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Karak Norn Clansman #5034

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Dress Code

Everyone is a barbarian to someone else.

Quisque est barbarus alio.

Thus reads a High Gothic proverb known to the well educated castes in the Imperium of Man, that dilapidated cosmic domain formally belonging to the Celestial Imperator of Holy Terra, a realm stretching across the starspangled void, straddling a million worlds and voidholms beyond counting.

This saying describes the everlasting fact of cultural differences between humans, and indeed its meaning has been extended to describe not only the seed of Terra, but also abhorrent xenos by Rogue Traders roaming the murky corners of the Milky Way galaxy.

Out of all the caleidoscopic clashes of custom where insular tribes and congregations collide, let us briefly examine a peculiar phenomenon evident across vast swathes of several thousand Imperial colony worlds and voidholms. It is not dependant on the high culture of Holy Terra, but sprung from a plethora of local cultures sprinkled across planets and void dwellings alike. It is a source of friction on planets and larger voidholms that house populations settled across multiple climes. Is is likewise a cause of strife where ethnos and tribes with visually distinct culture come into contact, as traditional garb and markers of belonging turn into hotly contested points of pride by parochial and myopically aggressive people. Let us thus examine the myriad of dispersed human cultures, who for whatever climatological and historical reasons of their own has grown to despise the barbarian filth known as trouser-bearers.

The human custom of wearing britches date back to the misty past of the Age of Terra. Some of the first trousers were worn by steppe nomads to bring comfort during extended periods on horseback, in a way that kilts, tunics and bared nether regions could not. This rider's garb spread to become commonplace across Old Earth, and variations of this item of clothing remained popular throughout the entire stretch of the Dark Age of Technology, no matter the shifts in fashion and technology and the demands of alien living spaces. This simple garment survived among primitive survivors during the Age of Strife in a great many locales, and the all-conquering forces of Imperial Compliance would often slaughter foes in trousers, although a great many other tribes of cannibals and scavengers knew not of such an article of clothing, if they kenned any clothing whatsoever.

The early Imperium during the Great Crusade saw an eclectic mix of garb among the regiments of the Imperial Army, from strict uniforms, cunning camouflage and armoured voidsuits, to fighters donning mere loinclothes or fighting naked, protected only by tattoos or patterns of body paint. Drawn from hundreds of thousands of freshly conquered worlds, these human warriors brought their own styles of fighting and fashion with them, and often they would adopt favourite ways from others during lengthy service far away from their homeworlds.

To some extent, the trend-setting high culture of Imperial Terra would spread through encouragement, eager imitation and a limited degree of centralized issuance of equipment, yet the Emperor knew better than to try and impose a template of garb and aesthetics on his suddenly sprawling dominion. That way, unnecessary discontent and opposition lay. Better instead to let the hordes of provincials wear much what they liked, and place the Terran example of finery on a pedestal for voluntary imitation. It is after all easier to attract bees with nectar than with vinegar.

For all the visionary plans and insights that were burnt away to ash and drowned in blood following the epoch-shattering calamity of the Horus Heresy, the surviving Imperium nevertheless managed to retain an understanding that the simple Imperial modus operandi, to largely leave native customs be and avoid meddling overly much in local affairs, was for the most part the wisest path to tread. Occasional hiccups of Imperial history have seen some misguided decrees issued from the Throneworld that attempted to ban and dictate such mundane matters as clothing or alcoholic consumption, yet the perverse and unintended consequences of those culture-shaping campaigns that were actively executed on the ground inevitably saw the masters and mistresses of the Adeptus Terra shy away from prodding such explosive nests of hornets.

At the end of the day, who on high wants the trouble of riots and rebellions over superficial trifles, when all that the Imperium of Man really cares about is extracting Tithe, feeding the ravenous demands of total war and maintaining control over His Divine Majesty's scattered holdings? And was the drastic fall in Tithe grades following the Argamon Genocides of M37 really worth implementing a hated Sector-wide edict to enforce the wearing of monastic garments among the civilian population, on the pain of public abacination and quartering between four bull groxen?

Thus, Imperial authorities seldom attempt the imposition of sweeping dress codes outside the ranks of the God-Emperor's own elevated Adepts. Whatever is the local equivalent of respectable garb is expected for Ecclesiarchal Temple services, whether they be sombre robes or feathered loinclothes. Local authorities of planets and voidholms will dabble more frequently in sumptuary laws than will Imperial Adeptus, though the extent to which local administrations and policiary forces are able to enforce such laws restricting caste clothing, food and luxury expenditures is usually dubious. Amid the sclerotic and hollowed-out state of mankind during the Age of Imperium, even the most eager tyrants will tend to find that the penetration of their power into wider society has decayed from the totalitarian ideals which their dynastic ancestors better lived up to.

In parts of worlds and voidholms sporting warmer climes, such sumptuary laws will include a ban on the wearing of trousers. Sometimes, as in the case of the planet Macragge or the voidholm Felix Pulceris, the laws are dead and inert, a relic of past centuries before fashion or climate changed the way people dress. Other times, the legalities may be stringently followed by innumerable upholders of mores among the population, especially by older women whose watchful eyes and admonishing voice do much to keep a community in check. In such locales, much the same people who participate in pogroms will trot out to beat and berate straying members of the community as they drag the contemptuous deviants bloody through the streets or corridors for harsh punishment at the hands of governatorial law enforcers.

Naturally, such warmer climes where the wearing of pants is seen as a taboo broken only by barbarians and obscene infidels, the existence of sumptuary laws is only an additional obstacle to trousered folks. Even where there are no sumptuary laws against the wearing of britches, insular communities can manage perfectly fine with the instruments of public scorn, violence and social ostracism to punish filthy trouser-wearers. Here, foreigners and locals breaking their ancestral custom of clothing will find themselves heckled by children through the streets. Doors will shut close in their faces, and those desperately seeking employment will be told in no uncertain way that people in pants need not apply. Indeed, rabid and malnourished crowds with a need to kick someone can easily be worked up into a frenzy, and more than a few Imperial subjects have went under the omnibus of lynchmobs chanting that trousers equals heresy.

In such parochial cultures, where the garment on your legs have become an infested question to fight over, all proud bearers of kilts, tunic and virile togas must know that pants are the true enemy. Be gone, tube-legs!

The sprawling fauna of Imperial saints approved by the Adeptus Ministorum even includes an obscure martyr for the despisers of trouser-bearers to rally around. His name is that of Saint Oxymandias the Leper, and churchly lore says that he first snapped his finger, and then tore off his entire arm as he tried to pull up his bewitched trousers following a visit to the communal outhouse. And on the asteroid mining voidholm of Utica Extremalis, a local legend sevenhundred years old is still told vividly around electro-heaters, about how the devout Emperor-worshipper Jacques the Butcher was strangled with his own pants by a revolting mob of traitors and malcontents who dragged him out of a shed in the slums. Ever since, the denizens of Utica Extremalis has worn nothing but kilts, robes and skirts inside the station's air seals, so as to avoid suffering the baleful fate of this righteous Imperial martyr.

Speaking of trousered infamy, voidsmen in three subsectors will tell you wild story variations about Captain Zedek Mascadolce, a downbeaten Rogue Trader renowned for his ill fortune with the rearguard durability of his tight and costly trousers. Even more fell rumours claim that the splendid Captain of the Debt Collector himself repairs his ripped pants instead of ordering underlings to carry out the task. Speculations as to why range from fear of assassination, through fear of subordinate incompetence, to sheer embarrasment over such a faux pas occuring to this refined socialite. Indeed, any self-respecting Rogue Trader caught with such damaged garb on his derriere would have to hide his face in odious shame.

The cultural phenomenon of aversion to britches in some human cultures in warmer climes will undoubtedly have hygienic origins related to ventilation. Upstanding bearers of kilt and tunic swear by the advantages to health of avoiding trousers, and they curse the strange ways of self-degrading barbarians who would have their legs and nobler parts trapped inside tubes of textile or hide. Do these fools pursue eczema and itchy ratches? Do they not know that both virility and fertility is dampened by the constraints of pants? God-Emperor judge their foul garb unworthy!

Conversely, some of the worst wounds from alchemical combat gasses can be found among kilt-wearing Astra Militarum regiments, whose suffering afterward beggars belief. Any member of the Officio Medicae with relevant experience can attest this fact, while making warding gestures and spreading their fingers across their chest in the sign of the Aquila to keep away Daemons drawn to the mere words of such horrendous hardship. Yet such sacrifices of self is nothing compared to the virtue of fighting and dying for the Terran Emperor, seated on the Golden Throne of hallowed myth.

O Terra, verti est sua aeterni!

Coincidentally, a great empire during the distant past of the Age of Terra went to hell in a hand basket around the same time it widely adopted pants. Similar examples of a much later date will sometimes be bandied about by jurists and governocrats across the Imperium, as they point to a decline in planetary fortunes and a wilting of military arms following the adoption of heinous luxuries of one sort or another. Yet for the plebeian mob, such matters mostly come down to drunken violence and red-blooded herd mentality. For them, the sight of strangers being dressed in pants whereas they are not, is reason enough to cook up a fight and have some malevolent fun at the expense of another.

And so we see that human cultures always tend to fall back on cycles of petty violence and frothing outrage over trivial matters, in a circumlocution that leads nowhere. In the Age of Imperium, such movement into a dead-end is all that humanity has proven itself capable of, as mankind under the rule of the High Lords of Terra flagellates itself in abject misery and ignorance, even as its grasp on knowledge and technology rots away in a slow death spiral of demechanization.

In such a depraved interstellar civilization stuck in a rut, is it any wonder that man has been reduced to a resentful wretch, his demented hate fuelled by trauma and dogma alike? Where man has fallen so low from the golden pinnacles of his ancestors, is it any wonder that he is so prone to spontaneous outbreaks of communal violence? What else can one expect from a humanity sunk into the abyss of senility?

Such is the waywardness of mankind, after it went down the wrong trouser leg of history.

Such is the decrepit state of our species, in a time beyond hope.

Such is the raging nonsense that awaits us all.

It is the fortyfirst millennium, and there is only bile.
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Karak Norn Clansman #5040

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Pushover

"It was in that moment, of trying to push up the small rontree with the roots, when menial garden serf Tammuz Tsivkmlap realized that he had the spiked iron fence right under his throat."

- Excerpt from Carolus Wrång the Elder's travelling journal Anecdotes of [Redacted] Stubbornness, Being A Sketch of Rural Life On Sala Majoris In the Emperor's Year 346.M41, literary work approved by voidholm censors after purging obscene swearwords and published in Low Gothic on Skintaxmountain Station IV by Printing House Draconus of Hab-District Six
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Karak Norn Clansman #5044

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Smoke Cover

In the grim darkness of the far future, man hides from the gaze of heaven.

Ever since the primordial forebears of man saw birds soaring above, man has dreamt of flying. That dream was realized by brilliant and brave pioneers during the misty past of the Age of Terra, and ever since has the skyvault been a domain of man. That windblown sphere of flight has ever been dangerous, for gravity will undo the best and the brightest should the winged wains of man crash. To mitigate these perils on high, ancient man invented ever more ingenious instruments and systems to keep him flying no matter the obstacles.

The technology invested in aircraft and aerodromes was already refined beyond belief by the end of the Age of Terra, yet the stellar exodus and accelerated spree of invention fuelled by Man of Stone during the Dark Age of Technology would surpass all that had come before and by comparison make it look like ungainly paper planes bereft of sight and rudder. Truly, the sky alone was the limit in that golden epoch when the earthly trinity of Man of Gold, Stone and Iron bestrode the cosmos like titans.

As man built for himself a worldly paradise betwixt the stars, so did man's hubris soar. As man banished suffering and hardship from his life, so did his arrogance take flight. On godless wings did man raise himself up on a pedestal as he laboured to uncover the innermost secrets of creation itself, yet those wings of genius melted like wax brought too close to the sun. Machine revolt, Warp storms and a plague of witches and Daemons rent the galactic realm of ancient man asunder, and twain million worlds and uncountable void dwellings were thrown into the meatgrinder of the Age of Strife.

Man fell, and fell hard. He landed bloodily with crippling impact in a desolation where cannibals ate their own kin and where ignorant savages rummaged around the ruins of ancient giants for pitiful scraps. Most of the masterful knowledge and craft of the ancients was destroyed in that crash into Old Night, and man suffered mightily amid the ravages of Xenos and Chaos. To this day, it is a cardinal truth of the Imperium that only the God-Emperor and His victorious arms saved humanity from the brink of doom, yet like so many fundamental humans beliefs in the Age of Imperium, it is a blatant lie wrapped in a semblance of truthfulness. The truth of the matter is that the Imperator, for all His brilliant vision and beneficial toil for our species, ruthlessly eliminated all other sources of human regrowth after the Age of Strife ended. Thus, only His Imperial renaissance of Mars and Terra in union would be allowed to flourish, under His rule alone.

This turned out to be a catastrophic mistake for mankind, as the shining promises of the early Imperium were scorched to cinders during the greatest betrayal in human history. Suddenly, the monopoly on human development in Imperial hands turned out to be a black curse upon man, as the cosmic domains of the transcendent Deity of Gold crawled out of the civil war, battered and beaten to a pulp, yet still capable of maintaining its grip on power over a million worlds and voidholms without number.

And so the Emperor's servants proceeded to rule in His name. For a time, the traumatized star realm of man saw a silver age under tyrannical oversight, and some of the grievous damage done to human interstellar civilization was briefly repaired. Yet this false rebirth and stabilization was soon replaced by unyielding rot. For fivehundred generations has man been ruled by the High Lords of Terra, and this Age of Imperium is nothing but a cavalcade of bloodsoaked stagnation and decline of human fortunes across the board, in a slowly worsening death spiral of demechanization and loss of knowledge and technological hardware.

One such expression of dilapidation may be glimpsed in the state of aircraft, as human power continues to wane across the Milky Way galaxy on the Imperium's watch. As with so much of technology still produced and maintained by Imperial subjects, human aeroplanes are rugged affairs, originally designed by the Abominable Intelligence of long-lost Standard Template Constructors to be functional in the most diverse atmospheric environs of alien worlds. The most advanced forms of winged wains known to Explorators are well beyond the reach of Imperial production capacity, for so much has been lost, never to be regained. As such, man makes do with simpler kinds of aircrafts and hover vessels, which were often designed as rudimentary emergency measures, grown permanent by stifling ineptitude in the Imperium of Man.

The excellent design of even the most basic and crude pieces of technology inherited from ancient man is witnessed in the fact that his deranged heirs are still alive and kicking against all the odds. Without the scrapings of masterful tech from the legendary Men of Stone, Imperial man would long since have gone extinct, for he has created nothing of his own, and everything he took from the ancients he distorted.

One such obvious distortion can be seen in Imperial aerocraft, where an etiolating process of cutbacks, loss of know-how and deterioration of production facilities has seen ever more sensitive instruments disappear from newly produced airplanes. The most experienced and knowledgable of Imperial pilots and lay mechanics will be confounded whenever they encounter older planes with strange instrument panels. So many helpful systems have been removed for the sake of all-consuming ignorance or due to the ravenous demands of total war. Ultimately, the Imperium needs the ability to fly and shoot, and creature comforts, pilot survivability and sophisticated systems can always be done away with, no matter how much less combat effective this renders the battleplane. Fiery faith will have to pick up the slack. Likewise, an increased input of men and machines thrown into the meatgrinder will feed this broken equation of a colossus on feet of clay, as the monstrous Imperium continues to gear itself for ever more atavistic forms of warfare and industrial production.

Among all this mounting savagery and fanaticism, Imperial subjects have devised a plethora of primitive tricks to deal with enemy air superiority. One common ploy, when fuel is plentiful, is to dig wells, pour promethium into the pits and then lit them on fire. The black smoke thus billowing up will then hopefully create visual distractions for the pilots of the air force of the hated foe. Many such promethium covers have been devised by men and women possessed with cunning, but who have also been ignorant of such matters as satellite guidance and other forms of sophisticated technology that substitutes sight for aircraft. Oftentimes the entire effort will be nothing but wasted sweat and fuel for all the lack of impact it had on enemy air power.

One campaign example of burning promethium covers can be found on the civilized world of Uruk Sigma. Here, local separatists clashed with the Astra Militarum and the Planetary Defence Force in the promethium-producing region of Dadghab. After succeeding in infiltrating the Imperial rear and conquering a massive supply depot through covert means, the deviant separatists raised the flag of offensive, and threw themselves against the Imperial lines with this new influx of heavy equipment. As the rebel assault swept across the promethium fields, the Imperial commander General Agathea von Niessuh suppressed panic and suspicion of her own incompetence by a vigorous purge of subordinate commanders accompanied by a scaremongering propaganda campaign aimed to sow paranoia among Imperial ranks. Scapegoating and terror thus accomplished, the Imperial commander proceeded to meet the lightning advances of the nefarious enemy.

As traitor flags were raised over ever more drill towers, Agathea von Niessuh ordered the bulk of her forces to pull back to Nippur Regia, the regional capital city of Dadghab. Largely abandoning a wide front, Agathea had her forces dig in around the city in concentric circles of trenches and prefabricated pillboxes, all the while using fresh reinforcements to fortify the main supply route in an arrangement called the Long Walls of Nippur Regia. Accepting that Imperial forces for the present were outmatched and overwhelmed by the separatists, Agathea calculated that her soldiers would fight ferociously once cornered in an urban center turned into a fortress, as long as the supply lines held.

This uncharacteristic burst of original thinking saved the Imperial grip on Nippur Regia. The Long Walls were defended by a line of outpost forts, by husbanded missiles launched out of the hive city, and by rapid dune patrols of armoured cars and Sentinels who again and again managed to take separatist attackers by surprise. Thus convoys protected by heavy armour and Hydra flak tanks managed to keep the defenders of Nippur Regia fed and supplied, even if a seventh of the hive city's population of two billion had to be exterminated and fed into the corpse grinders in order to feed the rest of His Divine Majesty's starving subjects and loyal labourers.

With the aerial fortunes of local Planetary Defence Force aerofleets and Imperial Navy air wings at a crucial ebb, the invigorated Dadghabi separatists built new aerodromes and fuel depots, and concentrated all their air forces to strike the Long Walls in tandem with ground assaults. This renewed attempt to cut off Nippur Regia from outside supplies was met by Field Order Nr. 2137. Agathea von Niessuh ordered tens of thousands of workers and hundreds of civilian vehicles out into the battlezone, equipped with drills, dozer blades, spades and pickaxes. This ant-like column of humanity milled about along the stretch of the Long Walls, ever under horrible raids from enemy fighters, ever the victims of hostile artillery and air power. Many drafted thralls fled, only to be shot dead by blocking lines of Guardsmen and PDF troopers tasked with keeping the rabble in line. While overseers barked and taskmasters whipped bared backs, the men, women and children of Nippur Regia were herded out into the wasteland to dig pits and fill them with crude promethium.

When enemy assaults on this antediluvian engineering work intensified, General von Niessuh negotiated the cooperation of Nippur Regia's local Securitate forces and Adeptus Arbites precinct fortress. With harsh oversight provided by these brutal policiary organizations of the hive, Agathea increased input by throwing sixhundredthousand more Nippurites into the operation. Ever more machines broke down or went up in flames, and ever more work and transport had to be carried out by human hands and on human backs, assisted with requisitioned beasts of burden of xenoid origin. This mobilization of unwilling civilian manpower went on to the drumbeat of a massive conscription campaign, which saw three million Nippur Militiamen and Oathsworn Loyalist zealots in sackcloth hastily assembled. These men, women and juves were given the crudest practice imaginable in how to shoot and reload their lasguns or stubbers before being sent untrained to plug gaps in the frontlines of the the Long Walls.

Thus Imperial commander Agathea von Niessuh traded bodies for time, in a gamble she ultimately won at a cost in human lives best measured in hillocks of corpses.

Partway through the frantic scramble to shore up the Long Walls of Nippur Regia, Imperial forces began torching some of the first finished promethium wells, in a desperate attempt to gain some cover from hostile air power and unrelenting separatist ground assaults. Lo! The sky went black over Dadghab, and the city populace with windows facing the outside world woke up to darkness at dawn. Oily smoke billowed out of pits in the ground, masking the Long Walls and the people toiling and fighting and dying along its entire length. As more promethium wells were completed and lit up, ever more greasy columns of smoke darkened the sky, pulling a black veil over the heavens and throwing the efforts of enemy air power into confusion.

Where half the sky is flame and half the sky is smoke, Imperial might won out under a Promethian Shield, covering Imperial convoys and route defences for long enough. Eventually, enemy combat potential had ruined itself against the stalwart defenders with their lines of blocking troops ready to fire anyone surrendering or fleeing. Imperial officers and Commissars in the field brandished grim smiles on their gaunt faces as the rebel offensive petered out. And as the treacherous separatists licked their wounds, the artery of Imperial logistics known as the Long Walls pumped men and materiel frantically into Nippur Regia. Hundreds of long convoys of vehicles, men and pack animals travelled along blackened roads where horrible smoke and burnt-out corpses littered the landscape.

After three months of buildup, Imperial preparations were completed, and General Agathea von Niessuh launched the offensive Operation Pius, crushing enemy defenses again and again in a drumroll of artillery and small thrusts of armoured spearheads and human wave assaults that ground every rebel attempt to regroup and dig fortifications into dust and ash. Finally, after five years of total warfare and seventeen years of gruelling insurgency oppression, the entire region of Dadghab had returned under full Imperial control, including its precious promethium fields. The death toll exceeded three billion all in all, and much of the region was left largely depopulated after Imperial revenge purges saw any tribes and clans with suspected rebel members wiped out to extinguish all traitorous bloodlines. Thus was the Pax Imperialis restored to the planet of Uruk Sigma, and all was well in the celestial domains of the God-Emperor of Holy Terra.

The promethium smoke cover of the Long Walls of Nippur Regia is an example of a succesful use of fuel to shield ground fighters from sky fighters. These smoke covers are however often ineffectual, as the complete impotence of promethium covers against Tau, Eldar and Kin planes bear witness to. Burning promethium to blacken the sky can on the other hand cause great havoc among Ork pilots, for whom sight is the primary means of navigation and manoeuvre.

More worryingly, Imperial pilots and aircraft from worlds rebelling against the Imperium also seem to be vulnerable to this crude ploy. For instance, during the biannual Grand Exercises of Saint Hodrerum on the arid world of Tallarn in 884.M41, the Fourth Aerofleet of the Planetary Defence Force was thrown into utter chaos when the High Command sprang a Promethian Shield as a surprise twist in the unfolding live wargames. The resultant tumble as bewildered squadrons flew into each other and crashed into the ground amid thick layers of smoke was not only a peacetime training fiasco, but a glimpse of actual air combat reality as recorded on so many battlefronts across so many worlds and giant voidholms where aircraft can contend inside the domes.

To think that man, the master of the skies, has been reduced to such a rudimentary state that he must steer his winged wain by sight alone. During the human and machine heyday of the Dark Age of Technology, man flew sleek silver vessels with superb instruments that could slalom and somersault nimbly through the most dense and busy urban cityscape, no matter the obscuration of smoke, radiation, blinding light or electromagnetic pulse disruptions. Such blindfolded aerial acrobatics are now far beyond the reach of even the most skilled Imperial pilots among the degenerate descendants of Man of Gold. Not for the lack of breathtaking expertise, but for the horrendous degradation of knowledge and technology during the Age of Imperium.

Indeed, the contrast with Imperial fliers during the Great Crusade or the Forging will alone suffice to demonstrate the abject impoverishment of human aircraft under the reign of the High Lords of Terra.

Such is the state of human air power in a forsaken aeon.

Such is the decay that awaits us all, in a time beyond hope.

Such is the crumbling of the works of our hands.

It is the fortyfirst millennium, and there is only blindness.
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Karak Norn Clansman #5062

Lessons For Imperial Operatives, by StaevinTheAeldari

Do not miss the above linked stellar piece of writing by StaevinTheAeldari over on DakkaDakka. In it, he outlines crucial lessons which all Inquisitorial acolytes and Imperial operatives ought to learn if they wish to survive their perilous occupation. In it you will find The two headed chief, the forgotten page, the struggling hands or the frail ground, and That Which We Do Not Speak Of. Check it out!

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Man Is the Measure of All Things

"Esteemed reader, let us now turn to a peculiar anecdote which evented in 974.M41, best retold aloud late in the dayturn in good company, following reinforcement by fine liquor. As Head Lady of the Ibolyka sept of our Noble House Erba-Batthyany, I had sponsored an Explorator Magos of the revered Adeptus Mechanicus to carry out a technoarchaeological dig on our domains, following a series of chance artefact finds by my diligent agri-serfs in District Alfa-79.

Three weeks into the excavation, I took the gilded sky blue grav-sled to visit the dig site in person, along with my Emperor-blessed fifteen surviving progeny and a retinue of eightysix attendants and bodyguards. By the grace of the Saints, we arrived just as the dig team hit upon an interesting discovery. A humble menial climbed out of the wellstair, bowed with eyes averted and tenderly handed my highborn self a crystalline rectangle with retracted corners, tinted teal with trace remains of yellow ochre dust in the engravings where cleaning efforts had not utterly succeeded. A shard of the rectangular plate was broken off in a corner, but otherwise it seemed intact. I held it up to bask in the light of the twin suns. The little crystalline find was covered in exquisite lines and diagrams of scratchings, with strange miniature illustrations etched into it.

For five minutes straight did I turn it around this way and that, and I studied its appearance on both front and back. I even peered closely on the thin edges, which bore microscopic markings which resembled long jumbles of numbers, akin the code-names of file-spirits. At last, I handed the artefact to the patient Explorator, Magos Ameerah-Kiran, and uttered these words:

'Ever since I was a small girl have I taken hieratic pride in my grasp of High Gothic. Yet the shape of letters and other figures is so unfamiliar from our Imperial fonts, and the twists of wordings so different, that I cannot make head or tail of its content. It is nothing like the histories and classics that I have consumed by the lumen, nor anything like the plays and poems that my late husband so treasured. Please tell me what ancient wisdom is contained within this relic, o Magos.'

The Tech-Priestess tenderly received the crystalline rectangle in her mechadendrites, shifting it over with extreme care to a strong bionic arm of many joints. Anointed ocular implants flared with light as they scanned its pristine surface, and the servant of the Omnissiah hummed with binary code-prayers while making the sign of the cogwheel with her other metal hands. At last the Explorator struck a bell and started to repeatedly swing a fragrant censer back and forth. Having thus established a solemn silence around herself, Magos Ameerah-Kiran at last proclaimed:

'Praise the divine knowledge! Your excellence, this is a plasteocrete hard copy of a digital file, printed in the twentythird millennium. Within its writ we find remnants of lost Biologis lore, describing a segment of characteristics of the wise ancients themselves. Truly it is said, that man is the measure of all things.'

'What does it say, o Magos?' I asked.

'On the shallow surface, it is nought but a superficial recording of anatomical survey findings among a population numbering fiftythousandthreehundredsix, all golden ancestors peopling a long-lost colony dome. As we might expect, their health indicators are overall robust, with tall average height speaking of excellent nourishment growing up. And not a single instance of lifelong parasitic infection.'

'And beneath those plain numbers, o Magos?'

'Peering deeper into the data, we realize that this is in fact a trail, and we must redouble our dig efforts, your excellence. We are clearly on the track of ancient Genetors, and we must toil slavishly to uncover every iota of remnant knowledge that these grounds of yours may contain.'

'Genetors you say? Do you expect to find a laboratorium of sorts? Pray tell, o Magos.'

'If the Omnissiah so wills it. Aye, your excellence. By electron and proton, these simple measurements contain proof of genetic engineering!'

Whether wittingly or not, the Tech-Priestess was pulling the leg of my curiosity. I confess that excitement burst forth in my heart, fed by many fantastic fables and cryptic mysteries speaking of the strange things of yore, before He Who Dwells On the Face of Terra revealed Himself as the Saviour and Lord of our predestined human species. Thus, I said with some eagerness, on the limits of protocol:

'Please do us the courtesy to not keep us on a leash any longer, reverend Explorator. Tell us what it is! What hint have you uncovered, pray tell? Are there unnatural freaks bred by gene-kings? Monstrosities and witches grown in vats? Are there horrors which man was never meant to see, bred by godless ancestors in heinous sin?'

The Explorator straightened and held up the hardprint in her mechanical claws, before uttering a blurt of binary code:

'01001000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01101101 01100101 01101101 01100010 01100101 01110010 00100000 01110111 01100001 01110011 00100000 01101100 01100001 01110010 01100111 01100101 01110010 00100000 01101001 01101110 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01000100 01100001 01110010 01101011 00100000 01000001 01100111 01100101 00100000 01101111 01100110 00100000 01010100 01100101 01100011 01101000 01101110 01101111 01101100 01101111 01100111 01111001'

'And in Low Gothic, o Magos?'

Magos Ameerah-Kiran replied in that scratchy voice through the vox-emitter: 'Your excellence. The key is hidden in the survey measurements for the entire masculine half of the dome population. Comparing to contemporary and historical data at the disposal of our noospheric memory coils, we may draw the conclusion that the wise ancients practiced their Genetor craft on a massive scale, effectively shaping the flesh of an entire population like clay to fulfil some of mankind's oldest wishful dreams.'

'How so? Did these mortals play god, o Magos?'

'Elementary! The crux lies in the phallic measurements, your excellence. Clearly proof of genetic engineering.' The Explorator paused theatrically and gazed on the male diggers on the site. Undoubtedly, the Magos' cultic indoctrination and surgical bionic shunning of the flesh had not extinguished every spark of humour within her cerebral processors and grey cells. For the briefest of moments, there was the shutting off and on of a glowing bionic eye in the Tech-Priestess' abominable metal face, as if mimicking a human wink. 'Oh, those poor, Imperial women. How short man has fallen of the heights of his ancestors!'"

- Anecdote from A Biography Betwixt Blushes and Banquets, an autobiographical work by Gyöngyi Erba-Batthyany, literary work approved by planetary censors in 989.M41 and published in High Gothic on Dunantul Majoris by Printing House Endre of Capitolina Sarolt
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