“You’re being paranoid, I just spoke to him about it…”
“You did what?”
“He was completely open about it, don’t you think he’d be a little more subtle if he was involved in heresy?”
“Oh! Good! So you spoke to him and he didn’t seem like he was lying! Well, I guess that settles it then, we can ignore the fact that he led us into a trap that half killed me within hours of arriving on the planet, and concentrate on working on all those other leads he’s given us that’ll probably finish the job!”
Ishta rolled her eyes and walked away without saying another word. Able watched her go, furious with the uppity hive-worlder. The main problem with Ishta was that she had no concept of her place in the operation. He had no illusions that her talents weren’t invaluable to the group, but her attitude needed some serious adjustment. It was the curse of command: everyone thought they could do your job better than you could, that all the good you did was forgotten and every minor mistake you made was held against you forever. Able doubted Ishta had ever led anything more than a conversation, she had no idea what it meant to lose people under her command, to know that good men and women would still be alive if only you’d made a different call somewhere along the line. That was the real weight of command: making decisions and accepting responsibility for the consequences. Anyone could lead a unit when the sun was shining and the enemy was far away, but when everything went to hell someone had to make difficult choices, and that same someone had to deal with the results. Anyone callous enough to claim they never made a bad call didn’t deserve to have lives in their hands. Throne, even the Lord Emperor made mistakes in his time. An image leapt unbidden into his mind, of Ishta nagging a glowing, golden clad figure about some mistake or other and, in spite of himself, chuckled under his breath.
After the briefing Able headed quickly for the computers to find out what he could about the naval base from Octus’ woefully incomplete records. Once again he found himself wondering what the point was in having an inquisitorial cell stationed permanently in a city if they were going to miss such a significant heresy going on right under their noses. The Logicians had infiltrated Castellon right through to the upper Echelons of the planetary defence, and the Lord Emperor only knew how much of the population had been turned by their subtle, insidious propaganda. Somehow, news of this had caught Octus and his group completely by surprise, or so they claimed. Either they were incompetent or they, too, had been turned. Whichever it was, Able was resolved to not place too much faith in them, and certainly to keep them in the dark as much as possible about his own group’s activities.
Able touched the wounds on his face gingerly as he sat at the terminal. Octus had removed the buckshot and the carefully cleaned the wounds, for that at least Able was thankful, but the soreness in his cracked ribs every time he breathed reminded him that the techpriest had caused him as much pain as he’d healed. The wounds on his cheek would scar, of that he was sure. Indeed, he was lucky the shot had only grazed him: from the range Bruul had fired he could easily have lost half of his face, the scars would be a constant reminder of how close he’d come to dying at the hands of the fanatical trooper. What could the Logicians have said or done to turn the man so firmly against the true way of the Emperor? Well, that was the trouble wasn’t it? Bruul was convinced beyond all reasoning that he was working under orders from Saint Drusus, how could anyone short of the Saint himself convince someone like that they’d been sold a clever lie? How they’d done it still worried Able. Convincing an entire regiment that they’d been witness to a miracle was no mean feat, it would take more than some clever lighting and a megaphone to inspire the fanaticism they’d seen in Bruul. It was possible that the Logicians had a powerful psyker working with them or, worse yet, a daemon. He offered a silent prayer to the Emperor that they’d never have to face either while extracting Moran from this cursed planet.
Shaking himself out of the reverie he’d slipped into, Able turned his attention to the computer terminal. Somewhere in these files was the information they needed about troop postings at the Naval dock that was the central barracks for most of the Guard activity in the city. Of course, Octus was far too busy with whatever else he was working on to help them prevent a planetwide insurrection. If this all went wrong and the Logicians managed to summon a demon horde Able dearly hoped Octus was still on the planet when the exterminatus order was enacted, it would serve the asshole right. What the hell was with this system? Apparently it had been designed as an elaborate puzzle, with all the real information obfuscated by layers of meaningless hierarchical categories. Able muttered away to the machine spirits infesting the accursed terminal as he worked, sarcastically imploring them for help in deciphering Octus’ ridiculous and illogical filing.
Several hours later he’d still made no headway, and decided to take a break. Lazarus was still out in the city searching for copies of the heretical book, while Krell and Ishta were in the mess. He joined them reluctantly, still annoyed at Ishta for refusing to take his suspicions seriously, limping over to the table they were sat around with steaming cups of caffine in hand.
“Where are we at? Any closer to getting into that base?” he asked, taking a seat.
“Yeah, I’ve got us some uniforms of one of the regiments stationed there, they’ll be ready for us by the time we go in.” Ishta avoided his gaze as she spoke, but Able could see a faint smirk on her lips
“You’ve done what? When?” He demanded.
“I spoke to Boldon, he’s arranged for a consignment of uniforms to be re-routed to us, an hour or so ago, why?” she smiled, looking as wide eyed and innocent as possible. Krell looked up and, seeing the anger in Able’s eyes, stood and walked out of the mess hall. Able waited for him to leave.
“What the hell is your problem? You knew full well I was headed to Octus’ computers to look up troop assignments and find us a way in, and you’ve been sat here drinking coffee while I’ve been working my ass off?”
“Oh were you? Well, I guess I just forgot”
“You just… Seriously, what the hell is this? Attitude is one thing, but deliberately impeding an investigation because of some pathetic little grudge?”
“Deliberately impeding an investigation?” She laughed “Do you ever listen to yourself talk? You pompous idiot, this investigation is going just fine without you. It’s actually been good for us to get away from your bullshit for a few hours. I know you like to think you’re in charge, but wake up. When we need someone shot we’ll let you know, until then just leave the ‘investigation’ to us, okay?”
Able sat, mouth agape in incredulity at the outburst. When Ishta finished he gritted his teeth and hissed “I don’t know who you think you are, but when we’re on the field I am the ranking member of this millitary unit. That means, in case you’d forgotten, that I make the difficult decisions that you’re too damn scared to make…”
“Oh, difficult decisions? Like the wonderful decision to not fix the Gellar field? And how did that work out for us?”
“You… you arrogant… What the hell makes you think that you knew better than a trained engineer on his own ship? Based on the fact that he was reading a book? It’s all very well to sit here and sing your ‘I told you so’s’ now, but right then you had nothing to go on. But that doesn’t matter does it? Because you guessed right one time, thats what counts to you doesn’t it? Let me ask you this: If you thought it was so damn important why the hell didn’t you do something about it yourself? Why not raise the damn alarm and tell the whole ship about it? I’ll tell you: because you had no more idea than anyone else did that it was going to happen, and you were too busy sleeping your way into the captain’s favour to get yourself onto that table with the important folks you’re so sure you deserve. Don’t think I don’t see what you’re about. But hear this: you’re hive scum, that’s who you are and that’s who you’ll always be. It doesn’t matter how many lords and rich men you take to bed, you can’t change who you are.”
Ishta’s confident smirk didn’t budge an inch as Able finished his outburst. She’d heard the same thing a thousand times before and, while it may once have bothered her, these days it merely strengthened her resolve.
“Can’t change who you are? Hah! What does that say about you then, Dariel Cruze? Born of Nala and Jeremiah Cruze, indentured slave aboard the Wrath of Drusus?”
Able was speechless. How had this witch learned of his origins? He barely used his given name these days, preferring his callsign as a symbol of what he had become since that fateful visit from the Augur.
“How did you…?”
“It’s amazing what you can learn by being nice to the right people. I suggest you try it sometime.” She quipped, a confident grin on her face. Before Able could stammer a response she got to her feet and strolled out.