2: SHROUDED INTENTIONS, HIDDEN REWARDS
A slight stirring, accompanied by an almost inaudible mumbling.
“Wake up, Captain.”
The very gentlest of slaps, to each side of the face.
“Come on, Barra. You have the Emperor’s duty to attend to.”
The sleeve is rolled back, and the needle pierces the skin of the young man’s left forearm.
“It’s just a little pick-me-up. We need you awake, after all.”
Finally he stirs; his eyes are still unfocused, but at least they’re open. The smears of blood and other substances on his uniform have dried to the point where it now crackles like old, un-oiled leather as he stirs in his restraints. “Where am I? Who the feth are you?”
The older of the two men gives a small, weary smile, reaches into a pocket and places his badge on the table. The uniformed man’s eyes open wide now. “What…”
“Easy, Captain. All in good time. I imagine you have some questions of your own, but I must ask you to show a little forbearance; mine will be taking precedence today.”
“You know the answer to that question already, Captain.” He loosens the man’s restraints.
“You don’t think. You know
Barra falteringly lifts the glass of water to his lips and drinks, hesitantly at first and then deeply. He closes his eyes. “Yes. Throne, I wish I didn’t.”
“What you know, Captain, is closely tied to my own interest in this region. While I am aware that this may be an…unpleasant…procedure for you, I need to hear first-hand what happened here five days ago.
The younger man’s eyes widen. “Five days? I’ve been out for five days
“Sedation, for the most part; you were raving.” The older man gives what looks like a sympathetic smile. “It seemed kinder to keep you under till things were in place to…debrief you.”
“Debrief?” Barra asks, draining the glass.
The older man holds his gaze on Barra for a few moments, then gestures to the impassive guard at the door. “More water, if you please, Mister Helmann?” The guard nods once and leaves the room. “Debriefing, yes. I can call it ‘interrogation’ if you like, but really that word is generally reserved for those who don’t co-operate. And your record tells me that you’re the kind of man who will co-operate with us.”
Barra nods carefully, unsure where this is going. “I, er, I like to think so, sir.”
The older man smiles with what looks like genuine warmth. “I’m very glad to hear that, Captain Barra. And, of course, an entry in your record to say that you were most helpful with us today couldn’t hurt, now, could it?”
“No, I guess not.”
The smile never falters. “Excellent.”
Returning with a pitcher of water and two glasses, the guard places both of them on the table before resuming his station by the door.
“Ahh, thank you, Mister Helmann.” He pours one glass for Barra and one for himself, pushing Barra’s glass over to him with a scraping noise that seems overly loud in the quiet warmth of the room. “Now, Captain; the first indication you had of the Traitors’ presence was…?”
Barra takes a sip of his water and rubs at his arm, then places the glass back on the table and stares into its depths for several moments before raising his eyes to the older man’s. “We heard gunfire from the northern part of the compound, sounded like bolters and maybe a melta or something, but no sign of armour or anything like that. Then the usual sort of thing you get in any contact situation, lots of people all yelling at once, all trying to report what they’re seeing.”
“And what did they say they were seeing?”
“Most of ‘em said it looked like Astartes, or something very similar. Power-armoured for sure. Some said there was a kind of cloud with them; we didn’t know what that meant until after. I knew it couldn’t be Astartes, this sector’s been quiet since the Crusade died out, so I figured they were just seeing whatever it was wrong and panicking.”
“Were your men prone to panicking, Captain?”
“You have to remember…sir, most of ‘em were green, new blood from the last Levy. Most of ‘em had never seen action; we’d lost so damn many in the Crusade, after all, most of the old hands were gone. And these guys, they were keen and all, but…show ‘em a Sentinel in the dark and they’d say it was a Warhound, you know?”
Another avuncular smile. “Of course. I understand.”
“So I got Erwon, my two-I-C, to head over and check it out while I voxed the other sectors to keep their eyes peeled and report anything.”
“And…well, no sooner have I finished telling the men to do that than I’ve got Erwon yelling at me to get my arse up there in short order. Er, pardon the language, sir.”
“Honesty involves accuracy, Captain. Carry on.”
“So I took myself and two fire-teams over to the north sector, and it was chaos already.”
An eyebrow raises. “Chaos, Captain?”
“Aye, sir, a complete mess…”
“Ahh. Of course.”
“The men were firing blind for the most part, out into the fields to the west of our position. Couldn’t see any incoming when I got there, and I was going to chew Erwon out for over-reacting when this thing lands in the mud next to him.”
“What sort of thing, Captain?”
“It was…” He reaches for his glass of water again and drains it. “It was a head
, sir. All wrinkled-up looking and yellowy. And I just thought ‘what the feth?’ and then it split open in the mud where it was lying, and these flies or something came out. Was dark, so I couldn’t really see them that clear, like, but they sounded like flies to me.”
“Aye, sir, I know how it sounds, but that’s what it was. Then they started buzzing round people, getting into their eyes; one of ‘em went into Erwon’s ear and he started yelling to get it out. Some of the other men were shouting about them, I guessed the damn things were doing the same to them. It looked like they were stinging people or something, people jerking about trying to get them off, swat them and stuff, you know?”
The older man takes a sip of his own water. “It sounds unpleasant, Captain. But hardly the stuff of which Black Crusades are made. What happened next?”
“That’s when they charged us. They were…huge. And they did look like Astartes, sir, but…different, somehow. Bigger. Some of them looked mis-shapen, somehow, like their arms didn’t end in the right shape or something. And there were more of those flies or whatever they were, a swarm of the damn things like a cloud around them.” He drinks more water, his eyes closing as he remembers. “They were unstoppable. We hit them with everything we had, they just seemed to shrug it off like it didn’t matter. And when they were into us, they just...they just tore us to fethin’ pieces. Closer in like that, I could see ‘em clearly, and I wish to the Throne I couldn’t. They looked like Astartes gone wrong. They had stuff growing on them or something.”
The older man locks his eyes on the captain as he recounts his tale. “Continue, please.”
“Some of ‘em had bloody great claws and stuff instead of hands. One of them…Throne, he had these damn great teeth where his belly should have been! He was just butchering men all around him. I mean, teeth? What the hell has teeth in its gut and wears power armour? They had Terminators, too, huge bastards with chain-swords and axes and stuff…and all of them were dark green, with flesh and stuff hanging off them, and this weird sign with three circles on it. It…it made my eyes hurt to look at it.”
“And that’s when you realised that they were Traitors, yes?”
Barra drains his glass again, sweating now. “Aye, sir.”
“Traitors of the worst kind, Captain.” He closes his eyes for a few moments, the lines around them momentarily showing his true age, before opening them to look directly at the young captain again. “The blessed Emperor’s own Astartes, fallen and corrupted.”
“We’d heard rumours from the Crusade, sir, that there were Traitor Marines seen, but we never expected to see them here. Especially not now.”
“Of course not. How could you?”
“I mean…we couldn’t even slow them down, never mind stopping them. Something like two platoons’ worth of men dead in the first ten seconds or so after contact, then they set to clearing the whole complex. They used flamers to smoke out the men, then tore them to shreds. Throne! It was a massacre. And all the time those damn flies, in your eyes, your ears, your mouth if you weren’t careful…”
“I have to ask, Captain, how you managed to survive yourself, given how out-matched you say you were?”
“Truth be told, sir, I don’t really know. I got cornered by this huge one of them, a Terminator, he had some huge kind of autocannon with a chainblade or something on the end of it which he pointed at me and I thought, ‘this is it’…then he put down the gun and picked me up by my neck. He stank
, I mean really awful, like you’d been dropped in the latrines on a hot day and rotting meat stuck in there with you or something.” He pauses and drinks more water. “And up close I could see all his flesh, it was covered with boils and swellings and stuff, and some of it was moving
, like stuff shifting around just under the surface or something. It was horrible.”
The other man’s gaze never leaves Barra’s eyes. “I know this must be difficult for you, Captain, but please try to remember everything you can. Every detail is important.”
Barra is sweating more freely now. “He just held me there, like three feet off the ground, while they slaughtered everyone in the complex. Then this other one comes along…he was even bigger, like a monster with huge claws and one huge eye, and horns and things sticking out all over. Throne…I was so scared of him. I could handle dying in action, sir, in a straight fight, I really could, but this was different. It was like they were examining me or something, and all the time all I can hear is the sounds of my men dying. I was reciting the Litany of Protection…”
“…but sir, I was so scared.”
“Understandable.” As he reaches for more water, the older man notices that Barra’s hand is shaking slightly. “Are you all right, Captain?”
“Yes, sir. So…this big one, he stares at me, then he says something to the other one, swings his claw round at my head and that’s the last thing I remember before waking up here.”
“Yes, you had severe contusions to the left side of your head when you were found. Tell me, Captain Barra; can you think of any reason why they might have spared you?”
Barra is breathing more quickly now, sweat visible on his face and hands, and looking pale.
“No, sir. I…I know they killed everyone else, including higher-ranking officers than me. I’m just a Captain. Four years in the Regiment and proud of it, but nothing special. Why me?”
“That’s a question that gives me pause, too, although we are chiefly concerned with gathering as much information as we can about the heretics’ movements. Also, there is of course the question of what to do with you now that you’ve been in such close proximity to the Traitors…”
Barra’s eyes flick upwards again, fearful now. He’s heard the stories.
The even tone of his questioner’s voice never wavers. “Are you sure you’re all right, Captain?”
“Actually, sir, I’m not feeling so hot right now. Do you have any more water?”
As the older man turns to the guard at the door, Barra shudders and squeals with sudden pain. “Ahh! Feth!” He grabs at his right arm, wincing as he does so. The guard comes to full alert but he is far slower than the old man, who springs to his feet and kicks his own chair backwards. Barra has rolled up his right sleeve to reveal a large, angry-looking yellowish blister or boil of some kind. As they both stare closer, there is a tiny movement inside the blister. Barra yells with pain as this happens, and the other man runs to the door, yelling: “Seal this wing off! On my authority!” He turns to Helmann, the guard. “Stand outside this door, and let nobody in!” Helmann rushes to obey, and as he does so the other turns back to Barra to see him staring at the blister on his arm, which is already visibly bigger and spreading .
“What the feth’s happening to me?” he shouts as the movement within the blister becomes more pronounced, then shudders and yells again with pain. He tears open his tunic, to show patches of yellowish discolouration spreading across his chest. “What the feth is this?
The older man grimaces. “I think we know now why they let you live, Captain.” He reaches into his coat and produces an ornate bolt pistol, with gold filigree work inlaid into its sides.
Barra backs up against the wall on the opposite side of the room from the Inquisitor, eyes wide with pain and panic. A violent shudder racks him, and the blister on his right arm splits with an audible, wet sound to reveal a fat, glistening insect nestled in a welter of pus. He screams as it spreads its wings and escapes his body, the droning sound of its wing-beats clearly audible even over the sounds emanating from Barra, blood and pus mingling and streaming down his arm from the insect’s birth-wound. The Inquisitor tracks it as it circles the chamber, and as it briefly rests on a wall fires one round which vapourises the insect and leaves a small crater in the wall itself. Barra screams again, and the Inquisitor turns to see new blisters rising on the surface of his body, movement starting to become visible beneath some of them. He closes his eyes for a second, genuine regret clear on his face.
“I had truly hoped it wouldn’t come to this.”
Barra screams again, blood dribbling from the corner of his mouth as he writhes in agony. “Ahh! Feth! Help me!
“I’m sorry, but you’ve been used, Captain Barra.”
He raises the pistol again, as another one of the obscene flies begins to emerge from a blister on Barra’s chest.
“You’re not a survivor. You’re an incubator
He fires one round into Barra’s head, granting him a merciful release.
“…and may the Emperor have mercy on your soul.”
He empties the rest of the magazine into the body, pulverising human and insect flesh alike until all movement ceases. Only now does he realise that his own breathing has in fact speeded up somewhat, and spends a few moments calming himself down again. Holstering the pistol, and heedless of the horrified expression on Helmann’s face as he stares through the cell window at what has transpired inside, he pulls out a small communicator unit.
“Bring the cutter to the detention centre with all speed. And make sure you’ve got plenty of flamer fuel.”
A brief pause, then a scratchy female voice can be heard emanating from the communicator. “How is he?”
“He’s with the Emperor now.”
“Feth, indeed. We need to move quickly; it’s even worse than Mourne suspected.”