Short story: The Psyker

Loyalty’s Price

by Victoria Hayward

Ekoh was watching a battle unfold. Astra Militarum soldiers in grey drab charged onto a killing field as the corrupted cultists roared toward them in a hideous tide of bile and bone. Ekoh frowned. The image was patchy, dragged as it was from an unwilling mind. He willed the interrogatee to focus, but she was paralysed with fear as the battle-scene replayed. The memory juddered, and the faces of the other Wyrdvane psykers she’d been deployed with came into focus. A combat-coven of Scholastica Psykana rejects too powerful to terminate, but too insane or uncontrolled for other service. Some were catatonic, unaware of the descending horde and others were caged, howling with terror. All were watched warily by a stony-faced Commissar, her pistol trained not on the attackers, but on the psykers.

Inside the memory, Ekoh saw the interrogatee look down at her hands, pale and shaking. Strands of energy crackled around her fingers as a chant started up amongst the more lucid Wyrdvanes. He felt a static vibration and smelt a metallic burn as the Wyrdvanes reached for one another’s minds, and their powers began to harmonise. The enemy horde grew closer and the interrogatee moaned in pain, her body sparking with dangerous warp energies. The Commissar called a warning as the air pressure changed. Ekoh focused. This had to be it. They’d finally see what happened…

Then the memory shattered, and the battle-scene split into fragments.

‘That’s enough,’ came a brusque voice.

Ekoh pulled off his blindfold and blinked, dazzled by the brightness of the interrogation chamber. He was back on Atoma, not that he’d really ever left. His master, Explicator Zola had her hands clasped behind her back, expression stern. Frost bloomed on the table to which the interrogatee was strapped, indicating dangerous levels of psyker activity and the candles around the small shrine to the Emperor had guttered out.

‘Did you progress any further?’ Zola asked.

‘No, Lord,’ Ekoh said. ‘She resists.’ His head ached from the hours of interrogation.

Zola’s lip curled as she addressed the Wyrdvane interrogatee. ‘You’ve been given the opportunity to serve the Imperium despite your abnormality, and this is how you reward us? We lost an entire company in the attack on Nox Alpha, and yet you survive. Why?’ She yanked the woman’s head up by the hair to glower at her. ‘What are you hiding? Are you in league with the cultists?’ Disgusted, the Explicator dropped the woman’s head back onto the metal table. ‘You fled to Atoma thinking you could escape, but there is no safe harbour in Tertium Hive or any of the Moebian Domain for a traitor witch.’

Ekoh watched as the Wyrdvane sobbed silently, her face a rictus of fear. He’d learned a long time ago to remain impassive. An unsteady psyker was a dead psyker.

Zola breathed heavily. ‘And,’ she added, ‘We lost an Interrogator in the attack. Someone will pay for that.’ Now her fury during this interrogation made sense. An instrument of the Holy Ordos she might be, but in Ekoh’s estimation Zola had always been the most humane of Grendyl’s retinue.

‘Sir,’ Ekoh said. ‘If I may?’

Zola waved a hand.

‘Please,’ Ekoh said softly to the Wyrdvane. ‘My Lord only wishes to know the truth. She’s fair to our kind, else I wouldn’t be in her service. Please, just tell her what happened.’

The Wyrdvane swallowed. Her lips were cracked and pale.

‘Shall we try again?’

She nodded.

The familiar battle scenes rushed past, but they didn’t stop as they had before. The memory continued and the Wyrdvanes unleashed their attack. Ekoh felt their power scream out in vast, arcing bolts of lightning, cracking violently into the ranks of the heretics and leaving charred corpses in their wake. Traitor tanks ruptured, howling shards of metal skyward. The cultists faltered, and the Wydrvanes intensified their attack. Ekoh felt their elation at their victory - but it was only momentary.

They’d overreached. They were only as strong as their weakest number, and one of the caged psykers had begun to shudder at an unnatural speed. The others began to scream, and bleed from their mouths. Then with a hideous crump of organic matter, the skulls of those closest started imploding.

The Commissar was just as efficient and lethal as her rank demanded, but she’d only terminated half a dozen of the beleaguered psykers before a ripple of malevolent energy hit her, and her head inverted with a wet crack.

The caged Psyker screamed, jaw wrenched open unnaturally. Smoke rolled from his eyeballs in greasy coils and Ekoh watched on in horror.

Ekoh knew, as did the Wydrvane whose memories he rode, exactly what was happening. From the moment the Black Ships took young psykers from their families, the dangers were drilled into them. When they reach into the Immaterium to draw on its powers, psykers not only became vital tools for the Imperium, but conduits through which the nightmare horrors of the Warp could stream. Normally the Commissar’s pistol would end any instability before it took hold, but something terrible was about to happen here.

Ice formed around the interrogatee’s feet. Ekoh saw her raise a trembling hand toward the stricken psyker, pulling down on whatever reserves of energy she still had.

In the corner of the memory, he saw the Interrogator running towards them, but knew he would be too late. The air around the caged psyker shimmered, boiling blood flowing from his nose and ears.

Screaming with effort, the interrogatee threw a crackling blast of power towards her stricken comrade. The explosion ruptured the battlefield, throwing the interrogatee to the ground. The memory faded to darkness, and scorch filled Ekoh’s nostrils.

Ekoh pulled his blindfold off.

‘Well?’ Zola snapped.

‘There was going to be a breach,’ Ekoh said. ‘She terminated the corrupted psyker before it happened. Regretfully, the Interrogator was too close to the blast to survive.’

‘So she acted in good faith, and hid her actions from us through fear’ Zola nodded, looking down at the interrogatee. Tears of blood streamed down the exhausted Wyrdvane’s face. The interrogation process was not gentle, although Ekoh always tried to reduce the hurt. ‘Then she shall have mercy.’

Ekoh breathed a sigh of relief.

‘The Emperor’s Mercy,’ the Explicator said, drawing her pistol and firing two rounds directly into the woman’s skull.

Ekoh froze in shock as the woman’s body went limp.

‘A waste,’ the Explicator said grimly. ‘But there’s no coming back from exposure to a corrupted element. Termination is the only way.’

Ekoh stared blankly.

‘This must be difficult for you,’ Zola said. ‘But fear not. Should your abnormality ever threaten your ability to serve Him on Terra, I’ll not hesitate to end your suffering. Isn’t that a comfort?’

‘Yes Lord. Thank you Lord,’ Ekoh replied tonelessly, shame and fear incised on his heart.

The Explicator nodded as she left the chamber. ‘Only in death does duty end. Remember that.’

Ekoh glanced back at the Wyrdvane’s body as he followed her out. ‘I won’t forget, Lord.’

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