The young woman looked entirely out of place as she walked into the dingy room. She was efficient and neat, but stylish in a sort of up-hive way. A long dark blue coat hung to her knees, but was left open to display the abdomen revealing crop top and skin tight leggings. Heavy boots of some kind of alien leather struck the metal decking with an impatient authority.
She turned to the clerk at the desk and he saw that her face was heart shaped, with sandy hair tied back into a ponytail. She would have been pretty save for the set of her jaw and a slight hardness around her light brown eyes. She didn’t wait for him to speak. “I’ve room three.”
Gil Hackal didn’t normally let anyone talk to him like that in his domain. He opened his mouth to give a terse reply but it was too late. She was already gone, bearing a hard sided briefcase past him and down toward the interview spaces. “Hey,” he started, “you can’t just –“
“Send in the first one,” she snapped over his objection, entirely ignoring him.
Hackal looked around the waiting area. There were over a dozen workers here, all of them competing in filth with the peeling rust streaked steel walls and worn deck grating. They sat on old cargo crates of mismatched color and uneven height. Recycling was always the order of the day mid-hive and that meant more funds to Gil which he didn’t have to spend on the furniture it was allotted for. As long as no one noticed. Gesturing with a finger only slightly less dirty than the desk it rested on, Hackal sent the first of the workers after the fancy up-hiver. He didn’t like her and the sooner she was gone the better.
Interview Room #3 at least had furniture more or less worthy of the name. Since it was used by supervisors there was a chair which was only moderately dirty, a stained plastic desk, a large cupboard to her left and yet another packing crate for the interviewee to sit on. Her back was to the wall, the door in front of her on the other side of the work surface. Thessalonica Jones set her case on the desk and opened it, first pulling out a thin sheet of cloth which she tossed over the chair to protect her coat. She settled on top of it before unfolding more items from within the case. A small dataslate type screen. A thickly lensed Auspex sensor head and a bellows style device. She waited as the first worker came in. A hard looking woman of indeterminate middle age with a lined face that seemed to have never been washed and worker coveralls that might once have been orange.
“Sit,” Jones motioned toward the crate and started adjusting the machinery from her case. “We will start with a few basic calibration questions.”
The woman looked bored, uninterested, dull as a stone and said nothing – only muttering in monosyllables when a reply was required. Deadly boring. Thessalonica watched the dataslate and the equipment with keen interest but nothing tweaked or moved beyond what was expected. She sighed to herself. It was going to be a long day.
* * *
Hours later and Thessalonica was on interview seven. With one hand she snacked on what had been a hot fruit pastry when she’d bought it. Now long congealed and gone cold. The heavyset man looked across the desk at her with a hint of anger in his eyes. The first emotion she’d seen today. On the dataslate a set of readings scrolled by indicating auspex pickups of various types. One part of the screen displayed a close-up of the man’s eye, picked up by the sensor. Flickers of readings in green text measured blood flow, pupil dilation, the narrowing or widening of the lids and the muscles around the eye. The bellows moved in and out, matching the breathing of the heavyset worker. “Would you like one? They’ve gone cold but they are edible.”
“I – uhhh. Yeah. Sure.”
Thessalonica passed over a pastry, careful to keep her hand clear of the very dirty man. He didn’t thank her but eyed the food suspiciously before cramming it into his mouth. His eyes closed almost to slits and the system read out emotions of pleasure. “Your name, sir?”
“Urghardt.” It was hard to make out the word with his mouth so full of pastry. Enough got through for the system to show him being truthful.
She looked down at the dataslate. “Hab level 4a, cube 32-46,” she said quietly.
“You know it?”
“Sure, that’s the hab. Where I live.”
“It’s okay, I guess.”
“Where are you currently working?”
“When you’re not here of course. When you’re at your usual job.”
“Pit 227, level 2318. North ore face.”
“Your work record says that your production output is excellent. Did you know you have had three commendations in the last six months?”
“Do I?” The system read legitimate surprise. “They didn’ tell me.”
“Sometimes they don’t. Have you been there long?”
“That ore face. Have you been there long?” Thessalonica continued to look bored as she studied her read outs. There might be something…
“I was moved to the North ore face a while ago. I don’t really know how long. The days is all like one another yaknow.”
“I expect so,” she flashed him a slight smile.
“What’s all this for?”
“Just a test, Mr. Urquhardt. You’ve had tests before haven’t you?”
“Not like this.”
“No,” she replied with another slight smile. “Probably not like this. Is it dangerous?”
“What?” The big man seemed confused. The readings showed some agitation.
“Your work. Is it dangerous?”
“Sometimes. Rockfalls. Blasting accidents. Sometimes critters.”
“Critters, Mr. Urquhardt? Could you be more specific?”
“I don’t know. I see somethin’ small I kill it with the rock drill. Somethin’ big – probably run away.”
“Have you ever seen anything like this?” She flipped a switch displaying a picture of a monster on the wall behind her. It was huge, hideous. Lavender skin and carnivore teeth with a long, disgusting pink tongue. The eyes were small, and glinted evilly. Amber orbs full of terrifying inhuman intelligence. Thessalonica watched the slate carefully, noting the reactions. It was the initial tiny involuntary ones she was most interested in and she wasn’t disappointed. Excitement, joy, even love – quickly hidden by feigned disgust. She knew now that her trip had not been in vain.
“Emperor! That thing is awful! Disgusting! What kind of test is this? What the hell kind of questions? Are these written down for you or something?”
Jones was nonplussed. “Calm down, Mr. Urquhardt. Calm down.” She pushed back from the desk a bit, leaning back. “They’re just questions. In answer to your question, they’re written down for me. I just do the test and take the readings. I’ve been doing a lot of them lately.”
It happened and she was ready. The thick bodied worker suddenly lunged across the table toward her. She’d been expecting either that or a grab for a weapon and kicked the big man in the jaw with an upward strike that broke both his momentum and his teeth. She rolled to one side as the thunderous shriek BANG of a bolt round filled the room, the secondary muffled thump an explosion which smeared the former Mr. Urquhardt’s brains all over the room.
Thessalonica Jones rose and looked over at the cupboard which now had a 40mm hole in it, the edges still glowing red from the armor piercing round which had gone through it and decapitated the worker. “Still showing off Vael? Codex Tacticus specifically states that body shots are generally recommended for targets of this sort.”
From the direction of the anteroom there was a huge cacophony of noise. An explosion, shouts, bolter fire and screams and then, very quickly, silence. The cabinet doors flew open and a huge black and silver armored Astartes strode forth, not even looking at the woman as he kicked the interview room door open and strode down the hall, Artifex pattern bolter at the ready. Jones didn’t bother to follow, picking up the cloth she had been sitting on and using a relatively clean part of it to wipe down her specialized auspex equipment. She herself was entirely unruffled, without even a drop of blood on her clothing. She finished the quick wipe down, making a mental note to have her Engineseer clean it properly later and followed Brother Vael Donatus down the passage and into the waiting room.
The manager was still alive, hiding behind his console. From the smell he’d soiled himself although it was hard to be sure over his normal unwashed stink and the smell of bolter propellant and explosives. At the back of the room, three workers yet lived. They were liberally painted in gore and chunks of their comrades. Bodies were everywhere and at both the entryway and two large, new holes blown clean through the walls stood more giant Astartes warriors. The Aquila pattern Kill Team of Chaplain Ortan Cassius. The Chamber Militant of the Ordo Xenos. Deathwatch Space Marines.
Only part of the team was here, of course. Cassius and the rest of his men were placed in a number of strategic parts of the hive in pairs, backed up by her own personal guardsmen whose loyalty she could be sure of. This group, backing her up but mostly ensuring that if this happened there would be no warning and no escape, was led by Codicier Jensus Natorian. She turned to him as he stepped forward, “Well?”
The Blood Raven looked down on her. She was not a tall woman and he was over eight feet in his armor. “As planned, Inquisitor. There was an attempt to transmit psychically. I could only feel the bond once it went active.”
“No, I don’t think so, milady.” He mused a moment. “I allowed the violent death aspect to transmit as that will explain their absence to the cult and its Patriarch. Now that we know that there is an infestation, we can dispose of these in an ‘accident’ once our analysis is complete. Violent death is not uncommon for such as these. It will be less likely to be noticed although we will need to be creative given the diversity of their sources.”
“Just like on Severus Prime, eh Jensus?”
“I wasn’t with you on Severus Prime, Inquisitor,” the Librarian deadpanned.
“I was and hell yes!” Drenn Redblade. Space Wolf. Always eager. Always bloodthirsty. Always loud. Currently rather covered in blood which didn’t show much on his black armor but was smeared all over his face and jaws. Thessalonica figured he’d bitten someone. Again.
The Inquisitrix sighed. The trip here had not been a waste, but there was clearly much to do. She turned to the squad leader. “Brother Zameon, take this one,” she gestured to the supervisor Hackal, “and go through the records for those we can confirm turned on us and their fellow citizens when Vael purged that filth back there.” She gestured back to the interview room, which now had two sets of very bloody footprints exiting it and ending at her feet and Vael’s. “Purge all those habs and work areas. I want 100% coverage. No escapes or misses or I will know the reason why.”
Jensus calmly raised an eyebrow. He had not been with the team very long, but long enough for Thessalonica to note that he was extremely calm when not in the heat of battle. “Is that really necessary, Inquisitor? We don’t know that those habs and areas are completely infested.”
Jones shrugged. “Can’t take the risk this early in an infestation, Brother Natorian. There’s lots more where they came from and if they have residents that are corrupted, it’s almost certain they aren’t the only ones. Those may not be the infestation nexus but it will definitely knock things back a bit while we get a handle on this. Get it done,” when she thought he might say more she added, “Now!
She turned to the others. “Brother Redblade. Gather the survivors and quarantine them. They almost certainly won’t be corrupted and I will want to question them to find out what parts of this shithole are less crudded up with Xenos incursion.” She paused, “And Drenn?” He looked up as he grabbed the first survivor by the front of his tunic. “I want them alive and able to be questioned – so try not to eat them, okay?”
“Thessa – it was only that once –“
“No eating them! And yeah, I know I told you to do it. Don’t remind me.”
The Space Wolf just laughed and scooped up another terrified survivor, carrying them out one under each arm. Brother Ennox herded the rest after, helping them to their feet and directing them in a more dignified fashion.
Nodding to Vael, Lady Inquisitor Thessalonica Jones, Ordo Xenos turned to go. Vael followed, the Ultramarine Sternguard moving in her wake, watching areas of possible attack, bolter at the ready.
“You know, milady, a headshot is a guaranteed kill against that kind of target. It was simply the most efficient kill shot at that range.”
“You were showing off, Vael.”
“I really wasn’t, milady. I assure you.”
The Inquisitor’s laughter echoed down the corridor behind them.