A Space Marine was strictly forbidden to alter his circadian rhythm for his own pleasure. Keeping watch to guard the world from greater evil, however, was not only covered by the rules but rigorously enforced. Titus could hardly think of a more worthy endeavour than making sure his psyker did not fall asleep to take the whole ship down. Vox insisted on having every third night for reading and reports. The rest, they spent together. A whole night was already ample time compared to the evenings they had shared before. Many nights ahead of them was a fantastic prospect.
The arrangement caused changes Titus had not foreseen.
The speed of their conversation dropped. Suddenly, they did not have to hurry through anything. They could give and take their time, talk about nonsense and return to a topic later or go into intricate detail.
The quality of their exchanges altered as well. Vox kept his word and laid open anything he possibly could. Where ironic remarks and casual jokes had formerly shrouded the truth, hopes and worries came to the fore. Vox told him about delights or regrets, about preferences and times when he felt he had failed. In rare moments he even hinted at details of his past.
Titus did not try to resist such a change. Since Ecurael had died, he had found no one to talk to openly. They had a human deacon with them on the ‘Hammer’ because they were required to confess at regular intervals but the man was polite and strict in a manner that discouraged honesty. With Vox, the former captain enjoyed sharing his thoughts freely.
Despite initially warning Titus about this, the friend turned out to be a good confidant. He had a knack for finding the right moments to insert careful questions and seemed to know intuitively when to comment or when to just listen. The only thing Titus had to look out for was the point when his friend was in no condition to carry a conversation like this. This usually started to be the case after five nights without sleep. Then, anything too profound tended to shake his composure and they had to resort to their humour to carry them through.
Fooling around also gained a new texture. Especially when the others were present. The two of them tried to establish a different mode of exchange than Aegis had ever known before. While the Space Wolves proved impervious to being trained to a higher degree of quality in their jokes, it was Tiberius who took particularly well to this.
With all the tech priests aboard the ‘Fleet of Destiny’ people had been falling over each other to attach a new leg to him. As soon as he was able to rejoin training, he seemed to come alive in a new world.
Had he formerly found little to talk about besides the Codex, he now rapidly expanded his field of interest. His comments came a bit delayed because he needed time to work them out but his attempts of irony and sarcasm were valiant. Often even funny. The Codex still was one of his most popular topics and once or twice he and Vox went a bit too far into a discussion about certain paragraphs for anyone else to follow. They cited the hell out of them until they had to resort to checking the correct wording.
Titus kept his mouth firmly shut on these occasions. He still was unable to abide sentences beginning with “The Codex Astartes…”, followed by any statement about what it said, stated, supported or prohibited. Despite his discomfort, he had to admit that both brothers had a healthy approach to it. They interpreted, thought and sometimes even changed their opinion.
Titus certainly supported this action.
Gradus remained with them only a short time but even they were caught in this subtle change. Especially the sergeant and Orin Gahannen, who had seemed attached to Vox from the start, were readily available for some banter after hours.
It was a pity that the journey to Pellor took them merely five days more. As soon as they had re-established their communication with Erioch, Gradus was ordered to return. Therefore they said their goodbyes to the friends, wished for the Emperor to guide them and sent the gene-seed of their dead brothers back with them.
It remained unclear if Solomon had arranged the transport of the five rescued Space Marines. There was no presence of Astartes military here but Gradus would be brought to an established meeting point close to Erioch where they could be picked up.
The rest of their short stay on Pellor was equally effective and confusing. Solomon was all over the place, talking to people, negotiating deals, arranging things. Only on one occasion, he asked Aegis to accompany him to a meeting with the governor of Pellor. A kill team in the background gave any argument a bit more weight, they reckoned.
Indeed. Afterwards, they had new astropaths for all three ships of the ‘Fleet of Destiny’ and a large detachment of Pellor’s military presence was on their way to blast Almond to bits.
Apparently, Solomon had expanded his social network quite a bit since Aegis had last met him but the legate did not part with details. Having gained a little insight by now, Titus estimated that Solomon saw a lot of things as trade. He had received next to no information about the events on Almond and took his revenge for this. ‘No give, no get’ was an easy enough principle to anticipate and Titus was confident that he would be able to deal with the man in the future.
All this sorted out, they resumed their journey to Implicit.
It was around this time that they went crazy with the aggravating puns on the planet’s name and it took a contribution from Dankwart to put a stop to the implications. This, however, was done with emphasis. As soon as the Blood Drinker had made his implicit point clear, a major crash shook the ship.
The jolt was sufficient for a collision with a smaller celestial body and it went on for some time.
As soon as they could find footing again, they interrupted their night training and made haste to reach the bridge. They arrived together with Nostromo. By then, the whole ship was in an uproar. Crew members who had been off shift, swarmed around them and a few hysteric minutes went by until it turned out that they had indeed collided with something.
It took a while longer until surveillance could provide them with pictures of what it was.
It was a Space Hulk.
While the hubbub grew worse by the minute, the Space Marines observed matters calmly. Among them, Vox turned out to be the most notable. With crossed arms and a humourless smile on his face, he merely lacked a wall to lean against to complete the picture of someone who knew more than everybody else.
Nostromo, who had argued with a younger navigator, finally lost his composure.
“We’re still in the warp, Castor! We can’t have collided with a Space Hulk! Nobody ever heard of something like this!”, he exclaimed.
“This is not exactly true”, Vox cut in quietly. He should have been inaudible in the din on the bridge but there was a certain spin and timbre to his voice that carried well over the tumult. Whoever heard it fell silent, shushing those who had not.
“Madam Frye?”, Vox called out to the chief surveillance officer when he had sufficient attention. “There is a Gloriana Class Star Cruiser sticking out of the Hulk. Be so kind and see if you can zoom in on its name.”
Like every Space Hulk, this one was a tangled mass of ships of all sorts and sizes. Most of them had collided lengthwise with each other, facing roughly the same way. Towering over them like the broken mast of a ship, the flagship of an Astartes Chapter stood perpendicular to the others.
“What name do you wager?”, Titus wanted to know among themselves.
“Anima Profundis”, Vox answered calmly. He watched the changing picture while the surveillance officers performed the appropriate rites to make the machine spirits do their bidding.
It was the ‘Anima Profundis’.
“Now, what does that mean?”, Titus inquired.
Vox unfolded his arms and took a step forward as if to check the lettering from closer up.
“The ‘Anima Profundis’ used to be the flagship of Erioch”, he said loud enough for everyone to hear. “It went missing in the warp about six-hundred years ago. Luckily, it had a warp-worthy tender that managed to push away. A part of the crew returned to report the existence of a warp based Space Hulk. This is the only coherent report I know of but there have been legends about this since mankind has roamed the Jericho Reach. Unlike other Hulks, it never leaves the warp but it can be accessed through it. It has no real name. The tales about it use many. They call it ‘The City in Silence’, ‘The Dark Realm’ or ‘The Ghost’. We might as well choose today.”
“A Warp Hulk?”, Nostromo asked unbelievingly and received a severe nod. “But how did we collide with it?”, the navigator demanded.
Vox shot Tiberius a glance.
“I’m not sure”, he said. “But I think this thing might have a powerful Gellar Field and we got caught in it.”
“A still working Gellar Field in a Space Hulk?”, Tiberius asked. “Quite unlikely, Vox.”
“You’re the expert”, he conceded levelly.
Captain Magyar came over to them.
“My lords, we have established contact with the ‘Sabre’ and the ‘Hand’. They are both stuck here as well.”
“What do we do now?”, Hyron wanted to know.
“First of all”, Titus said. “I think we’re on a new mission here. Let’s choose a leader.”
“Tiberius”, Vox replied as confirmation. It was the first time they chose unanimously. With a trip to a Space Hulk ahead of them, their techmarine was the most prudent choice.
“I thank you for your trust, brothers”, Tiberius said solemnly when he had nodded his silent acquiescence. “And I will welcome any contribution in the planning phase.”
At this point a pause was induced by Killian Solomon entering the bridge. He had been delayed by having to dig himself out from under his wardrobe. His mood having been affected accordingly, he demanded to be brought up to speed at once.
“So, is there any other way we could have ended up here if the Hulk didn’t have a working Gellar Field?”, he wanted to know afterwards.
“None I can think of”, Tiberius had to admit and shuffled through the files that had started to accumulate on Nostromo’s desk.
“So, what do we do?”, Hyron asked.
“If we can find the Gellar Field generator we could just blow it up”, Titus said matter-of-factly. “We’d have to set time – or remote detonators so we can get back aboard the ‘Hammer’ before daemons start to flood in but it should be possible.”
“Two problems with this”, Tiberius said. “First, there’s a chance that our own generators have been damaged and we don’t get the effects because we are safe in the big one. Second, even if this isn’t the case, Gellar Fields are tricky. They influence one another. We can travel through the warp in convoy because we can join our Gellar Fields. The big one might take ours along if it is blown up and third, yes sorry, I’ll count more carefully next time!”, he said to Titus who was grinning. “Third, we still can’t push away from the Hulk itself, the gravity of the thing is too strong.” He paused and thought for a moment. “And fourth”, he added then. “We might just get thrown anywhere and anywhen if we leave the warp like that.”
“What if we brought it to real space?”, Vox wanted to know and all of them stared at him.
“The Hulk?”, Tiberius exclaimed. “How will you do that?”
“That’s not the question”, Vox said patiently. “Would it help is what I need to know.”
Tiberius exchanged a bewildered glance with Nostromo.
“Yes, it would”, the navigator answered in his stead. “We have a lot more options in real space. Calling in help and sending men out to work on the hull are only the first things I can think of.”
“Alright. Can we locate a Gellar Field generator?”, Vox inquired.
“An imperial one, yes”, Tiberius provided and immediately made his way over to surveillance. He crossed paths with Captain Magyar, who rejoined their group.
“My lords, we have Orks on the ship”, he informed them.
“Finally!”, Hyron sighed and slapped Vyron on the shoulder. “Come on, we’ll leave them to it and smash some xenos!”
“Dankwart, you’re with us?”, Vyron asked. “Or do you wanna join the discussion?”
Dankwart smiled and followed them. Titus and Vox exchanged glances.
“I’ll go with them”, Vox declared poker-faced. “No need for me to meddle in the plan yet again.”
“No, Vox you stay here”, Tiberius ordered as he came back to them.
“What did you find?”, Titus inquired.
“The good news is, there are active imperial Gellar Fields out there.”
“Oh dread, he used the plural”, Vox grumbled.
“Yes. There isn’t one big one”, Tiberius confirmed. “All the warp-worthy ships out there are active.”
One of the bridge personnel approached Nostromo to hand over a piece of paper. The navigator raised his eyebrows and looked up at the Space Marines.
“Masters, I think we should all go and see these Orks”, he said.
“Why?”, Tiberius wanted to know.
“They are trying to lay cables.”