Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The Prognosticating Virus Bomb

False Gods: Plague Moon (IV)

Magnus the Red (copyright unknown)
Welcome, citizens, to the truth.

Strange as it may seem to today's citizens of the Imperium, there was a time when Astartes slaughtering innocents would have been genuinely astounding.

It is not that the Astartes of the 41st Millennium are utterly without compassion, of course - one need only recall Salamanders Chapter Master Tu'Shan's condemnation of Captain Vinyard's live bait tactics on Armageddon to realise that.  The direct killing of civilians (as oppose to their deliberate sacrifice) is still a comparative rarity in our endless wars - though that may have more to do with the Imperium grabbing hold of the authority to extinguish entire planets in the fires of Exterminatus - but even so, today it is simply one of the costs of defending the Imperium. Back before Horus' rebellion... well, let's just say it is unthinkable just how unthinkable such an action would have been.

And yet, as we all know, it happened just the same. Not without reason; when someone you love is poisoned you can hardly be expected to concern yourself with the niceties of crowd control.  But still it happened, and the consequences, as we shall see, of great importance.  The act itself and the response are therefore of great interest.  With Varvaras and Maloghurst taking opposite positions on the matter, it is hardly surprising that the truth lies somewhere in between, but the specifics of the Docking Bay Massacre are sufficiently complex that some unpacking is required, not least because of the potential difficulty in separating two entirely distinct problems: should the Mournival have done what they did, and should they, having done it, remain unpunished?

Many will argue that these questions are not separate.  If a man should do something, they say, how can it be appropriate to punish them? This is not a hard argument to sympathise with, but it misses something very important.  We are responsible for our actions, and our actions have consequences even if by acting another way, the consequences would be worse.  The worlds Inquisitor Kryptmann poisoned are no less dead because they denied Hive Fleet Leviathan vital bio-matter (Kryptmann, of course, was later sanctioned for his action). The punishments we receive for our actions are in some sense the price we pay for them.  Arguing that necessary actions should not be punished is therefore entirely too close to saying certain things - in this case the lives of innocents - can become devoid of worth.

This is not to say that the need to keep Horus alive was not obvious, for all that in retrospect the Imperium would almost certainly have been better off had he perished. Yes, Primarchs had fallen before, but the success the Emperor had displayed in erasing those men and their Legions proves in itself that their impact had been less than that of the man crowned Warmaster.  The loss of Horus would be a blow from which the Great Crusade might not recover, just at the moment when the forces of Chaos were finally showing their true strength.  We are simply noting the problem inherent in arguing that saving Horus is so important it was worth sacrificing two dozen civilian lives, but no so important that those directly responsible for those deaths should be willing to pay a price for those actions.

In many ways, this reminds us of an age-old philosophical discussion, usually referred to as the "prognosticating virus bomb".  Once upon a time this hypothetical would deal in human lives, but with those so horribly cheap in the modern era, we shall instead rely on capacity to produce weaponry which is considered so much more important since the Tyranids arrived and the Necrons stirred.  Imagine a renegade has placed a virus bomb inside the largest structure on a Forge World.  Should the bomb go off, armour production for the entire sector and even the Segmentum will suffer. The renegade himself has sealed himself inside an unbreakable room (at least, unbreakable within the time limit), which means the only way to learn the location of the bomb is to use a psyker to probe his mind.

Except... there are no sanctioned psykers to be found. The only option is to drag an unsanctioned mutant from the antiseptic cell and drugged stupor in which they awaited passage on a Black Ship, and use them to extract the information.

Obviously, such an act is utterly forbidden.  Just knowing an unsanctioned psyker without reporting them carries a harsh penalty, let alone encouraging one to use their powers.  Yet if we do not make use of this resource, the creation of thousands of tonnes of weaponry could be halted for months at least.  What should we do?

For many people it is obvious that applying the psyker - assuming one can be found who is sufficiently pliable - is the obvious choice. Indeed, they argue it is so obvious that it should be established ahead of time that no servant of the Emperor who chooses this path should ever have to fear punishment for what, under any other circumstances, would be a serious crime, lest those in this position feel uncomfortable in crossing this particular line.  This argument has always baffled us. Are we to assume that any true servant of the Emperor would fail to act here because the imminent destruction of a major fraction of a Forge World's productivity cannot outweigh a single person's fear of punishment? Is that really how we choose to see those who protect us in the Emperor's name? Another, perhaps even more powerful objection is this: how do we maintain that certain lines cannot be crossed if we enshrine in law circumstances in which they can be crossed without penalty?  Surely it would make more sense to maintain the line under the assumption that certain scenarios would mitigate the punishment of the transgression, rather than removing the idea of transgression in the first place?

It is this idea of a sliding scale - from standard punishment to, yes, no punishment at all - that can make the only sense here.  Actions are not either unforgivable or entirely reasonable.  There are a thousand definitions between the two, across many axes of circumstance.  The short-hand for this realisation is "the ends do not justify the means", but due to the corruptions and adaptations this saying no longer holds the true meaning of the phrase, which would be better structured as "the ends to not make the means more just". Something can be excusable, understandable, and indeed the only option, without it being just.  The deaths of those felled by the Mournival in their haste to save Horus were not just, no matter how important it was that the Warmaster reached the infirmary.

(There are, perhaps, those who would argue those deaths were just, insofar as those who died brought it on themselves by failing to realise Astartes bringing back an injured or even dead Primarch would be unlikely to ask politely for civilians to step aside.  We do not believe this to be a powerful argument.  The civilians aboard the 63rd Expeditionary Fleet did not arrive at their adulation of Horus and their need to check on his welfare in a vacuum. They were primed for this response by the iterators and the Astartes themselves from the moment they stepped aboard the Vengeful Spirit.)

All of this goes towards proving Maloghurst's response to this tragedy was the wrong one.  But so too was Varvaras'.  The correct decision was not to insist the mob be handed an Astartes to pacify them, but that a legal authority be appealed to so as to show justice being done.

Ah, but here we reach the problem, don't we?  What legal authority existed that could be employed here? Horus?  The Emperor?  Do we really have no potential judges over the actions of Astartes trying to save their commander other than the commander himself, or his own father?

This is what the stratification of the Imperium has led to.  An overclass which commands so much power that the idea of regular people gaining redress for their misdeeds is unthinkable. Where Astartes blanch at the very idea that they could ever be held responsible for their mistakes - where "mistakes" spans actions up to and including beating friendly civilians to death - by the very people from which they originate, and whom they ostensibly protect.  Justice is now no more than what the Astartes say it is.

In some ways, this first act of bloodshed against the Imperium is even more crucial to what follows than Horus' wounding by Temba and the anathame.  It is here, for the first time, that the Astartes realise they can cut down regular men and women without consequence, if it makes getting from A to B a little quicker.  If Jubal's fall to Chaos was the first sign that the Astartes had other, darker alternatives to slavish obedience to the Emperor, this was the second, and the effect if anything was greater on this occasion.  Hektor Varvaras, the man so adamant the Astartes should not kill Imperials with such impunity, would soon learn how much the game had changed when Horus had him assassinated on Aureus.

The rest of the galaxy would soon learn the same.


What Was

With events coming to a head regarding the forces of the Warp, it's interesting to learn the Emperor himself forbade making use of its powers at the Council of Nikea.  Was he just being prudent, or does Magnus the Red have the right of it?

The Emperor's ban seems to conflict with his more general policy of everything being explicable by science.  It also seems to leave Magnus Magnusson with nothing to do.  If the Emperor wants his sons to each take specific aspects, what's he doing banning his sorcerer from doing sorcery?

Just because he wants then to embody aspects doesn't mean all aspects must be covered.  There is unlikely to be a Primarch embodying the lust for farm animals, for instance.

Is that an aspect?

I don't see why that's any more specific an aspect than sorcerer.  But fine.  There's no Primarch who embodies sexytimes in any way.  Though they may be saving him for later books.

But if Magnus isn't a sorcerer, what does he have left?

He should have thought of that before he started messing with the Warp.

Again, though, why is that a problem? Experimentation should be something the Emperor is all behind.  A nice bit of empiricism should suit him down to the ground.  He'd probably shut himself down pretty quick anyway.  You're the statistician who runs the numbers for clinical trials; how many experiments would Magnus have to run before he could conclude the Warp wasn't safe.

It depends on how far from a normal day we want to define "not safe" as being.

Someone gets possessed and murders everyone.

Then not many.  The body count would cause more problems than the sample size.

I wonder if Magnus discovered something specific that the Emperor wanted kept secret, and the blanket ban is to cover that.

What Is

Whilst we're on the subject, what are your thoughts on the latest Primarch to enter the story?

There wasn't enough detail for me to get a handle on them; which was kind of a theme for this chapter.  I mean, they're what? Astartes with sorcery.

Yep.  Which is awesome.

I don't think this bodes well for him.  Messing around with the Warp in front of the Emperor?  That's going to backfire.

You don't think disobeying the Emperor to show how awesome forbidden powers are is going to work out?

I do not.

More than anything else we've covered so far, this idea of a "Planet of the Sorcerers" is an obvious collision of fantasy and sci-fi tropes.  Are you cool with that?

I think it's interesting.  I'm not one of the people that kind of thing bothers.

Who is most directly to blame for the Docking Bay Massacre, do you think?  Is there any way it could have been avoided?

Well, whoever let everyone into the docking bay in the first place didn't make the smartest move.  I don't understand why people didn't clear a path when they saw Horus was still alive.

I think they were just too tightly packed in there; there wasn't anywhere to go, and it was too loud in there to communicate.

I don't see what the Mournival could have done differently.

The best thing I could come up with would be to fire a few bolter rounds over people's heads; to scare them and gain everyone's attention.  Even then, though, I'm not sure anyone has any ammo left.

And would it even have worked?

Maybe not, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try.

They were clearly out of their minds with grief.

Granted, but you've still got to take responsibility when you drop the ball, and apparently about two dozen people too.

I suspect they're going to soon enough.  I don't understand why Karkasy was so shocked by what he was seeing.  Have they not seen the Astartes in action before?

Well, I'm not sure Karkasy has, but that isn't really the point.  The point - and I think this is a crucial moment in the opening trilogy as a whole - is that it's never occurred to Karkasy that the Astartes being stronger, faster and braver than regular men doesn't necessarily make them better people.

I suppose hearing they have no fear can lead you to the wrong conclusions about them more generally.

Should we be more sympathetic to Maloghurst's position, or to Varvaras's?

I'm sympathetic to both, obviously.  One one level this is exactly what's happening on every human world in the galaxy that argues with the Emperor.

But these were humans who did agree.

Yes, though they weren't exactly being much help at the time.  It depends on the legal system here.  Do Astartes have the same rights as normal people?

Good question.

I assume it basically comes down to what Horus wants, but until he recovers I've no idea what the chain of command is. Can Maloghurst hand over someone from the Mournival?  Is Varvaras in charge? Or the man in charge of the fleet?

I'm not sure anyone in the fleet actually can answer that.

I guess it's just so unthinkable a situation there's nothing in place for it.

So if Horus doesn't recover quickly enough, or even dies, how long is it before the power vacuum gets filled? Who's going to make the first move?

Abaddon, surely.

Is the fall of the Warmaster and the deaths in the docking bay liable to make things easier or harder for Euphrati Keeler's missionary plans?

It depends which way people go.  If they're thinking like her, she'll be fine.  If they react the same way Karkasy did, she's in trouble.  Though I suppose if they're pissed off with the Emperor over what his Astartes have done, they might want to disobey him.

In general that's a good point, but it's a bit harder to imagine them being so angry with him they start worshipping him as a God.

I suppose.  Maloghurst might be a wild card here.  If he decides he needs something even bigger to cover up the massacre, the fleet filling up with people disobeying the Emperor might be just the way to do it.

What Will Be

The Warmaster is poisoned, the Warp is coming closer, and the fleet could tear itself apart if it learns about the Mournival's actions as they disembarked from their Stormbird.  Which storm is going to hit first, and what will it smash to bits?

It seems as if the spell us ready now, so that going wrong is first on the list.

What about in the fleet itself?

Well, nothing's changed since last chapter.

Except twenty-one people are dead, of course.

Pfft. Yeah; humans.  Do they matter?

That's a remarkably cynical position.

The whole of the last conversation in the chapter was about how the Astartes don't really care all that much.

Point taken, though people have a funny habit of deciding for themselves what does and doesn't matter to them.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The Entropy Defence

False Gods: Plague Moon (III)

Eugan Temba (copyright RedElf at WH40Kart)
Welcome, citizens, to the truth.

Deep inside the rusting, broken corpse of the Glory of Terra, Horus Lupercal at long last hears the question we have been building to since we first met him in orbit around Sixty-Three Nineteen: will he willingly join the forces of Chaos in exchange for almost limitless power.

Horus says no.

For a great many of you, citizens, this must have come as a surprise.  What else do most of us know about the Warmaster, after all, other than that he betrayed the Emperor by embracing the Warp?  And it is more than that.  Horus does not accept Chaos through a failure to understand it.  He rejects it precisely because he does understand. Not fully; not yet. But he knows enough, knows that the path to Chaos is shortest through anger, and arrogance, and bitterness.

Which is true, of course, but it is also in an important sense incomplete. After all, Horus does fall to Chaos. Partially that is because he fails to entirely heed his own knowledge in the face of temptation, but there is a larger problem, one that stems from a lack of comprehension as to what the various routes to damnation have in common.

When the Ecclesiarchy spouts its sermons to the masses, even though Chaos is never mentioned as such, variations on the Emperor's warning to Horus are endlessly played out. Do not allow yourself to be angry at your fellow man. Feel no bitterness over those things you lack and others have. Never allow the skills and responsibilities the Emperor has granted you swell your self-image.  It is possible all of this is entirely sound advice - though as usual those who call loudest for accepting one's suffering are those that suffer least - and certainly failing to follow it can leave you at the mercy of the Empyrean's horrors.

What these sermons overlook, however, is that all the behaviour we are warned against in the struggle against Chaos stems from a single source: the inability to connect with our fellow man.

It is not anger that leads us to the Warp, it is the decision that we alone can act as the instrument of vengeance.  It is not bitterness that one is denied what others take for granted, it is the conclusion that we deserve all of what others have, rather than considering a more equitable system. Our pride in our ability to contribute to the Imperium becomes a danger only when we make the leap to assuming we deserve more than we have received as a result.

In short, the dangers of Chaos stalk us when we lose interest in the effects of our actions on others, when we become so consumed by our own thoughts and viewpoints that no conflicting information can be allowed to penetrate. So long as one remains rooted in empathy, one is safe.

At first glance, that might seem too broad a statement. Could you not argue, after all, that it was Horus' love for the Imperium that ultimately brought him low?  For sure, his resentment over his "abandonment" by his father - an almost pure expression of self-obsession, by the way - helped him along, but it was his fear that humanity would fall should he not act which provided the greatest push?

The answer to this, in fact, yes, but that you are not proving what you think you're proving as a result. Horus deeply desired to be the saviour of the Imperium, but that desire was utterly divorced from any consideration for the billions of billions that resided there.  Perhaps one can make the argument that empathy does not preclude cold calculations about who must die in order that many more can be saved.  That isn't what Horus did.  The butchery of the remembrancers, the murder of Istvaan III; saving lives held no interest for Horus after Davin.  The Imperium was not a civilisation to be saved, but a bone to be fought over and a prize to be prised from its former owner's grasp. Horus' mistake was not in coming to see the Emperor as a tyrant - indeed, that conclusion is perhaps not so much erroneous as overdue - but as the wrong tyrant for the job.

So did the Warmaster surrender his humanity. So did the unification of mankind become detached from man, and woman, and child.

We end this entry with Horus collapsed, his shoulder wound refusing to close around the splinters of the Anathame's curse.  One can only wonder how the galaxy might look now had he never risen again.


What Was

There's a sliver of new information in this chapter about the Primarchs, a reference to Horus having his martial skill "bred into him" by the Emperor.  How is your conception of these demigods progressing? How does this fit in with the Emperor finding Horus as a child?

Well, presumably he's been super-genhanced. That's what it must mean.  The Emperor didn't literally breed him.

Why not?

Because he can't be the Emperor's actual child.  Why would he wait until he was "found" to get to work?  I guess it's still unclear, is what I'm saying.

But if that's true, why does the Emperor have Primarchs and Astartes?  Why not make them all into Primarchs?  Make them all supremely awesome, rather than middling milquetoast awesome?

Because if everyone had the same abilities as Horus, they could overthrow the Emperor.  They'd be forever questioning orders.  This way, the ones who are the real threat are placated by having their Legions to run, which then keeps them too busy to start plotting.

What Is

I remember you saying that the duel between Loken and Jubal was one of your highlights from the last book.  Did Horus vs Temba have a similar effect?

Not particularly, I'm afraid.

Why's that, do you think?

I think it's because it's all swordplay - to the extent Horus feels like all he's fighting is  a sword.  And the snapping of Temba's ankles just came out of nowhere.

I really liked that idea; that he's so bloated he can't carry his own weight, and so powerful he doesn't even care.

Which is fine, but there wasn't really a build up.  I mean, I got that he was fat, but not that massive.  It's something you have to pin down, I think.  I also wish Horus fought a bit more dirty; like Loken against Lucien (Lucius). If that's how the Luna Wolves fight, let's see it with Horus!  Why did it take him so long to chop Temba's arm off?

I don't think that was deliberate. He didn't see an earlier chance to dismember Temba and think "Well, I could turn this bloke into a one-armed bandit, but it'd feel a bit too far from Queensbury rules."

Aren't guts quite slippery?

I can safely say I haven't a clue.

But you see it all the time in films!

I've seen films where people turn into flies. Worse, I've seen films where pretty women are attracted to Adam Sandler. 

"Do your guts hangle low, do they wobble to and fro?"

I think that's number 27 in the Common Hymn Book of Nurgh-Leth.

We learn a lot in this chapter about how Warp possession works, and what makes people susceptible to it.  If indeed it does tend to strike at people through anger and jealousy, what problems might that generate for our protagonists?

Well I did wonder about Horus.  He's certainly been made very angry. But then it was mentioned that the Warp asks you before it takes you, and he's already said no. I think Erebus has been taken, and was trying to get Horus angry enough for him to get taken too. Though that's a stupid plan; make someone so angry at someone who turns out to have said "yes" to the Warp that they'll sign up too?

I don't think much for Abaddon's chances, though.  I see a split coming; Loken and Torgaddon on one side and Abaddon and Aximand on the other.  Though I confess I'm not sure about Aximand.  He doesn't really seem to do much, does he? But they seem to imply he's Abaddon's little lapdog.  Ekaddon might sign up out just out of hatred for Loken.  Qruze too, maybe, though if he's that old, shouldn't he have been tested by now?

I don't think it's as simple as a function of age; it seems to only happen only under certain circumstances.

But would the Warp care about someone like Qruze who no-one listens to anyway? I think Sindermann falls, too; out of anger for having knowledge of the Warp kept from him. And what's happened to Oliton, too? It's a bit suspicious that she's been gone for so long.

Temba has an interesting take on the Emperor's crusade across the galaxy.  How sympathetic are you to his point of view?

I'm on board.  The Emperor is the same as every other emperor in history; he's just going around lopping off the heads of everyone who doesn't agree with him.  Beating them into submission.  Though, to be fair, we haven't heard any reports from worlds after they join the Imperium.

Well, we know that rebellion within the Imperium has been until literally unthinkable; they must be doing something right.

Yeah, but even then.  Even with the worlds that join peacefully, you don't know if that was just because they saw what was coming faster than most.  It's not like you can fight the Astartes with giant hats, can you?

Did Horus' reaction to the death of Temba make sense to you? I remember last time you had problems with Horus seeming to blame Temba for what he did whilst possessed.

His reaction here seemed more in keeping with his character.  I wonder if the fight here gave him a chance to burn off his anger.  It fits in with his regrets about taking worlds by force rather than giving diplomacy more of a chance.

Clearly spotting your former colleague trapped and screaming inside a giant wobble-fleshed pus prison must cause a think too.

Indeed. And if Temba's in that much agony, why doesn't he kill himself?

I presume he's being prevented.

Oh, OK; and it takes the fight to change that.

So is your theory that Jubal was just hallucinating/drugged out the window now?

Yeah, that doesn't work any more. Is Temba's agony something to do with these things being from another dimension? Is it a throwback to when he was first possessed?

Who knows how the dark forces of Chaos operate?

You'll regret saying that.  That can be my response to every question from now on.

What Will Be

Eek! Warmaster down! What are the most likely immediate consequences, here, and how well do you think Erebus' plan is progressing?

Surely, the Warmaster has only fallen over. I find your question suspicious.

You think the next chapter will start with him getting back up and being fine?  That'd suck. Not that there are no writers in this series that couldn't drop the ball that badly.

Silence! I was going somewhere.  I see something suspicious in the fact Petronella ends the chapter with a variation of the sentence "I was there the day the Emperor fell".  Also that Horus' wounds healed almost immediately last chapter, but this sword wound won't repair itself.  That'll help Erebus' plan. Or is it Chaos' plan?

Do you think the Mournival can sneak Horus back to the fleet without anyone seeing he's wounded?

Not with Petronella having seen him.  That might explain Loken's attitude when he sees her. Once she spreads that message as his remembrancer, it could be open season on Horus.

For whom?

Anyone who wants to kill him and/or replace him.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Gang Aft Agley

False Gods: Plague Moon (II)

The undead horde of Nurgle. Well, a few of them. A hordette.
Copyright The Defenestrator over at DakkaDakka
Welcome, citizens, to the truth.

Our story arrives at last at the first and greatest fulcrum point of the Horus Heresy. Horus Lupercal stand before the traitor Eugan Temba, and the duel that will change the galaxy is about to begin.  The plotting of Erebus and the Word Bearers has finally borne fruit.

This, then, is our last real change to consider the plan itself.  Because the events on the former forest moon of Davin generates no shortage of questions. It is a basic military premise that any plan should minimise the number of assumptions that need to be correct for the strategy to work. Over-reliance on intelligence can have disastrous consequences if your network makes an error or is compromised by the enemy. Picts can be faked. Elite troops can be dressed as raw recruits.  A war not fought on the principle of maximising misinformation is not one which will be fought for long.

And if actual facts on the enemy are so hard to come by, and harder still to believe, how much more risky is it to base your plan on the assumed reactions of the enemy?

Yes, Erebus' plan to enrage Horus past the point of logical thinking worked out fine, but not every prediction was so obvious.  Persuading a Primarch to launch an attack after informing him he had been insulted is one thing. Persuading him to continue the assault after coming into contact with a horrific alien force which can dissolve the face of an Astartes and boasts control of the dead is somewhat harder to do.

Indeed, why bother with that attack at all?  Yes, you gain casualties amongst the Sons of Horus, but these are men you hope will join your cause along with their Primarch; their deaths are liable to work against you in the long term. Further, the effort expended upon battling the forces of Nurgle gives Horus' anger at Temba time to cool and be redirected, potentially resulting in the master tactician realising he is dangerously overextended, with his Titans all but blind, his supporting human troops immobilised, and his tanks at the bottom of a swamp.  The absolute best case scenario is that Horus becomes still more angry, but this offers little extra advantage compared to the obvious risks.

Why not wait until Horus arrives at the Glory of Terra, his rage still terrible to behold, and ambush his rearguard once he has entered? Better still, why not have Horus meet Temba under ostensibly friendly circumstances, when the horrors of the Warp can chew through a small honour guard rather than take on four full companies?

The short answer here is probably obvious: neither an ambush inside Temba's flagship nor a fraudulent summit could provide the sheer weight of death offered by the Battle of Plague Swamp Moon. Chaos must have its blood and its souls.

But such hunger comes at a price.  We have covered before the concept of chaos numbers; the idea that the tiniest deviations in cause and effect can accumulate and accelerate, until the results you perceive are utterly incompatible with the results you expected. Erebus' plan surely left itself open to attack by such concerns at the best of times, but with the terrible shambling monstrosities of Nurgle involved, it is almost impossible to credit that Horus managed to fall for the trap so totally.  The very deviousness that ensured Erebus' scheming went unnoticed for so long (though really, Loken; did you learn nothing from Karkasy? What Erebus says means far less than why he says it) ultimately threatened to undo him.

This, we know, is simply the nature of Chaos. It is so many things at once that we could hardly fail to find paradoxical in the list.  The depraved, incomprehensible minds of the Empyrean tend towards the tortuous in their planning (even the subtlety-vacuums of the Khornate rampage can require careful planning before the first chainaxe can taste flesh).  It is not simply predilection (though frequently that may be the case), it is a necessary policy when you want to tear your enemies' apart from the inside, especially when for millennia your tastiest targets were the notoriously prescient and paranoid Eldar.

Whilst their goals require careful manoeuvring, however (to greater or lesser extents) their actual tools tend to rest at the unthinking end of the spectrum.  Only Tzeentch can truly lay claim to minions with sufficient capacity for scheming to be of true use, and there matters can still go awry. Not because of a lack of complexity, but for a lack of co-ordination. Two sorcerers can spend decades plotting and achieve nothing but each other's negation.  Put another way: any devote of Chaos you can trust to understand your plan is not one you can trust to obey it.  Arrange for a Primarch to be ambushed inside a downed ship, and two hundred Plaguebearers show up and try to kill him on the way in.  Assemble a coven of witches to turn your target against his brothers, and they slit your throat to power their spells.

In the final analysis, it might be this alone that can save us from the Warp. Just as mankind's greatest threat has ever been himself, humanity has far less chance of defeating the daemons of Chaos than the daemons do themselves.  If the Horus Heresy has taught us nothing else, it is that the wall between saviour and destroyer is as thin as a single thought. Perhaps, ten thousand years after that wall was breached in one direction, something might pass through the other way?

Otherwise, what hope is there?


What Was

Aha! Another opportunity to cheat with this section. The Glory of Terra has been rusting on the surface for sixty years. How does that affect your thinking on Erebus' master plan?

I'm wondering if these guys sent a distress signal decades ago, and Erebus intercepted it.  Figured they could use it for their plan. Maybe the message never actually got to Horus.

Perhaps, though I rather prefer the idea that the Luna Wolves did get the message, and then never thought it was important enough to follow up on. That'd feed into the major theme of arrogance and overstretching.  The Imperium show up, knock over all your sandcastles, pronounce you lucky to under the Emperor's protection, then leave you to rot. That's really quite cool.

Have I accidentally generated a more interesting story than the novel actually contains?

Yes, and not for the first time. If Black Library are listening, you should really let Fliss write a Heresy novel. It would have dwarves and dragons in it, and sell a billion copies.

What Is

Why is Erebus risking antagonising the Mournival at this late stage? Shouldn't be be shutting up at this point?

Is he trying to drive a wedge between Loken and Horus?

Maybe, but it's such a cack-handed way of doing it.  Loken is so obviously right in his response, Erebus just looks like a pissy bitch.

It did seem clumsy for a Word Bearer? Shouldn't they be brilliant at words?

More like a Word Botcher, am I right?

(Interview pauses for two rounds of the Bodger and Badger theme song)

But even if Erebus seems to us like he's being ridiculous, it might still work on Horus.  Erebus has been whispering in his ear so long, and Horus is so extremely paranoid, that it might still work.

No thanks to Erebus himself, though. I mean, there was basically two ways to screw up the plan to get Horus in the ship: launch a premature attack to demonstrate things are not what they seem, and be sufficiently gittish to the Sons of Horus that the Primarch notices.  And Erebus does both.

Not that Horus pays any attention.

Yes. Thank God for authorial fiat, apparently.

Why do you think Horus banished Loken and Torgaddon?  Was it to punish them, as Loken worries, or is something else going on?

I've been trying to figure out why Torgaddon got lumped in with Loken.  Does it go back to the Interex?  Torgaddon was kind of on Loken's side there.

I'm not sure he said much one way or the other, but I grant you that might have been enough to restrospectively sour his counsel after everything went south.

I wonder if it's because Torgaddon is too much of a thinker.

I don't think anyone would say that about him.

OK, more laid back than thoughtful. But still, I think he dwells on what people say.  He might be too likely to follow Loken's lead, and so he gets left behind.

Now I think about it, actually, wasn't the guy Loken replaced supposed to be a thinker as well?


Is that why he ended up dead?  Did someone sacrifice him to get rid of a less war-crazy member of the Mournival?

Who could have done that?

Abaddon? He seems to be the driving force right now.

Poor Verulam Moy is the first of the Luna Wolves/Sons of Horus with dialogue to die since Xavier Jubal. Does his death register?

No. He was being built up as someone to die. He was the token... is it red- or blue- shirt?

It's red-shirt; unless there's a shoot-out in sickbay.

He was obviously for the chop.  He'd never said anything before and he's suddenly warning Horus about how dangerous things are.

Fair point. "Hi, I'm Captain Not-Previously-Seen-In-This-Battle, and I bring grim tid- oh I'm dead". Moy has been hanging around since the very start of the series.  Can you tell me anything about him?

He's a file captain.

Anything from before this chapter?


I see.

That's not fair, though! He was always called one of the Either/Or before!

Good point. How cruel of me.  What can you tell me about the Either/Or?


Case closed.

Horus seems convinced the horned cyclops monsters hail from the Warp.  But what are they, and who or what is "Nurgh-Leth"?

I can't answer that question.

Why not?

Because you showed me a picture of Nurgle Plagubearers last week!

Damn. I keep forgetting you can read.

Would Jubal have eventually turned into one of these dripping fiends if Loken hadn't killed him?

Good question.

I thought it just meade people angry and unstable.  How does this fit in with an aged decrepit ship and yellow slime monsters?  The only link seems to be in how hard they are to kill. Is this a case of Horus knowing more than he lets on?

Maybe, though we know the Luna Wolves have fought warp monsters before.

Then why does no-one recognise them?

Why indeed.

Especially since last time there was a whisper on the vox it turned out to be the same problem.

What Will Be

Horus versus Temba. Place your bets, please.

I didn't get that, right at the end.  Horus has seen that the ship and maybe the whole moon has been taken over by these horrible diseased things from the Warp, and he's still calling him "betrayer"? If you've had your brain taken over by hideous monsters, it's a bit mean of people to say "Look at you, you big betrayer."

It is a little unfair. "Oi! Betrayer! Get that betrayal someplace else! Don't leave that betrayal on that coffee-table, Betrayer! I've just had it polished!"

I'm not convinced any of this is real in any case. There's kind of a hallucinory feel to it all.

How do you mean?

Well, there's all the flashing lights aboard the ship, vox devices suddenly not working-

- Monsters dissolving

For example.

Well, OK. We'll state for the record that if it is a drug trip, you saw it coming.  With that understood, how do you see this fight going down.

I don't see them killing Horus off so soon in the series.

Absolutely. It's not like he's being played by Sean Bean. So are you suggesting Erebus' plan might be a bust?

Something will happen that makes Horus looks really bad.  Whether that means his death or not, I don't know.

Yeah, being dead tends to reflect poorly on a warrior; I've noticed that.

Oh; also "Mark my words, Garviel Loken, everything acheived thus far in this Crusade will pale into insignificance compared I am yet to do."  Sentence of doom right there.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The Nurgle Policy

False Gods: Plague Moon (I)

In the ghastly green-yellow pus-tinged corner:
the Plaguebearers of Nurgle (copyright unknown)

Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

 "Blessed be Nurgh-leth" is, it seems, the  motto of the hour. But why?

The God of pestilence is quite unique amongst the four Chaos powers for a very simple reason: it is almost impossible to see why anyone would voluntarily sell themselves to him.

The lure of mystical power and sex are easy to understand. Yes, the gifts of Tzeentch are often more trouble than they are worth, and the route Slaanesh takes you down leads to a life mix of one percent unspeakable blood-drenched depravity to ninety-nine percent unbearable boredom, but this is neither obvious nor necessarily relevant when the initial choice is made.  The choice to dedicate oneself to Khorne is perhaps slightly harder to understand, but only slightly: who among us cannot comprehend the temptation in revenging yourself upon your enemies and the world by carving out your worth in blood and innards.  It is a bargain motivated by the need for reclamation (whether real or perceived), but it understandable nonetheless.

But how are we to comprehend the zealot of Nurgle? How can we process the desire to become bloated and hideous with violent disease? The lust for sex and power has followed our race throughout its entire existence, just as has the desire for the blood of our foes - a label, of course, which always seems to grow easier to apply with every drop spilled. With disease, our natural reaction is to go to great lengths to avoid infection. What could explain running deliberately into the putrid and pus-slicked arms of Papa Nurgle?

Well, actually, there is a potential answer, just not one that will be obvious, or even thinkable, to every one of us. For some in the Imperium, disease is something one can avoid thinking about for much of the time. Secure in mansions or the highest hive spires, where antibac is readily available, one might go years without succumbing to even the most minor virus, and the risk of death from disease lies far behind the perils of hunting accidents, political assassinations, or even alien invasion. For those rare few - who for all their dearth of numbers always seem to shout loudest across our galaxy - trading in lives of comfort for a nightmare of body-rupturing microscopic horrors must seem a remarkably poor choice.

Much as they try to forget it, thought, these people are not the only ones making up the Imperium.  For those toiling on the lower rungs of the society the Empire imposed upon us, and which now more closely resembles geological strata than it does an egalitarian melting pot, the burning question is not how might disease be avoided indefinitely, it is which disease is going to get to you first.  Hive factories pack their workers in like Gretchin in an Ork vanguard, for hours at a time, every day of the year. Even the laziest of infections can hardly fail to spread in so target-rich an environment. And with the average life of an Imperial citizen so cheap, it is rarely worth the cost of inoculating and treating diseases, compared to the price of throwing new workers in to replace those that have collapsed.

All of this is by way of making a simple point: disease is not an uncommon sight for those who will never encounter a veranda. There is a certain maudlin logic, then, in the decision to embrace the vicious microscopic assault of Nurgle's infections - it guarantees one will survive against any other epidemic imaginable.  In this way the plague becomes an obscene form of life insurance, paid out by your own body as a defence against ugly death. The devotee to Nurgle becomes like the nobleman of ancient times who drank a small amount of poison each day to ensure his safety from the assassin's wine goblet.

In short, it takes one who takes their health for granted to find the gifts of Nurgle utterly incomprehensible, just as it takes those who expect a long, pain-free life to fail to grasp the reasons others might sell their souls for added resistance to pain and injury.  We cannot fight Chaos among our own people until we understand why our people succumb to Chaos in the first place, and take steps to treat the problem at its source: a populace so downtrodden a lifetime of having one's own body consumed from the inside does not seem like the worst-case scenario.

None of which explains Eugan Temba, of course.  What could have persuaded him to sell his soul to so foul a master?  We may never know.  But as Horus approaches the Glory of Terra, the final result of that bargain will be revealed all too soon.


What Was

Nothing this week once more, alas.  Soon enough though we'll get back to the nature of the Primarchs, of course.

What Is

What the hell are these horned cyclops monsters? Or the zombies with eyes of green flame?



I wanted to be the first to say zombies about those things.

Then you should have started dating me in 2006.

Presumably they must come either from the fleet, or from whomever was already on the moon originally.

Well, the one who attacked Loken was wearing a uniform from the 63rd Fleet.

Doesn't mean they're all from there.

Fair point.

Since this part is called Plague Moon, it isn't hard to work out what's happening.  It's a plague. Of zombies. (Puts on frighteningly good Albert Wesker voice) "Plague zombies."

That was remarkably accurate, especially since you're just doing an impression of my impression of him.

Him who? And are you saying I've been hanging around you too long?

No.  The evidence is saying that. I'm just pointing this out.

Why are the Astartes still attacking?  It's clear something major has happened here.  Sure, the Astartes probably figure their genetic enhancements will help -

Didn't save the poor guy who got his face melted off, did it?

- But the army forces must be in real trouble.  And what happens if the plague gets into the Titans and the crew goes crazy?

They're sealed off, though.

Can't these things melt through armour?

This is a disturbing thought. What about the cyclops monsters? What's going on there.

I'm thinking to avoid thinking about those.  They set off my squeamishness about eyes.

But now you've had time to recover, any thoughts?

At the moment I'm figuring some kind of native alien force.

Why didn't the 63rd kill them off when they were last here?

Maybe Davin itself fell so quickly they didn't bother checking the whole system too closely.

This is the first action scene McNeill has served up.  Did it work for you, and how does it compare to the battles and duels in Horus Rising?

It feels more focused this time around, though it still feels a bit sketchy. I guess that's a function of how large the body count is - you can't give a breakdown of every opponent.  It certainly felt like a much harder fight than the ones on Murder, which was nice.  Really, though, I just miss my gore.

So to summarise: you'd like more gore, and less eyes?

Yes, and stop smiling when you say that.

I thought the rapid switching between viewpoints was nice; kept things going at a decent lick.

Except some of those jumps were to places where the fighting was in the background. Horus doesn't do much until the end of the chapter, and the Titans were literally worse than useless.

I think that's deliberate; evidence of how little Horus has thought through this assault.  He's damn lucky the Titans didn't just sink like the tanks apparently did. We know from Loken that the conditions had been surveyed, it should have been obvious that there was nothing the Titans could do but stand there and risk friendly fire.

It seemed fair enough that they opened fire, actually.  If you've not got a friendly code, it's reasonable to assume you're hostile.

But if they'd seen Petronella's ship, they would have recognised it as a civilian vessel.

So? You can still crash your ship into something valuable.

Fine. So the Battle for Plague Moon Swamp - or whatever - marks out of ten?  I mean the battle istelf, of course, my name for it is prosaic and obvious.

The battle's not over yet.

Fine. the beginining stages of the Battle for Plague Moon Swamp (best prog rock debut album ever) - marks out of ten.

Um... 7.5.

How disappointed are you that Petronella survived being shot down by a Titan?  And what was she thinking dropping into a war-zone?

Well, that's just her character, isn't it? She's probably convinced she can get some good pictures, or poems, or whatever the hell she does, if she goes down there, and figures she's so important that if she does get between the Astartes and the rebels everyone will stop fighting rather than risk her life.  She's clearly spent so long getting her own way that she can't process consequences.

Were you upset she survived, though? I was upset she survivedl. I mean, from a structural perspective it would make no sense to kill her off now, but I'd be prepared to swallow that in order to be rid of her.

Maybe this brush with death will be a turning point and she'll become less unbearable.  I did think it was strange Horus didn't shout at her more, but maybe he was too busy undermining her with Maggard the Haggard (I swear this is what she calls him - every damn time) after he sees how the poor guy is treated.

Actually, while on the subject it would have been good to see more of the battle from Petronella's view. She's probably never seen MtH fight for real before, and it'd be good to get a mortal's perspective on the way the Astartes fight.  It was all over a bit quick, there.

How 'bout that soul-severing blade? That'd be handy piece of kit, huh?

Yeah, that was interseting for two reasons.  Firstly the fact that the blade is unblemished after he's chopped up all those zombies makes me think there's something special about it, and it's going to be used in the near future for something important. Secondly, it's weird that someone from the Imperium is talking about weapons that can cut out your soul.  It sounds a bit too religious an idea, particularly for someone who comes from Terra.  I wonder where he get it from.

What Will Be

If Erebus and the Word Bearers are planning some sneaky double-cross here on the moon of Davin, why have they gotten involved in the battle in the swamp?

I guess because it puts them in the best position to do whatever it is they're planning on?

Something of a high price for positioning, though, isn't it?  At the very least some of Erebus' warriors have been wounded; more likely they've lost lives.

Maybe that was part of the plan, and he's getting rid of Word Bearers loyal to the Emperor. That, or he didn't realise he would come under attack.

I like that idea; Erebus just assumed he'd be fine and that these things are under his control, or at least his allies, but when he shows up he turns out to just be a hunk of meat like everybody else. Has there been any changes in the theories you put forward last week?

Not yet, no.  I'll wait to see how things pan out. The most I'll say is that the similarities between MtH's sword and the cursed sword Erebus stole has me thinking. Is he planning to use the sword to save the day and be feted a hero? So he can get close to the Emperor?

Maybe, though I think drawing the anathame and carving some cyclops might lead to a great deal of awkward questions.

I guess.