Thanks man, much appreciated. I'm going to post it fairly quickly I think since I've got 5 novels' worth to get through!
~A conflict of interest~
05:01 (Imperial) 12.982.M41
The room was dark.
Outside, the nightlife of Gortlémund’s capital city, Kalen Primo, continued, with floating pict displays blaring multicoloured advertisements through the half-closed blinds, and drunken individuals parading through the streets.
He watched as parallelograms of purple and green light formed on the cheap beige carpet of the hotel room floor, illuminating half-eaten morsels in cardboard boxes, and travel pamphlets for chartered off-world trader flights.
Clearly, the Imperial official was intending to leave, and in a hurry.
Inquisitor MkCormack of the Ordo Militum watched from a chair in a dark corner of the room, as the man slept in the large bed against the far wall. The official was fat – obese, even, and his vast bulk strained the bed springs beyond their tolerance every time he rolled over. Aside from the muffled sound of the music and revellers outside, his rank, cluttered breathing made the only noise in the room.
MkCormack grimaced. He was dressed in a brown leather storm coat, white gloves, black trousers and boots, and a simple grey tunic, with his head crowned with a wide-brimmed, gunslinger-fashioned brown hat, and a black visor to mask his eyes; yet to the untrained eye, he might as well have been invisible.
He steepled his fingers in front of his face for a few brief seconds, before sighing, standing up, sliding a long, ornate pistol from a chest holster, and levelling it at the man’s head.
“Boo,” he whispered. The official’s eyes fluttered open.
“What the –”
His exploded head gelled the wall, pillow, sheets and MkCormack’s face in dark red in less than a second. The muffled echo of the gunshot was quickly smothered in silence, as if it had never been.
The Inquisitor re-holstered the pistol, and produced a handkerchief to mop away the bloody detritus from his visor. Almost as soon as he was finished, the commcaster on the bedside table bleeped into life, its electric blue flashing slicing through the dark.
MkCormack let it ring for a full minute, before picking it up and thumbing it on. He waited for the caller to speak.
“Inquisitor MkCormack?” A gruff voice said, after a pause.
“You’d better hope so, now,” the Inquisitor replied. It flustered the man on the other end; a lot more than he’d care to admit, MkCormack expected.
“I was told you’d be at this location, at this time.” The man pressed.
The Inquisitor smiled. Only another member of the Ordo Militum would have known his whereabouts; a very specific member, at that.
“You are well informed, Major General Burkhardt.”
There was a brief pause, punctuated by the General’s spluttering.
“How did you –”
“You are not the only one who is well informed.” MkCormack swiftly interjected. “Now what is it that I can do for you? Speak quickly.”
He smiled again as he felt Burkhardt’s anger rise. He enjoyed the immunity his position gave him. Immensely.
“A man, Captain John Garrick of the Imperial Guard has been arrested – after an action on a Tau frontier world.” The General growled after gathering himself. “He is to be court martialled. Your…services on the panel are required.”
“And why hasn’t Captain John Garrick of the Imperial Guard been shot?” MkCormack asked, tucking the handkerchief back in his outer coat pocket and pulling out a box of lho sticks.
“I don’t know – look, please, Mister Inquisitor, your co-operation in this matter is of paramount importance.”
“I am, as they say, all ears,” he replied, walking across the carpet and to the door. The flash of the lighter illuminated his grim features for a second, before wisps of grey smoke flooded away from the Inquisitor’s mouth, and the lighter snapped shut.
“You are to assemble two other officers of your choice, to preside alongside you on the panel. You are also to select two men – two very good men, for the prosecution council. I want this to be as low-key as possible.”
There was another lengthy silence.
“Do you…understand?” Burkhardt asked, cautiously.
MkCormack opened his mouth to speak, smiled, and thought better of it.
“Yes, General.” He said, and terminated the link.
Peace once again claimed the room. MkCormack stood still for another minute, taking a long drag of the lho stick, before the commcaster rang again. Unfazed, he thumbed it on and brought it to his ear once more, waiting for the caller to speak first.
“Who am I speaking to?” The voice said – a different voice, a darker voice.
“That depends,” MkCormack replied smoothly, “on who’s asking.”
The line went dead. The Inquisitor, again unfazed, counted the seconds on his chronometer before the next incoming call; thirty-nine exactly.
It was another Inquisitor.
“Speak,” he said.
“A Major General has just contacted you. He has given you information regarding a trial involving an Imperial Captain.”
MkCormack said nothing. These were not questions.
“You are to disregard what he has said. You are to allocate eight other officers for the panel, to preside alongside you. One of them must include Major General Reece. You are also to allocate two officers for the prosecution council. The senior is to be Commissar Vurdan of the Imperial Guard. The junior is to be another Commissar of your choosing. You are not to be discreet about the trial. It will take place in the Emperor’s Court, in the Department of Imperial Justice, Kalen Primo. It is to be open to the public.”
“Understood.” MkCormack replied.
The link terminated.
He stood alone in the dark room once again, taking a last drag of the lho stick; then he flicked the still-glowing butt onto the bed. The cheap, synthetic material smouldered briefly, before catching alight.
He waited for another minute, before tossing the commcaster into the flames.
Then he disappeared into the night.
INS Strength and Honour
Gortlémund, High Anchor
03:59 (ship time), 04:19 (local)
08:13 (Imperial) 15.982.M41
The INS Strength and Honour
tore through into realspace in a blaze of cracking warp energy, one thousand kilometres above the grey world of Gortlémund. It was a huge Mars-class cruiser, its hull a proud royal blue with burnished gold crenelations, furnished with the older gothic spires and archways that characterised the ship style of the immediate post-Heresy millennia.
Vandemarr was asleep, again in the Princeps suite, when Fleet Captain Denver’s voice sounded over the municipal address system. The discreet, splayed brass horn above the doors at the far end of the grand room broadcast the message surprisingly well, considering its size. Well enough to cause the Commissar to leap out of his chair, bolt pistol drawn, with a legal paper stuck to his forehead.
Once he’d disabused himself, he coughed, holstered the pistol and removed the paper from his forehead. He quickly scanned it through blurred eyes, muttering under his breath.
“…Mister Garrick was interrogated shortly thereafter…is said to have divulged valuable information…when discovered was wearing Tau armour…”
He groaned, and slapped the document back onto the table. It was hopeless. There were hundreds of papers and dataslates he’d managed to dig up from the ship’s library; files of old cases, instances of judicial precedent – any instances of mutiny, co-operation with the enemy, exceptional circumstances – and he’d learned only two things;
Firstly, that this was the first time a Guardsman had been tried for alleged treachery;
He’d learned only one thing.
“Message repeats;" said the MA, "we are holding high anchor over Gortlémund. Manoeuvre to low anchor will commence at 04:30 ship time.”
The Commissar turned and strode quickly towards one of the portholes at the other end of the suite. There, amidst the inky blackness of space, and the whorls of blue gasses that marked the Eastern Fringe – and the Tau Empire – lay Gortlémund, a huge Imperial world of great wealth and importance.
It was breathtaking to say the least.
“Commissar?” Came a voice he recognised. Vandemarr whirled round with a flourish, to see Lieutenant Codey next to the table, admiring his research.
“We’re screwed,” he said, extending his palm as he did so, as one might do in a play when beseeching another.
“We are?” Codey replied dejectedly.
Vandemarr dropped his hands and levelled his eyes at the young Lieutenant.
“No, Codey, we are not. At least, that it what we want the prosecution council to think. We are not screwed – quite the opposite, in fact. You will walk into wherever we’re to conduct this blasted trial with all the air of a man who has never been so sure of something in his life.” He resumed his actor’s stance and voice. “Appearances, my dear boy; it’s all about appearances.”
Codey scowled; he hated it when Vandemarr called him ‘boy’.
“I wish you’d told me all this three days ago,” he said. “The trial starts tomorrow.”
“Yes,” Vandemarr replied, “and methinks, someone doesn’t want us to win. Aside from the prosecution, of course.” He added quickly.
He hopped onto his other foot, as if now a ballet dancer. Codey was, however, long since used to the Commissar’s eccentricities, and merely remained still, his brow furrowed.
“What do you mean ‘someone doesn’t want us to win’? Who?”
“One of the brass, I’d imagine,” The Commissar replied, offhand.
“One of the brass? Then what’s the point in even trying to win?” Codey asked, now slightly angry at Vandemarr’s cryptic answers.
“Because there's someone else…” another hop, “…who does want us to.”
“What are you talking about? In plain gothic, please,” The Lieutenant said.
Vandemarr sighed, walked over to the nearest chair, and slumped down into it.
“Did you read the facts of the case?” He asked, reaching for a decanter of port and pouring a measure into two glasses.
“Briefly,” Codey replied, taking one of the glasses. When he caught the Commissar’s expression, he quickly added; “I’ve been busy with the troops!”
“If you’d read them over and over and over again – like I have,” Vandemarr said, pausing to clear his throat, “one thing will become very obvious.” He shook his head. “Very obvious indeed.”
“Someone has taken great pains to ensure it’s almost impossible for us to win.”
“How can you tell? They’re just the facts, surely?”
“Yes, they’re just the facts, but look,” The Commissar said, thrusting one of the documents towards Codey. “What kind of Imperial Captain – a thus far loyal Imperial Captain of several campaigns, I might add – just up and renounces his oath to the Emperor, dons a suit of Tau – xeno – armour, and starts singing like a tin whistle about all upcoming Guard actions – many of which his rank wouldn’t permit him to know about anyway – on the planet?”
“The…kind that has his life threatened, sir.” The Lieutenant replied.
Vandemarr snatched the document out of his hands, suddenly angry, and threw it back onto the table.
“Oh, you can’t afford to be this naïve, Codey!” He snarled. “You don’t spend twelve years in the Imperial Guard, face the unimaginable horrors that would make every civilian in this Imperium crap their pants, and fight your way to a well-earned Captaincy, just to throw it away in one night of – if our friends on the prosecution are to be believed – very mild interrogation!”
“Why mild interr –” Codey tried to interrupt, but was shouted down.
“Mild because they want it to look like he gave them the info at the first available opportunity, don’t they? Conspiracy to commit mutiny, Codey! Emperor alive!”
The Commissar calmed himself visibly.
“I know someone doesn’t want us to win,” he said quietly, “because the ‘facts of the case’, have been misrepresented.” He knocked back another glass-full of port. “Which in any other case would be grounds for a mistrial.” He snorted.
He thumped the glass back onto the table, and leant back.
“So…” Codey said, evidently choosing his words very carefully, “how can you tell that there’s someone who does want us to win?”
There was a long pause.
“Because,” Vandemarr replied slowly, “Commissar Vurdan is on the prosecution council.”
There was a second, considerably more awkward pause.
“What?” Codey asked.
“Doesn’t matter,” Vandemarr replied, standing up and checking his chronometer. “We need to go anyway."
He caught the confused look on Codey's face as he gathered up his papers, and sighed.
"I’ll explain on the way down.”