This isn't completed though I have all the notes, timings, plot outline etc; So I shall be posting approximately weekly. That should give me a chance to finish writing it... thanks Malicean for prodding me into getting back to it. I hope it's worth waiting for!
The planet Tigris was a huge orange, yellow and white gas giant that circled an undistinguished red giant. Its only habitation was on the vast gas mining platform known as Tigris city.
Tigris City had come a long way since it had been a decommissioned Imperial battlecruiser of the obsolete and almost forgotten 'Devastator' class. Her very name had been forgotten save by those unfortunate denizens of her lowest levels who might read – if indeed they could read – the occasional plaque that had been attached to what had once been removable equipment, now usually rusted solid into place. But it had been a long time since HIMS Annihilation had been anything but Tigris City. Her huge warp engine had been ripped out and replaced, partly with the powerful antigrav drive that held her in the upper atmosphere; the rest of the space was devoted to the vast tanks and purification plants into which the Helium 3 and other precious gases she mined were pumped. Added to the underside of her hull were the enormous scoops built to trawl for those gases.
The upper levels too had been heavily modified. Above the upper decks and bridge now graceful spires climbed, homes to the upper classes and wealthy, housing temples to the Immortal Emperor all built in the smug contemplation of that other immortal god, wealth. The whole of the upper surface was enclosed in a bubble of air held by a forcefield so that the city's beautiful people might walk unhampered outside and enjoy the traceries and flying buttresses of the architecture, splendidly decorated with carvings and statuary, clusters of what should have been acanthus leaves at the capitol of every column. The sculptor had never seen acanthus leaves; but he had done his best. Between the graceful gothic spires were verdant parks artfully laid out with controlled and ordered hedges, lovingly tortured into geometric shapes for the delectation of those wealthy enough to be permitted in this region. Even the servitors that tended the gardens were modified as unobtrusively as possible and dressed in simple brown robes reminiscent of gardener monks to cause no offence to the delicate senses of the elite. The city's upper surface was designed for visual gratification. Of course there was war damage: Tigris had only been brought back into the protection of the Imperium in the last generation, after having been lost for several hundred years. Times had been leaner for the population then, though some trade had taken place with local, similarly forgotten, colonies. Now, however, rebuilding and new building projects were taking place under the energetic direction of Governor Carcillus Boradan Lussus, son of the first Imperially installed governor, Boradius Carcillan Lussus.
Of the history of Tigris City, the inquisitor Quaestorious knew little; though certain configurations of her lines made him surmise something of her origins. That it was ancient he could guess at, since the design was such as was now used only by those Chaos warriors who had been seduced together with their fleets to join the Horus Heresy. It was, in any case, heresy of a much more recent date that had occupied him here.
The inquisitor stood by a huge window that had once perhaps been a gun port in one of the upper levels; and contemplated the stars.
There was a hideous gargling noise at Quaestorious' elbow. He turned slowly, recognising it as a discrete clearing of the throat by his Ogryn bodyguard, Burdock. The gigantic warrior stood there with a steaming mug of coffee. Quaestorious smiled a rare smile of genuine pleasure.
"Ah, Burdock, how do you do it!" he said, accepting the beverage gratefully. Burdock grinned.
"I found an eatery, me lud, and asked them if they'd like to do the Inquisitor a favour" he explained, cheerfully. "Dey was very helpful!"
Quaestorious reflected that they probably would be. Cynically he suspected that the restaurateurs – probably more up market than Burdock's description of an 'eatery' implied – had interpreted Burdock's innocent and genuine request as an implied threat. And had been only too willing to avoid entanglements with the Imperial Inquisition. However, he had no intention of shattering Burdock's cheerful illusions; and besides he was grateful. It had not been pleasant interrogating the seventeen leaders of a chaos cult that had been stamped out here by the Blood Marines, even with the able assistance of the Psychology of the Blood Angel Chaplain Theontos. Quaestorious was pleased that the interrogations had proceeded satisfactorily without recourse to the inefficient savagery of torture, but he mourned the lost souls, now executed by Marine firing squad and awaiting his final checking and ratification to show that all had been done according to the law. He was required to check the bodies over to be sure that all had been killed to prevent the return of some undead chaos monster or some other aberration. He was not looking forward to the task. The Inquisitor drained his mug, stared into it for a moment, then put it firmly down on a ledge.
"We had better get on with our duty, Burdock" he said, without a great deal of enthusiasm. "Have you the map?"
Burdock nodded eagerly, rummaging in the capacious pockets he had asked for in the gaudy clothing he had chosen when Quaestorious had taken him into his service. He brought out a rather weathered map of the upper levels of Tigris City and passed it to the Inquisitor. Quaestorious looked pointedly, but silently at its stained appearance as he took it and raised one arched eyebrow. Burdock shuffled guiltily and Quaestorious relented.
"All right, Burdock, I'm not angry" he said. "At least you always know where to find things. Even if they do come away looking slightly….used."
Burdock looked abashed.
"It was de coffee" he explained. "I kinda spilled some when I was figgerin' out how to find you again."
Quaestorious nodded understanding. Burdock was slow, but by no means stupid; and he always meant well. He had been trained in basic hygiene, unlike many Ogryn who were not, alas, considered worth bothering over. And he always knew when the inquisitor needed a coffee. For his virtues, Quaestorious could easily put up with the occasional clumsiness and carelessness!
"Dis Guvnor, he ain't so bad, huh?"
"He appears to demonstrate a modicum of efficiency" he agreed cautiously. Governor Lussus was from a military background, an ex soldier and adventurer within the Imperial Guard until his father died and he had been summoned home to take control. Quaestorious knew he had been made a colonel at the age of twenty nine, very young indeed. He had the experience to sum up the military situation concerning the chaos cultists and the self confidence to realise that the problem was beyond him and his militia and so to call for aid. It spoke well of his common sense, and considering his record as a man of decision and action did not suggest that he was one who would whine for Imperial troops for every problem. His drive and energy were apparent in the building projects he had insisted on showing Quaestorious – the Inquisitor's calves began hurting again just to think of all the stairs he had climbed – and he even seemed moderately intelligent, something Quaestorious had few hopes of finding in military officers outside the Marines. Even so, the Inquisitor did not particularly like Governor Lussus. It was nothing he could put his finger on; but perhaps it was merely because he had never liked bluff hearty types. Although many took him for an ascetic, Quaestorious considered that care for one's health was very important; and if he occasionally forgot to eat or sleep in his zeal to solve a problem, he did not neglect either cleanliness or exercise that kept his slender body taut and hard, a condition that had surprised many a malefactor expecting to find the tall but lean man a pushover. Yet he had no love either for those who considered that the pinnacle of human perfection was to be attained through a ritual of morning exercises and cold showers. Generally they tended towards the insensitive and unconsciously unkind to those they considered 'weaklings'. Quaestorious suspected that the Governor was one of these types, especially when he remembered the way the man had looked at the youth he had introduced as his son. The look had despised the young man, a rather pretty boy, overdressed and studiously languid. Quaestorious thought that he probably acted the fop to annoy his father, having learned early on that he was never going to make the man proud with a less than vigorous frame. Although he himself disliked social butterflies, Quaestorious could not help a sneaking sympathy for young Loridas Carcillan Lussus. Still, as Burdock said, or at least meant, the older Lussus was getting on with the job of governing; which was a reminder that he was neglecting his own job by staring into the middle distance. Consulting the map again, Quaestorious led his bodyguard through the labyrinthine passages past the temple courtyard where the execution had taken place to the antechamber of the city incinerator where any post mortem examinations necessary were generally carried out, prior to disposal of bodies; there were slabs to that end where the bodies were laid.
The corpses had been laid out neatly for Quaestorious' examination. Servitors were just laying out the last as he arrived. Quaestorious pondered the question as to who had had the less enviable punishment – the executed heretics, or the servitors, stripped of their memories and personalities and bound into the living death of cyborg bodies for unspeakable crimes. On the whole, he thought, being dead would be preferable. At least one had then the chance to prostrate oneself and beg for cleansing and forgiveness before the mercy of the Emperor. He wondered in horrified fascination, not for the first time, what happened to the souls of servitors. Did they leave the bodies to go before the Emperor when the mind was wiped? Did they –horror!- cease to exist? Or worst, perhaps of all, did they float in some terrible limbo until the physical body that had once been human died to provide a blessed release? Again, not for the first time, he wondered whether anyone had the right to inflict such a punishment with such fundamental questions unanswered. Yet, by this means, the wicked might be purged of their crimes and serve the Imperium. Surely the Blessed Emperor would be moved to forgive criminals so shriven?
Adroitly Quaestorious stepped back to avoid the last servitor as he – it – left the corpses and returned within. Burdock had stepped forward, a puzzled frown on his face, counting carefully on his fingers.
"Boss" he said urgently "Why have we got a spare heretic?"
"What do you mean?" asked Quaestorious testily, then bit his tongue in exasperation at himself as Burdock looked hurt. It was unforgivable that he should take out his bad mood on an underling. More gently he added "Why do you say we have a, er, spare heretic, Burdock.?"
Burdock chewed his lip with his big fangs and scratched a snowstorm of dandruff from his tow coloured hair as he thought how to frame his answer.
"Well, sah" he began "I was countin' them – for practice, see – an' I counted them from lef' to right, then I counted them from right to lef'." He frowned in thought. "Or was it de uvver way round?" he wondered, staring at his big hands. His right hand had the word 'salute' tattooed across the knuckles so he would know which hand to salute with; but dealing in abstracts was beyond most Ogryn, even one as intelligent as Burdock. Quaestorious smiled soothingly, swallowing irritation,
"You counted them first from one end and then the other, you mean?" he asked. Burdock nodded vigorously, dislodging another cloud of dandruff.
"Dat right sah!" he agreed. "An' dere's eighteen of 'em. Di'n't you say dat dere was seventeen heretics?"
Quaestorious resisted the temptation to ask 'are you sure?' because Burdock never made an unequivocal statement unless he was sure. He just decided to double check in case the Ogryn was mistaken. It did not matter from which end he started the count. Eighteen corpses were laid out before him. And there had, definitely, been only seventeen heretics. He said,
"Yes, Burdock, there were only seventeen. Which leads us to ask why there are eighteen corpses. Not, I suspect a spare, er, heretic, nor yet even a heretic at all. Just a spare corpse. And before we start asking things like 'who', 'why' and 'how' we need to know 'which'.. Can I trust myself to find one out of all of these that I do not recognise, changed as they are in death, and not having known them as more than a series of prisoners?"
In the event, it was easy to pick the odd man out. It was the one with the mutilated body, to first glance tortured. The face had been burned beyond recognition; and when Quaestorious studied the supposed bolter wound that had been the means of execution he frowned. It was superficially similar to the others; the skin was charred. But it was uneven. Quaestorious nodded briefly; and determined to study it more deeply in a Mortis Investigatus. However, he still had his duty to perform here. Ordering Burdock to carry their extra corpse into the temple and make ready a place of Investigatus for him there, the inquisitor went about the grim business of checking all the other bodies and praying for their souls to see the light and be saved.