As Vox had hoped, they encountered nobody who tried to stop them.
“Ha!”, the young brother said when they rounded yet another corner. “Tiberius is a genius when it comes to working out tactical routes! Just give him a map and a day. There’s the last corner. We walk from there unless somebody shoots. In that case, please take cover behind me!”
“How likely is this?”, Titus inquired.
Vox put him down and he tried to move as nonchalantly as he could while being aware that he was still wearing nothing but a bolt pistol.
“Didn’t he say gate three?”, Titus tried to distract himself as they approached Hangar 11.
“Well spotted, captain! Hangar eleven was the third we considered when planning.”
The armoured bulk of Tiberius was waiting for them in front of a shuttle. Bolter at the ready, he was scanning the surroundings through his helmet. He ushered them in without delay. Inside the ship, Dankwart greeted them with a nod. The apothecary was sitting next to an orderly pile of battered, blue and golden armour and a black jump pack. Tiberius followed them directly and as soon as he had entered the pilot’s seat, they took off. This surprised Titus. Persuading a machine spirit to function properly usually involved lengthy rites and praises to the Omnissiah. He had never seen any techmarine neglecting them.
Vox winked at him.
“It’s an escape vessel, captain. He made it ready beforehand.”
“Are you reading my thoughts?”, Titus asked with a laughing frown.
“I can’t read your mind, captain. Your face, now…”, he added grinning when Titus shot him a critical look.
“Could someone explain to me what’s going on here?”, the captain decided to dismiss this topic.
Before anyone had time to answer, however, Tiberius left the cockpit.
“Excuse me for a moment, captain”, he asked politely but refrained from waiting for Titus’ permission. “Vox, we are on course.”
“Do we have enough time?”, the librarian asked.
“Probably. I had word from the ‘Life of Blood’”, he added, and his third arm made a small, tense gesture. “Captain Oliven confirmed pursuit.”
“May the Emperor protect them.” A stern glance and a nod passed between the comrades. Then, Vox turned back to Titus. The young man’s face lit up with a mischievous smile.
“Alright, captain! You ordered explanations! Would you take your armour as side dish?”
“Yes, thank you”, Titus said woodenly. “Weapons to follow if you please.”
“As far as we could find out, the Ultramarines retrieved your weapons about two years ago, captain”, Tiberius informed him. “We only have standard-issue equipment for you. Sorry about this.”
“Not your fault”, Titus said despondently. Then, his brain kicked in. Ultramarines had been on the ‘Fall of Angels’? Had they come for more than just weaponry and been forced to leave with only arms? They had left his armour. Maybe, somebody had hoped he would need it again.
His thoughts went further: A kill team of the Deathwatch had gotten through to him after this…
Titus lifted a sharp gaze to them and it dawned on him that these people had really learned how to tailor their information output. This time, the other two wore their helmets and the face he could see gave nothing away. Maybe apart from this slight amusement but that seemed to be a baseline with Vox.
“Thank you for your forethought”, Titus tested the matter with an inquiring look into the librarian’s eyes. All he got was a bundle of cloth, for which he handed the bolt pistol back.
They all wore pants and a long-sleeved tunic under their armour. The tightly fitted, flexible fabric left the contacts of the Black Carapace free. Titus slipped into them and, while it was pleasant to be covered up, he was again reminded of how much his body had suffered since he had last worn it. The material rippled and hung off him like dead skin. The memories of what had happened when he had last worn the armour were no better.
“Let’s start with a summary of names”, Vox began the briefing. “The ‘Fall of Angels’ is the ship of Thrax.”
“I know”, Titus said bitterly and watched as Tiberius started to call the Machine God’s blessing down on his armour.
“The ‘Lawbringer’ is the ship of Inquisitor Laraise”, Vox continued. “We are headed for it now. The ‘Life of Blood’ is the ship that’s taking Leandros’ gene-seed to Ultramar.”
“He is dead?”, Titus asked in surprise.
“Yes. He was the one telling us about you”, Vox confirmed and swung the jump pack onto his back. Resting it against the wall, he managed to click it into place.
“I’ll tell you the story later, I promise. Now… What was I saying? Oh yes. To get you out, we had to prove that the accusations against you have been false. Which they were since Leandros really did believe what the daemons said. The problem we are facing now is that Laraise can be a bit tricky when it comes to chaotic taint. I transmitted our conversation in your cell directly to her. Your answers, together with my pledge that you have only very weak ties to the warp, were enough to accuse Thrax of heresy.”
While Vox talked, Tiberius and Dankwart worked steadily. Piece by piece, the captain welcomed his long dispensed with armour.
“You have to know that Laraise usually plays strictly by the rules but although she’s Ordo Xenos she has issues with chaos. She tends to cleanse things properly, in a wide radius and, more often than not, preemptively. She mustn’t kill us because she is under obligation to bring us back to the Deathwatch in one piece but we expected her to order the destruction of the ‘Life of Blood’ as soon as you were on board. Therefore, we didn’t tell her of the message for you and warned Captain Oliven that he might have to take off in a hurry. As soon as you confirmed that you would stay with us, I voxed him to depart. Dear Laraise is annoyingly good at disguising her schemes. If she has failed, you usually don’t know. We’re doing a lot of freaky stuff right now to be on the safe side. For most of it, we won’t ever know if it was necessary.”
“Having the ‘Life of Blood’ confirm pursuit must be a real win”, Titus commented with a half smile. He had become immersed in what Vox was telling him. Too long had he missed thinking strategically and although this was far too political for his taste, he nevertheless found that he enjoyed following along.
“It’s very satisfying to hit something when you’re otherwise only punching fog, yes”, Vox confirmed.
Titus tried to digest all the information.
“How did you find out about the robe?”, he asked.
“Didn’t you notice Tiberius scanning you before he gave you the message?”
“No, that escaped me.”
“For some reason, Laraise wants to know where you are”, Vox said and bitterness crept over his narrow lips. “So far, people she wanted to know the whereabouts of have ended up dead.”
“A prospect I cannot relish for some reason”, Titus said ironically.
“Neither can we”, Vox assured him.
The last piece of armour handed to Titus was his helmet. He put it on himself like the ritual demanded and Vox followed his example.
“To make sure it doesn’t come this far”, the young man continued over speaker. “We are transferring you to the ‘Lawbringer’. You and I will leave the shuttle before we dock and find our way to one of the pressure doors. Tiberius will open it for us, while Dankwart contacts Erioch to inform them that you are with us and we are en route. Then, we’ll tell Laraise that you are joining the Deathwatch and that the commander knows. With any luck, this will be enough for her to leave you alone. She can be very official. If we’re fast enough, we might even beat her to destroying the ‘Fall of Angels’.”
“May the Omnissiah watch over you”, Tiberius concluded the ritual and handed Titus bolter, bolt pistol and chainsword. Falling back into the long practised movements, the captain put them away on their appropriate joists. Despite these weapons not being of the standard he was used to, it felt good to be armed again.
“I didn’t find any obvious leaks in the armour, captain”, Tiberius informed him. “It should be fit for space but I have to tell you that its condition is rather alarming.”
“Yes. For some reason, Thrax didn’t allow me to tend to it”, Titus said darkly.
They synchronised their voxes while Tiberius quickly performed the proper rites for Vox’s jump pack. Afterwards, the techmarine returned to the cockpit and answered the communication that had just reached them. He identified himself and Dankwart and received docking instructions from the ‘Lawbringer’.
“So let me sum this up: You stole me from the ‘Fall of Angels’, we are going to infiltrate the ‘Lawbringer’ and you think Laraise will not take steps as soon as she hears that I’m joining the Deathwatch.” Amusement crept into Titus’ features. If this worked, it would be a nice coup indeed.
“Don’t worry, captain”, Vox said happily. “Things only get this twisted when I do the leading.”
“You’re not the usual leader?”
“No”, Vox replied lightly and handed him his lifeline to clip to Titus’ belt.
“This surprises me”, Titus prompted when the brother did not explain.
“A mannerism of the Deathwatch, captain”, Tiberius said in Vox’s stead, while numerous lights started to blink all over the ship’s interior. Titus’ auto senses told him that the oxygen levels were dropping rapidly.
“When a kill team consists only of battle-brothers, we are allowed to choose our leader for each mission. Vox was the obvious choice for this one. Now, you two get going. We have slowed down enough.”
The door opened.
Vox turned to Dankwart for a moment before they left.
“How long do you think?”
“Four hours”, the apothecary answered curtly.
They exchanged nods and Titus followed Vox outside, clinging to the hull of the shuttle.
They still were subject to the gravitational field of their vessel and had to pull themselves up to the roof. Or rather, Vox had to pull both of them.
The ‘Lawbringer’ loomed up before them. Glorious and ornate, like every larger ship the Imperium of Man would build. By the size and general layout of her, Titus estimated her to be an Orion Class Star Clipper. Slowly and deliberately, her shadow engulfed them. In the soothing blackness of the hull, a brightly lit hangar opened to admit the shuttle.
“Lead on, brother”, Titus encouraged Vox to signal that he gave him lead. Shortly afterwards he realised that the librarian had made no attempts to take him into account so far. As he thought this, he was amazed by the amiability with which the young man had managed to carry out this kind of insubordination. Even considering the lapses in their private conversation, he had been so friendly and easygoing in his demeanour that it had smoothly concealed the outright disrespect for Titus’ rank.
Even now, he ignored him unobtrusively as he scanned the ‘Lawbringer’s flank with an attentive gaze. Finally, he offered a hand. Titus took it and they jumped, pushing away into weightlessness. Casually Vox pulled him closer and, for the second time within less than an hour, Titus found himself in the young brother’s arms. It was done so gently that it took him a few seconds to realise it. He even found that he had unthinkingly mimicked the embrace. The sheer awkwardness of the situation made him lose his thread entirely. He was at a complete loss as to what to do while Vox manoeuvred them along the flank of the ship.
After a while, Titus just pretended that this was how Space Marines travelled through the void when only one of them had the means to navigate. He had to admit that it was a bit more pleasant and dignifying than dangling behind his brother on the lifeline.
Vox took them quite far away from the hangar entrance. The Gothic turrets towards the stern loomed above them, marking the location of the chapel and the bridge. Finally, they touched down on a spot of the hull which was not built of stone but steel. Their mag boots connected and their armours picked up signals from the ship, making them accessible via their auto senses. The time of day on the ‘Lawbringer’ was 1600 hours.
“Now, we just wait until Tiberius has chosen our door”, Vox informed him.
“Good. You owe me a story.”
“I will tell you, captain”, the librarian said warmly. “Gladly so if you want me to but please, do me a favour and consider this: The journey back to Erioch takes more than two months. Plenty of time for stories. Right now, we have time for you to sleep. It’s easy to guard you here and we don’t know when you’ll next get the chance. Dankwart prepared your armour, but the four hours he just specified is the longest he thinks the healing will last.”
Titus frowned behind his helmet. Sleep? Now? But as this thought flickered by, Vox reached out a hand for him and before he knew it, he had reached back. He felt the gentle pressure through his gauntlet.
“You’re not alone in the darkness anymore.”
Titus was tall for a Space Marine. Considerably taller than Vox. In his mostly black Corvus armour the young man was also more slender, but somehow, here, in the silence of the void and the darkness of the ship’s shadow, he managed to fill all immediate space and make it secure.
The captain found the strength to nod before he laid down. The gravity out here was weak but enough to let him sink to the surface while the comrade stood guard over him.
It felt like aeons since Titus had slept in armour. It was soothing and comfortable and a blessing in itself. He had hardly time to thank the Emperor for it before the warm blackness of sleep enveloped him. On the edge of consciousness, the material difference a few hours had made dawned on him. Vox was right. Not alone anymore. What a change.