More Warhammer 40,000 fiction on the theme of Genestealer Cults, following on from The Church of the Astral Ascension short story.
A pall of smog from the refineries hung over the ore merchant’s district, guarding the secrets of the alleyways and barter houses as jealously as any territorial Guilder. The streets were full of life, the people of Grovsenor II going about their daily business in the half-light and petrochem fumes. The sunlight barely reached the ground. Eventually it gave up and took its business elsewhere.
Garon casually scanned the throng from his vantage point. The entrance to his patron’s house was raised a few steps above the dust and dirt of the thoroughfare, the height symbolic as well as practical. The Zavr dynasty were an ancient and well respected merchant family of ore traders. Any cargo coming into the hives from the Kolt Mountains to the north, or from far Asa Prospect, or even the orbital Parable Station, chances were it passed through the Zavr-run ports.
All manner of people walked up and down the cobbled street, slipping wraith-like from the gloom and fading away again into the distance like unquiet spirits. Traders, negocitories, indentured ogryn, tax servitors – they all came and went. None approached the steps where Garon stood. You needed a gene-verified invite wafer to take that course.
Garon took pride in his work. He was an Enforcer. A Guild Enforcer, yes, not Arbites. Arbites wouldn’t deign to get their hands dirty with civil work, but Garon knew it was important never-the-less. The Pax Zavr kept the Emperor’s peace in the ore merchant’s district. He’d dealt with fraudsters, thieves, tax avoiders and even the odd Guild Assassin in his time. Each time he’d walked away mostly unscathed. Or still standing, at any rate.
Something changed in the flow of people. You didn’t spend as much time as Garon had in this district without a subtle appreciation of the way people travelled the streets. Citizens were moving aside. It wasn’t fear or panic, they were simply making way. Distant shapes twisted in the fog. Sound echoed weirdly from the brick buildings. Was that chanting? Singing? Praying? Garon activated his infra-visor. There was a partial heat-wash a little way down the street, a livid bruise in the air. A large mass of bodies? Or a lost ore conveyer? Garon’s hand rested on the holster of his autopistol. It was probably nothing, but he stayed alert.
Like an oceanic mass conveyor emerging from the evening mist, a throng of people, banners and motion emerged from the smog. Garon relaxed. It was just some kind a religious parade. Asteroid miners, down from orbit for a trip to the big city, by the looks of their pressure suits. A bulk hauler took off from the distant starport as if to confirm this, a grey blur ponderously fighting to pull itself back into orbit. The Enforcer watched it for a moment, then returned his attention to the pantomime unfolding before him. He’d seen it’s like before; every so often a religious frenzy would work itself up amongst the lower orders. Productivity would increase, church membership would swell and a few mutants would be whipped through the streets. Useful really.
This lot were really getting into it though. The precession marched through the street, handing out literature and propaganda to bemused or disinterested onlookers. At the centre of the throng, a zealot wielding a massive icon rallied the faithful around him. And behind him, a group of men followed in very convincing xenos costumes. They held Garon’s attention. They were fantastic! The parade drew to a halt outside the Zavr Guildhouse.
“Hark all ye the words of Jarick Ovid,” said the bald priest at the head of the procession, “I am Kodyn Oospore, his appointed Neophyte and messenger of the creed of the Church of the Astral Ascension!”
It annoyed Garon that they’d stopped directly in front of him, but technically they weren’t breaking any law. He scanned up and down the street, checking no-one was using the crowd as cover to sneak up on him. Everything seemed fine. Some people had stopped to watch. The poor and desperate mostly. The wealthy and the mind-wiped servitors were sauntering past, not sparing the faithful a second glance. Garon went back to listening to the priest.
“The time is almost upon us! Even now the rightful Emperor of all Mankind prepares for his Astral Ascension,” said Kodyn, “and when he walks abroad amongst the stars he will cow all the horrors and the unbelievers. See! Even the icon of his embryonic apotheosis commands respect.”
The icon bearer raised his precious charge high – a massive metal pole with an oddly monstrous symbolic embryo at its crown – and the men in the xenos costumes cowered before it. Well, sort of. It looked more like a bow of respect to Garon. Their outfits really were good, much better than the large paper wyrms full of dancers that you sometimes saw. Garon had seen a handful of his aliens in his time; an Eldar wanderer attached to a trade delegation. A Jokero that had joined a merchant’s retinue for reasons no-one could fathom. A mounted and stuffed Ork warboss in a museum. That one had been a tiny thing, laughable really, with a long pointy nose, big ears and sickly green skin.
But these costumes he was looking at now….he had no idea what they were supposed to be, with their bulbous purple heads and blue carapaces.
The Neophyte priest was still talking about the fate that awaited those that didn’t submit to the will of the Astral Emperor. He seemed like a man of calculating intelligence. In contrast, the icon bearer had the passion of a true believer, a real fire in his eyes. Garon idly wondered where that figure of speech came from, and if the zealot’s passion would actually manifest as raised ocular temperature.
He flicked his infra-visor down. He frowned. He flicked it back up again and looked at the men in the xenos costumes. One of them had fixed him with its burning red gaze. He lowered the visor again. They weren’t reading as men in costumes, they were reading as…
Garon fumbled for his autopistol with shaking fingers. It was too late. The Genestealer’s talon punched through his carapace armour. Punched clean through the armour that had kept him safe for over a decade. Punched through as though it was nothing more than a simple robe.
People screamed. Footfalls pounded on the cobbles. Guns were produced from concealed holsters under priestly robes. Everything was suddenly very cold. Garon hit the rockrete steps as medical alerts sounded distantly in his armoured earpiece. In one last act of loyalty to House Zavr and the people of the city, Garon found the strength to activate the silent alarm built into his gauntlet. Then he slipped into darkness.