Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Feel The Pricking Every Now And Then

Galaxy In Flames: Long Knives (VII)

Ancient Rylanor (copyright Games Workshop)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

A conscience can prove a most troublesome thing, and not only to ourselves. For those who possess a conscience, who listen to it, and (almost as importantly) take pains to tend and mould their consciences so as to  form a coherent whole, it is only ever a matter of time before the dictates of our morality become inconvenient to someone else.

Naturally, nobody ever wants to come straight out and say: "Your conscience is making my life more difficult". Not when there are so many ways to disguise the statement. One of the most common masks it can wear is "Your conscience is interfering with what actually needs to be done". On the surface this might sound reasonable, a simple request to not let asking for a perfect galaxy get in the way with doing good in the galaxy we have.  There is an ancient proverb regarding how me must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and in many ways we cling to that idea still, in deed if not in word. We've fought alongside the Eldar. We've fought alongside the Tau. On occasion we have bribed Orks with guns and ammunition. We scream our defiance into the void, vowing to take not a single step backwards in the defence of mankind, but whole systems are abandoned to the xenos or the Warp if they are judged not important enough to sacrifice men or materiel for.

But these examples simply bring home the obvious truth; if we have learned to accept compromise and disdain the dictates of conscience, it is because we have been taught to do so by the powerful.  There is no-one who benefits more than those who control our lives from the suggestion that doing what we are told needs doing is more important than wondering whether what we've been told needs doing is worth doing at all. A major goal of any system of control is to keep those at the bottom too busy maintaining the system to question the system.

Jonah Aruken's comments to Titus Cassar inside the Dies Irae demonstrate this all too well.  Aruken is concerned that Cassar's search for metaphysical enlightenment will interfere with their task of murdering whomever they've been told to murder, despite the fact that Cassar's quest has already led to the saving of an innocent woman's life. A woman threatened, let's not forget, by a warrior recently inducted into the service of the same man Aruken wants to be able to follow with as few upsets as possible. Aruken might as well be howling "Throne, Cassar; don't make me have to think about whether I'm doing the right thing!". Cassar's search for answers saved Euphrati Keeler.  In a few hours time, Aruken's search for comforting certainty will kill hundreds of loyal Astartes, and Cassar.

Even Garviel Loken, who until now we have essentially held as the pinnacle of Astartes, is not immune. We confess that it's not obvious how he was to proceed after confronting Abaddon went so poorly, but even so it does not seem unreasonable to suggest that tabling the whole affair until after he has slaughtered those the high command he now knows to be rotten have instructed him to isn't the greatest of next steps. When he considers the fact that it now takes war for him to feel like his old self, he should consider what exactly that suggests. The people he is (haphazardly) investigating have placed him in a position where he is disinclined to think further on that investigation. He is too busy doing what Horus desires to have time to question why Horus desires it. True, he isn't guilty of attempting to drag others into that particular pit with him, but otherwise there is no obvious difference between his attitude and that of Aruken's. Having so recently warned Abaddon of the cost of compromising one's principles, we might have hoped Loken might have known better than to leave investigations aside whilst he cleansed himself in blood.

Thank the Emperor, then, for Saul Tarvitz, willing to give up his place in the Emperor's Children spear-tip in order to follow his concerns. Willing to lie to the reputedly lie-proof Ancient Rylanor for the chance to answer his suspicions. Willing to step back from what he was told until he could discern for himself what was true and what wasn't, defying the exercise of power until he determine exactly how that power was being applied.

And as a result, thousands of Astartes owed him their lives, at least for a little while. Certainly they owed him their opportunity to strike against those who had betrayed them so the higher-ups could have an easier route to power. The resulting sabotage to Horus' plans might even have sealed the rebellion's fate in its earliest hours. Even if no loyalist Astartes left Istvaan III alive, that is a legacy to be proud of.

It is wonderfully fitting that amongst the whole of his Legion, it was Tarvitz who came closest to perfection, and he did it by rejecting what he had been told perfection consisted of. Perfection is not, in the end, the enemy of the good. The enemy of the good is insisting to yourselves that there's no way to make things any better. It was true in Captain Tarvitz's time and it remains true now. We have fallen so very far in the last ten thousand years. Must we really spend our final years insisting we will fall more slowly if only we fall more cruelly?


What Is

You've mentioned before suspicions regarding Vipus. Have those fears been alleviated or intensified by this chapter?

Intensified. I even said when I reading the chapter: "They're building up Vipus' relationship with Loken to set up the inevitable back-stabbing."

(It's true, she did.)

All that stuff about the two of them being mates since childhood.

Childhood? That's not the Horus Heresy, that's the Burn Notice we watched this afternoon.

Was it? I keep getting things jumbled in my head.

Then thank God you weren't watching porn.

Anyway. Friends since training. The set-up is still there. And he's the one who suggests Loken joins him in the drop pod. Clearly he wants to have Loken near him at all times, which is suspicious given how out of favour Loken is. The only question is whether Vipus is deliberately betraying his friend, or if he's under the control of something.  Like a Warp Beast.  Or... when did Vipus get his new hand?

It was shot off on Sixty-Three Nineteen.

Yes, but when was it replaced?

Before Davin.

So that means there would have been time for-

Wait, you think he's being controlled by his evil hand? Like that '90s B movie monster that killed the Offspring? Or that hunk of burning legal manhood from Angel?

It's the future. They could have put something into the hand to control his brainwaves.

Surely not. Otherwise you'd do it to all the Astartes.

You can't cut off every Astartes hand in the galaxy, Ric; people will talk.

It doesn't have to be a severed hand, Fliss.  I'm quite sure any mind-control tech could be fashioned into any other body part.  You knock an initiate out to get their second heart or their poison glands or something, and whilst they're under you hook up one of these machines.  Job done.

It'll be some sort of alien tech, or maybe nicked from some planet they've crushed. Use your imagination.

It seems this squad-by-squad idea has been carried over to the Emperor's Children, too, and it's clear Eidolon and his cronies want nothing to do with the Istvaan Speartip.  Just what is going on?

It's clearly bad news.

I would have thought you'd consider a lack of Eidolon pretty good news. He's a dick, after all.

Yeah, but this reads like a set up. Like someone wants rid of everyone who's loyal to the Emperor.

So, what? Send down all the loyalists and let them get slaughtered by the Istvannians?

Yes. I don't know why the Death Eaters are going down too.

I think you mean the Death Guard and the World Eaters. We don't know what's happening in their fleets. It could be the exact same process. But if the plan is to get everyone massacred, why are you so sure Vipus is a traitor?  Didn't he get the memo about everyone being sent down there to die.

Not everyone.  Horus will need people who can testify later that everything was above board, for plausible deniability.

I suppose. If you wanted the Istvaananians to do all your killing for you, I guess you'd want people on the ground who can run interference, too; get people killed with bad intel, guiding them into ambushes, that kind of thing. Gods know someone needs to get betrayed soon. You don't name a section of your novel "Long Knives" because you've forgotten what a sword is called.

I don't think we've met a Dreadnought up until now, at least not to speak to. Is it clear to you what exactly he is?

I've no idea. I'm imagining a cross between C-3P0 and a Dalek.

That would be R2-D2, I think you're describing.  Dreadnoughts are rather bigger. And more dangerous, at least if you ignore the prequel trilogy.

Do they have wheels? I'm imagining wheels.

That's still Artoo.

Does he lean backwards and roll out of rooms when he's done?

You're just taking the piss now.   I believe we can declare Operation: Picture Dreadnought a complete failure.

So what does he look like?

(I show Fliss the picture at the top of this post)

I like my version better.

Of course you do. You're imagining a pimped-out R2 unit.  There's no way that's not better than anything conceivable.

How does "Long Knives" match up to "The Deceived" and "The Betrayer"?

I'm glad the remembrancers and Sindermann are in it a bit more at the start this time. I wonder if people complained they were in the first book too much, and they overcompensated for False Gods.   On the other hand, so far this book seems kind of light on getting into the character's heads.  The pace is odd, too.  There's an absence of details, which makes everything seem rushed, but then it's slowed down because not a lot is happening.

You had the battle between the Emperor's Children, the Death Guard, and the Warsinger with attendant mooks.  That's more than we got in the first part of False Gods, though in McNeill's defence by the time the first battle in Galaxy in Flames shows up McNeill was already onto his second section.

I'm enjoying all the extra Astartes legions and Primarchs.

Me too. I'd missed the Emperor's Children; I wished they'd been in False Gods more.

It does feel like they're building to something.  I guess a lot hangs on whether they can pull it off.

What do you think of this idea of pre-victory banquets? Should we arrange a vist to that all-you-can-eat Chinese place down the A45 each time you're getting ready to beat me at Talisman?

No, because then we'd both be super-obese.

Ooh! I hope I've got anti-dragonflame armour for that burn.

We could have victory cocktails.

Good idea. If we toast your victory before you achieve it, you might be too drunk to actually win.

Or you might be too drunk to care.

Either way.

Won't they all be too full to fight a battle?

I think this is the night before.  They don't literally finish coffee and mints and head for the drop pods.

Too hungover?

Astartes can't get drunk without a massive amount of effort.

What if they eat something cooked wrong and get the runs?

They're resistant to poisoning, they can't get the runs.  Though I like the image. Actually, "like the image" is probably an incredibly inaccurate way of putting it. "To all stations; invasion of Istvaan III cancelled due to dicky tummies caused by a dodgy consignment of Prandium oysters. Reports of toilet paper shortages are coming in throughout the fleet; Astartes are requested to deal with this problem by using imagination. CHILDREN OF THE EMPEROR! E-Do out!"

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