Corporal Jak Dekker, lately of the 737th Cadian Shock Regiment, suppressed a shudder as he wrenched the blade of his Munitorum standard-issue sapper’s shovel clear from the bloody mess of what had been a pox hound’s skull until just now.
No , he reminded himself, not a Corporal anymore, nor had he been a proper Cadian Guardsman for some months at this point. It was just “Operative Dekker” now, one of a seemingly endless number of agents serving in the warband of one Inquisitor Grendyl of the Ordo Hereticus, though in fact Dekker had never met Grendyl, but instead had been carrying out orders all this time from Grendyl’s Interrogator, Iven Rannick, not that it would have occurred to Dekker to complain about any apparent oddity in that arrangement. A true, purple-eyed son of Cadia, Dekker had been raised, like every other member of his family going back centuries, on the expectation that his life’s purpose was to eventually die in the service of the God-Emperor and the Imperium, and having seen the horrors of the Archenemy at first hand, he was reasonably content with the necessity of his lot. Even being imprisoned and subject to potential execution for a crime he did not commit had not served to dampen his stoic conviction in the essential rightness of the Imperium. He had seen Cadia fall. He knew what the consequences to mankind would be were the Imperium itself to fail.
It was perhaps this invulnerable faith that had inspired Rannick’s Explicator to reread his file, and in so doing, find the small iregularities that undermined the tale of the Cadian’s alleged guilt and built a case for offering him a reprieve of sorts as one of “Rannick’s Rejects,” but if that was the case, then Dekker saw no reason to lose much sleep ruminating on it. The Atoman hive-city of Tertium, which Rannick’s commandeered Rogue Trader, the Mourningstar, was anchored in stationary orbit above, held no shortage of heresy to root out, and descending into the endless warrens of the hive to kill heretics on a daily basis was the sort of thing that warranted the devotion of one’s full attention. Dekker had proven adept enough at this task that he had not only survived but even flourished, and had ultimately been welcomed into the ranks of the warband as a trusted agent, but that wasn’t entirely surprising: like virtually every Cadian, he had been subject to intense military training almost from birth, and like virtually every Cadian who survived to a certain age, accumulated battlefield experience had instilled in Dekker a kind of sixth sense, a vague sort of twinge that only made itself felt when things were about to go very, very badly. It was this finely-honed survival sense, not any discomfort at the gruesome aspect of the late pox hound’s stoved-in head, that had sent the shudder rippling down Dekker’s spine, and the Cadian, having learned by experience to pay attention to such signs and portents, scanned the darkened passageways ahead uneasily, hefting the reassuring weight of the entrenching tool, with its carefully over-sharpened blade, in his hand.
“Have you considered leaving your little toy spade in the sandbox where it belongs, and bringing a real blade for once?”
At the sound of the supercillious, sneering voice querying him, Dekker looked back… into unsettling eyes of Elga Karsh, sanctioned psyker, self-described loner and general test of patience for whomever happened to be unfortunate enough to be sent on missions alongside of her. She was delicately wiping the polluted blood of a Moebian Scab trooper off the blade of an intricately-worked Maccabean dueling sword that was nearly as long, slender and pointed as she was, and looked incongrously bored for someone who had been engaged in a chaotic fight to the death with a squad of Traitor Guard only a few minutes ago.
Dekker smirked in a deliberately unpleasant, wouldn’t-you-like-to-know manner.
“You’re the mind-reader. Why don’t you tell me?”
Elga rolled her faintly-glowing eyes.
“Oh no, I’ve had more than enough of that, thank you very much,” she sniffed archly. Dekker had made a point of mentally picturing her naked the last time that she had tried to root around in his brain, an experience which the witch had apparently found off-putting enough to dissuade her from further efforts at casually prying into the inner workings of the former Guardsman’s mind.
“Get a room,” rumbled the weighty voice of Droog, a nearly three-metre-tall Ogryn who had, however improbably, been attached to Dekker’s team for this mission.
Dekker and the witch simultaneously swung around to glare daggers at the behemoth.
“What?” Droog demanded peevishly. “Is joke I hear on Mourningstar.”
“Methinks thy jibe cut too close for comfort,” Benedicta Hadriatus chuckled. The fourth and final member of the strike team, Benedicta was rumoured to be a failed Schola Progenium Sororitas novitiate, and she certainly looked the part with a shock-white mop of severely square-cut hair framing her harshly beautiful face like a wimple. Why exactly she had washed out of Battle Sister school and ultimately ended up as a “Reject” was a mystery that no one had apparently found the answer to yet, and the curiousity of many of the other Rejects had been frustrated by the fact Benedicta herself was not what one would call “approachable,” or “forthcoming.” More appropriate descriptors might include “distant,” and most definitely “formidable” (a non-Cadian might instead have suggested “terrifying”), for Benedicta slew the enemies of the Emperor with an incandescent fervour that was astonishing to behold, and seemingly spent virtually all of her downtime praying in one or another of the Mourningstar’s several chapels.
As such, to actually hear her cracking wise struck her comrades in arms as more than mildly astonishing, and for a long moment, the ex-Guardsman, the Psyker and the Ogryn simply gawped at Benedicta, briefly shocked beyond the point of words.
As per usual, though, Elga, with her overly-sharp tongue, was the first to recover the power of speech, even if her response was more primal scream of outrage than coherent retort.
“I-I-I…” she blurted, "with…a blunt?!? With…HIM?!?"
Ignoring the furiously sputtering Psyker, Dekker turned to face Droog.
“Sorry, Big Man. Guess I’m just not in the mood for jokes right now. Something about this mission just doesn’t smell right.”
“Is lower hive!” the Ogryn offered, cluelessly but reassuringly. “There are many smells here, lots of them not so good.”
Dekker smiled in spite of himself. Having an Ogryn around always made everything better. Except riding inside a buttoned-up Chimera. That just got messy.
“No, Big Man, I mean I’ve got a bad feeling about this mission.”
“Oh? Thou art also ill at ease?” Benedicta queried, tapping the pilot light on her flamer thoughtfully.
“Too right,” Dekker muttered, peering again down the darkened access tunnel that the strike team had been using to move swiftly and unobtrusively through the hive whilst avoiding Scab or Dreg patrols. Well, they had been avoiding them, until that pox hound somehow got a lock on the Psyker, necessitating that they kill it. And its handler. And all of his friends in the immediate vicinity, for that matter.
“We’ve been pressing our luck,” Dekker continued, “playing trains with heretic high-value targets and shunting them all over the hive to where we can most conveniently kill them. Sure, it’s worked out beautifully so far, but the enemy are going to get wise to it sooner or later, and if we happen to be deployed on one of these Sanction Redactus missions when that happens, well, let’s just say the God-Emperor will be smiling on us if the worst that happens is we die trying. We all saw what happened to Epsilon Theta 4 Squad.”
Benedicta nodded grimly. “I commend their memory to Him on Terra in my prayers each day.”
“I’ve had a bad feeling about this mission since before we left the Mourningstar,” Elga interjected, “but don’t mind me! No one ever pays attention to the freak!”
“Spark-Head always has bad feeling about mission!” Droog rumbled. “Is why no one listens!”
Dekker and Benedicta both had to have a quiet chuckle at that, while the Psyker sputtered futilely in the face of Droog’s reasoning, which, while crude, was more or less unassailable, much like the Ogryn himself.