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."