Controller Nirel leaned forward, resting his not inconsiderable bulk on his monitoring lectern, and observed his small but dedicated team of underlings and junior adepts performing the various routine tasks that kept the control spire of Brachius City's spaceport operative. Feeling the comforting familiar pride swell in his breast, he glanced out of one of the large picture windows which formed all six of the control hub's walls. The control spire towered some two hundred metres above the spaceport apron. From this vantage point, the terminal and administrative buildings seemed as small and inconsequential as children's toys - albeit toys of a rather drab and weatherworn appearance.
Today had been slow. Slower than usual. Much of the traffic he and his team had dealt with had been local - civilian transports for the most part, inbound from Fortis. Apart from the shuttles descending from the two rogue trader vessels currently in high orbit over Phrysia Secundus, there had been no traffic from outside the planet itself. Nirel sighed contentedly. He liked days like this - days when jobs could be done properly with all due attention given to the rigorous systems of control laid down by the Administratum and enforced by his illustrious predecessors.
A shrill beeping disturbed his reverie and he cast a disapproving glance in the direction of the communications station, where Adept Minor Jurian was flipping the respond switch to 'receive'.
A few seconds passed, during which Jurian seemed to grow paler. Nirel sighed impatiently. It was probably something the lad had eaten. The spotty little dolt was always sickening with something or other.
"Yes…" he heard Jurian mumble. "Yes, at once."
A split second later, Nirel was mildly surprised to see the comms light on his own lectern flashing. The fool had put the vox transmission through to him! What was the idiot thinking? Nirel accepted the transmission with an irritated stabbing motion of his pudgy forefinger.
"Chief Controller Nirel speaking. Please explain your purpose in contacting a beta-level security installation of His Emperor's Holy Adeptus Administratum."
He was vaguely aware of Jurian rising to his feet, but paid the lad no mind. He was probably going to the lavatory to throw up.
A voice, feminine and steely, crackled into his earpiece. "Security clearance code: five-seven-delta-omicron. Repeat security clearance code: five-seven-delta-omicron. Acknowledge."
Nirel spluttered. "What are you talking about?" He glanced up at Jurian who, far from making his way to the lavatory, was hovering nervously around the control lectern, a look of indecision on his pasty face. What did the lad think he was doing? Couldn't he tell his controller was busy? He returned his attention to the voice in his ear. "Who is this? May I remind you that this is a secure installation…"
The voice interrupted him. The voice interrupted him!
"Acknowledge the bloody code or you'll be overseeing the Administratum's sewage treatment plant in Cawth Bay by the end of the week, you cretin!"
Nirel gasped, outraged. "Who is this? You have no right to…"
"Controller!" Jurian had finally plucked up the courage to speak. "The security code."
Without really thinking about it, Nirel put the incoming vox on hold. "Yes, Jurian. What about it?" When he'd first started in the control spire - was it really thirty years ago? - he'd prided himself on memorising all the myriad security codes for the control spire. He struggled for a moment to recall the one that ignorant woman had used.
Jurian helpfully supplied the answer. "Five-seven is the order to lock down the space port, Controller."
"What?! That's ridiculous! What on Holy Terra does this woman…"
For the second time this morning, Nirel found himself being interrupted. At least Jurian had the good grace to appear upset about it.
"It's the Inquisition, Controller! Delta-omicron is the local transmission stamp for the Inquisition!"
Nirel felt his heart stop for a split second. He glanced down at his control lectern where a solitary amber light winked maliciously at him.
Tentatively, he pushed the receive button below it.
"Yes?" he asked, trying to be as solicitous as he could under the circumstances.
The voice spoke again and told him exactly what to do.
Vivienne Dranguille removed the vox bead from her throat and turned grimly to Smyre and Livia who were standing behind her.
"It's done," she said. "It's up to Bex and Ekkert now. At least for the next forty-five minutes or so. A storm trooper squad's en route?"
This last question had been directed at Smyre and the adjutant nodded. "They've just left."
Dranguille winced as a sharp pain in her ruined eye socket pierced the dull background ache she'd been used to.
Livia frowned. "Are you alright?"
The interrogator scowled. "I'm fine." Straightening, she turned back to Smyre. "When this is all over, I want the controller of that space port mind-wiped and assigned to the most dangerous, back-breaking menial labour you can find."
"That's a little harsh," murmured Livia.
Dranguille rounded on her. "Do you think so, Sister? The man was an imbecile. Worse than that, he was inefficient." She glanced back to Smyre. "See to it, Adjutant."
Smyre inclined his head, his face expressionless. "It'll be done."
The interrogator flicked a stray wisp of fiery red hair out of her face. Her one good eye stared defiantly at Livia for an instant and then she stalked away.
"Meet me in the med-bay, Sister. I want to see the Inquisitor."
Red all around. The stone walls, quarried from the mountains that surrounded the complex, were painted a rich crimson colour. They glistened in the fierce light cast by brightly burning torches lining the broad processional corridor. Patroclus and Brecht's footsteps echoed around them, precise solid sounds. The floor on which they were walking was composed of small ceramic tiles, arranged in mosaics that told the stories of the Scarlet Storm's most famous victories. The predominant colour in all of them was red.
Brecht looked up. The vaulted ceiling of the BloodEye was lost in shadow, but he'd be willing to bet that was red, too. If he didn't know better, he'd think that the Scarlet Storm chapter of the Adeptus Astartes was one which took the implications of its name far too literally. But, he did know better. And the Scarlet Storm entered battle in largely grey battle armour, in any case. Not for the first time since entering the chapter's most sacred structure, the Inquisitor was struck by how organic the endless red made his journey feel. It was as if he was walking down an artery towards the very heart of the chapter.
Or perhaps not…
Not for the first time, Brecht felt a twinge of anxiety. On his previous two visits to the chapter's homeworld, he had been received by Hecator, the Scarlet Storm Chapter Master, whose quarters and strategium occupied the entirety of the fourth, central floor of the structure. On this occasion, however, Patroclus was leading him… somewhere else.
He glanced across at the Space Marine. He had fought with Brother Patroclus of the chapter's Third Company on two separate occasions. He was, in many ways, a typical Astartes - honour-bound yet phlegmatic, possessed of an instinctive understanding of the limitations of his role as warrior-monk in an Imperium that owed him much and understood him so very little. His power armour, painted the brooding grey of a threatening thunderstorm, was pitted and scarred, each mark smoothed by both the passage of time and the careful ministrations of its proud bearer. But not removed. No, the Space Marines of the Scarlet Storm did not hide their scars, whatever form they took.
Finally, Brecht studied Patroclus' face. As with all Space Marines, there was a hint of disproportion there. The nose was slightly too flat, the jaw almost ridiculously square. But it was always the eyes that worried Brecht. They were simply not human enough. Oh, they were close, but they were cold things, an Astartes' eyes. They saw things differently - where lesser men saw death and slaughter, they glimpsed glory; where others saw futility, they saw fulfilment; where Brecht had seen horror, they had seen hope. Suddenly, Brecht couldn't look any longer. He was finding this journey - this trek - through the interminable corridors and hallways of the complex oppressive. Beside him, Patroclus kept his gaze firmly focused ahead. If he had noticed the Inquisitor's scrutiny, he gave no indication of it. He could have been walking alone. Brecht was beginning to wish he was.
Ahead of them, the corridor narrowed, ending in a simple stone door, a golden aquila embossed in its centre. Without any warning, Patroclus halted. Brect had to go back a couple of steps.
"Brother?" asked Brecht mildly.
"Did you enjoy it?" The question was delivered flatly, but there was something in Patroclus' eyes that suggested this was not an idle inquiry.
"I'm sorry, I don't…"
"The daemon's embrace," said Patroclus. "Did you enjoy it?"
Brecht just had time to feel the icy touch of fear upon his skin and then Patroclus punched him.
Brecht's bedside was…busier than Livia had expected.
The lad whose name she had forgotten earlier on in the day was… well, 'cowering' was as good a word as any to describe what he was doing. Given the state of medicae-investigator Thesk, that seemed like a sensible strategy.
"… were you thinking?" Thesk was livid. The blood splattered on his surgical smock only served to emphasise his anger. "We have no way of knowing what's going on in there!" He stabbed an angry finger at Brecht's unconscious form. "To administer any form of medication without consulting me is not only grossly impertinent, but also suicidally irresponsible."
"Th... the psychic indicators were..."
"Fluctuating? Nonsensical?" Thesk glared at the young nurse, his augmetic eye a cold blue. "Brecht's a high-level psyker who's hanging on to life by the barest of threads. What did you expect?"
Dranguille had to clear her throat for a second time before Thesk registered her presence.
"I gather things are bad."
Thesk glowered at her. "What do you think?"
Dranguille's eye narrowed. "I think I'd prefer a more professional assessment."
The medicae-investigator took a calming breath. "Put simply, Brecht's mind is in peril. While his body clings to life, his unconscious control of his psychic gifts is failing. Torvald attempted to medicate the Inquisitor with some low-strength sedatives." He licked his lips uncertainly. "It might work. But, it might just as easily kill him. Or worse." He shot a contemptuous glare at Torvald. "In any case, it was a stupidly reckless thing to do."
"And has it worked?"
Thesk shrugged. "Residual indicators have stabilised somewhat, but... it's too early to tell, really."
Dranguille stepped towards the bed, her hand mechanically drawing the las pistol from its holster at her hip. Thesk's face was a grim mask. To one side of Brecht's bed, a medicae-servitor whirred and burbled to itself, utterly incapable of sensing the growing tension in the room, much less responding to it.
Livia stared ahead of her, not quite believing the scene unfolding before her. "What are you doing, Vivienne?"
The interrogator held the las pistol in a light grip. "Getting ready. In case things get worse."
"You can't just..."
"Of course I can." Dranguille sniffed derisively. "In fact, I've got standing orders to do so." Her next words were addressed to Thesk. "How long have we got?"
Another shrug. "I'm not sure. From the readings Torvald witnessed, I rather think things are coming to a head, though. I must point out... the incidence of physical trauma occurring so soon after a psychic attack like the one he experienced in the mansion... I'm sorry. I don't hold out much hope."
Dranguille stood by Brecht's side, staring at the Inquisitor's pale, drawn face. Her expression was unreadable. The white gauze of her eye dressing reflected the harsh anti-septic glare of the overhead lights. From where she was standing by the door, Livia couldn't see the interrogator's other eye. She could, however, see the other woman's breath escaping in thin wisps of vapour from her nostrils.
"Is there anything I can do, Vivienne?" asked Livia softly.
"You could try praying," came the surprisingly gentle reply. "For him. Wherever he is."