After being singled out and inducted into the service of the Inquisition, things have not quite gone as you had imagined them. Removed from your past life, you have been tested and measured, questioned and interrogated. But aside from a few lectures given in darkened chambers that left you sick to your stomach and a seemingly endless stream of codes and ciphers given you to memorize and destroy, you have been left largely to your own devices.
Lodging under a false name in an anonymous hab-block in Hive Sibellus, on Scintilla, the capitol planet of the Calixis Sector, you have bided your time for weeks waiting for the call from your masters, and perhaps, their verdict. At last that call has come and a blank-eyed courier has delivered to you a note featuring the cipher of the Holy Ordos. The message within was simple and perfunctory, containing a time, a date and a location. The instruction to come prepared and expect company is signed off with a single epithet — “The Emperor Protects”
At the appointed hour, you have made your way through the bustling faceless masses of the Administratum quarter to an unmarked service elevator platform set in the rear of a vast and imposing building covered in bas-reliefs of skulls, half draped urns and other symbols of death, crowned by an immense statue of a weeping saint. It appears that you are expected; the wizened face of the platform’s inbuilt servitor studies you and pronounces “Pass” as you climb on board. As the note implied, you were not the only person called, and you make for an uncomfortable and diverse looking group standing in tense silence as the crowds throng by. The servitor control chimes active as the last one of you boards the platform and the elevator descends as the hatchway closes above you all with a thunderous boom. The platform continues downward for some minutes through maintenance levels, deep into the bowels of the government district.
At the end of the elevator’s slow decent you are deposited at the end of a wide grey corridor, lit by pale lumen globes in the shape of cherubs holding torches. Only the first part of the corridor is lit and the rest trails off into darkness. As you step off the platform more globes illuminate to show you the path and, as you walk forward, more flicker into life before you, while those behind you extinguish. There is but one path, the corridor is featureless and smells faintly of chemical disinfectant.
After about five minutes, the corridor ends in an armoured metal door, which unseals and unlocks with as hiss of pressurised air and opens with a loud grinding of heavy gears. The room inside has a jumble of dusty metal crates (branded with unintelligible symbols) stacked against one wall, while a hospital gurney complete with restraint straps has been left toppled over on one side against the other.
The room’s most striking feature is a wide mirror which fills the upper half of the opposite wall from the entrance. The mirror slowly clears to transparency to reveal a glittering steel chamber beyond. Inside the chamber looking out is a tall, thin-faced figure wearing white medicae robes with (rather incongruously) a red leather coat draped over his shoulders. Behind him, covered by a mottled grey sheet, is what looks like a body on some sort of frame raised upright for inspection. While above them in the air, a pair of white enamelled skulls, encrusted with a variety of brass instruments and long hypo needles, hover expectantly.
Based on your initial observations, you variously surmise the following:
- the man’s leather coat conceals armoured panels in its construction and that the bulge under his arm can only be a gun of some sort.
- the hovering skulls to be medicae servo-skulls of the highest quality; machine-spirit controlled drones, fashioned from preserved human skulls and fitted with sophisticated medical systems whose secrets are restricted to the highest orders of the Adeptus Mechanicus.
- the small, stylised raven and scroll insignia on his robes as belonging to the Hetaireia Lexis, a distinguished and famous order of scholars.
The figure in the chamber beckons you all up to the glass with a gloved hand and after a static rattle, his voice issues from a small grill set into the ceiling:
“Greetings Acolytes, I am Medicae-Interrogator Sand and you are the new blood, are you not? Worthy additions to our holy war? Well we shall see, far be it from me to doubt my betters’ judgement, eh?
“Well to the matter at hand. I represent the Holy Ordos of the Imperial Inquisition that we all serve. Our masters have called you here to assist us in the investigation of a matter of interest that has recently and unexpectedly come to light.
“Oh, yes, for your information, you are now in the depths of the Templum Mori, the house of the dead where the Lords Prefecta Mortem hold court and the fallen and the lost of the great city are named and counted. It will not surprise you then to know you are here to view a corpse, I doubt it will be your first, but it is, shall we say, quite singular!”
Sand causally brushes aside your attempts at questions and carries on with his lecture, pulling aside the grey sheet to reveal the dissected and eviscerated body of an adult human. As he continues to talk, the servo-skulls dip and bob out of sight to reappear with messy looking organic specimens in tests tubes and jars, clutched in their dextrous brass callipers, and display them in turn for your edification:
“Now if you will kindly attend and pay heed, I will take questions afterward.
“The body has been positively identified as that of one Saul Arbest, male, 23 years of age, hive worker, unskilled labourer certified. Formerly of the Tantalus Indenture, registered habitation: chamber 6/23 stack 7-17# Coscarla Division, southern zone, Hive Sibellus.
“Subject found dead on the mid-hive transit rail three days ago as the car returned to the main depot. Preliminary examination at the scene suggested death by drug overdose. Post mortem performed by the biologis forensic, however, revealed certain anomolies that necessitated our involvement.
“The cause of death was in fact total systemic failure brought on by tissue rejection of an implanted synthetic graft organ. Said organ destroyed his central nervous system while attempting to overcome the immune response.
“In short this…”
The servo skull displays a sample jar containing a ten centimetre long whitish cord of waving glassy tendrils, still in motion, obviously still alive.
“…crushed the life out of him from the inside.
“What’s it for? Unknown, but my opinion would be, in a word, ‘control’ — neural and synaptic override, perhaps worse.
“There were other grafts and surgery of a less singular kind also; one lung replaced by a concealed storage cavity, possibly for his use as a courier. Also, one optic nerve removed, skin flayed from his stomach, I’ve no idea why. His system’s awash with alchemic traces, clotting agents, panimmune and the like.
“The surgery was expert, but by the lesions and tissue stresses, I doubt any care was given to whether or not it was painless. In fact, by the damage to his vocal cords, my guess was that he probably screamed as long as he was able to.
“But this little monster is what concerns us. Oh, you don’t need to know the gene-lore or the Omnissian edict, just that this is not only illegal, it is forbidden, it is heresy. Merely tampering with this kind of dark tech is enough to warrant a death sentence from the Holy Ordos, the Arbites or the Mechanicus.
“And I’m sure that you, as well as I, am wondering how such a rare and vile thing ended up wrapped round the spine of some anonymous hab-prole from the dusty end of the stacks. Well, the Inquisition would like you to find out.
“The man has no prior criminal record, he was rendered invalid by indenture — laid off if you will, some sixty days ago now and was reported missing thirty-two days ago by his sister, one Lili Arbest, resident of the same hab-stack. More than enough time to get himself into all sorts of trouble, I’m sure you’ll agree. These grafts are no more than eight or ten days old at most. We have nothing else on him.
“This is to be a shadow investigation, no open official involvement and no notification of the local authorities, and no one knows he’s here either. Coscarla’s down hive, so a covert approach will draw far less attention than a boot through the door, and be far less likely to kill any leads to our heretic.
“Find out why and where if you can, better yet, find out how. Best of all, find out who is responsible. Go with the grace of the God Emperor, oh and additional samples would be a blessing if you can procure them.”
Interrogator Sand gestures to you to open one of the larger packing cases against the wall in the room in which you stand:
“The cover identity that has been provided for you is that of roving agents for the Coblast Assay. Such men and women are known in hive ‘cant’ as regulators – hired guns, couriers, tracers, manhunters, mercenaries and other specialists. Coblast’s less than savoury reputation makes their appearance in Coscarla an ‘easy sell’ to the casual observer, and their cognomen of course will stand up to any official scrutiny.”
Inside the box are the following items:
- 4 Coscarla Pass Tokens (each about the size of a small thick coin)
“These coded devices, will allow you legal clearance for the Coscarla Division and free passage on the transit rail around the mid-hive area.”
- 4 Coblast Assay Cognomen (encrypted metal punch cards)
“These are identity markers, there is one tailored for each of you and they include an enforcer code tag allowing you to carry arms for self defence. They signify that you are ‘bonded agents for the Coblast Assay’, a Sibellan mercantile operation of somewhat dubious repute but not inconsiderable power, specialising in tech salvage and ‘manpower services’.”
“These personal communication devices use a private encrypted channel, and are good for a range of a few kilometres in the hive. Thanks to signal interference in the areas of the hive where you are going, vox traffic is almost impossible over any real distance or between levels, except by wire station, but these hand vox will let you keep in touch with each other at least.”
- 4 Low Hiver’s Overcoats (1 Point Armour, all locations except head)
“These voluminous and somewhat tattered patchwork leather and canvas high-collared overcoats are common low-hiver garb in Sibellus and will easily fit over anything you are wearing. They should help you to blend in, as well as offering an extra degree of protection.”
“These small portable lamps use a chemical reaction to provide light and will operate continuously while their shutters are open. Such lamps will illuminate an area of about a three metre radius around it or provide a six metre directed beam of whitish light, depending upon your particular needs.”
- Coded Data-Slate (worn-looking & brass cased)
“This dataslate carries basic copies of the information contained in the verbal briefing that you have already received, a series of maps and data about the Coscarla and (largely empty) files on the Arbasts, including pictures of them and addresses taken from the Administratum register. The slate also has basic short range audio and visual recording and playback functions. The slate features a five key input code 21483 – if it is accessed without this, its core memory will be wiped.”
- Bio-Sample Kit (satchel containing three small bio-storage tubes, a small bio-auspex and a long-bladed, razor edged mono scalpel – damage 1d5-1+SB, Pen 2).
“I added this as something of a hopeful afterthought. The Bio Auspex is set for human tissue, the indicator will flash red and whine with increasing volume in the proximity of anomalous tissue. As for the scalpel, well I’m not expecting deft surgery, but try not to hack at it like an underdone Grox steak and get it in the jar, eh?”
- Money Pouch (containing 120 Thrones in loose coin and used notes)
“For sundries and bribes. I’m sure if you need more you can be resourceful"
It’s up to you how you distribute the gear and gelt, and it appears that Interrogator Sand is eager for you to get on your way. Before you leave however, he encourages you to converse with each other, pointing out that your lives may well depend on at least a passing knowledge of each other’s abilities in the field.
“I expect you to co-operate to get their mission accomplished as befits the Inquisition’s chosen, and to defer to the wisest in their own field when needs be. There is no designated cell leader for this mission, but that may change depending upon how well you each perform in the field. Coscarla is no more than a few hours away by transit rail car. I expect your report in a few days, no more. You may leave now."
The vox grate gives a crackling thud, and the mirror returns to it’s reflective state. You hear the seals on the door behind you release, and its heavy bulk swings open, giving you access to the arrival corridor again.