“Shields at full”
“Steady as she goes helm”
The Dictator-Class Cruiser Tor Garnett
gave an almost indiscernible shudder as it ploughed through the asteroid belt, easing aside the fragments like a tidal flow on a still river.
"Aye, course holding, steady as she goes, Sir"
Rear-Admiral Torvez Skarstein swivelled around in his command chair and scanned the faces of the crew around him. Most of them were locked in various positions of concentration, heavily involved in the minutiae that made the ship run so efficiently, others were in animated conversation with menials and runners. It was all running as smoothly as he could hope, but there was something there under the surface, a niggling feeling that he had not seen before.
He had lead this crew many times. He preferred to transfer his flag to this ship rather than any other. He knew them all by name and they had all served him well over the years. They were dependable, stoic and loyal.
On this mission, something had changed.
He spared the ship's Captain a cursory glance. Drac Lareson, the durable, unswerving, fifty-year-old Navy stalwart with a hundred actions under his belt was sweating profusely, and the light grey uniform tunic he was wearing was stained around the armpits and back. This was most unusual for a career officer with a solid head and indubitable courage.
The whole crew was tense; and he could almost taste their uneasiness in the air. They were entering the unknown and far from the comfort of Imperial shipping lanes. This area of space marked 'Uncharted' on the map, had been cut off by warp storms for nearly a thousand years. No Exploration Fleet had ever tried to penetrate its depths until now. They were all on edge with nerves stretched to breaking point.
He was not worried himself about the prospect of moving on into the beyond, he had, after all, been cut off in the warp enough times during his time in the Navy, and knew that feeling of helplessness that goes with it. What worried him was the fact that the light of the Astronomican was barely visible out here, and he always comforted himself with the knowledge that he could trace a line back to Holy Terra, and that meant comparative safety.
He checked his monitor. They were entering a section of The Ghoul Stars, or the Ghost Stars, depending on your point of view. Even the names of this region of space made him uneasy.
They were on the furthermost border of the Imperium? Beyond was darkness and the unknown. Would they ever find anyone out here on the frontier? The word of Man had ventured beyond this point long ago, but whoever those adventurers were, they had been cut off from the comfort and relative safety of Imperial space for a long time.
He had heard of the lost ships and the fleets that never returned. He had heard of shadows on the outer rim, and rumours of a creeping menace.
he scoffed, stories to make children sleep.
+ Clear of the asteroid belt + The navigation servitor spoke in a low monotone free from emotion or personal thought.
“Check long range Auspex!”, Captain Lareson’s sounded confused. Skarstein turned around and saw the crew staring up at the large viewing screens. They were wide-eyed, some visibly shaken.
“Report Captain.” There was a long pause before he repeated the order.
Lareson shrugged his shoulders and then held his arms out in front of him, palms upwards.
Lareson straightened up, a sloppy form of attention.
“I mean Sir, there is nothing there... out there.”
Skarstein stood up, it was a subconscious motion. He then leant forward on the railing of the command dais.
All the screens were black.
“Maximum efficiency, maximum range, Sir.”
“All Imperial channels, all ranges,” the low-grade officer added in almost a whisper, “Nothing, Sir.”
“Astra Telepathica?”. Skarstein looked over to the right of the command deck where a small, frail figure in grey threadbare robes stood.
“Astra Telepathica?” He repeated.
The ships Psyker-Majoris did not move or speak for a few seconds. When the voice came it was that of a woman.
“Feel?”, Skarstein interrupted.
“There is something out there...”
Skarstein looked back at the screens again.
Beyond their hull and beyond the asteroid belt there was nothing but darkness. There was a complete absence of light or any points of reference. There were no stars, no galaxy’s, no nebula’s, or anything else that one would expect to see in the heavens and in every sky on every planet.
There was nothing but darkness and…
“Death.” The Psyker hissed the word.
Everyone on the command deck heard her, and everyone turned.
Skarstein groaned and then stood ramrod straight.
“I chose this ship,” he began, “because it is the best in the fleet. I chose this ship because this crew are the most professional and dedicated people I know. I chose you because I can rely on you when things are falling apart all around us. I expect the best from the best.” He paused and then waved at the screen. “Now I get doom and gloom.” He slammed his fist down hard on the railing. “Give me proper reports!”
A previously hidden figure appeared, gliding onto the deck from a concealed alcove. The gathered officers and attendant’s moved apart to let the new arrival through.
Skarstein nodded. If he needed an answer free of ambiguities, he could always rely on the Mechanicum.
“Welcome Adept Egbert-Douwecoff.”
The Adept bowed respectively. He was a head taller than the Admiral, and the cluster of mechanical arms, proboscises and Mechanicum minutiae, meant that his size dominated the deck. Skarstein stepped backwards slightly to give him room. He was not intimidated, it was just that the Adepts robes smelt of unguents and passive pheromones, which were slightly unpleasant.
“This area of space is filled with an extraordinary high volume of dark matter,” he began matter-of-factly. “Light finds it difficult to get through.” He turned to the Admiral. “However, our investigations have revealed that this area was once filled with stars and planets but a great calamity has struck.”
“Everything has been destroyed,” the Adept paused. “Correction. Not everything. There is a star system out there. It is just that we cannot see it.”
Skarstein turned to the screens.
“A hidden system?”
“Yes Admiral. We have also discovered something interesting.”
“More interesting than this?”
“Yes Admiral. We have discovered Imperial signifiers. There is evidence that Imperial worlds exist and thrive.”