The Rejects didn’t have a motto, but if they did, thought Naibert, it would be “nothing is ever as simple as it looks.” That, or “trust nothing.”

Naibert wasn’t in the business of trust. The Universe had bitten his arse too many times for him to let his guard down. He was ex-Militarum, infantry, marksman speciality. He’d always had a sharp temper, which is why he’d smacked that officer, and landed in the stockade, and thus wound up in the Rejects.

When Naibert had pulled the mission that morning, Rannick had taken him to one side. Iven Rannick himself, the toxic old interrogator. Naibert didn’t trust Rannick, but he knew the man had real clout. That Inquisitorial rosette, for start. But more than that, Naibert felt that Rannick was the real power on the Mourningstar. Everyone, high and low, deferred to the great Inquisitor Grendyl; Atoma Prime was Grendyl’s operation. But no one had ever seen Grendyl, not seen seen, not in the flesh. At best, he was a servitor chassis projecting an inconsistent hololith. Naibert didn’t trust Grendyl, or the idea of Grendyl. Maybe there was no Grendyl at all, or maybe the lack of presence was part of the act. The Inquisition never told anybody everything, especially not the dog-soldier Rejects, and if they did tell you something, it was always a small fragment of the truth. They liked to keep people in the dark, uninformed, data-rationed, information starved. “Need to know”, that’s what they said.

But Rannick… Naibert understood Rannick. He was a flesh and blood man. He was present. He was the man in charge. He was also a bastard, but you couldn’t have everything, Naibert had known worse. He had smacked worse.

Rannick had seldom spoken to Naibert directly. When he’d finished explaining to Naibert what he required, he’d smiled, that creepy smile, and said, “It’s a matter of trust, you see?”

“You can trust me,” Naibert had told him.

The drop was a hard one. A new area - Inter-Zone Void Sector Omega-12 or something. Unknown territory, that’s what mattered, barely mapped. They were going in blind. Plus, it was one of Hadron’s ops. Hadron Omega-Seven. She was in charge, and coming with them. Naibert didn’t like the Mechanicus tech-priest at all. Snide, mean, nit-picking, and arrogantly intelligent. It seemed she always had an agenda of her own, and she wouldn’t share it, because obviously no one in the warband was smart enough to comprehend, but then she’d still get pissy when you didn’t understand what was needed.

Borovitch was behind the stick of their Valk. That made Naibert uneasy too. Borovitch was all right, but Masozi was the best. Every Reject knew that. However, it seemed Masozi had another drop to attend to. That either meant Masozi knew there was something nasty about the Inter-Zone drop, and had chosen to avoid it, or Rannick knew, and had assigned a more expendable pilot.

Dropping, the something nasty became obvious. The Inter-Zone was a voidspace between hive levels, a sub-zero voidspace, biting cold and long abandoned. It was a cluster of ancient complexes - maybe research or maintenance - pretty much suspended in a deep, dark circulation gulf between occupied hive zones. A long drop, if you lost your footing, and there was more than enough ice-cake to make that happen. A long drop, and way too much time to review the series of bad choices you called your life before you hit the bottom.

If there was a bottom at all.

They exited the Valk’s ramp, the engines screaming above in ‘settle’ mode. Hadron led the way, eager. Naibert took up the rear, lugging his longlas and pulling off the weatherproof sleeve. His job was hazard watch. Spot for trouble, and pick it off with his rifle before it got too close.

It was treacherous finding a way in. The metal decks gleamed with ice, and there was a gale blowing up the void from below. You could feel the cold in your bones, despite the heated undersuits they’d been issued. Someone, maybe Veedra, speculated that the whole space was a coolant sink designed to bleed excess heat off… whatever the complex was, but Hadron told her to shut up, so that was the end of that. The old need to know.

Most of the power was off. They had to hand-crank hatches open, or reconnect voltaic trunking, or simply cut with torches. Where there was power, Hadron punched in archaic codes and opened hatchways as easily as if she was back home on the Mourningstar.

“How come she knows the codes?” Veedra asked him, a whisper.

“She knows what she needs to know, I guess,” he replied. He didn’t like it either. Hadron had never been here before. He could tell that from the eagerness and fascination with which the tech-priest greeted each new chamber. But it also felt like she knew her way around. Naibert saw some old Adeptus Mechanicus icons las-etched into the bulkhead plating. Maybe that explained it. Hadron’s people had made the place, or at least the template it had been built from. The tech-priest had been here before, just not this here.
They lost Dronica crossing a walkway bridge. A pane of ice just went out from under him and away he went, limbs flailing as he dropped into the blue gloom below. Naibert could see the tiny light of the lamp clamped to Dronica’s bodyrig still spinning long after his body became invisible. His scream, fading, lingered longer than the speck of light.

They reached what Hadron evidently had decided was the goal, a central part of the complex clinging to the void’s artificial cliff face. She entered first, and powered the place up. It was warm in there. Warmer, anyway. Warm and lit.

Naibert benefitted from neither. He’d taken up a position outside, on one of the icy service gantries. It afforded him a good, long look back over the walkways and platforms they’d used on their approach. He huddled up, tweaked up the heating of his suit liner, settled his longlas, and adjusted the scope. If anything was following them, anything down here in the dark they didn’t want to meet, he’d see it coming from a distance and put a hotshot through it. Two, if it was persistent.

He fiddled with the little clamp-on unit he’d fitted to the side of his scope before the drop, and made sure it was running. A little pict unit, to record everything he saw through his high-gain scope. The unit had been a gift. Naibert played his aim across the frost-caked facility below, studying the silence, the cold, the abandoned, dead chambers and silos. The chasm wind stirred flakes of ice, and blew little flurries of powder into the air, making Naibert flinch, mistaking them for movement.

Nothing. Not a sign of those murdering traitors, nor any sign of the other things, the uglier things, the things that were harder to put a name to. He watched his breath smoke. He listened to the upwind howl, which still seemed to have Dronica’s scream in it.

Once he was confident it was quiet, he wriggled around and looked back at the complex where Hadron was working. He could see the lit window ports looking out over the gulf. He dragged his longlas round, and took up a fresh position, as though he was lining up a shot on his own team.

He could see them, once he got the scope settled in. The pict unit was whirring away. He could make out the other Rejects who’d dropped with him, waiting in the outer chambers of the facility, nervous, weapons ready. Veedra was pacing. He panned around, adjusting focus. There was Hadron. He could see her through the windows of the inner chamber. The tech-priest was working alone. She’d left the rest of the team waiting outside so they couldn’t watch her.

But he could. He could see her quite clearly and close up through his sniper scope. He could see her working at ancient consoles that hadn’t been used in decades, waking up systems that hadn’t been awake in centuries, accessing cold, dormant data and loading it onto her dataslates.

Naibert had no idea what she was doing, or why. He didn’t understand or recognise the machines the tech-priest was working on. He was a marksman. He didn’t have that kind of technical knowledge. But he knew one thing. No, two things. The first was that, whatever she was doing, it was secret. It was either too sensitive and classified for others to be allowed to observe, or so forbidden that even she shouldn’t be doing it. It was a secret she didn’t want anyone to know about.

The second thing was he was recording it all.

Naibert watched her work through the scope. The tech-priest had no idea he could see her. She was such a strange individual, cranky and obsessive, not really human at all in his opinion, her organic life subsumed into the way of the machine. What did that do to a person’s mind? What kind of obsessions and agendas did it breed? He—

Naibert recoiled. Hadron was looking right at him. She had turned from her work and stared straight out of the window, straight down his scope as though they were eye to eye. She knew. She’d somehow seen him or sensed him or—

No. Not him. Something else. Naibert turned fast, in time to see the figures on the lower walkways behind him. Six of them, heavy set, armed and armoured, hurrying towards him. Moebian Sixth. Traitor Guard. They hadn’t seen him yet.

He cued his vox.

“Incoming,” he whispered.

Then he lined up his first shot. Lead target, centre mass. He wondered how many of them he could pick off before they returned fire.

Breathing rate slow, centre mass lined up, nice and easy, on the exhale…

His first shot cracked.

“Come in,” said Rannick. “Close the door. An eventful day, I hear?”

Naibert nodded.

“We lost three,” he said. “But we took five of them down, plus another four from the squad that moved in when we were going for extraction. Close call, but Borovitch got us out.”

Rannick listened, and took a seat behind his desk. His private office was a strange, gloomy sanctum. Naibert had never been in there before. He felt more vulnerable than he’d been on that iced gantry under fire.
Rannick held out his hand.

Naibert reached into his coat pocket and took out the pict unit. He’d detached it from his scope during the flight home. He handed it back to its owner.

“Everything’s there, just like you asked,” he said. “Everything I saw. She was doing something, and she didn’t want anybody seeing it.”

“That’s good, Naibert,” said Rannick, turning the pict unit over in his hands. “That’s good work. Hadron had no idea she was being recorded?”

“No,” said Naibert.

“That’s for the best. I picked the right man for the job then. Someone trained to observe, and trained to be discrete about it.”

“Do you know what she was up to, Interrogator?” Naibert asked.

Rannick looked at him, one quizzical eyebrow raised.

“I might, Naibert,” he replied, “especially after I review this. Do you?”

“No,” said Naibert.

“Good,” said Rannick. “You don’t need to.”