- Halt! – a big man wearing a dark robe stopped them. Senseless precautions since they’ve already been checked and stripped off arms a minute ago. Titus looked at him angrily – what does he want? To show he is boss here – that’s far from truth. To scare them? A chemically enhanced body and a heavy augmented arm, visibly bulging even under the loose worn robe, could scare his companions or other habitants of this lower hive, but definitely not him. To irritate him then – that he’s accomplished.
- Shut your hole if you’ve got one! – Titus stared at the guard.
- Bloody gene-mixed freak, - the man stepped away from the door and took off the hood showing his ugly face. Bald skull with small eyes filled with hatred looked at him from down up, - don’t you think you are safe from me just because boss is waiting your lot. I don’t care for your size, mutant, I’ll tear off your limbs one by one as soon as there is a chance.
- Come in, damn it! Let them pass! – somebody impatiently called them ahead. He looked at the guard who reluctantly stepped aside. That augmented arm of his isn’t a treat – ugly man would die without taking a swing with it. The very thought that he, Titus, could feel something close to fear before that mindless thug offended him. Spoiled his pride.
- Go, Titus, you angry bastard, go! – one of his aides pushed him timidly in the back. He went in, turning from the guard.
- You’ll have your chance, mortal, - Titus promised to the insolent offender. He came in the next room – dim tight compartment of the storehouse where the meeting should finally start. Few greenish lamps highlighted Administratum and Ministorum slogans and posters, shelves filled with data-slates and other usual honest man’s service tokens. He saw well what was there in the dark corners – nothing caught his attention. Except for a single army crate lying on the floor. The very reason he was here. Titus looked at a man sitting behind the desk, an ordinary clerk working at the storage facility. Nothing special, but two openly armed bodyguards and hungry eyes of a rat tell everything Titus needed to know. He stepped aside and leaned on the wall, letting others came in. Jack and his boys, as he likes to call them, filled the room. The buyer and the seller greeted each other and started the usual talk of those who bother too much not showing their fears. The retinue of the first felt nervous because the pistols were in others’ hands and not in their own. Bodyguards of the second felt nervous because of him. If they worth the title of bodyguard then they’ve should already felt that their lethal weapons are not that lethal with him so close. Titus didn’t need their fear and he wasn’t going to kill them. Jack wanted the deal to go smoothly. His current employer (Titus never accepted the repugnant word “boss”) was having a busy conversation with the dirty hand clerk. The tension in the room got lighter. But that ugly bastard outside! Did he sell his brain to buy that poorly made limb? Did he dare to challenge him? Him! Titus stood upright catching again the attention of relaxed bodyguards. He doesn’t care. What is he doing here? Why is he in this room with these men? Titus glanced at the crater, which content will make Jack’s gang stronger in this district. But it has nothing worth for him. Jack and his minions don’t mean anything for him. Titus came to hive city Olynthum Τ few decades ago. Before that he spent almost similar time in Olynthum Ζ. His acquaintance with this Hive World started in its third and last hive - Olynthum λ. Titus had to leave it in haste. Disorganized and shocked after his arriving at this planet he made many mistakes he used to avoid in all these years. In hive Ζ he lived at the bottom, as far from any official power as possible. It’s been the tough time in under-hive. Even for him. Titus welcomed an opportunity to prove himself his capabilities once more. He could’ve become a ruler of that forsaken hell, but he didn’t care. Eventually gangs united against him and that made his staying there impossible. He also couldn’t go live higher in the hive, since arbiters knew about the powerful stranger dwelt in under-hive and wouldn’t let him get out of there. So, he went to Olynthum T and chose to live in lower-hive, far from both madness and law. There were enough officials and arbiters here, but working for someone like Jack made him invisible for the Administratum. Occasion services asked from him didn’t take much time or effort. He almost lived by himself – the very state he liked and willingly fought to preserve. As soon as this deal will be closed Titus would forget all about the participants and Jack would ask him for a new service in several months. Such measured life suited him. The hooded guard showed up in his mind. Titus didn’t sigh or swear, not even twitched his face, he just acknowledged the fact - this life has ended. Once again. He will not tolerate such offends, he will not leave the challenge unanswered, however insignificant and lame his offender was. He is Titus Livius and that’s not a name to play with. He looked at the clerk smiling to Jack.
- Did you tell your dog to stop me? – his strong voice filled the room. Everybody turned to him.
- Is your serf addressing me? – the pale balding little man tried to sound arrogantly but he bumbled and sweat. His bodyguards looked nervously from Titus to Jack and his two men.
- What’s with you? – Jack smiled but his eyes were filled with fear. Titus hadn’t to look at him to know for sure. His employer has seen his wrath and had no illusion about owning or controlling him.
- Did you tell that one-armed bastard to stop me even knowing that we’ve been checked? I’m asking you for the last time. Who will answer for the offend? The master or the dog? – Titus didn’t scream neither he made aggressive gestures or straighten his shoulders. Without that everybody knew who is the toughest beast in the room. Bodyguards begged their God-Emperor to protect them and not let their boss to tell something stupid.
- The dog, - breathed out the horrified clerk. Titus turned and opened the door.
- Here you are, has your master finished his business? – the hooded guard stood in the end of the corridor. He turned to the sound of opening door and didn’t noticed frozen faces of those who stayed still in the room.
- It’s the second offend, - Titus stepped forward, - you will get no mercy.
- You think you are the most dangerous son of a whore in this hive?! – the guard didn’t flinched. He was looking for a fight himself, - I’ll scatter your overgrown meat all over here, c’mon!
Titus didn’t rejoice at his opponent’s eagerness to fight. It didn’t matter. Charging ferociously or cowardly fleeing the mortal would die from his hand. He kept his pace while the man torn off the dirty robe opening his bulky torso, which color speaks not only about lack of sunshine, but also about male used chemicals and drugs. And this ugly creature dared to think to defeat him? Titus growled from anger. Does this mortal think they two are alike? Is he so much blind, that took him for some overdosed thug? The guard’s right arm was fully replaced with a hissing and creaky claw. A cheap prosthesis, resembling the real hand nor in size, nor in shape. Of course, it had no power field. The right side of the man’s chest was a tangled knot of greasy cables and pipes. It could stop Titus fist, though doubtfully. He chose the easiest and most forward way to win. The guard raised his heavy limb screaming, preparing to slash him across the broad body, tearing it open. But Titus was already out of reach – in one jump he came close and his right fist punched through the man’s chest, crushing ribs and heart with speed unmatched by the low-lived brut. The metallic hand made a loud noise, echoed by empty corridor. Titus stepped over the body and wiped off his fist with the laying robe. He didn’t look back, confident that the clerk wouldn’t try to avenge his serf, and marched on. He was going to collect his belongings. Titus didn’t really think about Jack and consequences of his rage outbreak. There were two options. Jack will continue using his services. Or he will try to kill him. In both ways Titus will live on.
- What was that noise? – two wary guards pointed pistols at him. They stood around exit and looked after the possessions of the buying party.
- Don’t aim at me, - he easily came closer and opened one of metallic boxes. Titus produced a las pistol of laughable power and awful aim, but such weapon counted as good in this district. He put it in a holster under his loose grey robe and took out the most valued thing he’s been carrying for a long time.
- That’s a big knife! – whistled one thug.
- I say it’s rather a whole sword, - said another.
- I say you both shut up so you can see the dawn, - Titus grabbed familiar handle almost with love. That was his thing, the very extension of his body. Whatever happens, till this weapon was in his palm – he remembers who he is. Having only this blade he found himself in this Hive World. It’s a miracle he’s saved the knife through all these years. Titus has seen miracles and didn’t use this word easily. He sheathed the weapon and left it hangs at his belt as usual, where it belonged.
- Sooo, we’re good? – uncertainly pleaded one guard?
- I’m good, - his big silhouette mixed with the blackness of the exit.
It was dark outside, but not because of the night. Such was life in lower hive. Above, somewhere there were people who might see a sunshine – a thing he hasn’t seen for over hundred years. Not that Titus missed it, in contrary the darkness suited him more. Since no light from space comes here, this level of Olynthum Τ was illuminated with green lamps which were turned off or dimmed for the sound sleep of citizens. No obeying and the Emperor-fearing people would be out. And those who were busy at this time of twenty-four hours circle knew better than attacking him. But Titus was alert anyway, the state of focus was as normal for him as breathing. Without the latter he could live for some time, can’t say the same about the first. It smells bad and it looks no better. Rockcrete, damp and worn, pipes, rust and acid eaten metal. Living, producing and administrative buildings looked alike, like dull crates or boxes. He’s seen front line bunkers more cheerfully decorated. Though, he’s seen worse too. Titus knew little about Migdonia system, Olynthum was part of which. There were other inhabited planets, but how many and what kind he had no clue. Definitely no big army bases or recruiting space marines around – such things would be known to everybody. Also, there were not much holiness in this system. Titus dropped the idea to know in what Segmentum he was – his rare acquaintances had no interest in such scale. So, he was walking on to one of save places he automatically remembered through his life here. Been one or two been compromised – he’ll just go further. His heavy boots thumped on the ground. In one pocket he had several high-level coins. Here they used familiar shapes of money with aquila on both sides – metallic pieces with digital marks on the surface and a chip inside. One of his first jobs for Jack was crushing a group of scammers who were going to forge the coins. Some rich bastards from the spire decided to hide their games down here. Jack wanted them out not of piety to the Imperial currency, but to hide his own business. Forgery is one of the biggest crimes and investigating those fools’ schemes would eventually harm balance here. A balance in which Titus found a place for himself. So, he took that job eagerly plus those rich criminals brought decent bodyguards. That was interesting. Besides money of which he had a small and rare usage and weapons Titus wore a small pouch on his neck. Pouches and cord come and go, but the content he kept save. Not sure why. That’s it, that’s all he had. And that was enough. He didn’t even need an ID of any kind. During his travels he got one few rare times, it was fake and never been used for real. Titus needed no card or chip to remember who he is. His enemies would recognize him without one too.
Titus silently froze – someone approaching him. He listened to the silence. A true silence is impossible in lower hive. Thermal heat system feeding whole hive with energy always reminded about its vital role with distant humming. Power cables drone, never ceasing factories rumbled far away, aircrafts of all sizes and purposes flew above the dark clouds. Close to him water gurgled – recycled and artificial water pipe ran under his legs. That was a real treasure, not a gang, not a mob during occasion riot never harmed those lines. It was sacred as Emperor but closer to the souls of the population. Titus listened to the sleeping hive. There are three unknown persons coming his way. He is heading them. If they are some passers-by – he let them pass. If they brought revenge of the clerk - they brought their death themselves. He never postponed killing an enemy. Titus produced a pistol and softly went further. After few steps he holstered his weapon, his ears told him who were going. A street-cleaner servitor shuffling along the street. He used to be a broad man. One hand was artificial, a broom was attached to it. The servitor took it with his human hand and swept the road, gathered piles of rubbish he sucked in with a hose coming from his belly. The cleaner had no lower limbs, its torso was attached to a big barrel on crawler legs. Dead human eye saw nothing, the other glowed red searching for more garbage. Found none servitor turned his head to him.
- Clean soul keeps city clean, - creaked the dynamic which occupied the whole lower jaw.
- Thank you for your service, - Titus took a step back – never knew what else can such automatous do and see. Better not to attract attention. Cleaners legs scraped on. Here goes two more.
- Praise the Emperor! The God-Emperor protects! – that was a girl. Probably a cute one. A victim of crime, accident or some illness. Or maybe just an orphan. It looked like normal child, but the greenish skin revealed that she’s been frozen in that age for some time. The head was covered in curls, glittering gold even in such scarce light. The face was replaced with speaker and stared at him demanding, - The Emperor protects!
- The Emperor protects! – repeated Titus and smelled a pleasant sent. The third servitor was a girl too. It was spaying aroma from her fingers. The earliest workers of the lower-hive had a chance to feel something pleasant in usually stinky air of the bottom of Olynthum T. He hurried, the morning was coming.
Titus have already checked three places and haven’t liked none of them. No intruders or signs, just some odd feelings. He had time and ran along. He wasn’t afraid to be seen at daylight, but it would bring unnecessary complications. Titus was near a next cover – a burned down wing of some plants garage. It happened few months ago but the wreck cleaning hasn’t started yet. He stepped in the hangar smelling familiar scent of melted and burned chemicals and metals. No little servitors have passed here. But somebody had.
- Halt! – Titus froze. He noticed the presence of the enemy therefore he is not that dangerous. He is still alive therefore he won’t be killed right away. Amateur. There was a chance, the stranger could tell something significant. Titus didn’t fear being spotted by the Administratum or the Ministorum, but prefered to find this out before being rounded up or burned. – That’s the way, no tricks, it won’t work on me. Listen, tough guy, some big man wants to meet you. Bigger than you can imagine. Follow me and see yourself. Do you hear me? You can turn to me slowly now.
That was his last words. Titus turned and shoot the man in the head. Second charge flew over the dead body.
- Taking left now, - he looked at a smoking right socket, - who are you, big mouth?
Titus saw that this man only pretended to be from lower-hive. He was dirty, worn and looked ill. But he wasn’t local and had nothing on him but a pistol, a bit better than his own. He took it and hide the body in the burned wrecks. Probably it was this stranger whose presence he felt at other spots. Did Jack find himself new friends from better places and told them about him? If the employer will approach him after this night, he will ask him. Titus ran to the next possible cover. When he reached it, the lights got brighter – a new day started with no change in the dark sky. Loud speakers were brought to life with resonance and buzz: Praise the God-Emperor! Olynthum greeting the new day of His infinity glory. Prove your devotion with your work. Praise Him with your service. The Emperor protects! Praise the God-Emperor!..
Titus didn’t sleep that day, didn’t have to. He just sat still underground, in a small corner surrounded with power lines and pipes. It was warm, probably too hot for mortals, but his body could bear much higher temperatures. Dead rats and insects laid around, stroke by high voltage and heat. It was getting quieter and quieter above him and all noises died. Then sirens which kept translate slogans all those hours screamed their last announcement and fell silent. It was 10 p.m. and the lower-hive went to sleep. Time for a walk. Titus could sit there for a few nights, but he was restless, he needed to move. One thing to stay still in an ambush and the other is just sitting with no purpose. He would pace around gloom streets and find a new spot to spend a day in. Search for water may be left for the next night or later. Titus came out and walked in the darkness. He was completely alone.
- Astartes! – a confident voice in his head called him. That was bad. Being spoke to by psyker and in such clear hearing despite his psy-blocker was dangerous enough. To be recognized was much worse. Does this voice belong to the “big man” the killed one mentioned? What to do? To run? To attack? All this he’s thought through in a moment. Titus put his leg on the ground and kept silence. – What’s your name?
Titus smiled. If the psyker couldn’t read his name, he was not that powerful. The time to surrender hasn’t come yet. He would run and hide now and kill that mind-reader later. Months or years – in such a hunt the time didn’t matter, he had plenty of it. Titus darted forwards and lost consciousness.