The Bright Sojourner Mission

The Bright Sojourner Mission

Prologue

The Imperium of Man is vast and its enemies innumerable. No one man – not even the Holy Emperor himself – can alone defeat all of them. That is why every member of the Inquisition, no matter how lowly, must record their findings, so that when they fall, as we shall all one day fall in His service, others may take up the fight forewarned and forearmed.

Lord Inquisitor Anton Zerbe, Tyrantine Cabal

Location: Hab Deck 4; Bright Sojourner, Imperial Navy; realspace 2.62 light minutes from Scintilla; Calixis Sector

I stab my finger at the transmit button of the vox-caster terminal and the machine spirit squeals static at me, protesting my disrespectful handling. After a moment of chastisement, the spirit accepts my supplications and the screen image begins to resolve into the face of an adept. The bald man is a functionary, attending his station, manning one of hundreds of data slate terminals in the Bastion Serpentis, home of the Tyrantine Cabal of the Imperial Inquisition. I don’t know him, have probably never met him, but I can see he is surprised by my sudden appearance upon his screen.

“Who are you?” he asks.

“I am an Acolyte,” I inform him. “I must speak with the Lord Inquisitor!”

I watch and wait as the machine spirit faithfully carries my voice through the colds of space, the electoo transmission taking over five minutes to make its way back and forth between us. While I wait the man stares back at me, waiting to hear my voice.

“The Lord Inquisitor receives audience in the audience chamber,” answers the adept in an officious tone. “I do not pass messages for him.”

I work the terminal with my right hand while I rub two tarot cards between the fingers of my left; the Throne and the Fortress Inquisitas.  With the time lag in the transmissions I do not have time for this man’s bureaucratic attitude.

“Lord Inquisitor Anton Zerbe is currently standing seven metres behind your left shoulder,” I tell the peon, placing the full weight of my authority into my voice. “Stand up from your terminal now and bring him to me!”

Unable to conceal his surprise, the adept looks over his shoulder and back at me. Then he stands and walks from view. After a short wait he returns with another man, a powerful figure sheathed in magnificent golden armour, every centimeter of the metallic surface worked with intricate filigree. The Lord Inquisitor. He sits and his golden masked face peers at me through the vox-caster screen. A long moment of silence stretches, made almost unbearable by the time-lag.

“Leonidas Tarot?” says the Lord Inquisitor at last, recognizing my face. “I should have known. So few would have the strength to locate me so unerringly.”

“I apologise for my unorthodox approach, my Lord,” I say and I silently pray that the machine spirit lets me speak long enough to get past the pleasantries to the meat of my message. “I must make my report!”

“Where are you Tarot?”

“On the Bright Sojourner, my Lord; about twelve hours from Scintilla.”

“Well why not wait until you are here?” begins the Lord Inquisitor, but he stops. For a moment he peers at the screen more closely and although he is masked, I know he is noticing the blood running down the side of my face; his tone changes. “Make your report Acolyte Tarot.”

“My Lord, my mission to Cyrus Vulpa was a success,” I recite from memory. The wording is exact, from the introductory summary of my written report. “The feared daemonic sacrifices were in fact only the work of a serial murderer acting out of burgeoning personal insanities. I determined that no daemonic influence was involved and I delivered the suspect over to the Arbites for execution!”

I watch the impassive mask as my words move seemingly slowly through the vast distance between us.

“You should have executed the man yourself, Leonidas,” he chides me. “Let none doubt the Inquisition has the power to act for itself, even when it need not!”

“A sound instruction my Lord,” I agree. “But the Arbites had requested the honour of conducting the execution and I allowed it to them, under my oversight!”

“Encouraging zeal and currying favour with potential underlings,” he muses, understanding my actions from a different perspective. “I approve. But what then of this cast? Why do you seek me out via the machine?”

“I was attacked a short time ago by the senior navigator of the Bright Sojourner.” I look over the floor to the navigator’s dead body lying on the floor. The corpse’s head is twisted almost completely backwards from its broken neck. Even with that injury I’d had to choke the life from his body and the flesh around his windpipe is purple with ugly bruises.

“The man showed gross mutation, Lord, in the form of a second mouth, on the palm of his left hand!”

Gross mutation is an important indicator. Daemonically influenced humans can hide amongst the righteous for years, but once their bodies show gross mutation, an obvious transformation in their flesh, then they cannot hide for long. The dead navigator’s second mouth points to only one of two conclusions. Either he has carried this mutation for some time, in which case every member of his crew is suspect, since they must have noticed it; or this mutation has only just occurred recently, induced by an unknown factor, which would mean a chaos presence on board the Bright Sojourner. Either way, as an acolyte of the Inquisition and a member of the Ordo Malleus, it is my duty to investigate and purge.

The Lord Inquisitor is still puzzled. “Well this is some cause for concern, but I assume the man is dead, so I still do not see the purpose of this call. You have my full blessing to purge the crew of all taint! Hold the ship in orbit and I will see that reliable arbites are sent to you!”

“There is one more thing my Lord,” I say and I draw a deep breath. “As the man died he uttered two words, a name.”

“What name?”

“Miriael Sabathiel,” I say. There is the time lag and then the Lord Inquisitor starts back from the screen, as if the words themselves have slapped him in the face. He looks to the adept still standing by, dutifully waiting to retake his station. The poor man’s life is now forfeit. The Lord Inquisitor sends him away and as his image leaves the screen I wonder if he knows that I have just doomed him.

“Are you sure?” asks the Lord Inquisitor.

“He called upon her,” I tell my master. “Like the prayer of one who expects their prayers to be answered.”

There is another long moment of silence.

“There is a team of Grey Knights in the Lathes at this moment,” he tells me at last. “I will summon them back immediately.”

“That will be weeks my Lord.”

“I know. In the meantime, do your duty and may the Emperor preserve you.”

I nod my head to accept my Lord’s benediction. I am ready to disconnect our communication when Anton Zerbe says one more thing I do not expect.

“You have done what must be done, telling me this,” he says and there is gentleness to his tone I have never heard before. “But this name is execriss, Leonidas. To communicate it over a vox like this is a violation of Inquisitorial instruction.”

“I know my Lord and, should I live, I will accept the appropriate castigation.”

“I hope to oversee that castigation, Leonidas. I have come to value your service.”

In the cold, detached relationships of the Inquisition this is high praise indeed. The Lord Inquisitor has all but declared that he looks upon me as a son. The screen fades as he cuts the connections and I stand from the terminal to return to my duties. Something is happening on the Bright Sojourner and for the sake of humanity’s continued existence, I must make sure it ceases!

Chapter 1

Self-denial and indulgence; rage and tranquility; vanity and humility; all these are signs of corruption. Test everyone, be suspicious of every motive, question every action. You are the Inquisition – you may not rest upon assumptions. The Imperium depends upon your certainty. You must dig until you have found the truth. And do not fear the depths and the darkness, for no matter how deep nor dark nor foul, there is always exterminatus.

The Inquisitor’s Manual, Ordo Hereticus circa 37th Millenium

At the stern of the command deck of the Bright Sojourner is the Captain’s private quarters, at the end of a long, double width corridor. No doors lead to side rooms, only the two at the end, closed and polished to a near-mirror finished.  It is a lonely passage. My boots echo with every step and as I approach the doors I can see myself, almost perfectly reflected. Reflexively I assess the man approaching me, the man in the mirror, as I do everyone that I encounter, the habit of a life lived for the Inquisitas.

A well built man with military bearing, straight back and calm expression. He wears Imperial Guard issued boots and fatigues under a carapace breastplate and longcoat. The collar bears captain’s rank, but aside from the silver aquilla on the left shoulder pauldron, there are no unit insignia to be seen. His hair is short cropped, military style. At his belt he carries a sword and pistol, in worn but well maintained holsters. The overall impression is of an experienced officer currently between assignments; disciplined, loyal and trustworthy.

What cannot be seen is that the pistol is not a common lasgun, but a Triplex pattern assault weapon. The blade, in spite of its service sheath, is a Templar Calixis force sword, tuned to my mind’s particular para-mental abilities. Like those I hunt, I am not as I seem; at least not until one comes close enough to see my eyes.

The eyes I was born with were an unremarkable grey-blue colour, like unpolished steel, but I lost those when I was sanctioned as a teenager. In their place I have two artificial eyes with mirrored surfaces that occupy most of my eye sockets. From a distance I look as if I am wearing protective shades. Up close it is unmistakable – stare into my eyes and you will see only your own face reflected, all your attempted deceptions obvious to your own sight. It is intimidating, which proves useful in my line of work.

I assess myself for a moment in the reflection but do not look into the reflection of my eyes, because reflections of reflections go on into infinity and in that infinity I can see the forces of the immaterium, bleeding through into reality from the warp. Ducking my head to avoid eye contact with myself, I tap upon the door and open it without waiting.

After staring at myself for a time, the figure of the Bright Sojourner’s captain is a striking contrast. Clearly void born and probably having never set foot on the surface of any world, the captain is tall, thin and has skin blue-tinged and pallid. His naval dress uniform is adorned with gold braid, polished buttons and service ribbons. He sits at his desk with his peaked cap resting on the desktop beside him. Reading from a dataslate, he looks up in surprise at my entry, but does not rise. His eyes are pale and piercing, glaring out from a face distinguished by high cheekbones and a patrician nose.

“Captain,” I begin, but he does not allow me to say anymore.

“You are not announced, sir,” he says in a calm but dismissive tone. “You may leave now and no further trouble will come to you!”

The captain’s reaction is understandable, but I have trouble keeping a smile from my face. He nearly falls from his chair when I walk straight up to the desk.

“Captain, my name is Leonidas Tarot, and I must speak with you urgently.”

“I have absolutely no interest in your name sir! Now leave immediately or face confinement!”

“No, captain, you mistake me,” I say and my tone hardens. From within my coat I draw forth my seal and show it to him. “I am an acolyte of the Inquisition and I am informing you of my intention to take action upon your vessel.”

The captain stares momentarily at the symbol in my hand with its adamantine chain dangling loose. His fear is palpable, like the taste of blood in the back of one’s throat. After a moment he recovers his reserve and returns to his dataslate, affecting calm.

“What is it you require, acolyte?”

“I will be investigating an incidence of corruption amongst your crew…”

“No that really will not do!” the captain says, interrupting me for the second time. “We are already on inner system approach. My crew needs to be fully alert and focused upon their tasks. I cannot have them being distracted by random questioning!”

I have to admire the man’s aplomb. It’s a genuinely rare individual who goes on the offensive when confronted with an agent of the Inquisition. Of course the man commands an Imperial Naval supply ship, millions of tonnes of vessel with a crew in the thousands, a city unto itself in space. Such authority breeds a stiffer spine. Regardless, I am not about to put up with this man’s interference, even for a moment.

“Perhaps once we have reached orbit,” the captain is saying. “Then you may vox-cast your superiors acolyte and someone of sufficient rank can oversee your ‘action’ on my vessel.” I smile, the cold, mirthless smile of a predatory animal.

“I assure you captain I possess sufficient rank not only to investigate anything on your vessel that I wish, whenever I wish, but also to relieve you of your command and your life at this very moment. The punishments for obstructing the Inquisition are quite severe.”

The captain looks up again and a very foolish thought passes through his mind.

“You would never make it!” I tell him flatly.

“What? Never make what?”

“You would never reach the service issue bolt pistol in the second drawer of your desk before I took your head from your shoulders.”

He swallows heavily and beads of sweat begin to prick out on his face. He knows now I am a sanctioned psyker, as well as an acolyte. I watch all hope of resistance fade in his thoughts like a flower wilting in time-lapse photography.

“Let me put your mind at ease captain,” I say with a lighter tone. “I have already communicated with the Lord Inquisitor for this sector on the vox.”

“But all ship to shore requires my permission,” the captain protests, but from confusion not rebellion.

“Not for me. The Lord Inquisitor has accepted my report and has commissioned the Ordo Malleus to send Grey Knights.” If my presence has unnerved the captain, the prospect of Grey Knights visible deflates him and he slumps involuntarily in his chair. “And while I find your obstructive attitude unhelpful, I am more concerned by your response to my accusation.”

“Accusation?”

“I just told you that there is an incidence of corruption on board your vessel and you have shown neither surprise nor fear; not even curiosity. Are you not concerned for the safety of your ship and her crew? What is the duty of every loyal officer of the Imperial services?”

“Duty…uhm, duty? The duty…the duty of every officer is to serve and to obey!” The captain’s fear makes him stumble over the words, but I can see in his mind he means sincerely.

“Your duty is to obey and the Emperor’s first order is and always has been to stand against the corruption that threatens to consume all humanity! Witchcraft, heresy and mutation!” As I say these words I lean over his desk, my hands resting upon the scattered papers and auto-quill. “That is why the Inquisition is granted such immense power, captain, because of the utmost importance of this mission.”

“Of course! Of course! Whatever this corruption is, you have my utmost support in rooting it out!” the captain says in a rush. “I will give you whatever help you need.”

“I do not need your help,” I say, standing back. “I only wanted to confront you with this issue and see how you would react. Military corps are bodies that frequently rot from the head down.”

“What will you do now?”

“I will investigate and I will purge.”

As turn to leave the captain’s office I lift the seal chain over my head and pin the seal to the left front of my breastplate, over my heart, to armour it with adamant, as my recruiting Inquisitor used to say. The doors close behind me and even through the heavy metal the relief in the man’s thoughts is like a wind crying in a desert.

Chapter 2

Commanders and people of rank are frequently strong-willed and mentally guarded. When serving with or against such people watch them when they are at ease and unguarded or surprised and unready. At these moments will their minds reveal themselves to your mind and you will know best how to judge them.

Scholastia Psykana post-sanction briefing

I am not greatly concerned by the captain or what he might know. No matter what his level of involvement, he will lose his command for allowing corruption to fester on his vessel, at the very least. That is of course assuming that the Ordo Malleus knights do not just execute him out of hand.

Now that I have revealed myself to the captain I will leave my Inquisitorial seal pinned to my breastplate. I am alone on a vessel with a crew of over two thousand individuals; I must project unquestionable authority now. I have seen agents slaughtered by desperate suspects who entertained the delusion that they could ‘get away with it’. It is entirely conceivable that a dozen crewmembers might seize me and throw me out an airlock, hoping to claim I ‘had an accident’. When they see me they must see that I carry the full power of the Ordos with me.

Some in the Inquisition prefer to work this way, brandishing the seal and their authority continually before themselves like a searchlight. I do not criticize, but I disagree with their choice, for two reasons. Firstly, it announces the coming of the Inquisition so loudly that it may give heretics a chance to hide and even escape, when they see their judgment coming. Secondly, it terrifies everyone, heretic and mere criminal. I hate having my work interfered with because some panicky guardsman thinks I’ve come to stop his black market arms smuggling or to shut down his hydroponic still. Fear makes everyone with a guilty conscience jump, but I do not have time for the mundane. Daemons are my concern.

I make my way down through the corridors of the vessel, back to the hab decks and the crew quarters. On the way I pass crewmembers in the corridor. Most do not even give me a second glance, but those that do quickly spot the seal. In my mind I hear their thoughts buzz with nervousness and curiosity. I know that the word will soon spread, which will be a good thing, I hope, as it should make any co-conspirators with the dead navigator panic and break cover.

I reach the dead man’s quarters and enter. It is a small cell, with a bunk built into the wall opposite the door, a single closet and a tiny desk and chair. Above the desk is a small shelf containing a half dozen data slates and two actual books, with fabric and board bindings. I flick through the two books first, but they are merely reprints of ancient texts on astronavigation – the kinds of things that are given as gifts on a graduation day. I move on to the wardrobe and the bedding.

My preliminary search yields exactly what I expect to find, nothing incriminating. As every experienced investigator will tell you, even the dumbest heretics and mutants know better than to leave evidence of evil on display. What to look for is the thing that is out of place and soon enough I find it. As I move the pillow a screwdriver falls out. A civilian might sleep with a screwdriver for self defence, but not a member of the military who has been issued with a personal weapon. A screwdriver to hand means that you use it at hand.

Under the mattress are a series of panels, screwed in place. Using the screwdriver I unscrew the panel nearest the head and sure enough find a dataslate concealed in the space underneath. I remove it and sit with it on the end of the bed. I take a moment to brace my mind. This is the secret of a mutant, it could contain any number of heretical or even corrupting pieces of information. Girding my thoughts and remembering my sanctioning, I depress the thumb switch and the dataslate flickers to life.

It is pornography. At first the images are conventional enough, focusing on sexual nudity, but as I flick swiftly through them they rapidly become sado-masochistic in nature. Soon the images begin to depict acts of sexualized torture and finally mutilation and murder. I am not unfamiliar with images and ideas of this sort and they serve to confirm some of my suspicions. But what is missing is any direct connection to direct daemonic influence, the kind of thing that could have led to the navigator’s mutation.

I contemplate the dataslate with my inner sight and wait for revelation. Hunches and instinct are familiar to almost all of humanity. These are real things, they arrive from the nascent telepathic potential in everyone. In essence that is all that my psychic sight is, except that my hunches are as vivid as dreams and can contain as much detail as a written report. After a moment’s contemplation, the next step is obvious. Leaning close to the slate, I speak the code phrase.

“Miriael Sabathiel!”

There is a click and a card key drops from a hidden compartment in the slate’s back. It is a standard, ship issue key, without markings. There are probably more than ten thousand doors and portals on the Bright Sojourner that it might open. I try to read the key psychically, but it yields nothing useful. The key has been handled and used by hundreds of crew in its existence, coded and re-encoded innumerable times; all the psychic traces upon it are muddled and confused. This is a common enough occurrence with mass produced items. I will have to trace it the conventional way.

Leaving the navigator’s quarters I make my way to the nearest com-station I can find. An able hand sits at the station monitoring internal com traffic and plainly bored out of his brain.

“I need to locate the door which requires this key,” I tell him and at first it looks like he means to tell me to get stuffed. Then he sees the seal.

“Certainly sir, I mean my lord, I mean…,” he stammers.

“Sir is fine.”

He accepts the card and scans its ID. As his terminal lists the door location there is a momentary squeal and flicker of the display.

“Perhaps the machine Spirit disapproves of whatever this card leads to,” I say to him.

“No, it always does that,” he says reflexively. I cock my head quizzically at the young man’s irreverence, but I don’t say anything. It is not my job to enforce the Omnissiah’s teachings. Let the techpriests make him believe, ideally by making his screen function properly. Taking the location information I head down into the cargo holds, to a storage locker near the warp drives.

Chapter 3

Labyrinthine are the ways of chaos; serpentine are the bindings of heresy. Pure is the light of the Emperor, the sword that cuts through confusion.

The Bright Sojourner is a fleet light destroyer, a multi-role deep space warship. As such, it is nowhere near as large as the true imperial fleet capital ships nor the legendary battle barges of the Adeptus Astartes. Nonetheless the vessel is over half a kilometer in length and an intricate maze. Even with the directions I find myself doubling back several times as corridors end in unexpected bulkheads or equipment bays. On my third time through a large central corridor a crewman approaches me, an uncertain look on his face.

“Sir, are you lost?” he asks me. His manner is fairly calm, but his eyes stray repeatedly to the seal.

“I’m fine thank you crewman,” I tell him.

“Perhaps I can help?” he offers. “It would be an honour to help a member of the Inquisition.”

That last comment makes me suspicious and it saves my life. No one wants to help the Inquisition; everyone fears us. I begin to reach into his mind when I am all but slapped in the face with the image of what is coming. Responding by reflex I throw myself sideways and the second crewman coming up behind me misses when he fires. His autopistol shot rips into his partner’s face, dropping the man instantly. I do not wait for the assailant to recover from his surprise, but dive for a nearby side-passage, throwing myself around the corner. The gunman looks down at his partner for a moment before rushing after me.

In any form firearms are excellent weapons, with even the least having the capability of killing a human being. They do however have genuine limitations and one of the most important is that at close quarters the time it takes to bring them to bear is crucial. With this in mind I stop as soon as I round the corner and crouch, hand on the hilt of my sword. As the man turns the corner I slash the blade from its sheath, cleanly severing his gun hand just above the wrist. The dismembered part and weapon fall to the deck. Before the man can react I reverse my strike direction and the hilt of my sword crashes into the side of the man’s skull, collapsing him against the wall. With my sword kept ready and my free hand grasping the man by his uniform shirt, I look around as best I can, to see if these two have any other comrades.

There’s no one to see, but looking down the corridor I feel a chill wash through me, one of the classic phenomena that can happen when someone nearby utilizes a psychic ability. I’m looking for an attack, watching down the corridor so I don’t realize that my prisoner is the source of the phenomena until it is much too late. Looking down, I watch as black blood floods the whites of his eyes. His brain hemorrhages as I watch, but before he dies he manages to whisper a parting threat.

“She is coming.”

I know of assassins who carry poisons to prevent capture, but I’ve never heard of a self-induced psychic death. More likely he’s been killed by another psyker, somewhere on the ship. I wait to see if anything or anyone comes, but silence rules the corridors around me. The dead man stares up at me with blackened eyes while the skin of his face turns an ugly purple colour. The silence only stretches on and at last I release him, letting his corpse drop to the deck. Hoping for new leads, I quickly search the bodies but they yield no new information.

Just as I finish my search a servitor approaches and I entrust the corpses to it, with orders for the bodies to be incinerated. The mechanized humanoid picks up both bodies and I follow it some of the way to the furnaces, before turning down at last to the hold that I’m seeking.

Walking between rows of storage containers, each large enough to hold a habitation, I eventually come upon the row of storage lockers. In typical naval fashion, everything is larger than it sounds. The word locker describes a room four metres by three. Using the cardkey, I open the cell-like space to find a single capsule, two metres long, with a number of buttons at one end. It is a transport sarcophagus, designed to place a human deep sleep for long space journeys. In the very earliest eras of human space flight these were used, until warp flight was discovered. The nightmares of the warp are not something a human being should be forced to sleep through. The Inquisition has reports that among some daemonic cults the practice of deepsleeping through the warp is seen as a form of worship and a clear invitation for daemonisation.

I make a thorough check of every surface of the sarcophagus, looking for runes or incantations. I find none, but I do find a cardkey slot and I use it. There is a hiss as the lid seal cracks and the lid slides to the side on an automatic mechanism. There is the smell of plastics and preservative chemicals and a light inside the pod comes on to reveal a single occupant. It’s a dark haired woman dressed in civilian clothes. From the cut and fit, the clothes are expensive, custom tailored and attractive. With trousers and a tight top that leaves her midriff bare, it is clear she is not from a backward world – my guess is upper hive dweller, possibly even nobility. High cheekbones, clean skin and almond shaped eyes point to the money for the kind of surgery needed to make this level of perfection possible.

I am wondering what to do next when the ship’s klaxon sounds over the vox, a long siren blast that repeats three times. I wait for an announcement, but none comes. Turning back from the speaker box over the door, I see the movement in the corner of my eye just before the woman’s palm strike hammers into my jaw. It’s an excellent strike, with the full force of her arm driven upward through the heel of her hand and I stagger backwards towards the opposite wall. If she’s as well trained as that first strike indicates then I’m in trouble. I fall expecting a follow up kick or even a chokehold. Instead I find that I’m left to rub my jaw. Looking to the woman I see that she has jumped from the sarcophagus and is now on her knees, head bowed to the floor.

“What are you doing woman?” I ask, making sure to draw my pistol from its holster and keep it trained on her.

“Oh my lord,” she says in earnest. “When I struck you I didn’t know who you were. I crave your forgiveness.”

For a moment I am puzzled, then I realize; she’s seen the seal. After a moment she begins to cough and wheeze which is probably a response to the sudden awakening from the deepsleep. Keeping my weapon trained on her I move closer. Soon enough she stops coughing and hesitantly looks up at me. The two of us stare guardedly for a long, silent moment, which is broken by another sound over the vox. This one begins like the klaxon, but quickly rises in pitch and intensity until it is a scream, a continuous sound that could not be uttered from any mortal throat. The woman clutches at here ears with pain. It’s worse for me, because I can hear the warp power that backs this scream, the corrupting psychic force that washes over my mind like a wave of razor blades. I collapse to my knees and my laspistol falls from my grip. I start to retch when thankfully the sound stops, to be replaced by an androgynous voice tinged with madness.

“Twinkle twinkle, little psi. When we find you, you will die!”

Then the scream comes again. The woman screams with it, tears streaming down her face, but I cannot hear her. I struggle to get my pistol and shoot the vox, to stop the noise, but I cannot make my hand grip the butt properly. I taste blood in my mouth as the blackness rises up and I lose consciousness.

Chapter 4

Let the drums of war echo in our bootsteps,

Let the fires of war burn in our hearts,

Let the Emperor’s light shine from our gunbarrels,

And let the enemies of the Imperium die.

Imperial Guard marching song.

I never knew my parents; I was raised in a Schola Progenium orphanage. I know they were not traitors or heretics, because if they were I would have been purged with them. Raised by the sisters of the Sororitas I grew up learning to love the Emperor and the Imperium. Many of the girls in the orphanage set themselves apart from an early age to join the sisters themselves, educating themselves to be ready and willing warriors for their god. For us boys the plan was even simpler; we were all going to join the Imperial Guard. Everyday we played guardsman in the yard, our imaginary lasguns blazing away at the enemies of humanity. Xeno, heretic and traitor marine fell before us as we fought to victory after victory.

On the dormitory wall above my bed was a guard recruiting poster, you might remember it, the one with the picture of Governor-Militant Alexander standing triumphant on Kronus, with his kasrkin bodyguards. I always played a kasrkin in the yard. That poster was the closest thing I ever had to a prized possession when I was a little orphan boy. When I was twelve the sisters found me sat on my bed with a black crayon colouring out all the spaces around the figure of the three guardsmen. When they asked what I was doing I explained that I had to save the brave governor from the evil colours that wanted to take him away. At first I had only coloured a little bit, but the colours moved, so I had to black out every part.

The sisters were astute and rather than punish me, they put me aside in one of the sister’s cells and called for a member of the Ordo Hereticus. The man came the next day, the first time I met a member of the Inquisition. He dealt out cards from a deck – they were beautiful, with bright colours and gilt edging. He made me play guessing games and then he dealt out four random cards and told me to make up a story based on the pictures of those four cards. An hour later he smiled, shook my hand and left. After a small conversation in the hall, the sisters came and told me to pack my clothes. They told me I had to go away. I asked if I could take the poster with me, but they said the man from the Ordos had already taken it with him. I did as I was told and three days later was in the hold of a Black Ship orbiting my homeworld. I have never seen that planet again and do not even try to remember its name. But I do remember my fellow orphans. I hope they got to be guardsmen like they dreamed.

I spent a little under two years on the Black Ship, not a short time, but not the longest I’ve ever heard of either. Initially I sat in the hold with the others and it was strange and a bit frightening. Gradually the Ordos officers began to test our abilities in depth and classify us. Those who showed strength and promise were given menial tasks to keep occupied. I spent a year scrubbing decks and wearing a collar that was meant to lock my developing psi ability. Except that there was no open air, it was not that much different from the orphanage and so I did not mind much. Many of the older candidates came from less technological worlds than I did, for them the hold of the Black Ship was a journey into hell.

When our vessel docked at last at Holy Terra, I was already slated for sanction. It was not given to me to sacrifice my life for the Golden Throne, mingling my power with the Emperor’s. Instead I was taken away and sanctioned. On Holy Terra every psyker can feel the glow of the Throne, golden and unrelenting. Even in your sleep the massive warp beacon shines with the power of the god-emperor. This is why sanctioning must take place upon Terra. Any psyker who flinches from the power cannot be allowed to live.

I cannot say for sure how long I was sanctioned, but I know that I saw more horrifying things than I thought there could be names for. At some point it cost me my eyes. Towards the end of the process they led me around by the hand, blind as I was. The psykers who conducted the sanctioning were not soft or kind, but neither were they especially cruel. They had all experienced what I was going through. Finally I was given my new eyes and returned to the human race ready to serve. I even got to serve with a guard unit for a short while before I came to the attention of then Inquisitor Zerbe and he seconded me as an Acolyte.

—-

Sleep is darkness. I cannot see, but I know behind me is the Throne. I long to turn to it but cannot. Every night is this dream where I stand watch for humanity, staring into the darkness. I cannot see what is there, but I can feel it thirsting for my blood, hungering for my flesh. I am naked before the void and I can feel slimy things sliding over my skin, suckered mouths kiss and bite my flesh. I want to flee, but must not. I want to fight them away, but I cannot see, I have given my eyes to the Throne. In body and mind I shake with fear and disgust. Then I hear a voice; I have had this nightmare every night since I was sanctioned and for the first time something is different. The song is sweet and holy, a hymn from my childhood. And there is light, faint at first, but growing and golden. The suckers withdraw and the light bursts forth into the image of an angel, with blazing wings and a sword of flame. She sings the hymn that casts back the monsters of the void. Slowly, with all my will I turn to see her face…

I awaken looking up into the face of the woman from the sarcophagus. She has cradled my head in her lap and is singing. I sit up suddenly and she stops with a start. She looks at me uncertainly, as if frightened I might suddenly attack her.

“You were singing?” I say, rubbing at my forehead. I have a brutal headache.

“Yes,” she says. “My mother used to sing hymns to help me sleep when I had bad dreams as a child. You seemed to be having a nightmare. I didn’t know what else to do.”

“It helped, thank you.”

She looks at the deck for a moment. “I assumed it was a nightmare,” she says at last. “With your…um…eyes, it was…it was hard to tell if you were awake or asleep.”

I nod, not really listening to her. We’re still in the locker, but there’s no way to tell how long I’ve been unconscious. I check my chronometer, but the little device on my wrist has been scrambled, probably by the warp howl that knocked me out. I wonder how many ship’s systems have been similarly damaged. The machine spirit must be furious.

“Did it hurt?” asks the woman and I realize that I haven’t been listening as she speaks.

“Did what hurt?”

“When they replaced your eyes,” she explains. “Did it hurt? I see the scars at the edge of the lenses.” It’s true there are small hairline scars around my artificial eyes.

“Those aren’t from these,” I say and I tap my gloved fingers on the mirrored glass.

“What caused them?”

“Fingernails,” I say and there is a flat, hard tone to my voice. I see the shock in her face, and her voice trembles as she asks her next question.

“You clawed out your own eyes? Why?”

“Because there are moments when you have seen enough!”

Chapter 5

Fear is your servant and your tool, not your ally. Let all fear while you do not. The Inquisition is feared, it fears nothing save to fail in its duty!

We sit together in silence for a time. The woman keeps her eyes mostly to the floor, but periodically she looks to me, hoping for some guidance. I only sit with my back to the wall and wait for the pain in my head to recede.

“What’s your name?” I ask her at last.  She looks at me as if she is guilty of something. Everyone is afraid that they are guilty in the eyes of the Inquisition.

“Galeria Sabathiel,” she says. I shudder involuntarily at that name. My reflex is to scan her mind, but before I do I remember that there is a psyker somewhere on the Bright Sojourner, looking for me. Any psi use could draw their eyes.

“Why are you here?”

“I don’t know!” she says with truthful vehemence. “The last thing I can remember is leaving my home on Verity Spire to take a trip to the polar flight for the aurora festival.”

“Verity Spire? What world is that?” I ask.

“Archaos,” she answers.

“In the Drusus Marches?”

She nods. I think for a moment more. If she is a noblewoman who has been kidnapped then transporting her in stasis makes sense – a quietened mind would be much harder for a psyker to locate.

“Is my name important?” she asks me and it is clear she is thinking something through, making connections in her mind.

“Why do you ask?”

“You kept saying it while you were asleep.”

“Your name?” I ask. I see now where this is heading.

“Well, my family name,” she explains. “But not mine. It was Miriam Sabathiel or something like that. Miriael perhaps?”

I shake my head sadly. How many more people am I going to kill with that name?

“Is she a relative of mine?” Galeria presses me. “Was I kidnapped because they thought I was this other woman?”

“No,” I say with a shake of my head. “Miriael Sabathiel was a sister in the service of the Emperor; a high ranking member of the Sororitas.”

“I thought I knew my family’s history. I have never heard of her and I didn’t think any of us had joined the Sisters of Battle.”

“She lived a very long time ago and I doubt your family would wish to remember her.”

Galeria begins to ask another question when there is a scream on the other side the door. We both freeze in silence. The scream goes on for a moment and then there is another sound, a mechanical one. Anyone who has served with the Guard would know the sound immediately; it is the roar of a chainsword. The scream continues, becoming intermittent through the rise and fall of the chainsword, until at last there is only the machine noise.

“Where are we?” she whispers.

“On board a starship, the Bright Sojourner,” I explain. “We were heading for Scintilla, but I think we may have changed course recently.”

“And what is happening outside?”

“I’m not sure, but I think it’s time to find out!”

“Should I stay here?” Her voice trembles as she asks and I don’t need to be a psyker to feel the fear coming from her.

“You will be safest if you stay with me,” I reply and I curse myself inwardly for a liar. She is not safe in the least. If the horrors aboard the ship do not consume her, then I will execute her, as I am duty bound to do!

We stand and make our way to the door. I listen closely for a long time, but there is no sound other than the faint rumble of the engines, their vibrations passing through the superstructure from the stern of the ship.

“Why wouldn’t my family want to remember her?” whispers Galeria. “I know most sisters are orphans, but surely there would be no shame in a family member joining, if she felt the call.”

I cannot help a sigh as I turn to face her. Her questions are simple, honest and intended for no purpose beyond basic curiosity. But the information is execris – reserved to the Inquisition alone, upon pain of death. Strictly speaking, even I know of it only because I have special dispensation from my Lord Inquisitor.

She already knows; she will die. There seems no point in not giving her the opportunity to understand why. Besides, until I find out what these cultists wanted with her, she is a source of information I should cultivate, not ignore. With a long, weary sigh I give her a whispered summary of the life of Miriael Sabathiel.

“She was a sister and by all accounts vehement in her devotion to the Imperium. She had great success in battle and rose to a high rank, commanding a large number of her sisters – I am not completely familiar with the unit structure of the Sororitas. At any rate, during an action against a cabal of Chaos worshippers she was taken prisoner.

“These particular cultists were led, it is believed, by a truly powerful rogue psyker, who was able to contact the greatest powers of the warp. Under his direction, Miriael was alternately tortured and seduced until her devotion was corroded away, like steel under a flood of acids. In the end, without death as an escape, she turned from her faith and embraced evil. It is said she rose even more rapidly in the service of Chaos than she did the Sororitas and now she stalks the warp as a champion of dark powers.”

Galeria shivers at the thought of being related to such evil. It is good to see she has the right attitude, but that thought only makes her coming execution more disappointing.

“So is this their ship, we’re on?” she asks. “Have you come for them or me?”

“This is a fleet vessel,” I explain. “I was only hitching a ride and came upon these conspirators only when one of them attacked me.”

“So what does that mean? How can cultists be upon an Imperial vessel?”

“They have been hiding, but I think they have made themselves known now, making me think that they will try to seize control of the entire vessel, if they have not already.”

“What can we do then?”

“We must reach the captain,” I tell her. “If he is innocent, then we must get him to rally the crew against the coming mutiny. If he is guilty he will likely be the head of the conspiracy.”

“And if he is?”

“Nothing survives without its head!”

Galeria nods her acquiescence. Again I’m lying to her; I am Ordo Malleus, I know of any number of Chaos monsters that have more than one head.

Chapter 6

The locker door opens and I poke my head through, looking both ways in the corridor. In my hand I point my Triplex, making sure that the sidearm’s movement always track with my line of sight. Even in the Guard I was always taught, when in danger, your weapon should always point where you are looking; the time it takes to bring it to bear is all too often a fraction of a second too long. The corridor is empty. I step out with my sword drawn and wave to indicate that Galeria should follow me.

We move quietly down the corridor, back the way I came. Soon enough we come to a set of steps to a higher deck. Blood drips down the metal grating of every step and looking up I can see the torn remains of a mutilated corpse. Gesturing for Galeria to wait here, I move quickly up the steps to the next deck and turning see the murderer responsible. Only a few meters away is a crewman, standing with his back to me. His head is recently shaved and his uniform is drenched in blood. He turns, hearing my footsteps, and his leering face is as blood-soaked as his clothing. Beneath the crimson there are fresh wounds in his skin, cuts in the shape of daemonic runes. Whatever stealth the chaos worshippers aboard the Bright Sojourner have practiced up until now has obviously been abandoned. In the cultist’s left hand there is a chainsword and he depresses the trigger repeatedly, causing the weapon’s deadly teeth to surge menacingly.

“More meat,” he says eagerly, though it’s hard to understand him as a slash along one cheek causes his words to slur.

He charges forward and the chainsword swings in a wide, roaring arc. I intercept it with my force sword and, in spite of the motorized weapon’s power, my psi weapon is more than strong enough interrupt the teeth. The mechanism squeals and my assailant leans his weight upon it, licking his lips. He obviously thinks to break my weapon, but I am not in the least bit interested in a contest of strength with this fool. While he grins, I press the barrel of the Triplex against his sternum and fire. He drops almost immediately, the centre of his chest burned out. The blood on his uniform fizzes and pops while the scorched cloth smolders but does not catch fire.

Sheathing my pistol, I examine his corpse while behind me I hear Galeria mount the steps. She comes up behind me and I think for a moment to warn her away from the sight of the two corpses. It is a gentlemanly reflex that is not normal for me. I wonder why I should feel so protective as I glance at her over my shoulder. In her face there is confusion and uncertainty, but also calm, with no trace of disgust.

“What did you do to him?” she asks me as I continue to search the body for clues.

“I shot him,” I say. “Most of the rest of this someone else did, or he did to himself!”

“Why would he do this to himself?” Her tone is incredulous.

“To prove his devotion to the dark powers.”

“And they welcome such devotion?”

“Sometimes!”

There’s nothing of use on the body. I stand up and wipe a smear of blood from one hand on the wall. Galeria still looks over the body and I begin to wonder if she isn’t more dangerous than she looks. I am calm because I have seen this sort of thing before; I cannot be sure yet what makes her so similarly calm.

“Are those markings chaos symbols?” she asks again and finally a twitch of disgust distorts her features.

“Runes.”

“Are they safe?”

“Safe enough.” I wonder where her questions are leading. With a quick motion she crouches and snatches the chainsword by the hilt, then stands again. I watch her closely, my own blade held tense. She looks at me for a moment, perplexed.

“What?” she asks. “I need a weapon too!”

“Do you know how to wield it?”

The heavy device seems too large in her fine hand. She assuages my fear by performing a textbook field assessment, stripping the power cell and checking the alignment of the drive coil. Returning the cell, she gives the standard working test, two pulses followed by a long drive of at least three seconds.

“You’ve had training,” I observe. She nods.

“I served with our planetary defense force for two years. Everyone in my family does. My grandfather says that diligence is the only way to build the Imperium.”

A wise man her grandfather. Military experience will certainly help me here.

“So, onward and upward?” she asks.

“Yes!”

We make our way upward and forward along decks that have become eerily quiet. For a quarter of an hour we see no one and nothing that lives. It is as if a great hand has reached into the ship and snatched them all away while I was unconscious. Galeria and I exchange uncertain glances, but seldom speak. A noise behind a hatch door causes us to freeze and a servitor staggers into the corridor. It collapses to the deck and has trouble rising again. From its shoulders two mechadendrite limbs claw at the walls hopelessly.

Galeria and I approach cautiously but it is soon clear that the creature cannot see us or likely perceive us in any way. It takes a moment to understand what exactly is wrong, but soon enough I realize. Made from the merging of a human body with the devices of the machine spirit, servitors are both flesh and machine. This servitor has no more flesh; whatever has been done to it, the man upon which the machine had bestowed its blessings was gone. Without the man, the mechanism is not whole.

We leave the machine corpse twitching upon the deck, scratching and scrabbling meaninglessly, and head upward to the habitation decks, wary of what we will yet find.

Chapter 7

“War only makes death more imminent, not more likely. Everyone who is born will die, one hundred percent certain. Death is certain, whether there is war or not; so why fear war? Instead embrace war, for it will give you a chance to be useful to the Imperium as you die.”

Commissar Thrax V, addressing an unknown regiment

Using a functioning service lift Galeria and I reach the lowest hab decks and the next clear sign that Chaos is now in complete control of the Bright Sojourner. The lift door opens and something swings into view, arms flailing madly. I throw myself to one side of the lift and Galeria does likewise on the other. For a moment we watch the doorway, waiting for the assailant to enter, but nothing happens. With a quick glance I look out again and see why nothing has happened.

There is no assailant; instead there is a crewman, dancing, suspended from the ceiling like a marionette by his own long tendons, which have been drawn out from his limbs through precise cuts at every joint. He is dead, but the twisted rictus of his face says he was still alive when this was done to him. The motion of the lift’s door makes his body move and the floor beneath him is a congealed puddle of scarlet.

“He bled to death in this position,” Galeria observes and her voice has a flat affect.

“With a great deal of screaming for mercy I would imagine.”

“What can cause any being to do this to another of their own species? Of any species?”

I do not answer her question because the answer is obvious. This is Chaos. The dead man’s body is mildly interesting, mostly because the complexity of the torture speaks of control, of a measure of discipline in our enemy that makes them even more dangerous. Most Chaos cultists can hide and control their urges for a time, but once they come into full view, as the Bright Sojourner mutineers have, they tend to devolve quickly into bloodlust and wild violence. The calm, methodical evil that would be required to make this man into a flesh puppet is unusual. There is a strong will behind this action, a guiding force that will be difficult to overcome. I am thankful that the Grey Knights will be here soon. They will accomplish what I fail to.

Once a quick field exam reveals no new useful information I pause and realize that as I have been studying the body Galeria has been keeping watch down the corridor – good instincts. Holstering my pistol I reach into my coat pocket and trace my finger along worn edge of my tarot deck. I am in two minds about using my abilities on this body. The man died in such pain that almost certainly the psychic residue on his corpse will contain images of his assailants – that could tell me more of what I am up against. I still hesitate though because any psi activity will probably draw the worst kind of attention. My uncertainty is disrupted by a noise from around the corner of the corridor. Galeria and I both hear it and we move swiftly toward it.

We round the corner in time to see a door close ten metres away. With quiet steps we sneak up to it. When Galeria realizes I mean to knock on it, she takes up position on the other side. A closed door; the desire to see beyond it psychically is almost irresistible. I draw my triplex again and bang loudly three times. There is a moment of pause and then the door begins to open slowly. Nothing happens. I can feel the tarot itching in my pocket, the comforting extra sensory assistance it offers just out of reach. I feel like I am crawling in the dark looking for a dangerous animal.

Galeria and I turn our heads cautiously around the corner and see most of the empty room. I am about to order us into the room when a crewman rounds the door and opens fire on us with a bolter. The shells boom thunderously in the enclosed spaces of the ship and we both reflexively cover our ears. It is neither combat instinct nor experience that saves us both, but only the benevolent grace of the Holy Throne. The autofire burst sprays shells into the corridor, but not one of them strikes us. The crewman however is spun about by the weapons violent recoil – he is obviously not trained in its use. The last of his shots erupt explosively in his refuge, rupturing a pipe on one wall. A momentary spray of some toxic or acidic gas cascades into the crewman’s face and he falls, dead before he even hits the deck.

Thanks to the machine spirit, some automatic safety mechanism cuts off the flow of deadly liquid, but the fumes burn our eyes and noses. I rush to slam the door shut and Galeria helps me. The door slams shut and we both collapse in the corridor, eyes watering and sharp coughs nipping at our chests.

Finally we push ourselves up once again and make our way forward. For a long time we are silent. We pass blood smears upon the decks and along one corridor an endless stream of graffiti, written in ever shrinking black letters. It begins in High Gothic before descending to Low Gothic and then finishing in an unrecognizable scrawl that could be a planetary dialect I do not recognize but could just as easily be mere gibberish. Some of the words are a child’s nursery rhyme; another is part of a prayer to the Throne. There is even a recitation of standing orders for a deck flight adjutant, a fleet rank I do not recognize.

We have left the scrawl behind and are passing a data shrine with a dead servitor plugged into when Galeria finally breaks the silence.

“He thought we were there to kill him,” she says.

“Yes.”

“Poor fool.”

“No worse off than the rest of the crew,” I say. “And now that he is dead, probably better off.” It occurs to me that the Emperor’s grace that killed him and spared us may not have been bestowed upon us. In many ways, he is the fortunate one.

“Still, pretty stupid trying to use a bolt gun without training,” says Galeria. “Especially in close quarters!”

Chapter 8

The enemy of my enemy may become my ally, but when my enemy is dead I still put a bolter shell in my ‘ally’.

Inquisitor Valdus Dorian IV, Ordo Xenos

One thought on “The Bright Sojourner Mission

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