The Corrupted Heart
The story of a mutant guardswoman as inspired by this thread. Currently on hiatus as the writefag, Varia, is in a creative slump. Consider Chapter 4 to be a temporary "bad end" in the mean time.
“I’m telling you man, this freak was unreal! Mowed down half a dozen guys, and then kept going after taking a krak grenade to the face!”
“Yeah, right. Next thing you’ll tell us is that the Christmas Astartes is real. Pass the Lho’s, would ya?”
As the gangers shared a laugh, huddled around a lit barrel outside the compound’s main gate, a shadow shifted in a nearby alleyway. Seconds later, a massive chunk of rubble soared through the air, landing on top of the group before any could react. Screaming in agony, the sole survivor desperately began tugging at his trapped leg, only looking up when a shadow loomed over him. His face went pale as a ghost, eyes the size of dinner plates, as he stammered, “ T..The ff…fuck are you?” The shadow leaned down, gigantic, purple eyes coming into view as tentacles slithered from the mutant’s sleeves. “I’m your worst nightmare…” came the low reply, right before the freakish appendages slipped around the man’s neck, snapping it instantly.
Releasing her hold, Astra stood, glancing about the area as she quickly clambered over the chain-link fence. “Good,” she thought, dropping to the other side with a muffled thunk, “No problems yet.” This was short lived, however, as numerous scum ran out from the building, brandishing las carbines and shotguns. In response, Astra’s “arms” slithered out once more, this time each wielding either a revolver or las pistol in its’ grasp. Four in all, she wasted no time in returning the fire that was directed at her, not even wincing as the lasers and bullets impacted her flesh.
“I don’t care if you have to shove a grenade up your collective asses! GET OUT THERE AND KILL THAT THING!” The men in the hive boss’ office departed, only for their corpses to be thrown through the door not moments later. Stunned, the ganger leader found himself opposite the hulking form of Astra, blood dripping down her limbs as two of her pistols leveled themselves at his face. “Where is she?” growled Astra, the boss sneering in response. “Your friend? I threw that piece of shit away, just like I should have done to yo…” He never finished his sentence, his brains scattering across the wall as both weapons discharged. Walking over to the mangled body, Astra unloaded twice more into the remnants of his head, whispering, “That’s for Miss Casona.”
After extricating herself from the former drug house, Astra wandered back to her home in the underhive. Though it was late, the few individuals that she came across quickly scampered out of the way, for fear of the bleeding, crying monstrosity that was lumbering towards them. By the time she reached the cardboard box that made up her abode, Astra had stopped weeping for her lost friend. Sitting beneath the flimsy material, she removed the arm she had taken from one of the gangers from her pack, chewing on it slowly. As she did, her wounds began to heal, the abnormal regeneration taking effect. Even though this was nothing new, something she had lived with her entire life, the entire affair still revolted her. Only consuming enough meat such that her injuries were no longer causing her great pain, Astra laid down, pulling the tablecloth that was her bed sheet over herself. Her last thought, before drifting off to sleep, was that she’d need to find a new sock and wires to make a new friend with.
The next thing Astra was aware of was the world shaking around her, rousing her to consciousness. Bolting upright, she came to realize that a robbed figure was outside, speaking to someone that she couldn’t see. “That’s right. Tore through the entire gang without a sweat. No, I haven’t made contact yet. Yes, see to it that she has a room out of the way, wouldn’t want the others to be unnerved.” Sticking her head out, Astra came to realize that the woman before her was not only a psyker, but an Inquisitor, judging from her clothing’s various marking and the rosette displayed on her upper chest. Dread filled Astra, worrying that the only reason such a pious authority figure hadn’t yet cleansed her for being a blight on the Empire was because they needed something. And when it came to the Inquisition, sometimes that something was worse than death, if the rumors were to be believed.
Before Astra could react any further, the woman bent down to her eye level. Smiling, she began, “Well there, hello. I’m sorry I had to wake you up, but you’ve got a rather nasty bunch of gangers out looking for you. Any reason for that?” Astra gulped, eyes cast aside from the Inquisitor’s face, “N…No Mma’am. I mean, yes, yes Ma’am.” Her awkward stammering was met with laughter, “Well, which is it then?” Astra’s eyes narrowed. She didn’t much like feeling embarrassed, since that was all she ever had been allowed to feel since birth. Yet, as she bit her upper lip, this wasn’t a bunch of thrown rocks and insults. This was a person of authority, someone she had to bow her head to and obey, leaving her with little choice but to restrain herself. “Yes Ma’am. I…I may have killed some of their friends.”
“And why did you go and do a thing like that?”
“They had taken one of *my* friends.”
Silence fell over the pair, then the Inquisitor stood, offering out a hand. “Well, let’s just say you’ve impressed me for the time being. I’m willing to give you a chance, though your other option is to stay here and be blasted to bits.” Astra’s eyes roved between the woman’s face and her outstretched hand. “She’s right”, Astra thought, “ I *don’t* have much choice in the matter, do I?” Extending her own arm, the tentacles formed a makeshift hand, which the Inquisitor used to haul her upright. “Welcome to the Inquisition, Astra.”
Apprehension and fear gripped Astra as the tip of her right tentacle hovered over the door’s controls. It had been a full day since she had been picked up from the slum where she used to reside, and, in the time since, she had only briefly seen her fellow acolytes in the hallways before being whisked away to her new room. “Even here, I’m treated like an outcast. Suppose that was to be expected though,” she muttered, finally summoning up the courage to open the door. As “nice” as her new room was (if you could call the glorified broom closet a room), it was time for her to eat, and there didn’t seem to be any chance of room service.
Donning her new hooded cloak and robes, Astra shyly wandered the hallways of the Inquisitor’s ship, searching for the cafeteria. The brightness of the stark white corridors nearly blinded her at first, but her oversensitive eyes adjusted by the time she found the mess hall. Inside, three of her fellow acolytes were playing cards on a table in the back: a tech priest, an adept, and an arbitrator. She could feel the hardened gaze of at least two pairs of eyes trying to burn a hole in her as she shuffled inside, meekly getting a small quantity of raw meat before taking up her own table. Resolutely staring only at her plate, Astra began to eat, only to have her willpower severely tested moments later. “Ughhh… look at it. Does it *have* to eat here of all places? Just looking at it makes me sick,” came the voice of the adept. He was from a noble family, probably never even left his cushiony palace in the upper hive, or so Astra guessed, anyways. “Can’t you do anything about her Max?”
The arbitrator scoffed, “Wish I could. But you know how it is – Inquisitor’s word is law around here. We’re not to harm her in any way.” Astra paused, taking a sip of water before resuming her small feast. So the Inquisitor had stuck up for her somewhat, awfully nice of her. In her experience, though, such “kindness” was only worth as much as the favor that it precluded. Mutants like her weren’t allowed to exist outside of the carefully maintained pens that most called the underhive, for fear of their blight further spreading throughout the populace. “Watch for the Mutant,” “Defile the Mutant,” “Kill the Mutant,” all litanies that had been hammered into every Imperial citizen from birth.
Neither of those hurt as much as, “The Mutant bears their heresy on the outside,” though. Astra had always been a devout worshipper of the Emperor, her only crime having been born the genetic freak that had somehow lived through all the hatred around her. Lost in this chain of thought, she hardly noticed that the adept and arbitrator had left their table, coming to stand opposite her. “Look at it Max, absolutely repulsive. Do you think it can talk?” The adept leaned in, talking slow, as if to a child or xenos, “Mutant. Can. You. Understand. Me?” Just ignore him, thought Astra, you’ve had worse thrown at you, literally. Frowning as he failed to get a rise out of her, the adept reached down and flipped her tray of food upon her, laughing, “There, now it looks and smells better. Come along, Max.” The pair departed, leaving Astra staring down at the table where her tray used to be.
It wasn’t often that such behavior affected her, but the stress of the last few days had worn down her usual composure. Tears began to stream down her face, muffled sobs coming from her throat as she slowly began cleaning herself up. She had completely forgotten the room’s other occupant, until he spoke up on his own way out some ten minutes later, “Apologies, mutant. Others are quick to judge. Label based on outward appearance. This one knows that often the best machine spirits are hidden beneath decades of rust. Do not let them bother you.” Before she could reply, let alone jump in surprise, he was gone, leaving her alone. She wasn’t sure, not having had the “pleasure” of talking to a mech-head before, but she was almost certain that was a vote of confidence.
Later that evening, Astra found herself playing with her new dolls, reenacting the scene from earlier. “Look at me!” began the old shoe that represented the adept, “I’m a big showoff who can’t do anything by himself!” “You’re right!” added the spoon arbitrator, “And it’s my job to make sure you get to keep being an ass.” “Hold on there!” shouted the tech priest, his analogue a bent metal pipe with wires tied about it, “You all should leave Astra alone!” This continued for some time, each “character” bickering back and forth while Astra mimed their movements. By the end of it, she found herself crying once more, wishing that she had chosen to remain in her cardboard box, where it was safe.
A soft knock at her door momentarily broke the downward spiral of depressing thoughts. Wiping her eyes, Astra gingerly rose from her bed, tapping the door open. The hallway outside was devoid of any life, but there was a strange object on the floor. Extending a tentacle to pick it up, Astra carefully took up the stuffed grox before closing the door. Attached was a note, simply reading, “This is Tom. You can use him more than I can right now.” She clutched it tight, the weight on her heart growing as she resumed her lamenting. She didn’t deserve this sort of kindness, and she had no clue who to thank for it.
The following day, Astra was summoned to the Inquisitor’s office for a briefing with her fellow cell members. Wanting to leave a good first impression with her new “family,” she did her best to tame her red locks and overall appearance, even going so far as to shine her new boots. Though the incident from the day prior was still fresh in her mind, part of Astra was giddy about officially starting her new life. It was unheard of for an abomination like her to be given a chance like this, and she wasn’t going to let the intolerance that had followed her her entire life ruin it.
As it turned out, Astra was the first one to arrive to the conference room. Taking a seat in the back, she waited patiently with her arms crossed beneath the sleeves of the robes. Though the room was far too bright for comfort, she felt it best not to hide beneath her cowl. After all, she was facing an uphill battle as it was, the last thing she needed to do was reinforce the notion that she was a hideous monster. Time seemed to crawl by, and soon Astra began worrying that she had somehow gotten the wrong room and possibly time. Her worries were alleviated when a pair of guardsmen entered, followed shortly thereafter by a scum and the tech priest from yesterday.
All but the later avoided her eager gaze, taking seats as far away from her as possible. As for the tech priest, he waved at Astra with one of his mechadendrites before taking a seat somewhere between her and the rest of the group. In the end, he would be the only one to even show signs of acknowledging her presence, the remaining two cell members joining moments before the Inquisitor herself walked in. Cringing slightly as the adept’s malicious eyes roved over her, his arbitrator buddy close in tow, Astra found herself slowly placing the hood of her robes back over her face. Though the cloth barrier provided little comfort, it was enough to prevent the sinking feeling in her chest from growing further. “Positive thinking,” she thought, “after all, the Inquisitor stuck up for you before.”
The briefing was rather simple in nature, more of a formal introduction of the acolytes to one another than anything else. Still, Astra did learn a few things, ranging from the fact they were part of the Ordo Xenos to their eventual destination. By the time the Inquisitor had drawn to a close, Astra had all but forgotten the earlier glares, and was feeling slightly happier before the adept’s hand shot up. The Inquisitor raised an eyebrow, calling on him, “Yes, Acolyte?” “Ma’am, I was just wondering why we’re letting a heretic hear all this.” An awkward silence fell over the room, punctuated only by the occasional snicker and glance back at Astra.
Just as Astra was ready to say something in her own defense, the Inquisitor coughed, “Your fellow Acolyte is not a heretic, Kreff. You might try appreciating her unique skillset, rather than berating her for existing. You might *all* try it, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to play babysitter. Either get along, or I’ll see to it that you’re ‘reassigned.’” Following this statement, the Inquisitor left in a huff, leaving the acolytes muttering amongst themselves. In the back of the room, Astra was still frozen in fear, her mind yelling at her to leave while her body refused to move. Face firmly locked staring at the floor before her, it wasn’t until a gloved hand entered her field of view that Astra dared raising her head.
It turned out that the hand belong to the tech priest, a warm sort of glee emanating from beneath his rebreather. “This one thought you might wish to take a walk. Clear your mind,” he offered. More laughter from those acolytes that were still present followed this, along with whispers of, “Look at Gaelos, trying to talk to it like it has feelings.” Neither seemed to bother him, as he stood there, patiently waiting for Astra’s reply. Stammering, she managed to squeak out, “Y..Yes. That w..would be nice.” After helping her stand, the warmth behind Gaelos’ eyes seemed to increase as he motioned for her to follow him. The pair made to leave, though not before Astra felt the sensation of something bouncing off her back. “See? It knows its’ place. Who needs to pretend like it’s anything more than a bullet sponge?” boasted Kreff, more laughter from the rest following it. Astra paused for a moment, thinking of turning around and laying into him, but was stopped by Gaelos. “Let it go,” he whispered, “that one will come around, in time.”
Astra felt her anger subsiding as Gaelos led her through the corridors, only halfheartedly paying attention. She knew that Kreff and the others were just trying to get a rise out of her so they would have an excuse to put her down, but that didn’t make dealing with it any easier. Lost in a myriad of depressing thoughts, it wasn’t until she bumped into Gaelos’ back that Astra realized he had stopped. “We are here,” he stated, motioning towards the window. Outside, the twinkling stars punctuated the darkness of the void, causing Astra to momentarily forget her sorrows. She had never seen such a beautiful sight before, having lived in the underhive her entire life.
“It’s…It’s pretty,” she mumbled, feeling slightly embarrassed at what felt like naivety. “Indeed,” came Gaelos’ reply, “It is rather aesthetically pleasing.” Astra blushed, if only for the fact that this was the longest conversation she had with a “normal” person that didn’t involve screaming, insults, rocks, or all three. Eventually, Gaelos made to leave, but not before adding, “How is Tom doing?” Surprised, Astra found herself only able to meekly reply, “He’s…nice. Thank you.” Again, the warmth increased, and Gaelos left her standing by the window with a pleasant goodbye. All Astra could think of was how awkward she was, her face nearly crimson in embarrassment as she stared out at the stars.
Shortly thereafter, Astra wandered back to her room, where she remained for the rest of the day. Again, she took up the seemingly haphazard collection of knick-knacks that served as her dolls and began acting out scene after scene. Though she knew it was rather childish for a woman her age to still play pretend, doing so helped her relax and relieve some of the feelings that so often seemed to become trapped within her. After having Gaelos vanquish Kreff, she paused, her eyes falling upon Tom. Placing her dolls aside, she took up the stuffed grox, her tentacles wrapping around it gingerly as she hugged it close. The day hadn’t been the best start to her new life, but at least she had a friend now, and that was all that mattered to her.
“What about entering here, by the alleyway?”
“Too exposed, we’d be dead before making it halfway to the gate.”
“So, what, our options basically boil down to certain death?”
“I don’t see *you* coming up with anything better.”
The acolytes had been arguing back and forth for what seemed like hours over a map of the training grounds. Earlier that week, the Inquisitor had sent around orders that she wished them to develop a sense of teamwork and cohesion, though little had come of it so far. Astra was relegated to sit silently in the back during these sessions, or ignored entirely, even if her ideas were sound. Not for lack of trying, of course, but there was only so much of Kreff’s back-handed insults she could stomach in one sitting. What frustrated her the most was the obvious solution they were all missing, simply because they refused to see her as a person, or even ask what she was capable of.
“What if we sent *it* in first?” mused one of the guardsmen, jabbing at the alleyway again. “If it soaks up enough fire, we might be able to get to gate with minimal casualties.”
Kreff nodded, a wicked smile coming over his face, “I like it, solves two of our problems in one fell swoop. Let’s gear up and try it out.” As the rest of the acolytes filed out, Astra sighed, standing and walking over to the map to refresh her memory of the layout. It was a rather simple exercise: a package needing extraction was surrounded by gangers (played by gun servitors with stun rounds) in a warehouse. Not unlike most places in the underhive, she was able to note several gaps in the mock surveillance net. Smiling, Astra left the room, knowing that this was the perfect opportunity to prove her worth and show up that prissy adept.
Rather than insert with the rest of her team, Astra slipped into the shadows farther along the street. She voxed Gaelos, deciding to let the rest of her cell think she was simply preparing for her part, “Tell them I’m getting into position, and that Kreff is a prick.” A simple acknowledgement followed, allowing her to focus on the task before her. In order to get past the servitors, she would have to carefully time when she burst through the wall of the warehouse. Too early, and she’d be caught on the way out. Too late, and she’d be eating a substantial amount of stun rounds. As she stared at the patrolling automatons from a nearby roof, a sudden stroke of inspiration hit her. This would be easier than she thought.
Elsewhere, the other acolytes waited impatiently for the sound of gunfire, signaling that Astra had begun the assault. “What in the Emperor’s name is that mutant doing?” grumbled Kreff, idly playing with the safety to his bolt revolver. “Don’t tell me it doesn’t even have the courage to face mock death bravely?” The rest of the group, save Gaelos, mumbled their agreement. “Well, at least this gives us an excuse to discipline her later,” added Max, tapping the baton strapped to his leg for emphasis. It was then that the training ground’s lights dimmed, then flickered out entirely.
With cries of alarm, the acolytes found themselves surrounded by darkness, unable to see past their own noses. “What in blazes,” began Kreff, “don’t tell me the deck’s lost power!” A laugh emanated from Gaelos in response, “Negative, all systems are functioning as they should be.” Before Kreff could argue the seemingly contradictory statement, the lights snapped back on. Before the group stood Astra, holding the package that served as the goal. Wincing at her sudden appearance, Kreff demanded, “What the hell is that? What the hell did you do?” She tossed him the box, turning around and waving a tentacle over her shoulder as she left the training grounds. “Your plan was shit, so I modified it. Don’t wait up.” This time, it was Kreff who was the subject of the group’s laughter, leaving him fuming beyond the ability to form coherent sentences.
Later that evening, as the cell convened in the mess hall for dinner, Astra found herself joined by Gaelos and one of the guardsmen. Introducing himself properly, Julo reached out a hand, “Sorry about doubting you earlier. Can we start over?” Astra glanced between his face and hand, taking it with a tentacle and shaking it slowly after a moment’s consideration. “Of course. I may look like a monster, but that doesn’t mean I act like one.” This warranted a laugh from both men, especially as it had the added effect of causing Kreff to slam his drink down onto the table some distance away. “Kid’s got a right temper, doesn’t he?” mused Julo, causing Astra to laugh for the first time in what felt like years.
Gaelos’ mechadendrites chittered in response, “You have finally smiled. This is a good sign. Was worried.” “Aye,” added Julo, “you’ve been right glum since day one. Not without good cause, I suppose, but still.” Blushing, Astra shoveled a fresh helping of meat into her face, trying to hide behind the fold of her cowl. It was true, she certainly felt better now than she had in a long time. Still, as she quickly finished her meal and awkwardly excused herself, she wasn’t quite ready to let go of the careful shell she had built up around her. “In all due time,” she thought to herself, pressing Tom against her chest after returning to her room. With her spare tentacles, she mimed Julo’s doll, a bit of metal chain, joining Gaelos’ in praising her. Astra became lost in the fantasy, not even noticing the knocks on her door and the subsequent woosh of air as it opened.
“Curious. What is the purpose of this exercise?” asked Gaelos, causing Astra to nearly hit the ceiling as she scrambled to hide her dolls. “N…Nothing! It was nothing! Please don’t tell anyone! Please! I don’t want to have to make new friends…” Her lower lip quivered, mortified that she had been caught playing pretend. It was all she could do to squeeze Tom and wrap herself with her tentacles, staring dejectedly at the floor while Gaelos looked about her room. “Apologies for the abrupt entry. Needed to give you this,” he finally said, offering out a data-slate. Gingerly, she unwrapped a tentacle from her abdomen to take it, tossing it on the bed for later reading. “Just tell him thanks and then claim you need to sleep,” Astra told herself, “maybe he won’t think you’re completely insane.”
Before she could say anything, however, Gaelos extended a hand to pat her on the head. Surprised, Astra glanced up at his beaming face, “I…I don’t…” Another pat on the head, followed by him bowing and departing without another word. All Astra could do in response was to open and close her mouth several times, unable to properly understand what had just happened.
As they stood outside the heavily barred door, Gaelos and Astra once again checked themselves over. After arriving on the hive world of Melenus, their cell had been tasked with tracking down a cult of hereteks, rumored to have access to xenos technology. Their investigation had brought them to this run-down portion of the underhive, where several mutants had been seen working with heavily cyberized individuals. With a little charm from their scum, alongside a rather intense series of interrogations from their arbitrator, the acolytes were able to piece together where cult was operating from proper. From there, it was up to Gaelos and Astra to play the part of new members in order to gain access to the compound.
Surprisingly, gaining admittance was as simple as giving the bouncer behind the door their names. It seemed as though the cultist that Max had interrogated had made good on his promise to add them to the ledger. Yet, as the door was shut and locked behind them, Astra couldn’t help but feel trapped. This was going far too smoothly, and, in her experience, that usually meant that someone, somewhere was about to get shot. To make matters worse, their backup was ten minutes away at best, by which time they would be long dead if anything went wrong. Still, as she and Gaelos descended a set of stairs, she tried to think positively. Maybe the cultists weren’t as smart as their investigation had led them to believe.
That thought would be flipped on its’ head minutes later, as Astra and Gaelos found themselves pinned behind metal crates, exchanging blind fire with the hereteks. Somewhere up above, an explosion marked the rest of the cell breaching into the compound, though, given the current state of their ammo reserves, Astra was finding it hard to believe there would be anything but corpses for them to retrieve. “Any ideas?” called out Gaelos, firing off his las pistol wildly using his mechadendrite. “Not really!” replied Astra, adding to the suppression with her own pistols.
For every heretek that they managed to injure, two more would take their place, armed with various bits of xenos weaponry. Each minute that past brought Astra further despair, and she was beginning to resign herself to dying in this Emperor-forsaken storage room. Never knowing what Gaelos thought of her, never knowing what it was to love, and be loved in return. She almost didn’t notice the click of her stub revolver, signifying that she had run out of bullets. Tossing the weapon wildly at their assailants, Astra called over to Gaelos, “Since we’re not going to get out of this alive, I just want you to kno…” It was then that his head exploded as a round from a shuriken catapult pierced his skull, sending bits of gray matter and blood spewing everywhere. Shocked, Astra found herself unable to act at first, though soon she found herself picking up and throwing the crate she had been using for cover as a primal rage overtook her. As various projectiles pierced her flesh, she became lost in the bloodlust, moving to slaughter those that had killed the only person to ever show her kindness.
In the end, only three of the acolytes managed to survive the botched raid, including Astra. As she, Julo, and Kreff delivered their reports to the Inquisitor, a sense of numbness and depression permeated the air. Sighing, the Inquisitor shook her head, commending them on a job well done in eliminating the cult while extending her condolences for their lost comrades. Astra was only half-paying attention, and found herself being led from the Inquisitor’s office after being dismissed. All she could see was Gaelos’ head scattering before her, the moment replaying over and over in her mind. It wasn’t until the door to her quarters failed to open that she realized she had subconsciously wandered to Gaelos’ instead. Rather than use her override code, Astra slid her tentacles around the door, prying it open and breaking the lock before stepping inside.
The former tech priest’s room was Spartan in décor, the only decoration being a few odds and ends that he had been working on restoring to working order. Sitting on his bed, Astra took up his pillow, clutching it tight as she began to cry. Lost in her lament, she failed to notice that Kreff had joined her, standing in the doorway. “I…” he began, his blank stare roving over the room, “I know you don’t give a damn what I think, but, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry. He was a good man, better than I.” Before Kreff could say anything more, he found the wind knocked out of him as Astra pinned him against the wall of the hallway. “WHY?!” she shouted, pounding her tentacles against his chest as various fluids poured down her face, “WHY DID YOU HAVE TO BE THE ONE TO LIVE?!” Devolving into incoherent babbling, she dropped to her knees, leaving Kreff staring soullessly and silently past her into Gaelos’ room.