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 "Leave death to the professionals"- Harriet backstory

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Nitafrong
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PostSubject: "Leave death to the professionals"- Harriet backstory   Wed May 16, 2018 1:27 pm

The red flashing bulbs threw odd shadows around the compressed space of the cabin. Harriet caught snatched glimpses of wan faces, stretched and drained of colour. The dull scratched ribs of the gravity harnesses. Eyes that stared.
With a dull crashing rumble and the screeching of metal, their ship docked.
There was a pause, and then a voice rang out, echoing in the compressed space.
"Harriet, the doors please."
The speaker, Eliza Markham, was a tall grizzled looking woman somewhere in her late 30s, steel grey hair buzzed close to her scalp, and a long diagonal scar running through her left eye. There was a well maintained bolt pistol cradled on her lap, bandoleers of ammunition and grenades strapped to her flak jacket and a long chainsword hanging from her waist. Her accent was of the Anskel sector, Harriet was certain. She had initially thought Eliza was from a  Hive planet, but a closer look at her boots proved she was from somewhere different. Genuine Tricenhorn hide was only found on former residents of feudal worlds in that sector or in the hands of the richest of nobles. The latter seemed unlikely. Eliza had been in charge of their group since they had all gathered on Lexi II, the capitol world two months prior. So far, she seemed an effective if a particularly stern and controlling leader.

Harriet carefully placed her data slate into one of the pouches hanging at her waist, released her harness and stood up. She was at the back of the cabin and had to navigate her way through a mess of legs to get to the door. A foot suddenly struck out and Harriet hit the metal grille hard. Pushing herself up with her arms she saw the bloated face of Rodolfus Kensh. Waves of flesh spilled out from his harness, into the seats of his neighbours and his hair was strangely soft and blond. He was the heavy support specialist  of their group, his piece a Black Forest Mark VI Heavy Bolter, currently stowed above his head.
He smirked down at her and spat, the globule just missing her head.
"You should still eat less meat. Some point soon, you are going to have a heart attack. I can advise a….."
There was a growl from the big man, which was quickly silenced by Eliza.
"Knock it off Kensh. And Lime…. Continue mouthing off and I'll throw you to the cultists, mission or no mission"

Absently rubbing her knee, Harriet climbed to her feet and winded her way through the rest of the legs. Their group was seven in total, six uncomfortably strapped into the tiny hold, and one pilot in the front. Harriet had only met the latter, the rail thin and twitching Zadia Makepeace just before take-off. A nervy woman, constantly moving and flickering, she put Harriet strongly in mind of some junkies she’d known on her old ship.  
She stepped over the next lazily trust leg and continued without giving its owner a glance. There was the sound of another hawk and she refrained from touching the back of her head. The culprit would be either Zecks or Till Fowenska two loud and proud armsmen who still wore their Black Dawn gang leather jackets on bare skin in even the coldest of weathers. The two naturally gravitated to Rodolfus and generally followed his lead.
No foot extended from beneath the thick and luxurious, though much faded, purple robes of the last crew member. Cassie. She was shorter than Harriet, comfortably chubby, with dirty blond hair and a near constant look of strain on her face. She had been introduced as the group medic, but Harriet was almost certain that she was touched by the warp in some way. Since their first meeting she had been consumed with questions for Cassie about her abilities, but Eliza had kept them separated. For her part the medic had secluded herself, and only rarely spoke.  The rest of the team had been dismissive about the presence of two support specialists who would slow them down, their derision split between Harriet's shortened chainsword and the cherub cheeks of the other.

Reaching the wall monitor, Harriet soothed the machine spirits and then activated the drill. The noise was all encompassing for the next few minutes, the grinding and squealing of metal and faintly, the impression of a scream. Finally the noise died down and the metal door shot open, allowing the smells and sounds of the other ship to enter theirs. Compared to the dry and reprocessed air of their cabin, that of the other ship was damp and cloying and contained a multitude of faint smells, Harriet couldn't immediately identify. She moved through the door and into the flickering corridor, curiously examining the new interior. At the far wall there was a flash of colour and when she bent down to investigate she spotted some symbols shining bright behind a layer of grime. She started to brush this away with her fingers. There was a clatter of footsteps behind her and she was suddenly yanked up by the nape of her jacket and slammed one handed into the steel wall.

"What in the name of the Holy Emperor do you think you were doing?"
"I was translating those..."
Eliza leaned in and her forearm pushed into Harriet's throat cutting her off.
"You were endangering the mission that's what. You live and breathe here on my permission. We are in ENEMY territory here get that?! Whoever the fuck is here, if they find us, is going take their time killing us. I'm talking pain you can't comprehend."
Harriet opened her mouth to respond and Eliza leaned in with her arm so the sage could no longer draw in any air. The older woman’s blank milky eye was milometers from the soft brown one.
"If you pull shit like that again and endanger the team I really will put a bullet in your knee and leave you behind.  Don’t make me tell you a third time."

There was silence for a few moments as the two women stared, their noses almost touching. Finally Eliza released her arm and turned back to check on the others letting Harriet fall to the ground. Scooting over on her knees, Harriet went straight back to the markings. They were a tangled mixture, delicate typefaces superimposed over old faded block symbols. Those to the fore were clearly Eldar, though they were more spidery and jagged than she had seen in her books. Perhaps they were those of the Eldar Pirates, the corsairs? The symbols at the back were much harder to identify, as if they had been deliberately covered. While she was fairly certain they were those of Chaos cultists she couldn’t be certain, which particular sect they belonged to. The major sigil had been covered over but it looked like it either belonged to the Iron Warriors or the Noise Marines.
While Harriet studied, the rest of the team unloaded their gear from the shuttle. Weapons were unpacked and checked, and ammunition split. The last box to be unloaded was treated with additional care, for within its cushioned confines were 10 demolition charges. These were gingerly divided between all the fighters, Eliza making a point of exempting Harriet and Cassie.

Looking back at the group, Harriet briefly considered if this was a question of competence, trust or physical abilities before filing it away amongst the many other questions she had stored since this recent change in her position. She was used to hunting for answers dispassionately, either because she had been tasked to do it, or for the simple glory of the knowledge itself. She was never a interested party. The fact that she was unimportant had always been made clear to her by her former Captain, and she had never wasted her time wondering about herself. Everything was different now, her purchase from the Spinoza Cartel thrusting her into an interesting but deeply confusing new world. Though rarely with any one crew for an extended period of time, she had belonged to the cartel for almost 15 years. Now she belonged to someone else. It had been her former captain, Franchesca Noiree who had informed her, while taking her on a shuttle to a semi derelict space station, where the handover took place. The captain's attitude had been very different from normal. Uncharacteristically nervous and distracted, she had asked Harriet how she was four times. When asked her new owner was, the Rogue Trader had been vague, patting Harriet on the head with her metal hand and telling her that it would all come clear.
Since then Harriet had been under the charge of Eliza, though it was clear that she was only a stand in for another authority. Soon after their arrival, the team had been gathered for the first time and their mission presented. They were to stealthily approach, and insert into a drifting pirate slave vessel, deep outside Imperial territory. Once aboard, they were to make their way to the bridge and here Harriet was tasked to withdraw or if not possible, destroy some vital data. The nature of this data was similarly vague, but it was made clear that it was Xenos related. The demolition charges would start a chain reaction in the warp drives and deny the ship and it’s contents to any of the Imperial enemies.

For Harriet, there were three chief questions occupying her, and within each she was an uncomfortable party.
1) Who had purchased her and why?
2) What was the purpose of this group beyond this?
3) Why had Captain Noiree acted so uncharacteristically at the end?

It didn’t seem likely that she would get answers to these in the near future so she kept them pushed back and instead concentrated on the mission. Her orders were clear and despite her questions they gave her a little thrill of excitement. Whatever information was aboard this vessel, she was going to get to read and understand it. And it promised to be something rare and secret.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The only sounds as they moved through the vessel was the ever present drip, drip of water, the echoes of their feet clanging and the grunts and wheezes of the group. They had been travelling for an hour and were yet to come across anything beyond yet more dingy, decaying corridors. Zadia’s auspex had drawn a blank since they’d entered the ship. Something was clearly blocking its signal. Though she still led, the pilots movements were becoming increasingly jittery. Harriet had started to consider which drug she might be on, when they finally emerged into an open cavernous space. The scattered lights hanging from thick cables, or blinking from within rusted iron caskets failed to pierce the deep darkness above, though she was certain there must be a ceiling up there somewhere. What they did show though, was a dank swampy mess, growing over and around the rusted remains of what she guessed had been the bilge pumps.
Rodolfus dropped his piece to the ground with a heavy clang, and turned on their pilot.

“Near the bridge right? That’s where we landed right? Now tell me, what fething ship ever built has its pumps near the bridge? What kind of brain rotted strung out needle prick are you?”
“Rodolfus…” There was a sharp retort in Eliza’s voice as she stepped over.
Harriet ignored their bickering and was instead staring at their medic/psycher. Cassie's head was jerking as she looked first left, then right, the up into the darkness.
She moved closer, until she was barely a foot away from the smaller woman. The purple irises were flickering from side to side, seeming to look straight through her. The air seemed warmer around Cassie, and there was a burning metallic scent to the air.

"What can you see right now? Is it them, can you feel them? Can you hear them? What are they saying?"
Cassie’s eyes suddenly focused on hers and the air seemed to spark around them. All the hair on Harriet’s arms stood up and the air in her lungs was burning hot. She could feel the heat on her eyeballs, and as hard as she tried to stare back into the purple eyes, tears were starting to splinter her sight into a prism of colour.
“You don’t want to know.”
“I do. I always do.”
“Trust me… You DON’T want to know”
“I…..”
She was suddenly lifted off her feet, and was propelled forwards towards a rusty ladder, Eliza’s hand firm on her collar.
"Move out on me. Doesn't matter where we are, our objective is clear. We have to find the bridge"

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

They had been travelling for hours, snaking their way through the dark recesses of the ship. Arms had been raised holding weapons above chest high standing water. Tunnels had been crawled, shoulders  scraping and knees banging. And 1492 different ladder rungs had been climbed. Presently they were on mercifully flat ground, locked outside blast doors leading to the second deck. Most of the group were slouched against the walls, chewing rations or trying to catch a little rest. Every so often their eyes would flick open as an odd thump or scratch would reverberate from the walls around them. They had started hearing them after they had ascended their last ladder, and they had been growing in frequency. No one had mentioned them, but Harriet had noticed that their pace had noticeably slowed since. Conversation had died, though as a result of the noises, or due to a general exhaustion, she couldn’t be sure. Rodolfus was no longer snapping or making observations about her or Cassie, and was chewing on an empty ration tube. Zecks had lit a llow stick before grumpily putting it out after Eliza had rounded on him, and was playing cards with his brother. Zadia and Cassie had their eyes closed, the former making small jerking movements still, even in repose, while the latter was eerily still, palms together touching her chest. Eliza was standing over the rear of the group keeping watch, while Harriet was at the door. Sparks flashed and nicked off her as she twisted her screwtool into its control hub. It had been a standard Imperial design, but the touch of Chaos had twisted it in a number of unexpected ways. She wondered if tested, which would be a more efficient use of power?

Two things happened simultaneously. A sudden surge of power sparked through her right arm, causing her to drop the screw. And the wall on which some of the group were leaning sprang up. Zadia and Till fell back into the shadows, and then there were hands, grabbing, and pulling. The former silence was rent as screams and roars invaded their space. Before any of them could react, bodies started to pour from the shadows. Their naked torso’s burned with bright symbols and sharp weapons glinted in their hands. Rodolphus was crawling back trying to get free as arms tried to pull him into the shadows. A massive hairy man was wrestling with Zecks . Eliza had her bolt pistol raised, but couldn't get a clear shot past her companions. With a scream Cassie threw her arm forward and golden eldritch tentacles reached out and flicked the attackers back against the walls with absurd ease. Taking advantage Eliza opened up with her bolt pistol and yelled

"Get that door open!"
Leaving her numb right arm to hang uselessly, Harriet lifted the screwtool with her left hand and continued to turn the screws loose. Finally free, and able to stand and heft his gun, Rodolphus cleared the second wave on his own, a round of explosive shells ripping open chests, decapitating bodies and tearing limbs free. Eliza stood ready slightly behind him, her gun raised and chainsword already whirring. Zecks, splattered with blood, was turning his twin axes in large circles, gesturing the enemy on, teeth clenched and spitting obscenities.
Cassie was moaning, clutching her head between both hands. Harriet badly wanted to watch her but stayed on the door.
"How’s it looking Harriet?"
"Another fifteen seconds"
Cassie suddenly screamed again and pointed her finger forward, but the others could see nothing in the shadows. Rodolphus let loose another salvo but green sparks were flickering around his gun. And suddenly the sound was gone. The explosive detonation of the heavy bolter replaced by a dull clicking. A guttural laugh was heard from the shadows.
Swearing the big man dropped his piece and picked up a large mace, abandoned by one of the earlier attackers. More figures stepped out of the shadows but they were quickly dropped by Eliza. Finally something clicked in the control panel, and with a slow clanking, the blast door lifted open.
Harriet bent down and took a quick glance through the rising gap. The corridor seemed quiet and empty. Suddenly there was a harsh screech from behind her and she turned. Something large was coming out of the shadows towards them. He or she gave a high pitched scream again and plodded slowly forward. Tattered remains of clothing hung from its extended limbs, and its chest was bloated, perhaps with muscle. She had never seen a human quite like it. It had to be a mutant of some kind. She waited for the bolt shells to tear into its flesh but there was nothing. Her four companions were simply staring, their faces frozen as it came closer. It opened its mouth, revealing rows after rows of teeth and Zecks and Rodolphus turned and ran past Harriet into the dark corridor. Eliza hesitated and then ran too, snapping off shots from over her shoulder.

"What are you waiting for?!"
"You told me not to move off on my own."
The taller woman staggered for a second before reaching Harriet, and threw her into the shadows.
"Close that!"
Harriet turned and slammed her screwtool into the opposite panel and the blast doors slowly closed. Hands and feet appeared in the gap, and once a head but Eliza was there, whirring chainsword in hand, cutting and slashing at anything she could reach. The older woman was panting by the time the doors finally settled. Harriet was staring at her, transfixed by the flecked blood which had sprayed over the corridor. Eliza turned sharply towards her.
"Where are the other two?"
Harriet stared blankly up the corridor and then back. She hadn’t been paying attention. A cold chill ran through her and she felt guilty. She wasn’t concentrating.
"At least get your fething weapon out! I'm not carrying you through here"
Harriet tried to clench her right hand into a fist but her arm hung still and useless. She reached instead behind her back and withdrew 'the pen' with her left hand. Her thumb moved awkwardly around the hilt until she finally hit the activation rune. As the serrated teeth whirred, an agonized scream drowned out all the other noise. It wailed for a second before suddenly cutting out.
Eliza looked forward towards the noise, with a grim look on her face.
"Right, behind me and keep my back clear. I hope to hell you've used that before."
"Not against anything alive, but I don't imagine it will be much different"
"Gods above, we get out of here alive and I'm getting seriously drunk. And then I'm getting you drunk"
Harriet stared back confused. There was a sharp caustic smile on the others face, and she could see the glint of her teeth. There was something in Eliza’s face, Harriet couldn’t quite understand.

"Now let’s go and earn that. Behind me."
The two were moved slowly up the corridor, swords pointed in both directions. Thumps and bangs echoed all around them, but neither could tell from where. At a crossroads about twenty seconds up the corridor they found Zecks splayed across the floor, his stomach disappearing up the right hand turn and blood starting to pool around him. Yips and excited screams echoed back from the darkness up the corridor.
Eliza knelt down and rifled through his flak jacket and removed some grenades, and affixed them to her harness. Harriet had also knelt to look at the bloody prints leading off towards the noises.
"It looks like there were five here. Footprints look mostly natural."
Eliza had stood and was scanning the other three pathways.
"We need to find somewhere to hole up, and figure out a plan."
"What about Rodolphus?"
"We go running after him and we die too. Stick close, no more investigating."
The two turned to the left. The corridor was long and straight and seemed devoid of life. The sounds receded the longer they went, until the only sound was the whirring of their blades. Eliza gave Harriet a look, and then indicated that she too switch off the chainsword. They moved slowly on.
Eventually they reached another sealed door. Replacing her sword with difficulty, Harriet withdrew her screwtool once more and set to work. In only a matter of seconds this time, the door slowly cranked open. At the same time they both heard a low growl. Eliza pushed the smaller girl behind her and lifted her blade and tensed her muscles.

The doorway was completely clear. But the growls were only growing in sound. Eliza checked over her shoulder and then in front of her again. And then finally below her.
She tried to move her blade down but the hands were grabbing from the rotten grille, pulling her down to her knees. She managed to get her blade half turned and it suddenly whirred to life. Sparks flew, blood spattered out past the writhing arms and screams mingled with roars.
Harriet was frozen, watching Eliza slowly be pulled down when a call sounded behind her and she turned. A single figure running at her. His eyes were staring, his hair wild and his painted face pulled into a rictus grin and in his hands was a rusty blade. His shoulders were banging into the sides of the corridor but he still came with impressive speed. Harriet glanced down to see an arm reach over Eliza’s head, and heard the older woman snarl and then stared back at the running figure. She slowly withdrew ‘the pen’ activated it, and moved her back into the corner. He came close and threw a wild staggering chop.  She didn't even need to dodge and instead thrust her blade forward. It cut into him and then as the blades caught they propelled it deeper and him towards her. He grabbed her shoulder and pulled her face towards his opening his mouth wide. Her arm was slightly pinned but with an effort she pushed up, and up, until the blades had no more to cut. His splayed body fell either side of her feet. She was covered in his blood. She brushed some from her cheek and stared at her fingertips for a few seconds, before turning sharply back towards the door. It was eerily silent again, the only sound, the drip drip of blood. She walked slowly over to where Eliza had been grabbed. Several of the metal bars were missing, some through rust but others looked like they may have been cut. Perhaps by a chainsword? All the grilles were liberally sprayed with blood and it looked big enough for a body to get through. The hole was far too dark for her to see anything though. She listened again but couldn’t hear anything. She looked up the dark corridor that she had just opened, and then back into the hole again.
Her orders were clear.
She moved through the doorway.
It sealed behind her.


Last edited by Nitafrong on Thu May 24, 2018 5:03 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: "Leave death to the professionals"- Harriet backstory   Tue May 22, 2018 9:18 am

Outstanding, Domhnall. That was intense. Got me even more amped up about restarting this game.
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