Wednesday, 20 August 2014

A Dream Of Peace

Galaxy In Flames: The Choral City (III)

Honour Brothers Nathaniel Garro and Saul Tarvitz (copyright lilloise at 40kart)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

In an era of war, which itself begat an era of endless war, calls for peace were few and far between. Or, more precisely, calls for peace those in the Imperium got the chance to hear were few and far between, the endless choruses of our victims rarely reaching our ears. The final public comments of Iterator Kyril Sindermann, then, can be considered highly unusual for any number of reasons.

Only one copy of Sindermann's last speech is known to exist; a transcription from a recording made by a junior officer in the Imperial Army aboard an escort attached to the 63rd fleet.  Although ten millennia of time has partially corrupted the data-slate upon which the speech was entered, enough remains for us to consider the thrust of his words, and reflect upon how successful his appeal might have been, and to what extent it reflects an improvement in Sindermann's conception of the events surrounding him, as oppose to simply a change. With apologies to purists, and indeed to the memory of Sindermann himself, we have chosen to annotate the speech.

My friends, we live in strange times and there are events in motion which will shock you as they have shocked me. You have come to hear the words of the saint, but she has asked me to speak to you, that I may tell you of what she has seen and what all men and women of faith must do.

The Warmaster has betrayed the Emperor.

Obviously, this last comment is indisputable. We flag it here so as to return later to the question of what betraying the Emperor actually in fact means.

I know, I know. You think that such a thing is unthinkable and only a short time ago, I would have agreed, but it is true. I have seen it with my own eyes. The saint showed me her vision and it chilled my very soul to see it: war-tilled fields of the dead, winds that carry a cruel dust of bone and the sky-turned eyes of men who saw wonders and only dreamed of their children and friendship.

This is direct, uncomplicated rhetoric, of course, of a kind Sindermann must have found useful when addressing audiences about which he could make few assumptions. But it also contains one of the most beautiful phrases we have found in studying the era of the Horus Heresy. "The sky-turned eyes of men who saw wonders and only dreamed of their children and friendship". It stands out all the more for seemingly being unconnected with the imagery that precedes it - visions of ruin and war. For a moment, Sindermann steps out of the large-scale horrors of galactic war and pivots to the human level, which after all is all that truly matters. What does it profit us to acquire the infinite majesty of the Imperium if we risk our families and our friends to do so? How many mothers and fathers have lost their children to win new planets for an empire already too large and widely spread for us to defend? How many friends, lovers, confidants and comrades have died for the theory that humanity cannot survive wars with aliens without being beaten in wars against us first?

I tasted the air and it was heavy with blood, my friends, its stink reeking on the bodies of men we have learned to call the enemy. And for what? That they decided not to be part of our warmongering Imperium? Perhaps they saw more than we? Perhaps it takes the fresh eyes of an outsider to see what we have become blind to.

Perhaps it did, though the example of people like Ignace Karkasy suggests that there were dissenting voices for some time that were simply ignored as inconvenient, if not executed as traitors. But there is little point in berating Sindermann for the length of time it took him to reach enlightenment.  What matters is the nature of that enlightenment: that the Imperium is an instrument of war which has killed millions of people for the crime of wishing for freedom.

Of course, there is an implicit contradiction here. Sindermann is talking on behalf of a saint of the Emperor to followers of the Lectitio Divininatus, but his focus is on how the Imperium has become an instrument of terror and misery. How does the iterator square this circle?

When we embarked upon this so-called "Great Crusade" it was to bring enlightenment and reason to the galaxy, and for a time that was what we did. But look at us now, my friends, when was the last time we approached a world with anything but murder in our hearts?  We bring so many forms of warfare with us, the tension of sieges and the battlefield of trenches soaked in mud and misery while the sky is ripped with gunfire. And the men who lead us are no better! What do we expect from cultures who are met by men named "Warmaster", "Widowmaker" and "The Twisted"? They see the Astartes, clad in their insect carapaces of plate armour, marching to the grim sounds of cocking bolters and roaring chainswords. What culture would not try to resist us?

He does it by shifting blame. The Emperor is blameless here, it is the Warmaster and his equerry, together their soldiers, who have brought us to this point. It's a neat rhetorical trick, no doubt, but it cannot stand up to scrutiny. "Warmaster" may be a name which promises war, but it was not Horus who awarded himself with it. It was bestowed by the Emperor. As to the charge that the Great Crusade no longer brings anything but war, we again must ask: thanks to whom?  There can be little doubt that the Emperor would have acted similarly had he been in command upon reaching Sixty-Three Nineteen or Murder, and we certainly cannot blame the Warmaster for the disintegration of talks upon Xenobia. This leaves us only with Davin, Aureus, and now Istvaan, two of which involved the suppressing of a rebellion headed by a treacherous Imperial commander.  Are we seriously to believe the Emperor would have treated either Temba or Praal with more leniency than his favourite Primarch?  The Emperor who not long before this speech had ordered the destruction of Magnus the Red's planet and Legion for the crime of disobeying him in an attempt to help him?

Which leaves us with Aureus. And yes, without question, that was a bad business, deliberately instigated by the Warmaster, which presumably Sindermann was aware of through Oliton. It is also just one planet at the end of centuries of bloodshed. There is simply no way to read Sindermann's speech and attribute his comments to that single war, bloody and needless though it was. The Crusade did not become corrupted despite the Emperor.  The Crusade was corrupted by the Emperor.

Look to what we leave behind us! So many memorials to our slaughters! Look to the Lupercal's Court, where we house the bloody weapons of war in bright halls and wonder at their cruel beauty as they hang waiting for their time to come again. We look at these weapons as curios, but we forget the actuality of the lives these savage instruments took. 

Ah yes, the memorials of the Crusade. Like the preserved specimen of a keylekid, a race exterminated by the Luna Wolves whilst the Emperor still walked amongst the stars with his Legions. Were the weapons used then not memorials of slaughter?

The fundamental problem here is that Sindermann has a problem with how the Crusade has failed to live up to its stated purpose, he has a concrete example of someone working against that purpose, and he is frantically trying to line the two problems up so they fit together perfectly.  And it simply can't be done.  It's clear that, like so many before him, Sindermann has realised it is better to be betrayed than be mistaken, and that, again like so many others, his response has been to redouble his commitment to his core principles. It isn't that the Emperor was wrong, it's that Horus is a traitor and the Emperor is a God.

It's a frustrating development, because Sindermann came so close to complete understanding. He diagnosed the problem almost perfectly, but refused to follow through on the cause.

The dead cannot speak to us, they cannot plead with us to seek peace while the remembrance of them fades and they are forgotten. Despite the ranks of graves, the triumphal arches and eternal flames, we forget them, for we are afraid to look at what they did lest we see it in ourselves.

By this point the dissonance is total, and Sindermann is telling the worshippers of the Emperor that the two hundred years of the Great Crusade have been squandered.  Which means, in fact, that Sindermann is betraying the Emperor whilst exhorting his followers to stand against another who is betraying the Emperor, albeit in a very different and unquestionably far more terrible way.  One can pray for peace whilst opposing Horus, but you can't do it whilst following the Emperor, not really. Either the dream of peace must be abandoned, or the Lord of Terra.

We have made war in the stars for two centuries, yet there are so many lessons we have never learned.  The dead should be our teachers, for they are the true witnesses. Only they know the horror and the ever repeating failure that is war; the sickness we return to generation after generation because we fail to hear the testament of those who were sacrificed to martial pride, greed or twisted ideology.

In truth, were Sindermann ever forced to make the choice, it would likely be the pursuit of peace. His disgust at the endless spiral of warfare is too clear here for it to be any other way.  He understands too well, at last, that the difference between his opponents who thought they were right and his colleagues who knew they were was never any difference at all. That every culture is better at justifying itself than listening to the perspective of others. That judging ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions is a hypocrisy's never far from generating a body count.

That there is never any worse an idea than insisting we have killed so many that we must continue killing, so that those already dead were lost for some purpose.  There is no way to follow that path without killing sooner or later becoming the purpose in itself.

We needed a better purpose. We needed to listen to the dead, and those still living with voices different to our own. If Sindermann truly understood that, he might have rejected the Emperor, but in the end that hardly matters; if Sindermann truly understood that, the name of the god he invoke in the pursuit of his vision could hardly matter less.  The dream would have remained everything, just as it always had for Sindermann and his fellows, as it did for the Emperor, as even it did for Horus, nightmarish though his dream was for us.

The only difference now is that Sindermann's dream allows for something no other one did: for other dreams to exist alongside if . For every man and woman to dream whatever they choose. Peace is freedom. Perhaps we have fallen too far for it to matter any more. But if humanity is ever to survive, and not simply die as slowly and angrily as possible, then some day we have no choice but to return to Sindermann's words. We must listen, and we must learn, and we must dream.

Let the battlefield dead take our hands in theirs and illuminate us with the most precious truth we can ever learn, that there must be peace instead of war!



What Is

Sindermann's speech on the virtues of peace is maybe an odd fit for a series of books about blowing everything up.  How well does Counter get across the "Give peace a chance!" message?

I'd say pretty badly, considering Sindermann just declared war on the Warmaster.

Refusing to follow your leader isn't the same things as declaring war, surely?

Nonsense. Sindermann just told a bunch of Emperor worshippers that their boss is about to betray their God.  There's no way that doesn't turn into a war.

Fair point.  But what else could Sindermann do? Usually when people say they're starting a war to guarantee peace they're transparently full of shit, but it's surely true occasionally, and this is one of those times.

He's just going to get everyone killed; they're up against Astartes.

That's true. I suppose Sindermann doesn't know every Astartes left in the fleet is backing Horus, but with Loken on the planet it's true Sindermann has exactly zero Astartes in mind he figures will back him.

It'd be better to try and assassinate Horus. Or even to try and talk to him.  Someone so fickle as to move from "I love the Emperor, he is all" to "I will kill the Emperor for ruining mankind and the galaxy" isn't someone you'd think would be unshakable on his new course, surely.

I don't know. It's much easier to turn love into hate than turn it back. It's one of the very many reasons humanity is as generally awful as it is. No-one is more fanatical than the fanatic who has changed sides.  I'm not sure the assassination idea has much in the way of legs either, actually. Even the rebel Astartes had to find a magic sword with a bespoke poisoning generator to threaten Horus' life.  What chance do mere mortals have?  Sindermann might very well be pursuing the best choice open to him here.  Which doesn't mean it's not all going to go horribly wrong, obviously.

So far we've had one big duel per book: first Loken and Jubal, then Horus and Temba.  How does Lucius versus Praal measure up here?  Does it get extra points for all that bizarre sonic weirdness? Or, I suppose, for including a Dreadnought?

You're not allowed to have a dreadnought in a duel! That's cheating!

He was only dealing with Praal's mooks, it doesn't count as interference.

I thought the sonic stuff was a nice idea, made things a bit different. I wasn't sure about the BOOM when Lucius chopped open Praal's tube, though.

Yeah, I caught that. I'm wondering if Counter figures sound travels through pipes the same way water does.  If the sound in the pipe is louder than the sound in the loudspeaker, you should be calling the loudspeaker something else.

Shouldn't the Astartes armour be able to withstand sound, though?

I confess I don't have a feel for how much sonic force you'd have to apply to upset someone in power armour. But it's definitely a suboptimal strategy. That's why we tend to go after tanks with high explosives rather than Metallica CDs. But I don't think they're using sound because they think it's an effective weapon.  I think they're just addicted to sound and are making use of it everywhere they can.  It would be like me trying to kill people by freezing cider into daggers.

Bollocks.  You'd never get round to stabbing people. At best you'd avoid cutting your tongue off eating your blade-shaped cider ice lollies.

Mmm. Tastes like danger.

Talking of Lucius, why is he down on the planet? You'd think Eidolon would want him on-board for the rebellion.

I can think of two reasons.  One is that Eidolon tried and got nowhere.  We know from his conversation with Tarvitz that the biological enhancement route is at least partially synonymous with being vetted for the rebellion, and I can't see how someone as already convinced of their own perfection as Lucius would be interested in the procedure. Or it might just be that Eidolon isn't sure which way he'll jump, so he's playing it safe.  It's never been mentioned, but I've always assumed anyone Eidolon/Horus/Mortarion/Angron was unsure about got sent down to the planet, because whoever is left in the fleet have to not just be relied upon to support the rebellion, but maintain support for it once they've seen billions of people and thousands of their brother Astartes murdered via pathogen.

Maybe Eidolon just thinks Lucius is too ambitious?

That's potential reason number three. Eidolon needs people with ambition for the rebellion of course, but a little goes a long way; anyone too ambitious is a threat to him, especially since they're about to break the cardinal rule of Astartes not killing other Astartes. Basically, Eidolon is looking for the sweet spot.

Aren't we all?

If you're referring to my unshakable impotence, I keep telling you it's because you won't wear the clown suit and flippers I bought you.  I need you to work with me, here.

Are you picking up any point to Loken's story down on Istvaan III at all?

No.  Nope.  Nah, guv.  You?

God no.

Nice. Care to elaborate?

That's supposed to be your job. But I guess the best I can come up with is that the pit of the dead in front of the statue of a false God is supposed to represent Loken's dedication to Horus. Piling up bodies for the sake of someone not worth bothering with is pretty much what Loken is doing right now, after all.

I suppose it relates back to the beginning of the chapter and Sindermann's speech, underlining how pointless this all is, though the combination is maybe overkill. Either way, there's a problem here, because it wasn't Horus who kicked everything off.  Sindermann is out there preaching about how Horus has ruined the Crusade, but it's the Emperor who started it; it's the Emperor who gave Horus the title "Warmaster" that Sindermann suddenly finds so awful.

Suppose that one awful day you're dragged out of bed, lobotomised, forced into surgery to replace various body parts with machinery, and forced to play the same song over and over forever.  What tune would you pick?

Presumably I wouldn't be allowed to pick, though.

It's a hypothetical, Fliss; we don't need to be strictly rigorous about it. Especially since I assume that by the thirty-first millennium pretty much all your karaoke favourites will have faded from memory. Though I always saw Karkasy as a Doors fan.

I think I'd have to go with "Bohemian Rhapsody", if only because it's so long it would minimise the number of times I'd have to replay it each day.

And comes in three distinct parts, for maximum variability.

Is there a song I could choose that would kill me and release me from the whole deal?

"Gloomy Sunday"? That's supposed to have a fairly hefty body-count, though I think it's rather sweet.

Surely I can't actually do the deed, if I've been reprogrammed.

No, but if you're lucky you'd take enough of your operators out with your Hungarian mope-fest that eventually you'd break down for lack of maintenance.

That'd take too long. I want a song that literally blows my own brains out.

I don't think there is one of those.

Well not now, obviously.  But in the future.

Yes, who knows what notes we will invent as human knowledge expands. I bet H sharp will get the job done, once all these damn musicians stop resting on their laurels.

What Will Be

If Euphrati is so sure Horus' meeting is a trap, why is she heading over there? Is she planning to martyr herself already? And what good does it do Sindermann and Mersadie if they see Horus' betrayal for themselves seconds before it gets them killed?

I don't get that.  Maybe she knows something we don't. I wondered if she was going to try and assassinate Horus at the meeting, but then that just makes him a martyr. No-one would ever know the truth.

She could wait until Horus tries to pull whatever he plans to pull.

But then the remembrancers would still be surrounded by Astartes. No-one is going to be able to get out of that with the real story. 

Fair enough. I do like the idea that the Emperor would be devastated that Horus had been assassinated, with no idea as to how close the Warmaster came to rebelling against him.

Alternatively, maybe she's been taken over by the Warp.

But she's a saint!

So? Why does that preclude her from being taken over by the Warp? She miraculously woke up from a coma, but maybe that's what the Warp wanted.

What would Chaos get out of sending her to see Horus?

She's taking Mersadie and Sindermann with her. Maybe she wants to wipe out the entirety of the church's movement in one go. Though I still think Mersadie is more like to be secretly evil than Euphrati.  I still want to know where's she was through the first part of the book.

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