Katya ducked as a plate spun past her head and smashed on the wall behind her. Shards of cheap ceramic peppered her greatcoat, the dust turning the black to a dull grey. She was upright again in moments, steering through the jumbled mess of pumps and stoves. Shouts of dismay and anger followed her from the cooks and orderlies she’d shoved aside when they’d been too slow to react. Her bolt pistol bucked in her hand as she loosed a shot towards the fleeing guardsmen, a section of tile exploding, adding unpalatable seasoning to a massive pot of stew. The ratling cook was unperturbed, simply adjusting his stained cap and stirring in the fragments with a long paddle. A clang resounded through the room as a door was slammed open and a gust of air rushed in, cool petrochemical fug mixing with the fetid organic odour of the kitchen.
‘Move!’ shouted Katya, scattering the last few menials as she barrelled towards the exit.
‘There’s brass waiting for you outside,’ said Poulet, setting the mug of recaff down.
‘How shiny?’ asked Katya.
‘Buffed, not gleaming,’ said Poulet.
Katya sighed and rolled her neck before pushing her chair back and standing. She reached for the greatcoat hanging on the hook behind her and shrugged it on over the light vest she habitually wore. She swiftly buttoned it and tied her scarlet sash around her waist. Finally, she pushed her peaked cap down onto her head, tucking an errant strand of white-blond hair under the rim.
She stepped out into the vestibule, the only occupant turning from the armaglass window at her approach. Katya appraised him for a moment. He was tall and broad, his uniform neatly pressed. A band of medals and campaign bars sat under his rank insignia on his left breast. He was clean shaven, the features surprisingly youthful but marred by a dour expression. He mirrored her appraisal, looking her up and down with pale grey eyes. Katya waited patiently for him to look at her face. When he finally met her cool blue gaze, he at least had the good grace to look embarrassed.
‘How can I help you Major?’ said Katya.
‘Hale,’ he said, ‘XO of the Juvenstian 78th. I’m here about my men.’
‘You’d better come in then.’ Said Katya.
‘Thank you, Commissar,’ said Hale.
‘Barrathis,’ said Katya, opening the door and waving him through.
Katya sat down at her desk and took a sip of recaff. Major Hale remained standing at a loose parade rest, hands folded behind his back. He glanced over at Poulet who pointedly ignored him and took a bite out of his roll.
‘This is a highly sensitive matter, Commissar,’ said Hale. ‘I really must insist it is not discussed in front of a civilian.’
‘Respite and Rearmament Environs are multi-jurisdictional, Major,’ said Katya. ‘Judicator Poulet is my partner, you may speak freely.’
‘Very well,’ said Hale, pointedly turning his back on Poulet. ‘Two of my men have been misplaced.’
‘That’s careless,’ said Poulet through a mouthful of sandwich.
Katya shot him a glare and he turned back to his dataslate.
‘How so, Major?’ she asked.
‘We conducted a review of our last action. It appears two of the men were listed as KIA in error. Unfortunately, the regiment had already been granted 24 hour leave when we discovered this. The rest of the men returned this morning, these two did not.’
‘You believe they got wind of their status and decided to disappear? “Only in death…” and all that?’
Hale looked uncomfortable, glancing down to pick imagined dirt from a fingernail.
‘I do. I expect it from Reeves, he was always a bad sort. Tavlin, however, is as honest as the day is long. He would not desert, I swear it. He’s my nephew, I promised my sister I’d look out for him.’
‘And what do you propose I do about it?’ said Katya, raising an eyebrow.
‘Find them of course,’ said Hale. ‘Well Tavlin, at least.’
The lasbolt bored a neat hole in the rusted wheel arch and punched into the tire Katya sheltered behind. The Cargo-8 sagged as the air whistled out of the rubber and steel. The trailer groaned as the weight shifted and she flinched as a battered package dropped from the flatbed and bounced off her shoulder.
‘Drop your weapons and place your hands on your heads!’ she shouted.
Another flurry of las was the response, punching more holes in her meagre refuge and destroying the fallen package. Scraps of coloured plastek and dried noodles danced away in the breeze, while a small drift of detritus began to pile up against Katya’s knee where she crouched.
‘Fine,’ she muttered. ‘Don’t then.’
The guards had found cover behind discarded crates and a pair of rifle barrels aimed back at her. She risked another swift glance, no more shots chased her.
‘Out of curiosity,’ she yelled, ‘how many reloads do you carry on shore leave?’
She could make out a whispered discussion. The alley behind The Duty’s End was short, but there was no cover between the men and freedom.
‘We’re coming out,’ came a voice. ‘Don’t shoot!’
She stood and waited while the guards came out of cover, weapons held across their chests. She kept her own bolt pistol at her side, ready if she was wrong.
‘Which one of you was shooting at me?’ she asked, conversationally.
‘He was!’ The guards both protested, waving their lasguns erratically.
Katya spotted movement over their shoulders, a panting, red-faced Poulet turning into the alley from the street. Before Katya could react, he raised his stubber and fired twice.
‘Found them,’ said Katya, striding into the hall and tossing a pair of tags to the Major.
‘Tavlin must’ve been innocent!’ said Hale, catching the idents. ‘You had no right, Commissar!’
‘Look on the bright side, Major. Your records are now accurate,’ said Katya, smiling gently as she passed him. ‘Welcome to Spite.’
About the Author
Andy Clark is an avid reader of all things Warhammer, having rediscovered the setting with the Horus Heresy series. He’s recently got back into painting models after a two-decade gap and wonders why he ever stopped.