Unlike the hundreds of thousands of under-manned, half-forgotten outposts of nominal scientific inquiry within the Imperium, Orbital Research Facility G103.347-A - unimaginatively nicknamed ‘The Orbital’ - was something of a technical marvel. Where other such stations were filled with corroded tubing, poor lighting and questionable, degraded life-support systems, The Orbital thrummed with an overabundance of highly complex communications arrays and thrice-redundant security systems that made it nearly impenetrable to those without proper access. The nominal mission of the Orbital - studying the near-orbit migration patterns of the Onandegan Lizard-Bat, unique to an otherwise uninhabited world of so little value to the Imperium that it simply had a designation of ‘K.934-06’ - was not so different to other orbital platforms of its type. However, unlike those stations, The Orbital was, in truth, primarily a hidden base for the Emperor’s Holy Inquisition, a waystation for the sorts of things that the Imperium’s most secretive organization wanted to keep even more secret than normal.
Interestingly enough, despite that higher purpose, The Orbital did, in fact, collect a dizzying amount of data on the Onandegan Lizard-Bat’s migrations. It did this partially due to the Inquisition’s fanatical dedication to the upkeep of a proper cover story, but also simply because several of the lower-level Ordos agents who monitored the platform’s internal systems and saw to the less mentionable aspects of its janitorial duties had done so as a diversion from their otherwise mundane existence. Any xenobiologist who ran across this data would have found it a treasure trove, a truly remarkable account of a fascinating species, one which would have immediately led to a blazing academic career.
All of this and more was of absolutely no useful interest to Inquisitor Voltman Kalmsan as he heard what his comrades-in-arms, Colonel Augustus Octavius and Brother Captain Antonius of the Azure Flames had to say as they sat across from him within The Orbital’s interior. In fact, Kalmsan merely recalled these banal details as a mental exercise to keep himself from screaming at what he had just been told.
“A...moon-sized void-weapon?” he asked, his eyes wide.
Both The Astartes and the Guard Colonel nodded gravely.
“Capable of annihilating entire planetary bodies?”
“Indeed,” said Antonius.
“Guarded by a full fleet of the most advanced Imperial warships, with enough firepower to defend a sector?”
“A sector at least,” Octavius said, shaking his head.
“Kept secret from the galaxy, hidden away in deep space as a safeguard against a full assault of the ruinous powers, should they overcome Cadia itself?”
“That is correct, as I understand it,” Antonius said, looking to Octavius, who crossed his arms and nodded again.
“...and I wasn’t informed?!?” Kalmsan shouted, loud enough to echo throughout the small chamber the trio occupied. There was a long pause while Octavius and Antonius first glanced at each other, then leveled a pointed look at Kalmsan.
“You’ve been...busy,” Octavius said, finally.
Through the bars of the cell, his arms bound in chains, the Inquisitor still managed a truly imperious glare in return.
“A momentary setback, I assure you. That bastard Logan had friends in higher places than I might have expected, given his utter lack of competence. Perhaps I give the Inquisition’s internal counsel too much credit. Paranoid mongrels have an odd tendency to look out for one another, after all…”
Both Octavius and Antonius stared back at Kalmsan with a look of extremely tested patience.
“Fine. Fine!” Kalmsan shouted, waving his hands. “What in the devil are you two doing here, anyhow? The Archenemy is sallying forth to steal this monstrosity right from under the Imperium’s nose, and you’ve come to share tales with a falsely-accused Inquisitor, rotting away in his cell?”
“We’ve relayed the possibility of an assault to the Keepers,” Antonius said. “However, we have...questions, ones we had hoped that you could answer. I did not know, at first, of your imprisonment.”
“Well, sorry to say, you’ve wasted your time - before today, I’d heard nothing of this ‘Omega Station.’ In fact, I seem to be the only one…”
“Despite how it may seem, Voltman,” came a voice through the cell block entrance as its door hissed open, “…it’s rare knowledge, even within the Ordos.”
A man in a long brown overcoat appeared in the doorway, carrying a small pile of dataslates, as well as a tray with two small, steaming mugs.
“Gentlemen,” Kalsman said gesturing in the newcomer’s direction, “Inquisitor Daedelus Copernicus. My Advocate in this... inconvenience.”
Copernicus crossed the room to set down his load, and greeted the two outsiders, grinning all the while. “Colonel, Brother-Captain,” he said, shaking their hands in turn. “When I heard a Guardsman and an Astartes had turned up, I’d hoped it might be you two. Voltman has told me stories. Tell me, how did you come to know about the Omega Station?”
“I believe it’s referred to as the Omega Protocol, Inquisitor. An informal practice, but at certain levels,” Octavius said, “Certain trusted officers of every Cadian Regiment are given command codes that can be relayed to the Station in the event that Cadia is overcome.”
“So you were in on this conspiracy as well, Inquisitor” Kalsman said irritably, “Hiding information from me. Vital information. Information that could save the entire Imperium! I thought we were friends, Dade.”
“I have my duties, Voltman, just as any of us do. Secrecy is involved in many of them,” Copernicus said, placing one of the mugs to the cell’s service hatch. “And despite what you may think, the galaxy does not always need you to save it.”
Kalmsan rolled his eyes, but seemed to dismiss the matter as the hatch’s internal scanners chirped an all clear and opened inside the cell. The imprisoned Inquisitor clasped the steaming cup of Caffeine in both chained hands, and took a long sip.
“Ugh,” he gagged. “Swill. The indignities never end in this place.” Despite this, he took another, longer sip before setting the mug down. “I don’t understand how even the High Lords could be so dense as to not see the incalculable danger such a weapon would pose. The moment its existence was so much as hinted at, the Archenemy would find some way to get their claws on it. If not by direct frontal assault, then by corruption of the army of servants that must be required to maintain such a thing.”
“That was predicted, in fact,” Copernicus said. “The mental screens required to even be considered for duty on the Station are monumental. Once inside, there are regular checks for physical and mental fitness, as well as a legion of trained psykers, casting constant scans for any Chaotic interference.”
“I assume,” Voltman said, darkly, “that there are protocols protecting its secrecy from anyone who transfers away from that post.”
Copernicus shook his head. “It’s a closed system. A lifetime duty. No one who enters the Station’s service will ever leave it. Whole families are born, live, work and die there without ever setting foot in the wider Imperium. There’s no way for its security system to even be understood from the outside, much less breached.”
“You seem to understand it,” Kalsman said, raising an eyebrow. “How many others might have this knowledge?”
“I know only the surface of it. From my understanding, there’s much, much more. It’s a monumental security apparatus that’s run flawlessly for hundreds of years. If there was even a sniff of Chaos, it’d be flushed out immediately.”
“So, a military assault it is,” Kalmsan said. “Still, even with their fleets combined, Gorath and Esarhaddon couldn’t hope to take the station by force. Not if it’s defensive capabilities anything like you’ve described...”
The Colonel snorted. “To hear the Keepers speak of it, the entire damned horde that assaulted Iperin would barely annoy them. It’s a comfort to know the men defending one of the greatest weapons in the Imperium’s arsenal believe themselves to be safe, but the 401st has been on the other side of Gorath’s guns too many times for me to believe he’s stupid. Or suicidal.”
“Indeed,” Copernicus said, pacing around the room. “Gorath’s a cautious player. He wouldn’t make a move like this without reason. What’s his game?”
Kalmsan sighed. “If only Vaughn were available. Just when he’d be useful.”
“Vaughn?” Octavius asked.
“An Acolyte of mine. Good one, too. Expert on cult activities, indoctrination, infiltration. Sent him to the Garyn system a few years ago, to investigate some ruddy coven claiming to worship the Eternal Dawn or some such nonsense. Pegged it as a front for Chaos,” Kalsman said, turning his head towards Octavius and Antonius “Your man Gorath had assets spotted in the system, in fact - but I was pursued and imprisoned before he could report back. I imagine he’s still on Plinth. Probably put the whole damned Cult down by now.”
Copernicus whipped around suddenly. “Plinth?”
“Yes, Plinth. Boring scrape of a world. What of it?”
“Plinth...was devoured by the Tyranids not long after you were imprisoned.” Copernicus’ mouth hung open even after the words left his mouth. Kalmsan’s eyes went wide.
“Throne of Earth,” he whispered. “Genestealer Cults…”
A string of muffled curses came from Octavius’ direction, as he slammed his fist into the table.
“Esarhaddon,” he said through gritted teeth. “The Heart. It must have survived...”
“...scanning for Chaos, but not for…”
“...could have been infiltrated for years...generations, even…”
“We must go,” Antonius’ voice silenced the rest as he stood. “Inquisitors. We need to put out a general call for aid, as widely as possible. The Omega Station will be in the hands of the Ruinous Powers if we do not act immediately. There is no more secrecy to be had. Broadcast its location, and request aid from any Imperial resources who receive it.”
“Already in progress,” Kalmsan said. In his hands, a medallion of the Azure Flames’ symbol was open like a clamshell, as he pressed a series into a keypad forged in the interior. Antonius recognized it. The Inquisitor had been given it as a symbol of brotherhood, and a torch to light should the Flames’ aid be required.
“Much as that’s appreciated, Brother Voltman,” Antonius said, “my Chapter’s fleet is already on standby, ready to make for the Station. There’s no need to call them.”
Kalmsan’s grin had the hint of mockery to it. “And much as I do hold this gift dear, Brother-Captain, I found it impossible not to tinker with it a bit. It’s interesting, the way this piggybacks a priority message onto any Imperial communications like a virus, to alert you and your Chapter. My compliments to your Techmarines for such a clever device, but I thought, ‘why not go bigger?’”
“...I see,” Antonius said, an edge of annoyance to his voice.
“The message I’ve just sent should be transmitting from this Orbital now, to a general astropathic broadcast. We have our distress call, gentlemen.”
“Very well,” Antonius said. “My thanks, Inquisitor. I will speak well of you, at your trial.”
“You damn well better,” Kalmsan said. “I’m a treasure.”
“Voltman,” Copernicus said, uncertainty in his tone. “I will be back. We’ll see you through this trial. You’ll be exonerated.”
“Oh, I know that, Daedalus. I will be exonerated…” he said, pressing another sequence into the pendant. “…but that will all have to wait.”
With a hiss, electrified bars receded into the floor and ceiling. The chains around Kalmsan’s wrists gave a short blurt of electronic static, and thudded to the ground, just as the lights within the room flickered and were replaced by blinking red emergency lamps. From all around the station, a near-deafening klaxon began to blare.
“According to this station’s internal monitors,” Kalmsan said, “this room has just suffered explosive decompression, and has been blocked off with some truly unmovable bulkheads. Coincidentally, those bulkheads create a path directly to the main shuttle bay,” he said, stepping from the cell and stretching his arms out wide in newfound freedom. “I don’t imagine the security team will be too pleased about any of this, so I suggest we make our way to the exits.”
“So, you could have escaped at any time,” Copernicus said. “Why now?”
“Logan couldn’t prove me a heretic in life, no matter how hard he tried” Kalmsan said, “and I won’t let him make me a fugitive in death. I am a loyal servant of the Imperium, and of He on Earth, Dade, and I’ll see that’s proven beyond the ghost of a doubt in the highest court of our Inquisiton. Right now, however, it seems the galaxy does need me to save it after all.”
Daedalus Copernicus grinned, and clapped his friend on the shoulder. Then the two Inquisitors joined the Astartes and the Guard Colonel as they ran towards their ships and a conflict that could set the entire galaxy aflame.