Bralin padded quietly behind the casket and it’s almost dead occupant. The door behind her slid shut equally quietly. The Adeptus Mechanicus Engineer in front was still fussing over the caskets controls.
Sparing only cursory glances at off shooting corridors, she wondered again what was going on.
Through her long and hard training, she had always been told she was a tool, a tool to be used. A mere means to an end. Hers was not to ask why, but to do. Her time in the orphanage had changed her. She had decayed. She now wanted to know the ‘why’. Part of the problem, she knew, had been her charges. Their need to know why and their childish and irrational desire to push boundaries. She had lived a childhood she never had through their own.
The other part, which she admitted to herself, was her own flawed existence. She had been trained since birth as a tool. A tool that had never been quite up to the job, never flawed enough to warrant disposal. The length and cost of her training ensuring that her masters wanted to be sure she was of no use before terminating her existence.
She was all too aware of the irony that the only thing ensuring her life, was the one thing she struggled with.
When the relief force had finally arrived on Harridan, it brought assassins of a quality she could only dream of. She knew them as they knew her. She could read her flaws in their eyes. This had made her new assignment all the more bizarre.
Why was a frigate being made available for the transport of one life support casket, whose occupant was dead in all but mind? Why had the fleet seriously considered sending an Adeptus Master along with her? A master, whose normal job was maintaining ten battle cruisers. What was so important about the casket and it’s occupant? Why, if it was so important was she guarding it and not one of her more able peers?
It was one mystery after another.
When the fleet had arrived on Harridan, she had expected reassignment to a training team, followed by an ability assessment. An assessment she fully expected to fail, with the permanent consequence that normally entailed.
Yet she had been summoned by a rank that scared her. Never before had she stood in front of someone so high in her order. Had the rank ordered her death there and then, she doubted she could have stopped her own hand from carrying out the command.
When the rank gave her temporary authority four times her own station, the feeling was not one of elation. It was not even an emotion. It was a question.
She had quietly accepted her new orders, gave her acquiescence and departed.
It was in the process of tracking down both casket and courier ship, that she became aware that there were forces in play, that were so powerful, that they were almost deities. To do ones job, you must know ones job. It became apparent that the Imperial fleet was but a mere pawn, the fate of a planet a mere aside, her own order a mere tool. She was now breaking one of the orders cardinal rules. She was asking why?
Keeping quiet but alert, she eavesdropped in on conversations in corridors as she passed. Pretended not to listen to conversations in shuttles as she moved between ships. Where she couldn’t hear, she lip-read.
There was a wealth of information available if you knew how and were prepared to correlate it. As she moved through various offices on various ships, little pieces were added to the puzzle.
Each trip to movement office to arrange transport, be it ship to ship or ship to planet side, revealed shipping movements. Some of the information was up on walls and view screens, some on paperwork lying on desks.
Trips to Quartermasters were the same. Revealing stores movements and ship destinations, that even the navigators themselves refused to reveal.
Piece by piece she assembled information. Even the shuttle on route to drop her at the caskets resting place had added to the puzzle. Several of the passengers had been moaning to each other at the loss of shore leave as their ship was rerouted to an unknown destination. Not unknown to Bralin as a previous trip to a shipping clerk had revealed the supposedly secret destination as being Mars.
She had met with her only other companion for the trip. An artificer of the Mechanicus, rare and venerable, his station revealed by both his entourage and the respect given by everyone else. She was unsure where she stood within his circle. He was uncaring. To simply be in his presence was an indication of the seriousness of the mission.
Access to the room that had contained the casket while a ship was prepared, was restricted to only herself and the Adeptus. It was never left without either being in attendance. Not even the Artificers servitors were allowed near without his presence.
She felt the frigates engines rumble into life beneath her feet. The Adeptus stopped, sensing something in the rumble. To her, it sounded the same as every other ship coming to life.
The Adeptus made a note to one of his servitors and went back to fiddling with the caskets controls.
She felt nervous at his fiddling. The plan had been for him to accompany her. Then something else had come up. What, she did not know, but it was enough to cause severe internal conflict within the Adeptus.
That seriousness was brought home when he started to show her the workings of the casket. At first it had made no sense, but as the days progressed, rudiments had started to drop into place.
She wondered if the act of teaching others had awakened a previously dormant ability to understand within her. She was acutely aware that the information he was imparting was of great secrecy to the Adeptus Mechanicus and was only being done so under great duress. She also wondered if it was being aided, in part, by her own temporarily inflated position within her guild.
What was worrying her, was the fact that, if the casket was supposedly self-sustaining, why was the Adeptus continually fiddling with the controls. That word again, ‘why?’
The casket stopped in the centre of the spacious hold and servitors chemically welded it to the floor.
The Adeptus turned to her. A troubled look passed across the human half of his mechanical face.
Bralin shrugged “As much as I ever will.”
The Adeptus was not happy with the reply. It showed. He turned back to the casket again. The war within plain across his back and shoulders and the way his few remaining muscles of flesh were tensed. He turned back to her.
“Yes, I understand.”
He looked back at the casket again before heading back to the door.
Bralin waited till the door cycled shut behind him before dropping her bag and relaxing. She looked around the spacious hangar that would be her home for the coming weeks. ‘Why’ She wondered again.
The vibrations of the ship engines continued to tremble beneath her feet. They would continue to do so until the Artificer left the ship, only then, would their full power be unleashed.
She hated space ships. She hated their claustrophobic nature. She hated how she had to trust her life to the ability of another. Aware of how she had scraped through her own chapter tests, instilled in her the uncomfortable knowledge, that there were individuals like herself in every other profession of the Imperium. It as not a comforting thought.
Bralin moved over to the sleek, humming casket. She slid the fingertips of one hand along its sleek and hallowed surface. A move she would never have dared to do in the presence of the Adeptus. She looked down and into the small view plate and at the youthful face beneath.
A face she knew so well.
She wondered, not for the first time, if it was that familiarity that had ensured her selection for the task, and with it, her life.
That all now lay in her past.
Leaving the casket behind, she walked the space within the hold. She paused at the few crates stored and secured along the edges. The destination labels on the crates making a mockery of the supposedly secret destination. She checked the seals on the crates. Each bore the personal seal of the Artificer that had just left. That was fine, she would have no clue as to what the contents were any way. If they held anything untoward to her mission, the fact that the very person who seemed so worried about the caskets safety had been the one that had cleared them, was one less knife poised at her back.
All the seals were in place and untouched.
Looking up, she studied the wrought ferro-work that supported the ceiling and with it, the structural integrity of the frigate.
She started to carry out warm up exercises with a degree of relish that she found surprising. Again that question ‘Why?’
Muscles loosened, she sprung onto the top of a crate, then onto one of the sweeping and arched rafters. Ensuring her grip, she slowly made her way up the beam.
The space above the hanging ceiling lights was dark and predatory. Perfect for ambush. She waited till her eyes adjusted to the oppressive gloom. A thin veneer of dust covered every surface. Testament to the areas neglect.
Looking down upon the casket, she had a good line of sight to the entire floor area. Those looking up, would do so into the harsh phosphorous glare of the lights. She looked around studying for means of entry. There were several; the primary air circulation duct, a maintenance shaft and a fusion power access vent. She selected some mall items from her sash and set to securing the roof.
When she lowered herself to the floor, she finished by setting up a simple sensor by the door. She made her way to her bag and retrieved a simple set of maintenance tools. Donated, grudgingly by Artificer and blessed with the machine spirit, they were for emergency use on the casket. Bralin had other uses in mind.
A quick search of the wall panels revealed an access panel to a plasma exhaust vent. Normally they were cycled once every ships watch. She loosened the cover, hoping a vent was not due. Removing the cover, she had a quick look inside. The internal walls radiated heat, revealing that a vent had happened in the near past. She slipped the cover back on and loosely tightened the bolts. That took care of waste disposal.
She headed back to the casket and sat beside it. The cask emitted a slight humming sound that was relaxing, somehow managing to avoid being grating. She wondered if she would feel the same about it after several weeks.
After several days, she wondered if he biggest threat was posed by boredom. She had been expressly forbidden from leaving the casket unattended. Nor was any one else allowed into the hold. A crate of rations had been left for her use. She was amazed at that. Such forethought was not the norm in her experience.
To help relieve the boredom and pass the time, she had started to run circuits around the spacious hold. The even flatness aiding various gymnastic moves. You could only do so many laps before tedium set in and she found herself moving some of the lighter crates around to create obstacles.
As the days passed, so did her creativity. Adding ‘ambush left’, or right, into her runs. Forcing herself into ever wilder, erratic evasive manoeuvres and tumbles that took her behind the randomly placed crates.
The casket just sat in the middle of the hold and hummed.
Soon bored with the floor workout, she moved to the roof. This proved harder as it required the heavy use of her upper body. Something she had always been weak on. But it was variety, even though she did have several close calls at the start as her balance was not refined enough. It was knowledge of the weakness that spurred her on. After a while she started to enjoy swinging through the holds rafters. Joyous adrenaline leading to moves rasher than was advisable.
Three weeks into the journey, her rest was disturbed. She came awake at once as the door alarm was triggered. The hold lights were never extinguished, which was one reason she had started to sleep in the space above them.
A figure slowly peered round the open doorway, the sheer furtiveness of the figure, triggering all her innate warning bells. The figure slowly slipped in, checking left and right as he did so. Though he was dressed as a lower ship rating, it meant nothing. He slowly made his way towards the casket, still looking left and right. Failing, as many did, to look up.
Her orders had been specific. She slowly slipped a dart from its sheath.
The figure stopped twelve feet from the casket and after a final look around, reached into his clothing.
Bralins arm snapped forward and down, the dart leaving her grasp silently. With a slight thud, the dart embedded itself into the targets spinal cord. The figure slumped ungainly onto the floor as it lost all control from the neck down.
Racing down a rafter, Bralin leapt onto the floor, loosing downward momentum in a forward roll that brought her to the side of the dying sailor. She removed the dart as death claimed him. She carried out a cursory search before heading to the door to shut it and rearm her sensor.
A fuller search of the body revealed nothing untoward. She hadn’t really expected it to. The pocket his hand had been reaching into, held only a basic set of tools of a quality vastly inferior to the ones she had been given by the Adeptus.
There was a strong possibility that the ships rating had only been on the prowl for something to boost his own, meagre income.
She stripped the body and with the aid of a laser knife, started to cut off the arms and legs. There was little blood as the heart had stopped pumping and the laser cauterised and sealed as it cut.
She wrapped up the pieces in the discarded clothing.
Unscrewing the plasma vents access hatch, she dropped the bundles in along with a bag of her own waste. If the hatch had been bigger, it would have saved on the effort of having to dismember the corpse. Finally she dropped the inferior tools in as well before replacing the hatch.
She looked around to ensure the hold looked as it should, then headed back up into the roof.
A further three times she was disturbed. A further three times the vent panel was removed.
She was halfway through a simple set of exercises, when the door resounded to heavy impacts. Rising to her feet, she approached the door as the banging repeated.
She disarmed the alarm, then stood to the side as she pressed the door release.
A navigator stood in the doorway.
“We are landing.” He turned and left.
Bralin raised an eyebrow, checked the corridor then shut the door.
“Nice to see you as well” She muttered as she re-armed the sensor.
Bemused, she headed back to the casket and carried on her exercises where she had left off.
She felt the change in vibration through the floor before she registered the change in tone. The vibrations slowly increased, as did the muted roar of the thrusters. She stood as the floor vibrations were becoming ... uncomfortable.
She packed up her meagre belongings and moved the crates back to the edge of the hold, straping them securely in place. She properly tightened the plasma vent access for good measure as well.
Nervous excitement started to well up within her. Time passed. She walked around the casket. All was as it should be.
A solid tremor ran through the frigate and the engines quietened to a murmur.
She turned expectantly to the door. Wondering how she was supposed to know friend from foe. Should she kill all that entered until a master made their presence known?
She should have asked before the journeys start.
A loud crack behind her, made her jump unexpectedly. She spun around. The entire bulkhead was moving. She moved protectively between the moving bulkhead and the casket. Her inner ears tightened with the change in air pressure.
A split appeared in the bulkhead, she steadied her stance.
A Librarian, resplendent in glowing Terminator armour and purity seals stepped through the gap.
She swallowed, tensing.
The Librarian strode towards her, crackling with ethereal energy. A whole host of Adeptus masters followed in his wake.
Bralin stepped aside.
The Librarian did not head straight for the cask as expected, but towards her. She suddenly felt as though someone was trying, and succeeding, to pull her insides out through her nose.
She collapsed to her knees, determined not to throw up in such Imperial company.
As suddenly as it had begun, the sensation was gone, leaving her kneeling in her own sweat. She shakily stood.
The Librarian was scrutinising the casket. The Adepti stood behind in barely checked impatience.
Without a word the Librarian turned and with a parting glance at the plasma vent hatch, left.
The Adepti hurried over in a revealing show of speed, to fiddle with the casket. One paused to glare at her. She shrugged back.
Servitors came in to chemically release the welds. Reverently the Adepti started to move the casket out of the frigate. As soon as the casket was clear, the massive doors started to ponderously close.
Bralin was left at a loss. Was she supposed to stay in the frigate and return back to the fleet at Harridan, or was she supposed to leave the ship. Leave and go where?
Since her last instruction was to protect the casket, she grabbed her bag and slipped between the doors just before they closed.
The air outside the frigate was metallic and full of the sound of cooling hull armour.
The procession with the casket was making good speed and she was forced to break into a light run to catch up.
To the side of her, great massive struts were just visible leading up to a ceiling shrouded in darkness. The implied scale of the hangar, that managed to make the frigate look so small was astounding.
She slowed down as she caught up with the procession. No one spared her a glance.
Bralin found it increasingly hard to keep her mind on the job. She was seeing sights very few out with the Adeptus Mechanicus were privileged to see. She passed machines large and small, all sharing the same property. She had no idea, or could even begin to guess, at what they did.
She was also glad she had spent so much time working out as the journey seemed to last forever. Studying the figures in front of her, she had noticed she was the only one not mechanically augmented.
The Librarian seemed prepared to walk till his suit ran out of power. She was not even sure if that was possible.
The journey through corridors that so far had been relatively free of non-mechanical life, were slowly starting to become more populated. She stopped admiring the scenery and switched her attention to the other passageway users.
She doubted that this deep in the bowels of Mars, if Mars were where she was, that insurgents would exist. She was not a hundred percent sure, so erred on the side of caution.
Rooms split of left and right from the corridor, with servitors busy at various tasks. She knew a workshop when she saw one.
None of the workers seemed to spare the procession a glance, as though it was commonplace. In such a facility as this, she wondered, it probably was.
The corridor widened out in front of two large double doors. Flanked on either side by a Terminator. They were so statuesque, that she wondered if they were. The helmet of a Terminator turned to look at her. She changed her mind.
“If you will follow me, please” The phrase was more command than request.
Bralin turned her gaze from the two Terminators and immediately knew she had erred. So enraptured by the sight of the door and its guardians that she had overlooked a lady sat calmly at a desk beside the entrance. The middle-aged lady rose from behind her desk pointing to a side door. The woman was dressed in the formal robes of the Oficcio Assassinorum. The woman was not of Bralins chapter, but to know one was to know them all.
Mentally kicking herself, she followed.
“A room has been prepared for you.”
That answered one of Bralins questions. She felt herself as a game piece. One, which had just been moved.
The room was spartan but larger than she expected. The doorway showed heavy scuffmarks at the edges. Especially at around her head height, where the shoulder plates of a Space marines armour would be.
The other assassin turned to leave.
She stopped and looked back at Bralin.
“Whom do I report to? And when?”
“You will be summoned when you are needed.” With that, the older woman turned and left.
For the second time in an awake cycle, she was left staring at a retreating back still none the wiser.
Shrugging, she shut the door. Laying her bag next to the bed, she tested it. It was firm but not uncomfortably so. She lay down upon it. Within moments she was sound asleep.
Hard knocking roused her from her slumber.
“Enter.” The door did not open.
She rose and opened it. A tray of foodstuffs lay at her feet, steaming gently. Picking it up she carried the tray inside and lay it upon the table. Retrieving a few items from her sash, she did a quick scan for poisons. She didn’t expect to find any. If they had wanted her dead, they would have done so while she slept.
The meal was of a quality she had not experienced for some time. She enjoyed every bite of it. Leaving the tray back outside, she left the door open.
A servitor came by and picked it up. She stopped it.
“Toilet? Shower?” She asked.
It nodded and moved on down the corridor. She followed. Nine doors along, it stopped and nodded towards a closed hatch.
“DO NOT GO ANY FURTHER.” Its voice was harsh and metallic. Turning it carried on down the corridor.
“Do you mean that literally or figuratively?” She asked after the servitors retreating back. If it heard, it made no sign.
Sighing Bralin pushed open the hatch. The room inside was obviously a bathroom. She made her way to a stall.
Toilet finished, she headed for the showers. She examined the pipe work of the shower. It was simple pipes fitted with stop valves. She turned one experimentally. Water gushed forth. That was the problem with the Adeptus Mechanicus. You were never sure if an object was what it seemed. Turning another valve, she managed to get the water temperature to a comfortable level. Shrugging out of her dirty clothes, she stepped naked into the stinging jets of liquid.
She revelled under the steaming lances. It felt so good to be clean again. She was tempted to stay in longer and watch her skin pale and wrinkle.
Common sense prevailed.
Stepping out, she realised she had neither brought a towel or a change of clothing. Nor were there any means in sight to dry herself.
Damp and dripping, she collected her clothing and padded bare foot and naked back to her room. A trail of damp foot footsteps followed her on the cold metal floor.
She entered her room, leaving the door open. The first thing she noticed was the fresh dress clothes of her order, laid out neatly on the bed. Normally they were only worn within the private confines of the chapter house. Obviously the rules were different here.
She dropped her soiled bundle in a corner and picked up her official uniform. A corner of her mouth raised in amusement as she noticed she had kept her promotion.
The elastic material clung to every curve on her body in a way that would have proved a major distraction to others if it did not also broadcast her profession.
Suitably attired and freshly washed, she felt a hundred times better.
The warning of the servitor foremost in her mind, she curtailed her desire to go for a walk and instead, sat on her bed. She tapped a foot against the floor and found herself wishing she were back in the frigates hold. It seemed strange to her that she actually missed it and it’s restricted freedom.
Part of her novitiate training, had been to sit stationary, without moving, for several days on end. Looking back, she was amazed she had put up with all the abuse and hardship.
Soft footsteps echoed lonely down the corridor, slowing as they reached her open door.
Bralin stopped tapping her feet, tensing her muscles. More out of habit, than any precursor to a burst of physical, possibly violent, movement.
The steps stopped just before the door.
A figure slowly moved into view, female and also wearing the dress robes of Bralins chapter.
Both looked to each other’s rank indicator.
Bralin smiled inwardly. The newcomer was one rank higher than Bralins actual, but less than her inflated one.
The girl bowed low in deference.
Bralin returned the obeisance. She was unsure when her brevet rank would be removed and had no desire to go around collecting enemies.
“Come in. Don’t worry about the door.”
The girl complied, looking slightly in awe at Bralin. A look that fuelled Bralins own amusement.
“How can I help you?” Bralin was suddenly struck by the absurdity of the question. Surely that was a question she should be answering, not asking.
“I’ve to be your guide, until you find your way. There are a lot of areas out of bounds within this workshop. We are, of course, confined to this workshop.”
The ‘We’ intrigued Bralin.
“Do all the workshops have their own life specialists?” Bralin had always found the expression ‘assassin’ crude.
The girl looked confused. Bralin mentally kicked herself. She was asking questions again.
“Forget I asked” She dismissed her earlier question with a wave of her hand. “Come on then. Show me around our prison.”
The girl looked confused again.
Bralin sighed, aware that this could be a long day.
The area she was allowed to wander was fairly small, consisting of the toilet, accommodation facilities and a large empty room that doubled as the canteen/ social area. Anywhere else had to be sanctioned and traversed with an escort.
Bralin looked towards the other girl “So in other words, my world is three rooms and a corridor.”
She was treated to the blank stare again.
Information from the girl was very sparse. Bralin quickly realised it was because the girl did not know, nor was interested in finding out. The other assassins’ abilities were obviously greater than her own. As much as Bralin was tempted by the little voice at the back of her mind, to sully that ability, she ruthlessly crushed the desire. After all, she was hardly a perfect role model.
She had passed the woman she had first seen at the reception desk, several times in corridors. The other woman had ignored her. Bralin was obviously beneath her contempt.
The days of perpetual idleness started to play on her mind. She was achieving nothing. Eventually she could take no more and lost her patience while sat at the table during lunch.
“I need to see the Chapter Master here.”
The other girl looked stunned “YOU, need to see the Chapter Master?” She was horrified.
“Yes, it’s a simple request, isn’t it?”
The other girl was like a statue, a fork full of food frozen halfway to an open mouth.
“You can ask, can’t you?”
A little voice in the back of Bralins mind chirruped “OOOPS!” Bralin started to laugh.
“What’s so funny?” The other girl asked.
“Just my corrupting influence.” Bralin replied with a wry smile.
The other girl pushed away from the table with a look of fear at the utterance of “Corrupting influence”
Bralin sighed, “It’s just a harmless term okay. I need to have a word with the Chapter Master, alright?”
The other girl picked up her tray and left.
Dropping her head into her hands, Bralin sighed into her dinner.
Two days later the girl approached Bralin, having avoided her since that fateful dinner.
“He will see you now. You are to follow me.” She turned and walked away without another word.
Bralin dutifully followed. She tried to engage the other girl in conversation, to no avail. The girl stopped outside a door like all the others in the corridor. She pressed a button on the wall and waited.
The wall speaker crackled.
Bralin followed the other girl in.
The room contained a bed down one side. A desk at the far wall faced the door. Several paintings adorned the walls. A deep red rug lay across the floor in the corner. The desk supported two view screens, the bin next to the desk was half full.
A collection of knives was displayed in a fan shape above the bed. An archaic pistol lay mounted against the wall behind the desk and it’s occupant.
The other girl took three steps into the room and knelt, head bowed down in supplication. Bralin knelt next to her and bowed her head as well.
There was a long drawn out moment of silence.
“You may return to your duties Corrie. Close the door behind you.”
Bralin watched out the corner of her eye as Corrie stood, bowed again, then left, the door sliding gently shut behind her.