The Ceremony of Innocence
The webs of causality propagating across the galaxy at superluminal speeds are not just invisible to most; they are all but inconceivable to the human brain. Whether an alien could contemplate how the skeins of fate interweave is an academically interesting thought experiment, albeit one destined to be terminally temporary. Even the vastness of the Imperium, with its teeming billions of adepts who pass their days between libraries of cogitators, analysing and processing and discarding discrete quanta of information, can only scratch the surface of the interplay between cause and effect. Theirs is a small world, a local universe, tunnel-visioned; much like the Imperium on the whole in that sense, as it hides its people away from the horrors of the malicious galaxy.
Lo was not destined to enjoy the twin paradises of isolation and ignorance. Lo was different.
Lo was a Hive World that was open to the sky.
Their arrivals were surprisingly efficient. Upon alighting from whatever spacecraft had deposited them on this volcanic world, with its ugly, dirty bruise of a sprawling hive as seen from the descent, each of them was unceremoniously grabbed by a waiting Arbites officer and marched away from the rest of the new arrivals. One flash of their escort’s badge was enough to skip the immigration and customs queues. Doors opened into clean, brightly-lit corridors, every last corner of which were occupied by buzzing auspices and vox-casters. They met for the first time in the empty waiting room, easing themselves down onto the steel benches to wait for the next to arrive. The vid-screen on the wall was blank, and the hum of the servo-skull making slow circuits of the room drowned out any noise from outside. The single door opened only when the next member of the team arrived, but the officer that brought them would answer none of their questions. Slowly, time passed, as the population of the room swelled: one, two, three, four, five.
Five was the total, it seemed, for mere minutes after the fifth of them arrived did the door open for the last time. They were ordered out, down more corridors, out the underbelly of the spaceport to a cold platform and a sleek train. Its doors were expectantly open; inside, the seats were leather and the ambient lighting was a soft cream - a welcome break from the waiting room’s fluorescents. Once the five of them were on board, the doors slid shut with a pneumatic hiss and the train began to move.
Once free of the spaceport, the vehicle was carried the the city on a viaduct, passing above and between towering buildings, and beneath an open, clouded sky. Off to one side, in the midst of a wide, uncovered area of greenery, was a bulbous conglomeration of spheres and domes, shining golden in the afternoon sun - a governer’s palace, at a guess. Many of the other structures the rail wove near looked equally impressive and important. There was a blue, perfectly round spire, its tip occluded by the clouds; a series of twisted arcs and arches, connected by tubes and rails; a layered bastion that could only be described as a castle, mountainous peaks rising into view behind rockrete walls. At a junction, the train angled towards this last building. As it approached, a section of the wall slid away just in time to avoid a collision at blistering speed. It decelerated as it passed into the shadow of the complex.
The train slowed to a halt, but the doors remained shut. The carriage lurched upwards - the passenger section was being lifted through a large shaft, the previously stylish vehicle having become an amazingly decadent elevator. Light zoomed past, so fast that their after-images seemed to be slowly crawling upwards rather falling downwards. Finally, the carriage came to a complete stop. The doors opened to an ornate corridor, icons of Imperial saints and symbols of the Adeptus Arbites lining the walls between the “platform” and the ancient, wooden door at the other end. From behind it came the sound of footsteps. The door opened with a creak. They stepped inside.
The chamber beyond was an office, warmly decorated with more of what looked like actual wood. The desk in the centre was piled high with papers: forms and folders and memos of all sorts. An empty mug, the bottom stained brown, smelled of stale recaf. A glass ashtray held the remains of many lho-sticks.
“Gentlemen. Welcome.” The door behind them shut; the man who had opened it was dressed in extremely formal Arbites attire. There were sashes, and medals - lots of each. He was middle-aged, with a balding head, stubbled cheeks and dark crow’s feet around his eyes. When he spoke, his breath stank - a heady mix of caffeine, lho, and possibly other legal intoxicants. On his shoulder, a servo-skull perched, its red eyes flicking between the newcomers.
“Welcome to Lo,” the officer said again. “I am Detective-Commander Ambelus. Before we go any further, I require you to state your name and verbally recognise your secondment to the Adeptus Arbites, Xenos Task Force ‘Aquila’, with all concordant responsibilities and strictures.” He nudged the servo-skull; silently, it hovered towards the group, extending a thin microphone. The Detective-Commander scratched his chin absent-mindedly, as if bored by the formality.