Soulless. If you were a Vindicare, you’d be a mile away with a rifle-‘
And I’d be dead right now.
‘-So what? What are you? What was your plan? I know all of your Imperium’s tricks, all of your black-clad skulker strategies, all the ways you could have got to me. What was your plan? What was your shrine?’
The man’s smile widened.
‘I’m Venenum, obviously.’
The ghommis in Nate’s stomach stopped being warm. His eyes widened.
The man followed his gaze, and raised one hand in a flippant gesture.
‘Oh no, no, no. Relax. That ghommis isn’t poisoned.’
Relief sent Nate’s oh-so-clever mind reeling, thoughts a confused muddle. He needed a month to sit down and catch up and not be assassinated and the man kept talking.
‘I’m not surprised you didn’t recognise me, to be honest. I’m only your Emperor-damned employee, after all.’
The man leaned forward and for the first time Nate saw a change in expression, a look beyond blank neutral and sardonic amusement. Nate saw hunger, a crazed shuddering thing in those big blue eyes that roiled beneath the surface like a wild beast, something that didn’t revel in blood and gore and spurting fluid but in slow stalking, in patient killing, in the artistry of it all.
The man was a spider, voice fat with poison and amusement.
‘I run your air filters.’
The soldiers’ guns started to waver and fell, clanking to the carpet like forgotten toys and the men followed, slumping like wax. One of them coughed once and they were still. Their armour was still so very shiny, their guns unfired. The sergeant fell against Nate who leapt aside with a shriek and nearly fell himself, down with the black-armoured dead.
He clutched his throat, trying to hold his breath, cutting off sweet oxygen to stop the poison mingled with it. The man didn’t move, watching him as he convulsed, his hands carving slivers of flesh from his throat as he waited for the agony to build, the breath to catch like barbed wire in his mouth…
And then he stopped.
Nate straightened. The man raised one eyebrow and Nate was suddenly, in a slightly ridiculous fashion, very embarrassed.
‘The ghommis was spiked with the antidote, Governor. Let’s be alone.’
None of the men moved, sprawled and limp. Nate caught a glimpse of black corrosion on an exposed hand and nearly vomited. His eyes watered as the taste of bile furred his throat and he closed his eyes to blink them away.
The needle took his breath away.
The assassin’s voice was honey in his ear, the words slow and calm, the hand on his shoulder gentle as the other pushed the plunger home. He wished pain would engulf him fully inside instead of the slow insidious burn he began to feel, an advance as insidious as his own had been through influence and power until he stood poised to bring down worlds with a snap of his fingers. He had intended to watch it all, and now all he had was paralysis, slow pain, and a calm, almost amused voice.
‘Your companies are being seized, their assets thrown into orphanages and research facilities. Your cults, so well-trained, are even now being excised from Imperial flesh. All of this is happening now. As one, unseen and uncontested by your powerful allies in this government and others that will soon have… inquisitive minds at their door. All of this is happening across a dozen worlds, as one.
The poison takes four minutes. Goodbye.’
Nate felt the assassin push the needle in further, a dagger standing upright in his chest. Through eyes closed he heard the slow footsteps walk out through unguarded doors.
Nate wavered, and fell forwards.