Days of Judgement (Warhammer High)
It is a time of peace.
The Great Crusade is long over, the epic battles and mythic triumphs of a galaxy-spanning effort to bring Mankind together once more are but echoes in the minds of Imperial citizens.
But the Primarchs live on, united as they ever were, the memories of war still fresh in their aeonian minds.
In another time, perhaps, this would not be so; but here the Emperor, the Master of Mankind, knew humility and tolerance. Here He listened to Eldrad Ulthan, Farseer of Craftworld Ulthwé.
In the 36th millennium Terra is whole, the Imperium united; the harbingers of Chaos were cast down from among the ranks of the Word Bearers, and so the Great Heresy never came to pass.
The Eldar Empire is reborn on the eastern fringes of the galaxy, the Pact of Brotherhood between Man and Eldar symbolized by a Golden Orb which links the seats of these two great realms through the Warp.
But the Primarchs are exemplars of war, and a time of peace causes them to chafe, to scrape at the boundaries of life.
The Emperor foresaw this even before He gathered His lost sons, and at Ullanor, when He made great Horus the Warmaster, the Emperor put His plan into motion.
When the Primarchs returned from the Great Crusade, called suddenly, an unexpected gift awaited them.
For while they toiled at the outer reaches of the galaxy, the Emperor had toiled yet more fervently that they may have a legacy beyond bloodshed.
Centuries have passed since then and still those Daughters, those Lady Primarchs, watch over and protect the masses of humanity, acting as the bridge between the Primarchs and the common man.
But even now, dangers still face the Daughters. The primordial annihilator hungers for them, still seeking to bring down the carefully constructed bulwarks holding the ruinous powers at bay. An invisible web seeks to ensnare the Daughters. And in these times, the right man in the wrong place can make all the difference in the world...
At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst. –Aristole, Ancient Grekian philosopher, M0
To stand upon the bedrock of the Law is our great duty. To presume to stand above it is our worst heresy. – Saal Huulta after the Lundermann Case
Only in your deepest self is the truth of what you can be. And, without a doubt, that truth is terrible to bear. – attributed to John Grammaticus, Perpetual
At a distance, war makes a particular sound. The quake of the ground, the thrumming of engines, the rattle of weapons, the muffled thump of detonations, the holler of voices; it all blends together into a kind of ominous growl, the feral call of some prehistoric carnivore over the next hill. Closer however, and the murmur turns into a roar, the scream of a million throats, the thunderous crash of artillery fire and the howling of the dying as they lie side by side with the dead in the freezing mud.
This was the aural soundscape that engulfed the Captain as he spurred his men forward, daring them to seize the moment and finish the foe. In one hand he held his sabre, a treasured gift from those he considered his family. It was running red with blood.
This was the final push, the last bloody act in a war that had dragged on for half a decade. Do or die time. The Captain had been leading them for nearly five years, and his time was nearly up. This would be his last fight. Then he would head back home, to the woman he loved. He already wore a ring on his finger, a symbol of the commitment he had made to her a short time before, during his last period of leave.
Tanks rumbled alongside the troops, cannons blasting at the foe with vigour, covering the advance. Across the battlefield, massive war engines stomped along like iron gods, the foe fleeing with every ponderous step taken. Even at this distance the Captain could clearly hear the occasional metal creak or squeal of their vast, lumbering chassis as they pushed ever onwards into the heart of the foe.
On the edge of his vision, the captain saw something; rather, someone. A shadowy figure on the crest of the hill, urgently gesturing at him. A warning?
The low whine of a missile barrage cutting through the air at speed answered the captain as he looked at the figure. He saw the danger too late.
Fire lit up the ridgeline, ripping tanks and bodies apart, tearing into the soldiers like the claws of some great beast. His soldiers. The backwash boiled down the hill in a fiery bloom, thundering into the captain. Then the world faded, darkening in every sense and–
–Saal Huulta awoke with a start, his body drenched in sweat. For a few seconds he blinked and shook his head, trying to remove the image of the dream from his mind. Ever since the Fontaine Case, these dreams of faces, places and spaces he knew he had never seen dogged him ceaselessly. No amount of counsel or therapy could get rid of those dreams, try as he might. He blink-switched on his Chrono Implant and cursed as he saw the time of 04:37 hours flashing on his retina, vivid green in a pitch-black room. His shift didn’t begin for another hour and a half, and he knew he couldn’t get back to sleep now. He might as well head in now, start his shift early. It wouldn’t be the first time.
Huulta lived alone, his life given over to his job and career. He glanced over to his only companion, a Tenocitan blue parrot named Inwit, currently sleeping in its cage on the other side of his bedroom.
He had a quick shower, struggled into his work clothes and headed for the lift. His hab was spacious and comfortable enough for a one-man unit in the corner of a massive city block, but it was a fair distance from work and he had a long drive every morning.
The streets were almost deserted as he drove into work. There were just a few stragglers around from the night before shambling under the pools of lumen-light. Work shifts didn’t change for another few hours, and most decent sorts were asleep. The other sort was his business.
Like everything on this world, his workplace was fortified, though more heavily than most buildings, with an armoury, training ground, barracks, firing range, scriptories, archives, warehouses, kitchens, gymnasia and garage concealed within its armoured walls. A city within a city. He went inside, signed in, and decided to get a cup of caf to try and jump-start his brain. As he stood in the near-deserted cafeteria with only a few hardy souls snatching an early morning meal, sipped his caf and tried to bully his brain onto alert mode, a voice came up from behind him.
“Saal, good morning. You’re up early, again.”
“Couldn’t sleep. Figured I’d start my shift early, get a head start on that paperwork.” He nodded at the speaker, while wracking his brain to remember who it was. Kolbe, one of his colleagues. He wasn’t close with the man, but he had worked with him a few times and knew him as a good sort.
“Whatever the big event the higher ups are working on, it's got to be important, especially with all the paperwork we’ve been handed. Who do you think it'll be?”
“Some off-worlder big-shot I’d expect, come to check if the gate is closed or not.” Huulta gestured at the roof, or rather what lay beyond the roof.
“You’re one to talk; you’re no more of a native than whoever’s visiting.”
He was right on that count. Huulta didn’t have the violet eyes of the natives, a reflection of the evil orb dominating the sky; his eyes were a light, piercing blue. Eyes that were very good at uncovering the truth no matter how well it was hidden.
“That reminds me, the Judge wants to see you as soon as you arrive. Something’s up.”
He downed his caf with a single gulp and ignoring the burning sensation in his throat headed for the Judge’s office.
The Judge, as fit for his station, had the biggest office at the very top of the courthouse. Unlike most Judges, his office was Spartan to the extreme. Behind his stone and steel desk was a massive armourglass window which offered stunning views of the city. the faint light of dawn was only now starting to touch the highest spires. A ceiling-to-floor bookshelf full of dusty old books set against one wall. The little library covered almost every topic in civilian and military law, many of them pre-Imperial. The other wall was bare metal with no ornamentation.
Above his desk was an ancient Boltgun, Umbra Ferrox pattern, which he used whenever he had to conduct a vital mission in person or during any major riots or rebellions in the dark bowels of the city. He hadn’t used it in many years. Flanking it hung a simple shock maul and a hefty power axe. All weapons of judgement.
The Judge sat at his desk examining a dataslate, and he set it down as he saw Huulta enter.
“Proctor Saal Huulta of the Arbites reporting sir,” he said crisply, snapping a salute. “What are my duties for today?”
“Huulta, you’re in early. Again.” The Judge sighed. “There is more to life than solving every case you can, you know?" Saal simply stood at attention, staring blankly at the Judge.
"Never mind. I have a task for you,” he continued. Judge Reinhold of the Arbites was a veteran of many thousands of cases - both in the courthouse and in the field - and an expert in almost every facet of Imperial Criminal Law. He was someone who would always get the job done as the head of the Tetra Arbites detachment. Saal had immense respect for him, and Reinhold mirrored that respect. There were very few he implicitly trusted more than Judge Reinhold.
“We received a report from the Orpo about five minutes ago.” The Orpo was the standard name for all the civilian police forces across the Cadian gate region, separate from the Arbites. Like the Arbites, their regional HQ was on Nemesis Tessera, though nowhere near as big as the massive city-sized fortress the Arbites had there. Saal had been there a few times, but he wasn’t particularly fond of the place. Too close to the Ordo.
The Judge turned to face the vast sprawl of the hive, his eyes sharply observing the spires as the light caught against their edges. A lone Ornithopter buzzed past in the distance.
“They found something down on level one hundred and seventy-three, sector G. They want someone from the Arbites to investigate, apparently there’s something about the nature of what they’ve found which demands our attention.”
Huulta acknowledged his orders, mentally preparing himself for the work to come, but the Judge wasn’t finished.
“Macharia will be hosting the most important of guests in a week’s time, and we need to ensure that law and order is upheld before, during and after their visit so I want this done by the book.”
“Can you spare any details about our mysterious guests sir? There had been plenty of rumours about the upcoming VIP visit to Macharia, some more outlandish than the others.”
Reinhold smiled slightly. It seemed hard to believe that his iron hard face could even crack a smile, but Huulta had known him longer than most. “I’m afraid not, but believe me, this is a once in a millennia occurrence. Now get to it, you have a job to do. You know our words.”
Huulta knew the words, knew them off by heart. They were the words he lived his life by. “It is our job to ensure the Lex Imperia is upheld here, as on all worlds. We discover the guilty. We deliver the punishment.” He saluted, and bowed out of the office. Immediately he headed straight for the armoury. Time to enter the deep end again.
Huulta attached the plates of his Carapace Armour to his body, one by one. The jackboots, the breastplate, the greaves, one by one they bonded to his body. It was a ritual to him, a way of mentally becoming one with the case, taking on the mantle of an Arbite. Finally and reverently, he placed the armoured black helmet crowned with an eagle onto his head, turning him from a man into a figure of terror. Once his helmet was on, it would not come off until his case was solved. That ritual had come from his greatest shame, the case that haunted still.
The moment his helmet came on, his trademark frown followed it. Huulta was almost as well known for his complete and total lack of other facial expressions as he was for his dedication or his superhuman shooting skills.
He checked Oathkeeper - he was far from the only Arbite to name his weapon – and waited for it to rectify his DNA profile, holstering his Power Maul while he did so. Oathkeeper’s DNA reader beeped on, and Huulta slung it over his shoulder. Gingerly he strapped on his Plasma Pistol, reciting an oath to calm its machine spirit, something other more rational types would laugh at. Though he was always in fear that it would overheat one day and melt his hand off, shooting the enemy with the power of a caged star was nothing to sniff at. He had delivered judgement with his Plasma Pistol before and it felt good, despite the risks.
Another day of duty. He had no idea of the hell he would be putting himself through over the next eight days, and how his world would be turned upside down by what was to come.
Hive Tetra was named after a similar hive on Terra, and like it shared the basic cone structure common to all hives. There the resemblance ended. Macharia’s Tetra was a fortress, its armoured outer skin studded with gun turrets and missile launchers, and the inside levels cunningly designed to ensure any attacker would find it too costly to take. A long held rumour said that the Primarch Peturabo had built the hive, as he had built all the fortifications around the warp storm that he had himself named near the end of the Crusade. Huulta could very well believe that.
The last time the forces of the Eye had reached Macharia was nearly three hundred years previously, and Tetra had been besieged for nearly a month before the Legions came to the rescue. Some parts of the outer walls still bore the scars of that previous effort by the Daemonic and Human forces of the Eye, an ever-present reminder of what they were facing. That was many years before Huulta had come to Tetra, and he wondered if at some point he too would have to face the might of a full scale Chaotic Incursion. Quietly he hoped that whatever he was investigating would have nothing to do with the Eye or anything about it. He didn’t need complications.
The lower storage hangers on level one hundred and seventy-three were where food, shells and other materials were stored in the event of a Siege. His destination, Storage Hanger 73-G-19 was empty, its cargo used up and the building sealed off to prevent lowerhive gangs from occupying it before it could be resupplied. The Hanger was within sight of the Hive edge, the sheer armoured outer skin and hatches to access the weapons turrets clearly visible from the road. Several hovercars in the black, white and blue of the Orpo sat outside, lighting up the pre-dawn gloom with the blue of their revolving lights. An Arbites patrol officer stood by the hovercars, waiting for his arrival.
“Trooper,” he said to the patrol officer with a nod as he dismounted from his ‘Lawmaster’ pattern patrol cycle. “What do you have for me?”
“Something down in that warehouse sir.” The officer gestured at the nearest building. “A body was found inside it. Normally the Orpo would deal with it, but the officer who found it called you down here. Apparently it’s…unusual.”
Huulta followed the officer to the empty warehouse, where he left him to carry on with his patrol. An Orpo officer with the bars of a senior sergeant on her sleeve was writing something down on a holopad flanked by several of her colleagues at the entrance, and she closed it as she saw Huulta approach.
“Orpo, it seems you have need of me. What have you found?”
A shadow passed over the woman’s face. The Orpo officer had come here expecting to find a crime of usual note, but her disquieted expression gave him pause; and for the first time that morning he wondered what he had walked into.
“It’s, uh…” The Orpo officer trailed off and swallowed hard; she lost focus for a moment as she thought about something else. “You should probably see for yourself, sir.”
“All right. Show me.”
The sound of his jackboots echoed in the empty warehouse as she led him in. For nearly a minute they walked, past empty container stacks until they reached an enclosure.
“The body’s around the corner sir. I would advise caution…”
Huulta was powering around the corner, but he stopped dead at what he saw. Saal Huulta had seen much during his long years of service, crimes and bodies most people would faint or retch at. But this was something else. Something so overpowering it was only an act of iron will that held him steady. Saal breathed deeply, and composed himself. Fresh eyes looked over the tableau, taking in details to avoid the terrible whole.
The victim was a man, although it was hard to tell from what was left. The man’s body had been clearly and clinically sliced open with great precision. Iron nails had been used to pin him to the wall. One through each ankle, another through the wrists, the limbs splayed out in the form of an X. Then, the skin of the torso had been cut into pointed pennants of skin that each came to a point; one to the right and to the left, another down across the groin and the last pulled up over the skull to rise over the dead man’s head. Four more nails secured the tips of these wet strips of flesh in place. The cavity of the man’s body was empty, the internal organs lying in a pile on the ground beneath the corpse, all laid out in a series of intricate symbols. A circle had been painted around the body in blood.
The man had been made into a star with eight points. The Octed, the symbol of the Primordial Annihilator, the mark of Chaos. Huulta sighed. This would not be his day.
Dawn over Hive Tetra
He’d left the body in the case of the Verispex Squad, who would now forensically examine the body to find out if the killers left anything behind. Not that there's much left to find, Huulta thought grimly.
He drove back to the precinct courthouse, sardonically nicknamed by the underhive as the ‘hall of justice,’ in silence. He was half-listening to the radio in his helmet in case something else came up. They had conducted a major sweep of the hive not a month ago for Chaos Cults, and turned up empty. Now this.
The duty room of the Tetra precinct courthouse occupied almost the entire seventh floor, a massive space where the entire hive was monitored and all crimes investigated. Outside, four guards perpetually stood watch at each door, two with standard Arbites Shotguns, and the other two carrying heavier and deadlier Boltguns. Even Huulta was not above suspicion as they checked his ID card and scrutinised it, ensuring he was who he said he was. Finally the doors opened with a snap of electronic bolts, and he was waved through.
A massive holo-desk dominated the center. It displayed a huge 3D model of Hive Tetra, small blue lights showing Arbite patrols as they made their way around the Hive, and red lights highlighting incidents and on-going investigations in particular areas. There was a new one down on level one hundred and seventy-three, where Huulta had found the body.
The main wall had an even larger map of the entire of Macharia, every hive lit up and data on all Arbite operations across the planet coasting alongside. The date sat over it, 2 612 266 M36, or in layman’s terms the sixth of Primus. One thousand, nine hundred and sixty seven years after the end of the Great Crusade and into the Pax Imperialis, the Imperial Peace won at such cost by the Legions of Humanity. In all that time the Imperium of Man had endured and thrived, despite the countless other wars and disasters which came and went with the passage of time. The Emperor’s dream had come true.
The duty officer, Zavi Rulae, sat overlooking it all from his high dais, and he waved to Huulta in greeting. Rulae was one of the very few Huulta respected, for his dedication to duty and willingness to speak his mind. Beneath him, a dozen servitors received and distilled the information on all goings on in the hive, the good and the bad, extracting from it what the Arbites needed to hear and transferring it to where it was needed.
The left wall had the incident board on it, a record of all the crimes within the last 24 hours which demanded the Arbites attentions. Hundreds of incidents lined the walls, updated every few minutes as more details came to light. The incidents for murders were split into four columns: Time, Fatalities, Location and Investigating Officer. The worst incident up - 3H 9D 2K - referred to a drug bust shootout down on level eighty-seven between the Orpo and one of the lowerhive gangs close to 23:00 the previous night in which three Orpo officers, nine gangers and two bystanders were killed and the Arbites had to be called as backup. It would be front page news in just a few hours when the papers came out.
The record for Huulta’s morning was listed at the bottom: 05:57 [O] 1H L13SG/Huulta [S]. The [O] for the source of the notification, the Orpo, and the [S] standing for the special circumstances of the case, the only indication of the true nature of what they had found there.
“Rulae, what have you got for me?” he asked as he approached the dais.
“Verispex have the DNA, they will have a result within a few hours. I’ve dragged up the missing persons list for you, but believe me it’s a long one, even for the last forty-eight hours. A hundred and nineteen potentials to troll through.”
Huulta nodded. “Thanks. I’ll get right onto it.”
Rulae shook his head. “Saal, you put in twice the hours of anyone else, at least. You take every single case that comes your way. Are you ever going to take a day off?”
Huulta had no answer for him. He just scowled as he headed off for the Judge’s office. But his words bit true. Reinhold had once described Huulta as ‘a tightly wound coil of anger, control and purpose’, and he was right. Anger at those who broke the law, control which dominated his life, and his purpose to protect and serve. Huulta lived for his job and the overwhelming compulsion to know, to understand, to seek the truth, to control the void in his soul which drove everything he did.
“Sir I…” he started as he entered.
“You want priority.”
“Yes sir. I know we have a backlog going all the way back to M35, and the Ordo is on your back for traitors, heretics and God-Emperor knows what else. But I have a feeling about this case, do this for me.”
“Already done Huulta.” Reinhold tapped something out on his holopad. His tone abruptly shifted, as he added.
“Huulta, this is Chaos we’re talking about, or at least it seems to be Chaos. I’m of half a mind to put a call out to Nemesis Tessera…”
“Look sir, the last thing we need is the bloody Ordo sniffing around. We can do this without their help.” He did not try to hide the distaste in his words.
“The Ordo was Malcador’s last gift to the galaxy, a way to safeguard his legacy and keep the galaxy safe from the threats within.”
“He was dying at the time sir. His mind was not in the right place.”
Reinhold stifled a laugh. “Huulta, we all like you, but I’d prefer you didn’t refer to the late Lord Regent of Terra in that way next time. He may have died nearly two thousand years ago, but his legacy lives on and you will refer to him with the respect his memory deserves. Got it?" he shook his head. "Good grief, you and your anti-Ordo streak will drive me round the bend before long.”
Huulta saluted and swiftly headed for his office. His opinions on certain matters and certain organisations and people were well known, and often landed him in trouble. It wasn’t his fault if he felt very strongly about them, and was willing to argue his point of view until the grox came home.
The office he shared with his partner was an airy room, a window behind each desk providing some ‘natural’ light from the great Lumen Strips outside. His half of the office was neat and tidy, a bookshelf full of law books and a few old history books stacked in nice neat rows. Huulta had a passion for history books, his favourite a well-worn copy of the War for Ullanor, a history of the famous campaign and triumph during the Great Crusade. He set Oathkeeper down, leaned back in his chair and set to work on the list of names. For nearly an hour he worked his way along, name by name, face by face. Hard to think that the ruined flesh he had found in that warehouse might be one of these people. His train of thought was only interrupted by the sound of the door and a booming voice.
“Saal, y’old bugga. Already mired in work? That helmet’s on for one thing, d’you sleep in it while on the case?”
Huulta got up and went over to greet his closest colleague and friend. Byrio Zofall was a bear of a man, a massive tangled black beard framing his face and a belly which could barely fit into his carapace armour. They had first been paired up nearly fifty years ago, and had developed a close working relationship since. Byrio was married with two children, and Huulta had often gone to dinner with the Zofalls.
“You know me too well, if there’s a case to be solved, I’m on it. How are the kids?”
“Doing well. Yoncy’s driving me up the wall, as usual. Teenage girls, who’d have ‘em?” They both laughed, but Saal felt something twinge within, like he had heard that phrase before. Huulta forgot about it as he explained the details of his case to Zofall, the mutilated body and the symbol of the Octed it made, what the Judge thought about it and the threat to get the Ordos involved. Zofall took it all in with a series of grunts. With his appearance and speech, there was no wonder his nickname was ‘the bear.’
The door banged open, revealing Judge Reinhold. Huulta immediately rose to his feet.
“Verispex has come through, and we have the identity of the victim. Name of Zahael Joernia, a Calibanian tradesman.”
Huulta cursed at the name, or rather where the name had come from. “Does this mean we’re going to have to…?”
“Yes. If someone from a Legion homeworld is found murdered in a suspected Chaos ritual, then we will have to inform the Legion representative on Cadia.”
“First the Ordos, now the bloody Legions. The only thing which could make my day worse is if the bitches were also involved.” Huulta snarled. He didn’t need this level of confusion, not this early into the case. He needed control.
Zofall grimaced at Huulta’s words, while Reinhold shook his head. “Please Saal; don’t start another rant about how much you dislike them. Hell, you’re the only person I’ve ever met, maybe the only person on the entire of Macharia who has an active dislike for the Royal Daughters, which borders on obsession sometimes. That sort of thing gets you in trouble with the Ordo. The only reason you haven’t been taken away for questioning is because I’ve interceded on your behalf every bloody time.”
“And I thank you for that sir. I may dislike the Royal Bitches intensively, I may think they’ve never done anything remotely good for the Imperium unlike their fathers, I may state that they’ve never proven themselves worthy of the accolades we seem to throw at them daily and I may question why anyone even cares about those angsty fugs, but I’m not about to do any more than air that discontentment. I’m not like any of those nutters who voiced their opinions with a gun, especially not the Dark Ones or the Grey Ghost. Hell, the last one was over three hundred years ago, and she shot herself before they could arrest her, and even the Grey Ghost was finally hunted down by the Night Haunter after he tried to kill them all...” Huulta stopped as he realized just how far over the edge he’d gone.
The silence was deafening, the long pause as the other two just glared at him. Zofall was the first to break the silence. “Saal, for th’sake of our long friendship, would ya please shut the fug up?” he sighed audibly. “Your shtick got old forty years ago. I get it, ya hate ‘em. I don’t need t’be reminded.”
“Me either.” Reinhold now joined in. His voice was soft, but there was a clear undercurrent of authority to it that made Saal cringe. “And as for the Ghost, I read the report you wrote on him, and the other two. And I am the reason that report didn’t get you sent to a camp. Remember that before you go off on another rant about them.”
Saal grimaced. That was a sore point. “I’ve never forgotten sir. Plus no matter what you think of my personal opinions you need me, no one in a thousand light years will be stubborn enough to see this case through.”
“No there isn’t.” Reinhold admitted. “Very well Saal, I’ll let you get to it. Don’t worry about the Ordos, the Legions or anything else, I’ll handle it. You just do that thing you do, and find our killer. Check out the victim’s hab first, see if you can uncover any clues there.”
Huulta nodded and strode off. His task truly began now.
The Investigation begins
Zahael Joernia lived in a fashionable block on level twenty-three, close enough to the hive edge and high up enough to receive some sun from the massive armoured windows in the hive skin, which was in itself a mark of status in a hive society. Huulta obtained the master key from the hab-block supervisor, who confirmed he had last seen Joernia two days previously as he was heading out to the level forty dockyards. Huulta entered, weapon held at the ready but he was confronted by nothing.
A brief search confirmed that the hab was empty. His hab had five rooms, an airy sitting room, a kitchen, a bedroom, a longue and a bathroom. Joernia was obviously pretty well off to be affording such a large Hab. Such wealth could easily make enemies. Was that the reason he had been betrayed him to the Chaos cult which had sacrificed him?
Questions were all well and good, but what he needed were the answers, and hopefully some of them would be in here for him. He first checked out the sitting room, which was in perfect order. He could find nothing out of the ordinary or out of place. One wall was dominated by a large portrait of the Rock, the fortress monastery of the First Legion. Huulta’s lip curled in distaste. It had been nearly two thousand years since the crusade’s end, and in all that time the Imperial Army had proved time and time again it could do the job by itself without any help from transhuman supermen. The Legions were an anachronism; they were a relic of a more brutal age that should have been disbanded millennia ago.
Moving on, he quickly searched the other rooms, and once again, he found nothing. Everything was in perfect order, clean and tidy. The man must have been a fanatic for tidiness when he was alive. Huulta counted himself lucky he had come here first, the Orpo had a bad habit of destroying more clues than they uncovered whenever they did a search.
After nearly an hour of toil, Huulta came to a conclusion: there was no evidence to suggest he was kidnapped or taken from here. Everything was seemingly in perfect order; there was nothing to suggest the horrific fate which had befallen this man. Nothing he could see on the surface. But he knew there was always something hidden away.
Sinking onto the couch, he stared thoughtfully at the holovision screen, trying to marshal his thoughts. There had to be something here; he just hadn’t seen it yet. He could feel it in his gut. He’d always had that ability, an almost sixth sense when there was something he’d missed, something important, that ability to see things others tried to hide. It was one of the reasons his record was so exemplary, why only once had he failed to solve a case.
It clicked. He stood up, turned around and grabbed the portrait of the Rock. Lifting it off, he was rewarded with the confirmation of his suspicion. Behind the picture was a wall safe. Not a very imaginative hiding place, but still a good place to hide valuables or other sensitive items. Now all he would have to do was crack it, and find out what Joernia was hiding in there.
Huulta reached down and unhooked a special item from his belt, one which he usually wouldn’t bother with, but which now came in handy.
The rota-cracker was a special instrument designed to crack a safe with ease, though it was slow, time consuming and didn’t leave the safe very intact. Almost useless for thieves, but the perfect tool for the forces of law. He clamped it to the safe’s dial, switched it on and sat down to wait while it did its job. The sound of its lascutter keened up as it began to work.
The wait was excruciating, and Huulta felt his ire rise as the device did its job. If only they had a faster model, something which wouldn’t leave him stewing in his juices while he waited.
Finally the whining ceased and Huulta went over to unclamp the rota-cracker. It had bored a hole through the safe’s outer shell, and unlocked the safe from the inside. The safe was ruined, of course, but he now had access.
With a creak the safe opened, and Huulta reached in. Inside there was no gold, or any precious items. Instead there were wads of paper, probably containing his records of trade, the items he had imported and exported to and from Caliban, as well as a dataslate, encrypted. But Huulta smiled in triumph regardless, this was something far more important than gold or jewels. There were clues in these papers, secrets for him to unlock which could help him identify why this man had been taken and chosen for such a fell rite. He would take them back to his office and spend a few hours poring over them, sorting the important from the chaff and finding the truth.
His sense of triumph was abruptly ended with the beeping sound of the comms implant coming from the flesh of his arm. Only the most dedicated Arbites willingly had the tools of their trade implanted into their very flesh, forever binding themselves to their duty. Naturally, Huulta had two, one embedded into the flesh of each arm so that no matter what he would always have access. He lifted his left arm up to his face.
“Saal, the Verispex have finished examining the body. We’re waiting for you in the courthouse Morgue with the report.” Zofall’s voice said.
“On my way.” Huulta disconnected, gathered up the slate and the other documents and left the Hab, making sure to close the door and seal it with an Arbites notice. No-one would dare go in there now. And even if they did, he had all the evidence he needed now.
The morgue of the precinct courthouse was buried deep beneath the main building, almost as far down as one could go. Only the auxiliary generators and self-contained life support systems were lower. Inside that space of white tiles and harsh fluorescent lights what was left of the body lay on a slab, stitched back up into the shape the man it once held. Pictures of him in life sat beside images of the murder scene. The man had been handsome once, before some sick bastard had cut him apart.
Dr. Eisler, the chief of the Tetra Verispex, gestured at the body as he spoke with Huulta and Zofall. Eisler was an ugly son of a bitch with a squashed nose and thin lips, but there were few better than him in uncovering the methods and means of murder.
“Murder weapon was not your normal knife. Analysis of the cutting gave up a pattern that appears consistent only with a mono-molecular blade.”
“And how common are those around here?” Zofall asked.
“You’re seriously asking that? The only ones around are either trophy weapons taken from renegade Eldar, or else ex-legionary weapons such as scout combat knives.”
“Either way, rare as fug and most likely unregistered.” Huulta tugged on his armoured gloves. “What about the time of death?”
Eisler sniffed. “Hard to gauge, but my best guess would be between midnight and 04:00 hours this morning. Can’t get it any closer I’m afraid.”
Huulta thought about it, but couldn’t find anything in that time which would shed more light on the murder. They knew who was responsible, but they didn’t know why, or who the specific culprits were. Nothing made sense. To use a term, it was chaos.
Saal and Zofall took their leave, Eisler informing them if he found anything else of use he would contact them immediately. No sooner did he return to his office than Huulta sank back into his chair, and idly began to sort through the papers he had removed from the victim’s house.
“Saal, what do you think it can be?” Zofall asked.
“It’s a ritual, it can’t be anything else. I just wish I knew what that ritual is all about. Are they just trying to curry favour with their gods, or is it something worse?” He added, as he gestured at the scattered files. As well as the tide of paperwork from the murder itself and the evidence from the deceased’s house, packets of fiche and other picts had arrived from a couple of the sub-precincts from across the planet, automatically flagged by the reports of the incident sent out on the planetwide watch-wire. Not one matched what had happened here. There had been several murders in the Hives of Macharia, but none as gruesome, none as inexplicable. If it was a full blown chaos cult, then they were taking great pains to hide themselves and their crimes away.
“Well, at least I found this in the deceased’s house,” Huulta gestured to the sheath of papers on his desk. “Papers which belonged to the victim. Should be a clue of two in here somewhere, a hint as to why he was taken. Whoever did it; they have to have their reasons.”
“Chaos doesn’t need reasons Saal. That’s why it’s called ‘Chaos’. But they won’t have chosen this particular man at random; the amount of preparation alone tells us that.” Zofall had a point.
For the next few hours Huulta threw himself mind and soul into working through the sheaths of paper and digital records, one by one reading and scanning them for anything which might give a hint. They seemed mundane, papers about business transactions, payments made and loans outstanding, the usual sort of business dealt with by a trader. Somewhere within he was something he could use, he could feel it.
He didn’t notice the hours pass; he only briefly nodded to Zofall as he went home to his family and then settled back to work. Time and again he promised himself he would stop for a bite to eat or a quick break after this particular sheet, but every time he’d look at the next one and think, ‘just one more, there might be a clue there’ and one became ten became a hundred. The world vanished, all that mattered was the papers and the clues he knew were held within.
Suddenly the door banged open, and Reinhold walked in. He glared at Huulta.
“Bloody hell, it’s nearly twenty-two hundred! Saal, go home. You’ve been here triple overtime and you have your religious services in the morning, the only time you ever take off.” His eyes flicked over the vast pile of papers on Saal’s desk.
“Dammit, if I didn’t bloody well force you out, you’d move in and live here with all the rookies and support staff. Even I have a life outside these four walls you know, you don’t seem to.”
Huulta nodded, but after the Judge had left he continued to work for another hour until Reinhold came in and almost forcibly dragged him out of his office, scowling all the while. Huulta’s complete and total dedication to any case he worked on was one of the reasons he had such an exemplary record, but the fact he let his cases take over his life was a cause for concern for Reinhold, especially after the Fontaine case.
The drive home was in silence, and once there Huulta spent another two hours with the material he had been allowed to bring home with him, but still there was no sign of anything which could lead him to the perpetrators. Finally he was forced to call it a day as the clock reached midnight. He needed to get some rest, and prepare for the next day’s investigations.
His Hab was very small, and even more Spartan then the Judge’s office in the Precinct Courthouse. It had only four rooms, and the absolute barest minimum in furniture and necessities. Huulta only ever came here to sleep. Even in the void between cases he preferred the Courthouse.
Saal emerged from the shower and stopped at the mirror, his eyes catching on the many scars that latticed over his body. Almost every inch of his body was marked by scars. Some were relics of past fights and disturbances during his many years in the Arbites, barfights and scuffles, those who resisted arrest, the usual marks of service. And then there were the others, whose origin he couldn’t place. The deep gouge which stretched from behind his left eye to his jaw and framed the left side of his face, usually hidden beneath his helmet. Zofall had given him the nickname of ‘scarface’ because of it when they had first met, before they had become friends. The loop just below his right elbow, something had nearly taken the arm clean off at some point he couldn’t recall. He didn’t know when he had done it, but he had a good idea why.
The void. It always came back to the void, the eternal emptiness which had always haunted him, the feeling that something vital was missing, that he wasn’t all there. It was the one thing in his life he couldn’t control, and he had tried every method, which must have included cutting at one point, but none of them had ever worked. Though control eluded him, he had found a way to harness the void, turn it into his prime motivator, the thing which drove him and focused him in his pursuit of duty. If only he could harness his other problem as well.
Huulta flopped back on the bed and stared at the ceiling. He didn’t want to sleep, didn’t want the dreams which haunted him every time his eyes closed, but sleep took him anyway and the dreams returned.