The Voice In The Void

Sirens wailed. Red lumen globes span wildly, splashing their light in waves across the grey bulkheads. Sealed into an alcove beside the docking bay door a servitor, a mere head and torso with an augmented voice box, droned through its programmed warnings.

‘Stand away from the door. Docking in process. Interference with docking procedures is a capital offence. Praise the Omnissiah. The Emperor Protects. Stand away from the door.’

Security Chief Barrack Iadon tried to block the servitor out. Its voice grated on him. He already had a splitting headache. The lights were doing nothing to help either. ‘Silence,’ he commanded with no success. ‘Cease warnings,’ he tried. Still nothing. The machines never did seem to listen to him. He closed his eyes. He didn’t need to see what was going on yet anyway. Even through the bulkhead he could hear the transporter settling into position. He could hear the creaking of the guidance mechadendrites as they were coiled back drawing the vessel safely and precisely into position. He heard the hiss of pneumatics as docking clamps reached out and clutched at the vehicle’s hull locking it in place.

‘Docking procedure complete. Commencing atmospheric equalisation procedure. Praise the Omnissiah. The Emperor Protects,’ the servitor droned.

Iadon opened his eyes as he heard the rush of displaced atmosphere. He straightened his back and adjusted the collar and hem of his black and gold uniform. The arrival of a new circulation of Naval Security personnel was long overdue. His current detail were tired and losing discipline. They showed all the signs of strained mentality Iadon had come to recognise in men forced into long term isolation and confined living conditions. As commander of all security personnel aboard the station it was important to Iadon that he swiftly establish his expectations of those below him. That was why he was greeting the new arrivals personally. Through the porthole in the internal airlock door, Iadon saw them approach. The external door slammed down and sealed tight behind them. There was a rush of compressed air as the lock equalised.

‘Athmospheric equalisation complete. Opening internal doors. Praise the Omnissiah. The Emperor Protects.’

The internal door clunked into motion and rose slowly into the ceiling. Once it had fully receded, the five figures that had been waiting behind it filed out and fell into a neat line in front of Iadon. They snapped to attention in unison, without a word. Iadon liked that. He responded in kind and made the sign of the Aquila in salute. ‘The Emperor Protects,’ he said.

‘The Emperor Protects,’ the five security troopers replied, returning the Aquila salute. Iadon moved down to the end of the line as the airlock sealed down tight and the red lights dimmed, returning the bulkheads to their typical dull grey. Iadon let out a gentle sigh of relief as he walked along the line of troopers, inspecting them one by one. Four were clad in identical blue-grey fatigues, layered over with black carapace armour. Their faces were hidden behind fully enclosed black helmets with incorporated rebreather masks. They held snub nosed auto-carbines across their bodies, rested on slings across their shoulders and each had a stun baton hooked to their belt. The fifth in the row had little to distinguish them from the others but the difference was clear to Iadon’s trained eye. They had golden chevrons pinned to their collar, marking them as squad leader. Iadon turned on his heel and strode to the end of the row. He looked the squad leader in their green eye lenses then down the row at the rest of the unit.

‘This is Listening Post Iota-Sigma-Four. I am Security Chief Iadon. As long as you are aboard this station you will report to me. Is that understood?’

‘Sir yes sir,’ the unit replied together and with fervour. A thin smile drew at the corner of Iadon’s mouth.

‘While this may seem like a minor duty, we here at IS-4 are the first line of defence for the Harredes system. It is we who send first warning. We who allow our worlds to reach full battle readiness that they may turn back any who threaten them. As such I expect the same discipline aboard this station as I would in any crusade fleet in the Imperium. Is that understood?’

‘Sir yes sir.’

‘Good. You,’ Iadon said, turning to the squad leader, ‘Sound off.’

The squad leader tucked their auto-carbine behind them, allowing its strap to take the weight as they reached up and unsealed their helmet. They lifted it off over their head and tucked it under their arm. ‘Corporal Fendrick, reporting for duty sir.’

His skin was sickly pale. Not unusual for a member of Navel security for they rarely did feel the touch of starlight. The corporal’s eyes were a piercing violet but the first thing Iadon noticed was the black bandana he wore covering his scalp. That was not regulation uniform.

‘What is this?’ Iadon demanded, gesturing to the top of Fendrick’s head.

‘My apologies sir, it’s…’ the corporal trailed off as he reached up with his free hand and removed the bandana. Beneath it, across the corporal’s scalp were spots of dry, hardened skin that had turned an unusual shade of purple. ‘Birth defect sir. Medicae have never been able to treat it. Itches like death inside the helmet. Officers on the Red Shield gave me special dispensation.’

Iadon stared at the top of Fendrick’s head for several long moments. It was unpleasant to look at but there was something about it that made it hard to look away. Eventually he recomposed himself. ‘I see. Very well. Do as you must.’

‘Many thanks sir,’ Fendrick said, putting the bandana back on.

Iadon moved back down the line. Each of the detail introduced themselves one by one. Their voices all sounded alike through their rebreather masks. Iadon mentally noted them, troopers Veddell, Kellick, Barosh and Midden. Iadon turned back once again at the end of the line, about to give his first orders when the station vox speakers burst into life.

‘Security Chief Iadon. This is Tech Adept Zecketheta. I request your presence at the command centre. Confirm.’

Iadon turned away from the squad, not wanting them to see his heavy eye roll at the disruption. He walked over to the vox horn on the wall, raised it to his mouth and pressed the button beside it that connected him to the command centre. ‘Confirm Tech Adept. On my way,’ he said, not hiding his annoyance at the undoubtedly tedious request. He knew the Tech Adept would not notice anyway. Iadon returned the horn to its hook and turned back to the squad. ‘From this point on you will be known as Beta Squad. Beta Squad, with me,’ he said then turned and headed down the hallway. The five troopers fell into step behind him.

At the peak of Listening Post Iota-Sigma-Four was an armourglass dome. Regularly polished by spider like drones both inside and out, it provided a clear and haunting view out into the blackness of space. Beneath it was an enclosed, reclined seat. A copper frame with worn grox hide padding. It was fixed to the end of a telescoping arm that could raise and lower it from the done back down to the floor. Inside sat Carcillus LeBaan. He was an astropath. Already blind, his head was encased in a helm of psycho-reactive silver, attached by a bundle of thick cables to his modest throne. Through it he could see more than his living eyes ever could.

He and his compatriot, Lucinia, were the most important beings in the listening post. They were what the whole station was built around. Them and the many of their kind that had come before. They were the ones that listened. Lucinia slept now. She would return and relieve him a few hours from now. For now it was Carcillus whose mind reached out into the void.

The warp was calm here. He felt it flow against him like gentle waves. He bobbed up and down in their wake. He basked in the warm light of the Astronomican. Felt its touch on his skin as real as a campfire. Everything was quiet as it so often was. Occasionally small warp entities would approach him, intrigued by his unnatural presence. They were nothing for him to fear though. Mere insects of the Immaterium. When they got too close Carcillus would crush several with a thought and the rest would scurry away.

Time passed. It was hard to know how long. All Carcillus knew for sure was that he went from a time of silence to a time of noise. It was a strange one. Not the song of an astropathic choir heralding the arrival of a returning vessel. It was not the dread rolling cacophony of Orks that he had heard once before and wished never to hear again. This was a chittering noise, like the scuttling of beetles. He could vividly picture them, hundreds of little legs and snapping mandibles. He felt them in the back of his mind, building like a tension headache. He reached for them, to crush the little creatures like the warp spawn that had sniffed him out before, but they were not there. No matter which way he turned they were always behind him. When he tried to reach back and catch them off guard there was nothing there, but the sound persisted. It was crawling over him, but was simultaneously distant. Far out of his reach. Carcillus picked himself up from where he gently floated. Focussing his mind he became a sea bird and set out over the waves, in search of the source of the chittering that followed him.

Iadon hated the command centre. It was a cramped cylindrical chamber in the centre of the upper decks, below the listening dome of Iota-Sigma-Four. All around the outside of the room, even built into the walls above Iadon’s head were hardwired servitors. The half mechanical drones made up ninety percent of the station’s crew. If you could consider them crew. The centre of the ceiling was dominated by a central nexus that allowed the servitors to communicate and cooperate with one another. It was a dull silver stalactite draped with slack cabling, connecting it with each post within the chamber.  The air was constantly filled with the sound of clicking augmetic fingers and the high pitched static of data bursts. The servitors monitored every system aboard the station. They in turn were monitored by Tech Adept Zecketheta. The Tech Adept stood in the centre of the chamber, within a three quarter circle of consoles and cogitator banks. He was a squat broad creature. The bulk of his body was swathed in robes in the red of the Martian priesthood. His eyes were clunky augmetics that constantly clinked as tiny arms set at Zecketheta’s temples moved lenses back and forth in order to focus his vision. Cables protruded from the length of his spine, feeding into the machines around him. A spool of parchment passed beneath an autoquill built into his chest that scratched out line upon line of readings and reports. A pair of servo skulls floated attentively overhead.

Zecketheta didn’t acknowledge Iadon’s arrival. He never did at first. Iadon had never been able to tell if it was due to the deafening noise in the command centre or if Zecketheta was always simply too distracted. Both explanations irked him.

‘Tech Adept!’ Iadon had to shout to make himself heard.

Zecketheta jumped as if taken by surprise. The servo skulls dropped to place themselves between their master and the new arrivals. Tiny digital weapons armed with their right eye sockets.

‘Oh for Throne’s sake. Stand them down.’

With a dismissive wave of a mechadendrite Zecketheta dismissed the servo skulls and they returned to their ready positions floating above him.

‘Is there no way to make it quieter in here?’ Iadon asked.

‘You are welcome to speak with my charges. Perhaps you can negotiate with them.’ Zecketheta’s voice was still human but was higher and softer then Iadon ever expected from the dense mechanical body. It was also devoid of any inflection that might suggest meaning beyond his words.

‘Was that a joke Tech Adept?’

‘No.’ There was a long pause.

‘What did you call me here for Tech Adept? I can only assume it was for more than an exchange of… pleasantries,’ said Iadon impatiently.

‘Affirmative Security Chief. Behold.’ One of the servo skulls descended again. The roll of parchment had folded into a pile at Zecketheta’s feet and the skull grasped the end with a tiny mechanical limb that extended from behind its teeth. The skull hovered over to Iadon, trailing the parchment behind itself like a pennant. It reached him and hung in the air expectantly until Iadon took hold of the paper. He looked down at it. Line after line of illegible text interspersed with blocks of binary code and complex equations. Iadon was a soldier. His skills lay behind the barrel of a gun and in the command of men. The writing meant nothing to him.

‘Perhaps it would be more efficient for you to tell me what I am supposed to be seeing.’

Zecketheta looked at him in a way Iadon perceived as surprise. The same look the Tech Adept always gave him when Iadon didn’t understand some complex reading or mechanical concept. ‘We have multiple system faults on decks three through seven.’

Iadon let out a growl of frustration. Two week ago the station had been hit by a cloud of debris that Zecketheta hypothesised had broken free from the trail of a passing comet. Iadon didn’t care where it had come from only that it had caused severe damage to the lower levels. The tech servitors had swiftly repaired the damage to critical systems and prevented them all from suffocating or being sucked out into space but further system failures had plagued them ever since.

‘Then repair them. This is your duty,’ said Iadon.

‘The process has already begun, however there will be delays. I have lost contact with 36.36 recurring percent of servitor workforce in the area. Replacements are being rerouted from decks eight and nine. Estimated time to full reallocation, 27 minutes, 43 seconds. Correction. Contact has now been lost with 45.45 percent of servitor workforce.’

‘What is causing this?’

‘Unknown. I humbly request that you investigate and report your findings to me, that I can ensure no further delays to critical repairs.’

‘We can not afford to be losing servitors. Very well. I will grant your request Tech Adept. I will head down at once.’

“My gratitude Security Chief,” Zecketheta said with a hint of a bow.

Iadon turned away and located the horn for the station vox. ‘Alpha squad, report for duty at sector three,’ he said. He turned back to to face Beta Squad as a curt acknowledgement from Corporal Aikin, Alpha Squad’s leader, came through the vox. Iadon addressed the new squad, ‘I had planned to give you a more formal tour of the facility but it appears we will be undertaking some on the job training. Beta Squad. Fall in and follow me.’

Beta squad saluted. They parted to allow Iadon to pass between them and lead the way out of the command centre, then fell into formation behind him and left.

No matter how far Carcillus flew the sounds behind him grew only louder. He could feel them now, dozens of phantom legs prickling him up and down his spine. Occasionally one would bite him. A small pinch of chitinous mouth parts. Each time it did the sound flared in his mind. A momentary scream that drowned out all other sounds, then was gone as quickly as it had appeared. Each scream was accompanied by a burst of physical agony. Worse than that was the vision. It would flash in directly into his mind, too brief to process but remained as an after image burned onto his psyche. He saw creatures. Horrible monsters with razor talons, armoured bodies and slithering tendrils. They ranged in size from that of a large canid up to hulking beasts that would dwarf a battle tank. They spread in each direction as far as the eye could see. Where they passed only barren dust remained. Another bite and another flash. Something fell from the sky and speared the ground in front of Carcillus. He dared to look up and saw that it was a leg. Another creature, built like the others but the size of a Titan. While all he saw terrified him what lay beyond the titanic monster threatened to drive him insane. Through thick clouds of dense dark grey, towers of flesh reached down from the sky, seeking the world below. They were everywhere, in every direction, like the tendrils of a terrible god. Where they touched they drank. They devoured.

It was all Carcillus could bear. He tried to flee. He was bitten again. He saw the vision of annihilation again. Before the horde had seemed to pay him no heed. Now though their was one. Where the other creatures had the look of vicious animals, this one fixed him a look of intelligence, of understanding. Carcillus didn’t know what they were, but he knew they were coming. He knew the vision he had seen was a fate destined for every world in the Harredes system. He had to warn them. He turned away and sought out his body in the material realm. He had travelled far. Far further than he usually dared. The chittering was no longer simply behind him now. It was everywhere. Every muscle in his head and neck went into spasm. He was bitten again and again. Each time he saw them. They followed him, chasing him down. He fled for a lifetime. He forgot his name. Forgot life before this existence. Forgot what it was like not to be in pain. Still he pressed on. Still his desperate purpose remained.

Finally he found it. A vessel. He grasped for it. For the safety of the mundane. The tip of his mind touched it. Everything went black.

Below the command centre was a mag-lift shaft that passed all the way through Iota-Sigma-Four like a spinal column. The atmosphere inside it always hummed with energy, setting Iadon’s teeth on edge but it was the only way to get down into the lower decks, besides crawling through the emergency ducts.

Corporal Aikin and the other four member of Alpha Squad had rendezvoused with them at the entrance to the mag-lift and now the eleven troopers descended together towards deck seven. The mag-lift grew hotter the deeper they went. It was entirely expected, simply the heat bleeding from the plasma generators that powered the station. Regardless, whenever Iadon came down this far he could never shake the feeling that he was descending into the underworld. His skin prickled and he raised the brim of her beret to dab at his hairline with the sleeve of his fatigues. The thought was only enforced further when the door opened. The lower decks were only ever illuminated by deep red emergency lighting. Servitors were the only ones permanently stationed down here and they had no need for it to be any brighter. The low lighting was a logical power saving measure. 

Iadon stepped out of the lift, flanked by the two squad leaders and followed by their squads. ‘Vox check,’ he said directly into his microbead. It was hard to even hear his own voice over the thrumming of machinery and the metallic clanging of repair work. Regardless, Aikin and Fendrick confirmed the vox link. ‘Alpha squad, sweep the port side. I will sweep the starboard side with Beta squad.’

‘Yes sir,’ Aikin replied before snapping off a series of hand gestures and moving away with Alpha squasd to Iadon’s left. He watched them go for a moment then drew his autopistol.

‘With me,’ said Iadon, turning to address Fendrick.

‘Sir,’ Fendrick replied curtly with a nod. Iadon signalled for Beta squad to follow him and set off straight ahead.

The lower decks were a maze of narrow metal corridors. All around them, even under the metal grate flooring were bundles of multi-coloured cabling and corrugated plastek tubes. Where Iadon led, Beta squad followed in disciplined silence and perfect formation. Iadon was impressed. Deck seven was swept in short order. No signs of trouble beyond a torn exhaust pipe venting coolant gas. Iadon was certain Zecketheta would be able to locate such damage but made a note to report it regardless. Alpha squad reported the completion of their own sweep and the two squads regrouped once again at the mag-lift and descended to deck six.

The lift doors opened. Before Iadon could step out the clanging footsteps of a servitor approached from the left. It was unusual for one of the drones to be moving around this close to the centre of the deck, away from the work stations but not unheard of. Perhaps it was one of the ones Zecketheta had redeployed from higher decks to make up for the losses. Iadon stepped out and inspected it. It was limping, dragging its right leg like a dead weight. Cloudy hydraulic fluid squirted from a severed tube on its hip like arterial blood. Its yellow jumpsuit was torn and its head twitched constantly towards its right shoulder. Sparks spat from its optical augments. Iadon stepped out in front of it.

‘Cease,’ he commanded but the servitor paid him no heed. It did not even seem to register his presence and lumbered directly at him, forcing Iadon to step aside and let it pass. Despite the heat, Iadon felt something cold forming in his stomach. His security detail filed out of the lift. Aikin turned to watch the damaged servitor walk away.

‘Something isn’t right,’ he muttered.

‘Cut the chatter,’ Iadon snapped back in response. He didn’t need that kind of talk taking root. The last thing he needed was for his men to be getting spooked. ‘Same again. Alpha take the port side, Beta with me on the starboard.’ The unit leaders acknowledged his orders and Alpha squad moved away. Once their backs were turned Iadon spared another look towards the servitor dragging itself into the distance. Aikin was definitely right.

Iadon and Beta squad moved ahead. They slipped quietly from one corridor to the next, treading carefully to dampen the sound of their heavy boots of the iron walkway. Minutes ticked away. They past several more servitors but each functioned as expected, carrying out mundane duties in semi-circular alcoves. Where he could Iadon assessed the readings on various cogitator screens. To the best of his knowledge all was fuctioning within acceptable parameters. They moved on. The sound of hammering grew louder. It was regular as clockwork but every few beats it would skip or strike several times in rapid arrhythmic succession. In the low light Iadon saw a spot of spilt oil. Then a second, a third and more leading away. He gripped his pistol a little tighter. Using hand signals he alerted Fendrick to the trail and reinforced his order to stay alert. The hammering grew louder still until the squad rounded a sharp corner and located the source. A servitor, face down, the soles of its feet facing towards them. Its arm was raised over its head and striking down against the deck. At times the shoulder joint would seize and the arm would shudder, a subconscious subroutine battling against its physical limitation. When the subroutine won it would strike multiple times in quick succession as if making up for the strikes lost in the battle. The oil trail led towards it, disappearing beneath its prone form. Iadon ordered Trooper Veddell ahead. She moved around it and flinched as she got to its head. She looked at Iadon, slowly shaking her head and the Chief imagined he could see the look on her face despite the impassive mask of her helmet. Iadon approached and once he was within a few paces he could see what had startled Veddell. The servitor’s head was gone.

‘Oh Throne,’ he whispered. He dug the toe of his boot under the servitor’s body and kicked it onto its back. The front of its jumpsuit was stained black and red with a mixture of blood and oil. Where it was drained onto the metal plate on its belly the two liquids pooled and glistened. Its arm kept flailing in the air in a grim parody of life.

‘What do you think happened?’ asked Fendrick, approaching with the rest of the unit.

‘I don’t know.’

‘Some kind of accident?’ Fendrick suggested.

‘There are no other signs of damage. Nothing that would explain what caused this or how this unit came to be here. No corporal. I am most certain it was not an accident. Come on, we have more to search.’

Beta squad fell in behind Iadon as they continued their sweep. Iadon held his pistol a little firmer. The rest of deck six was clear. Iadon and Beta squad joined up with Alpha squad at the mag-lift once again. Once Iadon had told Aikin what they had found they descended to deck five.

Each level grew hotter, louder and more uncomfortable. Iadon felt himself tensing through his neck and shoulders. A dull ache was encroaching on the back of his head. The two squads filed out of the lift and fell into their established pattern.

On the starboard side of deck five Beta squad found a second slain servitor, then a third, each torn to pieces as if attacked by a wild ursine. Iadon knew that was an impossibility. His detail, Tech Adept Zecketheta, the servitors and the two astropaths were all the life forms aboard Iota-Sigma-Four. None of them were capable of this. Yet still.

‘Contact! Contact!’ Aikin’s shouting in his vox cut short Iadon’s train of thought. It was accompanied by the sounds of gunfire.

Iadon’s body flooded with adrenaline in a moment. ‘Corporal, what is your position?’

‘Auxiliary adjust Delta-2. Moving to the stern. Oh Throne, it got Hagen.’ More gunfire followed. Iadon was already plotting an intercept route in his mind.

‘Move. Move!’ he ordered, breaking into a run. Beta squad were right behind him, trailing close behind. Their heavy boots on the metal walkway added to the cacophony of hammering and the constant drone of power generators. Even over the din Iadon could heard the sound of auto-carbine fire. It grew louder and soon Iadon could hear Aikin barking orders as well.

‘Rondot, circle left! Vaughn, right! Box it in!’

More gunfire. Another scream.


A carbine firing on full-auto until it clicked empty. Iadon and Beta squad burst into the room just as the gunfire ceased. There was no sign of a hostile, aside from the body of Trooper Vaughn. His chest plate had been carved apart. The whole front of his torso, reaching down below his waist was stained red with fresh blood. Another of Alpha squad was checking on him but even from Iadon’s viewpoint several metres away he knew the man was dead. There was nothing to be done. Iadon turned to Aikin who was staring blankly down at the dead trooper.

‘Report corporal,’ said Iadon.

Aikin’s head snapped up as if he has just become aware of Iadon’s presence. ‘T-two dead,’ he stumbled, ‘got Hagen too. I think I hurt it but…’ he trailed off.

‘Focus corporal,’ Iadon snapped, ‘What is it? Where did it go?’

‘I don’t know sir. I mean, not for sure. Xenos. Big as a man. Four arms, and claws. It cut through their armour like it was wet parchment sir.’

‘Where did it go?’ Iadon repeated the question, growing frustrated.

‘Back there sir,’ Aikin said, gesturing to the corner of the room to a point concealed by a bulky console.

Iadon left Aikin and approached the console, circling around it at a distance, weapon raised. Whatever the creature was that Aikin had described was gone but there was a clear sign of its passing. The deck plating had been torn apart. Metal had been sheared and pulled open with inhuman strength. Tubing running beneath had been severed and was spewing cloudy white gas into the opening. Iadon noted a splash of viscous purple liquid by his feet. It sizzled as it ate through the deck plating. There was another pool a little further ahead, then another, leading up to the hole. Aikin was right. He had wounded it, but Iadon did not want to think about what kind of creature bled acid that could dissolve iron. He approached the rent in the deck. Even through the gas he could see it went all the way through to the deck below. It was a long drop but not deadly and they had no time to tarry.

‘Everyone with me,’ Iadon ordered. He lowered himself into the opening, climbing down carefully past the sharpest edges, then dropped the rest of the way to deck four. He raised his pistol and scanned it around the room swiftly. He unhooked his stun baton and thumbed the dial up to maximum charge. The rod sparked with electricity around its head and thrummed in his hand. One by one the rest of the security detail dropped down after him until the nine remaining soldiers were regrouped once again.

‘It’s bleeding. We should be able to follow its trail,’ said Iadon.

‘Here sir,’ said Fendrick. He had found another drop of the purple acid leading out of the room.

‘Good work corporal. Alpha squad, take point. We stick together. Move quickly. We can’t risk losing it.’

Each of the group affirmed Iadon’s orders and fell into formation, Alpha squad in the lead, Iadon in the centre and Beta squad forming the rear guard. They followed the trails of acid, easy to spot as they hissed and sizzled, throwing up streams of blue-grey steam like marker flares. Minutes later they found it.

Iadon had never seen such a creature and though Aikin’s description was accurate it did the monster little justice. It was roughly human sized but its whole body was built of tense sinuous muscle. It had four arms, two ended in trios of razor claws while the others ended in five fingered hands with opposable thumbs. A mockery of the human form. Its head and back were covered in purple plates of chitinous armour. As the security squad approached Iadon could see where Aikin had wounded it, a lucky shot that had struck it high in the torso, where a human would have a collar bone. Purple blood streamed from the wound. The creature fixed Iadon with fierce violet, intelligent eyes. It knew it was hurt. It knew what was about to happen. Good, Iadon thought. He wanted the beast to understand. He wanted it to know that it had been slain by loyal servants of the Emperor. But those eyes. They looked just like-

Shots struck out. Ahead of him each of Alpha squad toppled forwards. Iadon looked at each of the bodies, stunned. He felt the sensation of heat spreading through his chest. He had just realised what had happened but it was already far too late. He looked down at his chest to the gaping exit wound, blood sliding freely down his breast plate. He turned slowly to look behind him. Beta squad stood, unharmed, weapons raised.

‘You,’ Iadon hissed, raising a accusatory finger towards Corporal Fendrick.

Fendrick approached him. He removed his helmet and the bandana beneath to reveal the purple scabs across his scalp, the same colour as the chitin that covered the monster. Together the  rest of Beta squad removed their helmets. Each of them was bald. Inhuman bony ridges protruded from the centre of their brows. Their eyes were sunken and the same violet as Fendrick’s. The same as the monster’s. One of them flicked his tongue out, unnaturally long and forked.

‘Yes,’ Fendrick hissed, ‘By the Four-Armed Emperor.’

Iadon met his eye as Fendrick raised his carbine, aiming point blank at Iadon’s head. He fired.

Carcillus awoke once more in his chair. Freed from the agony of his return he remembered his name. He remembered his purpose. He remembered what he was running from. He had to send word. Harrdes command had to be warned. He was too weak though. The journey had drained him. He had to wake Lucinia. He was reaching for the control panel to begin his descent when the enclosed front of his seat was torn away with the sounding of shearing metal. Carcillus screamed. He looked up into the face of the nightmare. It was already here. How was it already here? It raised a viciously clawed  hand and Carcillus squeezed his eyes closed tight. He did not want to watch as the blow fell.

Carcillus died. No word would be sent from Iota-Sigma-Four. The Harredes System would receive no warning. They would be unprepared when the Hive Fleet arrived.

About the Author

Matt Smith has been writing for Black Library since 2015 with his first short story ‘In Service Eternal,’ being published in October 2016. He has since been published four other times including appearances in Inferno! and the anthology ‘On Wings of Blood.’