Colonel Augustus Octavius narrowed his eyes at the dataslate before him, willing himself to continue focusing on taking in every word. The lines of green monochrome text blurred and then aligned. Lists of ship names. Known personnel. Proximity to the target. He read on, but found nothing. Still nothing.
Tossing the dataslate onto the table, he reached for a sheath of printouts that were slowly piling beside him. Little more than raw data, he scanned for even the faintest whiff of his quarry. He tried to bring context to the numbers and symbols, some sign, any sign that the bastard was finally dead.
“Anything, Colonel?” came a weary but still cheerful voice said from across the table.
“Nothing yet, no. Adept Tull! Bring me the micro-scanner, I need to be able to read this damned..."
Octavius peered over the ream of papers clutched in his hand. Daedalus Copernicus of the Emperor’s Holy Inquisition stared back at him, still clad in his rumpled long coat. The Inquisitor was surrounded by haphazard piles of reports, data-crystals, and printouts, just as he was. Otherwise, The Retribution of Mankind’s sprawling war room was empty. Dozens of chairs were scattered across its expanse, lit only by a flickering projection of the Omega Station’s ruin from the table’s central hololithic.
“Where’s the staff?” Octavius said irritably, glancing around the room. “I didn’t dismiss anyone.”
“They left most of an hour ago. On my authority,” Copernicus said firmly. “They’ve just fought a war, Colonel. They deserve a reprieve.” The Inquisitor smiled. “So do you, come to think of it.”
Octavius rose from his chair. “I’ll rest once I know the job is done, Inquisitor. Not before. Now, where’s that blasted micro-reader?”
“While I commend your dedication to duty, Colonel Octavius, it’s not likely that you’ll derive anything of great importance from our fleet’s fuel logs.”
Octavius squinted at the printout, then dropped it with a sigh. “Yes. Yes, of course,” he said, easing back into the crumbling leather of the chair, thumb and forefinger massaging his greying temples. “We were so close this time, Inquisitor. I finally had him.”
Copernicus shrugged. “It’s still possible he was killed in the impact. The Archenemy is hardly known for their loyalty - any of his lieutenants could have commanded The Black Morass to retreat.”
Octavius shook his head. “Gorath has plagued the 401st since well before my day, Inquisitor. I’ll believe he’s dead when I can see the corpse and spit in its eye.”
“We won, Colonel,” Copernicus said with a smile. “We faced overwhelming odds against terrible foes, and came away victorious. That’s enough to celebrate. Consider that to be an order from the Emperor's own Holy Inquisition.”
Octavius grinned. “Well, let no man call Colonel Augustus Octavius a heretic. ” He reached beneath the table and brought up a leather briefcase. “I’d intended this for the receipt of better news, but we’ll just have to settle for saving the Imperium once again, I suppose.”
From within the briefcase, Octavius produced a bottle of something dark and priceless, and unsheathed a pair of crystal tumblers from deep burgundy pouches made of soft felted cloth. With a flourish of ceremony, he uncorked the bottle and sniffed it gingerly. It smelled of old oak, wildflowers and well-oiled leather. He rolled the cork along his fingers and handed it to Copernicus with a showmanship worthy of the most unscrupulous underhive mountebank.
“I’d heard the men and women of Cadia knew how to celebrate,” Copernicus said, admiring the aroma.
“That we do,” Octavius replied. “We drink to remember, we drink to forget, and with the Emperor’s grace, may we choose wisely between them.”
“Wisdom and generous portions,” Copernicus said approvingly. “A life of duty earns both.”
The tumblers were filled, and the portions generous indeed. In the flickering green light of the war room, the two men clinked their glasses together. The tone that filled the room as the glasses collided was a symphony in a single note.
“Ave Imperator.” Copernicus intoned. Then Octavius spoke the line he always spoke after defeating the forces of Chaos:
“To a job well done.”