The two years Severa had been stationed here had not been kind to Parlin's gut. He hadn't been a lightweight to begin with and another ten kilos hadn't helped anything. And ten kilos was conservative.
"Ah, Lieutenant Valin. Won't you sit down?" He gestured to the chair in front of him. Severa noted that while it had remained the same, the rest of the furnishings in the office had increased in value in the last two years. Increased by about a captain's yearly salary.
She sat. He pretended to continue to read the gold framed data pict screen hovering in front of him. He wanted to see her squirm. She would give herself to an ork before she gave him the satisfaction.
"There has been a problem with your transfer," his toothy smile made his apologetic tone a lie. She braced herself. They were really going to fuck her over now. She would face the destruction of her career with the same resolve she had faced death.
"Some sort of personnel mix up with The Pride of Cadia and with the replacements we were due to be shipped. I'm afraid they've already gotten replacement officers and we are short staffed. You'll have to remain at your current position until another post becomes available." He could keep the gloating out of his voice, but not out of his eyes.
"Yes sir," she replied lifelessly. "Is that all sir?"
"That is all lieutenant," he said smiling. "You are dismissed."
She got up to leave. She reached the door just as he spoke again.
"Lieutenant, if you want to discuss your options further, feel free to drop by my quarters at around 2000 hours." Be my whore and I might let you go free. Just surrender your body and your pride for as long as they interest me and I'll let you crawl away when I am done with you.
"No sir, that won't be necessary." She walked out the office, her face as rigid as if carved from stone. She didn't start crying until she closed the door to her quarters. Silent, wracking sobs, unheard and and unseen.
The Blimp and his cronies had another party last night. Severa scanned the security pict logs, watching the corrupt naval officers meet and greet their business partners. Not all of them were in the smuggling business, but all that dirty money was best laundered through legitimate front businesses. And what was the point of being rich if you couldn't spend it? Wine, fine food, and expensive companions were the order of the day at least twice a month if not more. It made the whole scam fairly easy to track. She sped through the record.
Something caught her eye. She replayed the previous part again. Ah, a new player. Severa followed his progress through the party. He was a short, slim man who wore a small fortune in silks and jewelry. He laughed easy and told amusing jokes while glad handing just about everyone. A stern faced dark man dressed in conservative clothing followed in his wake.
Severa linked her slate to her desk cogitator and flipped through the entry logs until she found him. A handsome, dapper young man who made a very nice looking pict. The minder was there as well, a stern man with olive skin and a scar on his left cheek. There was also a truly huge bruiser with an aquila tattoo on his forehead.
Rich boy. Family Retainer. Bodyguard. It fit, but it didn't tell her what his interest was. She began to formulate trace requests for out system transmission.
Severa woke as her door slid open. She had installed a nonstandard upgraded lock, but neither it nor the bar had been enough. She had been expecting this day for years. Her hand snaked under her pillow for her gun.
She was pinned by something she couldn't see. Graviton gun? her sleep befuddled mind asked. Shadowy forms entered from the darkness outside and closed the door behind them.. She was relieved of her gun and her arms pulled behind her back and tied with something plastic.
Then the force vanished and the lights came on. She blinked against the sudden brightness. It was the three. The bruiser was standing in front of her. The fop was sitting at her desk, her gun at the table. He was dressed plainly now, but the needler pistol in his hands was all business. The retainer was by the door, leaning against the wall.
Severa tried to think. This wasn't making much sense. Not for a background check. The only reason they were here would be . . . . would be if they were finally going to kill her and the fop wanted to watch.
"You're quite good," said the retainer. "When we started mixing with the high rankers, you started monitoring us. The first check didn't satisfy you and you sent out another. You are prying in all the right places and you're a pariah among the power brokers on the station. You're pretty tenacious."
She said nothing. Why bother? They were going to kill her anyway. "You've been here for almost four years and watching with considerable vigilance. Why haven't you come forward?"
She stared at him stonily. The fop spoke up. "She didn't know who to go to. And they laundered their proceeds pretty good with their merchant connections. No point in stepping up if the only thing that's going to happen is that you're going to be screwed even more."
She said nothing as her mind race. Could they be some kind of covert investigative unit? She had heard rumours of those working for Naval Intelligence, but how likely was it that they would target this station?
"Look into her eyes boss, the truth's right there if you want to see it," continued the fop. The scarred man took something out of his pocket. She felt her knees cave. It was an Inquistional Rosette.
"I am Inquisitor Jolan Gix. How would you like to assist me in cleaning out this den of corruption?" Severa looked up at him. He had a predatory smile. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.
The boy looked at the woman weaving cord. "What are you doing mama?"
The woman smiled at the boy. She was young and beautiful, with rich brown skin, silky black hair, and dancing eyes. "I'm weaving a net," she said with a smile.
"Yes, so he can catch fish with it."
"So you're helping da fish?"
"That's right. Everybody does their part. I weave nets and tend the garden and help mend the sails and cook and go berry picking and make dinner for little boys."
The boy's eyes were big. "That's a lot of work."
She smiled. "Yes it is."
"I am going to help you and da!" the boy declared.
She smiled. "I am sure you will," and kissed her son on the forehead.
The boy waited impatiently on the deck of the boat for his dad get on deck. The muscular young man carried on two more jugs of water and then began to untie the boat from the dock. The boy jumped up and down in excitement. "Hurry da! They're beating us!" The boy waved towards another boat.
The man laughed. "Don't worry about it. We'll catch them on the water." He ruffled the boy's hair and cast off. A few powerful stroked with the oars and they were away from the dock. The wind caught the sail and they began to glide up the bay. The early morning sun reflected brightly off the water.
"We'll get to the good waters soon," he said to his son. "And then we'll catch a lot of fish."
"I'm going to catch more than you."
The man laughed. "That's pretty tough, son. Sure you want to try that first time out?"
"Alright then, we'll have to see how much you catch." The man laughed. Life was good. He had heard tales of the time before the coming of the Emperor's men, when his grandfather was a boy. Before every village had a radio and before there were any real doctors or medicines. Before there was law. When pirates and warlords could take you wife and your daughters as well as your wealth if you were unlucky.
Now every generation had it better than the last. Two years ago a man from their village had joined the Imperial Guard, to fight the Emperor's enemies. It was a big decision and his mother had been afraid, but they had all been so proud. Bringing the Emperor's peace to others was hero's work.
They were nearing the reef, which was a pretty good fishing spot. He began casting his nets. Jolan tried one of the small ones and got it tangled. Laughing, he helped his son sort it out and try it again. It got tangled up again. It seemed fishing didn't come easily to the boy.
He ruffled his son's hair again and showed him how to cast a net again. He then turned back to get some real work done. "Hey da!" said Jolan behind him.
"What is it?" he said as he cast the net into the water.
"I'm catching fish!" Jolan said.
"And I don't need a net!" he said triumphantly. He turned around to see fish surging out of the water to land flopping on the boat. His son smiled at him. His blood turned to ice.
The men came later that day. Not in a boat, as they expected, but in a flying machine that landed on the beach. It had been only four hours since they had used the village's radio.
Six men came out wearing dark blue battle dress with ceramite breastplates. Lasguns were clenched in their hands, their faces concealed behind mirrored face plates. A seventh followed them off the flyer. He was shrouded in dark robes. They walked up to the village.
One of the soldier's spoke. "Where is he?" His voice was distorted by his helmet. The elder trembled and lead them to the hut. Two of the soldier's followed him inside. A moment later the robed figure followed them. Crying came from the hut. The robed man emerged, followed by the soldiers. One was carrying the boy, who hands were bound and wore a collar around his neck. He was crying.
"Mama! Help mama!" The soldiers ignored his cries as they marched back down the beach. "Da!"
The loaded him into the flyer and strapped him down. One of the soldiers took out an injector and gave the boy a shot. The flyer's engines began to rumble. In a few more moments it was rising into the air and flying back the way it came. The boy's parents watched, tears streaming down their faces.
The armoured door ground open. Black armoured guards stepped through, preceding another figure in black robes. His face was also shrouded by a mirror shield. The men on the other side saluted. The robed man spoke. "Are they all here?"
"Yes lord," said one the men.
"Their health and nutrition?"
"As ordered," the man held up a data slate. "Controlled exercise, regulated diet." One of the soldiers took the data slate.
"An adjacent yard. Small, monitored. One at a time. Three times a week for a half our each time. The whole area is covered by dampers."
"Thirteen subjects. Two prepubescent, one seven standard years. Is this correct?"
"He was six when he was brought here lord," said the other guard.
"We will begin by opening the cells one at a time and insuring that the subject is secured adequately for transport." The black armoured men moved forward impassively. They had done this many, many times.
Within five minutes a column of new psykers was shackled together and secured for transport onto the Black Ship. The last figure in the line was a little boy. His eyes were wide but he did not speak.
Jolan cowered in the corner. He could feel the fear leaking out. Some of his fellow captives were projectors and even with the dampers, sometimes he could feel waves of emotion emanating from them. It was bad around them.
Not that it was ever good. There were rules, rules that had to be obeyed or else. Rules about when you could eat, when you slept, where you slept, and even when you could go to the toilet. The masked ones knew everything. Sometimes they would come in and grab people. Sometimes just to move them to a different hold, sometimes they vanished. You never knew.
They had shock prods and used them often. To disobey was to be punished. Jolan didn't know how long it had been. It felt like forever. He could still remember his parents faces. He closed his eyes and pictured his mother. He tried to remember her smile. He held on to that image.
The main doors opened and the masked men came in. "Line up," one said. Most of the people in the hold began to get up and move toward the painted line. A few didn't. One wild eyed man sat and gibbered. One of the guards shocked him and he convulsed. "Line up," the guard ordered. The man babbled. The guard shocked him again. "Line up," the guard ordered. The man grabbed the guard's legs. The guard flicked a switch with his thumb and shocked the man again. He convulsed and lay still. The guard flicked the switch again and broke free of the clutching hands. He moved on to the next recalcitrant psyker. "Line up."
A few minutes later the psykers marched out, leaving only the dead behind them. They were marched down several long corridors and through an airlock onto another ship. They were secured to a long line a padded benches in a room that stank of disinfectant. With a loud clang, the ship they were in separated itself from the Black Ship and fired its thrusters.
Soon they were buffeted in their seats. The turbulence grew worse. Several fouled themselves in fear or vomited from nausea. After several minutes the turbulence abated and then they could feel the ship set down.
The guards came in and lead their line of shackled prisoners down a ramp. They prisoners blinked in the weak sunlight. It was brighter here than they had become used to. Their were other ships in this vast walled courtyard. Each ship was disgorging multiple lines of prisoners. Ahead of them was a vast tower that reached high into the sky and was broader than anything Jolan had ever seen. Cameras and gun turrets tracked them. Heavily armoured and armed guards were stationed all over their place. The prisoners were marched into a yawning maw in the side of the fortress.
Processing took hours. Each train had the lead prisoner unshackled and lead into another room. After an interminable time, the next prisoner was taken. After an small eternity, it was Jolan's time. A guard lead him into the room.
It was long and empty. A voice came from the wall. "Strip," it said. The Black Ship had taught the boy the consequences of disobedience. He complied. Some kind of mist blew through the room. "Advance to the doorway," the voice repeated. Jolan obeyed. The door opened into another room.
Their was a man and a woman in the room and then their were things. The woman was too pale and dark haired. The man had thing of glass and steel instead of eyes. Metal tentacles, like those of a squid or a jellyfish, hung from the back of his head. Three skulls with similar metal and glass devices on them hovered in the air. The room was full of sinister looking machines. Jolan quivered.
"Come forward boy," said the machine-man in a surprisingly gentle tone. Jolan knew better than to disobey. He took tentative steps forward. The man held out a device. "That's a good boy," he said. "I'm not going to hurt you." The device in his hand buzzed.
The woman continued to look at him coldly. The man said, "this is going to hurt for a moment," and then stabbed him with a needle. He could see the glass tube fill up with his blood. "That's a good boy. It wasn't too terrible was it. Now I need you to sit in this chair." Tubes and and devices surrounded the chair. A metal skullcap was supported on a boom above it. Jolan quivered but obeyed.
The man tightened straps around him. He moved some of the metal arms and then lowered the skull cap. He fastened it to the top of Jolan's head. He heard a hum as switch was flipped and he felt a strange buzzing sensation. It continued for a minute and then stopped after another switch was thrown. Then the woman moved.
She walked over to the chair and looked into his eyes. Her eyes were dark and spooky and seemed to bore into him. He felt like he was falling away from some terrible thing. And then the feeling vanished.
"Stable and strong to all the readers," the man replied. "No sign of corruption. The machine spirits concur with one another."
"I agree," said the woman. "Stable and strong. Nothing hiding in his mind."
The man unfastened him and said, "You've been a good lad." He fasted a tie with a number to his wrist and sent him out through the opposite door. The doctor then touched a button indicating the next one should be sent through.
The lead cylinder slowly descended to the floor. The boy stood with his hands folded across his chest impassively. He was ten meters from the cylinder standing with a line of eight other students. He had finished his last repetition. "Good," said the instructor monitoring the students. He was a lean man, his face marked with scars and his hair more grey than black. "Repeat." They cylinder rose again into the air. It weighed one hundred kilos. It rose to head height on the ten year old and then descended again.
"Your control has gotten better," said the man as he made a note on the data slate. Jolan Gix demonstrated not only early development of his powers, but strong telekinetic talents and even more powerful pyrokinesis. Every month registered a noticeable improvement. His physical and mental development was also impressive. There were notes in his file to single him out for special attention. Clauss Richerd knew what those notes meant.
The boy hadn't even broken a sweat yet, repeatedly lifting an object that outmassed him. Richerd checked the progress of his other students. They were five to fifteen years older than Gix. They went through their reps with varying amounts of difficulty. Six of the eight had brows beaded with sweat. Two were panting heavily.
"You are dismissed. Go to your next session." The students began to file out. "Jolan. Remain." The boy broke from the line and stood rigidly in front of him. His eyes were impassive. "I am reordering your session. Your abilities require something more strenuous." That was true. The boy didn't have great control, but his raw talent and power were impressive. Gamma level and he was still preadolescence.
"I have something new. Raise the cylinder again. Hold it this time." The boy complied. The weight hovered in mid air. "Hold it steady. Now at the same time melt it."
A flicker of ghost fire danced around the cylinder. It grew rapidly into a blaze of green witchfire. The eldritch flame grew brighter. The edges of the cylinder began to soften. Then the shape began to collapse. The boy held up a mass of molten metal. He was trembling.
"Good. Now kill the flames and hold it till it cools." The boy managed that and even kept his footing. Exhaustion wrote lines on his face. Richerd marked down another notation in the data slate.
A tall figure wearing a white robe walked through the dark halls of the Schola Psychia. Behind here were two faceless stormtroopers wearing Inquisition black. They followed the Inquisitor to the room. "Wait here," the inquisitor said in a piping. mechanical voice. They obeyed. The inquisitor walked in.
The room was not spartan like the rest of the facility. The office was large, richly carpeted, and lighted by glow globes hovered on suspensors. A cudbear hide rug was strewn in front of the marble desk. The cogitator's holoprojector was plated in gold and the chairs were richly upholstered mechanicals that conformed to the body's shape for maximum comfort.
The inquisitor strode forward. There were two people of interest in the room. The magister of the Schola sat behind the desk wearing a cassock of dark silk lined with fur. His beard was trimmed neat and short and his augmentic eye was studded with tiny rubies. A boy in a dark uniform stood near him. He was handsome enough and fit, his skin pallor than its usual olive colouring.
"This is the candidate?" the inquisitor rasped.
"Yes," replied the magister. He touched a control on his desk. The holoprojector cast runes and glyphs into the air. "You can see why we contacted you."
"Yes," said the inquisitor. She threw back her hood. He hair was blond, with dark streaks. From the nose up she was a handsome woman. Her lower jaw and throat were augmentic prosthetics of glimmering brass. Her voice sounded like it came through a metal pipe because that was exactly how it worked.
"You were right to notify us." She turned to the boy. She could sense that he was frightened, but only because she was a telepath. The boy had spent the last few years living a life filled with fear and isolation. It had not broken him. Many psykers were damaged by the traumas associated with being collected by the Black Ships. Some of them healed. Some did not. Lesser psykers could be put to use serving the Administorium or the Imperial Guard, but the Inquisition had no use for damaged goods.
"Come with me boy. Your future awaits."
"What is it that distinguishes an Inquisitor from the other servants of the Lord of Mankind?" the instructor thundered to the class. Several hands shot up and then a moment later several more. The instructor, a heavy set man with full white hair and beard, picked a student. "Jase," he thundered.
"An inquisitor has the power of life and death over entire worlds."
"Wrong!" the instructor thundered. "These are powers shared by the Admirals of the Fleet, the Lords Militant, and Space Marine Commanders. Phila!"
The girl responded immediately. "The power to act and enforce judgments without recourse to imperial law."
"Wrong! Space Marines and the Officio Assassinorum also employ their abilities outside the normal frameworks of Imperial law. Jolan!"
The lithe teenager responded. "An inquisitor has full knowledge of the threats against the Imperium and bears the burden of informed choice."
"Correct! The Commissariat can kill out of hand as they see fit. The Adeptus Arbites can take extreme measures to restore order. The Assassinorum can kill or destroy as they see fit in order to accomplish their mission. The Lord Admirals can burn planets if militarily necessary."
"Only inquisitors see the larger picture. Only know the full extent of the threats to the Imperium and take responsibility for it. Personal responsibility. Not military necessity, not the dictates of law, personal judgment. Most of you here will not become full inquisitors. Most of you will serve the inquisition in a variety of ways because your knowledge, your perceptions, and your judgment aren't good enough."
"Willingness to kill, even on a planetary scale, does not distinguish an inquisitor from the rest of the Emperor's servants. I can find commissars, Astartes, Sororitas, generals, admirals, and Arbitrators who can do that. It is a necessary condition, not a sufficient one. An inquisitor needs to know when to burn a heretic's nest from orbit and when to send thousands of Imperial Guardsmen to their deaths to capture valuable evidence and information. An inquisitor must know when to send thousands to their deaths now in order to prevent the deaths of billions in a hundred years. The job is not simple. It is not easy. Mistakes will be made. An inquisitor must make good judgments, must not be broken by his mistakes, and see clearly the impact of their choices on the future of the Imperium. And they must make the right choice, regardless of the cost."
The withered crone sat as still as death as the boy stared at the cards. Then her lips moved. "Touch them," she commanded. "Stroke them. Familiarize yourself to them."
The boy hesitated and then reached out. He stroked the cards. Several of them shivered as the displays changed showing different images. "Good, good. They are attuning themselves to you. Yes. Time flows differently in the warp. If flows fast and slow and bends. Through this you may catch glimpses of the future."
The boy nodded. "Pick up the card that represents you." The boy reached down and touched a card, hesitated, and then picked up another. It was the Magister, a tall robed man with a book in one hand and a staff in the other, attended by floating cherub.
"Good. Good. Now concentrate on the card. Let me mind flow free and see what surrounds it. " The boy frowned and stared at the card. Nothing happened. And then the world fell away.
He saw the crone's soul, a dark and terrible blaze that shown through her flesh. Currents of power flowed around him and he saw his own soul glowing through his own all to mortal flesh. Energy swirled around him, responding to his will and desires. The power had always come when he desired, but now he was seeing it for the first time.
He gasped as it faded. The crone smiled. "Now you know the true nature of what you will face."
Jolan Gix looked at the laspistol. He was supposed to be practicing weapon maintenance, but his curiosity had pushed this to the fore. Independent thought had been ruthlessly crushed at the Schola Psychia and here thought and questioning was permitted. Up to a point. Applied in the approved direction.
This wasn't. But he had to know. He had seen spirits in the warp and he knew this ancient and honoured weapon had one. But he had sensed nothing from it. But that was from casual contact. Now he would look into the warp, as he had with the tarot cards. The world fell away.
He saw the other students working at their benches, blunt and talented alike. He saw the instructors, blunt as they were. He saw the raw energy of the warp. He felt the traces of the emotions of guns previous users. But the gun had no more life than the bench.
That shouldn't be. Perhaps he was not skilled enough to sense the gun's spirit. Or perhaps their was no spirit. There was a way to find out. Jolan began go through the rituals of maintenance, leaving out everything that did not treat the gun like it was just a complicated tool. As if it possessed no more life than a fishing net.
Instructors wandered around salle's floor, watching their students. A dozen different styles were in use in widely varying match up. Sword and dagger against heavy hammer, longsword against axe, sword and buckler verses staff, and other combinations. The training weapons would deliver injuries no more serious than bruises to the students, the instructors would deliver expulsion to the incompetent.
It was not enough for an inquisitor to master his chosen weapons. He or she must be familiar with the use of all weapons. A hammer blow smashed a cadet to the floor. The other cadet hesitated. The instructor struck her with his electrified prod. "Finish him," he ordered.
The cadet brought the training weapon down on the cadet's chest and then again on his helmet. The cadet quivered. "Good," said the instructor. "Find another opponent." He squatted next to the downed student.
The student silently rolled around to his hands and knees. He carefully got up. The instructor took off the student's helmet. "You can proceed,' said the instructor with a look of distaste. This one was on the lower end of the proficiency scale, by Inquisition standards.
"Instructor, request permission for another hammer match up."
Students didn't make such requests. "Why?"
"My skills are obviously lacking. I need further practice."
"Granted student Gix. Halthor! Match up over here." The instructor stood back to watch Gix get pounded again. But he did better this time.
The teenager put down the gun he was firing, striped out the power core, put it on safety, and returned it to the racks. The instructor registered the score transmitted by the range auspexes and grunted. By standards less demanding than the inquisition, it would be considered good shooting. "Try again," the instructor ordered. The teenager looked up. The rest of the students had switched over to slug throwers. "Again with the las," the scarred veteran repeated. "Do better." The las was the easiest of weapons. The student wouldn't move on until he demonstrated adequate proficiency with it.
A golden cherub hovered through the door. The servitor brain recognized the range master. "Student Jolan Gix is required in Magister Venox's office," it's artificial voice repeated.
The former stormtrooper turned to the teenager. "You heard it. Get moving. "
Jolan Gix followed the gilded machine down the halls and up the lifts to the magister's office. The armoured tower provided excellence in both scenery and protection. They were also accessible to students, while being extremely inconvenient for them to reach. The heavy door slid open and Gix entered into a surprisingly spartan room.
Almost everything was matte black. The desk, the walls, the bookshelves, the cogitator, the chairs, and the carpet all were black. The magister wore robes of white silk, shot through with threads of gold. His face was smooth an barely touched by age or injury. He extended one slim, pale hand studded with jeweled rings. "Sit down," he commanded.
Gix did so. There was a moment of silence and then the magister spoke again. "Do you know why you are here?"
The safe thing to do was to say nothing. That was contrary to what the school said you were supposed to do, but he wouldn't be here if that was the truth. But he there was another way of playing it. "It's about my paper," Gix replied.
"Yes," said Magister Venox. "Most unusual. Somewhat . . . radical in its conclusions."
"It is the most effective way of handling the situation."
"But not the orthodox way."
"With respect magister, the proposed situation is unlikely barring a long term warp incident and even in that case my solution is still the most effective one. Using the Jilnoy, the minor heretics, against the followers of the Ruinous Powers and then bringing them back into the fold."
"Instead of crushing them both?" the magister queried.
"The Imperium's troops can be put to better use elsewhere. The Jilnoy heretics can be dealt with without using such heavy handed methods. The Officio Assassinorium, Ecclesiarchy preachers, and few other agents would be a more effective way of going about it. But you know that. You've read my paper."
"I have. Most students your age do not think of such methods, being more enamored with brute force and zealous efforts. You will be transferred to a more advanced academic program. That is all."
"Yes magister," Jolan turned and began to leave.
"And Jolan? Keep up the weapon practice. You're scores are just above borderline. Dead prodigies accomplish nothing."
Jolan swept up the remains of his stew with a hunk of bread. The food in the refectory was simple fare, but good by the standards of institution cooking. "Throne," said a cheerful voice a few meters away. "Look at those heffers. Damn if the girls here aren't prime cuts." The owner of the voice sat down opposite of him. "Mind if I join you?"
Of course, he already had. "Suite yourself," Jolan shrugged. They were about the same age, although the other had about fifteen centimeters on Jolan's unimpressive one-eighty and at least thirty kilos on him as well. He was big, blond, smiling and put together like he could throttle a bull. "You're new."
"Yep. Just transferred from the Schola. They saw my worth. The teaching schedule is insane. They sure keep us busy."
"Newts like yourself don't have free time. That's something you get later. Then you have some control over how much time to practice, how much to study, and so forth as long as you score well. It's a privilege."
"Newt huh? I guess that's what they call the new boys." He reached across the table and grabbed a piece of bread from Jolan's tray.
Gix had been waiting for something like this. A lot of the new ones liked to establish themselves by bullying students already here into subservience. Everyone one here was a Schola orphan or a virtual orphan by way of the Black Ships. Only the best were selected. The meek never made it into the gates of this particular school.
Jolan grabbed his thumb and twisted. Big boy dropped his bread and gasped. "I'm not prey, dumbshit. I'm the one who has been trained here for years. I've passed the culls. No, don't try using the Power, I'll crush you like a gnat."
"Take a look around. There aren't any fat kids or kids afraid of their own shadows. The timid don't make it here. Conditioning of body and mind is the rule and you just made it. You don't have weight to throw around and even if you did, no one here would back down. You're used to being the big fish, well you just graduated from the pond to the lake. Fuck with me again and I'll put you in the Sanitorium. Understood?"
"Good. Now if you're hungry, go ahead and grab more food." Big boy blinked. "Yes, there isn't a food limit. They know a bruiser like you needs more than me. Just make sure whatever mass you put on is useful."
The lock tore itself apart with a screech like it was being tortured by daemons from the warp. Daemons might have left less of a mess. Jolan telekinetically lifted the pieces up and placed them in the garbage. Enough of that for tonight.
"I see you still have that fine touch," Harad said behind him. Jolan turned to his friend.
"To the unenlightened it may appear that I was shredding a lock, but the the enlightened I was merely practicing lock picking, 'the ork way'."
Harad snickered. He was taller, darker, and more heavily built than his friend. "You're not going to climb to the top of the class with that performance."
"I thought you had exclusive claim on that position."
"I don't know about that," another voice purred. Saratta stepped into the room and Jolan's eyes followed her. "Some would think that I might have a chance."
Harad smiled back at her. "You're good, but you're not that good."
The raven haired woman smiled. She was pale, but not unhealthy looking. She had an infectious, mischievous smile. "Are you sure?"
Harad smiled easily. "Very sure." It was a joke, but also the truth. Everything came easily to the big man. History, technosorcerous arts, hand to hand, ranged weapons, his own psychic abilities, his social skills, everything. That he was the top of his group was an accepted fact.
"Why do you put up with him?" she asked Jolan, half teasingly.
"Because, like you, I don't care. No one here isn't a top performer. We compete and are graded on the minutest fractions of competency and the even the worst is merely "quite skilled." Harad doesn't care, because although he has rivals in each class, he's unquestionably the best overall. You don't care, because you are sublimely confident in your own abilities to carry you through. I don't care, because this is meaningless. Here we learn, hone our skills, and pass. Everything else doesn't matter. Once we graduate, then it matters. More than anything else in the galaxy."
"So says the swift mind of Jolan Gix," teased Saratta.
"It's half the reason you're attracted to me," Gix replied. He swept forward, grabbed her around the waist and spun her around. He kissed her on the lips and she responded.
"How come if I'm the best, you get the girl," complained Harad.
"Poor lonely Harad," Saratta mocked. "I seem to recall a certain young woman strutting past you earlier this morning, in a posture one could call suggestive."
Harad smiled. "Yeah. That wasn't bad."
"As for why you don't get me, tell him why Jolan."
"Easy. You always get everything you want, but that doesn't work here. Every male and female is used to being the leader of the pack. So you expect them to fall into your arms, like everything else. But they aren't prizes and you won't do the work. Of course, that cuts both ways."
Harad smiled. "Well, I'll let you to lovebirds enjoy the rest of your free time." He turned and left.
Saratta kissed Jolan again. "Convenient of them to give us usable time for some prolonged. . uh. . consultation."
Jolan smiled back. "It's deliberate. Emotional association and management. Aggression is channelled into hatred of the enemies of the Imperium. Lust, which adolescents have plenty of, can only be consummated by earning enough unsupervised time by getting high enough scores. Despair is molded into fatalistic faith. Ambition is sculpted into serving the Imperium instead of the selfish desires of the individual. It's another training program, just subtler than the rest."
"You're talking too much," she said and kissed him hungrily.
The students stood nervously in the hall. They didn't know why they had been called down for. All of them had been in training for years. Speculation was rampant. They stood alone or in their cliques discussing rumours and speculation.
"I'm sure they are announcing some kind of graduation exercise," said Harad. "One more test to go and I will be enshrined as number one." Vanya coughed. Harad punched him lightly on the arm. Jolan Gix said nothing.
A man unknown to them strode out to the podium. He wore a robe of heavy samite, shot through with gold. A rope of gold was tied around his waist. A sword and a bolt pistol hung from gleaming black scabbards. His hair was black and his face was marred by scars that Jolan could see even from here. Two servo skull floated near him.
His voice carried even without augmentation. With it he thundered. "You are students no longer," he shouted. "You are now interrogators in the service of the Holy Inquisition!" The student body stirred uncertainly.
He continued. "This is not a case for celebration. You have been trained, and you will continue to be trained. One by one, you will get your field assignments, as we see fit. And there, many of you will die. Some of you are unfit and will either die or be reassigned to another part of the inquisition. Some of you will turn out be unready and will serve as interrogators for an extended period of time. Some of you will be merely unlucky and will die horribly. And a few of you will be both worthy and lucky. After even more training and field experience, you will become Inquisitors."
"This is not the Schola Progium. How well you score in your classes here does not determine your future. It only influences your first assignment and when you get one. All of this training and expense is only to prepare you for what really matters, the service of the Emperor. In his Holy Service, we shall separate the great from those that have great scores. All of this has been to prepare you for the most important Schola of all, working in His Service. For The Emperor!"
"The Emperor!" the class roared back.
"Dismissed. Celebrate your good fortune. The Imperium has spent a fortune training you. Now you may prove your worthiness as I know you ache to do. Tonight is yours! Tomorrow you will pick up a burden you will never put down. Go now and celebrate: Tomorrow is the beginning!"
The deceptively mild looking man rose from his chair and smiled. "Kyra! What brings you out here?"
The woman chuckled. She was of age with her friend and looked it. Both of them had dark hair with a few streaks of grey. The start of crow's feet marked the skin around her eyes. Unlike her friend's heavy brocade robes, she wore an armoured black body glove and equipment harness. The body underneath was obviously in good condition. "The usual, unfortunately," she said as she strode forward and hugged her friend.
"Finished with young Maladar already?"
She smiled. "He became a full inquisitor three years ago and has gone his own way for about a year."
"So you are here for reinforcements," he said. "What took you so long?" he sat back in his chair and gestured to a waiting chair. Inquisitor Neven sat down.
"Busy. I grabbed two Sanctioned Psykers from a Necromundian regiment to make up the shortfall, but one of them is dead and the other isn't strong enough for our work."
"Hot lead?" he asked.
"Mobile target. It's a funny story. It was one of the loose ends from Maladar's last investigation. He kept jumping system and leaving messes behind. I must have had a dozen junior inquisitors trailing my wake, cleaning up the damage. Anyway, I put out a call and Maladar of all people managed to intercept him."
"I'll have to get the full story sometime. Tonight over dinner?"
Kyra smiled. "Agreed."
"Good. Now let's see. You want a bright young thing. Higher end intellectual abilities, mentally flexible, and a combat psyker."
"Got it one. I must have done this before."
"Funny. I have just the one for you." He passed a data slate across the desk.
"Hmm. Not the brightest bulb in the class."
"Have faith in someone besides the Emperor and your former students. He's bright and he's smart enough to hide any radical sympathies from our more puritanical instructors. Not that he's really more than a particularly pragmatic Almathean. But his real recommendations are that he is not only a strong psyker, but he has the best understanding of all the students of what field work will be like. He's been preparing himself with an eye for that for years."
"Oh, I can see that he's good. High scores in his classes, but mediocre hand to hand and marksmanship scores. Gamma rated psyker."
"And climbing. And dedicated. A thinker. And a phenomenally talented combat psyker. Fast, strong, steady. An eye for weakness."
"Sounds good. I think I should meet this Jolan Gix."
Jolan Gix waited outside Magister Venox's office for permission to enter. The servitor in front of him was silent. It was a beautiful piece, a serenely beautiful naked woman cast in silver. Then she spoke. Even that was perfect. Deep, but not quite husky. Serious and alluring, but not quite seductive. "You may enter," it said.
Jolan touched a control and the matte black door slid open. Inside the magister waited at his desk. With him was a handsome woman much older than she appeared. Her long, dark hair was gathered in a single braid and was lightly touched by silver. She wore an armoured black body suit, which added to her air of severity. A weapon harness was worn over her armour and some of the most powerful and terrible products of the Imperial technology hung from that harness. Jolan made a quick calculation and then spoke. 'Inquisitors, how may I be of service?"
Magister Venox smiled at the woman and then turned back to Jolan. "Interrogator Gix, I have the pleasure of introducing Inquisitor Kira Neven."
"The Inquisitor Neven of the Radstadt Incident?"
She smiled. It looked good on her. "The same. I am here needing to recruit some psychic muscle. Someone who can directly confront the servants of the Arch Enemy and defeat them in battle. Of the recently graduated interrogators, who would you advise me to choose?"
A test, Jolan thought. His eyes narrowed. Might as well play along. "You are obviously considering me. As for the others, I can tell you that Harad Garvansson is your best alternate choice. He's the strongest and most versatile. But he thinks because the Black Ships toughened him up and didn't break him, that he can handle what field work entails. Everyone here survived the Black Ships intact. He thinks because he has always triumphed easily, he always will. He is unprepared for the realities of work in the field, no matter how good his scores on paper."
"No one else is clearly superior to me in the psychic arena. Several are a little stronger or have a more diverse array of talents, but I am steadier than they are. They also don't have my aptitude for psychic confrontations. They may joke that I am a hammer, but a hammer is what you are looking for. I am who you need for this kind of work. No other graduate is as comfortable wielding psychic energies as I am. You want a combat psyker, I am your best choice."
Inquisitor Neven raised an eyebrow. "Steadiest?" she asked.
"I've known for years that an Inquisitor usually dies in the field and I have accepted it. I don't worry about it. I know that the horrors that await are beyond my comprehension. I don't worry about that. Someday, they will kill me. In order to advance the Imperium, I can't worry about that. I just have to focus on destroying them utterly."
"Interesting. You're right about the horrors you will face will be beyond your ability to conceive of them. No one who hasn't faced them can truly know what it means to face the Ruinous Powers. You've addressed the present, but what about the future?"
"Let me face the enemy first. Let me crush them and learn what they are and their methods firsthand. Then I will have enough knowledge to start planning for the future."
"Welcome to my service Interrogator Jolan Gix. Together we shall see the future and set about securing the Emperor's Dream."
The ship was a small tramp freighter, capable of landing on a planet and cruising into the warp. It was something a free trader or rich noble might own. Or an inquisitor.
The outside was thickly armoured and encrusted with gargoyles and purity seals. It resembled a barnacle encased whale. The inside was business like, well maintained, and clean. Until you reached the crew quarters.
These were luxuriously appointed. Thick carpets from a dozen civilized worlds. Elaborate brass fitting on the lamps and pic screens. Fur hides from Catachia. Sophisticated technics from Necromundia. Food and liquors from all over the Imperium. These were displayed in goblets and on plates of Vitrian glass, on a table of Vitrian glass, covered in an Iltherian table cloth, hovering without legs on Necromundian suspensors.
But the men and women who sat around the table were not the normal members of high society. Inquisitor Neven had thrown on a fur lined red silk robe so she at least could pass for one. She went clockwise around the rectangular table, introducing each one.
She pointed to a meek, shaven headed woman in clean overall. "Melissandra, formerly Sanctioned Psyker of the Necromundian Spiders. The tall drink of water next to her is Calidan Vils, bounty hunter and free lance enforcer. Gerran Balmish is our Navigator and that grim unsmiling man is our pilot Ziv Caldain, formerly a bomber flight leader with the Imperial Navy. That leaves Yvarine Recket, former member of several criminal gangs, former soldier of the Imperial Guard, and enforcer for the Three Systems Mining Consortium, which you've never heard of, at the edge of the Halo stars. Bella was a concubine and an assassin for a cult called the Tears of the Emperor. All of you, this is Interrogator Jolan Gix. Jolan, these are my people and they are now yours as well."
Gix nodded to them. Kyra continued. "Gix was one of the best combat psykers of his class and he got the usual training of budding inquisitors. I am sure I don't have to go into detail about that. Jolan, each and every member of my staff does his or her job to the standards which the inquisition sets. I suggest that you get to know them and appreciate them as I do. Now, what's the soup course?"
Jolan picked up a slug thrower and examined it. Compact, high calibre, large magazine, probably high rate of fire. He examined a magazine stored near it. Large, pistol type bullets. Close quarters weapon. He put it back and reached for a longer barrelled weapon.
"Getting a feel for the armoury?" said a voice behind him. He turned to see Calidan Vils standing in the doorway. "Yes," responded Jolan. "Nice selection of weapons here and I haven't even gotten to the exotics."
"That there is. Usually don't need them. Las and slug weapons handle most problems just fine and most of the rest can be handled with a knife or a sap. Still, it's nice to know you've got the backup when you need it."
"Hmm," said Jolan as he searched through the handguns. He selected two and walked over to the range. He flicked on the warning light, activated the holotargets, and put on goggles and sound blockers. Vils followed him.
Jolan raised the slug thrower and fired. The target was set at twenty meters. Jolan emptied the magazine into the target's torso. He set it for a new tally and raised the las. He quickly emptied the power cell into the target's head and chest. He switched off the firing warning and activated the display. He took off the safety equipment and looked.
Every shot had hit. The torso of the target had been peppered, with a noticeable concentration of hits closer to the center. The las shots were in a tighter cluster. "Not bad," said Calidan. "Especially with that bitch," he said, gesturing to the slug thrower.
It was a 10mm automatic that fired a high velocity round. It performed quite well against armour, especially with specialty AP ammunition. Jolan hadn't missed with a single shot with either weapon. It wasn't anything to boast of by the standards he had been trained with. The better shots in his class would have gone for head shots with stubber and gotten them. Jolan shrugged. "It'll get the job done."
Vils gave him a wintery smile. "Look my friend, it's nice to know that you can shoot and all that but you've got big shoes to fill. You've never done field work and Maladar may have been a son of an ork, but he carried the weight of three people easy. So, until you prove yourself, we're going to watch you like a hawk."
"I know," said Gix. "I won't tell you not to worry. To you I am an unproven element that you're going to have to go into a dangerous situation with. But don't let it interfere with your job. I will carry my end. Make sure you carry yours."
The Navy officer turned back to them. "So up to here, everything was normal. And then we opened this hatch and well, we kicked it up to you after getting a good look. Brace yourselves. It isn't pretty." The young lieutenant spun the wheel, unlocking the hatch. With a grunt he pulled it open.
Yvarine stepped through first. The stocky veteran cautiously advanced, a shotcannon held in his hands. Melissandra twittered nervously in her armoured overall. Kyra stepped through confidently. "Come on," she said.
Jolan took a deep breath. This was his first investigation. He wore a stark black uniform with an Inquisition insignia. He was armed with the combat blade, stubber, and laspistol he had previously selected. He stepped through the threshold.
It was bad, but his nose had already told him that. Corpses were sprawled through the room and the floor was crusty with dried blood. The bodies were torn, as if by wild animals. Underneath the gore, some of them wore the recognizable remnants of crew uniform's. Jolan looked around. "No sign of weapons."
"Correct," said Recket. "Whoever did this took their weapons. The crew's I mean."
"No," said Jolan. "These wounds weren't caused by weapons or even genestealer claws. They tore each other apart."
"Correct," said Inquisitor Neven.
"Score one for the rookie," said Yvarine. Melissandra fluttered at the edge of the room.
"Now," continued Kyra, "what caused these men and women to fall on each others with their bare hands? Not one of them even tried to use a weapon, not even a wrench. Even frenzon doesn't cause this. I believe we have quite a job in front of us."
Auspexes hummed as they swept the derelict freighter. A squad of heavily armed Naval Security troopers accompanied them, along with a team of technical specialists. Inquisitor Neven personally oversaw the work of the Adeptus Mechanicus trained personnel. Every nook and cranny, every alcove and niche, was searched and scanned. Jolan observed the whole process. The inquisitor was going about the task using her preferred methods, but Jolan could tell that they weren't going to produce any results. At least, any results that she would want.
The scan came up empty. So did the physical search. The next step was to bring in even more team members and to begin to tear the ship apart. It was now or never. Jolan stepped towards his superior. "Inquisitor, might I have a word with you?"
She raised her eyebrow. "Of course," she replied and stepped away from the group. Jolan followed her.
"It isn't my intention to criticize your methods or undermine your authority, but I don't feel that this particular method of searching will be productive in this case."
Her face was almost impassive. A man who was less observant would have missed the slight upward twitch of her lips or the momentarily widening of her eyes. Combined with the rest of her body language, it meant that she wasn't displeased. Unless she was skilled enough to send such subtle and deliberately misleading signals. A Callidus Assassin was that good. A senior inquisitor . . . . could very well be that good. "What alternate method do you suggest, Interrogator Gix?"
"Psychic sweep, inquisitor. With no detectable chemical residue, some kind of psychic or warp activity is the most likely cause of this. . . . aberration. We should scry for traces."
"I concur. Melissandra is somewhat skilled in that area. Your own file mentions that you are not completely untalented in that area. Conduct the seance as you see fit."
Jolan sat down cross-legged next to the slaughter scene. Melissandra was nervously laying down cards from the Imperial Tarot down on the deck. She was fidgeting. She didn't read the Tarot, but arranging the cards helped settle her for her visions. She rubbed her hands together and sat down, looking everywhere but at the slaughter across the room.
Power began to spill from the psyker as she tapped into the warp. Jolan extended his perceptions and slipped into the stream with Melissandra. Time did not flow the same way in the warp and traces of events remained imprinted their for those who could find them.
Violent currents buffeted the psyker's souls as Melissandra swam back through the currents towards the past. A pulsing core awaited them, undoubtedly the event itself. Melissandra hesitated at the periphery of the dark event. A massive current suddenly pushed out, washing over both psykers.
They saw a bloody crewman chasing a wounded man into the room. The attacker was caked in gore, his hands twisted into talons. He fell on the wounded man, tearing and ripping at him. The wounded man struck at him with his fists and feet, but the other seemed insensitive to the blows. Other gore streaked crewmen followed in. They surrounded the wounded man and tore him apart with their bare hands.
Then they turned on each other. They bit and clawed and chewed, fighting like wild beasts. They fought on after being mortally wounded, falling only their hearts stopped beating the last bit of blood out their bodies. The winner lasted only moments longer than his last victim. As he fell, a shiny glass marble fell out of his pocket and rolled into a pool of gore. It dissolved, as did the vision.
Jolan blinked and looked around. Melissandra had gotten up. Her fingers curled like cat's claws and madness blazed in her eyes.
The psyker lunged, hands outstretched. Jolan instinctively lashed out with a telekinetic blast. Blue light flashed as he batted Melissandra to the floor. Jolan sprang to his feet as Melissandra flipped back onto her feet. He struck again, but she deflected the blast in a flash of power. Tarot cards fluttered into the air in the aftermath of the clash.
Jolan struck her hard in the solar plexus. She should've dropped. Melissandra was unfazed and gripped his upper arms. Jolan broke her grasp before she tore chunks of flesh out of his arms. He fell back, fending off a rake aimed at his eyes and twisting to avoid a groin strike.
Recket smashed her in the back of the head with his las carbine. The psyker staggered and turned on the Guard veteran. He butt stroked her in the midriff and she folded momentarily. And then she straightened and tore at his groin. Recket back peddled frantically and reversed his grip on his weapon.
Jolan put a las pulse into her left shoulder and another into her right lung. She coughed up blood, but kept coming, her left arm still striking forward to grip the barrel of Yvarine's carbine. Her other hand crawled at his visor. Jolan shot her point blank at the base of the spine and her legs collapsed under her.
Yvarine kneed her in the face, knocking her back freeing himself from her grip. The enforcer backed away and raised his weapon. Jolan raised his hand as he took a step back. Green fire erupted around Melissandra. She did not burn. A blue glue outlined her body as waves of heat emanated from her blazing body.
Then the glow faded in a flash. Her body was reduced to a blackened mannequin in an instant. She fell to the ground, dead.
Calidan dropped a strongbox on the desk and backed away. "I guess these are the culprits. They don't seem to be active at the moment."
Jolan approached the box. "They are psychoactive. A soul, like yours," he said looking at Calidan, "provides the spark that activates it. It then acts as a conductor to a warp entity. It exposes the user to being influenced and eventual possession. It probably begins with projecting feelings of power, confidence, or ecstasy. The warp entity gains more power over the user as he uses the bauble more and more."
"The one that was used must have been connected to a daemon of Khorne, or something similar. It was almost able to manifest fully. When Melissandra and I chased it's trail back, it was able to take her. She wasn't strong enough to resist."
Kyra nodded. "Excellent work, interrogator. It stands to reason that these were to be sold as luxury items to the wealthy and powerful. Someone got greedy and tried one, with the results we see here. Disposal of these will be easy. The real question is where did these come from?"
"The Eye," muttered Calidan.
"Probably," said Kyra. "But how do they get into the hands of these free traders? And how many more of them are out there?"
Calidan Vils sprayed autopistol fire into the room and ducked back behind the doorway. "Proximus," he yelled in Cryptia, the secret language of Inquisitor Nevan as he bounced a grenade back into the room. Two seconds latter it exploded, sending shrapnel through the doorway. Jolan Gix, crouching on the other side of the doorway, went low. He snapped las bolts into the room.
Vils went high, going for suppression fire. Two dead men lay on the floor as Vils put rounds into the opposite doorway. "Via!" yelled Gix as he fired into the doorway. Vils leaped to Gix's side and they both ran down the corridor.
There was trouble ahead. The men at the bar had heard the gunfire of the deal going sour in the back room. The huge barkeep, a heavy g worlder just small enough not be classified as an Ogryn, whipped a combat shotgun out from beneath the bar. The big weapon looked like a child's toy in his hands. A bouncer at the door had drawn a handgun and another had ducked into a booth on the opposite side. Something metallic glinted in his hands.
Vils didn't hesitate. He placed a burst in the bartender's head. The hollow points blew out the back of his skull. The bounty hunter was moving even as the bartender fell. Rounds cracked around him, but failed to connect.
Gix charged ahead, firing at the shooter in the booth. Las bolts drove the shooter back into cover as Vils fired at the bouncer in the door. The bounty hunter missed and dived into a booth to reload as wild return fire struck around him.
Gix burned open the man in the booth's skull at point blank range. He turned and raised the stubber in his left hand and fired at back the way he had came to discourage pursuit. Ragged return fire answered him. A slug took him in the chest and he hissed in pain as it impacted on his armour.
The bouncer at the door fired on him. Several bullets missed, one took him in the shoulder. Gix pulsed las bolts back and advanced as he fired blindly at their pursuers with his off hand. One bolt struck the bouncer on his right forearm, burning through to the bone and blasting it open as the water in his tissues exploded into steam. The bouncer screamed and dropped the gun. Gix shot him twice in the torso and then in the head as he advanced on the door. The stubber in his other hand clicked noisily as the interrogator pulled the trigger on an empty magazine.
Bullets flew back at the interrogator. One struck him in the chest, causing him to grunt. One took him in the right thigh and Gix nearly fell as blood streamed from the wound. He fired las bolts back as Calidan Vil chucked another grenade at their attackers and hosed the area with autofire. The bounty hunter darted across the room and towards the exit.
Gix covered him. Calidan hurtled another grenade and reloaded. Then he saw Jolan's wound. "Emperor's Teeth," he swore. "Can you run?"
Jolan grimaced. "No, but I won't have to. Give me a grenade." The bounty hunter tossed him one. The psyker activated it and it zipped like a hornet straight towards their attackers and detonated. "Another." Jolan ordered. Vils complied. It went the same place as the first one. "I think I can make it now."
"Yeah, but lets try to make good time," said the bounty hunter. "And for the record, you were right about the passwords. I think they might have been wrong.'
"You think you might have been wrong?"
"Well, they were criminals. The passwords could have been right and they just decided it would be easier to kill us and take the money."
Articulated arms closed around the crime lord. Some scanned him, others injected drugs. Others burned, or bored, or manipulated nerves. He screamed. He screamed and screamed and screamed. Answers spewed from his lips, a froth of truths, half-truths, lies, and speculations. Cogitators in the room relayed those answers and matched them against other information. Matches were made, lies detected, paths of inquiry noted. The machine projected the data directly into the interrogator's brain using an display based on power armour autosenses.
The interrogator continued. Lies were punished with even more agony. Drug levels were adjusted. Question were reasked. New ones were whispered. New tool arms curled into position. New torments applied. Flesh was rent and senses distorted. The interrogator pressed on.
The victim was trapped in a timeless hell. His own sense of identity was lost as it was peeled from him with the ruthlessness of a spider. The interrogator pressed on, the cogitators recorded and processed new answers. Finally, the body failed under the stress. He was revived and left hanging for another session. He would need to recover some of his strength. Jolan Gix left the room.
The interrogator slid curled his toes on the fur carpet. He wore a heavy brocade robe lined with mink and his skin was still wet from the shower. It felt good to be removed from the claustrophobic nightmare of the interrogation cell. Across the room, Kyra waited. She was wearing a loose maroon robe. A regicide board sat on the table before her. "Join me," she said.
Jolan sat down opposite of her. "A hard session," she continued. "How did it go?"
"It was productive. We have a good list to begin. A lot of points match up."
"Good," she said as she made her opening move. "It's also good that you switched methods of investigation when your first one wasn't working."
Jolan shrugged and made his move. "You don't like torture much, do you?" she asked.
"I'm good at it," he responded. "It doesn't matter if I like it. It matters if I do it when it's appropriate and if it gets results."
Kyra smiled. "True." She made another move. "It's been . . . .what about a year?"
"Thirteen months," Jolan replied. "As you well know." He studied the board.
"You've shown your mettle in that time. You've made mistakes, but those are important to make. The real test is how you react to those mistakes. Some think they need to become tougher, more ruthless."
"I'm ruthless enough," he replied. He moved a piece forward. It wasn't a traditional counter. Kyra eyed the board carefully.
"Yes, you are. You didn't respond to challenges with bravado, but with cunning. You didn't try to become tougher, but better." She moved a different piece.
He looked at her. She looked her student straight in the eye. "Do you know who does this job well, Jolan Gix? Do you know who should do this job?"
"You seem to have the answer."
"So do you. I want to hear yours."
"No one is good enough at this job."
Kyra smiled. "That's right. No one is good enough. Not even the Emperor is good enough. You've seen the real histories. You've seen all the warnings that there was something wrong with the Primarchs. And did he act well? If he was an inquisitor and not the Emperor would you say he handled the situation well?"
Jolan's jaw worked. He was silent. "No," he finally replied.
"Yes. We do an impossible job. A job that must be done. We err. We fail. We flail around blindly way out of our depth. And hope we do the job well enough that it makes the difference. To truly be an inquisitor, one must understand how inadequate you are to the task. But the task must be done and if an inquisitor is inadequate, how much worse will anyone else be? So we must do it."
Jolan's jaw clenched. "The implications-"
"Yes," she replied. "It takes a while for most inquisitors to figure this out, let alone to be ready for this, but you are. The highest duty of an inquisitor is to purge the unworthy from our ranks. The brutal thugs that think all problems are nails and that the solution to everything is a hammer. Those who lose sight of the goal in search of the means to accomplish it. Those who are rigidly doctrinaire and who will not bend, not matter how much will be accomplished. The spiritual deviates who have bent too far and are loyaler to esoteric philosophies and strange plans than the Imperium itself. Those who have been corrupted by power so that they believe what is good for them is good for the Imperium. These are among the most serious threats the Imperium faces. And thus you know the Inquisition's most carefully kept secret. We war against ourselves."
"I suspected as much. Not that it was this bad, but in Schola the expected answer was always the right answer. Sometimes that meant being rigidly doctrinaire, sometimes that meant being flexible. And you had to know when to be which."
"Yes. The war happens at all levels, although few understand it to actually be a war. Most don't perceive enough of it to really see it as anything other than a series of philosophical debates that occasionally lead to heresy. But you do, Jolan."
"Why tell me now?"
"Because I have seen you are ready to hear it. I've trained seventeen interrogators of which eleven have become inquisitors. I've had this talk with six of them. You'll make seven. Including yourself, four live."
"You're part of a faction."
"In a way," she replied. "And you have been a part of a faction since you came to Schola. But the question remains, are you an ignorant pawn or a regent?"
The giant strode through the vast hall, impervious to the sights before him. Although he was not Astartes, he could easily be mistaken for one such was his stature. A burgundy robe pocked with burn holes shrouded oil slick black powered armour. The armour was not that on the Astartes, but marked with the gold seals of the Inquisition.
The grand hall was strewn with bodies. Some shredded by bolter fire, others crushed, blasted open, incinerated, or blasted open by las fire. There were hundreds of them. Many had died at the inquisitor's hand.
The black armoured storm troopers that stood at the gilded door let two humans enter. Kyra Neven and Jolan Gix entered, long coats swirling over armoured body gloves. The stench of day old corpses did not appear to faze Inquisitor Neven. Interrogator Gix seemed to slip from olive coloured to green.
The massive inquisitor removed his helmet, revealing the horror that was his face. Both inquisitors started at the sight. Ravaged, cicatrice covered skin was stretched over his skull. Gold sutures held seams together. Cold, unfeeling eyes peered from the mask of his face.
"Kyra, it is a pleasure to see you again," the inquisitor said in a smooth baritone.
"Maladar, this is my new interrogator Jolan Gix." She gestured at the room. "Heavy handed as always."
"It works. But I encountered something interesting. I need your expertise."
"You've peaked my curiosity."
"I've left the scene undisturbed so not to taint your inquiry."
"Other than the massacre and the rotting."
Massive shoulders shrugged. "Just because you prefer to sneak around first and massacre second, doesn't mean I have to do it that way." The huge man strode to a single body. He pulled the cowl away. A tattoo was revealed. "Recognize this?"
Kyra knelt. "Yes, that's it. After all these years, he was here."
"I thought so. How do you wish to proceed?"
"You always made a good beater. I'll be waiting when you flush the game."
"There is history between you and this cult magos," said Jolan.
Kyra was silent for a moment. "There is a kind of fear you do not know. It is the fear of blunt confronted by a psyker strong enough to discard you like a toy. He killed my team and tossed me down a lift shaft. It took two years and the best augmentics from Mars for me to recover from the damage. His cult has popped up on several far scattered worlds, always found after he has left and the damage has been done. Since that day I have always carried Hexagrammic wards and made sure that I have a powerful psyker on my staff. You're my insurance against that ever happening again."
"My chief student before you. And my psychic shield and sword before you. His appearance, that is something new but his brutality and directness are the same old Maladar."
"And where does he fall on your list?"
"One who is an asset. He realizes there are other valid methods. He just sticks with the ones he likes."
The troopers hit the room firing. The ragged band of cultists took cover behind the gallery's pillars and returned fire with sluggers and autoguns. Imperial fire teams leapfrogged forward, firing as they came. Cultists fell, spilling blood on the floor as their bodies were blown open. Behind the soldiers of the Imperium came Kyra Neven and her retinue.
Yvarine Recket wielded a heavy caliber, drum fed autogun. He sprayed pillars with heavy fire, blasting chunks out of them and covering the Imperial advance. Vils stalked near him, pulsing las bolts across the long hall. To exit the hall and reach the starport pad beyond, the cultists would have to break cover. And then they would be Vils's meat.
A pulsing mist coalesced in the center of the room. It was a mix of softly glowing lime and cyan clouds. It drifted towards the Imperials. It enveloped one man and he stood blinking, oblivious to his surroundings. A burst of gun fire tore open his face and he fell.
The cloud shimmered and halted. Swirling bands of cobalt light surrounded the cloud, binding it in place. Jolan Gix bared his teeth. "I can't hold this for ever!"
Kyra ran up the side of the gallery with the speed of a championship sprinter, her coat trailing behind her. Recket followed behind her, autogun barking. Bullets flew around them, one splattering itself on her ceramite breastplate.
The long barrelled bolt pistol in her hand blew open the chest of a cultist and drove two others back into cover. A cultist partially emerged from behind the pillar and a burst from her bolt pistol severed his right arm just below the shoulder. He fell screaming. She could see Keranor before her, shrouded by a haze of pastel colours.
She ejected the clip and reached for one of the clips of psyk out rounds. A huge bearded man lunged at her from the behind a nearby pillar, knocking the bolter out of her hand and carrying her to the floor. He had forty centimeters and at least fifty kilos on her and was on top to boot.
She threw him off and sprung to her feet. She didn't bother reaching for her powerblade. The giant was regaining his feet. She shattered his jaw with her fist, crushed his sternum with a second blow, and stove in the left side of his chest with a finishing kick before he hit the ground.
She scooped up her bolter and caught a bright flash out of the corner of her eye. She straightened to see Kerandar surrounded by jade flames. The swirling pastel haze contracted under the pressure of the the hellish flames. She fired. The psyk out rounds blew open the magos' chest in a spray of blood, bone, and viscera. A split second latter and he was burning. It seemed that Jolan Gix could do more than hold.
Maladar walked past through the perimeter of armed guards around the courthouse. They acknowledged his authority and let him through the edifice of Imperial law and authority. A junior Arbites showed him down long, dark staircases illuminated by holo torches. In these ancient and inaccessible precincts, he found Kyra Neven.
The inquisitor turned and smiled. "Maladar, good to see you."
Maladar nodded. "I heard you got him."
Kyra smiled. "Yes. He was-" she was interrupted by a door sliding open. Jolan Gix walked through, his coat splattered with blood. His posture was firm, resolute. Kyra continued, "barely able to hold off interrogator Gix. I can't say if he would have won the fight, because I shot him before it was over."
Maladar's gaze drifted over the interrogator. He had seemed unspectacular when he had first seen him, without the power and presence that Maladar always found with inquisitors and those interrogators who made the cut. But to fight Kerandar was no easy task and here he stood, a meek and obedient subordinate. With blood all over him.
"Jolan?" Kyra asked.
"He won't give anything up under pain so far. I think he's been conditioned. So I've got the machine dosing him. With some suggestibility drugs in his system, he might give something up after being sufficiently disorientated and confused. And if that doesn't work, we can take him apart in full view of the other prisoner. We do it messy and slow enough, his own fears might break him."
"Good," replied Kyra.
"Pity about Kerandar," Jolan said. "I would have liked to plumb his secrets. But at least he is no longer a problem."
A watcher. One who gathers information before striking. Maladar had mistaken Jolan's ability to fade into the background as docility. This one preferred to strike from shadows, the cunning plan to the direct assault. But he did not shirk from a fight, according to Calidan Vils.
Maladar turned his awful gaze upon the young interrogator. Gix's posture signaled submission, a signal that was unmistakable to a trained inquisitor. But his gaze was firm. No coward here. Let us see what time makes of Jolan Gix.
Jolan arced through the air, twisting and turning for ten meters, before he hit the water. He shot down through the pools depths, kicking towards the surface. A few powerful strokes took him to the side of the pool. He pulled himself out with a single surge.
"Nice," said Calidan Vils. He tossed the interrogator a towel. The bounty hunter was lounging on a chair, with bottles of three different kinds of alcohol beside him. The sunlight coming through the armoured glass made the pool house oppressively warm, but Jolan liked the heat. Sometimes he felt that he had spent most of his life being cold. The cells under the governor's palace, the Black Ship, and the Schola had been cool at best and frozen at worst.
Jolan shrugged. "Lots of gymnastic training. I didn't have a bruiser's build, so my training emphasized speed and agility." And a lot of intense weight training, because the instructors had no use for scrawny weaklings of any kind. Life and death struggle was a given for an inquisitor's life and the Schola had done its best to prepare its student for that reality. "I have to say-"
A beeping interrupted him. It was the com sitting by his chair. Jolan strode over to it and picked it up. Kyra's voice came through. "Iron Lady covets Pupil."
He hadn't mastered Cryptia yet. Kyra used it a lot to as a means of encouragement. "Pupil via Iron Lady. Time suspended, the holding of breath."
He walked out of the pool house down the long carpeted corridors to his quarters. He changed out of his swimming trunks and into heavy weave trousers and tunic. He slipped on a pair of comfortable shoes and headed towards the stairs to the sanctum.
His hand print and a secondary code opened the armoured door to him. The series of secret rooms contain Kyra's most secure secrets. The holo table in front of him displayed a vast network of stars floating in mid air. Glowing red and green lines formed tangled paths of connections.
"You've been working on the pattern," he said. Kyra looked up. She wore on her usual armoured body gloves. She would be willing to wear the most revealing fashions or the grubbiest coveralls if necessary, but her preference was for business like functional garb. Jolan followed her lead in such matters.
She looked up at him and said nothing. Jolan switched to Cryptia. "Iron Lady stalks the web." She nodded. And pointed to a star. Then she spoke in High Gothic. "An intersection of routes. Not only our ship, but that of another. And the trail of a chaos cult exterminated by Maladar last year."
"A recently reclaimed world," said Jolan consulting the data displayed on the tables matte finish. "Wasn't it cleansed?"
"Yes, but the inquisitor assigned to the planet died in the taking of its capital. Arbites and Guard gave the capital a thorough screening and their have been no additional incidents."
"That we know of."
"Yes, and the Inquisition has been busy with real problems in this sector."
"Too much work, too few men. So we caught it. I take it we are going to investigate."
"Yes. And one other matter. You are no longer Pupil. You have established yourself as something besides a student. It should have been done earlier, Infernas, but it is done now. We will burn out the Emperor's foes together."