“Sylphias Brekken. What happened to the book?”
The sentence stated in dry, clear terms, was quite at odds with the situation. The room was small, dim. Mould crept up the walls. It was the fifth time the Jaya had asked the question, but Brekkan was done answering. The former naval rating was slumped over in the chair he was fastened to, tears running down his face as he sobbed. Jaya, her face placid, considered the man for a moment, then moved to meet the gaze of one of the two figures sat in the shadows behind their captive.
Traveller nodded, and discharged his needle pistol into Brekkan’s neck. Within seconds the toxin was coursing through the unfortunate’s veins, and the sobbing ceased.
Traveller didn’t look like an Inquisitor. He looked like a gaunt, tired man. His clothes were rugged, of sound quality, but hardly the finery that some of his colleagues favoured. Stubble sprouted across his face. He ran his tongue across his teeth before he spoke.
“Seck and Ven checked his flop again. Still bare. “
The other two remained silent. If you were to have a staring contest between the Interrogator and the faceless tech-acolyte, you’d be hard pressed to gauge the victor.
“Khel-7, do what you need to to keep the head intact. I’ll have four of the Ironwyrd get you back to the ship to begin necro-cortical retrieval. Interrogator Henoris, start putting feelers out for any locals who might be useful if we have to operatehere.”
There was a rustle of cloth as the Interrogator stood and took her leave. Khel-7 just slid forwards towards the corpse, vermillion robes parting for a monstrous array of serpentine appendages that enveloped the head of the former rating. One, with a sawblade tip, began to methodically hew its way through the neck.
Traveller’s face displayed no reaction to the sight. He just remained seated, dead eyes dispassionately observing the scene.
“Books. Always books. An entire Grand Cruiser goes up, and here I am hunting a book. Why is the most dangerous thing I encounter always madman’s scribblings?”
Khel-7 didn’t answer. It never did.
The figure in rags was scuttling across the street, a bulky object concealed in yet more tattered drapery hanging beneath its withered body.
A pair of street toughs ambled their way in its direction, idly chatting to one another as they went. They were of different heights. One’s hair was a brittle grey and the other a rust red. They had the same whipcord builds, the same sallow skin, the same blood-brown eyes. Even their expressions were studies of an identical disinterest in their general surroundings.
“You sure that’s it?” muttered they grey-head. “Matches the description,” replied the other. They were silent for a moment, leading the sounds of the rain slapping onto rockcrete fill the void. “Think he’ll be mad?” muttered the rust-haired one. “About the hab-manager? Nah. ‘Renting a key’ to someone who rifles through the rooms for sell-ons? Bound to end up robbing the wrong party eventually, end up with a knife in the throat.” The grey-head nodded slowly to himself. “Of course. Had to happen eventually. Nobody’ll bat an eyelid.”
The blurred bundle of rags ahead halted for a moment. Both of the men tensed up, even as they continued to maintain their ambling pace and their steady, disinterested faces. The figure ahead twitched, a hand flicking across a small panel on a door which shot back to allow entry. The figure scuttled inside, and the access-hatch sealed behind it. The two men continued to amble a few seconds more before stopping. The grey-head raised a dataslate. It was a bulky, battered thing. It’s screen was a spiderweb of cracks, and every few moments the display would flicker before resolving itself. It was just the sort of device that the higher end of hab-street trash might feasibly possess in a settlement like this one.
“That’s the address. Time to let Traveller know.”
Alone in their sanctum aboard the orbiting frigate absent from any scanner, Khel-7 was lost in data-trance. It’s mind flicked through the memories of a man but recently dead.
<Data-trawl initiated. Praise be to the machina of memory.>
The first to come up were of the dark room, the mould on the walls. The interrogator opposite. Fear was noted, set aside. This memory was worthless. Khel-7 had been there, and it’s own data-recordings possessed far greater utility anyway. The tech-acolyte pushed further back
The memories were out of sequence. That shouldn’t be happening. You reversed to a specific point, then let it play out from there. Like rewinding a vid-tape. Instead Khel-7 was picking up flashes.
A man, wearied, sagging over a mess hall table. A bowl of soup sat beside him, untouched. Brekkan was trying to get his attention, the man barely glanced up. He was scribbling feverishly in sheaths of pulp paper.
<Target item visually identified. Archive and forward to Inquisitor Designate Traveller.>
Another memory. The same man, lying in a bed dimly illuminated. The man’s body was twisted, frozen in a paroxysm of emotion.
<High probability subject is deceased. Correlating emotions: anguish, despair, horror…>
Brekkan’s hand reached towards the floor, just like he’d said he had. It picked up the book scrawled there. It flicked open the first page.
<Sketch is 97% match for the Irathium. Vessel is shown in the process of reactor detonation. Degree of accuracy is anomalous for flesh-memory based recollection. Date = two days prior to explosion. Correlates with subject testimony.>
Brekkan’s hand drifted, flipped to the next page.
<Error-shunt-abort. ERROR-SHUNT-ABORT. ABORT. ABORT. FRAGMENTATION IN PROGRESS. CORRUPTION DETEC->
Far, far below, in a settlement not worth naming, Seleth lovingly ran his withered digits across the coarse pulp skin of the book he was carrying. There’d been other things to take, but this… this had called to him. He went straight to the second page and stopped. A tear ran down his wrinkled face.
The leering face of a daemon stared back.