Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Work In Progress

Galaxy In Flames: Long Knives (VI)

Fabius Bile (copyright DP at WH40kart)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

It was in one of the earliest broadcasts our cell of rebels and malcontents produced that we discussed the nature of perfection, and argued that the pursuit of it is entirely laudable until our inability to ever truly reach it consumes the motives for seeking it in the first place. We must laud those who seek perfection, not punish those who fail.  Still less should we punish ourselves for our own failure in this regard. That way lies bitter madness, and ultimately the strange and horribly destructive idea that if we have failed to construct something perfectly, it would be better if it were torn to pieces and cast to the winds.

Such is the position the Emperor's Children are approaching as the Andronius orbits Istvaan Extremis. To hear Horus tell it, the Imperium has been imperfectly forged, built strongly and carefully not for the benefit of its citizens, but because the more satisfying this empire's form, the more glorious seemed its Emperor, and the easier his route to godhood would become.

The fact that this idea is patently false does not concern us here. We can learn nothing about the philosophies and practises which might doom ourselves to Chaos if we dismiss them as being based on inaccurate information.  What matters here isn't that Horus was lied to regarding the Emperor's goals, it is that upon believing that lie, the Emperor's Children immediately embraced policies of calamitous destruction and appalling carnage. They want from blindly following the word of the Emperor to blindly following the word of Horus, despite the fact that the approaches called for by the two men were completely at odds. One moment saving humanity from oppression was all that mattered; the next it was utterly irrelevant how humanity fared as long as there was a change at the top of the pyramid.

We've discussed this before, of course. When you conclude you're actions have been in error for some time, you can either believe you made a mistake, or that you were lied to. The latter is far easier to believe, and so far more commonly blamed. One advantage of this conclusion to those that embrace it is that it suggests one's methods were never a problem, it was simply the direction they were applied in that requires alteration.

These two ideas - anything short of perfection is best destroyed, and perfect warriors cannot make mistakes, they can merely be perfect for the wrong cause - combined into a dangerous toxin that swallowed up much of the III Legion. We have described before how the fear of failing to achieve perfection ultimately destroyed anything noble in Lord Commander Eidolon. For a battlefield commander like him, perfection was easy to comprehend and therefore easy to recognise as lacking. He should not have been making mistakes or missing opportunities in the field, and yet he was. What could that be but failure, and therefore a lack of perfection?

For an apothecary like Fabius Bile, however, the nature of perfection is far less clear-cut. A perfect commander never fails a mission, and never takes more casualties than success requires.  A perfect doctor, on the other hand, never loses a patient. In simpler times, that requires taking the fragile bodies nature gave us and attempting multiple miracles of prevention and cure to keep them running.  Since the creation of the Astartes, however, a second option has presented itself. Why spend so much time defending a poorly-built machine from the ravages of the universe, when we could simply make that machine work better?

This is already an apothecary's job, after all, to take the feeble frame of initiates and implant the correct genetic material in the optimum order. The idea that success comes not just through change but through direct physical change is built into a Legion's very DNA, metaphorically and literally. Where those in battle can simply say "I must improve my performance", Bile and his fellows must ask themselves what will prove more successful; a greater devotion to keeping the current Astartes alive, or the creation of a whole new Astartes who needs less looking after. To put it in the crudest terms, should we sharpen our knives the the furthest possible extent, or should we go looking for a bolt pistol?

Of course, taking the latter option meant acting against the Emperor's wishes, but that alone can't be enough to render a course of action unacceptable.  We have already argued too often that the Emperor's hypocritical ban upon the use of psychic powers and the investigation of the Warp rippled out into multiple disasters. We can either accept genetic manipulation as an approach, or we must reject it. We cannot claim it is moral and wise only when the Emperor does it.

So if Bile's experiments are not unacceptable simply by their very existence, what approach can we take to criticise them? Certainly not their strange results.  It is only long centuries of familiarity that makes an Astartes who can scream loud enough to shatter bone seem stranger and less defensible than one that can spit venom to blind their foes. Nor should we make our judgements based on aesthetic considerations. For every human culture repulsed by a man with the eyes of a fly, there is another who finds the red-eyed, black-skinned Salamanders or the hyper-pale Raven Guard or the mechancially augmented Iron Hands difficult to accept, or perhaps just thinks the quartered red and yellow of the Howling Griffons looks absolutely ridiculous.

No, the actual insurmountable problems lie elsewhere. The first is obvious, as we have considered something very similar before. Just as it is a mistake to define perfection as simply being the most efficient vector of murder possible, it is desperately short-sighted to suggest perfection comes only in a difficulty in being killed.  Just as with a facility for violence, endurance and resistance to injury are greatly valued amongst soldiers, but nothing in mankind's journey from one side of the galaxy to the other has proven more difficult to eradicate than the Terran cockleroche, and to date no Imperial force has seen fit to utilise them as shock troops. Perfection, to the extent we can even conceive of it, requires balance, of which obsession is always the enemy.

Even were the approach not flawed in theory, there are clear objections to the new regime Eidolon and Bile would usher in. One of these is the recruitment process.  The two Emperor's Chidren would both doubtless protest that alteration is a completely voluntary, but this holds only if one takes a deliberately and absurdly narrow definition of "voluntary" that somehow includes superior officers offering the procedure as a prerequisite for achieving positions those same senior officers have spend decades insisting are the only true measure of success. "Undergo this surgery or you cannot be promoted" is some distance from a suggestion absent of pressure. It is of course somewhere between profoundly implausible and obviously impossible that the Emperor and his recruiters don't apply pressure of their own when seeking out new initiates, but there the pressure can be exclusively positive; "Come with us and become a warrior more powerful than you can imagine".  It is an open question how much this distinction matters, admittedly, considering the martial societies from which the best recruits come will also be those for which the desire to become a better warrior is the most strongly pushed upon the young by their culture. That's arguably a second-order concern, however, and if nothing else, refusing to become an Astartes doesn't get you assigned to a dangerous assault that ends with your own cruisers trying to bomb you to pieces.

The second problem is perhaps more severe, or at least the differences are more obvious; there's no sense here that Bile has any interest in proceeding carefully or methodically. Volunteers simply go to sleep and wake up with new abilities, if they're lucky. If they wake up at all - Bile is entirely open about his high failure rate, and what he means by "failure" isn't something we're prepared to consider in depth. The impression given is that Astartes fall into chemically-induced comas and wake up with strange new body parts, if they wake up at all. It is a set-up very much more reminiscent of a Ork Painboy's charnel house than the laboratories of the Himalazian Mountains. And with all the resources of Ancient Terra and years to perfect his approach, the Emperor was still unable to create twenty Primarchs without the mistakes that plague the Blood Angels and their successors, the Black Dragons Chapter, and which have caused irregularities in the Space Wolves and - according to rumour - the Dark Angels too. Bile has not the time, the resources, or the inclination to repeat so impressive (if, of course, imperfect) a feat. He can simply attempt trial and error - with the emphasis heavily on error - and hope for the best.

Once again, we see the central cause of so many Legion's fall to Chaos. It is not that their goals are despicable - not obviously, not yet.  It is the route that is chosen to those goals. Horus wanted to replace the Emperor, and believed the fastest way to do so was to massacre billions of innocent people to tilt the balance in his favour. For the sake of a chance at a quicker war, no amount of unnecessary death was too great. So it is here with Eidolon, Bile and Fulgrim himself; for the sake of a chance at quicker results in a quest to upgrade the Astartes template, no amount of horrific experiments, grave-robbing and splicing of humans with alien monsters was too great. Humanity not only became something not worth protecting if it got in the way it became something to be actively thrown aside if it proved a hindrance.

Horus forgot he was, ultimately, still human. Bile actively tried to remove the humanity from as many of his comrades as possible. One sought power, the other perfection, and in the process both were only too happy to toss aside what motivated their desires in the first place.

Thus did the quest for perfection end amongst the screams and bloodstains of a mad butcher's abattoir. Thus did the Emperor's Children persuade themselves they had found one more rung to climb towards perfection, without realising they were falling all the while. You cannot reach perfection, you can merely approach it, and everything is risked on the bet that you will recognise the point at which you have come the closest.

Not everyone in the Legion failed to see this, of course. Some men understood and accepted their imperfection; they tried to minimise it, but they knew it for the constant companion of us all it was.  Those were the men who passed the test as Tarvitz had, and their reward, such as it was, is arriving soon. It is almost time we made the drop toward the Choral City.

First, however, we must observe preparations. Preparations, and a banquet.


What Is

Any thoughts on Fabius Bile's Vault of Horrors?  Who could have imagined a man with that name would be up to no good?

You mean the laboratory?


Not to be confused with the lavatory.

Well either way shit's going down. HEYO!

What's the point of the place, then? What are they doing? Are they thinking about head swaps?

Given the Primarchs are from that lab, it seems strange Tarvitz is so surprised a place like this exists.

I think the basic suggestion is that it's only OK when the Emperor does it.

It didn't seem like that big of a deal. Just looked like spare parts and enhancements.

Enhancements? There's a severed head in their with fly eyes! The eyes of a fly!

Those could be improvements.

No they couldn't. Fly eyes are shit.

You're just saying that because they freak you out.

No I'm not, this is the voice of science. They can't see for shit.

They can see further around though, can't they? That's helpful.

Fine. You could make an Astartes that couldn't see for shit, but couldn't see for shit slightly further to each side. And to do that they'd have to be the size of footballs, which would not only be massive targets but ruin those nice snazzy helmets they like to wear.

You're just making all this up.  They could be magic Warp fly eyes. They might be able to see into people's minds.

You could say that about anything, though. "These ix magic Warp aardvark rectum. It farts rainbows."

Why would a-


Fair enough.

So it didn't creep you out then?

Nope. It'll take more than that.

Any thoughts on Fabius himself?

He was quite quiet. I don't remember him doing much other than glaring.

And messing around with living muscle on a slab.  That's not right.

Isn't it? I'd have thought that'd be useful for a doctor charged with keeping wounded soldiers alive.

...Good point.

Leaving aside some of the more horrific aspects of Bile's work - who the hell would ever conclude fly eyes would be a useful thing to have? - is there anything to Eidolon's philosophy of the search for perfection above all else?

It's a big switch from shouting at Lucius for carrying that sword around two books ago.  Why the sudden change of heart?

Well, if Fulgrim really has ordered all this, it could just be Eidolon being a lickspittle as usual.

I notice he's lost his diplomatic powers from earlier.

I suspect he just doesn't care what he's saying to the lower ranks.

Yeah, but he didn't even notice when he insulted Tarvitz.

Again: does not give a damn.

It still all seems too fast. Even if Fulgrim does think he could do all this as well as his father, he's still doing it behind the emperor's back.  Which means they've gone from "aliens are hideous and unacceptable" to "we must be just like the awesome aliens" really, really fast.

True enough, though it's hard to draw too many conclusions given how little we've seen of the Emperor's Children post-Murder. None of this really gets us into the morals of all this, though.  Let's change tack.  Should we adapt ourselves with bits of animals in order to improve humanity?

Bits of animals like what? Magic aardvark rectums?

I was thinking more like gills.  I'd like gills.

Urgh.  Too fishy. Wouldn't you rather have a blow-hole?

I have two blow-holes. I call them my nostrils.

I'd like sharper teeth, or eyes that can zoom on in things. Or colour changing skin, that'd be cool. We should design our perfect animal. That can be our new blog. Begin the preparations immediately.



Loken's conversation with Abaddon clearly didn't work out all that well. But was it worth a go? Or has Loken just thrown away his only advantage?

He definitely went for the wrong person.  It should've been Aximand.  And I don't get why Abaddon is insisting Loken hasn't had his loyalty tested. He's had it tested, hasn't he? Tested and failed.

It's more that they've each chosen a different side of conflicting loyalties. That's the tragedy here, neither of them will admit the other made an entirely defensible choice when confronted with an impossible situation.

I note Abaddon isn't showing any concern about Erebus.  Which is ridiculous, considering he's the guy who got the Warmaster poisoned in the first place.

I guess Abaddon doesn't exactly know that.

Loken pretty much spelled it out for him.

Yeah, but Abaddon's clearly putting a lot of effort into not hearing that. I was definitely annoyed Loken didn't make it completely explicit, though.

Why is Abaddon calling Loken a thief? Surely it's not theft if you take a holy book.

Of course it's theft. What else could it be?

Spreading the word.

I think to spread the word you need to do more than just move the word to another room. That's like you saying you're going to spread jam on my toast and then stealing my toast. And my jam.

That's my jam!

In this hypothetical scenario, the jam is mine.

Still on Loken, how come he and Torgaddon keep getting the battle honours, with them so out of favour? And why has Horus decided to pick and choose specific squads instead of sending down companies like usual?

I presume they keep getting picked because Horus is hoping they'll get killed.

Is it just a hope? You don't think he's planning to pull a Hektor Varvaras on them?

I don't know.  They're a bit high profile to just shoot.  Both in their Legion and in others.

How do you mean?

Well, Loken got to chat to Dorn. And Torgaddon has been around forever, he's bound to have made an impression on a few Primarchs.

Fair enough.  What about the pick'n'mix squad idea?

Yeah, that's suspicious. It's obviously a bad military move because it makes it harder for people to trust someone has their backs.

So why do it?

My best guess is that since Loken's been so against his people joining the Lodge, this is the best way to get someone from the Lodge close to him. Someone who could smuggle something in or out. Or even take out Loken, if it becomes necessary.

What Will Be

The Lectitio Divininatus seems to be spinning its wheels a bit now the saint is safe.  Any thoughts on where this storyline is going. Or, for that matter, any interest?

What is it you want them to be doing?

I don't know. But I'm not the one who stuck them in the story.

They've not really done anything for ages; why complain now?

At least for a while they were growing, that's kind of a thing.

They're still growing now.

Are they? I can't tell if they're getting new recruits any faster than Maloghurst can kill them. So where is this all headed.

Well, either they become the rebellion against Horus-

Which would suck for them, since all the other Astartes hate them too.

-Or Horus will actually end up using them to gain support. "Look at what these shitty humans we didn't care about until now are getting up to!"

I hope Horus says it just like that, though in a deeper voice.

Now Loken has confessed his theft, how is Horus likely to respond?

Will he try to talk to him? I do think it's interesting that Horus hasn't said anything to Loken since they were on that planet.

I guess Abaddon has spun a fairly convincing tale about Loken being cool with Horus dying so long as no-one tried the local faith healer.

But Loken didn't get to make that choice anyway.

I don't think that would matter to Abaddon, or even Horus. All the First Captain has to say is "We took you somewhere to save your life and Loken was a total dick about it", and the job's done.  I imagine Abaddon was the very first person Horus spoke to in private after his recovery, and the very first thing Abaddon said was "I don't think we can still trust Torgaddon, and we definitely can't trust Loken".

I suppose being chums with Karkasy won't have helped there.  But getting back to the question, maybe we're seeing the results of the theft here; putting Loken and Torgaddon at the head of the spear-tip.

If that's true, then there must be more going on here than just hoping they get shot.  That seems way too hands-off for Horus.

Good point. OK, they smuggle the book down, they something horrible from it, and they frame Loken for it since he's been seen with the book. Sorted.

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