The Alchemy of the Word

Brother Koris - Journal Entry Seven

Official Journal of Brother Koris, Deathwatch Apothecary, Blood Angels Chapter
Entry Seven – Watch Fortress Erioch / Thunder’s Wrath / Babel Seventeen Shrine World

Brother Zariel and I restore the machine spirits and paintwork of Brother Ramiel’s armour to pristine condition while the medical rites are being conducted to revive him from the healing coma induced by his Sus-An Membrane. Soon after our arrival at the Watch Fortress he regains consciousness and is welcomed back by Brother Zariel and myself. Brother Ramiel is quite agitated and in low spirits on waking in the Apothecarion and while undergoing supervised exercise to evaluate his healing and recovery. I then take him to his cell to conduct private rites of penance and these raise his morale a great deal. I am now hopeful that the incident on the Thunder’s Wrath, and some of his more erratic behaviour during the last mission, will not be repeated.

I and the other members of the Kill-Team are all individually pestered by Brother Thorkild of the Space Wolves to reveal the details of our impending mission. I despair at his lack of discipline and honour, particularly disappointing from a veteran of the Deathwatch, and hope that none of the other Marines on the Watch Fortress are so lacking in judgement as to follow his poor example.

We requisition our equipment for the mission, and are informed that we will once again be travelling aboard the Gladius class frigate Thunder’s Wrath. The journey should be rather shorter this time, as the Babel System is only a few days’ warp journey distant. I request, and am granted, permission to devise a heraldic badge for our Kill-Team and to paint this on the outer left cuisse of our armour. Though both Brother Siegmund and Brother-Lexicanium Aemilianus argue in favour of their own Chapter colours taking prominence, we eventually agree on a shield-shaped insignia with a background of the wave-ruffled surface of a deep sea coloured in the blue of the Ultramarines Chapter. Against this is set a pair of wings in the design of the Blood Angels and Dark Angels Chapters, the wings coloured in the black of the Black Templars Chapter, and beneath the joint of the wings is set the outline of the Inquisition symbol painted as highly polished silver in which can be seen a subtle reflection of the wearer’s face composed in an attitude of pious prayer.

Brother Siegmund opens a discussion on which of us should lead the Kill-Team. Brother-Lexicanium Aemilianus proposes that Brother Siegmund should continue in the role, having performed well during our first mission, this proposal is seconded by myself and carried by acclaim – though Brother Siegmund is commendably modest about wishing to command. We reaffirm our Oath to the Emperor do some preliminary research on Babel Seventeen and the Babel System.

The Babel System has dozens of planets and moons, with a number of modest agri-worlds close to the system’s star and a number of small mining stations on the system’s outer bodies. Babel Seventeen is roughly the size of Mars, lacks a natural atmosphere and has no geographical features. The entire planetary surface is covered in approximately two hundred linked hives, all contained within pressurised atmosphere domes, with the data repositories mostly below the surface and extending deep into the planetary crust. There are a dozen spaceports, fewer than would usually be expected for a planet of this size; planetary defences consist of batteries of planetary defence lasers with overlapping void shields protecting the hives.

Estimated current population of Babel Seventeen is approximately two hundred Sisters of Babel with fifteen thousand lay support staff, five thousand Adeptus Mechanicus personnel and approximately one million servitors, thus each hive will average a shockingly small population of one hundred personnel plus five thousand servitors.

The short journey to the Babel System is uneventful. I finish painting the Kill-Team heraldry on our armour and we spend our time in prayer and training to ready ourselves for the mission. On arriving in orbit around Babel Seventeen we observe that hive settlement started at the equatorial belt and then spiralled outwards on both hemispheres, following the direction of the planet’s rotation. We briefly speculate on a possible link with the “vermillion spiral” of which Brother Lexicanium Aemilianus has sometimes spoken, but dismiss these concerns. We contact the Sisters of Babel and are assigned a spaceport at which to meet their delegation. Taking a shuttle down, we are informed that the pilot who nearly curtailed our previous mission at its start is no longer on active duty, and after a brief mid-atmosphere pause in a holding position while the void shields are lowered we arrive at the spaceport.

The spaceport’s design is archaic and the facility appears derelict, the surfaces cracked and covered with plant growth. Brother Zariel determines that it is two years since the proper rites of maintenance were last conducted, and that the spaceport’s machine spirits have mostly been left in slumber since that time. Brother-Lexicanium Aemilianus attempts to gauge the psychic condition of the planet, and senses what he terms “a storm of growing tension”.

We spot the welcoming delegation from some distance away as they slowly cross the landing area to meet us. Three Sisters of Babel, their leader a small and lightly built woman, are flanked by four guards in carapace armour wielding lasweapons and wearing power swords, though their equipment appears to be poorly maintained as if it has spent many years receiving only field repairs. The three Sisters wear robes of black and grey in a standard Ecclesiarchy cut, and all three have had their throat, lower jaw and both hands replaced by well maintained augmetics. Their leader welcomes us to the planet, speaking through her artificial voice grill at the level of a whisper. On questioning she gives her name as Sister Superior Winifred and explains that the augmetics are a sacred charge of their order and are designed to protect the books in their care. As a gesture of politeness, most of the Kill-Team lower the volume on our armour’s external address systems.

Sister Superior Winifred announces that she will begin by leading us to our guest quarters. She tells us that her Order is in the process of receiving new texts and amending their storage facilities to accommodate them. These texts are from their contacts in the Battlefleet, some captured Tau texts for study by the Ordo Xenos and others rescued by refugees from planets lost to Xenos assault. She also tells us that the Sisters concentrate their numbers at base camps, from where they send missions to the “deeper stacks”, sometimes visit outposts of the lay community, and find Adeptus Mechanicus personnel when they can.

We arrive at a cage lift in which we are expected to descend to the lower levels, and Sister Winifred tells us that it is normally used for transporting books since the Sisters descend by climbing the bookstacks. Brother Zariel is dubious about the lift’s ability to bear our weight; we cautiously descend in three pairs, Brother Siegmund and Brother-Lexicanium Aemilianus going first followed by Brothers Ramiel and Zariel. The lift arrives at a walkway on the edge of a massive cavern. The walkway abuts a wall of bookshelves containing historical texts from the Age of Apostasy, with some books present in multiple copies. The cavern contains hexagonal spires of bookshelves connected by a webbing of ladders, cables, gantries, ropes and bridges, almost none of which look capable of supporting a Marine’s weight. The area is lit by bio-lume globes, many of them weak or burnt out, and a number of servitors can be seen hovering around one of the distant stacks.

We are led up a flight of stairs and through an archway into a corridor lined with stained glass windows and with tattered and peeling murals of various obscure Imperial saints whose portfolios are connected with scholarship. There is also a portrait of Primarch Roboute Guilliman holding aloft a written copy of the Codex Astartes, which Brother-Lexicanium Aemilianus briefly pauses to salute. Sister Superior Winifred informs us that the Babel Seventeen archives contain 147 editions of the Codex Astartes along with 238 commentaries. She also states that the Sisters of Babel prefer the physicality of ink and paper to the use of data slates as they believe that a book is a concept given physical form, believing that the written word is “the epitome of order and thus the ultimate refutation of Chaos”. To questions about books written by followers and agents of the Ruinous Powers she replies with some potentially heretical comments about Chaos thus containing “the seeds of its own destruction”. The Sisters of Babel may need to be monitored for Radical beliefs and practices. Finally we arrive at the guest quarters that have been assigned to us, and are informed that Inquisitor Albertine Hoffman’s quarters are just down the corridor and have been left untouched in case she returns.

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