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The Audacity of Hope – 1150 including title.
‘This could… it could change everything…’
Four pairs of red eye lenses gazed up at the monolith. Its surface was black and polished to mirror smoothness, its thousand tonne bulk resting on a lintel wrought of alloy the colour of weathered bone. Sergeant Geritsson scanned the atmospheric data as it flashed before his eyes and smiled thinly, noting that in spite of the calm there was a faint, but very real, trace signature coming from within the relic. Somewhere within the seamless, faultless construct, a power source was still active after countless millennia. The Standard Template Construct was still functioning.
‘The Forge Master will be here soon,’ murmured Captain Rasmusson, his enormous arms hanging by his sides as he tried and failed to give voice to the awe he felt. ‘He alone of us could discern its true function. Let alone the proper method of its activation. If our intelligence is correct … If the secrets lost to us can be revealed…’
The intelligence to which he referred had been taken from a fallen brother; a Relictor captured by pure chance as he attempted to land his damaged Storm Raven on a planet where the Ursus Gallack were engaged against the greenskins. It had been a training mission, the best and brightest of the chapter formed into a small strike force, tasked to assassinate a potential warlord before he could gain the support and momentum to begin a new Waaaaagh through the Ultima Segmentum. Brother Geritsson had torn the beast to ribbons with his lightning claws and cast its severed head into the dust, and for the chapter master and the Inquisition both this had been victory enough. But as the Storm Raven careered into the atmosphere a new prize had been theirs for the taking, ripped forcibly from the Relictor’s mind by Inquisitor Vheilan. On his travels he had happened upon the location of an STC, one containing the specifications for a form of shield generator far superior to any currently known to the Priests of Mars. If the Relictor’s beliefs proved to be true this reclaimed technology would render the ships of the Imperial Navy and the Adeptus Astartes nearly impervious to all known hostile weaponry, combining a series of overlapping Gellar Fields and reactive barriers that bolstered the shield strength by drawing directly on the diffused energy of the attack. If this was true the implications for warp travel alone were immense, not to mention the possibility of finally taking the fight to the Hive Fleets and Craft Worlds, the daemon-seeded wastelands of the Occulus Terribus and the upstart empires of the eastern fringe.
No longer would mankind’s fight be one of furious preservation. The Great Crusade could begin anew and could be completed some ten thousand years after it began. Mankind’s manifest destiny could once more be within its grasp. For the first time in ten increasingly darkening millennia, mankind could permit itself the audacity of hope.
A deep rumble drew Geritsson from his thoughts, denoting the arrival of the Thunderhawk gunship that carried Forge Master Samuelsson and his tech-marine retinue. Within a few minutes the vast, many-armed silhouettes of the chapter’s finest technical minds appeared in the cave entrance, flanked by a half-dozen gun servitors on either side. The new arrivals stopped as they reached the advance party, all except Forge Master Samuelsson who strode forward to stand beside his captain.
‘I take your silence as a positive sign, brother?’ Rasmusson growled. ‘I trust you are suitably impressed?’
It took a moment for Samuelsson to reply, his communications with his cadre of servitors and tech-marines being carried out usually in hissing streams of binary code. ‘A still tongue denotes a virtuous soul, my brother, but yes. I feel the weight of all that was lost to us lifting from my shoulders in its presence. And still…’
There was a keen note of sadness in that tone, an edge of remorse inexpertly conveyed by a mouth unused to the crude nuances of High Gothic. Rasmusson made to question him but the words died in his mouth as a tingle ran the length of his spine, a chill he felt only in the presence of one man.
Inquisitor Vheilan had come unannounced, but not alone. Behind his hooded frame stood a figure clad in matt-black armour, its head concealed within a death-masked helmet etched with intricately designed patterns chased out in hardened lacquer that caught the light as he moved.
‘My Lord,’ Geritsson gasped, taking immediately to one knee as the Black Saint approached. ‘We did not know that you would be joining us.’
The death mask turned to regard him slowly, its head level with the enormous assault sergeant’s own even as he knelt. For a moment it seemed that he might speak, that something human remained of the creature within its inherited carapace, but as every figure save Vheilan followed Geritsson’s example he turned away and walked to the base of the monolith, placing one hand on its surface and becoming perfectly still.
‘For the love of the Emperor, rise,’ Vheilan hissed. ‘You know how your father would have hated to see you kneel.’
There was sadness in Vheilan’s words. Something had clearly shaken the usually callous Inquisitor and the effect was disturbing. All eyes but Geritsson’s turned to the Black Saint as he reached deep into the STC with his mind, seeking out its history from the dormant spirits within and bending his own extraordinary talents to the extrapolation of its future. For almost an hour he was still, the chamber silent as the assembled Imperial servants awaited his judgement. As he finally removed his hand and turned to Vheilan, shaking his head slowly before walking away and out of the cave, the Inquisitor gave out a deep sigh of resignation.
‘Forge Master, place the beacon and return to the ship. The rest of you would be well advised to do the same.’
Geritsson watched from orbit as the bombardment began, three Black Ships and two Strike Cruisers lending their firepower to the utter destruction of the STC and the planet on which it resided. He remained there until the guns fell silent and the planet’s crust broke apart, its molten core bursting forth as the broken sphere consumed itself in a firestorm of superheated rock.
With a heavy heart he turned away, knowing that the Saint must have had good reason to deny the human race this chance at vitality, this knowledge with which to finally take its rightful place as undisputed master of all. He returned to his arming chamber to meditate in the hope that the Emperor might grant him the serenity to understand, the insight to see anything but a mighty blow to the hopes for mankind’s future.
Hidden in the shadows beneath a vast statue of the Emperor, the Black Saint watched him go.