Stifling a curse, Titus grabbed the bolt pistol and stepped out of the room. He was just in time. The brothers Heartrock, trailing Orin Gahannen were closing in at speed. They had their weapons ready and looked highly nervous. From the other direction, Dankwart ran up to them.
Titus gently pushed the door shut behind him and braced himself for what would follow.
His brothers had come to kill the psyker and he was in the way. He wondered if having only one measly bolt pistol was to his advantage or disadvantage. He had not dared to come out without it. Not because he was concerned that he needed it for Vox again but because he had no chance to build his case if he could not at least claim that he had disarmed their librarian. Of course, this was ridiculous. Vox was a walking weapon at any time. Probably not even tying him up would change that.
Titus was only glad that Gradus’ sergeant was in the infirmary. Without an actual superior and since he had been the last leader, he had a slight authority, which he could use.
“What’s happening?”, he demanded before they had come to a halt and was glad to see that this confused them somewhat. They stopped and looked at him with caution.
“One of the crew started to scream prophecies of doom down the corridor and died shortly afterwards”, Gahannen said.
“And our librarian didn’t answer his com”, Vyron added.
“And you asked me where he had gone, so we figured you were searching for him”, Gahannen provided.
“You smell of blood”, Vyron growled.
“Where is Vox?” The question came from Hyron and nothing before had sounded as threatening as this.
“He’s inside”, Titus answered slowly to take speed out of the conversation. “He freaked out after what happened today and we got him stable again.”
“You were with him when that happened?”, Hyron demanded aggressively.
“And with ‘stable’ you don’t mean ‘dead’?”
“He is alive”, Titus stated calmly. Their expressions told him that they were ready to correct this state of affairs and take him down while they were about it. He needed to get a grip on the situation in the next few seconds.
“But that’s a good point, Hyron”, he added smoothly. Still slow and careful in his demeanour, he turned to their apothecary.
“Dankwart, could you check on Vox? As far as I could tell, he hasn’t been treated yet.” Nor has anyone given enough of a damn to check his equipment, he added silently to himself. “Nostromo has gone to find out what exactly happened and he asked that Vox wasn’t to be shot in the meantime. I think we should heed the wishes of the master of the ship.”
With this, Titus made way, granting access to the door. Reliably as ever, Dankwart went inside without a word.
This at least put the developments on hold. They all were used to standing back while the apothecary worked. The brothers still stood around indecisively. Especially the Space Wolves proved awkward.
Luckily, the navigator returned.
“I’ve checked in with the other ships. There were only a few casualties!”, he called out as soon as he turned the corner. “The warp gate ripping open on Almond has taken out most of the sensitive people already. We had only a handful of additional deaths.”
Maybe not as lucky that he returned then.
Titus looked at his Space Wolves and braced himself. This was going to go bad, he knew it.
“Brother”, Hyron said and again, the threat in his voice was unmistakable. “Are you telling us that Vox killed even more people than that damned rift and you let him live?”
“It took me a moment to get at his pistol”, Titus said. “Until then, he had stabilised. The damage was done, why add another death?”
The memory of the desperate gaze of his little brother filled Titus with new resolve. Whatever else had happened, Vox had gotten a grip on himself without help. Titus looked down. He could not have lived with the knowledge of having pulled the trigger after an accomplishment like this.
Distracted by these musings, he was taken by surprise when Vyron sprang him. The Space Wolf had remained silent since his brother had taken over the conversation. Now, he went violent without warning. In return, it was the growling, threatening Hyron who interfered when his brother tried to twist Titus’ arm off.
The wolves went down with a crash and used the opportunity to let off some steam. They had time to struggle for about two seconds before they heard a command. Quiet but menacing for its intensity.
“Stand down! And stand up! Both of you!”
When they all looked around, Sergeant Cunn limped up to them.
“Where is Dankwart?”, he wanted to know while the twins came to their feet. “I sent him on ahead.”
“He is inside with Vox, sergeant”, Titus reported with a sinking feeling. So much for his authority. The smell of the blood on his robe seemed even more unfortunate all of a sudden. He wondered what had alerted the sergeant to the proceedings that he had found his way to them on a large, unfamiliar ship.
“What happened here?”, Cunn demanded calmly, looking from one to the other.
“I went to check on Vox and he seemed troubled”, Titus recounted cautiously. There was something about the man. An ominous tension that augured complications if not handled carefully. He remembered well that he was dealing with a fellow Ultramarine. The chapter was large but Titus had been one of ten distinct faces among his brethren. There was a chance that this man knew who he was talking to.
“He attacked me but before I had taken his bolt pistol away, he had stabilised again”, Titus pushed on despite these concerns. “I’m told that he sent out a pulse of dangerous warp energy in the process. A few people died.”
Merth Cunn looked at him from narrowed eyes.
“You are told?”, he asked, each syllable distinctly shaped by his slow, careful voice.
“Yes, sergeant. I am resistant to the warp and felt nothing”, Titus replied.
Cunn’s gaze wandered over to the hovering navigator.
“May I inquire, who you are?”, he asked.
“I am Casimiré Nostromo. Navigator and owner of the fleet of Destiny you are accommodated on, sergeant”, Nostromo informed him coolly.
Cunn bowed, apparently painfully so.
“Sergeant Merth Cunn of the Ultramarines, navigator Nostromo. Very pleased to make your acquaintance. Can you confirm what my brother has just told me?”
“I can, sergeant”, Nostromo declared in his slightly mechanical voice. “Vox lost control over his powers for a moment but stabilised immediately. Right now, he is no threat”, he added severely.
The sergeant’s expression displayed a very interesting mixture of disbelief and slightly dangerous amusement when he looked Titus up and down.
“Brother Titus”, he said and Titus just knew that the man had recognized him. He braced himself. This would get ugly.
“Just to be clear”, Cunn recounted. “You came unarmoured to your librarian, who seemed unstable to you. You managed to get the bolt pistol off him and didn’t shoot him down?”
“Indeed, sergeant”, Titus answered and forced himself to keep calm. If the sergeant had recognized him, he knew that he was talking to a captain. That was something he could use. Cunn probably also knew which captain he had before him and that he had found a rather dishonourable end. He wondered if he could use this too.
“He showed no mutation nor overly much aggression and went still of his own accord.”
“He’s in there?”, the sergeant asked almost nonchalantly.
“Yes, sergeant”, Titus confirmed smoothly. “Dankwart is with him.”
“Give me the pistol.” Cunn held a hand out for it. Titus hesitated for one second. This was a clever move, he had to admit. It would leave the possible conspirator unarmed in the presence of his uneasy brothers. Still, he could not avoid this right now. He had been given a direct order by a higher ranking officer. So, he handed Cunn the pistol and the sergeant went inside without a further word.
“I can’t believe you failed to kill him”, Hyron spat as soon as the door had fallen shut. “It’s your fucking duty to kill a psyker when he goes nuts!”
Titus looked him squarely in the eyes. The most important thing was to keep the lid on things now. He allowed himself an apologetic smile.
“You’ll have to admit that it is incredibly hard to pull the trigger on someone who saved a couple of planets a few hours back, won’t you?” Titus left the question hanging deliberately. He needed the Space Wolf to confirm this out loud.
“I suppose so”, Hyron admitted reluctantly.
“I can imagine what you think of me”, Titus continued in a soft, calm voice, making sure to look at all their faces in turn. “But Vox really stopped coming of his own accord before I got the pistol to his head.”
“Look, Ultramarine”, Vyron snapped. “Even your Codex Astartes says that a psyker is to be killed when he poses a threat! You know how I know? Because Vox told us!”
“Right”, Hyron agreed and actually cited: “’Keep your thoughts clear and your weapon ready and strike him down on the day he gives the darkness way to this world’! That’s what it says!”
“Yes”, Titus said simply. “And it wasn’t today.”
He held their gazes resolutely.
“Vox persevered”, he told them. “With a planet burning behind us and the incredible things he pulled off for all of us, our librarian still got a grip on himself.”
“And you just waited for him to do that?”, Vyron demanded. “What would you have done, if he hadn’t stopped coming?”
“I had the pistol to his head, he had no other weapon in his hands. What was he going to do against someone, who is resistant to the warp?”, Titus asked calmly. “Burn me? I have to admit that we haven’t tested this yet but I don’t think he could have killed me fast enough.”
This, of course, was a powerful argument he had come upon and he decided to exploit it further.
“Come on”, he said, daring to lay a hand on Vyron’s shoulder guard. “You heard how surprised he was when Dankwart told him that my leg wasn’t a problem. I know each of you would have had to kill him at once but I have more time in these matters. Vox can’t harm me as easily.”
“People still died!”, Hyron argued but finally, he started to sound uncertain.
“Oh, come on!” It was Orin Gahannen who uttered the cry. He sounded annoyed.
“Do you listen? Titus needed a moment before he had gotten hold of the pistol. The damage was done until then! With his actions today Vox at the very least saved the Fleet of Destiny and probably several worlds. I also remember him taking an active role in getting Gradus out. Five Space Marines to fight for humanity and protect thousands of people.”
“Without armour”, Vyron said drily and was not fast enough to dodge when Gahannen hit him. Titus and Hyron had their work cut out to separate them. While Titus managed to get Gahannen into an armlock, the twins used their chance to continue the brawl Cunn had interrupted earlier.
Gahannen and Titus exchanged a disbelieving glance when they realised this and then tried to separate the two Space Wolves in turn. When finally all of them stood panting and not actively trying to kill anyone, they got aware of the hovering figure of the navigator. He had his head cocked to one side. Under his strange, fathomless gaze they all straightened up and pulled themselves together.
“The point I was trying to make is”, Gahannen said. “Even if a hundred had died today because Vox slipped, he is worth more than that.”
“I agree”, Nostromo said calmly and they all focussed on him a little nervously. “Master Vox earned more than one chance to be left alive as long as possible and what I saw from him in the past eleven years, tells me that he will continue to do so.”
“Nobody says that a psyker who sprouts additional limbs is to be left alive”, Titus said in a conciliatory manner.
“You two stayed in that damned rift!”, Vyron snapped, pushing Titus in the chest forcefully. “How do we even know if you are still you?!”
Finally, Titus saw the problem. During the mission, there had been no time to stop and think about something like this but now it was only natural that this preyed on their minds. He breathed in deeply to gain a little time to think.
“Look”, he said. “It were these lust daemons down there, right? Remember when you had saved us from the genestealer cult? Vox blushed when you started to make sexually explicit jokes and even stopped you from doing it when he noticed our brothers getting angry. Why should one of these daemons do that? He would have joined in if he had been tainted, right?”
“Yeah, alright”, Hyron said reluctantly. “But then you went on that station and only the two of you returned in one piece.”
“Yes”, Titus conceded. “But you sat and listened while Vox introduced us. Do you really think that something like that could have come from anyone who wasn’t Vox anymore?”
The Space Wolves looked at each other.
“Alright”, Vyron finally said. “Vox is still Vox. What about you?”
Titus lifted his hands.
“I don’t know the procedure in the Deathwatch. Back home we are required to undergo an interrogation by the Ecclesiarchy if exposed to the warp.”
“This is the case in the Deathwatch too”, Nostromo supplied. “But unless someone accuses anyone, the interrogation is a mission follow-up conducted on Erioch.”
“What if anyone accuses anyone?”, Gahannen wanted to know.
“That you’ll have to ask Master Vox.”
Again, the Space Wolves exchanged a glance. Titus tensed. For a moment he was sure that the two of them would not bother with accusations and go for violence again. Luckily, the door behind him opened, admitting sergeant Cunn and Dankwart. They all stared at them.
“Vox is on healing duty until the day after tomorrow”, the sergeant told them. “I will see you all at prayer. Dismissed. Brother Titus, a word please. Navigator, I thank you for your help in this matter”, he continued when he had sorted the Space Marines out. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
“No, thank you, sergeant”, Nostromo said and hovered back to his door. “Good night”, he bade them and went into his room.