Rated M for distressing situations, violence, and potential language and drug references.
Link to OOC
The snub-nosed shuttle lurched back into being in a violent burst of light, trailing red corposant along its 30 metre length as the last grasping fingers of warp stuff fell away and disintegrated, reluctantly releasing the ship back into realspace. The backlit glow in the eyes and mouths of Gellar-projection gargoyles along the shuttle's flanks faded, and the smaller running lights of auger sensors lit up to replace them.
Even though it had only been a short hop from their homeship at the edge of the system to the inner planets, interrogator Javid Schafer still breathed a sigh of relief. It was a tiny voyage by the standards of most warp flights, not even needing a Navigator to reliably calculate, but only a fool took any length of journey through the immaterium lightly.
Interrogator Schafer leaned forward and rested his hands on the cockpit dashboard. He was a tall, muscular man with wispy brown hair and a careworn face pulled tight by premature frown lines. He looked older than his 41 standard years, but that same weather-beaten face and the hard look in his eyes gave him an air of authority to match the inquisitorial signet on his ring finger. The rest of his uniform, simple black fatigues, matched his no-nonsense appearance perfectly.
“Are the explorators in orbit yet?” he queried his pilot as he regarded the pale blue marble of a planet that filled most of the transparisteel cockpit windows. It was winter in the northern hemisphere, and most of the visible land mass was locked in snow beneath heavy clouds.
“Not yet, sir.” the pilot replied in clipped Gothic. “They took the safe option and exited warp a little further from the atmosphere.”
“The perks of working for the inquisition.” Schafer grunted. The shuttle had dropped back into realspace somewhat inside the buffer zone laid down by planetary regulations, but it had been necessary in order to intercept the returning explorators. Lord Sidonis wanted these men debriefed by his own organisation before they took anything back to the planetary governor. “Broadcast our clearance codes to the nearest orbital defence station, and if they kick up a fuss give me the vox.”
Several of the orbitals were indeed demanding identification, lighting up the auger screens with bright hailing runes. Also blinking was the more placid contact icon of the explorator ship; further away, but still within the ring of rocks and dust that had been the planet's moon until four millenia ago when the Necron War had reduced it to gravel. Blinking within the man-made ring system was the icon of the massive grav-anchor station that kept at bay the cataclysmic climate shifts that the moon's absence would otherwise bring. The remains of the destroyed moon through which the grav-anchor floated posed a minor threat to careless navigators, but nothing like the threat of the laser defence stations that hung in low orbit. Even their auspex returns were aggressive, burning much larger and hotter than the vox satellites and spindly orbital docks that drifted around them. Schafer could see two of the defence orbitals from his cockpit, vast black star-shapes against the white planet behind. One seemed to be conducting an invasion drill; retros flaring silently to shift it into a different orbit and throw off the targeting solution of an imaginary attacker.
“I'm just glad the boss trusted me with this.” the interrogator went on, half to himself, as his pilot busied himself with transmitting their ident codes to the nearest orbital. “Alia would probably have feigned her usual nicey-nice approach, pissed off someone and got into a fight with a defence monitor.”
His pilot didn't say anything, only grinned and shook his helmeted head.
“Something funny, Clement?” Schafer asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Just that you never seem to have anything good to say about interrogator Machairi, sir.”
“Probably on account of her being a total bitch.”
Arval Clement grinned again, unoffendedly. He was a wiry, dark-skinned man with a shaved face and scalp beneath his interface helmet, and a very white smile that he flashed often. A career pilot, ten years in the Imperial Navy had left him with a calm professionalism and a tolerant view of sinful mankind - something that three further years serving the inquisition had not yet dampened. He knew both Javid Schafer and Alia Machairi, two of lord Sidonis' up-and-coming interrogators. Both were natural leaders, and two dominant personalities were bound to clash with each other.
“They've accepted our codes, sir.” he said after a moment.
“Have we got a vox link to the surface yet?” Schafer said tersely. He could have had the message sent to his agents on-world much sooner via astropath, but that would have meant having to put up with one of the witches for the duration of the trip to Venatora. And while some astropaths could be affable enough, they were prone to dissolving into babbling and paranoid fits without warning.
Clemet took his eyes off the main controls for a brief moment to glance at the comms panel. “Yes sir, we’ve got a link.”
“Tell our people already on the ground to rendezvous at the starport and wait for us to land, then hail the explorators.” Schafer paused to examine the auger returns again. “Any sign of Vizkop?”
“No sir, not on luminal or warp sensors.”
Tech-adept Vizkop was the mechanicus liaison who lord Sidonis had ordered to accompany Schafer to the meeting with the explorators. Though, being ad mech, he had decided to take his own separate transport. He must have got there before them.
“Bloody tech priests.” Schafer growled.
+ + + + + +
Thirty floors above ground level, the building's thick windows kept out the roar of the wind, although its strength was evident from the snowstorm flurrying past the glass. The apartment complex beneath the starport's number 3 landing pad was sumptuously furnished, and the best part was that it needed occupying in case the authorities came asking after Jet, an agent who was using it under an assumed identity before disappearing into deep cover in the shadier parts of the planetary capital. Marcus Black, however, was not taking advantage of the facilities. Like Jet, and the rest of lord Sidonis’ agents on Venatora, he was part of a net designed to take down a xenotech smuggler known to frequent the planet. The heretic had hit upon the novel idea of smuggling artefacts inside John Does and having his contacts pose as their next of kin, and while his sister Kelly monitored the local mortuary, Marc himself sifted through the data she and the others had collected in search of connections.
He sat with one arm hooked round the back of his chair and the other hand absently prodding a fork into the food at his elbow while he scanned the data. It scrolled slowly in front of him, projected up by the hololith built into the table. The food was a standard local dish, consisting of strips of spiced meat stuffed into a hollow, bell-shaped fruit that was bright yellow and tasted slightly sweet. It wasn’t bad, but Marc still couldn’t believe that on Venatora there was no such thing as a sandwich.
He paused for a moment in his work, turning towards the window to watch the blizzard. The anaemic sunlight outside illuminated a pallid but strong-jawed face with calculating green eyes, and dark hair cut short in the style of a hive enforcer who didn’t easily lose old habits, even after transferring out of the uniformed branch. On his desk next to the hololith and the plate of alien food was an empty tanna mug and a palmtop data slate. The PDA was open, with a message that had been uploaded to Marc as soon as it had filtered through the local astropathic choir. It was a letter from his father back on Solomon, letting him know that he was back on active duty in Decker hive now that his bionic legs had been replaced with higher-grade ones, paid for by Marc’s share of the Pembroke bounty. Marc’s father remained stilted in communication with his son, but now it was due to guilt rather than anger at a duty that he thought Marc had abandoned. It was neither of their fault - how could Marc have told his family that he hadn’t simply quit his job in the enforcers, but been recruited by the inquisition? Nevertheless, Marc was immensely relieved that his true employment was now out in the open - his father’s approval meant far more to him than he ever dared let on.
All of Marc’s family had originally served with the enforcers on Solomon, although now only his father remained there. His sister Kelly had also been drafted into lord Sidonis’ retinue, but they weren’t the only ones to have done so following the Pembroke incident. Frank, Vincent, Kally and Eugene had made it out too, and been through the same interrogations, vetting and training as Marc himself. Frank had adjusted to his new role best, and was now off on a mission with agents Brenner and Van Der Mir, while Eugene had been transferred to Task Force Carbon - Sidonis’ stormtrooper detachment. Vincent and Kally were here with him on Venatora. Vincent was the same as ever - bipolar, and unreadable right up until the split-second he chose to take action - while Kally was noticeably more bitter and withdrawn. Mind you, Marc thought ruefully, Emperor knew she had reason enough to be angry with him.
Also assigned to Marc’s data gathering team were the xenotech specialist L'Hoace; the pyrokine Shere, who despite his psyker status was probably the most upbeat member of the team; and a stormtrooper called Remus who had been assigned as security. Like Eugene, he served in Task Force Carbon under major Kadath Al-Omar.
Marc shifted his right leg slightly as he thought of the major. The scars on his thigh, though long healed, still gave him pain during cold weather. Unfortunately, it was always bloody cold on Venatora. Marc had managed to stay professional with Al-Omar after the latter had rejoined Sidonis (following the abrupt termination of service with his former employer) but Marc was not yet ready to be friendly with the man who had both shot him and played an undeniable role in the disaster on Solomon.
The strangest additions to their team were Sapphira, a Sister of the hospitaller, and the mechanicus liaison Vizkop. Of the first, Marc had wondered why a sarorita was required over a regular medicus, while the second had been attached to their team literally only hours ago. It made sense, given their recent orders to interview the returning explorators, but the team was not due to blast off from Vitaris and make the jump back to Venatora for several days.
Marc’s thoughts were interrupted by a sudden chime from his PDA. He pulled it closer, read the message, and paused for a moment before tapping the tiny vox unit built into his wrist-chronometer.
“Ordo team, this is Marc.” he said. He spoke in Venatoran low gothic, which they had all painstakingly learned before their arrival. “Schafer’s arrived early, and so have the explorators. He’s going to escort them down and wants us to meet him up on the landing pad.”
Marc clicked off the vox-caster and stood up. Beneath a plain double-breasted suit, he had the wiry physique of someone who had been specifically trained to be at the peak of physical fitness, but without appearing so to a casual observer. That was a product of his last six months training for field operations, although it hadn’t prepared him for moving from a hive on an arid desert planet to one that was currently locked in a particularly bitter winter season. He grabbed a long cashmere coat and a pair of gloves, turning on the inbuilt heating coils as he slipped them on and headed for the door.
He stepped into the sheltered waiting room overlooking the landing pad a minute or so later. The pad was a wide space ringed with flashing lights and auspex beacons, with space for several 50-metre-long orbital landers to touch down at once if necessary. Currently occupying the paint-marked landing strips were two Arvus lighters and a law-enforcement ’thopter, either having just been brought up by the hydraulic lifts or else still waiting to be lowered into the hangers below. Setting his feet apart, Marc clasped his hands and waited for the others.