Yarrick_ Pyres of Armageddon - David Annandale Page 0,1

following the success of the campaign against the ork raiders. My day would be less pleasant. Seroff would see to that.

Brenken prodded me. ‘What is it about this storm?’

‘Nothing definite,’ I admitted. ‘I don’t like its conjunction with what we found on Basquit.’

‘Orks…’ Brenken began, but was interrupted by turbulence.

I was sitting next to the viewing block and looked out at our descent through the cloud cover of Armageddon. The air was dense and filthy as an oil slick, lightning flashing between roiling fists of brown and yellow. Then we dropped below the cover. The air was still far from clear. I looked out through the eternal layers of grit and banks of sluggish, low-hanging smog. Corrosive rain streaked the viewing block, blurring my first view of Infernus. At this distance, the spires of the hive were indistinguishable from its chimneys. It was a hulking mass of black, filth-crusted iron and rockcrete surging up from the planet’s surface, forever surrounded by the choking aura of its industry. It was nestled between two mountain chains – the Pallidus to the west, and the Diablo to the east. The winds of the Season of Fire buffeted the shuttle, but did nothing to clear away the smog. The bowl between the mountains held the poisoned air trapped over the city.

Brenken tried again. ‘Orks are a threat, but hardly an uncommon one. And we purged them from Basquit.’

‘But what were they doing so deep into Imperial space?’ I asked. ‘And where did they come from? There aren’t any ork-held worlds in any proximity to the Armageddon sub-sector. And then there is what we heard.’

She looked troubled at that reminder. ‘You think there’s a connection?’

‘I don’t know. I hope not.’ I tried to imagine what a link between orks and warp storm could mean. My failure did not reassure me.

The shuttle brought us to a landing pad that nestled at the base of the cluster of spires that housed the government of Infernus. The uppermost reaches were also, at this time, the residence of the ruler of Armageddon. Brenken and I disembarked. A staff officer stood on the pad, waiting to escort her to the debriefing. When she saw who was waiting for me, Brenken gave me a sympathetic nod. ‘We’ll speak later, commissar,’ she said.

‘Until then, colonel,’ I answered. I walked across the pitted rockcrete to where Lord Commissar Dominic Seroff stood at the edge of the landing zone.

‘Sebastian,’ he said. The familiarity was an expression of contempt.

‘Lord commissar,’ I answered. I kept my tone neutral, greeting formally correct. I would not begin the hostilities. I left that to Seroff.

His once-blond hair had turned a blind white. It had receded from the top of his head, but the fringe that ran from ear to ear still had pronounced curls. There was something a bit comical in its refusal to be tamed. More than a century ago, Seroff’s eyes had shone with a sense of the comic too, but they hadn’t for a long time. They were cold. His face was pinched with bitterness. I was in no small way responsible for the officer Seroff had become. I did not regret the decisions I had made, or the actions I had taken. They were necessary. They were correct. But I had been suffering their consequences for much of my life. Seroff was one of those consequences.

‘The 252nd returns in triumph,’ said the lord commissar.

‘It does.’

‘Congratulations are in order.’ His mouth, pursed, tight-lipped, twitched in the right corner.

‘Thank you.’ I had just seen what passed for a smile on Seroff’s features. The day was going to be worse than I had expected.

Behind me, the shuttle lifted off again. Seroff said nothing while the roar washed over us. Even after the sound of the ship’s engines had faded into the distance, we stood in silence. The rain pattered against my cap. It ran down my greatcoat. I felt the faint tingle of its acid as it dripped from my hands. Seroff was savouring the moment. I did not grant him the satisfaction of showing impatience or confusion.

‘Your actions on Basquit have received the attention they deserve,’ Seroff said at last. ‘Overlord von Strab wishes to see you.’

Ah. Light began to dawn. I had a good idea which of my actions would have drawn the interest of von Strab. ‘I am at his disposal,’ I said.

‘Yes,’ Seroff said. ‘You are.’

My formulation had been an expression of civility. Seroff had underscored its brutal truth. I was not, strictly speaking,