Assassins Sextet: Potential
09/02/2009 in Warhammer 40K
Twenty years ago.
‘Well,’ he said in a damnably calm voice, ‘it’s not normal.’
The specialist wasn’t Hive-blood, Vicki could tell that much. He was too tanned, too fit, not scrawny enough to be low-level trash, not pale and flabby enough to be an up-spire snob, though his grey suit was obviously expensive and well-made. His accent was flat and harsh, nothing like the Esperitus Hive drawl. He was off-world, she knew that. She knew very little else. He had glided into her hab with a squad of Arbites on behalf of a higher authority, probably Ministorum. Now that she thought about it, he hadn’t actually said.
He glanced at her as if reading her thoughts and gave her a cold little smile.
‘So,’ he murmured, checking the dataslate in his hand, ‘she’s been exhibiting odd symptoms for quite a while.’
She was quick to respond, almost eager. He may be out-world and more than a little creepy, but he was here to help Marissa, and for that end she’d play nice to Horus himself.
‘I noticed it maybe after her second birthday, though now that I think, it could have been earlier. Just little things, you understand.’
He made a noncommittal noise and bid her continue, ticking something off on the slate with a slim stylus. She had a sudden aching desire to know what he had deigned worthy of noting.
‘So basically you noticed certain… emotional problems in your daughter after her second birthday. A lack of response as you described it in the report your local medicae made after you took her for an appointment. No real emotions except for anger and even the medicae noted a certain… viciousness. When did she start self-harming?’
Vicki’s voice cracked slightly.
‘When she was three.’
The nameless specialist raised one slim eyebrow and ticked something else off on the slate.
‘I see. Interesting, Ms. Faine. Very sad too, obviously but… interesting, all the same. It wasn’t just self-harm though, was it?’
She was afraid to speak, in case the crack was still there. It wasn’t. Good.
‘They were shapes. Geometric designs, symbols of some kind. Nothing I’ve ever seen before.’
His voice was still calm, as if they were discussing the price of apples. Damn him.
‘I will be honest with you Ms. Faine. I am not a psychoanalyst. I am simply an… envoy if you will, somebody who is notified when a person shows certain signs, certain symptoms. The emotional problems your daughter suffered, combined with the nature of the self-harm, not the self-harm itself, made your medicae do his Emperor-given duty and inform higher and more informed authorities.’
She forced herself to nod.
‘However, it was not the psychological state of your daughter that make this a case of note, but rather the psychological state of the people around her. You know what I am referring to, of course.’
She did. She had submitted it herself, though by that time it wasn’t exactly a secret. Her quiet little daughter had an aura. In her first day of pre-scholam, she had sat calmly, always damned calmly, at her desk in the middle of the room. Later that day, four children had suffered severe nausea, ten more had drawn pictures of death and murder far beyond their innocent years, and the other six had suffered fits of a kind completely out of order with their previous medical history. The teacher, who it had later been revealed that he had a history of mental health problems, had walked into the bathroom and eaten out his wrists.
Marissa did not go in for her second day.
They were not isolated incidents. People flinched from Marissa, as if she moved in a bubble of her own on the boulevards and hab-corridors of the Hive. No-one stood next to her if they could manage it, and she was sure very few of those random passers-by even noticed they were reluctant to enter the space around Vicki’s daughter. Even she, the girl’s own mother, could feel prickles of pain and nausea when tucking her into bed, when holding her hand or kissing her cold, pale cheek. With a start she realised the specialist was waiting for an answer, grey eyes speculative.
‘Yes, I know what you mean.’
He nodded absently, as if he had known how she would respond, as if all this was a foregone conclusion, his diagnosis already made, his judgement pronounced. Vicki was suddenly afraid.
‘For a while I suspected taint, Ms. Faine.’
Her world shattered on that one word. Taint. No. It couldn’t be. There was no… Marissa wasn’t a… Oh Emperor no no no.
She only realised she was keening, the thin wails as pathetic as those of a maimed animal, when he raised a pale hand to indicate her to stop.
‘Relax, Ms. Faine. I suspected. Now I believe this is something different, something rarer. There is one last test I will need to conduct however. May I see her?’
Relief had never felt this good, a heady rush like alcohol filling her mind. Her baby girl wasn’t… A test.
‘You’re not going to hurt her, are you?’
Her voice was plaintive as she slowly realised there was very little she could do to stop this man. Her daughter was no longer hers, not since that medicae’s vox. Her little Marissa belonged to something bigger now, whoever this grey-clad man with the cool eyes represented.
‘No. It should be painless. May I see her, Ms. Faine?’
She walked to the back of the small hab that had been home for so long, the walls and furnishings suddenly alien to her, as if this man had taken her out of familiarity and security simply by his presence. Marissa’s door was closed. Vicki raised a hand, and flicked a glance back at the specialist and his Arbites bodyguard.
He nodded. She knocked.
The door swung open and Vicki’s breath caught. For a brief stupid instant she had hoped the door would open and Marissa would be there with a smile on her face and a doll in hand, like every other little girl of five. Normal. Safe from this man.
Marissa was as she had always been.
She sat in her little grey dress, her pudgy knees crossed underneath her, her face set in concentration, the only real expression Vicki had ever seen her daughter make. The… the marks stood out on her arms, precise cuts so deep they scarred. Random sigils, ruler-sharp lines topped by sweeping curves, all drawn with razors, inked with blood. Surrounding her like the shards of a mirror were ripped up sheets of paper and crayons all of one colour, the slashed pages heavy with wax. Her five-year old daughter was patiently colouring in each sheet with black crayon, covering each one completely.
They were the only pictures Marissa had ever drawn, aside from those inexplicable runes on her own flesh.
As they stepped into the room, Vicki felt it as she was sure the specialist and his flunkies did. Like stepping through a curtain of cold water molecules thick, suddenly everything was colder, an unpleasant prickling in her limbs, her mouth suddenly dry, and her skin suddenly several sizes too tight. The specialist wasn’t used to it, as Vicki was. Her face was always carefully blank, no matter what stinging pain roiled under her mask. He gasped out loud, like a surprised child.
His voice was weak and fluttery.
‘The test. Sergeant, call him in.’
Vicki turned to see a man walk into the front door of her hab, his movements sheepish and almost frightened. He was tall and slim, his head shaved, a robe of blue silk loose around his skinny shoulders. The man’s eyes flicked warily over all of them and he took another step forward, his eyes finally settling on the specialist’s face.
‘Come here, Gregor.’
The new man stepped forward quickly, as if afraid of the specialist’s cool smile and hushed commands. He walked over as if to kneel to the specialist and Vicki’s breath caught as he passed into what Vicki could not stop thinking as the circle of her daughter’s aura.
The man screamed, his legs going out from under him as if he was a puppet with his strings cut. He wailed like a man stabbed, his hands shaking, his face turning pale. He clawed at his temples, drawing line of blood on his pale skin, the scream never wavering from its painfully high pitch. The Arbites flinched at the raw animal sound, their shotguns loose in their hands. She could see the specialist’s eyes widened as he tucked the dataslate away in a pocket and she had the sudden realisation that he had seen what he needed, that his assumption had been proved.
He pulled out a pistol and put three shots into the screaming man’s face.
Vicki shrieked as the man’s open mouth disintegrated and he flopped forward like a broken toy, his screams cut off in three harsh thunderclaps. The Arbites soldiers’ helmets hid any reaction but she could see their bodies tense as if they were surprised and unnerved as well. The specialist grimaced in disgust and evident frustration. Vicki realised with a sick start that the only person who hadn’t reacted was her five year old daughter who had continued colouring calmly, the crayon moving tirelessly over every inch of the paper, replacing white with black.
Ten years ago
‘This is the Animus Speculum.’
The girl’s eyes narrowed. That was tantamount to a shriek of glee from a normal girl. Quintus had two girls the same age as this vicious little wraith at home and he was experienced, as much as any man can be, in how to deal with the whirligig personality of a teenage girl. He just wished the student sitting in front of him had one.
His hands passed over the device’s smooth curves with practiced familiarity, unclasping it so it sat open, ready to be put on. His fingers lingered on the faceplate, tracing the cheeks, the wide eye-slots, the grim slit of a mouth. It was cold in his fingers. They always were, from the second they were completed. He could throw it in a fire and it wouldn’t heat up. He looked up to meet the student’s eyes and suppressed a shiver.
So suited to its wearer.
She had been issued her blades, her pistols. Her shrine was not required to blend in, and so she would own one bodyglove, one pair of boots, one simple cloak. This child would never own the extensive wardrobe of a Callidus. The armourer thought of his daughters and their constant clamour for new dresses. It was a pity that this child would never delight in the feel of silk against her skin, or the hue of a new scarf. No suitors, no lovers, no family.
Duty and death. A pity.
He went through the motions, explaining how the device worked, how it would focus her nature and hone it into a weapon, a null-blast of vicious power. He showed her the clasps and the different systems within its cold curves, rattling off terms with practiced familiarity. He had done this so many times, and he always… always forgot at the end, his mind lost slightly in the description of his work, and asked the same stupid question which never got an answer from the dead-eyed youths he addressed.
‘Well, what do you think?’
She blinked at him and he cursed himself. Stupid.
She spoke and he started with surprise. They never spoke. Her voice was calm and quiet.
Her blades were a blur, crossing and uncrossing, their power fields leaving trails of sparks in the air. Another soldier-thing came apart under her blows, falling apart in lumps of dull silver, its impassive face the mirror of her own. She ducked a lightning-blast, its bile-green power tearing another warrior into shards of metal that rusted and split in seconds.
She was alive but everyone else was dead.
The Inquisitor had been bisected by a shadow, a hissing thing with surgical blades for fingers that vanished as soon as the pieces hit the floor. The retinue were dying in their dozens, falling apart in cascades of tissue and bone, peeled like fruit by the xenos’ captive lightning. Only she remained, a whirlwind of motion and violence, her skin wet with sweat, her fingers tingling as the fringes of her blades’ power caught at them.
She threw herself forward as a whorl of that snarling power cut into the ground behind her, ripping mud into sprays of dust. A roll brought her upright and she spun into a guard position to se-
Light, so bright it seared. A voice, humming with power.
Her blades were gone, her body limp, her back twitching in pain as she hit the ground. She didn’t even remember being hit.
That voice made her back arch in pleasure, her limbs spasm in an ecstasy she had never felt before. The light bathed her like eager hands. Everything was forgotten in the rushing heat of that calm, benevolent voice.
‘So much trouble to manipulate your ex-master into coming to this world, so many little twitches of fate. Hand-holding, to be honest. I miss the Eldar, they’re much quicker on the uptake.’
She had to focus to listen, her shoulder-blades digging into the mud underneath her in spasms of warmth and pleasure. The voice was saying something… something important but she had never felt this before. Pleasure. Acceptance. Love. A drug her body couldn’t deny, a drug she was frantically trying to overdose on, her mouth open to suck in as much of that beautiful light as she could handle, everything else in the universe forgotten.
‘All for you, pet. Just you… yes, take that in, revel in it. A God, wanting you and you alone. Special, my little love. Aren’t you proud?’
Oh she was, she was so happy. The light moved closer, every molecule in her body screaming in joy and still not sated, and it knelt beside her, running a warm hand over her stomach, making something low in her clench. It tapped a thoughtful finger on her skin.
‘You have a gift, my love. Of course, there will be work to be done. There is far too much flesh in the way… but you’ve got potential.’