Astrid Skane and the Xenos Coven

(As told by Seer Aristarchus.)

"Interrogator" is a title used for an Inquisitor-in-training. A lot of us never get to be Interrogators - a lot of us never wanted to be one. For awhile there I did.

Many, if not most of the Inquisitors you will meet are going to be psykers. Some are strong, and some are weak, but it seems to be if not a requirement then at least a danger of the job that you will spontaneously develop psychic powers if you didn't have them already when you joined up. So as the years rolled on and I noticed that the only psyker in the group was me, I started thinking that ol'… well, our Inquisitor might be keeping a special eye on me so to speak.

We were on this mission to the underhives of Malfi - Skane, me, Narthax, Thakka, this big ex-Guardsman named Murk from Fenksworld, and this hive scum named Skaabbr who had just joined the group as a guide. And one other - a witchy little void-born psyker named Midkiff Ohm. Midkiff was a combat psyker, rather like Xanthia. And our Inquisitor had given me special instructions to keep an eye on her, and for her to report to me.

I was thrilled. I had been given the Sigil of Question a couple of times - we all had. Wait, you don't know what that is do you? The Sigil is something that is given to a trusted retainer of an Inquisitor in order to carry on an investigation in his or her name. It informs the authorities that the bearer is operating under the instructions of the Inquisition, but does not bear the right to speak or act on behalf of the Inquisition. It's a bit complicated, and you'll undoubtedly learn more yourselves in time, but it is one of those things that is given to trusted retainers from time to time - sort of a first test to see how you handle leadership in the field.

Anyway, I had been given the Sigil of Question a few times, but I had never had anyone placed directly under my authority before and I thought it must be another big test. And I was the first! The first in our group to have an underling!

We were on the trail of what we thought was some sort of hidden cult worshiping the Ruinous Powers, but we got it wrong. Do you know what a Genestealer is? No? OK then, it wasn't a cult, it was a… well a sort of nest, an infestation of a particular type of xenos creature that can take over your body and use you as a host to breed more of it's kind. Humans who are infected are still human, but they become fanatically loyal to the xenos, and their offspring are a blend of human and xenos - they look mostly human at a distance, but up close you can see the differences. The offspring of these hybrids are also a blend of human and xenos, but with the xenos predominating. The offspring of these hybrids are pure xenos - monsterous things with four arms and claws strong enough to rip through a bulkhead. Even the mighty Astartes are wary of going face to face with one of them.

Now the good news is that it takes several generations to breed up the purestrain form. When we discovered the infestation, they were right on the cusp - they had a few of the purestrains, but not too many. But the infestation was large. The xenos had been very busy in the underhive the past few generations, and had implanted tens of thousands with their corrupting influence. Worse, they had managed to infiltrate the mid-hive region to some extent, and had started smaller infestations in several of Malfi's other hives. They had xenos converts in the Planetary Defense Force, in the Arbites, even a few (and thankfully they were VERY few) in the upper hive areas.

When we get back to Scintilla you can look up the purging of Malfi and get all the details. It took two years and 15 Imperial Guard regiments to clear the underhives, but that's all in the history archives. From our perspective it was just a crazy, chaotic mess as hordes of xenos sympathizers erupted from the underhives, PDF units turned on one another, communications were sporadic at the best of times, and anyone you met could turn out to be an infected xenos traitor.

We wound up, by chance as much as anything, at an Arbites precinct fortress near the entrance levels to the underhive. We were stuck there for over two months with the Praetors and Arbitrators, cut off almost completely and facing wave after wave of xenos attackers. The days all seemed to flow together into one long nightmare of combat, terror, and exhaustion.

And one night, while we were on a sortie to knock out some heavy weapons that the xenos had brought up, I lost track of Midkiff. How did it happen? It was just one of those long, insane moments - we got hit by some xenos, there was a big melee in the half-darkness, and suddenly Midkiff just wasn't there anymore. We stayed out as long as we could looking for her, but outnumbered as we were, we couldn't stay long, and eventually we had to head back. It didn't quite come down to Skane holding a shotgun to my head, but it was close. I was responsible for her, and I had failed. Midkiff had been a tough kid, always cool under pressure, never panicking no matter how bad things got. But she was gone and we couldn't find her, and spending any more time meant that we would all be cut off and killed. So we headed back.

Just before we made it back to the precinct house, Midkiff stepped out of the shadows. She had gotten lost, she said. Separated in the melee. She couldn't find us so she headed back on her own. She had used her psychic abilities to deal with the xenos she had encountered.

Astrid Skane shot her dead on the spot.

It took me years to forgive her for that act, most particularly because when we brought the body inside we found out that Midkiff was clean - she hadn't been infected, she had been telling the truth. But if she had been alive we wouldn't have known that. You can't check for the presence of the infection without killing the host body in the process. And the Emperor knows we were stretched thin, hanging on by the barest of margins. Midkiff Ohm had to die, because we couldn't afford to let her live.

But I couldn't have done it. I couldn't have made that choice. When I saw Midkiff all I could think of was relief that she was alive, not the danger she might pose. And if I couldn't sacrifice one possibly innocent life for the safety of others, how could I be sure I could make the right choice when it came to something bigger, like cleansing a hab block, destroying a hive city, virus bombing a planet?

When the situation had stabilized, when we finally got out of that rat hole, when we finally got back to Scintilla, I went straight to Ma… to our Inquisitor and I told him what had happened. I told him what I had done, and what I was not prepared to do. And I told him that I didn't have what it took to bear the Inquisitorial Seal.

I didn't even speak to Astrid Skane for six months. Because I knew she was right, and I knew she was strong enough, and I hated her for her strength and my weakness.

You will have to make many difficult choices in your work for the Inquisition. If you live that long one of the most difficult may be the decision of whether or not to seek the Inquisitorial Seal. Inquisitor Skane will judge you no doubt, but you must also judge yourselves. For any failure, any flaw, any weakness in you is magnified a million, a billion fold when first the Rosette hangs around your neck. For at that moment, you become the embodiment of the God-Emperor's will in the galaxy, your decisions may affect the lives of everyone in the sector and beyond. And neither the galaxy nor the Emperor has any forgiveness for your mistakes or failings.

Now pass me the amasec, my throat is parched!

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