The Palpatinist side of the wormhole;
‘I’m going to need authorisation for this.’ Mirannon dropped the datapad on Lennart’s desk.
There were any number of comments along the lines of ‘you don’t usually bother asking’ that Lennart could have said, and they were all true- which meant that this was important, and likely to cause trouble.
Lennart read it. It was a request for universal energy cages. Two hundred and fifty thousand of them.
No point saying any of the obvious stuff, either- such as if he was completely mad. That was almost certainly more than actually existed, and anything to do with the Force on that scale would be a massive red flag, raising attention they didn’t want.
‘You picked up on that wrinkle too, then.’ Lennart said, more calmly than he felt.
‘Their absurdly low FTL speed made it a giveaway, they couldn’t possibly be using normal hyperdrive. Desperately interested in and terrified of the force, random spasms of absurd behaviour, testimony from some of the clone war veterans who observed the incident. My best estimate is that the nonlocal force- what we know as ‘the Force’- on that side of the wormhole is from one to two orders of magnitude more powerful.’ The hulking engineer said, looking worried.
‘That is a wild ass guess, isn’t it?’ Lennart asked.
‘Sore head guess. Maybe I should indent for a couple of tons of analgesic too, for you me and the other antennae- twitchers around here; if there’s that much energy behind it-‘
‘Most of the incomers seemed to be normal- well, crazy but not for that reason.’ Lennart understated. ‘So I think we won’t be facing an army and fleet full of pseudo-Jedi. Or pseudoSith, for that matter. There’ll definitely be a strategic factor. Prediction, preparation, comms. Are those energy cages likely to keep them from noticing us?’
‘It’s worse than that.’ Mirannon said. ‘With that much energy to play with they may be able to do real psychodynamic engineering; an army of sith alchemists may not be that far off the mark. The possibilities are genuinely fascinating, I wish I could read a report written by someone else on the subject.’
‘As opposed to having to go there and find out for ourselves? What, have you got no pioneering spirit?’ Lennart said, joking.
‘Not once it’s been disembodied.’ Mirannon glowered. ‘I know we’re not getting everything, and there are almost certainly some damned unpleasant surprises waiting for us.’
‘Well, unless they sent their very worst, whoever ‘they’ are, then I don’t think it’s going to come from their battlefleet.’ Lennart said, bringing up the image of what was probably a ship.
‘Is that a ship, or a temple district someone dug up and shoved an engine under?’ Mirannon boggled slightly. ‘It’s ridiculous- I can’t imagine, ah.’
‘Psychodynamic engineering?’ Lennart asked. ‘You think there’s an actual reason why it looks that way?’
‘I hope not.’ Mirannon said. ‘We’ve done enough playing around with the hull, I don’t want to even contemplate the problems of adding minarets and making them structurally sound- but it’s possible. If there is a real requirement, that we’re nowhere near being able to comply with, then there will inevitably be a problem.’
‘Well, we’re likely to be fighting the conditions rather than the enemy. Who would you send out beyond the frontier to confront unknown danger, the elite or the expendable, the cream or the dregs of the sewer?’
‘Considering that we’re out here, I’d reckon the elite.’ Mirannon said. ‘Is that a good thing or a bad?’
‘I reckon we got invaded by the equivalent of frontier prospectors. Wildcats, part of but hardly answerable to their own authorities, using a decommissioned warship- many guns, metres thick main hull, if that thing wasn’t a warcraft we really are in trouble.
Assuming the physiology isn’t misleading us- and they are a striking example of convergent evolution- assuming we’re not being fooled by that into thinking their psychology is more like ours than it really is, we can draw conclusions from their behaviour.
Which are interesting. The planetary garrison commander seems to have had the brains to nod and smile and play along, and get as much information out of them as possible, before instructions from the sector governor blew the situation apart.
Language difficulties, but most of them are at least trilingual, we know that from the blather they tried out on us- two socio-economic languages, upper and lower class, and the local language of each of them.’
‘Galactic Standard, Galactic Basic, local planetary dialect.’ Mirannon pointed out.
‘Yes, there is a symmetry there, isn’t there- medium to large polity at least. And authoritarian. Their lower orders behaved like men released from discipline, until the upper echelons reined them in. Brutally.
That and deep superstition from many of them- assuming there really isn’t a reason. We’ve speculated about the effect of the Force on the basis of democracy-d’you suppose that’s what we’re looking at here, the nonlocal force being so much more powerful? Some variation on the Tyranny of the Empowered?’ Lennart was speculating, and knew it.
‘No clue, but I can tell you about their material values.’ Mirannon pointed out. ‘They kept trying to do business, and badly- traders, and in some cases raiders.’
‘I don’t think they were expecting to find themselves on the wrong side of a hole in the universe.’ Lennart said. ‘Carrying on with business as usual to keep the rank and file busy and out of too much trouble while the higher ups try to figure out what the kriff’s going on isn’t the worst option, under the circumstances.’
‘Why do I suspect we’re going to end up having first hand experience of that situation, a lot?’ Mirannon said. ‘Anyway, they had a wide selection of beads and baubles, but when it came down to value it resolved into cybernetics and medical technology from their side, and contragrav and power reactors from ours. In terms of military technology we should have an edge.’
‘I’m not so sure.’ Lennart admitted. ‘We may have better tools, but it’s a lot easier to steal technology than it is to steal experience and determination. When the sector governor lost it and ordered their arrest, they made a fighting retreat to the shuttle field- and tore an Imperial Army battlegroup apart in the process.’
‘Is that hard?’ Mirannon asked, sarcastically.
‘When you’re outnumbered as badly as they were, it should have been. We had the better kit and they had the better men.’ Lennart pointed out. ‘The starfleet were called in too late to intercept that ship- there was some combat with the patrol boats, enough to give us some idea.
In space they can’t aim worth a damn- but they can plan and think. Lured the lead echelons in to point blank, enough to get a good look, then tore them apart with point defence and opened main gun fire on the rest. Wide area shoots at medium range, heavy corvette or light frigate hitting power.
Bizarrely, I don’t think they’re much of a tactical threat- but they may be a strategic one. If they can put something that physical size in the hands of a frontier outrider, what does a main force battle group look like?
Diplomatically, we’ll have to see- at least we have enough language samples to start work with. I reckon our plan may be the same as their accident, find an outworld and data- mine it. Oh and give me that form.’
Mirannon shoved the requisition form across the table to him, Lennart scored out the ‘250,000’ and filled in ‘1’. ‘You wanted enough of the things to unpeel and line the hull, didn’t you?’ he asked.
‘Yes.’ The engineer replied. ‘As it is, we’re going to need to find out very quickly what they use for health and safety, and for protective gear. They survived here, there’s nothing about the equations that I can find that makes that universe unlivable for us, but gargling thorium doesn’t kill you quickly either. We should do a fast hit and run on the first pass, take what we can find and get out. One cage is barely enough to serve as a shelter/saferoom for anyone who loses it.’
‘Is that an official recommendation?’ Lennart asked.
‘Does it have to be?’
‘For the record.’ Lennart pointed out. ‘Also, one other frightening aspect of this- we may have to start being a lot more by the book in general. If we’re going to be the official face of the Empire at large.’
Mirannon tried not to, but couldn’t help it- he cracked up, doubling over and pounding his fist on the desk, laughing. ‘That is truly terrifying,’ he managed, ‘and at the same time utterly ridiculous.’
‘You’re telling me? At least it should make misdirection easier.’ Lennart found the bright side. ‘We’ll move to off the mouth of the wormhole, wait for that to arrive, then go through and see what there is to be found.’
From the diaries of Commissar Cain;
The trip through the warp was fast enough, but it couldn’t have been over a moment too soon. According to Lachlan, who seemed to be at least a part time techmarine, that was a peculiarity of most small Astartes ships; they ran with the protective wards up high enough that they interfered with normal human mental ability, not just psykers and the warp.
In theory, that meant they could take bigger risks, pass through wilder and more turbulent currents- something I would have been happier not knowing- get a little extra speed they used to serve the patrol, fast reaction mission. Battlebarges were too unwieldy to take many of the same risks, so they usually didn’t bother.
The marines got away with this because their biological reinforcement left them still able to think clearly enough to handle the ship, but it left me running around like a headless snowowl trying to look after a regiment almost all of whose members might as well have been three sheets and a pillowcase to the wind- with me about ready to join them.
The suppressive effects of the wards reduced effective intellect, and they reduced inhibition. In a mixed regiment that was a recipe for disaster, and I can’t pretend I didn’t feel it myself.
I was called to the bridge of the ship; once I managed to find it, it was like swimming in light- holofields everywhere, monitor stations and controls mostly flickering luminance in the air.
I walked gingerly, trying to pick my way through the displays and avoid the parts that were actually meaningful- noticing that, weirdly, all the writing was very small and all the controls were very big.
Lachlan was in the captain’s command throne, four other stations around him, two occupied by other battle brothers of the chapter, engines and systems, two empty- weapons and auspexes that didn’t matter in the Immaterium.
‘Now tell me this, Commissar,’ he said, sounding disapproving, ‘no’ being entirely familiar with them as I am, is it usual practise for integraated regiments of the Guard to attempt to attempt to secure their numbers by breedin’ their own recruits?’
‘What?’ I said, slowly. I realised that I was staring at the pretty colours. I took another step towards him, and felt myself wobble. Lightheaded, too- to reduce it to one word, I felt drunk. Impossible.
The image in front of me changed, and I found myself two inches away from a lifesize holographic representation of Mari Magot’s buttocks. Bare, and bouncing up and down.
Lachlan glared at the chapter serf responsible, and the image pulled back to the refectory third company was using as a mess hall. And, apparently, orgy room. I boggled. I found myself on the verge of swearing vengeance on the lot of them for letting me down and smearing the reputation I had worked so hard to maintain- then realised that if I was about to give tongue to something as suicidally stupid as that, there really was something wrong.
‘Afore I turn the fire suppression system on them, would ye care to try and explain this?’ The marine said, grimly.
‘This makes no sense, they’ve got more sense of duty than that.’ I said, and it came out slightly slurred.
‘Are you entirely yourself?’ he asked me.
‘No.’ I realised. ‘And that…you’re fine. Contamination.’ I guessed, wrongly but a fairly good effort under the circumstances. ‘Something your biosorcery can cope with but we can’t. Never happened like this before, something’s definitely wrong.’
‘Are you seriously suggestin’ ‘ he said, and I noticed the battle brother at the systems station trying not to laugh, ‘that we somehow managed to poison an entire Guard regiment wi’ some kind of aphrodisiac?’
‘Not necessarily, there’s a fair amount of brawling, graffiti and petty theft.’ I said, misplaced humour maybe. ‘More like they’ve lost all sense of self control- too good a unit for that. Never happened before, or on any other troopship. Got to be something here.’
‘Can you not get them to stop? They definitely are doin’ it in the corridors and it would be frightenin’ the horses if we had any, as it is the machine spirit isnae’ takin’ it too well.’
It was in my hands to deal with. If ever there was an internal discipline problem that amounted to a commissar’s responsibility, this was it. ‘I’ll see what I can do.’
‘We’ll pump calmin’ incense through the vents,’ that was a euphemism for trank gas, ‘and switch the secondary scrubbers into the life circuit, see if that does ony good, but much more of this misbehaviour might raise a resonance that gives something outside the ship mair of a chance than we’d like. Not that the problem of having a servant of the infernal powers pop up in your troopers’ midst might no’ result in a significant improvement in their concentration.’
‘That could happen?’ I said, almost shocked back into full alertness.
‘We are tryin’ to make in thirty hours a run that would take a troopship maybe three weeks; to push so hard everything has to be just so, we’re passin’ through the tides of the warp so fast even the atomic barnacles are having trouble haudin’ on, and this lack of focus within is no’ conducive to survival.’
‘I said I’ll go and see what I can do. Do you have a layout of the ship?’
He threw a dataslate at me, most of it blanked out, but the corridors and spaces around the bay where the regiment were was showing in full detail- which changed as I watched, obviously tied into the ship’s internal sensors. I nodded, and left the bridge- almost colliding with Jurgen in the process.
They had refused to let him on the bridge, understandably, but as I bumped into him, my head started to clear. For once some positive aspects of his miasma, I thought, being too preoccupied to draw the obvious conclusion.
I have done my best to forget the next twenty hours; there is a time and a place for the animal side to show a fang, and I dare say I have more than my share of it, but the passage decks of a frigate trying to set a speed record through the warp, with daemons outside and disapproving supermen within, is not it.
Getting everyone back to their own beds was a task, and from time to time a surprise; I didn’t even bother trying to chase up Colonel Kasteen- I didn’t want to know. Deciding I felt that way was one of those surprises.
Blackmail material is one thing, but I had to work with the woman, and catching her in a compromising position that would make it impossible for us to work together- or worse, would oblige me to shoot her- well, it would ruin my reputation with the regiment, ruin what was, I was prepared to admit in a slightly lightheaded state, a friendship.
I wanted to see that she was safe, but at this precise point what she was in most danger from was the regimental Commissar. There was a straightforward solution- send Jurgen, with instructions to be discreet.
Which left me without his protection, at the worst possible time. I was looking stern and noble and trying to recall them to their duty- with some success; whatever they were under the influence of couldn’t have been that potent.
I saw a blur on my left, had time to half- turn towards it when it, or rather she, tackled me bodily and adhered to me. I found myself looking into a pair of glazed, crazed eyes set in a long flushed face; Sulla.
She was clinging on, her own feet off the deck, and we fell over and she rolled herself on top and began to gabble at me.
Some kind of aphrodisiac, I remembered Lachlan’s words. Throne protect me.
She couldn’t hold it in any longer, she had always worshipped me from afar- which was not a bad thing for the male ego in general, but coming from horse-face Jenit Sulla? The horror.
She started to try to undo my uniform buttons, and I tried to do them back up, trying not to panic- she kept rambling, I’m sure the line ‘I want to have your babies’ was in there somewhere, and I tried to think of a gentlemanly way to tell her no, then gave up on that and resorted to rolling her off of me.
She wailed ‘But I love you-‘ and then her eyes crossed and she slumped into a heap, to the accompaniment of a, for once, welcome stench.
‘How’s the Colonel?’ I asked my dishevelled and immensely useful aide, preferring not to think too hard about the twitching, mumbling body on the floor.
He reversed the lasgun he had used to knock her out, and started fumbling in his first aid pouch- I stopped him. Not even she deserved that. ‘Send for a medicae.’
‘Yes, Sir. By the way, Colonel Kasteen is fine, Major Broklaw’s with her at the moment.’ He said, imperturbable as ever.
I did feel a stab of jealousy, but at the end of the day, they were both responsible adults well past the age of consent. Whatever happened, provided they could work it out and deal with the consequences professionally- as long as the regiment didn’t suffer- it was within bounds. Damn them both.
I spent the rest of the trip putting everyone I could find to some kind of make- work, leading runs up and down the corridors, scrubbing and polishing and overhauling our own kit- chivvying most of first company into a chimera- disassembling race- busywork and distractions, good old fashioned army nonsense.
By the time we crashed back out of the warp, I was exhausted- but there was always more to do, not least tracking down and disciplining or reassuring, as appropriate, the sources of the dozens of variations on ‘Sacred Emperor, what have I done?’ I heard as we came through into the materium.
The Quaestio Abstrusa turned out to be a Ramilies- class star fort, the base station for- whatever was going on. Huge hulking great thing as it was, it was almost obscured by the ships hovering around it.
Troopships are one thing, but- fortunately- I’ve managed to avoid having enough to do with the fighting end of the navy to become an expert on the subject.
Even I could manage to recognise an Emperor class battleship, the hundred- metre tall letters embossed on her bow proclaiming her the Lux Aeterna, with dozens of smaller craft forming a battlefleet around her.
I was on the bridge, with a very embarrassed looking Kasteen and Broklaw, when Lachlan reported in to his authorities- a glimpse of a large, complex, multi- tiered bridge behind the Astartes Captain, red- haired, huge, scarred, and preoccupied looking.
‘Ah, Lachlan, ye made good time. Anything to report?’ he asked.
‘Ay, a most regrettable series of incidents-‘ he explained, in an almost superhuman lack of precise detail, what had happened.
Ruaridh- the entire chapter seemed be on first name terms, not surprising really- thought about it, then asked one question. ‘What did ye have your gellar fields dialled up tae?’
‘Ultima, as per- ah. Aye. Right.’ Lachlan reported, then realised what he had done.
‘You eejit.’ Ruaridh berated him. ‘If there was any justice, in nine months I’d assign you tae them to burp them and change their diapers. Colonel, accept the apologies of the Chapter, and if there’s anything we can do for you, just ask.’
Kasteen looked genuinely surprised to be apologised to rather than the other way around, but wasn’t in a mood to go into detail about exactly what had happened and why.
Just as we were disembarking, I managed to find Lachlan in one of the gun bays- he seemed to be hiding- and put the question to him directly. That was when I got the explanation out of him about gellar fields.
‘So it was basically your fault?’
‘Aye.’ He admitted, embarrassed. ‘Standard procedure for making a speed run, I wasn’t thinking in terms of having women on board at aal, it never occurred to me that that could fa’ out like that.’
‘I should probably explain to the Colonel- and to the rest of the women of the regiment, for that matter.’ I said.
‘I’d prefer it if you didnae’. It’s going to take me decades to live this down as it is.’ Lachlan said, with a hard edge to his voice that kicked my suspicions into overdrive.
‘That could cause me some problems.’ I fenced.
‘As mony as me mentioning in certain interested quarters that your aide seemed entirely untouched by a psy effect that had most of the rest o’ the regiment behaving like horny teenagers?’ Lachlan countered.
For a brief second I debated with myself calling his bluff; long enough for the Astartes superman to notice, and to figure out that there really was something to it.
‘The Inquisitor already knows.’ I said, avoiding mentioning which one.
‘Which means he’s keepin’ it a secret from all the rest of them.’ Lachlan pointed out. True, but at least he didn’t know about Amberley.
‘This is blackmail.’ I said.
‘Well, the term was invented in auld Caledonia back on earth in mid M2, so Ah suppose by now you could almost call it tradition. It is a harsh word, though- shall we say, an informal agreement of confidentiality?’
It had been a very long time since I met anyone who could play me at the game of survival and come off with a draw- or better.
‘Has the Holy Inquisition never tried to recruit you?’ I said, meaning that perhaps they could be induced to.
‘Ach, we’re not holy enough for the likes of them. We keep tryin’ tae get the deathwatch to change their name to the Black Watch, after ‘a- a good old traditional title, they’re even the right colour.’
‘So…’ I prompted him.
‘I think you’ve forgotten which of us is puttin’ the offer forward. Shall we agree to let sleepin’, no, no, wrong image, that there are some things more conveniently left unsaid?’
The vision of Jurgen hauled off into the ranks of the Inquisition swam before me. Being forced to do without his literal- minded devotion to duty- actually having to do my own job- and being exposed to every passing psyker, no.
‘It’s a sound principle.’ I agreed, cautiously.
We made the station eventually, and it was ridiculously busy; the Ramilies has berthing pylons, and hangars to support them, and they were filling up fast. There must have been at least thirty regiments, and more due to arrive from the way the ones already here were being asked to bunch up. Open decking, racks on the wall indicated we were in a torpedo bay that had been fitted with false floors.
Arriving on Marine transport as we did, we gathered a fair amount of attention; I couldn’t tell all and most of the command staff didn’t want to, but Throne only knows what kind of impression the other units got from our rank and file.
Dealing with the officers of the other units, sorting out who was who and what was what, was informative in a skin- crawling kind of way. The rumour mill had been running overtime, and they wasted not a moment in trying to scare us.
Lachlan had been more or less right, as far as what little they had been officially told went- there would be almost a hundred regiments here once the battle group reached full strength, and from them a first invasion wave of a dozen, a second invasion wave of twenty, and two blocking groups, one to hold against any invasion from the far side- of what I didn’t know yet- one to do that too but stand ready to follow us into alien space.
‘Us?’ I asked the Colonel I was talking to- a tall, heavy man in some kind of chameleon cloak, New Tanith 88th apparently.
‘Oh yes. We have the details already.’ He smiled, faintly.
‘Did we miss the official briefing?’ I asked, thinking that it would be something of a relief if we had.
‘Just the unofficial heads up.’ The colonel said, looking intently at me as if trying to decide that he could trust me. Were we all liars and chancers, were there no straight men left? Being about to be surrounded by people like me was a distinctly worrying thought.
‘Independent action, in the best interests of the Imperium?’ I said, and apparently struck a chord.
He laughed. ‘Something of a regimental tradition. We’re brigaded with you; Fourth Brigade First Wave, your 597th, my 88th and the Korovkan 5th Armoured, plus enough odds and sods to get in the way- we’ve been arguing for days about how to organise it all. Damien Caffran, by the way.’
‘Ciaphas Cain.’ I formally introduced myself, sounding modest, as if I hadn’t expected my reputation to precede me. ‘Do you know anything about what we’re going to be up against?’
‘Only that every organisation has the slightest excuse to be here is, everyone’s angling for a limb of the tree.’ Presumably, that was a local saying. ‘Which sounds good until you notice that the upper ranks of the navy, the only people who really know anything for definite, tend to turn pale and hurry away as soon as the subject comes up.’ He grinned a twisted, bring-it-on grin.
‘Ah.’ I said, palms itching. ‘So whatever it is sounds good to everyone except the people who know what they’re talking about. Who else is involved, exactly?’
‘Name them.’ He shrugged. ‘Mechanicus- an exploratory group and a full by-damned titan legion in the first wave alone; Astartes- Deathwatch, and companies from half a dozen chapters including those Caledonian pirates; five commanderies of Sororitas to bore the enemy to death by singing hymns at them; a hundred regiments of Guard as an opening bid, and the Navy with the equivalent of a sector battlefleet; half a dozen rogue traders and more Inquisitors than you can shake a heretic at, all with their own private armies- if this isn’t a full blown Crusade, it’s a fething good imitation of one.’
‘Is irreverence one of your regimental traditions as well?’ I asked, trying to decide whether I needed to descend on him with the wrath of the Commissariat or if that would simply squander a useful source. I mean, death by hymn- singing is a fate that has nearly overcome me once or twice during a particularly long and boring service, but you don’t say that sort of thing. Not to the men in the long black coats- which was something that presumably he knew. Testing me?
‘I hardly think the Marines would be happy to be called pirates, and the devotion of the Sisters of Battle tends to express itself in showers of bolter and flamer fire.’ I said, hard edge in my voice.
‘Happy? They’re proud of it. I said it to the big redhead’s face, d’you know the answer I got? “Nah, we’re buccaneers, there’s a technical difference. Mainly that we hae a license to be pirates.”’ He said, wickedly imitating the Caledonian accent.
‘We’ve worked with them before, and while they may be a little raw around the edges, they get the job done. And we have the bagpipes in common, after all.’ That was obviously a private regimental joke- I wouldn’t grasp the full horror of that until later, and a tune called, I think it was ‘Hie, Johnny Cope’, and a long sloping glacis.
‘One thing though, they are radicals, and they have their full share of enemies and rivalries because of that.’ Colonel Caffran continued, in a darker undertone. ‘They use a lot of xenos tech- not that they deal with them in any meaningful sense, it’s more the ‘cold, dead hands’ approach, but they are comfortable around things and ideas that make a lot of other people’s skin crawl. A poor Guardsman has to walk carefully around situations like that. Particularly as the Titan Legion we’re going in with are almost as bad.’
At this point, I wasn’t sure how much more I wanted to know. Supermen with a highly peculiar sense of humour and radical to the edge of heresy, heterodox God- Machines, and a thick layer of the inquisition spread over it all- it seemed like a perfect recipe for chaos. In the small-c sense, of course- at least, I hoped so.
He wasn’t trying to get a rise out of me; he was trying to tell me, officially a hero Throne help me, that things were looking dubious and possibly about to get very much worse, in a way that he stood a chance of being able to laugh off if anyone took notice.
‘At this point, I think you would welcome a few hymn- singing emperor- botherers around the place.’ I said, trying to signal that I understood- without appearing to think oh, frak too loudly.
‘They would be, and will be once they get over the delusion that they understand war. The Sororitas we’ve exercised against, somebody’s idea- the Legate’s I think- their singing may be the most lethal thing about them. My first company took two hundred of theirs apart in five minutes. They don’t seem able to grasp the concept of cover. Or covering fire.’ He grinned. ‘Or landmines. When we tried that trick on the Marines, they dug them up and threw them at us. The sisters just-‘ he made an explosion gesture.
‘The chain of command’s more like a knot, and there are so many self- appointed heroes, so many independent interpreters of the divine will, that we stand a fair chance of being able to defeat ourselves regardless of what the xenos have to say about it.’ He sighed, largely for effect. ‘I suspect that doing His Majesty’s work is going to come down to Tommy-in-the-mud, as usual.’
There was the sound of bells form an overhead speaker, and a gruff, half mechanical voice announced ‘Command conference.’
‘Well,’ I said, ‘Let’s go and see what has to be done. The Emperor protects.’ I must have been terrified if I was prepared to resort to platitudes like that.
The only purpose in my still being here is the stories and the people who come to read them. About all else, I no longer care.