2948-08-12 – Tales from the Service: An Immortal’s Inquisition

Berardo at length became aware of angry voices barking invective in his direction. The pain in his head, worse than any hangover, made it hard to concentrate on them, and his thoughts flitted gamely away each time he tried to give one any serious attention.

Cracking open his eyes proved a challenge nearly beyond him, and the reward for his effort, a stabbing blade of light eviscerating each retina, allowed no feeling of accomplishment. The blinding blue-white beam came from a spotlight pointed directly at his face, and the invective seemed to be coming from shadowy figures milling behind it. There were two voices, but Berardo was sure there were more figures.

The louder, gruff voice barked something that sounded vaguely dire, and Berardo this time matched it to a square-shouldered shadow to the left of the spotlight. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he wondered why he hadn’t had his brain scooped out by some Incarnation nightmare-machine yet. The counterhuman invaders of the Coreward Frontier were not known for being patient interrogators.

The second voice countered with something equally sinister, but in a more measured and refined tone. Berardo suspected he was supposed to be listening, but even half-conscious and concussed he recognized the ancient good-cop and bad-cop interrogation routine. Why he merited this relatively light treatment from the Incarnation remained unclear.

The gruff bad-cop spoke again, and someone behind Berardo grabbed his hair and lifted up his head, exposing his neck enough that the edge of a blade could slide into place over it. Perhaps it was time to start paying attention to the words of his interrogators, before his good fortune ran out. Wincing, he focused hard on the refined good-cop voice.

“…need for anything like that. Surely this comrade will prove useful to us in the future, if his loyalty can withstand a trial such as this.”

“Useful?” The gruff voice laughed. “He’ll take his assignment and vanish into the deepest, darkest hole he can find as soon as he gets out of sight, even if he isn’t tainted.”

Trying not to gulp and thus come into more intimate contact with the blade, Berardo decided it was time to speak up for himself. “Wh-what do…” His voice was hoarse, and he realized he hadn’t had a drink since shortly after making planetfall, at least eight hours before his ill-fated encounter with the Immortal Katia. “What do you want?”

“You have had dealings with one called Katia.” The measured voice’s strained tone suggested they’d been over this while Berardo had been less than fully conscious. “Explain every detail.”

The knife slid away, and the hand gripping Berardo’s hair loosened its painful grip. He told them what he knew, taking time to make sure to include every detail from the moment Katia discovered him to the moment the sentry had bludgeoned him. It helped that none of these moments were incriminating – even the camouflaged ship in the gulley was not too far out of norm for Incarnation black ops. At every pause, he was terrified the men would ask him about his mission for their cause, but this seemed to interest them not at all.

When he had finished without being interrupted once, Berardo wondered why. The shadowy figures were still there, but they had remained silent throughout his account. He waited, certain they were about to ask the question that would blow his flimsy cover wide open and send him tumbling through the infinite Hells which passed for standard Incarnation intelligence gathering methods.

Eventually, as the silence lengthened, Berardo wondered if his interrogators had been listening at all. If they had what they wanted, why were they still there, and if they didn’t, why weren’t they continuing their irritating routine?

“I have another question.” This voice was new, soft, and somewhat less hostile. “Are you ready to leave?”

The man with his hand on Berardo’s scalp loosed his grip and stepped away suddenly. “It’s you!” The voice was that of the sentry who’d clobbered him, and so Berardo was not overly saddened by the sound of tearing flesh and gurgling as something tore out the Incarnation soldier’s throat.

Berardo couldn’t turn around enough to see the man crumple to the floor, but he could only guess one culprit for the killing. “Katia, I assume?”

Another shadow moved behind the spotlight, and suddenly the fixture shut off. Behind it, Berardo saw two figures slumped against purloined civilian office chairs, their throats cut from ear to ear and the implants in their temples smashed into tangles of flesh, wires, and metal shards. At least one more corpse lay on the floor in the shadowy space beyond the interrogators.

“You performed your duty admirably.” Katia lounged against the rear of the spotlight mounting, splatters of blood crisscrossing her tanned skin and vanishing into the crimson cloth of an Incarnation naval dress uniform she had picked up somewhere since shoving him toward the sentry. “We should leave before more inquisitors arrive.”

“Inquisitors?” Only after she had named his tormentors did he recognize their gold-and-sable uniforms. The Inquisitors were Naval Intelligence’s opposite number in the Incarnation, focusing mainly on counter-intelligence efforts. inquisiton operations were an enigma for the Confederated military, mainly because they were so successful. What was known about them came from the small number of officer defectors and prisoners of war.

Katia trotted across the room and sliced Berardo’s bonds with a few swift motions of the blood-streaked knife in her hand. He leapt up and backed away from her. “If they’re after you…”

Katia’s temple-implant flashed wildly from orange to red. “I have malfunctioned.” She twirled the knife, then tucked it into one sleeve. “Aberrance is not permitted.”

Berardo nodded. “I know.” He hurriedly searched the pockets of each body, grabbing a few data-packs and other assorted items. Incarnation personnel carried almost no physical items, so his entire haul fit in a single pocket. “Shame you smashed their implants. That’s where the good stuff was.”

Katia shrugged, entirely unperturbed by Berardo’s rather non-subservient looting. He realized she probably had never bought his cover, but had pretended to in order to get him to play along. It was a cynical approach, but it had proved successful. “You are still leaving the planet?”

“Hells yes.” Berardo straightened from his grisly work and straightened, wincing as the quick motion made his head swim. Luckily, Smitten Ginny had enough autopilot to get offworld in the next orbital coverage gap on its own; he was in no state to fly the ship manually. “Let’s go.”

Naval Intelligence learned a great deal from Berardo’s account when he returned from Adimari Valis, even before Katia’s debriefing. This aberrant Immortal is not the first such to defect to the Confederated side, but she is the first to do so without being captured in action first.

The Inquisition referred to in this account is a little-known organization, which Naval Intelligence cannot or will not provide us more background on at this time. A centralized, ideological state such as the Inquisition inevitably needs such secret internal police, though most likely their enforcement is handled digitally through the implants they almost all have been fitted with.

[D.L.C.: Apologies for the delay in this feed item. As many of you know, there was a stellar storm along the Hypercast relay network linking Maribel to Cosmic Background’s Planet at Centauri headquarters. Rather than pull up one of the canned Tales from the Inbox stories saved there in case of such disruptions, HQ decided to wait for the conclusion to Berardo’s story once Hypercast connectivity was restored.]