purplekitte: (Homura)
[personal profile] purplekitte
This is Horus. He's about to turn to Chaos and plunge humanity into ten thousand years of civil war. This could have been prevented if he had a sassy gay friend.

(I find the fact I write this silly Heresy-AU fix-it-fic even more embarrassing than the previous fic that it's a spin-off of.)

Fandom: Warhammer 40k
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: mild violence
Word Count: 9014

It took me a minute to realize I didn’t understand what the people around me were saying. I will blame that on the fact everything in my mind had to get around the lingering image of my blood on the controls of the Thunderhawk I was piloting.

Remembering how that had happened was easy, even with however many drugs I was on to make everything stop hurting. The Warp storm cutting into reality, my power sword cutting through Chaos spawn, the howls of larger daemons elsewhere on the strike cruiser.

Beads of sweat dripping into my eyes and stung, and as I shook my head to flick them away, a monster with teeth too large to fit in its mouth leaping for me.

I crouched and swung my sword over my head. That killed whatever it was, but I was blinded by the rain of blood and intestines and staying in place that long let something vaguely canine but long and flat and sinuous sink its teeth into my ankle.

I screamed in pain and twisted around to stomp on it with my other boot. Skull crunched satisfyingly under my foot, though I couldn’t hear the audio over all the sirens and claxons going off.

The dockmaster was yelling for everyone to get to the saviour pods, the ship was lost and the self-destruct countdown had been activated. Get anything that could fly to the Marines on the ground.

I ran/limped for the farthest Thunderhawk to get it prepped for launch, so missed whatever happened after that as the ship shook disconcertingly. A Thunderhawk normally has a crew of four, so there were quite a lot of buttons and levers for me to push on my own. I didn’t even stop to light incense, preferring to ‘bully the machine-spirit into submission’ until someone looked about me askew for it. No one else crawled in after me, so it took me quite a while to notice the dock was otherwise cleared out.

Of course, everyone would have made for the closest saviour pod or drop pod, not the rear starboard dock with a bunch of blast doors down between there and here. At least that had kept me from being swarmed by daemons while not paying attention.

The Thunderhawk lifted off from the middle of the deck shakily. I pride myself on being able to operate every major vehicle in Imperial service, but I’m a much better driver than pilot, particularly on Space Marine-sized controls.

So it might have been my bad piloting or the explosion behind me or the Warp storm all around that made me hit the edge of the hanger bay on my way out, then go spinning off into space at a random angle. I pushed the throttle as far as I could in the hope of getting out of the blast radius.

And that was about all I remembered, beyond the impact of my face against the controls. Reaching up to check the bandages on my face, I decided I had a broken nose and a concussion, but seemed to be otherwise fine. I’d been able to walk on my ankle earlier, so that was just lacerations, not even a broken bone.

Zoe? Had she made it off-ship? No, wait, she hadn’t even been in the system. Off on another jaunt in Tau space.

The medicae was still talking to me, a man in the uniform of a Guard regiment I didn’t recognise. It sounded almost familiar. High Gothic. Why?

I must have been babbling in my sleep in my native Epistophian language or Fenrisian and not responding to their Low Gothic and confused the heck out of them, so they switched to the universal, shared language of humanity, for all that only scholars and priests knew it well.

‘Sorry. I speak standard Gothic,’ I said.

This... did not help. He continued to speak to me in fluent High Gothic, which I had to admit was a bit impressive in a common medicae.

Did they not speak Imperial Gothic as I knew it? I didn’t recognize the regimental insignia. Were they from somewhere distant in the galaxy, or feral worlders beset by some of the linguistic difficulties that the Epistophy First had experienced in our early days of Imperial service?

Time to try my hand at my limited High Gothic and hope they found a translator soon. I had an okay vocabulary from my medical and ecclesiastical High Gothic, but knew nothing about speaking it conversationally or verb tenses and such.

‘Nomen est Dorothy Katai. Nigrum Lupi Astartes, militus... no, servus.’

‘Legiones serva?’

‘Yes?’ I wasn’t sure if he meant if I was a Chapter serf to the Space Marines or in the Imperial Guard forces when he said ‘Legion’, but either was good enough. I certainly wasn’t going to explain the intricacies of by being in a mostly-decommissioned Guard regiment on permanent loan to a Space Marine Chapter who were also my personal patrons if they already didn’t the story of the Epistophy First and Second. I nodded as much as I could with my head injury and hoped that gesture meant the same thing to them. I also finally remembered High Gothic was a gendered language and I was a woman.

‘Quod? Lupum? Corvini? Ferri?’

That was one of those who/what/when/where questions, though I didn’t know which. At least he had taken to talking slowly and clearly and simply like I was either damaged in the head or barely spoke the language, both of which were accurate.

‘Lupum.’ Had the reinforcements from the Raven Guard arrived? That would explain why I didn’t know the regiment, and his confusion of which Space Marine Chapter I worked for. Had a Iron Hands company shown up too, from the sound of it? Well, good. Maybe we’d even leave something of the hives when we were done shooting all the cultists and daemons, rather than having to resort to Exterminatus.

‘Spatium Lupi?’

I nodded more, then added, ‘Nigrum Lupi.’ The Black Wolves weren’t exactly the Space Wolves, being a rare successor Chapter, but you couldn’t expect outsiders to know the difference.

‘Nuntia? Quam sunt vobis nocere?’

I didn’t understand that or the next couple words. Maybe he was asking me if I was a professional pilot, I guessed from context clues.

‘Quam. Nocere?’ he asked slowly like that would help, then tried. ‘Consaucio? Incido? Injuria?’

‘Ah, how was I injured? ‘Incido’ like incision, maybe? Tempesta. Spatium tempesta. Immaterium tempesta?’

‘Quomodo tibi illud apparere, quando ex parte nauis nec ipsum proprium.’

The medicae turned to consult with one of his counterparts for awhile. The word ‘cerebrum’ came up a lot, so I knew they were talking about my head injury.

I could have followed more of the conversation (most of my High Gothic is medical, and in turn most of my medical vocabulary is High Gothic), but instead I relaxed into the perfectly respectable cot I was on. Common knowledge warned against sleeping with a concussion, but I was in a well-appointed sanatorium and there was certainly some auspex that would notice if I were bleeding into my brain.

‘Russ’ also got mentioned a lot. What, where they making the usual round of barbarian comments, then being amazed that I wasn’t covered fur cloaks and hung with talismans like a votive statue? I was in proper Guard uniform thank you very much, and the forge world was quite warm.

I had some questions I wanted to ask, but I lacked most of the words needed for Are we in orbit? How long was I out? What regiment are you? Which Chapters are here? How many people made it off the Kraken’s Bane? Have the Warp storms subsided?

When next a medicae asked me questions, I tried some more of my own that I had put together in my head as best I could.

‘Quod navi?’ I probably wouldn’t recognize the name of the ship, but it was a start.

‘Navicula? Hoc est Vindice Spiritus.’

Not immediately helpful, but I wanted to know the ship when next I gave a report to Colonel Ravenna. I hoped the Thunderhawk I had been flying was alright, and these people would be kind enough to patch it up and return it, and me too.

‘Quod navicula, legio?’

‘Hoc est sexaginta tertia expeditione classis. Luna Lupi Astartes legion sunt hic. Bellum dominum Horus Lupercal se est in imperio.’

‘That’s very interesting. I could actually understand most of that. You’re the 63rd expeditionary regiment off some planet or other, and you have the Luna Wolves Chapter aboard too, and Lord Horus is your emperor. I did not see that coming.’

Black spots rose up in my vision, along with a deep nausea and sudden vertigo. Pressure started at my temples in pressed inward. My muscles locked up, then started to tremble. I forgot how to breathe completely and tasted bile.

Mercifully, I then passed out.

* * *

I woke feeling like I’d been kicked in the head, and my continued hyperventilating was not helping. I’d been picked up a Chaos ship.

But... I hadn’t seen anything particularly Chaosy, though admittedly that was in the slim section the ship directly in front of my eyes. It looked like a normal infirmary, smelled of counterseptics like one, except... I looked around for a shrine or mural to the Emperor as the Great Healer, but didn’t see one, nor could I smell the stick or two of incense that would be burning there.

They had to know I was Imperial. The Thunderhawk I’d been in hadn’t been defaced with the symbols of Chaos. My sword and gun had the proper aquilas stamped on them, as did my signet ring.

At that thought, I looked around for my weapons instinctively. Not that I could fight my way out of here on a good day.

Who were these Chaos cultists? I had thought the popular sentiment among the Lost and the Damned was scorn toward Horus, for having lost, or so Zoe told me. On the other hand, if there was anything I knew it was that no culture was monolithic, so it shouldn’t be surprising there was some faction that still clung to the idea of Horus as Chaos’s greatest champion and venerated him. Their insistence on speaking High Gothic was probably related to that need to cling to the olden days. Or maybe they’d been in the Eye of Terror so long they still remembered the Heresy as being only a few centuries ago. No, less likely, seeing as we were out practically in the Eastern Fringe, about as far from the Eye of Terror as one could get in this galaxy.

Wait. Beside my cot was my uniform, folded, my set of carapace armour, my weapons lined up on top.

I stopped myself from lunging for them. Didn’t want to give away I was awake, since no one seemed to have noticed yet. Slowly I flexed the muscles in all my limbs. The gun in my mechanical arm functioned. No restraints. No paralyzing drugs in my system.

I was so very confused I started to consider making a plan that didn’t consist of ‘Run to hangar bay in my hospital gown, shooting everyone in the way, and escape in sanctified Thunderhawk’, which admittedly had never been a very good one.

What did they gain from not treating me like a prisoner, when I was hardly likely to escape or contact anyone? But if they’d been devious infiltrators, they wouldn’t instantly tell me who they were.

I needed to know what was going on. I needed to learn High Gothic on very short notice, obviously. I needed to find the hangar. I needed to figure out exactly who they were to bring word back. Which Chaos gods did they serve, what were their numbers like, what did they plan to do to relieve their brethren on-planet?

If only Zoe were here. Her High Gothic was much better than mine, from all the ancient religious texts she read. She knew Chaos cultists much better too.

I finally gave into the inevitable and sat up. Slowly, calmly, I checked my weapons, and found nothing wrong with them. My thought about leaping up seemed all the more absurd when just that almost made me throw up. An orderly came over to me and checked my vitals, not looking surprised that I was awake or I was immediately concerned for my weaponry.

I looked around. This was obviously a trauma centre for violent injuries, I’m enough of a medicae myself to recognise, so they’d be used to treating military personnel. To my right, an empty bed and a wall. To my left, an empty bed and an occupied one behind a curtain. Couldn’t see beyond that. Assuming there was nothing very strange about the acoustics, by the echoes I guessed it to be about a thirty-bed sanatorium. By the engine sounds and deck vibrations, I was guessing this to be a large ship, maybe an Astartes battle-barge or a naval battle cruiser or battleship. That meant this sanatorium was one of many, and probably close to whatever dock I’d been pulled in.

The orderly checking my head wounds called over another medicae and something beeped as I swooned. She was wearing an aquila.

My mind raced. This was part of the insignia on her uniform, not something hidden I had inadvertently glanced. Everyone else I’d seen had been in day-to-day scrubs, but, assuming cultural similarities, this dark red uniform embroidered with gold under a white cape was obviously the formal wear of medicae in this regiment, and this I would guess to be chief medicae of the sanatorium. The golden aquila was the central part of the heraldry.

Were they an Imperial ship recently captured by a Traitor Chapter? Yet I wouldn’t expect a military regiment to go quietly and serve new masters from fear. But if they’d turned to Chaos, I’d expect rampant mutations and the immediate defacing of all Imperial symbols, which their new masters would require anyway. I didn’t smell the sharp rot the Wolf part of my mind associated with Chaos, nor did the atmosphere seem tense or fearful, nor was anything even dirty which I just felt it should be if Chaos was involved.

This just didn’t fit. I’d never heard of the Luna Wolves. Maybe they were some loyalist Chapter who had picked up really strange and inauspicious names at some point because of my complicated vow to clear the honour of all Astartes by doing away with the legacy of their traitor brethren. Maybe they were some strange Brothers Repentius Chapter who had committed some sin in the past and now were desperately trying to atone for their brush with Chaos.

I really needed to stop daydreaming and find out more. This wasn’t helping.

Still, my hand on my bolt pistol relaxed. I was no spy like one of Zoe’s people, but even I understood the principal of acting friendly and not killing anyone unless in self-defence or because they stood before me and my eventual escape. No killing at all until I saw an actual daemon summoning. For all I knew, these people could be on my side. Up until the one sentence mentioning ‘Horus’, which I admittedly hadn’t understood that well, I had thought we were on the same side. The Emperor protects.

* * *

The medicaes finally decided that I must have been terribly traumatized by Warp exposure, because as my minor concussion began to heal and my broken nose gave no more trouble, there was nothing medically wrong with me that would explain my frequent panic attacks and my ‘forgetting’ all but the rudiments of their language. So they pretty much gave me a paper bag and told me to breathe into it whenever I felt the need.

It was communicated to me, in a lot of slow baby talk, that I had been put on medical leave until such time as I had recovered and could make a proper report. I was given a cot in a more long-term wing of the sanatorium and apparently left to my own devices with access to the unrestricted areas of the ship.

So useful, having the privileges of a military officer but not the responsibilities. If I spent more time leading my actual platoon and less on ‘special assignment’ from the Space Marines, I might have had no idea what to do with myself.

When I was well enough to leave my bed without falling over or throwing up, I found the least important deck-scrubber I could and asked in a loud and clear voice, ‘Libro. Locus. Quo?’

I got a look asking louder than words if I were retarded, but that had been pretty much what I was going for. A ship this large would have a library.

I could follow directions involving a pointed finger just fine, and to my relief, the books therein were largely written in the same script I was comfortable with, as I had expected would be the case. Some of the letters were formed a bit differently, but that may have been merely a different font being popular in the Administratum where they were published.

I read the edition notice pages carefully, in case they gave me insight into where in the galaxy they had originated. Somehow I was not expecting them to say ‘Published in the Eye of Terror’, but still.

In keeping with the spoken High Gothic, the first dozen books I examined were ancient works from M30, naturally not in translation, though the codices or dataslates were new and pristine, so they had been transcribed recently. The only books I saw that didn’t seem to be in High Gothic were in probably-human language I didn’t recognize or obviously xeno ones. None were in Tau, so I couldn’t hazard a translation. At least my Low Gothic was a direct linguistic descendant of old High Gothic, so I would have plenty of cognates to draw from. Unlike my birth language or Fenrisian, which haven’t had a common ancestor with Gothic in fifteen thousand years, and only the most diligent of scholars can find common roots through the proto-Gothic of the Dark Age of Technology.

At least I was good with languages. The teaching machine that had implanted the basics of Low Gothic and Fenrisian in me had broken back open the parts of my brain that usually degrade by age twelve, or so I like to think of it, so I now learn more quickly and thoroughly than adults can usually manage. Not supernaturally fast, but still.

The chatter of voices around me saying things I didn’t understand grated. I could almost remember being hooked up to the teaching machine, the words filling my head and I didn’t understand and didn’t understand and I would go mad under it all. It had to make sense, I had to save my sanity... I shuddered and tried to shake myself out of it. That was a long time ago and I was as sane as I’d ever been.

With a sigh, I called up the contents of the first dataslate and started to read.

* * *

‘I’ve seen you in here often lately. Are you on medical leave?’

‘Yes.’ I added carefully, ‘My head injury left me somewhat rattled, so I have been learning to speak again.’

I saw a slightly exaggerated wince. ‘Perhaps you would like to practice speaking aloud then? Your word choice was correct, but your pronunciation and intonation could use work. Those were the most unusual mondegreens.’

‘I would hate to impose.’

‘Nonsense. I’m an iterator, after all. Talking to people is my job.’

‘Then you must want some time off,’ I said, but followed the old man to his table. My instincts screamed he was a man of the Emperor, but ‘iterator’ wasn’t an Ecclesiastical title I knew. Then again, there were more priestly titles than there regiments in the Guard, it seemed.

‘No, no. Your name, young lady?’

‘Dot Katai.’ No one I’d asked had heard of my regiment. ‘I have seen you in this archive chamber a lot as well.’

‘Some research I’ve been doing, after Sixty-Three-Nineteen. Which fleet do you come from?’

I noticed he didn’t give his name. Being old, he might be someone important and would expect me to recognize him if he did. I wouldn’t know him from the Ecclesiarch, of course, and I couldn’t even tell you the name of the current Ecclesiarch for that matter.

‘The fleet of the Black Wolves Chapter.’

‘One of Russ’s fleets?’


‘What are you reading?’

‘Everything.’ I was going in alphabetical order. Even as my fluency grew, my understanding did not improve. There were definitely loyalist books around, speaking of the Imperium as ‘us’ and some of Guilliman’s works, for instance. These books kept throwing around terms I didn’t know, even after reading a dictionary, and concepts that sounded old-fashioned or heretical. There was a lot of variations in the Imperial Cult across the galaxy, but still. ‘What theology are you researching?’

‘Iterators research things other than local superstitions, you know, but at the moment I have been looking into primitive beliefs about Immaterium phenomena.’

I really didn’t know what priests normally researched, actually. I knew about Zoe’s academic papers, had a copy of her latest draft of her new book Constructions of the Sacred Feminine in Imperial Thought on my mobile, but as she would tell me being an academic in religious studies was vastly different than being a theologian with a vocation.

‘Daemon worship?’ Why was I digging deeper into theological matters? Going to say the wrong thing, back myself into a corner, get declared a heretic. This wasn’t home.

‘Yes, in the sort of areas where the walls between Immaterium and the Materium are unusually thin and phenomena are attributed to local gods or demons.’

‘Ah, low scale daemon-worshipping cults on feral worlds.’ If they were only worshipping local, fake gods, missionaries could bring them around to the proper veneration of the Emperor. If they could actually summon daemons into the Materium, they’d have to be purged, and if we were lucky it would be before the entire planet was tainted. Tainted more literally than theologically, as in being a seething mass of puss filled with screaming things that were once human. ‘That’s what the Imperial Army is for.’ These people used an odd term for the Guard as opposed to formal High Gothic form I’d seen once or twice before on the most official of Munitorium documents.

‘I should hope the light of reason to be effective in some cases.’

‘Sorry. I did not mean to imply your missionary work is not important.’

‘The spread of the Imperial Truth will do away with many ignorant superstitions. Though there are things out there not so easily explained by doctrina.’ He looked lost in thought, probably about those daemons he’d been talking about earlier.

I was more thinking about his last word. I had been reading it as ‘techno-theology’, but why would he have switched from talking about the Imperial Cult battling beliefs in deities other than the God-Emperor to wording things in terms of the Omnissiah? If someone from my world had said something like that, they’d have finished that sentence with ‘science’, but this was an Imperial native.

Should I venture something about the Machine God? But the Ecclesiarchy didn’t really like the details of the Mechanicum’s worship any more than they did the personal cults of Space Marines Chapters, a.k.a. things outside their control. So ‘For Russ and the Allfather’ was right out. I knew too much about what the tech-priests actually believed, not what the Ecclesiarchy officially reported about how it should be interpreted, from listening to Zoe go through spy reports about the secrets of their cults. I’d trip myself up.

‘As long as bullets still work, it’s okay,’ I said dumbly, remember that I still had to make some sort of a response.

‘Not always...’

‘Grenades then.’ I started one of the standard litanies I knew in High Gothic. ‘Domine, benedic hoc tuam frag grenade ut cum illo Potes flarent inimicos tuos ad vegrandis bits, in misericordia tua.’

He chucked a bit. ‘You military types are straight-forward. We academic types think too much and forget the point sometimes.’

I nodded sagely. I lived with Zoe after all.

‘You do sound surprisingly knowledgeable about the subject though.’

‘Not more than any other officer.’ Any other officer married to a self-made Radical Inquisitor. Was he an Ordo Malleus Inquisitor or something? If so, I had no idea what I might have stumbled into? Or maybe I was too good at pretending I knew what I was talking about and he had extrapolated that well beyond the actual extent of my knowledge.

‘Are superstitions about daemons common on your home world? I gather it must be one distant from Terra since I cannot recognise the occasional words in your native language you keep using.’

‘Sorry.’ I did really need to stop throwing in stray words in one of my native languages whenever I couldn’t think of the right High Gothic words or an immediate euphemistic work-around. ‘But no, we never held with such things. We did not always know of the Emperor, but we were no cultists of the Ruinous Powers,’ I insisted firmly. It was even true.

He gave me a slightly odd look I couldn’t interpret. Had I sounded too defensive, like I was hiding something? ‘That is for the best then,’ he finally concluded.

‘Yes.’ Man, conversations were difficult sometimes.

He changed the subject, for which I was grateful. ‘Are you having any troubles here, so far from your home fleet?’

‘No. Everyone has been very nice to me. You keep feeding me and everything even though no one is quite sure what my medical problems are or quite what to do with me.’

‘Are you lonely?’

Lonely? I was a little too panicky to be bored, that’s what I was. I listened to medicaes gossip about medical techniques and their personal lives, but had no intention of revealing I was a medicae too to join in. I didn’t want them to figure out I was stealing from them, little things only a professional would know how to find or use around a sanatorium, in case I needed them. I knew how they did inventories, of all things no one would have dared change since the Administratum set down the policies ten thousand years ago, and how to not get caught. I was pretending to understand the language less and be more addled than I was.

I avoided casual conversation with anyone in case I gave myself away as a loyal Emperor-worshipper or said something they found heretical, depending on their true allegiance, whatever it turned out to be. I didn’t want to ask too many questions that would inherently tip my hand, something I did instantly every time I opened my mouth somehow.

Probably the only thing saving me was how badly I really did speak the language. Most of what I did speak, I was using context clues to guess what words or phrases meant. While my word choice would more native-sounding than it deserved to be, I was probably wrong about the details and specifics of exactly what the things I was saying meant. Phrases I mentally translated as familiar Imperial idioms by context were often nonsensical to me when I tried to work them out word by words. I wasn’t good at languages in the long run because I was good at understanding individual words, unless I immediately saw an etymology I recognized, but because I was good at guessing what sentences as a whole basically meant when someone said them. Sort of like watching When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth.

I spent most of my time in the archive chambers. So far today I had read a boring and highly technical theological manual about proper care and maintenance of the machine-spirits of tank engines and a guide to tactics written by Guilliman that I’d read before. Wouldn’t have been my first choices normally, but what if my reading history gave away too much? And sort of remembering what Guilliman was going to say made it easier to decode the words. Besides, I liked all books.

I still had such a mystery. They mostly acted like Imperials, but without most of the trappings that were as inherently part of the Imperium as the space ships. No shrines or turns of phrase I recognized. So many things so noticeable in their absence. But no Chaos orgies or baby-eating. Every individual person I met, I couldn’t imagine them as a cultist, like how I’d automatically started treating this man like he was of Adeptus Ministorum. They were obviously a rich fleet by their abundance of archeotech and quality weapons among the Guardsmen.

I’d seen a few veterans Space Marines at a distance in the well-maintained relic armour of their Chapter. I didn’t recognize their off-white lined with black heraldry, but I was familiar with very few Chapters other than my own. The black wolves on their pauldrons made me want to like them, for all that it was a slightly different symbol than we used at home. Their breastplates lacked any of the usual aquilas or imperialis icons, which was almost as strange as if everyone had been naked, but I’d seen a few aquilas elsewhere.

‘I’m okay.’ I didn’t really know what to say.

‘Forgive my asking, it’s simply that I’d seen you a few times and never seen you speak to anyone or have anyone speak to you. I have heard remembrancers complain about difficulties interacting with people within the formal military structure while they are outside of it.’

Were remembrancers the younger acolytes of full ‘iterators’ in the Ecclesiarchy hierarchy? My etymologies only told me, unhelpfully, that ‘remembrancer’ might have something to do with ‘remembering’, while ‘iterator’ sounded like ‘iteration’, repeating. ‘It’s okay,’ I repeated. ‘People are friendly enough. And they know I’m a soldier.’ You’re a very nice person too for asking? ...Or did I miss that you’re actually a commissar or something?

‘We lucky iterators have always been on the outside of things, but I do hope that these questions of military versus civilian authority get smoothed out without upsetting the Warmaster too much.’

There was a dispute between the Guard or the Astartes and local branches of the Administratum? Or maybe a rogue governor? God-Emperor on Terra, I hoped it wouldn’t bring the Inquisition down on us all.

On the other hand, he had definitely said Warmaster. I knew now, for instance, that the term I’d translated as ‘emperor’ when I first arrived was a generic meaning ‘leader’, but this one translated very literally. I knew the term was still in occasional loyalist use, I’d heard of the Macharian Crusade a few centuries back, but very, very rarely and not in any sector near me and it was considered rather unlucky and tempting fate.

Did Chaos fleets even have logistic troubles? Did Chaos Champions sit around in meetings with their Dark Mechanicum adepts and ‘Dark Administratum’ bureaucrats and talk about how a breakdown in the water recycling system meant they’d have to go resupply on-planet or that they were all out of live goats for their evil rituals and would have to resort to the ratting cats temporarily? And who would respect them then, if they were the sort of cheap, cut-rate heretics who couldn’t even afford goats for their rituals? Next thing you knew they’d start putting the leftover bits of their sacrificial victims in the freezer and pulling them out to microwave and sort of jiggle a bit next time they needed to summon a daemon. I barely avoided cackling aloud at the mental images.

‘I just do whatever my NCOs tell me, so don’t ask me.’ Or my wife. She assuredly had strong feelings about military versus civilian authority and why the Imperium was doing it wrong, but I couldn’t remember what they were at the moment.

‘Would you refuse to obey an order that went against the edicts of the Crusade?’

‘Maybe.’ I would do my best to mysteriously misplace the order until the danger passed, like a good subordinate. And I would lie outrageously about what I had or had not done, not because anyone would believe me, but because they often found it convenient to pretend that they did. But more importantly, what response would get me in less trouble here? Was he trying to peg me as a disobedient traitor who defied my Emperor-blessed superiors or did he want me to say I’d shoot a superior officer who’d fallen to Chaos faster than a commissar with a bad itch?

‘My apologies. I did not mean to make you uncomfortable.’

‘It’s fine.’ I was glad how easy it had been to pick up that phrase considering how often I used it. ‘My wife worries about philosophical questions and things like that a lot.’

‘And you don’t?’

‘Sometimes.’ My wife had half a doctorate in philosophy, while I’d rarely looked up from my maths homework when she presented hypothetical ethical scenarios to me. ‘...I’m not very articulate about it, not like her. When I have a real moral dilemma, my thoughts run around in circles without getting anywhere when I dwell on them. I do things because they “feel right”, not because I usually understand why I feel that way.’ Zoe would sigh at me in such disappointment. ‘I have morals that I think are right, but a lot of times I do things that go against them because the alternative would be worse. There are plenty of things I’m not proud of, but I just try to do the best I can, or the least bad.’

‘No one could ask more. The Emperor spills blood too.’

I had no what that idiom meant, though I’d seen it before. From this context, it sounded almost like ‘Even the God-Emperor must make compromises to circumstance’, but that was a bizarre thing for anyone, loyalist or traitor, to say.

‘What... Well, I suppose iterators don’t answer to anyone,’ I trailed off, fishing for information.

‘It’s true the Corps of Iterators answers only to the Emperor in theory, but we do have our hierarchies, and we too wonder what will happen with the newly created Council of Terra taking on many of the prerogatives that once belonged to the War Council. At least military matters still belong to Warmaster Horus, but that hardly helps us. Iterators of all people are aware of the confusion all of us have felt sometimes since the Emperor retired from the Crusade after Ullanor.’

I was so frustrated I wanted to scream. Nothing made any sense. I felt like I almost had an idea bubbling up from my subconscious, but I still didn’t know what it was. So close. So many pieces, but how did they all fit together? The nice old man gave me a concerned look. ‘Sorry, I’m still addled from being tossed around by Warp storms. Has this fleet been caught by any lately?’

‘No, we’re been lucky, but I know they have been disrupting communication all over the galaxy. I assume that was why you were sent as a courier to the Warmaster’s fleet rather than using astropathic messages.’

A belief which said a lot about why no one had bothered to take a psyker to the contents of my head in order to communicate. Any message sent in person would have to be as far from time-sensitive as possible to be worth the effort.

‘Yes, Warp storms have made me a messenger. If only I had not been separated from my Navigator and tossed around the Warp for who knows how long. That reminds me, what day is it? The full date and everything?’

He told me.

‘How fascinating. I can now tell my doctors I know what year it is and who the prime minister is and all that, and I need to go to a check up right now.’

He, not surprisingly, looked somewhat confused by my nonsensical babbling, but nodded and shook my hand. ‘If you would like to talk again and don’t find me here, ask for Kyril Sindermann.’

‘Thank you.’

I made it one whole deck before needing to breathe into my paper bag.

* * *

I have no idea how time travel works. I’d heard rumours and gossip it was possible, but to my knowledge no one ever did it on purpose, and almost certainly couldn’t, the Warp being what it is.

I’ve occasionally talked about experimenting with time travel, before immediately being told to shut up by everyone around me. Like how I’m also forbidden to play with cloning. Even though cloning isn’t magic.

Would I disappear in a shining paradox? Would I accidentally set events in motion leading to a stable time loop? Was I now in a divergent timeline? Could I ever go back to the future? Would Zoe be there if I did, or would she or I not have been born or whatnot? Had I stepped on any space-butterflies?

Everyone knew the story of an ork who, upon finding himself in the past due to the whims of the Warp, decided to kill his past-self to get a second copy of his favourite gun, resulting in the entire system being engulfed by a vicious paradox-storm of Warp energy. The story was used to illustrate what the greenskin mind was like, but for all I knew it could have been based on a real incident. You heard stories, maybe apocryphal maybe not, about ships responding to a distress call through the Warp only to find nothing there, then be attacked, then discover they had retrospectively responded to their own distress signal.

Zoe and I had plenty of plans for contingencies where we travelled back in time, say, ten or twenty years, or for meeting our future selves, like we had plans in the event of being replaced by identical robots. Which weren’t even a thing that was real. These were not relevant to being in the incredibly distant past and I was not even on Epistophy.

Whatever. If I was inherently doomed to failure, then I would fail. I didn’t really believe in retrospective determinism as a philosophy, but I had also never time travelled before to know the mechanics of that. If stable time loops were what inevitably happened, then it wouldn’t even really be my fault, but ‘fate’s’ or something. What were my options?

I had to do something. I had to try to change the future. As a human being, I could not see myself doing otherwise. Besides, being stuck on a soon-to-be Chaos ship was definitely somewhere I didn’t want to be.

Sure I might make things worse, but that risk didn’t seem much in comparison. I already came from a Bad Future where the Imperium was a tyrannical theocracy and things sucked for a whole lot of people and we were beset on all sides and entropy was slowly and inexorably dragging everything down toward decay and we had no dreams for the future.

Even considering I got caught by cultists and they tortured out of me everything I knew and they believed all of it, how much would it help them? I had a passing education in Imperial history, but I didn’t know a great deal about the details of the Horus Heresy, even those things that hadn’t completely been forgotten or suppressed. Most of the battles I’d heard of were massacres of loyalists by traitors, like the Istvaan Drop Site Massacre, so the traitors would hardly want them to go differently.

‘Don’t lower the disruptor shields on your flagship to invite the Emperor Himself aboard; it won’t end well’? The stories, and logic, indicated that was a desperate move on Horus’s part because the Siege of Terra was taking too long and he had to trying to end things before loyalist reinforcements arrived. Plus, Horus had been on his home ground and had every advantage he ever would... and the Emperor still won. I had no idea how Horus could actually beat Him, and the legends I’d always liked best said that the only thing that delayed Horus’s death long enough for him to wound His Divine Majesty was His deep love for His son, even fallen. Somehow I doubted that the Emperor cared for His favoured son would be a big secret.

How should I try to change things?

I should steal a ship and go to Terra and warn everyone. How, exactly? I didn’t know how to pilot anything larger than a Thunderhawk and they weren’t made for independent Warp travel. Anything larger would need a larger crew. Anything Warp-capable would need a Navigator, which I hardly had lying around. And I’d already heard that there were a lot of Warp storms at the moment. I was not surprised by the idea of the Chaos gods throwing around the power to disrupt loyalists and aid their own cultists, not with how much they had obviously invested in the Heresy.

Could I get a berth aboard an approved courier leaving this fleet and eventually getting me to Terra? Maybe? If I faked that I’d suddenly gotten my memories back after my brain damage and they told me I definitely need to go over there or something? But how would I ever get to talk to anyone important or get anyone to believe me? And getting into an unfortunate accident in transit and never making it to my destination seemed like such a convenient way for ‘fate’ to snap the rubber band of history back into its original configuration, if time worked that way.

What I really needed was more information about the past, particularly the current political climate. The distant past! How exciting, if I managed to forget all else for more than a moment. Men still lived who had heard the voice of God with their own ears. Hopefully my research would speed up a lot now that I actually understood the context, not to mention my continually improving command of the language. I didn’t think I was in immediate danger. Sure these people were going to fall to Chaos, but my observations made me think they hadn’t yet. I’d never exactly seen a group of people fall to Chaos in front of my eyes, but there had to be intermediate stages between normal people and frothing cultists. I could hopefully identify when things got far enough that I needed to drop everything and get out of here by any means possible whether I felt ready or not.

What had I given away so far? Sindermann could obviously tell I’d been distressed by the date, but the obvious assumption would be that I’d lost time. Ships usually arrived when they were supposed to, but arriving late was much more common than one showing up before it left. He probably thought I’d lost a year or two, maybe as much as a decade, which was in the realm of things that happened outside of urban legends. The Time Thief took her toll from space travellers.

There was no reason anyone should notice me, particularly anyone important. Hardly anyone had paid me hardly any attention so far. I had to keep blending in with the scenery, keep making myself useful and making myself seem busy so no one questioned me. Learn everything I could, make plans, carry them out.

With that made clear in my mind, I got to it. I picked up a piece of tech I’d commissioned from a tech-adept in exchange for being able to look at my mobile phone: a charger for that piece of electronics compatible with the local systems. I knew the necessary circuit diagram by heart, as did pretty much everyone from my planet who served off-world. It meant nothing to me, but I was a biologist. As the electrical engineer who had taught me it said, ‘Memorise this picture, redraw it perfectly, hand it to a tech-adept, and they will give you the adaptor you need.’

That meant I could actually use my mobile’s systems; I’d had it off to save the battery for if I absolutely needed it.

The first thing I did, I called up my favourite picture of Zoe on the screen and sighed. I had a little snapshot taped on one of the panels inside my artificial arm, but I worried I was going to forget all the little details.

The second thing I did was find an airlock and take a snapshot of what the monitor said the stars right outside looked like right then. My star map app took an hour to run, but reported that assuming the year I had input was correct, our galactic coordinates were right where other people said we were, nowhere near where I’d been in space either. There went my theory that they were some Heresy-era ship that had gotten lost and fallen through a Warp portal to the distant future/present.

I couldn’t think of another good possibility to use to put off accepting the inevitable, but I still didn’t want to believe. I didn’t want to get swept away by this amazing and different world of the long-lost distant past, in case it would disappear from between my fingers like a fog under bright sun. The things I read about who these people were and what they believed were so interest now that I was no longer trying to fit my translations to fit with the doctrinal orthodoxy of my time. It made it seem like a fantasy novel or a dream, something fun to speculate or daydream about but not real.

Then I couldn’t disbelieve any longer.

I saw Horus.

There was no need for an introduction, no heralds to cry his name. I saw him walking across a distant corridor with some of his Luna Wolves and I knew.

This was no Chaos Champion using his name in vain. This was a Primarch.

Horus’s face was never depicted in Imperial arts, chiselled out of the oldest monuments. He was only depicted from behind, or with a daemonic, inhuman visage. But even I was familiar with depictions of the Emperor.

He towered above the normal Astartes like they would above me. He shone as if with the divine light of the God-Emperor, and he wasn’t even doing anything. He was not beautiful so much as magnificent, perfectly formed and crafted for war. I wanted to reach out and touch him, reach past his skin to his biohelices themselves, yet even I felt that would be heresy. Merely to bask in that which the Emperor had made was more than I was worth.

How great and glorious. How far fallen the brightest star, the most beloved son.

I backed back down the side corridor I had just come out of. No one among the crowd of crew and servants paid me any mind, let alone the distant Astartes. I walked backwards till I was sure I was at an angle to be out of sight, then I turned and ran.

An hour later still found me curled up in a foetal position in a broom cupboard. The very Warmaster of Chaos, the Arch-Heretic, right there!

It was all true, I couldn’t doubt anymore. I felt faint and dizzy and shook all over for awhile, but eventually I got bored of that and there were things to do.

* * *

I took from the sanatorium storeroom the uniform of a civilian Chapter-serf with only discreet bloodstains and a mop. I was no real spy like one of Zoe’s people, but like her I had been known to remove my rank insignias and wheel the tea tray to meetings I hadn’t been invited to when technically off duty. My superiors were not unaware of this, but my wife was chief among intelligencers in the sub-sector and they let us both get away with a lot on each other’s behalves.

Dignity as befits an officer is for people aren’t political appointees undeserving of their posts.

I told the shift supervisor of housekeepers in the Astartes barracks that I had had the Braxian flu for months and now that I was better I had been reassigned to this shift, in the middle of ship’s night for now. I handed over a note with a squiggly signature from my supposed previous supervisor, which I had forged with the assumption it would hardly be glanced at.

After all, I was on the ship already. I’d hardly snuck in considering we were in space. If I’d had some other job, people would notice me missing there. This was a proud Astartes battle-barge with a proud crew, not a lowly Naval cruiser staffed by conscripts and convicts chained to their guns. I just had to stop showing up for my janitorial shifts or give my supervisor an excuse about why I was going to be away for a while when I was ready to stop. I had given my name as Zoe Lanka, which meant nothing to anyone else here but would make me automatically look up upon hearing. Anyone who really made an effort would still be able to find me again if they really cared, but it was a layer against casual tripping-up.

Important people might not notice servants, but other servants did, and here the Chapter serfs didn’t already know who I was and know that that meant they should look the other way.

I was certainly not going to be assigned to cleaning the mediation-chambers of anyone important, as the lowest and newest of the Chapter-serfs present, but that wasn’t the point. I just wanted to hear the gossip from those so graced. After all, what was the point of being the most prestigious of servants if not to lord your special insight into the masters’ doings over everyone else? Not too much or you’d get replaced with someone more circumspect, but those above the stairs rarely noticed anything going on under it themselves. I was going to spend awhile getting the jobs that would normally be assigned to servitors until the initial testing and hazing wore off as I proved I was willing to do anything without complaint.

As expected: ‘There’s blood drying on the floor of Corridor B-3. Do you know this section of the ship or do you need someone to show you where that is?’


‘Carlotta, show Lanka where B-3 is on your way to storage.’

‘I’d be glad to.’ The woman my new supervisor had directed my attention to was more than a head shorter than I was, and her uniform jumpsuit looked too large on her even though it was probably the smallest size they made. I tried to leave enough distance between us as I followed her to not feel like I was looking straight down.

I knew where the Astartes’ mediation-cells were, of course. All STC ships had pretty much the same layout and the Æpandi Myrkrið, the Howling Darkness as non-Fenrisians said, was a full battle-barge too. What I didn’t know was this set of servants’ designations and nicknames for particular hallways or chambers.

‘You’re new? It’s good to meet you. I’m Carlotta Bernadeta. Aren’t we lucky to be working for Adeptus Astartes? Even if I’m only cleaning things, I’m glad to be doing it here rather than anywhere else. I always feel so proud to be helping the Emperor’s Crusade run smoothly.’

‘Yes.’ This was a really awkward conversation for someone to be trying to have with me. I too was proud to be a vassal of the Astartes of the Black Wolf Chapter. I felt bad for a moment about taking advantage of people like myself and the Chapter-serfs I respected back home. I was going to do it, but in exchange, I had to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and actually see them as people, not future Chaos pawns.

‘B-3’s right over there, between B-2 and the intersection with C-4. There’s a supply cupboard down there if you need more disinfectant. Well, I’ll see you. Looks like Nilsen and Tamuz had an impromptu duel in the hall again. I’m glad that didn’t happen while we were in the way. How fortunate we are. How good our portion.’

‘That we can praise the Emperor’s glorious sovereignty for ever and ever,’ I replied automatically.

She looked back at me. Throne, she’d said something that happened to sound like a common liturgical prompt and I’d given the standard liturgical response. Stupid reflexes I’d been building for years working against me. She had just meant she was glad Space Marines hadn’t decided the perfect time to punch each other in the face was when normal people were trying to oil hinges and sand armour. For that matter, her tone had been slightly ironic, adding an extra implication of ‘but we still have to clean up after idiots’.

‘You too? It really is good to meet you. Maybe I’ll see you at the meeting later.’

There was a meeting later? I supposed my supervisor would tell me when and where that was going to be, since I was new to the department.

Anyway, I got to work. Space Marine blood congealed and dried even faster than normal blood and left stains something fierce once it did so. I’d see what layers I could get up easily before getting out the thicker gloves and the highly concentrated cleaning supplies, disinfectant, and a scrub-brush.

I’d cleaned up spills of much worse things in the Apothecarium on the Howling Darkness. Not to mention in my time as a biology grad student. The day I couldn’t mop a floor would be the day I turned in my biology degree and... went to go mop floors for a living, I suppose.
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