Rick Hillard
2 supporters
Cassieltine (Chapter One of Book 2)

Cassieltine (Chapter One of Book 2)

Feb 22, 2023

                Zangat III lie at the extreme edge of the systems Goldilocks region, its small barren surface barely warmed by the twin stars giving it its name. Wind swept rocky plains broken by ranges of low hills and deep, poorly watered canyons. The planet had little to attract colonists. What minerals it had were of the common variety and deep beneath the thick mantel, making them unprofitable to mine. Aside from a few scraggly flora and uninspiring fauna, it had little else to attract it to the voracious Guilds and Houses of the Imperium. This made it a suitable location for a Crusader Forward Operations Base. One True Path scouts had identified the system and the planet it contained one of a score of other equally desolate systems several years ago during one of the OTP’s outward missionary operations in the wake of House Halthion’s expulsion of the Cult’s various orders. Orders whose missionaries and monk’s only crime was to promote, educate and empower humanity in a region dominated by ill-conceived, human based genomes. It was the Prior’s divine declaration that such missions continue, and it was Thomas’s primary mission to see that the OTP was able to do so.

                Thomas Cassieltine, Paladin of the Third Rank of the Sons of Purity – an order with Crusader ties whose mission was to risk contamination and death to carry the word to all mankind so that they might follow the Path of God’s proper plan for evolution, at any cost. Whereas the Crusaders Militant Orders were the soldiers of God, the Sons of Purity were the Cult’s intelligence gathering force.

                Boot’s crunching dust infused snow and half frozen mud, Thomas walked with purpose towards the prefabricated bunker serving as the FOB’s command center. Forward Operations Base, ‘Purity’s Truth’, consisted of a hundred fortified prefabs’ set in orderly rings around a pair of weapons platforms. A simple chain-link fence and regularly spaced weapons emplacements further protected the FOB’s outer perimeter. It was an orderly scene that he could apricate.

                On his way to meet with the general, Thomas could smell the varied odor of a thousand plus floobs inhabiting the base. Chemical exhaust from the nearby vehicle park mingling with a hint of fresh baked bread coming from the kitchens. Nearby, a double row of troopers – all human – jogged to a militant cadence that was inspiring. It was temporarily drowned out by the whine and thump of a pair of fifty metric ton War Knights passing out of the east gate to patrol the surrounding hills, or perhaps on their way to the makeshift landing field a kilometer south of the base proper. It was mornings like this that reminded him why he requested the Missionary Corp.

                A pair of guards in dusty tan, medium body armor, stood by the main door. Each held a plasma rifle slung over one shoulder. Above the doors an optic sensor spun to focus on his face, identifying him to some SecTech deeper inside the CC ‘fab. Other sensors that he could not see were scanning him; noting weapons and checking for authorized explosives. Others sniffed the air, searching for known organic toxicants or exotic spores that could be weaponized, thus a threat, to the command. The cult took few chances, but the procedure was rapid enough that he did not have to slow down or stop. The doors cycled open, indicating that he had passed scrutiny. Just inside the doors which, he knew, were thick armored durosteel, lie a modest sized guard room. Two heavily armored combat ‘bots stood on thickly tracked bases tucked into niches. A standard looking desk occupied one side, behind which sat an acolyte level officer. Hair pulled back in a severe bun, she looked up from a holo vid of his image and the non-classified portions of his personal file her sole purpose was to visualize his appearance and confirm it by the holo pic. The Path did not fully trust in automatics and ‘puter driven security systems. The desk, he assumed, was armored, and most likely served as a mini-bunker if an intruder was detected. In such an event the duty officer could dive under it in hopes of avoiding the automated defenses and the ‘bots programming. She eyed him and then the holo gain before nodding and handing him a lamented visitor’s badge.

                “Please affix this on your right breast pocket, Paladin,” she said with a hint of boredom. She knew that he was quite familiar with procedures. As he did, she gestured to the inner door as it spiraled open. “Purity in all things.”

                “Purity,” he agreed.

                Beyond the entry room lie a hallway three meters wide and two and a half tall that ran the length of the building. A Tech VI command and control bunker, the nano technology imbedded into key walls and structural supports, as well as the expansion joints allowed it to compress and compact into a block easily stacked or stored in a cargo pod or ship’s cargo bay. An advanced, model, the ‘fab had three floors and office space for ninety floobs.

                Halfway down the hallway Thomas passed several techs and floobs in the uniforms of Service Acolytes. All busy with their own tasks, everyone still greeted him with ‘Purity’.  Ascending to the third floor, he walked past another pair of guards who stood on the top landing. Behind them another floob sat behind a desk. He looked up and gave a vague smile before reaching another floob behind another desk.

                 “Purity is yours, Paladin. Priorate General Chaz will see you in his office. Third door on the left. It’s open so go on in.”

                Thomas paused in the doorway and watched as General Chaz stood, staring at a holomap projected across one wall depicting the Halthion core and the regions surrounding it. Key systems glowed with icons demoting known colonies, defense force bases, naval bases, and glowing golden treads denoting known hyper routes. Numerous shields displayed unit names and designations at the battalion and larger units, as well as the placement of the featherback’s naval fleets. Before he could spew the standard greeting the general waved in in with an impatient hand.

                “The foully corrupted featherbacks have spread themselves too thin,” the general said, gesturing sharply at the map. “This ill-conceived plan of the deviant duke to stake out that second Choke Passage has weakened his House.” The way the general spat out that word made it clear what his opinion of any non-human led house was. It also indicated the Priorates more personal loathing of the Flay-Tibors.

                It was well known within the True Path how much trouble the Aviary’s, especially the ruling Flay-Tibors, have been. At every turn the Path’s endeavor to bring the light of human purity to those misguided citizens living beneath those abominations, those ‘birdmen’, had been thwarted. Both the peaceful and benevolent Priors whose temples and outreach centers brought healthcare, education, and spiritual guidance to oppressed humans and the crusader citadels and Path monasteries whose residents’ only desire was to protect and guide humanity, and to a lesser extent, the menagerie of human genetic monstrosities man had so foolishly created.

                “Temples destroyed. Recruiters killed, and honest missionaries harassed and driven off world at every turn. These Flay-Tibors and their ilk constantly defy our human rights as the genetic progenitors of Settled Space. Not only is it unlawful in the eyes of every man and woman alive, it is blasphemous.”

                As the general spoke a fervent gleam filled his eyes and flecks of foam appeared at one corner of his mouth. “Worse, so much worse, is this Duke Flay-Tibors own miscegenation; this twisted belief that his thingies have a right to further dilute the precious human DNA be encouraging diversion on a monumental scale. Even the genetic beasts, these Aviary constructs of his own core House, know better than that! They are worse than Gorns!”

                “Few creatures are worse than Gorns,” Thomas said with a straight face.

                Red faced, the general held up a hand, seeking a moment to regain his temper. As he did, Chaz glared at Thomas, looking him over.

                “I have read your file, Paladin. Third Rank, member of the Sons of Purity order. Successful missions on a score of worlds across the No Back. You have the drive and purpose of mind to achieve what you are instructed to do. The reports of your superiors are glowing.” He gave a satisfied snort before staring at the map once more. “Your promise and conviction will be well rewarded in time. What I need of you is to choose two Acolytates to accompany you and proceed to the world of Gabber’s Down. Our latest reports rate it a marginally breathable, volcanic planet with rich mineral resources. It has been ignored by the featherbacks until recent discoveries of valuable gemstones have been made. The place is enjoying a boom, drawing in hordes of fringe miners and freelance operators, as well as many of the regional population, all seeking to make themselves rich. This lax and confusing environment will make your tasks easier. Any questions.” <Note: verify this statement as later in the book it seems that Cassieltine ’s mission was to go to emerald all along>

                Thomas gave the general a grim smile. “Just one, your Eminence. When do I leave?”

                “Eager to take the word to the masses. I like that in an officer. Transport has been procured for you and your team, as well a few mtons of supplies on board an independently owned medium freighter whose captain-owner follows the precepts of the Path. You leave tonight. My adjunct outside has all the details.” He gave Thomas a hard look. “We have been repeatedly thwarted by these featherbacks and their ignorant allies for far too long. I aim to put an end to this practice, and you are one of many who will go and proselyte to our pure DNA brothers and sisters. Among them, you will find recruits to help in our cause. Don’t hesitate to use the Halthion’s own abominations to achieve this. They are merely tools to be so used, either by us or by their own Aviary masters. Such is the way of these things.”

                Thomas was very aware of how many hybrid genomes that humanity had spawned over the millennium. Far too many and many more than the Encyclopedia Galactic’s listed for the common floobs to understand. More than a few House Lords and Guild Masters, driven by greed, or some sort of god complex, continued creating such monstrosities. His last mission had been to destroy one such nobles’ genetics laboratory. The foolish women had been striving to blend a human crustacean that would be suited for exploiting several deep ocean planets that had so far gone underutilized in her region. He had few illusions that the Path’s action on Venou did little but slow down the Baronesses agenda. The secret lab could be rebuilt; lost data recompiled, and new geneticists recruited but it all took credits, resources, and time. As he understood it, the sympathizers who had confessed to the whereabouts of the lab was still in place to do so again in the future if necessary. At that time, he (or one of his breather Sons) would return to repeat the chastisement. Since the sympathizer was a grandson of the Baroness, it might even be possible that the foolish noble may need to be permanently persuaded to desist in any further corrupting of the human gene pool. It was already a cesspit, deep and foul and filled with disgusting offal masquerading as genomes.

                “Very well then, Albesua will have more detailed instructions waiting for you at his desk. Success in your pursuit of purity, Paladin.”

                Although he had let his mind wander, Thomas was quick enough to respond to the general when he was dismissed. Pressing an open fist against his heart, he nodded respectfully had showed himself out. As the general promised, an attractive blonde woman waited outside to give him a datapad, as well as a pair of credsticks. Operational orders and monetary supplements to assist in the completion of his newest task. After a few moments asking detailed questions he left.

                Walking out of the command center Thomas perused the contents on the pad. So deep into reading the details he barely noticed the floob falling into step beside him.

                “Hello, Thomas. I see the General tapped you for this Halthion probe.”

                “Bendut,” he said in greeting.

                “Are you occupying the other teams to Emerald?”

                A fellow Paladin of the same rank, Bendut Anduerso belonged to a different order. One that was often rivals of his own. Unsure about the Emerald reference, he gave a cool smile. “Were you expecting to be chosen instead?”

                There was no enmity in Thomas’ voice, despite the occasions when their two orders interfered with each other’s operations. A little competition helped to keep an edge sharp, after all.

                “No, not at all,” Bendut replied with a knowing smile as they exited the command bunker. “I recently returned from a mission of my own by way of Gabber’s Down. A real mudhole, and one crawling with abominations and genic freaks. Until the featherbacks figure out the economic potential of that place, it’ll remain a back hole dump.”

                ‘Sounds if it’s yearning for a little enlightenment than,” Thomas said dryly.

                “I’m sure something will come along.” The deep conviction in the other Paladin’s tone perked Thomas’ attention.

                “You’ve heard something?”

                “The usual scuttlebutt, but all you have to do is look around. The numbers of gathering units and Orders flowing in suggest that the Hierarchy has decided to act. Perhaps the Sector Bishops have decided to chastise the Flay-Tibors for the heresies that they keep throwing in front of the Path.”

                “There aren’t enough soldiers here to take any world that would hurt the House. Not and hold it, anyway. Especially Summerland.”

                Thomas had spent enough time on the featherback’s capital to know that. He had been there when the first tests for the new planetary shields had been underway. While not a fortress by any means, the Flay-Tibor’s home world was well defended and would require far more men and resources that he believed the Hierarchy was prepared to spend. Besides, even if they took Summerland, neither Avia Prime or the Imperium would suffer the Path to keep it and rule in good faith. The nobles were touchy about such things.

                Bendut grinned. “No, but Emerald on the other hand, is a weak twig that needs pruning, or so the featherbacks would say. The rumor is that were not to hold it, just cleanse as much of the filth as time allows and to crush the first response forces the Duke sends in to relieve his minor noble. It’ll be glorious.”

                “If we can pull it off.”

                “Careful that the Minders don’t hear you talk like that.” Bendut lowered his voice. “You know it’s defeatist”

                Thomas glanced about but didn’t see anyone within earshot. Of course, that didn’t’ guarantee anything but then he didn’t fear the Minders, as the Path’s Thought Police were called. He hadn’t really said anything negative, besides his reputation as a diehard purist was well established.

                “If the general says it can be done, then by the first gene, we’ll see it through to whatever end comes,” he said with conviction. “Did you have some useful comments on Gabber’s Down, Bendut? Not to be rude but I have a lot to do.”

                “Not much, but it may have some value to you. One of our lay members there operates a small store selling mining supplies. She mentioned that a new shadow master is trying to organize the criminals and unregistered floobs. A featherback by the name of Shoriviour Chortelswilde, reported to be a member of a regional crime organization called “The Black Feather Rings.”

                “I’ve heard of the BFR.”

                “Despite of the Houses’ attempts to eliminate the criminal organization the featherbacks seem unable to fully squash this BFR. My contact said that this syndicate can supply pretty much everything a floob might want, at a price. If nothing else, they could be useful as dupes and as a source of materials for you.”

                Thomas nodded. “It could be useful, yes. Thank you.”


                As he walked away Thomas gave the information some further thought. There wasn’t a planet in existence that didn’t have a scum coated underbelly. Such beings should be exterminated at every opportunity but, he admitted, they could be used and discarded in time. It would be worth investigating anyway. Hired thugs and stolen weapons had helped to bring down many a House. And, he found himself in agreement with Bendut, he and his team could find a lot of useful data about Halthion and its operations. His mission wasn’t about sabotage, but of disinformation and sowing discontent. If he could force the Thane of Emerald to send troops to put down problems on the mining world, even better. It would mean fewer defenders on Emerald when the blow landed. If the blow landed as Bendut seemed to think it would.

Enjoy this post?

Buy Rick Hillard a book

More from Rick Hillard