Rausina 14: Growing Suspicions

Saeffen began to run when she heard the alarm go off. This was exactly what she had been dreading all along since Lucius had sent her off to chaperone their mysterious Eldar visitor back to her people on Rausina. They were alledgedly missing her badly since Brother-Captain Cato had brought along, as she was supposed to be some kind of high ranking military personnel of theirs. Saeffen marveled at this, as she could feel her ragged and fluctuating aura when near her, and she wondered what in the name of the sweet Emperor could cause something like that while still leaving the owner alive, let alone sane. She had been on the brink of asking her, but had decided against it so far. She had her suspicions about that, just as she had suspicions regarding Lucius’ previous acquaintance with the Eldar, and once she started asking this kind of questions it might lead to some awkward and insincere answers. So she had stuck to safer topics, had asked the xeno about her experience with the Imperium, had discussed the merits of different blends of caffeine, for which the Eldar seemed to have developed a liking. It had been a little more than a little strange to discuss such mundane topics with an alien in near-flawless Gothic.

But now, such everyday-thoughts were gone from her mind as soon as the captain of the FEARLESS, waking her up in the middle of her night cycle, had notified her of troubles with the ship’s geller field. That was bad enough in itself, but with an eldar psyker with an unstable and flaring mind on board, it was an invitation to doom. Hastily, she had grabbed her dress and jacket, and headed for the eldar’s quarters.
And now, sirens were wailing throughout the ship. She had felt the tell-tale lurch in her stomach as they had exited the warp in an emergency drop-out some moments ago, so what was wrong now?

Simultaneous with a hasty knock she stormed through the door into the small guest suite, only to crash head on into one of the Blood Angels, who had obviously been fully prepared to shoot anything that entered through the door. After a fraction of a second’s scrutiny he sat her down again with surprising gentleness.
“My apologies, Mistress Adelar.”

Saeffen recognized Brother Damian, completely armoured, and behind him she could see the other four marines occupying strategic positions around the main room, also fully rigged out. Either they were quick indeed, or had not taken the armour off since entering the warp. The inquisitor surmised the latter.

Rather more inconspicous, the eldar was sitting in one of the massive armchairs, her alien face even paler than usual. To say that she found their voyage through the warp taxing was a grave understatement, Saeffen knew, and it showed. She looked strained as she got up and greeted the inquisitor politely.
“You will bring unpleasant news, I trust.” she stated in her melodious tones and typical, quaint choice of words.

For an instant, Saeffen wondered what she actually might have used to learn Gothic, then dismissed the thought.
“Yes, I am afraid so.” She had been listening with one ear to the ship’s command channel tuned into her vox bead, and now exchanged a brief look with Brother-Sergeant Azrael, who was standing behind the group of armchairs in front of the doors to the master bedroom, bolter resting in the crook of his arm. A slight nod of his head indicated that he had also figured out what was going on from the communications.

“Chaos vessels.” he stated, his voice sounding slightly menacing through his vox amplifier. “We will not be safe here. They have superior fire power, and our escorts are delayed. We should prepare to leave the ship.”

“But where to, Azrael?” Although the question was an obvious one, and could have come straight from Saeffen’s own mind, the familiarity betrayed by the xeno’s casual use of the Astartes’ given name somehow rested ill with the inquisitor. The odd mixture of utter respectfulness and total informality in their conversations had left her nonplussed before.
There could be no mistake, this had to be ‘the’ eldar her friend Brother Ambrosius had written her about, there simply could be only one constellation as unlikely as this one. He had told her a lot in his letters about the then current object of his studies, an eldar without any psychic talent. She had read about how difficult the xeno had found it to live in a world all on her own, missing the truly close contact that was possible only with the ‘gift’, how lost she was faced with imperial technology as simple as a bedside lamp or a caffeine automaton. And she had read how there had been one of the marines at her side at virtually every moment. As wonderful an opportunity to study these enigmatic aliens this might have been, Saeffen had wondered then about the neccessity of having four of the Emperor’s finest baby-sit a xeno witch without any psy talent, her former position among her people notwithstanding, but Brother Ambrosius had hinted at some knowledge the Blood Angels’ Chapter was after, so possibly there was a valid reason yet besides the fact that these four firmly believed her to be touched by Sanguinius himself.
But most interesting of all it must have been afterwards to see how her fellow aliens had reacted to one of their own sullied with a taste for black pudding, strong arabica and other human weaknesses, she thought with her usual dry humour.

The alarmed voices in her ear bead cut her musings short.
“Well, actually, ‘where to’ is not really the question here, the ‘away from’ is what is important.” she replied to the Eldar’s question, beating the marine to the answer. Irregular tremors underlined her words. The Armatus cruiser was taking enemy fire.

“The chaos vessels seem to concentrate entirely on this ship, even though our escorts have arrived now at our flank and are taking up the chase.” added Brother-Sergeant Azrael, who had obviously been analysing the situation from the reports coming in over the vox.

“Then we should probably move to the life-pods, just to be safe.” Lucius had impressed on her the absolute neccessity to get this xeno back to Rausina alive and intact, and although she was well aware that should the ship be hit nowhere on board could be called safe, the life-pods greatly enhanced their chances of survival.

The marines prepared to leave and moved into a protective pattern around the eldar, who had stood up, looking extremely vulnerable among those armoured giants. Drat! The way Lucius had sounded at their briefing, he would have her head on a stick, with hot-sweet sauce, if she lost her. Just what made this one so special, wondered Saeffen? Would her craftworld come rolling up the sector if she went missing?
“The pods will be one level down. The starboard tubes will be nearer to our position.” she heard Brother Calidus state, while she checked her gun in the inner pocket of her jacket. Trust those marines to have memorised the ground plans of the whole ship as soon as they came aboard, she thought, following them out.

Twice during their almost indecently hasty trip to the launch bay the shields were overloading so badly that the electricity fluctuated, causing the light and the gravity to flicker. Saeffen had been born in the void, and coped easily, just like the marines with their years of training. Only the eldar stumbled, bracing herself against the corridor wall. The blaring of the sirens had become more insistent as the chaos ships, still single-mindedly chasing the hopelessly out-gunned Armatus cruiser, fanned out and took her under even more serious fire after cornering her into a field of debris. The FEARLESS’ escorts were catching up now, and the Cobras launched a veritable volley of torpedoes at close range, but were too late to prevent the demise of the cruiser. Another critical hit had caused the plasma generator to implode, and in a soundless, destructively beautiful explosion the ship ceased to exist. While the chaos escorts one after another fell victim to the Cobras’ torpedoes, the chaos cruiser headed directly into the wreckage left by the FEARLESS’ explosion, as though searching for something.

Strapped into the harnesses of a life-pod floating among the remnants of the exploded Armatus cruiser, five marines, one alien and Inquisitor Adelar held their collective breaths. An insistent humming informed them they had been touched by a scan sweep, and the life-pod’s homing beacon was about to respond, but Bethor switched it off for the time being. Saeffen wondered what in Terra’s name the bloody cruiser was doing here: It was under fire, dammit! And still it delayed, searching for what?! Her mind ticked away, busily collating information to keep itself from fretting into a panic. There had been that chaos attack in the Rausina system. Then a chaos fleet had appeared and annihilated the sub-sector’s space station. And now, chaos ships had tracked and chased them here, blowing up the ship they had been on. Was there anything, or anyone who had been present at those three events? Certainly none of the ships. Lucius? Wasn’t here now. Some more thinking brought her to the conclusion that only the five marines, the alien and she herself had been there at every attack, as far as she could tell. Finally the last remaining chaos ship headed away and attempted to flee through the field of small and smallest asteroids, only to be chased and destroyed by the Cobras’ determined prosecution, and the seven individuals in the life-pod dared hope for survival again.

Far away in another sub-sector, the last, truncated transmission of the FEARLESS’ astropath reached the SWORMAIDEN, and thus Inqisitor Lord Lucius. Rexenia Pius, always an astute observer of people, registered his highly emotional reaction with some surprise. There must have been a woman involved, she thought, her curiosity piqued. Two came immediately to mind, but one she ruled out again at once, the whole idea being too ridiculous. Saeffen Adelar, on the other hand, had had a long standing business relationship with Lucius, she had been working together with him on several cases before she had joined his staff almost two years ago, afterwards working exclusively for him. He had held her in high regard, often asking for her opinion, and he had, of course, always been flawlessly courteous towards her. Well, she concluded with honest regret, it would have done the solitary and uptight Lucius a load of good.

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