The medical bay was dimly lit, the lumens set to the night cycle cast wan light over the gleaming ceramic surfaces. The lone patient lay supine on a table in the middle of the chamber, specialized devices interfacing with his black carapace. A monitor gave a low beep as it tracked his vital signs. He had been stripped of his armor and lay with a simple white sheet drawn up to his chest which rose and fell as he breathed in his sleep.
Sister Aoife entered the room, waiting a moment at the threshold for her eyes to adjust to the gloom. She walked softly to the cot and paused to cast an expert eye over the charts. Satisfied she made her way around to the single stool and sat. It was scaled for marines so her feet dangled like a child at the scholam but she didn’t care. She reached out a hand and grasped the augmetic hand of the patient.
‘Faris.’ She said gently.
Aoife sat in silence for a few minutes gathering her thoughts.
‘You once told me you didn’t believe in the Emperor,’ she asked in hushed tones. ‘I…I have a confession; I didn’t always believe in Him either.’
She paused again, preparing to bare her soul.
‘I was seven years old when my parents were drafted into the guard. I became an orphan overnight, a ward of the Imperium. My home was an agriworld, too small to warrant a schola progenium so we were gathered onto a bulk transport to travel to the sector capital. There were fifty of us. Fifty scared little children in the care of a Sister Dialogus and a grim faced preacher.
‘The voyage began smoothly enough. The ship was vast and none of my class had ever travelled the stars before. Most of us had barely travelled further than our farmsteads. It was a grand adventure. We began classes, and while our tutors were strict I found I was a quick study and often sought them out to answer my questions.
‘A few weeks into the transit we were woken to alarms and flashing lights. The ship shook violently and many of my classmates began to cry in their bunks. There was a final loud bang and the lumens failed completely. After a few heart stopping moments they returned and the captain announced over the vox that we had dropped from the warp.
‘We were becalmed in a backwater system, far from the main routes. A single world hung in the void around a late stage star. There were signs of habitation, a few ancient satellites, evidence that man had once made the planet home. While the enginseers and crew worked on fixing our position and repairing the ship it was decided that an expedition would be launched.
‘I disobeyed them Faris. I broke the rules for the first time in my life.
‘Sister Annabelle and Father Jeager chose to join the explorators. She was keen to investigate any signs of civilisation, he just wanted to bring the emperors light. I had never seen them so animated, I wanted to share in their excitement. So, precocious child that I was, I snuck aboard their shuttle.
‘They found me of course and I was subjected to a scolding but after a while they relented. I think they wanted to show me what wonders may lie in wait for the servants of the Emperor.
‘We landed near what we thought was an abandoned settlement near a small hill. The structures were ramshackle and not one was fully intact. The explorator team began to survey the settlement, spreading out amongst the buildings while we made our way to what, for want of a better term, was the town square. It was there we found the obelisk. It was there we learned we were not alone.
‘The obelisk was twenty feet high and greatly worn by age. The stone was pitted and cracked but we could still make out a faint inscription in ancient gothic. Sister Annabelle immediately set to work translating it while I wandered off to look in the window of the nearest hut. As I stared into the dark interior I was shocked to see someone staring back. I yelled out in surprise and Father Jeager was immediately at my side, his ancient bolt pistol gripped in his hand.
‘We were swiftly surrounded by such dregs of humanity that you have ever seen. As unkempt and ill cared for as their town. They babbled at us in broken language until Sister Annabelle strode up and, after a few halting attempts, made some sense of their dialect. We learned some of their history that night. How they had been lost, how a crusade fleet had found them and brought them into the fold. They told us of a mighty warrior, ten feet tall, who showed them the path they should follow. They promised to show us it all at first light.
‘At dawn the elders of the village led us up a path that wound up and around the hill to the summit. A light rain began to fall and the curious polished cobbles of the path became slick and treacherous underfoot. As we turned the last corner we found ourselves in a clearing, the rest of the villagers standing in a silent chorus.
‘The sunlight crested the hill and illuminated a great icon; a single amber eye. Knives glinted in the hands of the villagers as they encircled us. Annabelle and Jeager bade me run, and I fled as they opened fire, singing hymnals as they did so. The ferocity of their battle destabilized the barrow and it came apart even as I ran. It was skulls, Faris, skulls all the way down.
‘Annabelle or Jeager perished but their righteous fury awoke my faith. You see, the Emperor works though all of us, even you my friend.’
Aoife held Faris’ augmetic fingers and began to pray.