Rated M for violence and distressing themes.
Potential strong language and drug references
Ad Mech Waystation 9794
2 weeks after the Saros Station incident
The dreams of an ordinary man can be a mysterious and occasionally frightening landscape. The dreams of a madman, more so. On a desolate plain of scarred, rust-coloured rock, two figures stood side by side next to a tomb of cracked and greying marble. Together, they looked towards a glassy, red-tinted horizon obscured by a haze of smoke and windblown ash. One of the figures was hunched and misshapen; blue-skinned, horned, barely human. The other was horribly scarred across one side of his face, his ragged cheeks drawn tight in a broken-mirror smile. He was looking at something beyond the plain of smoke and ash, and what he saw amused him.
"She's coming." said the Smiler. "Tenacious, isn't she?"
In the waking world, they had thought themselves safe after they had made their jump into the warp, in complete defiance of the mechanicus defined separation zones. The etheric backlash as they had torn their way out of reality had destroyed two docking transports, and bathed Jupiter's upper atmosphere in a warp flare that would have scoured a continent clean of life on any inhabited planet. They however had survived, the Changer smiling on them right up until the point that Alicia Tarran had somehow followed them through the breach in her own commandeered fighter, riding out the ectoplasmic shockwaves and hanging tight on their tail until she had been able to ambush them as they broke back into realspace. Instead of simply reorienting themselves at the waystation and diving back into the warp, they had been forced to make an emergency docking. The five tech priests and three astropaths crewing the station had been easy pickings, but the inquisition agent pursuing them would not. No doubt she was lining up for her own docking even now.
"Why did you tell Marc we were on Marioch?" the Blue Devil snarled. His voice was the jagged screech of sandpaper dragged across metal. "Did you not think he'd pass it along to her?"
"Marc amuses me," the Smiler shrugged by way of answer. "And so does Alley."
"We have to kill her!"
"The third might not like that." said the Smiler, and his rictus grin wavered a little as he glanced towards the decaying tomb beside them.
"It's too dangerous to do anything else." the Blue Devil argued.
"Perhaps. But she can be broken first, I guarantee it. She has information we need."
The Blue Devil exhaled in a menacing hiss. "Very well. You will have your chance. But if we have the shot, I will kill her."
The Smiler gave a high, cold laugh. "You won't get the chance."
+ + + + + +
Inquisition Fortress, Holy Terra
10 weeks after Saros
For the private study of an inquisitor quartered within the vast conclave on Holy Terra itself, the room was surprisingly austere. Crenshaw knew that this was the product of preference rather than design, because there were naked hooks on the walls where fine pictures and tapestries had once hung. Only a bronze Aquila idol remained as ornament, and even that had been removed to the sill of one of the diamond-grated windows. Beyond the window were great pyrocumulus thunderheads, thrown up by Terra's cracked and bleeding plates. They lashed down at the wounded landscape outside the fortress with intermittent whips of white lightning.
The furniture in the room was purely functional - cabinets of files, a table piled high with dataslates and info-crystals, and a free standing holo-projector that was currently cycling through possible warp routes back to the Malfian sub in Calixis. A man and two women stood studying the hololith. One of the women wore simple trousers and a tunic belted with Ovigor hide, and had a stern, exotic face with a square jaw and perceptive, almond-shaped eyes. An interrogator's rosette was proudly pinned at her chest. The other woman was taller, sandy tanned, with her long hair woven into a pleat. She was dressed in simple void-crew's overalls, as if she had just transferred down in a shuttle, though she was wearing what looked like a ministorum skull-and-sunburst around her neck.
The man was tall and sparsely built, and he dressed in nondescript grey, accentuated by his thinning grey hair and the grey stubble that shadowed his hollow cheeks. His eyes too were grey, but sharp and hard, like chips of flint.
"How long did D'Lane say we had?" the man asked in a flat, gravelly voice, seemingly ignoring Crenshaw's entrance.
"He wasn't sure." answered the woman with the priest's necklace. "The Tarot indicated a month, perhaps two. Not long."
The man hissed through his teeth, still glaring intently at the hololith. "Not long, right enough. Let's hope he was also right about the tribunal reconvening soon."
"D'Lane's usually trustworthy with his predictions." offered the stern-faced interrogator.
The man's cheek twitched. "I trust the Tarot. I don't trust him. As far as I'm concerned, the fact that that psyker has a soul to channel the Tarot with is his one redeeming feature." He turned, folded his arms, and regarded Crenshaw for the first time. "No offence to present company."
The two men regarded each other for a moment. Crenshaw had heard a few things about inquisitor Feyd Lucullis - some from Machairi, some from other agents scattered about the Malfian sub, and little of it pleasant. An occasional colleague of Sidonis and his protégés, but otherwise stubbornly independent, Lucullis' insular mode of operation left a vacuum of details that had been filled with rumours of varying likelihood. Some said that he was secretly a psyker; others that he was just preternaturally good at detecting lies. Some said that he had executed thousands of heretics but never an innocent; others that he had raised a penitent into his service but declared her damnatio memoriae on her own homeworld. Some said that the steel-grey eyes that were looking at Crenshaw now were not his but those of an executed cult leader, which he had implanted so that he could observe the universe from a heretic's point of view. Others insisted that it was not the eyes he had taken from the heretic but his right hand, so that it could do good in death as it had never done in life. Others still maintained that the hand was just a clone graft he had had made, after burning the original to remove any possible taint it had contracted from once picking up a daemon weapon. If there was any surgical scar on the inquisitor's wrist, however, it was hidden by the cuff of his jacket.
Lightning flashed, and for a moment the windows on the west side of the tower blazed white. The thunder came a moment later, rolling like a distant drum.
"I know why you're here, major Crenshaw." inquisitor Lucullis said neutrally. "Alia sent you ahead to poke around the Telepathica databanks on Saros Station, and then here to try and find out what I'm going to do with her old master's agents."
Crenshaw cocked an eyebrow. That was, almost exactly, what he was here for. The Saros incident, occurring as it did so close to Holy Terra, had been subject to almost total information lockdown. Alia Machairi had only been informed about it several months into the investigations that followed the incident, and even then only because the conclave wanted to task her with something that had come to light after her former mentor's death. When she had heard that some of her former operatives were among the accused, she had panicked about the Necron chip lying dormant in agent Sonder's head and had contacted Crenshaw - the only person outside her own circle who knew about it. Luckily for her, Crenshaw had already been in the segmentum Solar, albeit dodging mechanicus reprisals after that debacle on the Ampoliros.
"I could deny that." Crenshaw said mildly, "But I feel it would be more productive to ask how you came to that conclusion."
The corners of the inquisitor's mouth twitched slightly. Crenshaw wouldn't have called it a smile, because Lucullis did not seem the sort of man who took to smiling often. The lightning flickered again, throwing long shadows across the bare walls.
“I know you’d come," Lucullis said, "Because Alia never does anything the straight and honest way. That's not a criticism mind, but it is a recognisable pattern.” He paused. "You throwing your weight around with the telepathica on Saros didn't go unnoticed, and you wouldn't have asked to see me if she hadn't put you up to it. She believes I owe her a favour, no doubt."
"Most people seem to." Crenshaw observed dryly.
The right conclusion, but the wrong deductions. the blank major thought. Lucullis had apparently guessed that Machairi wanted her agents spared, or at least given a reprieve until she arrived, but he seemed to believe that her motive was simple sentiment. Or perhaps possessiveness - Crenshaw would not have been surprised if Lucullis held the same skeptical opinion of Machairi as her long-dead rival, Schafer.
"Although for now," he continued, "I would settle for knowing what you are going to do with the accused agents."
"The trial is still ongoing, major." Lucullis replied.
"Then I would ask what you want to do with them."
"What I want to do with them doesn't really matter, major - at least not enough to swing the difference. The vote also rests with four other inquisitors, who I'm forbidden to talk to until we've finished analysing the evidence and made our separate verdicts. And before you ask, no I cannot delay the verdict until Alia arrives. Even if I could, I have business to attend to that does not involve her accused agents."
He turned back to the hololith for a second, and cancelled the display by swiping his hand back and forth through the image. It flickered and died, and the projector whirred as it ejected a data wand that Lucullis handed to his interrogator.
"Alia will have to pray that the warp tides favour her and bring her to Terra in good time." Lucullis said, his voice low and even. "I can't and won't subvert the fair justice of this tribunal on her behalf. But."
He wheeled slowly around to face Crenshaw once more.
“I do have an idea of what the conclave plans to task her with when she arrives. As such, I’ll tell you what I can do."
Crenshaw remained studiously silent, his hands clasped behind his back.
"There was another survivor from the station, who was deferred to me for sentencing two days ago." Lucullis revealed. "He has information that I suspect Alia might need in the near future."
Crenshaw's eyebrow flickered a second time as Lucullis' flint eyes switched towards the woman with the priest's necklace.
"Raeden?" the inquisitor prompted, and the sandy-skinned woman nodded once before crossing to the table and pulling a cardboard dossier out of the mess of dataslates and memory crystals. She carried it over to Crenshaw and handed it to him with another nod. Crenshaw delicately flipped the folder open with his fingertips, and spent a handful of heartbeats silently skimming the contents.
"Just let me be clear on one thing, major." Lucullis broke in. "Make sure Alia understands that if she does not have him executed at the end of the investigation, then I’ll seek her out and do it myself. This man does not deserve to live.”
Crenshaw raised his gaze. "I have to ask, inquisitor. You count a soul as a redeeming feature, but what use is a soul that belongs to a man like this?" Crenshaw had seen souls attached to some of the worst abominations man could imagine. Have you ever heard of a replicant, inquisitor?
He saw the priestess frown, while Lucullis himself gave another twitching un-smile.
"I said my astropath's soul was his redeeming feature, major. I never said it was yours," His eyes dropped to the folder in Crenshaw's hands. "Or his."
Crenshaw gave an ambiguous grunt, and flipped the dossier closed once more, looking at the name stencilled on the front of the rough paper binder. The name read Merle Carson.
+ + + + + +
Holy Terra, 3 months after Saros
The vaulted hall was made of cold, unforgiving stone; the air full of cloying incense and the whir of grav-suspensors as mechanical censor-cherubs covered in synthskin flitted between the walls. Quill skulls with golden callipers weaved between them, hovering like grinning spectres above the heads of the assembled tribunal. Dozens of inquisitors from the ordos Solar, Ixaniad and Calixis were arrayed with their attendants around the chamber, though only five formed the panel of judges. Those five sat in a wood-panel box atop a high plinth, their hands resting on the bannister rail. Golden aquila flags hung down the front of the plinth, almost brushing the floor. In a separate pulpit set below and to the right of the inquisitors, a grey-bearded confessor with a black cloak draped over his red robes sat mumbling prayers, reading from the book before him with a silver rod shaped like an accusingly-pointing finger. Lower still and directly across from the inquisitors was an armaglass dock, surrounded by a ring of guards in ceremonial plate armour. Inside the glass cage were six figures, chained to each other and to steel rings on the floor by heavy linked manacles. The six wore brown penitents' robes, their foreheads marked by crude aquilas formed from streaks of ash - a simple V for the heads, and a horizontal line beneath for the wings.
Marcus Black stood with his head bowed, his vision almost obscured by the outgrown, unwashed hair that fell into his eyes and over the ash aquila burning his forehead. He could feel three months of grease and grime smothering his face, and a straggling growth of beard itched his jawline. He stared down at his hands, and at the acid-etched hexagrams that covered his manacles. His wrists were bruised purple beneath the heavy iron cuffs. His fingernails had barely begun to grow back, the beds still raw and red beneath their simple antiseptic bandages.
Although his work in the inquisition had covered investigation and interrogation, Marc had never conducted anything beyond Second Action processing. Now he knew what it was like to be on the receiving end of the Third Action, and that was more than enough. To think that the inquisition had nine Actions that they could call upon for prisoner processing. Nine! Marc had only been witness to the higher Actions twice before: the first time, he had been too busy pulling Kally up off the waterboarding table to deal with the people responsible. The second time, after seeing the vivid recordings of what magos Brunswick had done to McKenzie, he had crushed the tech priest's larynx with his own hands - and that had been before they had discovered he was an informer for Emerald's rainbow.
On the slab himself, however, he had seldom felt anything beyond a pathetic sense of fear. They had questioned him, beaten him, then questioned him again to see if he changed his story. Eventually, subject by subject, the tortures had stopped - except for one. Every time he admitted to not knowing where Arcolin was, the hood had come down and the water had flooded his nasal passages even as he instinctively tried to close off his airway. Who knew that water could burn like fire?
Despite everything, he had been lucky. Some of his companions had been subjected to even higher Actions.
On Marc's right was Ella Seren, her own head bowed in meek surrender. A psychic null collar was fitted around the young astropath's neck, which had rendered her blind and forced one of the guards to pull her by the arm up the steps to the dock. On Marc's left was his sister Kelly; dark haired like him, empathetic, calmly rational - and, right now, shivering. Marc would have held them both, as much for his own support as for theirs, if only his hands hadn't been manacled. Kally and Vincent were seemingly a world away on Kelly's other side. Vincent was silent, the fight seemingly gone from his single baleful eye. On Ella's right, Gavin was the only one of their group who had been granted the luxury of sitting, and even then only because he had no legs to stand on. He had been manhandled up onto a hard wooden stool by the guards, where he now sat trying to curl himself up to the point that he might disappear.
A break in the confessor's droning prayers and the sudden silence that followed caused Marc to tentatively raise his eyes. Looking up at the judges' plinth, he saw that one of the inquisitors had stood up. The inquisitor was a lean, grim man in his late fifties, with a shadow of stubble darkening his ascetic face, and thin grey hair that was beginning to recede around his temples. He held an unfolded scroll in his hands and he was dressed in black, white and grey - all the colours of truth.
"The court recognises inquisitor Feyd Lucullis of the ordo Ixaniad, who speaks for this tribunal." boomed a robed adept who stood at the foot of the Aquila-draped plinth. The silver vox grille in front of his mouth sent the words echoing around the vaulted ceiling of the chamber, scattering the censor-cherubs. Marc's chest tightened, a sick lurch dropping through his stomach as his heart pounded against his throat.
"Of treason against the God Emperor," the inquisitor called Lucullis read out in a strong, toneless voice. "We find the defendants...not guilty."
Marc blinked in shock. For an awful moment, he thought that he had misheard.
"Of sedition against His holy Imperium," the inquisitor continued, his face neutral. "Not guilty."
Marc felt his shoulders sag, and he didn't particularly care who saw it.
"Of insubordination to your lord inquisitor," the inquisitor's voice rang out once more. "We absolve you."
"Ego vos absolvo." intoned the confessor sitting below the plinth, raising one hand towards the dock and marking the heads and wingtips of a holy Aquila in the air.
"Of the murder of Imperial servants, we absolve you."
"Ego vos absolvo."
"Of the theft and destruction of Imperial property, we absolve you."
"Ego vos absolvo."
"Of consorting with xenos, we absolve you."
"Ego vos absolvo."
Marc found that the inquisitor on his high plinth was blurring away from him, and he realised that he was crying. He looked left towards his sister, who was standing with her lips parted in numb shock.
"Of sheltering an enemy of the Imperium," Lucullis read out. "We do not absolve you."
In that instant Marc was pulled up short, his trembling sense of relief quashed as the hard, cold spike of fear returned.
Inquisitor Lucullis continued to look down at them expressionlessly. "Sidonis, Irons, the heretic Emerald, and the creature known as Juno are dead." he elaborated. "The heretic DeRei, however, is not. We therefore reinstate you as agents of the Emperor's inquisition and task you with the penitent duty of hunting down this heretic. When DeRei's soul is rendered to the Emperor for judgement, your own souls shall be released. You are to be put into the trust of the late Immanuel Sidonis' former acolyte, inquisitor Alia Machairi. She will oversee your penance and grant your absolution upon its completion."
Marc dared to look up once more, and saw a familiar olive-skinned face, with a blade of a nose and sharp, dark eyes, looking back at him from among the ranks of watching inquisitors.
"You are free to go." he almost didn't hear inquisitor Lucullis say.
+ + + + + +
Alia Machairi was almost as surprised by the decision as the six poor wretches in their armaglass cage. She had known that something more than the division of her late mentor's assets was afoot when she received a personal summons to Holy Terra, but she had not expected to see so many faces that she recognised. Some like De Shilo and Lucullis she knew from the ordo Calixis; others by reputation as formidable players in the segmentum Solar. Javaer, Reiker, Corbold...there were some influential names here.
It was a testament to lord Sidonis' massive political power that so many of his colleagues from the northern arm were here, even though they stood on Terra: the very heart of the imperium and the God Emperor's own soil. Indeed, the new lord inquisitor who had replaced Sidonis in the Ixaniad sector had set to breaking apart his predecessor's assets so that others couldn't accumulate the same kind of power. But if Machairi had raised an eyebrow at the names on the panel of judges, she had been shocked to find out the names of the six accused. Five of them had served with her before, several years ago when she was still aspiring to her current rank. That seemed to be the logic behind the final and greatest shock: that they were now her responsibility.
Alia Machairi hadn't gotten to where she was today by letting her discomfort show easily. Standing just over six feet in flat heels and a floor-brushing gown made of silver and blue gossamer, she turned briefly away from the six penitents towards her own retinue to weigh their reactions. Machairi had a network of contacts, informers and favours numbering in the hundreds, but her own permanent staff was small and close-knit. Dependable, grizzled Tomas Prinzel and soft-spoken Solvan Belannor had been with her from the start - the one trenchant and erudite, the other patient and eloquent, both tirelessly dutiful. Beside them was investigator Hybrida, another resourceful old hand, and it was a testament to the gravity of the situation that even he wasn't cracking jokes. Beside him was sister Sapphira in her dove-grey robe, a permanent attachment to Machairi's retinue in all but name. All of Machairi's core henchmen knew the penitents from their grueling mission together on Hercynia, but it was Sapphira's reaction that Machairi was watching most closely.
No, Machairi reminded herself, not quite most. Standing apart from the others, by choice as much as by the unsettling aura he projected, was major Martin Crenshaw. Machairi had worked with the relentless Telepathica commander many times since Hercynia, and he had been invaluable in prising information about the incident on Saros out of his own colleagues, who owned half of the station. But this was the first time that the major and Kally Sonder were back in the same room - and under the worst possible circumstances.
Machairi had called in other favours besides Crenshaw before her three-month pilgrimage to Terra. She had had a feeling that she would need their influence to sway the various warring institutions that kept humanity's cradle wrapped up in red tape. Josiah Wuziarch - a broad-featured, almond-eyed arbitrator who had been her contact to the adeptus arbites during her previous work on Marioch - was her link to the trial's evidence files. Secutor Vizkop, an old and valued ally from past days, was her link to the mechanicus.
There had been other survivors of the Saros Station incident, and some had not been involved as deeply as the six penitents. One had been trialed and sentenced a month before the others, and Machairi had pulled all the strings she could to get him remanded to her custody. Machairi had expected the new mission, even if she hadn't expected the six penitents to be a living part of it. The seventh penitent was Merle Carson, formerly in the employ of the traitor Emile Emerald. A condemned heretic twice over, Merle was still alive because of what he had seen in his former master's employ. He knew Arcolin DeRei - and perhaps he knew what the escaped heretic would do next. Machairi did not look forward to meeting him.
Gauging her agents' reactions, Machairi offered them all a silent nod. Simultaneously, the armaglass cage was opened, the warded shackles clicked apart, and the armoured guards stood back to allow the six penitents a clear path towards Machairi and her retinue.
+ + + + + +
After the verdict
Crenshaw made his way down the ribbed arches twisting away from the judgement hall, being careful to keep his stride even. Alia had been tactful in her suggestion that he should retrieve the penitents' equipment, but he was not inclined to give away how glad he was of an excuse to be elsewhere after the verdict. Kally Sonder was of course one reason. The other was the murderous look that Jenkins had been giving him as Kelly Black helped him down the steps. That the scrawny machine empath had developed a spine over the last few years was neither good nor bad in itself, but a psyker who suddenly showed no fear of his former handler was an extreme warning sign in Crenshaw's experience.
As the corridors curved away through the warren of the inquisition fortress, bringing Crenshaw past silent statues and judgemental carved skulls, he eventually found himself in the atrium of the vault levels. Alia would have sent word ahead, and so he was not surprised to see one of Lucullis' two primary agents waiting for him. It turned out to be the missionary, Raeden - conspicuous in the cargo trousers and thick-soled boots that were visible underneath her belted ministorum robe, as if she expected to be dumped outside in the Terran wastes or some other wilderness without notice. She was toying with the skull-and-starburst icon that hung round her neck as she contemplated a painting that dominated the atrium wall. The painting showed the Emperor and his winged angels at the Council of Nikaea, passing the judgement that would set ten thousand years of imperial policy.
"Suffer not the witch to live?" Crenshaw commented as he stopped next to the painting.
The priestess turned her head to acknowledge him, dropping her necklace to link her thumbs in the sign of the Aquila. "Only if they can't be saved. Good to see you again, major Crenshaw."
Crenshaw inclined his head. "Raeden."
"I'd rather not the surname." the sandy-skinned woman replied, twisting her mouth at some memory that Crenshaw was not privy to. She hitched up a slight smile, despite the nearness of Crenshaw's blank aura. "Kim or Kimmie is fine."
"Kimmie then." Crenshaw nodded, choosing the more colloquial of the two to test the veracity of her attempt at warmth. "Am I being snubbed?"
The missionary cocked her head to one side. "Excuse me?"
"I would have expected the inquisitor's second to keep his appointment. And I would have further assumed that that second would be his interrogator."
"Erdene is briefing the rest of the team for the journey back to the Malfian sub." Kim replied. Her tone was still soft, but Crenshaw could see that he had nettled her slightly. "Breathing time is something none of us get very often."
She was being vague, and Crenshaw could approve of that - after all, who knew who might be listening even in the corridors of inquisition headquarters on Holy Terra. Especially in the corridors of inquisition headquarters on Holy Terra. Still, it wasn't difficult to surmise that their mission was urgent, given Lucullis' impatience to be away the previous week.
"I will not delay you further, then." he said with the tiniest of nods, and together they turned towards the adamantium blast doors that barred the doorway. As they approached, a pair of guards in identity-stripping suits of power armour smashed the butts of their halberds against the ground. The powered blades at the tops of the weapons sparked into blue-white life, and a pair of bolter turrets mounted above the door arch ratcheted in their direction.
"Clearance." one of the faceless guards snarled through their vox grille.
"Kimberley Raeden," Kim answered for them. "Authorisation level blue, agent tag seven-two-nine-six-lambda, retrieving equipment from holding bay twenty-two eta, on behalf of inquisitor Feyd Lucullis."
The guard turned their helmeted head slightly, Kim and Crenshaw's faces reflected in its ruby eye lenses as verifications were fired back and forth through the vox net.
"Proceed." the guard said after a handful of heartbeats. "You are also clear to release subject xi two zero."
Crenshaw knew who subject xi two zero was. Of course Lucullis wouldn't officially release Merle Carson into Alia's custody until after the verdict; it would look too much like showing his hand on the judicial vote, and the grey bastard seemed to be nothing if not a stickler for the rules.
"Ave imperator." Kim nodded as the guards stepped back. The hiss of their power halberds deactivating was lost against the squealing grind of the blast doors swinging open.
"It must have been a relief." Kim said a few minutes later, her dark eyes on Crenshaw as she pressed her palm up against the gene-lock that had been temporarily programmed to accept her prints. The metal locker unbarred itself with a thud that reverberated down the long rows of storage lockers. "The verdict, I mean."
Crenshaw rubbed his tongue against one of his back teeth, and delayed his answer on the pretext of looking round for eavesdroppers. Their only companions in the aisle were a blank-faced transport servitor and a hovering servo skull. The skull had two bulbous cameras in place of eyes, but no audio recorders - designed to monitor the agents' progress inside the vault rather than to snoop on their masters' secrets.
"I have to confess a certain satisfaction that mine and Alia's time here was not wasted." Crenshaw said at last. "And what were your feelings, Kimmie?" he added, to arrest the knowing smile that was threatening to creep up the young missionary's face.
Kim nodded. "From what I read, I thought they deserved to live." she said frankly. "I knew that I was right when Lucullis decided he would vote that way. He's nothing if not impartial."
"Do you believe all sins can be forgiven?" Crenshaw probed as he pulled out the rail-loaded tray within the locker. Kally's signature bolter lay disassembled on the rack next to a bullpup lasgun and a brutal-looking Tallarn autopistol. He brushed his fingertips lightly over the stock of Kally's bolter.
Kim considered. "Almost all. Some only the emperor can judge."
She picked up a synthetic eyepiece with pict stealers and anti-psychic circuitry woven behind the lens; the false augmetic that Marc had used to complete his tech-menial disguise on Saros Station. She turned it over in her hands, looking at the device with interest.
"I haven't seen anything like this before." she said. "Who made it?"
"And what about blanks like me?" Crenshaw pressed, smiling as he ignored the change in subject. "As your lord Lucullis astutely pointed out, I have no soul for the emperor to judge. Does that then mean that I am free from morality?"
Kim put down Marc's eyepiece and frowned at him. "No. And you don't believe that either, otherwise you wouldn't be where you are right now. But for the sake of argument..."
She stepped back and allowed the transport servitor to gather up the released prisoners' equipment, using delicate metal callipers to transfer them into a set of six foam-filled briefcases.
"We leave an imprint this side of the grave too, on the people we know and the people we serve. Our duty to the Emperor extends to them as well."
Crenshaw could not be sure, but he thought that somehow Kimmie Raeden wasn't quite matching the kind of quiet assurance that father Bellanor was so good at. Either his blank aura was still unsettling her, or she didn't quite believe what she was saying. Strange, to think of a priest who wasn't certain of themselves. Especially for one of the young ones, who in Crenshaw's experience were usually the most firebrand, before the weight of the galaxy wore down their enthusiasm. Then again, on the other hand, Crenshaw had seen his fair share of overly-certain fools, across the ministorum, the inquisition and his own adeptus telepathica.
"An interesting argument." he admitted, cocking a dark eyebrow. "Especially if you were unlucky enough to serve someone like Carson." He got the put-out expression he was hunting for, as Kim realised that he was more interested in testing her than genuine debate. Knowing he would get no more valuable insight from this tack, he added, "Who I suppose we had better go and fetch."
If the vault was softly, clinically lit, then the holding cells had the aggressive brightness of a dissection theatre. They had to travel twenty levels below ground, through two more checkpoints and a crackling psyoculum gate, before they reached the level they were searching for. The rooms were soundproofed, but every now and then the crash of an opening door was accompanied by incoherent screams and pleading as a prisoner was dragged into an interrogation cell, or by a wet, muffled sobbing as they were dragged out again. Having served on the black ships Crenshaw was long inured to the sounds, though he noted his companion's pale face and taut neck muscles with interest.
"I will still be lobbying inquisitor Machairi to have Carson terminated as soon as he is turned over to our custody." he commented as they continued down the white-tiled corridor.
"I can understand that point of view." Kim replied, neutrally.
"Obviously you can not, Kimmie, otherwise you would be asking your own inquisitor to do the same. This man's continued existence is dangerous."
"Lucullis still thinks he might have some intelligence value to your lady Machairi. Grant him that chance for redemption, at least."
Crenshaw fixed her with a sceptical look. "Based on the file we have both read, I do not see much chance for redemption for Carson."
"If you'll forgive the presumption, major, is your opinion biased by the fact that he nearly killed Kally?"
Crenshaw ran his tongue along his back teeth a second time. Kally again - this was getting tiresome. And this time she was only partially correct.
"Actually no." he said, half truthfully. "In the main, my concern is for lady Machairi."
That part wasn't a lie. Beware the daemon at your back.
A door was hauled open by another guard in faceless black armour, and Kim and Crenshaw looked upon a tiny cubical cell that was nothing but bare hexagram-etched steel, spotted with rust and the occasional spatter of darker red. The only furniture was a reeking slops bucket, although the corners of the ceiling mounted black vid-recorders and contrasting white punisher sirens. The dispassionate eyes of the vid-recorders were trained on a waxy-skinned figure dressed in filthy overalls, who sat slumped against the walls with his arms wrapped around his knees. The arms were muscular, and criss-crossed with faded ganger tattoos. His square jaw was covered with scraggy salt-and-pepper stubble, the same colour and length as the hair that was receding from his weathered head. He was rubbing at a scar on his left palm when the door squealed open. Despite old scabs and the dark circles of sleep deprivation that ringed his eyes, Merle Carson somehow managed to grin as he raised his gaze to the door.
"Well shit." he smiled, his eyes flickering over Crenshaw before shifting to roam up and down Kim. "What do we have here? I don't suppose this is a threesome?"