Penal Hive XN-34217, Encara Tertius, Segmentum Auxa

‘Tell me exactly what happened.’

Her voice invited no argument, no deviation, only a straight answer.

Sat at the chipped, plastic table in his superior’s office, Loader glanced to his colleague beside him before taking in a stuttered breath. Both of the prison officers sat bolt upright in their chairs, dripping in cold, fear-induced perspiration. Thick bolts held the chairs down and the single picture on the wall, a pict showing the moment of their dead superior’s elevation to office where he had led Arbites in a brutal firefight against Novus Encara gangers, hung secured with smaller bolts. Nothing to improvise as a weapon. Nothing now the mounts for an Arbites shotgun lay empty beneath the desk across the room.

And the rightful owner of the shotgun lay sprawled atop the desk, his brain matter decorating the otherwise grey wall behind.

‘Finch was already down ‘fore we knew what was goin’ on,’ Loader blurted. He was the larger of the two, a brute of a man, possibly genhanced judging by his width of his round shoulders. Something looked off with his head though. Genhancements failed to take or stabilise, most likely.

His colleague, Jensen, took courage from his lead. ‘Yeah. Nothing to do with us.’

The woman stared down at them. Another two women stood either side of her wearing jump suits of green so dark it was almost black. Each carried swords crossed over their backs and their faces were covered by expressionless masks. A squad of PDF troops marched past their open door and saluted to the sentries outside.

Loader shuffled in his seat muttering, avoiding the stare but Jensen buckled under its intensity.

‘They’d already taken the armoury before we heard anything. I was out–engineering consignment came in not long before–needed sorting out because it came from from that mine. What’s it? Gillean’s Reach. Had nothing to do with us. Stuff was supposed to go off-world. That’s when we got jumped. Gangers jumped straight off the train. Loader here took one in the eye.’

‘Ay, shut up,’ Loader snapped, jabbing his elbow into Jensen’s ribs.

Jensen jabbed him back. ‘She asked, I’m telling. Unless you think that big, bloody letter I on her coat doesn’t mean she ain’t got ways of getting answers out of you. So this ganger, Novus Encara, I reckon, skinny streetcat of a woman, gives Loader here that black eye. Few dozen of them jumped off that train, tooled up and meaning business, if you catch my meaning? Well, a few of us managed to get behind the loading gear and give them a few slugs before they split. Had us pinned though. It was all quick from there. Too quick, yeah? You ask me, they knew about this inside.’

Their interrogator leaned forwards. The wide brim of her hat nudged Jensen’s forehead. Her breath smelt of stale Caf. ‘Who on the inside?’

That voice! It made Jensen want to spill every secret from stealing bread as a kid to failing PDF recruitment and slacking off on his order consignments. He clammed up though. Her mere presence put the fear of the Emperor Almighty through him and clamped his throat shut.

Then Loader found something resembling his backbone. ‘Whole damn officery is corrupt. You want my call? That jumped-up clerk’s at the heart of it. Slimy thing, he is. Gets in the governor’s pocket with something he set up at the mine and he’s throwin’ his weight about like he’s Lord bloody Commander. Brought a load of his own lads in too, mucked about all the shift rosters.’

He shrank back at suddenly gaining the Inquisitor’s attention.

‘Do you have any military training or combat deployments?’ she asked

The prison guard straightened his back and scowled. ‘Let me tell you somethin’. I got eight years holed up with naught but hive scum. We got the toughest, most vicious criminals and gangers in the sector here and I ain’t never let one slip. I been shivved, mobbed and bludgeoned and fought my way out every damn time. I done all that undermanned and under-resourced. If that ain’t military trainin’, I don’t know what is.’

The Inquisitor stared back, expressionless. ‘No military experience.’

‘What’s this about?’ Jensen asked and regretted it before the words even left his mouth. ‘…If I might be so bold, ma’am.’

‘You are relieved of your duties with immediate effect and under the command of the Inquisition. My infocytes will contact you.’

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