Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Numbers Of The Beasts

Horus Rising: The Dreadful Sagittary (III)

Ten thousand years after the Horus Heresy, a Red Corsairs Chaos Lord models
the alien weapon that caused all the trouble in the first place (copyright me)

Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

There was once, upon Old Terra almost forty thousand years ago, a group of intellectuals dedicated to the concept of chaos numbers.

The casualness with which these men and women named their discipline reflects the frightening naivete of humanity at the time. To them the term implied nothing sinister; they considered chaos simply a facet of the universe, no more evil and seductive than acceleration, or gravity.  Despite their complete ignorance of the truth, however, the name they gave to their field is not entirely inappropriate.

Put in its most basic terms, the first theory of chaos numbers is that there are some processes in our reality which are simply too complicated to predict.  Not complicated in the sense of being too hard to understand their principles, but in the sense of there being so many contributions and interactions within and alongside them, each causing so many changes to whole with the slightest change to itself, that we simply lack the raw processing power to sufficiently model the phenomenon. This is sometimes summarised as the flitterfly effect.  It is not that a flitterfly flapping its wings on one side of Macragge causes a storm on the other, but that the millions of interactions that combine to generate the weather are so numerous and so phenomenally sensitive to change that it would take only the motion of a flitterfly wing to change events beyond our ability to predict them.

The second theory of chaos numbers is this: as above, so below. There is no quantitative difference between the mountains of the Khum Karta range seen from twenty kilometres away and the tips of those mountains' peaks viewed at close range under the strongest magnification possible. The very fact of chaos' reliability to be chaotic causes baffling fractal patterns at all levels of reality.  It is here that chaos becomes Chaos.  The temptations of Chaos lie deep within us, however much we might deny it.  It takes but a single careless moment for us to be utterly lost.  And from that single moment within a single soul, ripples expand, colliding with events around them, changing the world.  The flitterfly flaps its wings and the storms of war are unleashed.

A father rebukes his son, and Lorgar is lost to Chaos. An Astartes steals a sword, and the galaxy is torn asunder. A fractal pattern of betrayal. We can point to how easily it all could have been averted - if only Erebus had arrived too late, or the interex had not wasted so much time keeping Horus at arm's length - but such suggestions counter only the specifics, not the underlying concern. We have spoken before of our belief that the Heresy was inevitable in some shape or form; those that studied chaos numbers would have considered it a mathematical certainty. Some systems quite simply lie outside our ability to control.  A ruler may fool themselves into believing they are all-powerful; their armies unstoppable, their enemies battered into helplessness by their might. Societies can be created that seemingly neuter all effective resistance, or even the thought of such resistance.  But for all the brute force on display, these systems simply respond to those ripples which break the surface. Underneath lie endlessly complicated patterns of shifting circumstances and effects.  We cannot predict what we cannot understand is happening, and it is in those things we cannot understand that everything truly important takes place.

It is in these dark, empty places where Chaos finds its greatest advantage. We cannot best it without understanding it, but understanding is impossible. Worse, attempting to understand can serve Chaos itself, because it is in thinking we can comprehend and plan for chaos that we leave ourselves most vulnerable. Our hubris is our downfall.

We knew that, of course. We might lament the interex's failure to enlighten Horus on the true threat humanity faces in this universe, but it is not hard to understand their fear they were already too late.  Nothing feeds Chaos so effectively as war.  Not just the rivers of blood in which Khornate daemons bathe. Every alliance betrayed and general outwitted is grist for the mills of Tzeentch. With war come pestilence enough to sate Father Nurgle.  Even the loathsomely beautiful face of Slaanesh must shine with pleasure to see each debauched victory celebration and each city sacked by adrenaline-crazed soldiers treating enemy citizens in ways best left unconsidered. Our warlike nature damned us to be devotees to chaos before we had any idea what that meant.

Because somehow, we have persuaded ourselves that war is the only instrument of control. Because we refuse to seee how each new attack and each new front generates its own new set of ripples; ranks of fractal teeth that grow and spin and ensnare all that surround them. In the Great Crusade we used chaos to fight chaos. Five hundred generations later, we use chaos to fight both chaos and Chaos, all in the name of imposing order above all. One might just as well try to build a house from flames.

Still we continue. And dark and terrible gods grow fat with power in the space we cannot see, and where all the numbers are against us.

Places where Horus is soon to walk, and so damn us all.


What Was

Apparently the interex has spent an awfully long time concerned about this issue of Kaos. What do you think it is, and how does it tie in to discoveries and theories from earlier in the book?

Well, they've said it's something from the Warp.  Maybe it's nothing more than something which drives you mad, though since they're worried Horus brought it with them it might be some kind of plague. Clearly it drives people mad so that they start killing everyone who's even a little bit different to them.



Oh. I thought you were making an hilarious joke about how that's what the Imperium does anyway.

That was my point, yes.  I just don't think it qualifies as satire.

Well, let's not quibble. What about Tull's comments about "Warmaster" being a potential signifier of "kaos"?

It's probably all a piece with the general bloodthirstiness of the Astartes.  Why would the Emperor name Horus 'Warmaster' whilst warning him to watch out for the Warp - which I still don't quite understand yet, by the way - over all other things?  Is it supposed to be a title of defiance? If you're worried about this sort of stuff, shouldn't Abaddon and Maloghurst constantly insisting that the interex be wiped out be ringing alarm bells?

How, as Warmaster, can you tell when your troops have gone too far?  Or is that what the iterators are for?

I'm not sure they could do an awful lot about it anyway.

They could flag things up to Horus, I suppose. Though it's not like Sindermann knows what's going on with the Warp, I suppose.

I'm not sure anyone else does, except maybe the other Primarchs.

Surely not.  That's a recipe for disaster.  They'd all contanstly be watching for signs of kaos in Horus. They'd never leave him alone.

What Is

This is effectively the book's finale, with just a four page epilogue to go.  How successfully did it tie things together for you, and was the Battle of Xenobia impressive enough for you?

I think Loken made a big mistake, there.  Why not give over his weapon?  It's not like he needs it to defend Horus.

I think it probably helps.

Yeah, but you're just guaranteeing the worst possible outcome.  I liked the difference in the way Loken and Tull fight. Aside from all the crazy weapons, the battle here seems reminiscent of the fight in High City; Loken travelling through the battle, coming across unexpected foes, whether they be invisible or centaurs.  There's clearly been some kind of misunderstanding; starting a war just because a museum burns to the ground.  It's a bit OTT, even for people who are as fond of their museums as these people are.

Did it work as a action-packed finale, then?

It came out of nowhere a bit, was the problem.  It didn't build up.  Everything just suddenly goes wrong.  And it's clearly set up for the next book.

Yeah, but plenty of ongoing series take pains to end books with a big explosive ending.  Like how George R R Martin used to do.

The interaction between Loken and Tull was quite nice; it seems like that was the first time the Astartes had gotten anywhere with the interex, which makes the fact that it all goes to crap just so... I mean, what were the rest of them doing for three weeks?  Why didn't they get anywhere?

I think the idea there is that three weeks of Horus and Naud sparring and surreptitiously checking each other out for Chaos has gotten them nowhere, and Loken just blindly stumbles into the solution because he doesn't know any better.  Or at least, he would have.  Speaking of which...

Who, if anyone, started the fire?

It can't be Horus or Loken.

Thanks for that.

You're going to disagree with me?

No, I guess I was just hoping you'd, you know, put some effort in.

Well get ready, then! Prepare for my hypothesis!

This is something I have to brace myself, now?

Yes! This hypothesis will blow your mind!  It was: Erebus!  Acting under the orders of Sagittarius!


I mean Sanguinius!  Erebus did it because Sanguinius told him to.  How convenient the Primarch has "left the system".  And Erebus got really fighty really quick.  Maybe Chaos has got to him.  Abaddon could have done it to start the war he's clearly desperate for. Sindermann might have done it because he hates how the interex talks about the curses of their weapons.  The Kinebrach might be making a bid for freedom.  The eldar might be causing trouble, whoever the hell the eldar are.

You're a big fan of reading. Would you like a device that holds books open and you can flick through by touching the air in front of it? And would you prefer it to a Kindle?

It'd be kind of cool.  Like looking at books in museums, except that your not forced to read just whatever page they've decided you can see.  A good way to avoid sweat damage. It might be noisy at night, though.

You mean the humming?

I mean whatever mechanisms are involved in turning the pages.  You might find it tough to sleep if I'm using it.

I wasn't really suggesting you bring it to bed.

It would be better than a Kindle, because you'd get the smell of the book.  I'd worry about RSI from all the flapping around, though.  Still, on balance, I think it's a good thing. Begin working on the technology immediately.

What Will Be

What's next for the Imperium's relations with the interex now so many people are dead?

Now that both sides have overreacted so much, I don't see how there's any way back.  They can't just apologise and move on. About the only way I can see things working out is if they find and decapitate the arsonist.  Or maybe the Emperor could sort things out.  It's weird that Tull was so focussed on Horus and not the Emperor, now I think about it.

I guess this far out, Horus is the only game in town.

It still seems like they've been underplaying him.

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