Sentinels

Chapter four: Out in the Darkness

Sentinels, chapter four: Out in the Darkness

Storyteller:
The Near Reaches of Outer Claslat were a maze of chambers and tunnels, descended into pitch darkness. Endless chasms gasped amidst jungle of wires hanging from the ceiling twenty feet above. Huge, incomprehensible machines rumbled, while mechanical custodians swarmed over them, making repairs, greasing wheels, clearing away debris and carrying away whatever components or materials they produced. Lakes of pale acid glittered menacingly in the light of electrical arcs. Tubes the size of metropolis streets leaked steam from their joints, giving off moans like those of injured animals.

A resounding roar of engines and a deafening clatter of metal wheels broke through the eternal night, shattering it with the piercing glare of powerful headlights. The Harmegis Express tore through, seven long wagons pulled by a black, bullet-shaped locomotive, trailing sooty smoke from its boilers and sparks from where the wheels ground against the tracks. The machine spirits who dwelled in the Reaches spent barely so much as a glance at the tram. It was only one machine among a myriad, and the fact that this one carried human beings meant nothing to them.

In one of the two passenger carts sat Force of Brutal Necessity, on her way to Harmegis. The cart was perhaps five times three yards, holding stuffed leather seats next to a square metal table, three fold-out beds and a space for the passengers’ luggage. The air smelled of smoke and oil and cleaning fluids.

The other two passengers in the cart had been giving Force nervous looks since they left Tol two hours ago, but so far kept to themselves.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force sat with her back ram-rod straight. For the past two hours she had catalogued her surroundings, engaged in subtle but lingering scrutiny of her short-time companions and immersed herself in the machine-scape as it flashed by. Now, she had exhausted all other avenues and was left only with her thoughts.

She hated this past time most of all – sitting, waiting. At least when she rode her mech-strider, she would plot the course, navigate her surroundings. Here, there was nothing but her own mind to keep her – and her mind was not a comfortable place to stay.

Storyteller:
“Well, it’s going to be a long journey,” one of Force‘s companions piped up, speaking with the forced-cheerful tone of someone who is trying to be outgoing despite having no actual inclination for it. "We should get to know each other, shouldn’t we? My name is Tul, cleric of Sector Seventeen."

She was a pale, slender woman of indeterminate age. Her black hair was arranged into a tight bun on the top of her head, secured with a golden pin with a cogwheel-shaped head, and she wore a cleric’s simple white robe beneath an elaborate coat adorned with an intricate pattern of interlocking gears. She carried herself in a prim, somewhat unsettling fashion – everything she said sounded like there were quotation marks around it.

The man in the cart just muttered something under his breath and remained captivated by a data slab he was working on. He was elderly, with long gray hair pulled back in a ponytail, a bushy beard and a preoccupied air. He wore a normal Populat overall, but there was a gold emblem on his breast, and his soulgem was purple and diamond-shaped, showing him to belong to a Sodality.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force looked from the woman to the man and stated, flatly: “I am Force of Brutal Necessity, Alchemical Exalted of Claslat.”

Storyteller:
“Oh, yes, I recognise you from your posters,” Tul said, smiling unconvincingly. “It’s a great honour to meet you. Why are you going to Harmegis – if it isn’t classified, of course?”

Force of Brutal Necessity:
“I am persuing a person of interest.” Force blinked once, decided that this inanity was at least better than the cast of her thoughts, and continued speaking. “What is your business in Harmegis?”

Storyteller:
“Oh, I have been invited to hold a lecture on the methods we have used to pacify the metal elementals in the caverns around Tol,” Tul said.

A lie. Force was sure of it. A pretty skillful one, but a lie, nonetheless – Tul was just a little too forceful about it.

“What about you, citizen?” she said. “Come, come, asocial behaviour is not the way of the Great Maker. Is that not so, Champion Force?”

Force of Brutal Necessity:
“Neither is telling falsehoods to your Champions,” Force intoned.

Storyteller:
Tul boggled.

“What?” she said. “But I didn’t… I…”

The man gave off a nasty, angry laugh.

“See the virtue of silence, woman?” he said. “We all have our little secrets. Are you that sure that you want to talk to someone is custom-made to root them out?”

Force of Brutal Necessity:
“If either of you have information that need be reported to the Regulators, now is an appropriate junction to do so,” Force said into the silence generated by the man’s rhetorical questions. “Infractions occuring subsequent to this date will be looked upon harshly if not remedied at the present moment.”

Storyteller:
“N-no,” Tul said. “The Regulators already… No.”

Force believed that protestation, at least.

The man grimaced, his expression holding a complicated mix of emotions – humour and anger and stubbornness and self-contempt.

“I am Romm, of the Luminors,” he said. “I am going to Harmegis for a seminar on heat distribution through crystalline structures. I do not wish to make small talk and I do not wish to confess any crimes at this time.”

Force of Brutal Necessity:
“I accept your inclinations,” Force said. “Tul of Secot Seven, if you wish to continue making small talk, I will receive you for the remainder of the journey.”

Storyteller:
“I, ah… thank you,” Tul said in a small voice. She seemed to have lost all desire for talking, though.

The door to the cabin opened, letting in the ruckus of the tram’s progress through the Reaches – to pass between the carts, you needed to walk across the bridge between them, out beneath the distant ceiling of the cavern. A rat-like little woman stepped in. Her hair was prematurely grey, and she had a round, black soulgem.

“Good citizens,” she said, her eyes carefully on the floor, “the honourable Citizen Nach desires your company for dinner in his cabin.”

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force stood sharply as the door slid open with a rattling screech. When the woman spoke, Force’s eyes narrowed. “To what purpose?”

Storyteller:
“For recreation,” the woman said humbly. “For the hope of stimulating conversation between elevated intellects with some understanding of the situation in our Nation. And because close social ties is pleasing to the Great Maker, of course.”

Tul did not look happy to have her earlier sentiments echoed back at her, but she got up from her seat.

“Well!” she said. Her voice had gotten back a shadow of its previous well-aren’t-we-having-a-nice-time crispness. “I suppose it would be most inappropriate to refuse such an invitation.”

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force supposed it would be against her offical image to turn own socialising – given her recent past, it might even come to be a mark against her record if she continued her isolated ways. It was part of her duty to set an example to the Populat. “I suppose it would,” Force concurred. “Lead on.”

Storyteller:
To her surprise, Romm got to his feet as well – not happily, but quickly.

“I suppose I could do with a meal,” he said gruffly.

The mousy woman led the way across the bridge between carts – there were no handrails; Autochtonians strongly believed that if you were aware of a hazard, you were perfectly capable of looking out for the hazard, and so Autochtonian structures had plenty of warning signs, but little in the way of physical constraints – and into the next cabin. It was much the same as the other one, except that a large, rectangular table had been folded up in the middle. A very large man, his frame thick with fat and muscle alike, sat at its head, clad in an elegant suit of finest artificial silk. His face was ruddy, with bad skin, and he had an air of menacing smugness to him, like a man who loves himself all the more for knowing that others hate him. His soulgem was round and black, marking him as Populat.

“There you are,” he grunted. “Sit, sit. I’m Nach, formerly of Harmegis – now a bit of a world citizen, har, har. Bann will serve us some food. From the stores I brought, not this slop they serve us on the tram.”

He squinted at Force.

“You really are a Champion, huh?” he said. “Har! Do you people even eat?”

Force of Brutal Necessity:
“Eating is useful to ensure peak effiency, as it is for you.” Force said, as she sat at the table, opposite Nach.

Storyteller:
Romm and Tul sat down on opposite sides of Nach, Romm looking resigned, Tul looking a mix between worried and angry. The servant – Bann, apparently – went over to a counter to the left, fiddling with some metal containers there.

“Excellent, excellent,” Nach rumbled. “Never been face to face with a Champion before – well, there was that time when I had to run away from one after a bit of a misunderstanding, but that was more like face to ass, har!”

Force of Brutal Necessity:
“What kind of misunderstanding?” asked Force, not bothering to sound uninterested for the sake of subtlety.

Storyteller:
“Eh, there were some components who needed to get to a factory,” Nach said. “Being an enterprising fellow, I tried to make sure they got there. But the Regulators seemed to have gotten the idea that they’d been smuggled in from Yugash. I wouldn’t know anything about that, of course. And what does it matter, I say, as long as the Machine God’s most hallowed factories go on running, har!”

Force could tell that he was lying, since he made absolutely no effort to sound sincere. He didn’t think she could do anything to him. There he was of course greatly mistaken.

“Now, here comes our last quests…” Nach said, half-turning.

The door leading to the locomotive opened, and two men came in. Both of them were Populat, with black, round soulgems. They wore black overalls and looked a bit schwartzy and dirty, and also somewhat uneasy with being in this company. They were completely alike, twins.

“This is Neqq and Darr,” Nach said. “Don’t ask me which is which, because no mortal man could tell, har! They’re the ones responsible for getting us all to Harmegis, so I thought they deserved to have a bite as well.”

“Greetings, citizens,” Neqq (possibly) said nervously. Darr (maybe) mumbled something similar.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
“Responsible for getting us to Harmegis? Did you construct this train? Do you drive it?” Force asked, turning her attention to the newcomers.

Storyteller:
“Yes, Champion,” Neqq said. He smiled hopefully. “My brother and I are the engineers of the Harmegis Express. Not that it needs much steering, of course – it has a state of the art guidance system – but we are responsible for stepping in and righting any problems that might occur.”

The twins sat down on each side of Force.

Force noticed that they both wore a pair of matching, thick leather bracelets. They were heavier than they looked, she guessed, from the weighty way that the twins moved their arms – there was metal or something like it inside of them.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force nodded crisply. “And the purpose of our all meeting presently?” she enquired.

Storyteller:
“Must I have a reason?” Nach said. He tutted. “We are all on this journey together, should we not take the opportunity to get to know each other? Possibly even exchange some ideas about the state of our Nation and what we, as good citizens can do about it?”

“But you’re not a good citizen!” Tul snapped. Apparently she had been holding this back for a while now. “You’re… you’re a Glot Baron, aren’t you?”

Nach smiled lazily.

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” he said.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force said nothing. She knew the history behind glots. They had been introduced as an incentive – but that incentive had unintended consequences. She knew the Regulator’s stance on Glot Barons was unsteady – the Barons were disliked by those in power, precisely because they had found their own way to garner it had nothing to do with the State.

They were not, however, about to openly condemn their own incentive scheme, or risk moral decline by revoking it altogether.

Storyteller:
Bann opened a row of flat, cylindrical containers standing over on a long table to the left. Each one contained some form of refined slurry, in the form of pellets in a thick sauce, in the form of a light soup, in the form of solid cakes, in the form of thin, fine slices. Each dish smelled good, whether spicy or rich or sweet or tangy. Bann brought forth square metal plates and cutlery and laid them out on the table.

“It is,” Tul said. “You work to enrich yourself, completely ignoring the needs of the Nation, completely ignoring the will of the Great Maker…”

“Oh, cleric, you get me all wrong,” Nach said. He dug into his meal with good appetite. “I am encouraging people to work even harder by giving them extra incentives. Lose money gambling? Now you have to take extra shifts to earn the money to pay me back. Want some fun times with my prostitutes? Extra shifts to pay for it. You want music, decorations, privately made clothes, education? Extra shifts, extra shifts, extra shifts.”

Storyteller:
“Yes, but…” Neqq grimaced uneasily. “All those extra shifts aren’t always a good thing. We’ve had a lot more accidents in the tram system in the last few years, because people are overworked and make more mistakes.”

“Exactly!” Tul said. “If the Tripartite thought that working everyone until they dropped was optimal, they would order three-shift days.”

“Well, who says that the Tripartite always knows best?” Nach said with dignity. “People like me, we’re the future. We’ll make Claslat greater than ever, through some personal initiative. Just you wait and see.”

Force of Brutal Necessity:
“The Tripartite has the ultimate word,” Force stated, but even she felt her words were dull in contrast with Nach’s own, so she continued, albeit a little unsure. This was not her domain. “Your scheme has the potential to create desperate inequality and unhappiness.”

Storyteller:
“Of course. Of course.” Nach smiled greasily at Force. “I’m a law-abiding citizen, me. Wouldn’t dream of doing anything the Tripartite told me not to. But anything the Tripartite hasn’t said isn’t fair game, well, that’s left up to our best judgment, right? And as for potential…” He burped. “You can’t get anywhere without taking a few risks. Think that one might even be in the Tome of the Great Maker.”

Tul didn’t dignify that with a response, which probably meant that it was true.

“How about you, Romm, old buddy?” Nach said. “Aren’t you going to help me out here? You’re a big supporter of free enterprise, aren’t you?”

Romm gave Nach a look of unadulturated loathing, and said nothing.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force sat in silence, possibly in solidarity with Romm, or possibly because she had absolutely nothing to add.

Storyteller:
“Aw, come on now,” Nach said. “I’ll tell them if you don’t.” He grinned at the others. “Romm likes his gambling. He’s been a patron of my establishments at times. Well, where’s the shame in it, I say, as long as you pay back what you lose? Look at Bann – she owes me some Glots too, but here she is, working off every last one. Wouldn’t know what to do withot her. I might just have to find a way to make her owe me some more before she’s finished, because I’d hate to let her go, har!”

Bann looked away, her face tight.

“You all need to learn to see the benefits of progress!” Nach said. He raised his glass. “I’ll drink to that, if no one else will! To taking opportunities when they arise!”

The lights went out, throwing the cabin into pitch darkness. From ahead, there was the screeching sound of engines powering down. There were shouts and exclamations and much rattling of chairs.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force was on her feet before the carriage had stopped – she rocked her weight back as it settled to a halt. “Stay where you are!” she shouted.

Storyteller:
There was a loud, electric noise, and a strong burned scent reached Force’s nose.

“What’s going on?” someone shouted. Force was pretty sure it was Bann.

“Power malfunction… where’s my handlight…” someone else mumbled, either Darr or Neqq.

Before anyone could do anything more, the lights switched back on.

Tul was still in her seat, trembling at Nach’s shoulder, but pulled back with a scream when she realised that he was sitting tilted back in his chair, a horrific, twisted grin on his face, and with dark smoke rising from him – clearly and horribly dead. Romm sat leaning forward, looking sick. Bann was fumbling with something over by the counter. Neqq and Darr were both on their feet, caught in the motion of fumbling their way to the engine cart.

Force saw each of their faces. Tul, horrified; Romm, sick and resigned, not appearing to have noticed what was goin on yet; Neqq and Darr, intent and serious; Bann, frightened and wide-eyed.

It seemed that she was back to work.

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Chapter three: Fallen from Grace

Sentinels, chapter three: Fallen from Grace

Storyteller:
There were places in Tol where even the Regulators only walked in groups. A maze of corridors with flickering or broken lights, connecting abandoned warehouses and wrecked factories, leading into condemned tunnels and natural hazards. The walls, which elsewhere in Tol were smooth steel, were dented or ripped asunder, and in many places stripped away for the scrap metal, exposing guttering machine-organs that spat sparks and gave off unsteady, mechanical whines.

The Lumpen who dwelled here moved in the shadows, always with a hand on a knife or a crowbar, alert for danger or opportunity. They shrank back into alcoves and side tunnels at the sound of Force’s heavy steps making the rusty grating creak and groan. Those who did not flee her coming remained cowering in groups, watching her with wary eyes, not running simply because they were afraid that that would make her give chase.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force continued on her path, her eyes darting around the darkened alcoves. She looked for an individual who seemed like he might have some measure of power in this outside society, who she could leverage into confessing who Arbiter had come here to see, and why.

Storyteller:
She noticed a gang of burly thugs assembled around a man who was built like a brick. His eyes were replaced by a smooth metal panel where two red lights glowed, and beneath his arms, two oily tentacles lashed back and forth. Force recognised the type – he had fallen afoul of one of the machine-spirits of the Reaches, and it had taken it upon itself to “repair” him into what it thought he should be.

His gang stared at her with a certain amount of frightened challenge in their eyes, less cowed than the others. They had a powerful leader; no doubt they were used to ruling these desolate tunnels.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force strode directly over to them and faced the leader straight on. She nodded to him once, firmly. “I can see you are the leaders here,” she said, her voice tilted low without any of the condescending overtones she privately felt; she phrased it as an acknowledgement of the status he held in this place. “I am not here to make trouble for you. I simply want information about a man.”

Storyteller:
The tech-mutant tilted his head and grunted.

“Yeah?” he said. There was a slight whirring undertone to his voice, like there was some mechanical component to his vocal chords. The look on his brutish face was one of fear, and determination to not succumb to it. Above the visor that replaced his eyes, a black soulgem gleamed dully, surrounded by three red, tattooed circles, marking him as an ex-Populat who had become demoted to Lumpen for an act of violence. “What’s in it for me?”

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force smiled, a thin, grim line. Her claws unsheathed with a clean sliding sound. “I imagine there are many people in this place who covet your position. Do you think they might make a move on you if your compatriots… suffered an unfortunate accident?” As she spoke, she used one blade-tipped finger to point at each of the men surrounding the leader in turn. “Or perhaps I might just cut you up until you are feeling more amenable.” Her tone carried the worldless implication: you have no grounds to ask that question.

Storyteller:
The leader looked at her, the muscles in his face twitching oddly. It took Force a moment to realise that he was trying to glare, but too much of his face was metal.

“What do you want to know?” he growled.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
“A man named Haqq.” She gave a brief description of how Arbiter had appeared with the Husk-Sculpting Apperatus. “You know him? Or someone who does?” She kept her face perfectly placid.

Storyteller:
“No, but…” The leader scowled. “There was someone, some good little Populat drone, who went snooping around here a few weeks back. Built kind of like you said. He wore a hood, though – you couldn’t see his face. Said he was in the market for some crap. Me and some of my boys tried to whack him, in case he had Glots, but he got away from us.”

He spat, clearly not relishing the memory of being bested by a ‘good little Populat drone.’

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force felt privately that Arbiter would have rather enjoyed showing these thugs some measure of their own incompetence. She quickly shut that thought away again – Arbiter was no longer a friend and her partner. He was an Apostate. One did not reminisce about Apostates. “Who did he speak with? What exactly was he looking for?”

Storyteller:
“Black market stuff,” the leader said. “He didn’t say what. First he was asking for someone named Brytt. Never heard of him. When we told him that, he asked who could get him just about anything. He said he’d pay us if we gave him info, and that’s when we figured we might as well take him for all he had.” He glanced at Force‘s still-extended claws and apparently decided to try to be more helpful. “If he kept asking, though,” he said, "someone’s bound to tell him to go find Inuss."

That made sense to Force. Arbiter had been gone for a while – Brytt had been the main fence for the entire Tol underground back when she and Arbiter had been partners, but he had been arrested and sentenced to death last year. Inuss was apparently his successor, though Force had never met the woman herself.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force raised an eyebrow at his glance to her claws; when he said the name, she sheathed them slowly. She nodded again before stepping back and then away in a smooth motion. “Which way to her?” she said. She almost felt a whim to thank him – but she supposed, being seen with a Sentinel and living would be lauds enough for his help.

Storyteller:
The leader snarled out a brief description. Force recognised the area she was directed to – an abandoned warehouse, filled with contaminated goods that no one had found the time or manpower to clear out for so long that it had become forgotten.

*

Storyteller:
The corridor outside of the abandoned warehouse were dark and dirty, with only a single semi-functioning lightbulb blinking on and off and spreading a faint illumination over the deserted stretch of tunnel. The doorway to the warehouse was large, made to drive vehicles through, but the doors to it were hanging off their hinges, making it look like the maws of a great, toothless beast.

Two bored-looking women in scruffy leather stood outside, each one holding a crowbar. They looked bored, barely bothering to check the ends of the corridor. They had yet to notice Force as she looked around the corner from one end of it, shrouded in shadow.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force continued on out of the gloom, watching as the women hefted their crowbars into a tighter, readied grip. “I’m here to see Inuss,” she said as she approached.

Storyteller:
The guards stared at her in disbelieving horror for a moment, then turned and fled in through the door.

“It’s Force of Brutal Necessity!” they screamed. “It’s a goddamn Sentinel!”

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force resisted the urge to sigh. Oh well. It was not as if this hadn’t happened before. “I seek your services, not your demise,” she projected loudly into the space beyond. “Although I will not be as lenient if I need to chase you.”

Storyteller:
There was a long silence. Then, out of the dark, foul-smelling maze of cracked plastic boxes piled on top of each other, a large group of men and women with knives and clubs appeared. They were marching in the sort of uneven formation that came from no one wanting to go first, and in fact no one wanting to go at all, but everyone being too afraid of whatever was behind them to keep from advancing.

“Take one step into my headquarters and I will make a fortune selling your body to the highest bidder, Sentinel!” a voice growled from behind the crowd.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
“Something that I very much wish to avoid,” Force replied truthfully, coming to a stop just outside of the threshold. “Since you have been so forthcoming with your intentions, let me do the same for you. You are, at this moment, not my primary concern. Even this mobilisation of an illegal armed Force is beneath my attention. That must alert you to the seriousness of my presence here. If you attack me, or do not tell me what I need to know, then you become my concern. Neither of us wants that.” Force rocked back on her heels. “Can we speak?”

Storyteller:
The crowd parted, and a fat, squat woman stepped forth. Her head was shaven, and her black soulgem gleamed inside the three blue circles, polished to perfection. She wore fine, warm linnens, unlike the dirty leathers of her enforcers. Feral intelligence gleamed in her deep-set eyes.

“What is your business here?” she snarled. “Force of Brutal Necessity, mighty, scowling enforcer of a tyrranical system! What is the difference between you and my boys and girls here, except that you bathe more often? You are just the Tripartite’s goon!”

Force of Brutal Necessity:
“Citizen Haqq,” she said simply, completely not responsive to her outburst. The law is the law is the law, and she enForced it. Until recently it had been that simple. It was not something to be discussed with others.

Storyteller:
Inuss’ eyes narrowed. “Who?”

Force of Brutal Necessity:
“A hooded man who came from the factories to seek black market goods,” Force expanded, her head tilting sideways and forward a little, observing her response.

Storyteller:
“Might be I met someone like that,” Inuss said. “What about him? Whatever he did, I had nothing to do with it! I’m just supplying things to paying customers, same as all those so-called law-abiding assholes over in the main tunnels do!”

Force of Brutal Necessity:
“I am very sure you had nothing to do with it,” Force replied smoothly. “But what he did is of great interest to me. Now, are you going to give me the information I need, or am I going to stay here indefinately, disrupting commerce and frightening away your customers?”

Storyteller:
Inuss scowled.

“He wanted chemical explosives,” she said. “Couldn’t help him there. The resource shortage is hitting me, same as everyone else. I got him some tools for advanced magitek work – guess he had some personal project going. I didn’t ask – not my business. And he wanted a place on a tram to Harmegis, too, so I greased some palms.” She paused. “It would have left sometime in Crystal shift today,” she said.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
“Did he say anything else? A pointer to where in the city he might be headed, or what he was hoping to accomplish there?”

Storyteller:
“What part of ‘not my business’ isn’t getting through that soulsteel-encased brain of yours?” Inuss growled. “I don’t ask questions, because the fewer questions I ask, the least reason the Tripartite’s laprats have to come and make me miserable!”

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force tilted her head sideways and then nodded firmly. “Very well.” She glanced around the warehouse and its inhabitants one last time. She would of course have to report the entire thing, but the scope of it impressed her. And she had a feeling Inuss would be smart enough to relocate the moment she left.

Smiling slightly, Force stepped backward thrice, backing out of the threshold before turning around and walking into the dark. All in all, a passable day.

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Chapter two: And If They Fall As Malfeas Fell...

Sentinels, chapter two: And If They Fall As Malfeas Fell…


Storyteller:
Factory unit 24601, subsection C, was usually a cathedral-sized hall dominated by three great, cauldron-shaped vats standing atop arrays of furnaces. Pipes lead out to them from lesser vats by the wals, and great metal mixers could be lowered from the ceiling into them. The room was criss-crossed by catwalks that could be accessed by ladders, letting workers go out over the boiling liquid in the vats to perform tests or fine-tune procedures.

Now, the whole place was in shambles. Two of the vats had exploded, filling the hall with sharp metal shards. The remaining one had been tipped over. The floor was covered with sharp metal fragments and an ooze of chemicals. In some places, the ooze was bubbling ominously as the right chemicals were mixing to form acid or cause exoteric reactions. Half the catwalks were still standing, but others had broken partly or whole from their supports. One of them had its broken-off end leaning on the floor, creating a ramp leaning at about sixty degrees – another had fallen completely and was now lying on its side like a massive grating fence. The mixers were lowered and kept switching on and off at irregular intervals, their massive metal blades spinning and sending off sparks for a few minutes before stopping again. A horde of workers were still sifting through the wreckage, looking for salvagable instruments and parts, or trying to clean the worst of the mess up. Force could see a Harvester thaumaturge – dressed in a Populat member’s overalls, but with a gleaming pin over his heart indicating his rank – chanting over a particularly upset-looking stretch of ooze, trying to use his Sciene to make it safe for the workers to scoop up and remove.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force scanned the room at length. She asked one of the cleaning crew what had been in the vats at the time of the accident – nothing special, it seemed, just the normal effluent and by-product remanufacturing into solvents and resins and other things useful to Tol at large, along with purification of Autochon’s oil. She walked toward where Haqq would have been standing when he tipped the vat and examined the area there.

Storyteller:
Force studied the tiopped-over vat. It had faint but noticeable dents on the side where Haqq would have stood, positioned and sized in such a way that Force had no doubt that they had been made by human hands. Haqq really had just put his hands against the thirty-foot-tall metal vat and pushed it over.

Her trained gaze calculated the way the chemicals would have spilled out. They would have been sent straight into the furnace of the second vat, where they had exploded and tipped over that one, which had caused its chemicals to mix with that of the third, causing all sorts of destructive reactions. Force looked around the room, and saw a highly calculated, very precise chain reaction, initiated by a single push.

Not just strong, then. Very, very smart, too – and wanting to cause as much damage as possible.

Something tugged at her mind – a minor flaw, something that didn’t fit. After a moment, she found her gaze drawn to a pile of inactive, salvaged drones, lying on a dry spot of the floor. Some of those automata – flying, insectoid ones, meant to be lifted by their fluttering moonsilver wings – were wrong. They looked almost like normal factory drones, but those stingers had been modified… and was that starmetal circuitry on their backs meant to generate holographic projections? Those things had been modified…

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force moved closer to the drones, her eyes narrowing slightly. She beckoned over one of the workers as she strode towards the pile. “What is the purpose of these drones?” she asked, crisply.

Storyteller:
The pale little man stumbled towards her, looking wide-eyed and unhappy. He took off his cap to nervously stroke sweat and dirt from his bald scalp.

“T-they are just probing drones, Champion,” he said. “They hover over the vats and test the scent of the chemicals. Sometimes they crawl down the inside of the vats and taste them, too. If something is wrong, they fly off and notify us. These ones don’t seem too badly damaged, so we are going to see if they can be repaired. I-is there a problem?”

Force of Brutal Necessity:
“Nothing to be worried about,” she replied, bending down to pick one up and examine it. “Could you sent that Harvester over to me?” she asked, as she turned the drone over in her hands. This was obviously the ‘project’ Haqq had been working on in his spare time. Not for the market after all. What had he used them for? Could they have been responsible for the hologram-like flickering around Haqq’s body when he tipped the vat?

Storyteller:
“Of course, Champion,” the Populat member said and hurried away.

A moment later, the Harvester came striding purposefully through the destruction. He was tall and impressive-looking, wearing his simple overalls like an Exalt’s gleaming orichalcum armour. The soulsteel pin at his breast glittered dully.

“Yes, what it it?” he said, not quite rudely, but also with rather less awed respect than most people would show a Sentinel.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force held out the drone. “Do you have experience with these? I see the stinger has been modified. I suspect by the perpetrator of this mess. To what purpose?” She turned the drone to display the circuitry. “And here – is it hologram circurity? Could you repair it?” She paused, for a moment, looking the man up and down. “If you cannot, perhaps you could fetch me a Scholar?”

Storyteller:
The Harvester sniffed.

“A Scholar?” he said with distaste. “What do they know? Oh, if you put them in a nice, clean workshop with plenty of pristine, newly-manufactured parts, they can build you a few interesting things, I will grant you, but they are hopeless at field work. No, what you need is someone who knows about making do with what you have. One moment…”

He pulled a tool off of his belt, which was hung full with them, and began unscrewing a part of one of the drones.

“Hmm, an on-the-fly modification, I think,” he mumbled. “Nice work, though – see, someone has filed down the strut here to make it fit. Oh, and there seems to be…”

There was a crackle of electricity and the Harvester was thrown backwards and to the floor, where he lay moaning.

The drone he had been working on rose into the air in a metallic flutter of moonsilver wings. With a clatter of scrap metal being pushed apart, four others rose from the pile and flew up to hover in formation with it, their multi-faceted crystal eyes glittering. There were shouts and cries from elsewhere in the factory as people noticed the sudden change in situation.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force’s gaze snapped between the fallen Harvester and the newly-functioning drones. She pulled in a deep breath and flexed her fingers, blades unsheathing from her fingertips with a smooth, pneumatic sound – upon seeing this, the shouts redoubled, and a few workers bodily threw themselves toward the walls of the factory, scrambling to hide behind grating or pieces of the vat, almost heedless of chemicals they were now crouching in. Honestly, Populats. Force leapt forward, attempting to close her clawed hands around one of the bugs, crushing its powering-mechanism while keeping it mostly in tact.

Storyteller:
Force caught the drone in an iron grasp and with a quick, efficient motion she rammed her claws into its head and ripped out the net of starmetal wires that formed its brain. The light in the drone’s eyes flickered and went out.

The other four drones remained in formation, and the air between them shimmered. Before Force‘s eyes, a holographic image formed, large as life. She found herself looking at Haqq’s plain features.

“Hello, old friend,” he said, his voice crackling with static.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
“I am not sure that is likely,” Force responded, dropping the drone to the floor in case she needed to swipe at the remaining holograms – to cut off a treasonous message that would upset the Populats, or to disable them if they attempted to electrocute more people or spray neurotoxin from their altered stingers.

Storyteller:
Haqq lifted his grubby hands and looked at them, raising an eyebrow.

“No,” he said, “I suppose that if I was easy to recognise, I would have kkkkkkkkk…”

The sound lasted for only half a second, but it made Force flinch, even so – it was a sharp, mechanical sound, like an ungreased engine about to tear itself to pieces.

“… been caught long before now,” Haqq continued as if nothing had happened. “Perhaps you recognise me better without the Husk-Sculpting Apparatus active.”

Haqq’s features rippled, his flesh reshaping itself like clay. Skin peeled away from parts of his face, revealing metal.

In a moment, the hologram before Force bore the shape of her ex-partner, Arbiter. Not as she remembered him, though – not as the proud and regal Champion he had been. What stood before her was a nightmarish wreckage of what had once been Arbiter.

He was still a tall, muscular man, and he still wore the torn and dirty remnants of his old Regular uniform. His arms and half his face, however, were covered – maybe replaced – by burned-looking machinery, rusted iron and ragged wires. His left eye still burned a steady white, but the right one flickered on and off like a light bulb about to go out. Though it was just a hologram, Force thought she could feel an oily, overheated scent coming off him – the stench of Apostacy, of Voidtech.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
“I’m coming to find you,” Force said. She meant to bark it out; her tone didn’t quite get there. The moment the hologram had spoken, a hot, unspoken feeling had rushed through her – deep inside her, a place that she had shut up tight creaked and cracked open under the pressure. A memory of Arbiter’s face before it had become so mutilated flashed on and off over his current visage like a strobe.

Memories – emotions – flashed past her like a sped-up replay of their time together: hesitation, comraderie, trust, betrayal, anger, guilt, each coalescing into the other until Force clenched her jaw and felt nothing again.

Storyteller:
“Of course,” Arbiter said. “That is the pattern we must follow now. I am the Apostate; you are kkkkkkkk the Champion. I will flee and you will chase me, because we must. But there is one thing you must remember, when you finally catch up with me – whatever else I have become, I am still kkkkkkkk a Sentinel. In that, we remain alike.”

Force of Brutal Necessity:
“Why reveal yourself to me?” Force asked; she almost hadn’t meant to. But then – a Sentinel never did anything she didn’t mean.

Storyteller:
“Because there is kkkkkkk a lesson you must learn,” Arbiter said. “By doing this, I have set you on the path. I await at kkkkkk its end. By the time you reach it, I can only hope that you have understood.”

He raised his hands.

“I beg forgiveness for the next part,” he said. “But I cannot kkkkkkk let you go soft.”

With that, the image flickered out – and the drones dived at Force, all at once. One of them was faster than the rest, and came careening towards Force, its stinger crackling with electricity.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force leapt backward to avoid the arc of electricity, raising her hands up in front of her, her fingers fanned out to that each wicked swipe would cover more area, hopefully connecting with the fast, vicious little drones. Faster, a voice growled in her mind. Not one of them should have been able to attack before you bisected them.

Storyteller:
The drone wooshed past, circling around for another sweep.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Just as soon as her feet touched the ground in the backward leap, she sprang forward again, raking her claws through the air, so at the middle of the horizontal swipes, the smallest finger of her upper hand passed over the thumb of the lower one in opposite directions.

Storyteller:
Two of the drones fell in a crash of metal and a shower of sparks, swatted out of the air by Force’s powerful soulsteel claws.

Throughout the factory, people were running and screaming, getting out of the way of this sudden violence.

The remaining two drones closed in, moving more carefully now. Each one headed for one of Force’s shoulders, long, claw-like legs reached out to grasp and hold.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force threw herself forward, her hands coming down onto the hard factory floor – she used her momentum to propel herself into a forward roll, springing back to her feet the end of it, spinning in mid-air to face the attacking drones again as she did.

Storyteller:
Despite Force’s near-preternatural swiftness, the machine-intelligence of the drones adjusted to her movements. Spindly steel legs clamed down, vice-like, on her shoulders, and a thunder of wings lofted her further up into the air and into a new direction.

The drones did not have the strength to lift her far; after only a heartbeat, they were forced to let go, unable to sustain the frantic beating of their wings. Force tumbled through the air, and landed with a splash in a patch of thick, black ooze. She felt a hot, searing sensation as it became to make its way in through her armour, burning her pale, artificial skin.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force drew her legs under her in a crouch, placing the hand of her injured arm on the floor to re-steady herself for a moment before springing forward from the crouch to swipe with the claws of her right hand, the other arm providing further impetus to propel her into the leap.

Storyteller:
The drone went crashing to the floor in a shower of wrecked metal scraps.

The last drone came barreling against Force, stinger crackling, clearly too simple-minded in its programming to do otherwise than fight to the death.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force took two long strides backwards to bring her behind a large metal shard that stuck upward from the floor. She hoped to maneouver around it, to maximise on any object-collision weaknesses in the drone’s programming matrix.

The drone managed to avoid the shard – a flash of memory, recalling Arbiter‘s skill and precision on the job – and latched onto Force’s shoulder again. This time, she was ready. She swung around with her other arm and sliced through the drone’s metal casing with a flat hand, fingers together, short-circuiting the wires within. As the drone fell, so did she – landing nimbly on both feet, while the while the drone crashed and skidded across the factor floor.

Storyteller:
Things were remarkably still. The only sound was the distant pounding of machinery from other, nearby factory sections, and the hushed whispers of the people gathering in the doorways, nervously trying to determine whether the danger had passed.

Force stood in the center of the ruined factory, surrounded by the shattered parts of the drones that had tried to kill her, the industrial fires of her eyes burning white. Her face was still; whatever was moving through what passed as her heart, no one but her could know.

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Chapter one: Fall in Flame

Sentinels, chapter one: Fall in Flame

Storyteller:
The Regulator headquarters squatted in one of the central caverns of Tol, a huge, forbidding structure of concrete and steel, built in the form of a large number of short, broad, interlocking tubes. The windows were black-tinted, making it impossible to see in but very easy to see out. The street outside was a constant bustle of activity, with Regulators constantly coming and going, dressed in their uniforms of long coats of reinforced leather with brass pins affixed to the left shoulder, along with protective caps and visors that gave them a menacing, faceless impression.

To this place arrived Force of Brutal Necessity, astride the great arachnid machine-spirit that served as her steed, early one Crystal shift. She had been urgently summoned to meet with Torr, Chief Regulator of Tol.

Force:
Urgently summoned and promptly arrived, Force of Brutal Necessity dismounted her machine-steed and strode with long, even strides into the Regulator HQ, revelling a little in the double-takes and slightly-too-long-glances her presence elicits. No one openly stares, they’re a smidge too well-trained and stoic for that, Regulators in general, but not quite above looking a little in awe and (as they should) a little fearful of her. Fear and awe were good. She could light a fire with either emotion and the resulting flame would make the person she spoke to malleable like hot gold.

She walked past the people behind desks or standing in doorways, who lesser folk might have to consult with in order to be able to reach Chief Regulator Tor, or, more likely, speak with in order to be palmed off to some lesser official, and continued straight toward his room.

Storyteller:
She opened the door to Torr’s office, finding the middle-aged, heavyset woman behind her desk. She looked just as square and solid as her desk, too – a fixture of the office, a center that would hold no matter what. She was wearing a Regulator’s uniform, albeit with a few extra stripes on the shoulder, but she had no helmet – her face was bare, and the rectangular, orange soul gem that identified her as part of the government gleamed in her forehead. She stood up and saluted as Force entered.

“Champion,” she said. “Thank you for responding so quickly. The reason I have called you is that the chemical refinery in Sector Eleven suffered and accident an hour ago. There was a massive explosion, resulting in the destruction of the entire factory subsection and the loss of several hundred lives. We have reason to believe that sabotage might have been involved.”

Force:
“Unacceptable,” bit out Force, after having given a crisp nod to the Regulator at the salute. “The efficiency of our industrial workers must not be interupted with criminality. Shall I be dispected immediately or is there further situational information to discuss?”

Storyteller:
“There is a suspect,” Torr said.

She pressed a control on her desk, and a flickering hologram appeared over it, showing the image of a nondescript-looking young man, black-haired and narrow-faced. He was wearing a jumpsuit and a cap, and his soulgem was the black, round one of a Populat member.

“This is Citizen Haqq,” Torr said. “He was a worker in the factory, and one of the ones that has yet to be accounted for. Several of the survivors swear that they saw him tip over a vat of several tons of flammable oil, leading to the destructive fire.” Torr gave Force a steady look. “They also swear that he did so with his bare hands, displaying literally superhuman strength.”

Force:
“Often people in shock are confused and their memories unreliable,” Force stated, after a moment of silent contemplation, afixing the suspect’s face into her memory. “If that is the case, then their testimony will be easily dismantled by cross-examination. If what they say is true, then I also do not doubt my ability to deal with that situation in a similiar straight-forth manner. Have there been reports of dissent from Citizen Haqq by his cohort?” It made absolute sense of Force that any kind of treason would have been instantly reported for the chance to gain a Glot or two.

Storyteller:
“None,” Torr said. “I have reviewed Haqq’s record. It appears to be entirely unremarkable. He was never late for his shifts or otherwise disorderly, but nor did he ever exceed quota or take initiatives. Routine psych evaluations only say that he exhibited non-critical levels of social standoffishness – failing to have the recommended level of interaction with the people around him, but without showing serious asocial tendencies. However, this is all from our regular files – we have not made a full inquiry among his peers at this time. I leave that to your discretion.”

She paused.

“You will not be able to examine the crime scene for some hours yet,” she said. “The disaster control and rescue work is still being carried out. However, the workers of the factory have been confined to their barracks if you want to question them.”

Force:
“A slight, utterly manageable hinderance,” Force said, although privately she was less pleased. People lied, and even when they didn’t, they rarely told a story in a linear sequence of events, rarely included the relevant facts, or meandered into inclusion of petty details instead. Talking with the Populat was much less efficient than speaking with Regulators, but it had to be done. Space and metal and the other elements of the physical world were immutable and suited her better. Luckily most people were mostly easily eased into reacting the right way and revealing the right insights; sometimes they were even curiously interesting, in a sort of flame-flickering kind of way. “Any other information?”

Storyteller:
“None at this time,” Torr said. “Good luck, Champion. If this was the work of some foreign power – or worse, of Voidbringers – we must know as soon as possible. They might not be done yet.”

Force:
“I will send a sound report in a timely manner,” Force reassured her, although she thought that the Regulator should probably know that and not need to be reassured. “May the rest of your day be exceeding efficient,” she said as a parting salutation, and turned on her heel to leave the office.

Outside her spider waited, occassionally rippling its legs to keep the gear lubricated with oil, the undulating movement earning a tense glance from passer-by rushing to their next task. She propelled it towards the main thoroughfare that lead to Sector Eleven.

Storyteller:
The great machine carried her swiftly through the long, dark corridors. As she rode by, the cries of the merchants hushed momentarily and people gave her furtive glances that didn’t quite dare to be stares. If a Sentinel was going somewhere in such a hurry, then someone, somewhere, was in deep trouble.

Very soon, she arrived at Sector Eleven and dismounted outside of the huge, grey barrack.

Inside, the place was in an uproar, with people gathered in frightened throngs, talking animately to each other. Many of them were sporting burns or other injuries, and many more were sooty and disheveled, having taken part in the rescue work before being sent here.

The barracks themselves consisted mostly of endless corridors with bunk beds, beneath which small chests with personal possessions were kept. Even so, Force knew, Tol offered relative luxury to its Populat. In many other cities, the Tripartite had arranged it so that one worker slept in the bed of another while she worked, so that no bunk went inefficiently unused at any given time.

Many of the conversations swiftly ceased as Force entered. A short, gaunt man with a small, black moustache hurried over to her. He had the black soul gem of a Populat member, but carried himself with a certain authority.

“Champion!” he said, bowing. “An honour, and honour. I am Shift Chief Lurr. May I be of assistance in any way?”

Force:
“Your readiness to assist the investigation is noted and appreciated, Shift Chief Lurr,” she began, relaxing the corners of her mouth in not-nearly-a-smile but closer than usual for her expression. Populat liked it when you used their names, generally. “Perhaps you could direct me first to the eye-witnesses of the event that occured here? On our walk to them, inform me of your view with regard to their personas and reliability.”

Storyteller:
“Of course. Of course.” Lurr nervously led her to first one group of people, then another, letting her ask her questions. For each one, he supplied, with some humming and hesitation, a description of their morale, piety and overall good sense.

Force:
Force asked each what they saw, asking for the small details that would call out liars (even those who did not know they were lying) when compared to the testimony of others, to gain the most truthful picture of what had actually occured. She asked about unusual happenstances in the days or weeks leading up to the accident, and even asked each person for what their own explanation of who and why (it was nice for them to think their views were being taken seriously, good for morale and the petty egotism so many unjustifiably – in Force’s mind – carried around with them; and perhaps one of them might be right (and earn a few Glot for Service to the Law, as a fine example to their compatriots, and also as a stunt to boost public opinion of the Regulators) – or at the very least their self-constructed narrative may contain something that assisted the investigation). Of course, if their own thoughts went on for too long or were blatantly erroneous, she would cut them short and move onto the next.

Storyteller:
Force skillfully extracted every scrap of information that the room had to offer, filtering out incorrect data and making each person tell her things they hadn’t even realised that they had seen. There were many mistakes – for instance, many people thought they had seen Haqq use some sort of artifact to tip over the vat, but they could not agree on what sort of artifact it had been, and how he had used it, and none of their descriptions sounded like a real artifact rather than some ignorant Populat member’s idea of one – but in the end, Force managed to form what seemed like an accurate image of the events.

Haqq really had tipped over the vat with his bare hands, grinning maniacally as he did so. As he did, there had been a faint shimmer around him, like some illusion fraying at the seams – it seemed likely that Haqq’s appearance might have been nothing but a lie. After that, he had left without due haste, all while the oil spilled over the factory floor, igniting and causing multiple explosions. His eyes had gleamed as he walked out, several people agreed, though some added that they had been less gleaming than flickering, like lightbulbs about to go out.

Haqq had seemed uncharacteristically excited when going to his shift, displaying a zeal that was usually missing from what had, in most people’s minds, been a rather listless and taciturn man. One man recalled an offhand remark from him about good things coming to those who wait.

In the weeks before, he had frequently disappeared, and no one knew where to. Some had seen him fiddling around with parts of discarded machinery at the factory, but they had assumed that he was working on some kind of personal project that he might sell at the market – not entirely legal, but common enough that they hadn’t seen the need to inform on him for it. A few also recalled him going for long walks in his off hours, and at least one – who was, as far as Force could tell, and as far as Lurr could inform her, honest and not prone to flights of fancy – swore that he had been seen coming back from the bad parts of town, and that he had been carrying something in a box.

He had been transfered to the barracks and the factory some five months ago, and made no particular friends during his stay, though some said that they had seen him talking to a quiet, mousy woman named Jiqqa. If there had been anyone else with whom he associated for any other reason than half-hearted duty, no one was aware of it.

Personal theories were many and varied. Haqq was a gremlin, an evil machine spirit, some said. Human, but some sort of anarchist, others claimed. One woman even dared to mention the word “Apostate” in front of Force, though she looked very frightened while doing it. Force had a feeling that many more were thinking it, but didn’t want to confront an Exalt with the notion of evil Exalts, just in case she didn’t appreciate the reminder.

Force:
In the remaining time before the site of the incident was ready for her perusal, Force decided it would be worth speaking with this Jiqqa woman. Also, the circumstances of his transfer and his previous history as a citizen were worth looking into. After the inspection of the crime scene, Force figured she might follow an intitution she felt about venturing into the grimer parts of town and uncovering what Haqq was up to there.

Storyteller:
Jiqqa turned out to be a short, frightened-looking woman with dirty-blonde hair, who looked like she wanted to be anywhere in Autochtonia right now other than facing the white industrial fires of Force’s eyes. When going to meet her, Lurr had told Force that she was generally well-liked but mostly ignored in the barracks – she was always trying to help people, but her kindness was of a kind that was more commonly taken advantaged of than actively appreciated.

“What? N-n-no,” Jiqqa lied unconvincingly. “I don’t know anything. I mean, I never… I wouldn’t…”

Force:
Force didn’t smile – that tended to have the unfortunate affect of imobolising those of Jiqqa’s temperament with absolute terror. Instead, she creased her features in a sort of aimless, non-threatening concern which could be interpreted as worry for Jiqqa’s state, or the state of the investigation, or merely an uncomfortable chair. If a Sentinel could be concerned, surely that spoke to a humanity within them that was shared with the onlooker. That seemed to calm people down some. The non-specificity of concern lead people to make links in their own mind of what she might be concerned about, generating a kind of artificial empathy, perhaps even likeability, if they decided – subconsciously – that the Sentinel, might, possibly, be concerned about them, even if it were more likely to be about the investigation or the chair. They wouldn’t feel intimidated by her concern or attention, that way, but they might feel some measure of it and relax, a little. Not too much. But enough to get words flowing. To be sure,

Force began to emit a soothing pheromone from a small implant in chest. “It is okay. I am sure everything you did or didn’t do is completely understandable and will be viewed likewise by myself and your superiors. Just say what is on your mind.”

Storyteller:
Jiqqa seemed to relax a little. She swallowed and went on.

“Well… when he first came here, he seemed lonely,” she said timidly. “So I tried to reach out to him… you know, like a good citizen should? And he talked to me. I don’t know if he really planned to, but he had… all these thoughts that it seemed like he needed to get off his chest. I thought maybe that if he got to talk about it, it would… vent those dark feelings, so that he wouldn’t act on them…”

She trailed off, clearly pained by the fact that it evidently hadn’t worked out like that.

Force:
“You acted well,” Force affirmed, although she wasn’t sure that was entirely true. It was possible Jiqqa would be held accountable for not informing her superiors of her knowledge, but perhaps her forthcomingness now would save her any harsh treatment. In any case, it wasn’t Force‘s domain. “Could you tell me about these thoughts? And feelings?” She added the last phrase after an almost imperceptible pause during which she shrugged off a prickly feeling in her scalp. People who could not control their feelings – they bothered her. Which, she knew, was an understandable reaction to her partner’s … issues surrounding her ex-partner’s discharge, and completely normal, and would not interfere with her investigation if it did tend to that direction.

Storyteller:
“Nothing treasonous!” Jiqqa said. “I would have told someone if it had been. He just… grumbled. He thought that everyone was… ‘too soft.’ He said that the Surgeons were too slow to administer euthanasia to people once they had gotten too old to be useful workers. He said that a lot of the smaller border towns were drains of Claslati resources, and should be… ‘cut loose,’ that we should either transfer the people there to the big cities, or just send them off into the Reaches.”

“You should have told us about this anyway,” Lurr said, sounding like he was trying to be mad but finding it hard. After all, he was unknowingly standing in an invisible cloud of Force’s calming fumes, as well.

“I see that now,” Jiqqa said miserably. “And he said… forgive me, but… he didn’t like the Soulsteel caste at all. The Sentinels were worse than the others, he said, because they were the ones who were supposed to make the tough decisions, and they weren’t.”

She half-cowered.

“I really didn’t think it was more than grumbling,” she said lamely.

Force:
“Apparently it was,” Force muttered, and even though the calming pheromones, Jiqqa flinched. “Do you know what he was doing travelling to the darker-city?”

Storyteller:
“No,” Jiqqa said in a small voice. “I didn’t even know he went there.”

Force:
“I shall leave you to yourself,” Force replied, and then proceeded to do exactly that. She would presently check if the scene was clear for investigation and check on the data-requisition she’d put into motion about Haqq’s history before assignment to the factory.

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