It wasn't long before I felt the soft rumble of maneuvering thrusters and then the push of the main drive. The grav compensated for most it, but at this I was an old hand. We were on our way.
A PDF functionary came to summon me to dinner. The dining hall wasn't far and it was big. There were well over a hundred people inside and it was clearly for officers and guests by the decor. The room was covered in wood paneling and crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling. Besides the host of guards and servants, there were at least two tech priests, several high ranking PDF officers, several Sororitas Sisters in formal robes, and a gaggle of high functionaries/nobles that I couldn't identify. It was an impressive gathering, almost all of whom outranked me.
But not all. I quickly saw the lines of rank and status. A small table off to the side hosted three astropaths and two fellow Psykanna psykers. The Psykanna psykers I knew. They were from Port Said's compliment. I took my place there, among my fellow psykers and our omnipresent wardens.
"You should eat up," said Jules. "They're feeding us pretty well."
"That's because of them," said one of the astropaths with a nod of her head, a withered woman who looked to be mummified. "It's just simpler to include us as well."
"There speaks the voice of optimism," said Jules. "Think she would have learned better, living as long as she has," Jules continued. She should talk. She didn't look much older than mid thirties, but she was a expert biomancer as well as being valuable enough to get juvenant treatment. She could be any age.
"Fool," said the astropath. "We're just here to be used up and fed into the furnace."
"Cheery," said Jules. I took a spoonful of soup. It was potato based and subtly spiced. It was delicious. We ate well, but not this good. "Good, isn't it?" said Jules. "Try the wine. And this is just the soup course."
"Anyone know what's going on?" I asked. "Three Psykanna psykers, three astropaths. That's a lot of psykers and then there's the rest."
Jules shrugged. "Something in space."
I rolled my eyes. "Genius."
"Nothing good," said the talkative astropath. "Too many of the great and good hauled out here without a 'by your leave'. Someone powerful, someone very powerful with a great deal at stakes. Six psykers to send to the furnace. Six packets of fuel to burn on this mystery."
"Flavia's right, you know," said another astropath. Bald, male, hard to tell his age. Juvenant treatments. Silver optics set with aquamarines filled his eye sockets. "You don't conscript the powerful over nothing and we are another resource to be used and used up."
Flavia cackled. "Someone has learned some wisdom."
"Yes," said the male astropath, "but having said that, the young woman is quite correct. The food is excellent and if we die we can die having dined well. I look forward to the meat course."
"Do you think," I asked softly, "it could be," I hesitated here. There were some things one did not say lightly. "The Inquisition."
The table went silent. "Yes," said the male, "yes that might be the case."
"They aren't real," said Jules.
"Yes," said the male, "they are. They do what they do, conscript whatever resources they want, do their damage, and leave. Not much is left in their wake."
"I was at the edge. A whole ship vanished like it was piloted into a black hole. Not one of them was ever seen again. I hope the Inquisition inducted them, but we all know that it could have just as easily shot them into the sun. So much power and so much secrecy. No one keeps secrets as well as the dead."
"And yet you are an astropath and alive."
"One who sent no messages and never boarded that ship. We're a valuable resources, essential even, but there are enough to waste a few here and there. And they hate us. Hate us and fear us. They're always more at ease when we're dead."
There was nothing said after that. He was right. They were always happier with us dead, no matter what we did for them. The dinner was excellent. I don't have the pallet to judge the wines or the knowledge to identify most of the dishes, but they were delicious. Tender meat that slid off the bone, splendid sauces, and tasty vegetables with a light custardy dessert.
I slept well on silk sheets. I took more meals in the luxurious dining chamber and exercised in a corner of the well appointed gymnasium. The day passed and another night. We took in another fine breakfast. Servants cleared away the dishes and five men entered. Four were PDF security troops in hardened void armour and autofiring shotgun. The fifth was very tall and wore a red silk robe. Black armour covered his body and his face was hidden by a chrome skull mask. He walked to the far end of the hall and turned back to face us.
He levitated up until he was floating a meter off the floor. His voice came through clear and loud, probably due to equipment built into his helmet. "Ladies and gentlemen, you have been wondering who has conscripted you and why. These questions, and others, will be answered.
"I am Helix and I am an agent of the Throne. This operation is proceeding under the power and authority of the Inquisition." A holograthic stylized 'I' and skull insignia floated in the air. "Failure to offer full and complete cooperation is treason and heresy.
"Your skills are needed to assist with an investigation." The eye vanished, to be replaced with an image of a space ship. Leaner than a freighter, maybe a frigate, and mustering many gun emplacements. "This is the sprint trader Saint Gustav's Pride. She was found on the outskirts of the system, cold and open to the void. This does not fit the pattern of any known threat in this subsector. Investigation is required. We are fulfilling that requirement.
"We will make contact with the ship in three hours. Prepare yourselves. That is all. May the Emperor watch over you all. We are doing His work."
The Excellent Prismatic Spray. For when you absolutely, positively must kill a motherfucker. Accept no substitutions. Contact a magician of the later Aeons for details. Some conditions may apply.Librium Arcana