The infiltration party came back to the material world in the belly of Mishkin's Pride. They all looked like true heroes returning home from a victorious battle, except for Kevin, who clutched his hands over his stomach and looked like he needed a bucket, quick.
"How I hate that..." he choked silently.
The sharp eyes amongst the Tech-Priests noticed that they were fewer than they had been when they'd left. But being as they were, they made no attempt to remark upon this. However, Admiral Ourmnoff remarked on this, and with a loud voice to boot.
"She what?" he shouted, unable to grasp the idea of Tanya's death. "She can't be. God-Emperor of Mankind, she can't!"
"She is," Rolf grunted back. His voice was choked with sorrow. "I saw it with my own eyes! She gave her life to make sure we all could live on. She is to be remembered as a true Heroine of Mankind!" Rolf turned his head away. "She managed to be what I couldn't..." he added silently. Only Demontfurt understood the meaning of these last words to the full.
"I know you all are very down-hearted over this," Demontfurt began, "but we have another problem to worry about. How are we going to get the people on the ground up here?"
McKenzie sat down hard. "Teleports?" Demontfurt shook his head. "What about the transports?"
"One way only, I'm afraid," Demontfurt replied.
"Oh, frekk..." McKenzie said silently and rested his head in his hands. "This gets better and better," he said silently with a voice full of sarcasm.
"What do you mean, Master Lexicanum?" Ourmnoff asked, wearing a look that said he knew what was to come.
McKenzie waved a tired hand at Charleston, who started to explain about the singularity drive.
"Frekk..." McGranth swore silently when Charleston finished.
"You don't need to be a tech-magos to understand one thing," Ourmnoff said softly. "When the Sphere hits Arborkar's atmosphere, the atmosphere will evaporate almost instantaneously." He paused for a second. "Burning everything on the ground beyond recognition..."
Demontfurt lost his commissarial cool completely. "We have to get them off the planet! Somehow! We have to!"
McKenzie looked up at the colonel-commissar. "And how would we do that, commissar? In less than two hours, the Sphere will hit Arborkar's atmosphere. We need that time to get out of the way from the blast wave. No doubt, Ourmnoff has already signalled the fleet to disengage from the gravity pool around Arborkar."
"So..." Kevin said silently, McKenzie's words finally dawning on him. "We have to abandon the folks on the ground?"
"Are you nuts!" Kevin screamed. McKenzie visibly reeled from this outburst. "What about our friends down there? Are they just to die? They've contributed just as much as we have to this mission!"
McKenzie remained silent, so Kevin turned to Ourmnoff.
"Turn us back to Arborkar, Admiral! We have to save them, we have to-"
"Save Nazz?" McKenzie said in a low voice. Kevin snapped round.
"What did you say?"
"You heard me," McKenzie replied with a smirk. "It's all about Nazz. I read you. But listen to me. You can't save her like that. You'll only manage in getting yourself killed. And this will all be in vain. Consider this: if we survive, the people who die on the ground can still live on in our memories. They won't if we go back. They'll be lost forever. So, anyone who wants to vouch against getting out of here, speak now."
No one spoke. Only a cold silence filled the air. Was this the price they had to pay for victory?
On the ground of Arborkar, the Imperials were slowly regrouping and accounting the numbers that remained of them. It was a dismal figure.
Masterson was looking a data-slate over when somebody screamed, the young girl named May he guessed.
"It's coming down!"
Masterson turned his head upwards and stared at the crashing Sphere. The bloody thing was coming straight towards Arborkar!
"This was expected," he said to the soldiers around him. "They won't leave us... behind..." Just as he spoke, Commissar Tomas Masterson saw how tiny blips up amongst the stars flickered and became smaller. He knew that Battlefleet Moskva had disengaged.
"This is not good," he heard Canoness Demontfurt mumble next to him.
"That will be remembered as the worst understatement in Imperial History, Canoness," Masterson replied to her with a wry smile.
"Only if we get off world," Alyssia Demontfurt replied.
"We're finished!" May wailed behind them. Alyssia and Masterson turned round and glared at her. Lee was more vocal.
"May, shut up!"
"That's right," Marie agreed. "We'll have to think our way out of this. Right, ma'am?" Alyssia nodded.
May was silent for a few moments.
"We're finished!" she wailed again.
"May, shut up!" Lee shouted back.
"You're demoralising the troops," Masterson grumbled. "As if we didn't have enough as it is..."
"Okay, look," May said, trying to ward off Marie, who'd been prepared to silence May with a fist. "I'm better now. Can I only say one more thing?"
"Sure, go ahead," Lee muttered.
There was a thumping noise and May went to the ground, knocked cold.
"That takes care of that," Marie said and looked pleased. Alyssia smirked. She liked the style of these sisters. A bit rough, perhaps, but pragmatic. Sure, any sister of the Adepta Sororitas should be devout and just, but they shouldn't be too idealistic. Too bad they were going to end it here. Like this.
"Any idea cropped up yet, commissar?" she asked Masterson.
Masterson bit his lip in thought and then said "I can only see one way out of here. You want to hear the long version, or the short one?"
"We don't have much time, make it short."
"Lee, want me to knock him too?" Marie asked, sounding too hopeful.
Nazz, meanwhile, had been talking to Johnny and the old farseer, Uryanaar. The old Eldar had been talking about a Craftworld and anti-grav points and lots more that Nazz didn't understand. Part of her suddenly regretted not having seen 2001: A Space Odyssey. Perhaps Uryanaar's talk had made more sense then. She told him to follow her to Commissar Masterson and Canoness Demontfurt. Perhaps they'd understand better.
"Canoness," Nazz said as she approached from behind. "The Lord Farseer here has a suggestion on how we can get off-world."
Demontfurt stopped Masterson from making a snide remark just in time. She nodded her head towards the farseer.
"Please, Lord Farseer, share your thoughts with us."
"As you please, Canoness Alyssia Demontfurt," Uryanaar replied in his flawless Low Gothic. "I have recently felt this strange sensation in the Warp flux. I barely felt it whilst aboard that Sphere, but now, once free of the Pariahs' horrible presence, my senses are whole and I can see with my sixth sense again. What I sense is a strong... how can I put it... humming through the Warp. It exists on only one wavelength and there's only one thing that sends out such a hum: wraithbone."
Silence followed. Uryanaar felt slightly irritated over the Mon-Keighs' ignorance.
"Wraithbone is what makes up the main structure of an Eldarain Craftworld," he explained. "And each Craftworld 'transmits' on its own wavelength. This one happens to belong to Craftworld Vurupano, my home world."
"And how is this information going to help us?" Masterson sneered.
Uryanaar smiled softly at the brutish human. "It means we have a way of getting off-world. If I can hear the Craftworld, it can't be far away. Not more than a few days travel with your technology."
Masterson raised an eyebrow in mock query. "A few days? We have minutes!"
"I know," Uryanaar replied. "But I didn't say that Vurupano was to come here. I meant that we were to go to Vurupano."
"Of course," Alyssia whispered. "They'll teleport us out of here. I've heard of wraithbone, but I've never truly believed in it."
"What exactly is wraithbone?" Lee asked.
"A super-conductor for psychic power," Alyssia said. "Or so the rumours go."
Uryanaar nodded. "I believe that Canoness Alyssia is getting the idea, as you Mon-Keigh say. Now excuse me, I'll need to inform Vurupano of our situation and our requirements."
"Hang on a second," Masterson muttered. "Is that alien witch saying that his people is going to help us off-world? With Warp-sorcery?"
"Never!" Masterson shouted. "I would rather die here, than to depend on the fickle benevolence of an alien! And a witch, add to that! They're going to teleport us off world with Warp-magicks? I have little trust to machines, but even less to witches, the Warp and the hellish spawn of the same. No, I'd rather die here!"
Alyssia turned round. "Would you?" she asked sharply.
Masterson looked stumped. The look in Alyssia's eyes spoke volumes. Here they had an Eldar who was willing to help them. Should they throw that away? The enmity between the Eldar and Humans was deep and old and had to do with different cultures and views on the Galaxy. To Alyssia, Commissar Tomas Masterson was at the moment personifying all of the contemptible, racist sides of humanity. True, the Eldar could be incredibly arrogant at times, but they didn't hate the Human race.
"Would you rather stay here, Tomas Masterson?" Alyssia asked again.
Masterson looked down and shook his head.
"As I thought."
A few moments later, Uryanaar strode back to the Human 'headquarter'.
"Vurupano is only willing to oblige. There has, over the course of the millennia, been several times when our races haven't been able to fully agree on certain points. But those times are past. See this as the first gesture from my race that we Eldarain are prepared to help you Mon-Keigh, cost whatever it might. Sooner or later, even the most conservative Eldar must understand that you Mon-Keigh, or should I say Humans, are the new race to rule the galaxy."
"I thank you for your kindness, Lord Farseer," Alyssia said and bowed her head. Uryanaar made a gesture to her not to.
"No, I should thank you. If it hadn't been for your brave warriors, I'd still be a captive up there." Uryanaar pointed towards the Sphere. Its edges were glowing red now.
"Speaking of which," Masterson injected. "When can we expect to be off this dirt ball?"
"Any moment now," Uryanaar smiled.
Masterson was to reply when a rainbowish shimmer swept itself around him. The world seemed to slow down and each colour got grossly exaggerated before it faded away into a greyish nothing. Then the world faded away into blackness, only to explode into a cascade of colours and shapes. He knew all too well what this was.
He was seeing the Warp.
They were being transported.
Aboard Mishkin's Pride, McKenzie was silently reciting the Catechism of Solitude in an attempt to calm his galloping sense of guilt. How could he have been so blind? How could he have missed something so crucial? This was the worst kind of sacrifice: an utterly pointless one. This wouldn't have to happen.
But it was.
Yet, McKenzie reflected, the Imperium had always been liberal in its usage of human life. So why would it be different now? What did the individual matter? It was the Imperium that had to survive, right?
Something crossed McKenzie's mind. He'd read all history books he could find in the library when he'd come to Terra, just to acquaint himself with its history, and he recognised the reason of the Imperium now. It was just... the Terrans shunned this thinking. On Terra, every individual was important. Everyone mattered. Anyone who died an unnatural death was a death in vain to them. Yes, war happened, was frequent even, but it had become less bloody.
Because generals and field marshals had learned that all their men mattered. They all had families.
"The time on Terra made me soft," McKenzie muttered sourly. "The Seed of the Imperium is the Blood of Martyrs." He was silent for a while. "Yet, why does that sound wrong to me? In my heart of hearts, it feels revolting!"
McKenzie raised his head in disbelief and disgust as he recognised the reasoning at final. It was the reason of a fascist, of a national socialist: a nazi! And of all criminals McKenzie had read of in those history books, the Nazis were the worst.
McKenzie suddenly saw the parallels. Witches- no, psykers, and mutants were the Jews of the Imperium. They were. The Imperium had extermination camps for the mutants and psykers.
"God-Emperor," McKenzie muttered. "I think I'm going to be sick..."
Then something flashed through his mind. A bright arc of lightning that seared his psychic eye.
Edd came running into the small chapel where McKenzie had sat all alone.
"McKenzie!" Edd shouted. "Did you feel that? That lightning, just now!"
"I certainly did," McKenzie replied grimly and got up. "Come, we need to get to Admiral Ourmnoff. I have a few coordinates for him to adjust our course to."
There was a bright flash of light and Masterson found himself on solid ground again. He sagged down and hugged the ground. Uryanaar leaned down next to him and held out his hand, palm up. There was something white and sugary in it.
"Salt?" the old Eldar asked with a kindly smile.
"Why?" was all Masterson got out. He felt sick.
"To equalise the balance of salt in your body. That's why you feel sick right now. I should've told you, perhaps."
Masterson got into a sitting position and held out his hand. He took the sodium chloride gratefully and licked it all up. He felt better after a few minutes and looked around. They were in the vast belly of Craftworld Vurupano now, no doubt. At least the hundreds of Eldar in light brown robes milling about, helping the humans, told him as much.
"We frekking made it," Masterson muttered. "Unbe-frekking-lievable."
"I said I'd make up for my race, and I'm an Eldar of my word," Uryanaar said and got up. He slowly walked away to join with his kind, and no one tried to stop him.
"Lord Farseer!" Master shouted after him after a moment's thought. "How long until Battlefleet Moskva gets here?"
"A few days, at least, commissar," Uryanaar replied in a normal voice-level. "Don't worry, we'll stay put here and treat you as well as we can."
"Oh-kay," Masterson said to himself and tried to get up. The effects of abating adrenaline was coming to him now, so his legs just curled up underneath him. He couldn't stand for a moment's worth. So he decided he'd lean back and have some rest.
Lee and Marie picked up the sleeping commissar an hour later, when the Eldar had managed to get some place for the thousands of Mon-Keigh to sleep.
A few days later, Masterson found himself being woken by a sound by his bed, opened his eyes and looked into Alexander Demontfurt's blue eyes. Masterson understood that Admiral Ourmnoff's fleet had caught up with them now.
"Alex?" Masterson said softly and sat up. "Did we do it?"
Demontfurt nodded slowly. Masterson saw the look in Demontfurt's eyes.
"What is it, Alex? Out with it!" Masterson did not like the eerie feeling he was getting.
"Tanya died." Demontfurt replied silently. Masterson nodded. Nothing more needed to be said. The two commissars didn't say anything for a long while.
The day came when the Imperials had to leave Craftworld Vurupano. The loading of soldiers had taken several days, and the farewell was quickly approaching. For Tomas Masterson, the day didn't come too early. He stretched himself to his full height, which wasn't a very impressive thing to do, and took a deep breath. He'd looked forward to getting off the craftworld ever since they'd got there. True, he had warmed towards the alien Eldar a bit, but he was still cold towards them. Yet, there was but one question he felt like putting, before they left. He just had to.
He found McKenzie, Charleston, McGranth and the Terrans gathered together to say farewell to Uryanaar and his farseer colleagues. He walked up to them and heard McKenzie speaking in the weird tongue of the Eldar.
Alien gibberish, Masterson thought to himself.
McKenzie stopped talking and Lord Uryanaar replied, in the same tongue. After a while, Uryanaar slipped over to Gothic instead.
"So, please, accept our heartfelt thanks. You have managed to rid the Galaxy of something we could not. Let this day mark the beginning of warmer relations between our kin."
"I hope so too, Lord Farseer," McKenzie replied in High Gothic. "I'll work for the integration of the Eldar in the Pax Imperia, as long as you don't show hostility towards the Mon-Keigh."
"Well, my dear Master Lexicanum, I can vouch for Craftworld Vurupano, but I can't speak of the other Craftworlds. Sorry. They have their own agendas."
"I understand completely, Lord Farseer."
McKenzie bowed and the Terrans, McGranth and Charleston followed suite. After that, they left for the transport to take them to Mishkin's Pride. Masterson, However, remained behind.
Uryanaar turned towards him.
"And what is on your mind, Colonel-commissar Tomas Masterson?"
"I have this question, Lord Farseer," Masterson began slowly.
"Go on. Questions can't harm anyone."
"You Eldar have existed far longer than the Human race. So you must've gotten quite a few answers to some very important questions through time. My question is; what is the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything?"
Lord Uryanaar looked up, thoughtful, for a short while. Then he turned his gaze back to the stocky human and smiled.
"The answer to that question is forty-two."
"42?" Masterson asked, nonplussed.
"Yes. I think you should join your friends now, or else you might have to stay here."
Masterson bowed deeply, still a bit confused over the answer and hurried to join the other humans about to leave Craftworld Vurupano.
Several hours later, when Mishkin's Pride and the other ships of Battlefleet Moskva had left, one of the farseers that had accompanied Uryanaar when Masterson had spoken to them, approached Uryanaar in his chambers. He walked up to the old lord farseer, bowed deeply in reverence and asked Uryanaar directly.
"Lord Uryanaar?" one of the other farseers asked. "Is that really the answer to the Mon-Keigh's question?"
"No, Farseer Irawn, it isn't. But I must say Terran Mon-Keigh author's have a fertile imagination."