It's been far too long- just to prove that this is not dead, the first half of ch 21.
Not very long ago, in a galaxy not all that far away... Unlike many of her colleagues, Inquisitor Vail was not herself psychic.
She preferred to rely on quick wits and competent support staff. This was good, as many of the psykers with the fleet had just come apart, in one case literally.
Her own psychic resource, Rakel, was taking it particularly badly, which for her was saying something.
The plump psyker actually served two critical functions within the inquisitorial retinue; apart from the mentalism, she was abrasively rude and uncouth.
This was more than valuable, it was indispensable; it meant the inquisitor could be malicious and contemptuous to people through a proxy,
who could not really be held accountable for her actions.
Then Amberley could score grace and diplomacy points by pretending to apologise for her unruly minion,
while at the same time pointing out that sanctioned psykers, you know how it is...
She had wondered why so few of her higher ranking associates, people of some standing in their own right,
who ought to know how things worked, had managed to figure it out.
Especially Ciaphas, whose own malodorous aide should have given him a clue if nothing else could.
Still, being caustically abusive by proxy, just as being elegantly gracious, was simply another facet of the trade.
Said trade being the defence of the Imperium of Man, and this being an unusually far forward position to exercise it from.
Another universe, for a start. Although that didn't necessarily affect any of the fundamentals.
It was their psychic who provided them with the key clue, in fact.
The Externus Exterminatus was cruising in the local equivalent of the warp, circling like a hawk seeking thermals
trying to get purchase in this thin, glacial sky, and to make out a concentration of minds worth steering for,
and the inquisitor was considering for the umpteenth time whether she ought not to change the name to something more cosy and less obvious, when it hit.
There was a scream of alarm from the navigator's otherwise- shielded compartment- 'Storm!- Br-' Tynus had probably meant to say 'warpstorm, brace brace brace'-
but he didn't get that far before the ship was hammered and sent tumbling and careering, and-
and nothing, strangely. A williwaw, a patch of clear air- or unclear mind- turbulence?
Amberley was just about to ask him for an explanation, in her usual semi- serious, I could make this so much worse if I wanted to, team- building way,
when Rakel started to spasm.
Nothing especially out of the ordinary, unfortunately, as she started thrashing around and screaming,
throwing herself at a table and breaking it, rolling in the cake- strewn wreckage- but the language she was giving vent to
changed to something that was definitely not Imperial Gothic.
A long string of run together words and word salad, it was obvious that it was alien and equally obvious
that it was gibberish, and it was too much for the psyker; her eyes rolled back in her head and she collapsed, twitching.
'I'm taking us out of Warp.' First Navigator Gemonin Tynus announced, unsteadily. 'I don't feel very well.'
That could have been the prelude to anything up to and including a daemonic incursion, and the retinue readied weapons,
took firing positions covering the shielded cubicle.
Their descent from warp was rough, more so than it should have been; and it was a relief when they emerged into calm and stability, and the gellar fields shut down.
The armoured door folded open, and nothing came out, for several long seconds.
No alternatives. Somebody had to go in and look.
Tynus was a typical member of Amberley Vail's retinue; slightly mad. He had been mutating slowly, as navigators do, and about to be reduced to amniotics
when he had decided he hated the idea of becoming a limbless thing in a glass cage.
He had escaped from the guild, effectively proving that he wasn't ready for total life support just yet,
and eventually been found living in the wild with a pack of mutant dogfish industrial sea herders, in open ocean on the agriplanet his ship had last stopped over.
Somehow he had gained psychic control of the herdfish, and was using them as a defence.
One member of the guild sent to try to talk their renegade down had already been eaten, which was how the Inquisitor had got to hear of it.
She had solved the problem, and got herself a new navigator, with a little interior remodelling to make room for a swimming pool inside the psychic shielding.
He was very good, wouldn't have been worth bending the rules for otherwise, but stability was not his thing. There were burbling sounds, but no other clue;
hand over face, squinting between her fingers and bolt pistol ready, Amberley raised the wards and opened the door to the swimming pool/navigation chamber.
Navigators were a very touchy topic in the Ordo Xenos, the oldest and most powerful of them moving so far away from their genetic roots
that they started to raise the terrible question of what it really meant to be human, of where the frontier of the race lay.
It was the omphaloidean heresy all over again; a problem it was dangerous to even recognise the existence of, to which no answer was right
and no solution did not point to disaster.
The team outside heard a gurgling sound, a scream, a high, eerie sobbing, some splashing and thrashing around followed by a dull thud.
A couple of moments later, a damp Inquisitor Vail emerged, a body slung over her shoulder that none of them recognised at first.
She did not select her minions for their obtuseness; Pelton was the first to put two and two together.
'What the Throne happened to Tynus? Did the warp suck most of his bodyweight away?'
'Ay, he's been mutated out of all recognition, he looks almost normal.' Yanbel pointed out.
'Which comes first, him or the ship's warp engines?' Leaving unstated the question, are we thinking about fixing him
or blowing him away before he sprouts tentacles?
'You deal with the engines.' Amberley told him. 'Find out what happened and if we can still trust them. Where's-ah, Mydelin.
Zemelda, get Tynus down to medicae and auspex him thoroughly. Pelton, go with her.' Meaning, it's your job to decide if this shrunken
walrus turns out to have mutated in an unacceptable fashion, and if he has, well.
Mydelin was the backup navigator; she dressed like an off duty assassin, black bodyglove, robes, headband, floppy hat.
Young and with the boldness of youth, talented but still immature, prone to take risks that a seasoned judgement would not;
and she just looked too sane for her own good.
She could be at least as abrasive as Rakel, but the usual excuses simply didn't fly, people were too apt to realise that she really meant it.
'So the space whale finally went belly up? Not surprised. I feel as if we flew through a planet.'
'Exceptionally unlikely.' Mott, the mechanically augmented savant, said. 'There are only four accredited and documented instances
in the entire history of the Imperium, and two hundred and seventeen million, five hundred and eighty thousand failed transits,
to the last known and nearest round figure.
The gravity well accounts for aproximately point four six three of the problems encountered in close transit and the
density of life on the planet and thus presence in the warp the remaining point five three seven.
Interestingly, the four known instances, one of which was a deliberate act of desperation, two of which were navigation errors
and one the result of a small ship being caught in a much larger vessel's undertow, all occurred through minimally populated worlds of marginal significance. The-'
'Yes, thank you Caratacus.' Amberley said, hoping to forestall any further explosions of unnecessary information.
'I didn't say I'd experienced it personally, I was being metaphorical. So what happened, did we actually just pass
through the warp shadow of something in dullspace? There was nothing, no warning at all.' Mydelin pointed out.
'Looking at what shape the engines are in, I couldn't rule it out.' Yanbel came back on to the bridge deck and announced.
'Not one of the standard accidents, though, gellar fields are fully functional. A transcosmic superposition would be consistent, yes.'
'With what? Even the piscinesque bloated one would have noticed a planet.' Mydelin snarked, but accurately.
'With one of their ships, potentially.' Yanbel considered. 'We know there are other methods, and this universe seems
suboptimal and possibly contraindicated for warp travel, therefore-'
'Warp travel without the warp?' Mydelin said, disbelieving- for one thing, it was not what any navigator wanted to
hear about- but unable, however much she would have preferred job security, not to consider it.
'There are known alternatives; the Webway, of course, the mysterious means by which the Necrons move themselves, the Tau's transition skimming,
according to Lord Inquisitor Kryptmann's study group the Tyranids are evolving organisms to lessen their dependence on the Warp. The-'
'Yes, thank you Mott.' Amberley said. 'Can you tell us anything useful about these people's drives?'
'Running Rakel's word salad through dialogic-cogiatation microfacilitator engines, I isolate the terms 'ship', 'repairs,' defective,' and also 'idiot'-
it seems likely that the impressions she received were from a damaged vessel. Further analysis-'
'Can wait for a more opportune moment. How fast was this cripple moving?'
Mott turned to his colleague in the Mechanicus, Yanbel, who shook his head and several of his mechadendrites.
'It may hae' seemed longer by the means of navigation, but the incident isn't recorded in the engines' overmonitoring systems.
No transition stage, we went from full function, or as full as this even less material than usual immaterium can supply,
to crippled in less time than the most sophisticated auspiceae we have can distinguish. Relative velocity must have been enormous,
and the overwhelming majority of it must have been theirs.'
'They move faster than we do.' Amberley said, and it was a flat statement, the sound of the decision making process in action.
What could they do about that, if anything?
'So many guesses and estimates, I couldn't tell you how much by with any accuracy I'd care to put my name to- I don't think they're
Necron fast, but not far off. Any number I could give you would have a lot of zeroes in it, that's all I can be sure of.' Yanbel pointed out.
'Mydelin, see what you can see, if there's anywhere we can get to within the day.' Amberley ordered.
They were giving away too much time. If their alien enemies could move that quickly, every second they wasted was a gift to the other side.
A month would be a tactical eternity.
'What do numbers taste like to you?' Yanbel said to Mydelin, and realised everyone was looking at him as if he had been touched by the
psychic shock too. 'No, I mean it, look for people with heads full of numbers, for something that could pass for a forge world-'
Amberley realised what her mechanicus adept was getting at. 'For the technosorcerers who built the intercosmic bridge in the first place.
Good thinking. Do it.' she told Mydelin, who was just going into the navigation chamber, and added to Yanbel 'I presume this is possible?
We can still move and achieve something in a time short enough to matter?'
'If I nurse the engines every step of the way, my lady, ay.' The technomancer agreed, heading for the engine room.
----um, er, yes, Rakel's word salad seems to have done the damage- should be sorted now. (Bloody psykers, can't trust any of them...)
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.