The scream was frantic, mingled with all the pain and horror and terror a human could inject into one plaintive wail.
The odd thing was the Engineer could pick out distinct words though plating and plasteel and reinforced bulkhead armour. The very odd thing was that they were in High Gothic.
Punctuated by fits of wheezing and anguished cries of pain, came the word...
Her ears picked up the sound, and one of her cogitators triangulated the location. It wasn't too far away, just a slight detour from their route. She dashed off in a different direction, her suddenly confused companion sliding to a stop and following after her.
They ran a few rooms, their drabness completely lost on Ally. Another scream cut through the silence.
It was coming from the next room.
Ally's hand flew to the console next to the door and swiftly punched in a series of codes. The door slid open, and she almost vaulted through.
Behind her, she could sense the pilot hurrying after her, a sense of confusion in his movements. He had his laspistol out, but he looked as if he wasn't sure why he needed it unholstered.
In front of her, she saw it.
The room itself was clean, pure, white. Smooth lines along the walls, functional machinery in the middle of the room. They seemed to be working away at some problem, clicking and beeping happily, as if everything was fine. Ally's eyes widened. There were no purity seals, no devotionals; no unique features on the machines, as if they had been enslaved and removed of their individuality. An abomination.
Ally gasped and almost cried at the desecration. Then she looked away from the machines Around the walls was a clear transparent aluminium window strip, and she wished she hadn't seen it.
There was blood spattered across the window from the other side. Beyond, in the next room, Ally saw mewling figures strapped to racks, screaming as machines attached to the racks picked at skin and began to delicately flay them.
"By the Emperor," she mouthed in horror.
"What?" came the response from the pilot.
Excusing his callousness for a baseline coping mechanism, Ally flew to the control consoles in the centre of the room. They looked like a standard imperial control layout; she began to input commands. Hopefully she could stop these poor enslaved machines from committing such terrible sins on their human friends...
"Ally, what in the name of the Emperor are you doing?"
Annoyed now by her companion, Ally ignored him and started moving through the command file system. She could input the commands to stop this butchery. Through the window strips, she could see some of the not yet flayed humans perk up, as if they had seen their saviour- a Priestess of the Machine God! She could sense the hope, and the hurried encouragement.
Just a few more commands...
Garen slammed his hand down on the control console, aborting her release command to all the machinery in the local net.
"What the frak are you on about?" Ally now screamed, turning to the pilot. "I'm trying to save them!"
"What?" said Garen, and now his brow was creased with utter confusion.
Ally had no time for this. She shoved the apparently oblivious pilot aside and began to input the release command codes.
She saw the machines in the charnel house through the window begin to close down. She breathed a sigh of relief, and wondered why she felt a wind tug at her robes.
Her musing was cut short, as she was suddenly thrown to one side, not able to input the final commands. She hit the floor, struggling with whatever had blindsided her, when she realised, with a quick flex of her wrist, that it was a Baseline, Garen at that, whom she tossed aside as if he was so much a toy. The pilot crashed into a heap near the control consoles.
If he was hurt, he did not show it other than a quick, bitten down wince. He was immediately on his feet again, blocking her from the control console.
"ARE YOU INSANE?" they finally both screamed at each other.
"DO YOU NOT GIVE A DAMN ABOUT YOUR MEATBAG COLLEAGUES?" Ally cried, only to be drowned out by the incredulous shaking terror of Garen's "YOU NEARLY FRAKKING ROSLINED US, YOU CRAZY MECHANICUS BITCH!"
It was at that point that Ally suddenly realised that her surroundings had changed. The clean machinery was now the reassuring clutter of Imperial technology, purity seals adorning holy, individualistic cogitators. The window strips now... simply showed black, for the Gellar Field was blocking the view of the warp.
"WE'RE IN AIRLOCK CONTROL 2!" shouted Garen, although his breathing began to slow a little. "You were about to cycle the outer airlock babbling about "setting them free."" He looked a look of disgust at the engineer. "I don't know about you, but you don't Roslin people lightly." He shuddered. "Especially not into the Warp."
Ally looked around, utterly confused. "It was..." she began to click as her visual recordings of the past five minutes played in her head again and again. It was all verifiable, and the hash marks and checksums on the data showed no sign of tampering. She looked askance at Garen. "Didn't you hear screaming?"
His expression told her everything. He hadn't heard a thing.
Her mind began to whirl, playing the data over and over again. The clicking from her body began to increase as she put more processing power into it. She saw it! She was sure! Saw machines desecrated and men and women flayed alive by some aberrant mutations of the Omnissiah's benign machine spirits. She'd heard their screams, the begging for it to stop, the little reptilian twitchings and gutteral mouthings of the tortured as the baseline's minds began to shut down from the pain. It was real. It had been real! It must have been...
She suddenly felt a hand on her face. Her mind quickly switched some processor time to her eyes, to see the Garen, concerned look in his eyes, look deeply into hers, asking, searching for something. His fingers were gently guiding her head, as if he was inspecting an STC boilerplate.
Then he put his arms around her, hugging her, and although she was deeply surprised, Ally accepted the physical assurance gratefully.
Five minutes later, Ally spoke up.
"Why are you huggin me?"
The answer was somewhat matter of fact. "You were crying." The pilot withdrew from his embrace, and for some very odd reason Ally wanted the reassurance of another human's presence, even a Baseline's.
She stood up from where she had been sitting on the ground, smoothing out her robes. Bits of clutter fell from them onto the ground. She was in the process of helping Garen up when one of her cogitators flagged it for her notice.
Every single piece of clutter and debris in the room was bent at right angles. Glass, plastic, metal, even bits of hair.
"How odd," Ally said, as Garen led her back toward his original route.
The Magos and the pilot were at the junction of a corridor leading across the entire spine of the ship when they found their first sign of human life.
The corridor was the main access across the vessel connecting most of the ship's residential areas to its workplaces; it was a wide thoroughfare, able to take wheeled vehicles as well as many pedestrians. It was mostly empty now, the blast doors installed at regular intervals now slammed down shut, and still nothing could be heard from any of the access ports, cogitators, or air fans.
Ally heard susurrations of breath as she stepped out into the corridor. There sounded like there were several. Her pheromone sensors found fear, anxiety, and an overwhelming sense of… something she couldn't place. She put her hand to Garen's chest, who readily stepped back. Steadily, comfortingly, she called out in her voice, suddenly glad that she was vain of it and had installed a voxcoder in addition to her biological vocal cords.
"Hello?" she called out. "I'm Ally Tanendar. I'm with Garen Danar. Are you all right?"
She heard very soft whispering. It would not have been audible to a Baseline ear. There was no response.
"Hello?" Garen called out. Still nothing.
Ally's left eye began to hum slightly as the auspex feed built into it began to scan the corridor ahead. She could detect a very slight waver between two bulkhead walls on her infrared scans. It was good camouflage, good enough to defeat a handheld device and an unpracticed eye.
Ally spoke up. "We're humans. We're going to come and see you and see if you need anything, all right?" She took a few steps forward. She turned to the pilot. "You get down and stay back, you hear?" he nodded.
Ally Terenas, soothingly speaking the entire time, opened the access hatch to maintenance alcove 761B, and was shot in the chest for her trouble.
Garen's eyes widened, but the Magos motioned him back, despite the fact her face was screwed up in pain.
Smoke curled up from Ally's midsection, the synthflesh coating parting to reveal a fairly solid adamantium casing.
A woman with a Navy uniform with the rank pips of a Lieutenant stood menacingly at the entrance to the alcove. Three children sat behind her in an access alcove recess set into the bulkhead. The children were young, with only one of them looking as if they had reached their tenth year. The sides of the little hole were covered in some sort of durasteel alloy plating, with several layers of plastic and metal for each sheet. The oldest gingerly fingered an unactivated stun baton behind her. A Navy-issue shotgun lay across the Lieutenant's hands, still smoking.
Garen knew the pretty woman, whose features were crossed with a deep concern to keep calm for the children, and cold, unreasoning terror.
"Ludmila?" he said?
The Lieutenant, who looked as if she was about to load another shell into the Magos, turned to Garen. "Garen?" She turned back to the Magos. "Oh frak."
"It's all right, it's all right," Ally said, panting slightly, as she ordered her internal cogitators not to process the pain signals coming from her synthflesh coat. She pointed to the weapon in Ludmila's hands. "It's a Navy shotgun. My exeskeleton's rated against bolts."
The two humans' eyes widened. A bolt was a rocket propelled grenade several inches across.
"I'm so sorry," Ludmila sputtered, the gun dropping, and Ally smiled weakly.
"It's all right," the Magos said.
She really wasn't. She'd had to bite down the urge for one of her mechandrites to smash the baseline into a bulkhead in reaction to being shot, but an immediate analysis of the Lieutenant and her charges, as well as a pheromone analysis, indicated an only too human fear.
And an odd sense of... anger.
Garen stepped up to the alcove. "Ludmila? what's happened to the rest of the ship?" He looked to the children. "Peta, Von, Tyne?" The three hesitantly nodded at the pilot.
"I..." Ludmila began, and she took a breath, a long one, which almost turned into a sob but was clamped down. "I was walking past the PX, and then the lights went out, and the kids were there..." she looked at the Magos and the pilot. "I was thinking about taking them back to their quarters when suddenly the blast doors come down and I start to hear unholy screaming. What was I going to do?" She gestured to the alcove. "I'm not letting any frakking xenos get the kids."
Garen glanced at the sheeting. "So you blocked most auspex scans, too."
Ludmila laughed harshly. "I'm not your air traffic controller who knows how her machine spirits in her auspex work for nothing, Garen."
The comment was tinged with... anger.
Ally did not understand it. "Do you think we should bring them along, Garen?" she said, and suddenly she picked up a spike in fear in Ludmila, which she understood, but also anger, which she did not at all. "We can bring the Lieutenant and ask the children to stay here and not come out..." she started, but then the Lieutenant raised a hand in remonstration. The pilot gently put his hand on the Lieutenant's. She calmed down.
Garen turned to the Magos. "Ally... I think it's best the kids stay here with Ludmila." He turned to the children. "You stay with the LT, all right? Just sit tight." He fished in his coat, and out came an imperial chocolate ration bar.
Why was the Lieutenant so angry?
Why had Ludmila barricaded herself with children who were not family; shielded herself from scans; shot first when confronted by a friendly Magos? Put herself between any possible danger and the children, whom it could be reasonably assumed would follow instructions not to move anywhere?
Such questions plagued Ally Terenas, as Garen steeled himself for whatever was beyond the next door.
As such, the question her cogitators posed as to why every piece of wiring in the maintenance alcove 770D had been bent to right angles was of low priority.