Mission Improbable

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Dammerung Assault.jpg

In the wake of In Too Deep, Ash leads a mission to board the Dammerung that was currently being attacked by Word Bearer Heretic Astartes with the intention of capturing a Word Bearer officer for interrogation.

The mission was successful but took heavy casualties. Afterwards Ash was promoted to full Inquisitor.

Contents

Precruser

+++TO: All active Achernar Sector Inquisitors
+++FROM: Lord Inquisitor Sarika Yu, Aureole, Kaprun
+++SUBJECT: Escalation to threat level Vermillion

Dear Inquisitors,

You are hereby instructed to conduct immediate and extensive checks on your security protocols following a major incident on Kaprun, and the unfolding situation in the Hasmides system. Any Imperial institutions, from orbital facilities to Administratum, governmental and Inquisition facilities are potential targets. Currently it is believed the primary threat is to the Kapran sub, so those of you in the Cetan and Handrothian subs should use your judgement as to the appropriate level of response based on the timeline of incidents detailed below. It is assumed that the less relevant or distant you are to the Hasmides system, the lower the threat level for you.

SEQUENCE OF EVENTS
A deep cover Inquisition agent (name redacted) was extracted from a hab block on Hasmides. Debriefing revealed imminent planet-wide terrorist activity by many independent cells of heretics.

Kapran agents thwarted 43 of the aforementioned terrorist plots.

The nature of the individuals coordinating these cells was not possible to retrieve in the 13 day window.

Yesterday, and 03:00hrs local time, a series of 102 bombings took place at various locations across Hasmides Prime. These caused significant damage to public conveyances, power lines, and other easily accessible infrastructure. Casualties were relatively low (estimated 2,000-3,000). We now believe these attacks were primarily designed to prevent the population being able to easily evacuate urban areas. Listening Post Bravo, in the outer reaches of the Hasmides system, was also bombed and disabled.

At 05:00hrs, a transmission was widecast across the Hasmides system announcing that the newly-formed astartes chapter dubbed the 'Cobalt Scions' had arrived to quell the rebels. This was not felt to be credible given the timing.

An hour later, in the Kaprun system, several explosive devices were set off on the Aureole. Casualty estimates are still rising. Several explosive devices failed to go off, which has limited the damage.

Among the targets were the offices of the Admiralty. It is with great regret that I must inform you that Admiral Tryphosa is dead, along with many of her senior staff. Vice Admiral Ortano has been informed, and is expected to assume command of Battlefleet Achernar.

At 13:35hrs, Hasmides local time, the "Cobalt Scions" fleet arrived in high orbit over Hasmides Prime, opened fire on the docks, and launched a full-scale planetary assault. Scans sent by the orbital facilities prior to their destruction indicate various capital ships including, but not limited to, 3 astartes strike cruisers and 1 astartes battle barge bearing the livery of the XVII Astartes Legion: traitors known as the Word Bearers. If any of you have particular knowledge or expertise regarding their methods, please provide any insights you can to the Aureole at once.

The Hasmides planetary governor's last transmission was a mayday sent from his command bunker, now believed destroyed, along with the governor's palace, much of the capital, and a significant proportion of the planetary defence force's installations.

CURRENT SITUATION
Battlefleet Achernar are mobilising, but their heaviest capital ships are currently on the other side of the sector in the Handroth system combating what now appears to be a diversionary attack made by the enemy's accomplices.

The enemy's objective is unclear, as is the precise size of their ground forces, although these are believed to be extensive, and probably beyond the ability of the Achernar Sector forces to handle on the ground.

I have enacted area escalation protocols; word has been sent to Hydraphur, and reinforcements have been requested from the Eridani Sector.

Further news will be sent as and when the situation evolves.

-Yu

+++MESSAGE ENDS

Fleet Action

Ensign Josselana Brannick felt like she was about to fail a test she'd spent her entire life revising for. The test only had one question, and it concerned the maintenance of faith when confronted with mind-numbing dread.

She glanced up from her work station through the arched armourglass bridge windows. The spine of the battleship Dammerung stretched away below for eleven kilometers. Lance turrets the size of hab-stacks protruded from the heavy slabs of the belt armour. The lights in the black void beyond usually calmed her, but today, she knew that some of those distant lights were not stars, but the flaring engines of an enemy fleet. Looking back down at the flickering green icons on her cogitator screen, the enemy ships were coming about and forming up to face the oncoming Imperial fleet.

Brannick was barely twenty standard years old, and three months into her first posting. The initial joy she'd felt at being assigned to the strategium support staff aboard the newly-recommissioned Dammerung was, at this moment, curdling into doubt in her stomach. The senior officers had been tight lipped on the details, but her signals training meant she knew the signature of an astartes capital ship when she saw one, and right now she could see four.

They were coming towards her in attack formation, and they weren't alone.

As data started inloading from the ship's auspexes she went to work, flagging enemy contacts and identifying ship classes.

Drusor, the young ensign sitting next to her, leaned over and whispered, "Why would astartes attack us? Do they think us heretics?"

Brannick didn't look up from her screen as she whispered back, "Commissar Okafor is still standing over there so I'm pretty sure we'd know if we'd done wrong. Just do your job."

New scanning data on the enemy flagship came in. It looked like a modern pattern of astartes battle barge: a monstrously large ship the equal of the Dammerung. Its transponder broadcast its name as the Sigilite's Lie. The name was an accusation aimed at one of the Imperium's founding figures, and it shocked her. Signals from the smaller astartes capital ships started to come in: Lapdog, Wilful Blindness, Sanctimonious. It wasn't her place to withhold information from the command crew, so she dutifully added the names to the information populating on the great glowing hololathe in the centre of the strategium. The names blinked into existence next to the holographic ships in the enemy fleet. Captain Anwar and Admiral Ortano both frowned at the names, but no one said anything out loud.

There was something odd about the transponder codes, Brannick realised. Junk data, perhaps? Some modest digging made her feel deeply foolish. These were mock names, not the real idents buried beneath them. Blushing, Brannick set about uploading the true names: Monarchia for the flagship, Mortis Lux, Violation of Reason, and Morningstar for the strike cruisers.

Captain Anwar looked in her direction, a disapproving eyebrow raised. She wasn't sure if he expected an explanation, but she had no wish to speak out of turn and besides, she could feel that her reddened face was making no secret of her contrition. She knew Anwar was determined to impress the admiral, and that in turn meant she needed to impress Anwar. Not a good start.

Around the enemy capital ships were shoals of escorts in a profusion of patterns, some new, some old. Many showed fluctuating power signatures and other signs of careless maintenance. Some she recognised as known pirate vessels from elsewhere in the Achernar Sector, others were strangers to the Naval databanks. More alarmingly, though, a squadron of three cruisers shored up the enemy's left flank. This was a major invasion. The opposing fleets were of similar size, and every strategic treatise suggested that such engagements guaranteed heavy losses on both sides.

The admiral and the captain discussed the navy's deployment. Orders were relayed to the comms officers and sent out. She watched her screen, checking and double checking that everything had been flagged, even the Trojan, a lone destroyer bearing Inquisitorial idents. It was hanging back so far from the fight as to be irrelevant.

The fleets adjusted their formations as they approached each other. The Dammerung and the Intemperance launched squadrons of interceptors ready to fend off enemy torpedoes and attack craft.

The enemy responded in kind. Where the Imperial Navy launched whole squadrons of interceptors, the astartes launched lone gunships. They were slow, heavily-armoured things by comparison.

The deck plates jolted. Eleven kilometers away in the prow, the Dammerung's nova cannon had fired at extreme range. Brannick watched a blinking rune on the hololathe track as a projectile the size of a small warehouse flew sixty thousand kilometres in under a minute, its fuse counting down. To starboard, the cruiser Pride of Machadon did the same. When the two shells went off, the explosions were visible through the bridge windows: they appeared as two new moons that grew and faded away again. Brannick squinted against the glare.

"Report," Anwar said.

"They fell short, sir," came the reply from the gunnery officer.

Anwar pursed his lips.

"Fire again when ready. Keep targeting that battle barge."

"Our macro-cannon batteries won't get through the armour on that thing," Admiral Ortano said. "Tell Seidel and Makana to bring their squadrons' lances to bear at close quarters."

"What about the enemy gunboats?" Anwar asked. "If any of them board the frigates..."

"Indeed. Have the interceptors move into close support of the frigates, and send the bombers out to the left flank after those unprotected enemy escorts."

The fleets drew closer, and the batteries with the longest ranges started sniping at each other. Ships' void shields flared blue, but the guns gained little purchase at such distances.

Then the lines met.

Brannick's world became a non-stop barrage of information, none of which conveyed the true scale of reality. A battlefield a hundred thousand kilometres across, populated by ships with crews numbering eight thousand or more. Macro-cannon batteries operated by toiling gangs of indentured ratings fired shells the size of cargo-8s across the void. Cruisers' plasma drives screamed as they struggled to propel eight kilometers of adamantium at combat speed.

It was the largest naval engagement in the fleet's history, with a thousand personal tragedies and triumphs that Brannick knew were happening all around her, but which couldn't be conveyed by automated messages like +REACTOR OUTPUT OF FRIGATE "GARRO" NOW LESS THAN ONE PERCENT+

The Garro wasn't the only Imperial ship to be taken out of the fight. Despite the interceptors trying to protect them, frigate after frigate fired their point defence turrets in mounting desperation as gunships full of heretic astartes closed with them. The gunships weathered snaking lines of tracer fire, burned through the frigates' hulls, and quietly waited while their transhuman passengers disembarked, slaughtered their way to the reactor, disabled it, and left again. Brannick watched the fleet's compliment of armour piercing lance frigates dwindle one by one, and all the while, the enemy's hulking flagship, the Monarchia, flew straight at the Dammerung.

Despite losing over half its escort vessels, the Imperial fleet was acquitting itself well against the enemy. The three renegade traitor cruisers on the right flank had been reduced to shattered hulks, and repeated bombing runs and broadsides had put paid to the shoal of pirate ships. Better yet, two of the Astartes strike cruisers, the Mortis Lux and the Violation of Reason had been disabled, their crews evacuated to the Monarchia and the Morningstar.

Despite these losses, the Monarchia still made straight for the Imperial flagship.

"It seems they mean to pass us at close range and exchange broadsides," Admiral Ortano said.

The Monarchia and the Morningstar fired their planetary bombardment cannons at the Dammerung. Brannick watched in mounting fear as layer after layer of the void shields flared cyan, then collapsed.

Warning klaxons blared as the crew prepared to receive fire.

None came.

"What are they doing?" Captain Anwar asked, baffled.

Brannick scrutinised the readouts. The Monarchia was increasing power to its main engines, but not its manoeuvring thrusters. The Morningstar was coming about, firing its retros but not putting any power into its broadside batteries. Frantically Brannick calculated their trajectories, realised what they were doing, and found herself staring slack-jawed at the screen for a moment, then breaking with all protocol by addressing the commanders rather than passing her realisation on to her section leader.

"My lords, the Monarchia means to ram us; the other is angling for a boarding action," she called out. Anwar shot her an angry glance to silence her uninvited input. She transferred her trajectory calculations onto the hololathe for all to see.

Admiral Ortano stared at the projection with obvious dismay. He had crushed the enemy fleet for highly favourable losses, and won a great victory, but now this.

"Hard a-port," he commanded.

"It won't matter," Captain Anwar said, looking out of the windows at the rapidly approaching battle barge, now visible to the naked eye. "Their barrage slowed us down, and we haven't the turning circle to get out of the way." He activated the intercom. "All stations, this is Captain Anwar. Brace for impact, and prepare to repel boarders!"

As if, Brannick thought, one can repel boarders such as this.

To the techmagos senioris, Anwar said, "Raise the command deck void shields. We can't have them teleporting onto the bridge. And Mr Vaso," he said to the gunnery officer, "Tell the turret gunners not to fire on the ship itself, it won't do anything. They should save their shots for boarding craft and enemy personnel."

As Anwar continued to bark orders at his crew, there was little Ortano could do but watch the enemy close with them. To Brannick he seemed like a man who'd shifted from being the conductor of an orchestra to a passenger on a shuttle coming in for a crash landing. The boarding action would be decided one way or another long before the victorious Imperial fleet, scattered across the operational area in between burning hulks and debris fields, could come to the Dammerung’s aid. Rumour had it that Ortano’s original commission, in the Gothic Sector, had been stripped from him after he’d allowed his flagship to be boarded by enemy forces. She wondered if those forces had also been anti-Imperial astartes. Did they have some vendetta against him? Had he doomed them all with his very presence?

She pushed her insubordinate thoughts aside and tried to focus on populating the hololathe with information as it continued to come in from the fleet, but the thundering of boots on the deck made her look up again. Navy stormtroopers, a whole platoon of them, had entered the bridge. Their officer set about deploying her troops to repel any boarders that managed to reach the command deck. Brannick was glad she was sitting down. It helped conceal how much she was shaking. Even in these circumstances--no, particularly in these circumstances--she wanted to make a good account of herself.

"Admiral?" Captain Anwar said nervously. The tone of his voice shook Brannick further.

When Ortano replied he was clearly trying to sound calm, but his voice wavered. "Indeed, Yasir, I see them,” he said.

The Monarchia was coming in on the port side at full burn, while the strike cruiser Morningstar moved more cautiously to starboard in preparation for boarding. Brannick gripped her station and braced for the impact.

A jagged blue ellipse formed around the prow of the battle barge as it penetrated the Dammerung's shield envelope, and then it struck. The impact shuddered up the length of the ship. A number of bridge officers were thrown from their chairs despite having been braced. The lights flickered. The Monarchia had impacted just behind the Dammerung’s prow, and its own prow now began to grind down the port flank, crushing cannon housings, mangling the entrance to the launch bays, and finally lodging itself against the lance turret mounts. The two ships became locked together by inter-twisted slabs of belt armour. The distant groans of the hulls sounded like a wounded leviathan.

Ortano, recovering, switched the hololathe over to a view of the ship. Brannick quickly linked in the alarms being triggered by automated systems and by the crew. The port flank of the battleship lit up with depressurisation alerts and system failures. Moments later came the first notification of a point of enemy ingress. A small red dot on the display, just aft of the third macro cannon on the starboard side. An innocuous symbol, blinking steadily. It meant the Morningstar had already launched its boarding party. Seven kilometers away, some nameless crewman had found the nearest terminal and managed to send word in the midst of a firefight between ratings armed with shotguns, and astartes warriors in full battle plate.

The second point of ingress was the starboard flight deck. Brannick called up the vid feed from the hangar. All she could see was smoke, backlit by staccato flashes of automatic weapons fire, and the hazy silhouette of an Astartes gunship that seemed to have landed on, or possibly through, the interceptor that had been parked on the deck.

The Monarchia now launched a horde of troops. A motley collection of skiffs, gunships and assault pods swarmed across the mangled field of metal plates wedged between the two ships. Insertion points began to spread across the hololathe much like the damage alerts that had preceded them. The red dots multiplying across the flickering outline of the Dammerung looked like a fast-spreading rash on a diseased body. There were so many that any notion of centralised command dissolved. From the reports coming in, it became apparent that there were two types of boarder: fanatical humans who threw themselves with suicidal rapture at the navy personnel, and transhuman legionaries who went after specific ship systems. One by one, they were disabling power lines, manoeuvring thrusters, and weapon systems.

Garbled reports started coming in from several locations of monsters materialising to assist the invaders. Ortano and Anwar exchanged a knowing look.

Watching the situation unfold on the display with fatalistic acceptance, Ortano said, "They'll abandon this attack as soon as the rest of the fleet can come about and engage. Ensign, how long will it take for them to reach us?"

Brannick ran the numbers. "The light cruisers can be here in twenty minutes. The line ships will take thirty."

"Tell them to make haste, and--"

"Incoming transmission," announced the comms officer. "It's the Trojan." The lone destroyer, far astern. Brannick saw it had engaged its engines for the first time in the battle.

The hololathe shifted to a projection of a man wearing a wide-brimmed hat and a high collar, around which hung a rosary-pendant bearing the sigil of the Inquisition.

"Admiral, I see you took my advice to 'keep the enemy at arms reach' rather literally," the man said.

"Inquisitor, there was--"

"Is your aft dock clear?"

Ortano glanced questioningly at Brannick; she checked the pict feed. Aside from the captain's pinnace, the aft dock was empty. Brannick have Ortano a nod.

"It's clear," Ortano told the Inquisitor.

"Good. I have dispatched a boarding party led by my interrogator. I expect you to offer her your full support; we may yet turn this situation to our advantage."

"We will of course assist as best we can, Inquisitor Drake. What do you propose?"

"If we can capture one of their officers we might learn where they plan to strike next. It's a tall order, but entire worlds are in play. The chance must be taken."

It had not occurred to Brannick that an Astartes could be captured, much less beaten in combat. That the Inquisitor thought it possible was both encouraging and frightening, for if it was true, at least one thing she'd learned in school was a lie, and if one thing wasn’t true, what about the rest? What if everything she had been told was a lie?

"Ensign Brannick?"

Captain Anwar's sudden presence at her console startled her.

"Captain?"

"You've read the enemy well thus far. Do what you can to analyse the data. Talk to Lieutenant Holt in comms; see if you can pinpoint some of these enemy officers before the Inquisition team arrives, or at least give them leads. I'll do the same."

"Yes, Captain."

Anwar turned and went back to the hololathe. Drusor leaned over to her and whispered, "Nicely done."

Despite the pressure, despite the dire situation, despite the appalling cost of failure, Brannick smiled.

The Mission

Inquisitor Drake’s initial plan had been to find an isolated group of Heretic Astartes on the planet’s surface, however finding them fleeing the system, he knew boarding the Dammerung was vastly more dangerous but the only chance to find out where they were planning to strike next.

Drake wanted to lead the mission himself but he was still not fully recovered from The Rosa Effect. Ash insisted he stay behind. She took Nadiya Zelenko, Acid (wearing her mech suit Salty), Sister Airi, Padraic Larnock, Sera Jentiva, Sister du Puy and 25 Stohlbard Dragoons.

Boarding the ship they assessed the data and chose to assault a group of 10-15 Astartes (estimated) moving towards the engine room. They took with them a pair of ship’s engineers to guide them and help with any access issues.

Splitting into a main force heading down the main corridors, and a smaller flanking force led by Jentiva who moved parallel to the main force through maintenance corridors, they approached the Heretic Astartes from behind.

They engaged the rearguard and in a short but brutal firefight they lost 5 Dragoons but eliminated 9 Word Bearers. It was a hard lesson that even the potency of a close range Hellgun was relatively ineffective at combating Astartes. Plasma and Melta weapons were the only things reasonably effective against the monstrous post-humans and even then it often took multiple plasma hits to the head to chest to kill.

As they headed in on the main party they received intel on the lead elements of the group from the Naval Armsmen who were defending the Engineerium. They identified an apparent leader, as well as establishing the Word Bearers had plasma and melta weaponry of their own. As they neared the combat zone they made some quick plans based on the sensor readings.

Acid, who was the person with the data feeds, suggested that due to the disposition of the main group of contacts, a few contacts in side rooms were probably servitors and unlikely to be hostile. They also formed two small teams to infiltrate down side corridors and flank.

As the main group moved up, Acid suggested Sister Airi check the side room, since in her power armour and weilding a combi-melta she would be the most capable of surviving and eliminating any threat. In the event it did turn out that the contacts were Word Bearers. Airi killed the first with a meltagun headshot but was herself shot with a meltagun from an Astartes. The shot slagged her power pack, melted her back plate and badly injured her back.

In the main corridor the combat got very violent very quickly, including some demons summoned. Acid held the line in her mech, burning down demons but mostly being ineffective against Astartes. Sister du Puy treated Sister Airi, whilst Nadiya dealt with a plasma vent overload. As the fight progressed the Dragoons took further casualties, but the flow started to turn and the Word Bearers began to fall. As they pulled reserves in from the front lines, the flanking forces struck.

In the end nearly 20 Dragoons were taken out of action, although only 8 of them were ultimately fatal. The Word Bearers were almost entirely wiped out, the leader having been psychically subdued by Nadiya and then physically restrained and chemically sedated. Airi was stabilised, and from the ground managed to fight back and kill the Astartes who ambushed her. In the course of the mission every Agent personally killed at least one Heretic Astartes.

Aftermath

  • Despite the high cost, the mission was a success. Every Agent (except du Puy) personally eliminated at least one Heretic Astartes.
  • Drake promoted Ash to Inquisitor
  • Sister Airi decided that the loss of her back tattoo, in addition to receiving her first battle scar when she was not in armour, was a sign from the Emperor that she should leave the order.
  • Acid suffered a high level of guilt from having wrongly assessed the situation and felt it was her fault Airi was so badly injured.

Communications

+++TO: Max Drent
+++FROM: Ash Lear
+++SUBJECT: News

Maxie,

On the way back, now. Just wanted to let you know the news.

We fought heretic astartes. Like, loads of them. Twenty-something. I've never been more sure I was going to die. Airi's injured but they'll fix her. We lost eight dragoons. But we completed the mission.

Max - Drake promoted me. I'm an Inquisitor now. Never really thought I'd write those words down.

We'll be back soon. I just wanted you to hear from me, not anyone else. I'm still in shock, I think. Keep waiting for Drake to tell me it was a joke.

Love you.

Ash

+++MESSAGE ENDS


+++TO: Inquisitor Eidan Drake, Cetus Major
+++FROM: Inquisitor Hera Jovian, Kaprun
+++SUBJECT: A matter of taste
+++THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Suspicion is a weapon, and should be sharpened accordingly.

Dear Inquisitor Drake,

We don't know each other, but since we're expected to police our own, I feel professionally obligated to express my surprise that you:

1. Promoted your interrogator after only six months.

2. Promoted her despite the fact that she is a pariah.

To the first point one might raise an eyebrow but say nothing. There are some rare individuals who have achieved the same.

To the second point, I must ask if you have taken leave of your senses. How a pariah could be expected to perform the subtle duties of our calling with both hands tied behind her back is a mystery to me. Perfectly decent Imperial servants will have a natural inclination to disobey her. Over time, such rancour could even compromise the Ordos' ability to prosecute our duty in the region.

I have not petitioned Lord Inquisitor Habermann on the matter but you may expect, given the increasingly difficult circumstances in the Cetus sub, that myself and several of my colleagues are following your movements with rather more interest of late, particularly since you have yet to hand your captive over to the Kapran Inquisitors. You have enough going on in Cetus, and we have a great many highly experienced interrogators willing to lift this load from your shoulders.

Sincerely,
Jovian

+++MESSAGE ENDS


+++TO: Inquisitor Hera Jovian, Kaprun, Lord Inquisitor
+++CC: Anjaal Habermann, Hydraphur
+++FROM: Inquisitor Eidan Drake, Cetus Major
+++SUBJECT: re: A matter of taste
+++THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Wasted effort is a twofold heresy. The loyal servant produces nothing, and their enemy gains a reprieve.

Dear Inquisitor Jovian,

Implicit threats are always a source of entertainment, but the demands on my time are such that I prefer transparency. As such, you will note I have CCd the Lord Inquisitor, who approved Ashar's promotion to Interrogator under the late Inquisitor Kovach - something you would know had you performed a cursory spot of research first.

Your message implies that you neither researched how long Inquisitor Lear served as an agent, nor established the reasons for her promotion, merely that she is a pariah.

Since you saw fit to question the promotion of a woman who was just followed into battle by over 30 loyal individuals to face down multiple squads of heretic Astartes, and in a region you were tasked with protecting no less, I find it impossible to avoid the suspicion that envy played a role in your missive.

There is no doubt that Inquisitor Lear has much to learn about her new job, much as we did if the lengths of our respective apprenticeships are any measure.

As the majority of Inquisitors in the Kapran sub declared me to be the foremost expert in heretic Astartes, I will continue to interrogate the asset until I have nothing more to learn from it.

When I have actionable intelligence, it will of course be sent without delay. None of us want to see a second Hasmides.

Perhaps, if both of us focus on our jobs, it can be avoided.

Sincerely
Drake

+++MESSAGE ENDS


+++TO: Gregory Michael
+++FROM: Ash Lear
+++SUBJECT: Obelisk management

Gregory,

I've been thinking for a while that we need to fix the Obelisk management situation. Gaius used to be both chief administrator and counsellor, but he's currently unable to be either. I was doing as much of the admin as I could, but it slips when I'm away. We need someone new. It's unlikely that one person would be able to fulfil all his duties.

I actually have an idea of who to ask, but obviously this is your home too, so I wanted to check with you.

Dr Barra, who stayed with us for a while, let me know that her wife is a very competent administrator. They would come as a package deal, obviously, and cover the post between them. Dr Barra knows the team, and I think most of them found her useful. She was right about Max needing to go back into the field.

Gaius could then move smoothly into the library and records department, where I think he'd be much happier.

Do you have any objections? I wouldn't want to bring her back if you and she didn't get on.

Also - have you seen Acid since we got back?

Ash

+++MESSAGE ENDS


+++TO: Ash Lear
+++FROM: Gregory Michael
+++SUBJECT: Re: Obelisk management

Dear Inquisitor,

Won't get bored of that for a while.

I had a conversation about the management of the Obelisk with Drake shortly after the incident, but I've been too busy to follow it up and, I'm sorry to say, letting you and some of the others pick up the slack. We both agreed that getting someone in to specifically look after it would be a good idea, but I never had a specific candidate in mind.

I would be pleased to have Dr Barra back, I'm sure some of the Agents would benefit from her presence. I know Winnie could probabaly do with some further counselling. I have seen her and I'm sorry to say I personally don't know how to fix her. I understand what she's feeling but... well, one simply copes with it and carries on.

It's been decades so I simply can't remeber how I felt the first time I got one of my men killed. I imagine I felt pretty crappy about it. Then again I was basically raised and trained with the expectation that that would happen so maybe I was ready for it. Or maybe I'm just enough of a bastard.

I never intended or expected Winnie to become a field Agent, and I've been very impressed with her progress, but I think I'd be pleased to have Dr Barra have a bit of a rummage around in Winnie's head and work out if she's going to be psychologically suited to continue down this path.

Still, I don't know if someone said something to her or if it's just the natural recovery but she seems to have changed a little from her original black depressive angst. Not sure how to describe it exactly but it's like she's still bleeding but where it was a nasty infected wound, now at least the blood is running clean.

Yours,
Michael

+++MESSAGE ENDS


+++TO: Inquisitor Michael, Inquisitor Lear
+++FROM: Eidan Drake
+++SUBJECT: The next interrogator

Dear Inquisitors,

Given Ashar's promotion, it would seem apt to nominate a new interrogator. I have no one with your experience, Ashar, so any choice I make will mean selecting someone with room to grow, as it were.

The most obvious candidate is Nadiya, so I intend to give her first refusal.

You have both worked with her; have you any reservations or particular areas you feel she should work on?

My thanks,
Eidan

+++MESSAGE ENDS


+++TO: Inquisitor Lear
+++FROM: Inquisitor Bastian Vandamaar.
+++SUBJECT: Congratulations

Dear Inquisitor Lear,

I read in dispatches that congratulations are in order upon the earning of your Rosette. I find myself curious about whether you have made a choice of Ordos yet?

We really must sit down over an amasec some day soon to get to know one another.

Best Regards

Inquisitor Bastian Vandamaar
Ordo Hereticus

+++MESSAGE ENDS


+++TO: Eidan Drake, Inquisitor Lear
+++FROM: Inquisitor Michael
+++SUBJECT: Re: The next interrogator

Eidan,

I admit to being a little surprised, but on reflection I think the best choice. I would suggest personal confidence is where she is most lacking. She is fine if she is in her comfort zone, I'm sure if you asked her opinion on the latest art exhibition or fashion trends of the upper spire she would educate you with an intense passion, and then perhaps realise she had done so and worry she had overstepped her position, but she doesn't carry that confidence well into other areas.

She is plagued by self-doubt, but I think the only cure for that is experience. By all means promote her and throw her in the deep end. When she's done it and survived a few times she will realise she can actually swim she'll be more brave about venturing into the deep of her own accord.

Best,
Gregory

+++MESSAGE ENDS


+++TO: Inquisitor Vandamaar
+++FROM: Inquisitor Lear
+++SUBJECT: ReL Congratulations

Dear Inquisitor Vandamaar,

Thank you very much - you’re very kind.

I am actually already in the process of declaring for Hereticus. I find Xenos interesting academically, but Hereticus has always been my path. My strengths could play to Malleus, but as a pariah I have been blessed with the inability to hear anything which does not reside in a human. This would make Malleus rather challenging. An Inquisitor asking “Where do I shoot?” is possibly not likely to inspire confidence.

It would be lovely to meet when we are next in the same system. I look forward to it.

Best,

Inquisitor Ashar Lear

+++MESSAGE ENDS


+++TO: Gregory Michael
+++FROM: Ash Lear
+++SUBJECT: Re: Obelisk management

Gregory

I keep writing ‘Interrogator’ and having to go back and change it. Did you know I’ve wanted to be an Inquisitor since I was nine years old? 19 years really doesn’t feel long enough to have achieved it.

You’re not a bastard. It’s all a difference in background. Acid’s life has been so profoundly different in every way to yours. Mine, too. I couldn’t really understand where she was coming from, myself. Our minds must work so differently. Or, I should say - if you’re a bastard, apparently so am I.

That change in her may be Max’s. He demanded we all go and tell her we thought she did a great job (with beer and cookies, of course). Evidently it worked. I think Amon was beginning to panic.

Glad you agree with me on Dr Barra. I’ll send word for her and Laisa to join us.

Ash

+++MESSAGE ENDS


It was the day after the team had turned up with snacks and warm words. Acid was returning from a brief supply run and was a few corridors from the workshop door when she heard the noise.

Med bay alarm?

It wasn't until she rounded the corner that she finally came upon the peculiar sight.

It was a medical servitor. One of the patient monitoring ones. The blue lights in the eye sockets were flashing and it's track wheels were straining against the black tiled floor as it proclaimed:

CAUTION. DO NOT RESIST. ASSISTANCE IS COMING

Both of the restraint clamps were extended and holding on tightly to another, distinctly more massive servitor. The latter was used to cart waste from throughout the Obelisk to the incinerator, and as a result, was dragging the smaller one behind it.

As Acid continued to walk towards the two machines, she saw a medical bracelet hanging from the waste servitor. Her line of sight moved beyond the machine, further down the hall and to the door of the workshop, where a figure in a white hospitala dressing gown stood.

"Ah, I was hoping you might come back soon", Sister Airi said. She had one hand against the wall and was leaning heavily on a crutch. "I was hoping we could catch up, if you could be so kind as to open the door?".

Airi's eyes moved to the servitor and she gave a conspiratorial smile, "I don't imagine I have long til Sister DuPay arrives and realises that tracker isn't on me".


Acid was frozen in the spot, her eyes searching the corridor for escape. After a moment she unfroze and focussed on Arir. “Airi! Ahhh… Should you be here? Do, er, should I help you back? You could have called. I wasn’t avoiding you! Would you like a seat? A bed? I… goddammit… W- erm, which are you? W-781, override… erm… override Omnicron Magenta Seven. Go to the… ...just fuck off ok?” The waste servitor bowed to Acid and in it’s monotone voice loudly proclaimed, “I hear and obey Mistress!” It bowed, awkwardly, then turned and headed off down the corridor, the medical servitor dragged away in its wake.

Turning back to Airi she avoided eye contact, instead she looked at her crutch and winced. “Let me, ah Saints Airi…” Acid pressed her hand into the security scanner, opening the door to the lab. She propped it open and, still avoiding looking Airi in the eyes, ran over to a workbench. Reaching underneath she pulled a small folding cot out. Running back to Airi she ducked under her free arm, but was too short to properly give support as she helped Airi over to the cot. “You can sit or lie but it’s more comfortable than the stools. Let me get you some water…” Acid continued to faff and fuss, finding reasons to look away from Airi, but since the door had opened the mechanical eyes of nine servo-skulls floating at one end of the lab had been string fixedly at Airi, turning to track her every move with their dead unblinking stare.


"I could have called" Airi said, after Acid had hauled her into the room, "But then I would have missed the opportunity to so helpfully test the patient security within the med bay. " Needs a little work".

Airi appeared to consider laying down, before sitting on the cot, her back flat against the the side of the workbench for support. She closed her eyes and let out a long, controlled breath. Peeking an eye open, Airi spotted the congregation of skulls towards the back of the room and nodded towards them in greeting, "Ladies".

"I didn't think you were", Airi said, as she took the water, continuing to look at the skulls. "Avoiding me. Drake tells me that you spent a considerable amount of time with me on the Trojan, and as fascinating as it must be to watch me sleep, I do understand you have other work to attend to". She gave the skulls a reassuring smile.

Airi continued speaking to the skulls.

"I actually came because I wanted to thank you. Partly for reading to me. It was comforting to have you there when I drifted in and out. But, I also wanted to thank you for what you did on the Dammerung.

"I remember you blocking the room, and I remember what was on the other side of you.

"You put yourself in an incredible amount of danger to keep myself, Nadiya and Sister Dupay safe. That was exceptionally brave of you.

"So thank you, Acid". Her voice was even, but there was a warm, affectionate smile.


Acid turned to face her at last, silent tears rolling down her cheeks. “How…? How can you say that? After I sent you in there. I sent you in to get toasted by anti-tank fire and you climb out of your sick bed and crawl painfully down to where I’m hiding to thank me because I stood nice and safe in my slabs of shitty imitation armour over your still-burning body?!” She sank to her knees in front of Airi, her blotchy tear-streaked face a mask of sorrow and confusion.


There was a beat of hesitation before Airi put her hands on Acid's face.

"You are far too smart to think you were untouchable, even in Salty". Airi spoke softly as her eyes darted to the massive Mech suit and back again. "A limb, and you'd probably be fine. But a melta to the body... You'd have been in just as much danger as the rest of us. So, yes. I will thank you". She stroked one cheek with her thumb, wiping away a tear.

"But as far as sending me to get toasted is concerned, that wasn't your fault. You didn't know what was in that room, but even if you had, and this is the important part..." Airi craned forward as low as she dared, til they were almost eye level, "... it would still have been the right call. We had to clear that room. Had we gone any further without knowing they could have caught us in a cross fire or blown the regulator, which would have been, what was the word Padraic used... bracing?" She quirked an eyebrow and gave that same reassuring smile.

"If anyone in carapace had gone in they wouldn't be here to have this conversation, and they needed you for cover in the hallway. You did the right thing."


“But… even if that’s true, I said it would be servitors and sent you in and it was drokking Astartes. I gave you shitty information. We should have gone in together before we went further, or stormed both rooms together, or... you could have just stayed in safety and taken one room at a time. I just… I was overconfident. I’d been training in tactics and I made the assessment and I thought I was being clever and instead you got wrecked and now you have two new verti… er…” She froze, eyes wide, “...you… ...got very injured…” She slumped, legs splaying to the side. “I thought I was being clever and I was wrong and _you_ paid for it… My… arrogance… nearly got you killed.”


"I think you'll find, and credit where credit is due, the new vertebrae are my own doing. Geraldine did tell me to stay still. But... If you are so determined to be cruel to yourself, let's look at the indisputable facts.

"You told us there was a life form, probably a servitor. But you recommended clearing and checking the room anyway. Even if you whole heartily believed it was a servitor, your assessment allowed room for you to be wrong.

"You think you were overconfident. The plan was to take the enemy by surprise, make some noise, distract them and allow the flanks to catch them off guard. There were complications certainly, no plan survives contact, but for the most part that is what happened. It would appear to me that your tactics went toe-to-toe with Astartes, who have been perfecting such things for thousands of years, and prevailed.

"There was no clearing the room together, they needed you for cover. Had something happened to Nadiya, or Padraic, the whole mission would have collapsed.

"We could have stormed both rooms, but that would have put whomever attacked the control room right in the middle of that... grenade" Airi said the word with a mixture of disgust and fury.

"... Or maybe even in melee range of the main Astartes force when it entered. By my count there were no more than six of us up to that task in the entire team, and only three of those entered through the main corridor. You'd have risked tying up half our force in close combat, preventing anyone from firing a thing. We were better equipped to deal with a little distance.

"And lastly, and this is meant as arrogantly as it sounds: I am a warrior, not a doll. I am built to be at the front.There is no staying in safety. That is why I have the armour, and... and it did it's job.

"Have I missed anything?"


"No..." Acid pouted. "Everyone else has been saying the same thing." The waterworks had stopped, replaced by almost petulant irritation. "But if that's true, why do I feel so bad?! I saw you go down and I just felt a hole open up in my chest and, God-Emperor it physically hurt, I wanted to be sick, but I also wanted to rip that bastards arms off and watch him die but suddenly the door was open and there were Astartes and d- monsters everywhere and I was just burning and shooting and there were bolter rounds everywhere and by the time there was space to move forwards there was so much firing coming down the corridor that if I moved everyone behind me would have been shredded and I just wanted to either go to you or go after the fucker who got you but I couldn't and it just...  felt so bad." She drew in a long overdue breathe after her tyrade of words and looked up at Airi.

"I'm sorry, I know you're not a doll, you're a drokking bad-ass. You're so badass you've nearly turned Nadiya gay and she's as straight as a lasbeam. I don't mean to belittle your...  badassery... I just... I care about you and I just...  feel responsible. Seeing you injured and feeling like it was my fault...  I..."  Her eyes widened in shock.  "I...  am so sorry. I'm talking all about my feelings, how are you? Are you...  how is the...  repair? You...  function..."  Her expression changed back to panic and she flapped her hands towards Airi. "Human...  health...  healing...  words..."  Her eyes silently begged Airi to take over the conversation.


Airi sat patiently throughout and listened intently. She laughed at the mention of Nadiya, the smile lines around her eyes deepening and she looked genuinely touched when Acid said that she cared. She chuckled as Acid panicked.

"I'm glad the others have provided you with the same reasoning. You can't willfully disbelieve all of us.

"You felt bad because, in spite of an apparent tendency to be quite hard on yourself, you are an emotionally healthy person who reacted in a normal way to seeing a comra- a friend being shot.

"But the important thing is that you didn't let that emotional response rule you. You stayed on target and achieved the rather outlandish objective. You should be very proud." Airi smiled warmly, before peering at the other woman warily, unsure of how much information to give her.

"As for my function, repairs have been quite successful, or so I am told. There will be a few weeks of physio to ensure the new muscles are up to scratch and that the psuedo nerves are interacting with everything properly." Airi rolled her shoulders absent mindedly, as if testing them herself.

"Geraldine has requested I remain in the med bay for the duration. She is... unconvinced I will remain on bed rest, if left to my own devices." There was a flash of that same conspiratorial smile. "Hopefully Drake will be able to petition my removal to the Trojan. Perhaps she will trust him a little more."


"I...  hmm..." Acid rose to her feet, appearing almost to levitate until it became apparent that her mechadendrite was propelling her up. She disappeared behind Airi for a moment, and when she returned she was holding a datapad. She pressed a button and the servo skull Esme drifted over to them. Acid looked at Esme pensively for a moment, then turned back to Airi. "Here," she said, passing Airi the datapad, "until you're better. You can see and hear through her and if you want people can see and hear you. It's not the same as being somewhere but...  maybe it'll give you a bit of freedom?"

She sat down in front of Airi, the mechadendrite acting her own portable stool. The tears and emotions had gone, Acid had on her problem solving face. What about your armour? Is there something I can do to help? Is...  are you able to request replacement parts or will we need to make our own?"


Airi looked down at the data pad. Her face was a mask, her voice studiously neutral.

"Eidan... he had some parts recovered from the Thadal shortly after the massacre. My suit, it's, um... it's currently with Magos Valdarius. I can of course make my own minor repairs but, the p- power pack and the back plate have taken extensive damage. It's, it's... it's more than I've ever had to do myself. Valdarius' team has some experience with the mark VIII astartes plate, so he may be able to patch it up but, erm... It will take some time. Which is fine".


Acid looked a little confused. "Well, they did really well integrating new systems into Salty. I mean, obviously Salty is pretty crude compare to your power armour... I just mean... they do really good work. And they worked on Astartes plate, real Astartes I mean, and they have all the bits they need. There's nothing to worry about. Right?"


"There's nothing to worry about. Right?"

Airi kept her face towards the data pad, though her eyes appeared to be looking straight through it, and she seemed to rock slightly.

In the moment, she almost looked scared.

After a second or two Airi appeared to come to herself. She turned her head up to face Acid and smiled calmly. "Nothing at all, if The Emperor wills it. Drake has great confidence in Valdarius, an-"

She was interrupted mid sentence by a firm knock on the door and a familiar accented voice rang through the vox com.

"It would seem my escort has arrived". Airi observed as she slowly pulled herself to a standing position with the crutch. Her tone was casual, but there was a small smile, reminiscent of a child having a prank discovered.

"Thank you for the skull, Acid. I promise to put it to very good misuse".

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