The new intake of acolytes had been aboard The Reliant Dawn for almost a week when they met their new so-called “comrades”.
Still, the first few days were uneasy to say the least.
On the second week, after countless orientations, indoctrinations, briefings, and familiarization courses, the acolytes were finally summoned – “activated” as it was called.
With an armed escort, they are led down The Reliant Dawn’s hallways, deposited in a waiting room, empty, save for a single man in an unrecognizable uniform featuring a hollow three-colour triangle. He pays the group little attention, continuing to riffle through reams of parchment and a few dataslates.
Across the chamber, a large guarded door grinds open on ancient gears. Four men walk out and greet the other stranger. The same three-colour insignia is visible on them all. They move off to the side of the room and begin a hasty discussion.
Inside the now-accessible room, a lone figure beckons the group forward. Greeting the party as Inquisitor Tyrion Hectus Valdane, he briefs the acolytes on their first mission.
Thumbing an ancient rune built into the smooth table, the chamber’s lights dim and a holographic projection dances in front of the party’s eyes. A massive asteroid field floats by as all sorts of glyphs identify various structures and vessels.
Valdane provides the acolytes a series of briefings and explains that this holograph is of Port Aquila, a major trade hub in Askellon that acts as a launching point for goods entering from the coreward and spinward systems as well as the neighbouring Ixaniad Sector. Port Aquila is not in fact a single centralized location, but rather a belt of asteroids hosting a wide range of shipyards, docks, refueling posts, strongholds, and storage facilities.
He explains that most of these facilities are governed by a single body – the Greater Askellon Trade Combine – the organization that bears the hollow three-colour triangle as their insignia.
Valdane informs the group that a week ago, the Combine lost contact with one of their stations, Tertia-12, a small ore refinery at the edge of the field.
Although the Combine normally deals with their own affairs, The Reliant Dawn is the closest military and scientific vessel capable of rendering aid. As such, the Combine have asked for assistance.
The Combine has offered little information, but Valdane believes that the situation may not be as simple as it seems. Either way, this “accident” may allow the Inquisition a glimpse into Combine operations. The acolytes are informed that they will be accompanied by a Combine representative, Dalsius Brenner. Valdane requests that the acolytes keep an eye on him.
Departing, Valdane leaves the acolytes to discuss the matter as they see fit.
Calidus finds Brenner outside in the waiting room – the same man they had seen before. He greats him and ushers him into the briefing room, hoping to get answers to a few questions.
Arkady questions Brenner at length, discovering that Tertia-12 is comprised of seventeen decks and roughly 150 to 300 crew. Normally, the station is garrisoned by five to ten security staff, depending on the crew rotation. Additionally, Brenner ads that the station features its own shuttle and long-range vox arrays. The fact that no word has been received leads him to believe that there has been some sort of accident. Tertia’s last message received was roughly a week ago and was vague. As of three days ago, the Combine had decided to intervene.
The acolytes gather their gear and head to their shuttle. In The Reliant Dawn’s flight bay, they great their veteran pilot, Lt. Corvath. Stowing their supplies, they depart the Dawn and prepare for a three hour journey through Port Aquila’s dense asteroid field.
As the shuttle departs the safety of the Dawn’s docking bay, the acolytes get their first good look at their new home. At over five kilometres long, the Dawn – a Mars Class Battlecruiser – dwawfs many of Port Aquila’s asteroids. As a relic from the Gothic War, the Dawn shows signs of previous conflict. Now repainted in black and gold, the cruiser is a stern reminder of the might of the Inquisition.
At a safe distance from the docking bay, Corvath’s Arvus Lighter ignites its main engines and begins its delicate dance among the asteroids. As the field is too dangerous for the Reliant Dawn to navigate safely, it is left to the small, cramped shuttle to close the remainder of the distance.
Eventually, a proximity alarm sounds in the cockpit as a large asteroid drifts silently past the viewport. Built into the rock face, a man-made structure slowly rotates into view. The station’s single large blast door is closed and all exterior lighting is off. The spotlights projecting from the front of Corvath’s Arvus scan across the door, illuminating large white letters: “Tertia XII”.
Corvath hails the station again and again. The vox is silent. Scans show no power signatures inside.
Tertia-12 is dead in the water.
Setting automatic controls, Corvath moves back to the crew compartment as the acolytes form a plan. Brenner explains that although the blast door’s machine spirit is dormant, it may still be possible to open the door. If the party is able to reach the door’s exterior control panel, it is likely that they can sever the locking mechanism’s hydraulics and manually open the massive entryway.
From overhead bins, Corvath pulls out a series of emergency void suits. He explains that they hold a six hour air supply, and that he’ll have to depressurize the entire shuttle should they wish to venture out. The acolytes decide that this is their only course of action.
The suits are stiff, bulky, and stiflingly hot in the cramped Arvus. The helmets have an ever crackling short-range vox and extremely limited vision. The collective sound of the party’s breathing is almost deafening.
Corvath pilots the Arvus as close as possible to the station’s massive and ancient blast doors before depressurizing the hold. The hatch descends as the acolytes look out to the icy superstructure.
Drawing and firing his grapnel, Taeric manages to snag the door’s maintenance ladder. One by one, Taeric, Brenner, Arkady, and Calidus begin their traverse across the endless emptiness of the void. Felpox and Ishamael remain aboard the Arvus with Corvath.
After about thirty minutes of grueling work, Brenner manages to sever the locking mechanism’s hydraulics. However, without power, the door still needs to be opened manually.
Arkady realizes that should Tertia-12’s docking bay still be pressurized, an explosive decompression could obliterate anyone close by.
As such, Taeric and Calidus secure the Arvus’s towline to the door and the party retreats to the safety of their shuttle. Calidus remains at the door’s base in case anything goes awry.
Corvath fires a short engine burn and the door slowly begins to traverse its massive tracks. Suddenly, a burst of air explosively exits through the cracks. All sorts of debris are blown out from the hold. A body glides past the Arvus’s open hatch and a pair of lifeless eyes stare into the acolytes’ souls as the corpse drifts off into the frozen unknown.
Calidus makes his way into the cargo bay, spotting a burnt out shuttle as well as handfuls of bodies and cargo drifting without direction. At the far end of the chamber, the interior doors remain closed. A small control room sits mounted high on struts at the rear corner of the room.
In the meager illumination of his stablight, Calidus can see signs of some kind of struggle. Lasgun burns pepper the walls, and there are a few concentrated scorch marks here and there.
Taeric fires his grapnel again so that the other acolytes can cross into the docking bay. Scattering wide, Calidus recovers the grapnel and secures it to the derelict shuttle. The rest of the party crosses back across the void into the relative safety of Tertia-12’s hold.
The acolytes note that the few bodies drifting around appear to have succumbed from a number of las rounds or stab wounds. The bodies are all unarmed and many are clad in workers garb or jumpsuits. The bay’s servitors also appear to be purely utility models, but are damaged beyond repair or reactivation.
The shuttle present in the hold remains clamped to the docking bay floor – although all of the interior and the electronics have been destroyed in some kind of intense fire.
Ishamael reaches out into the warp, attempting to determine the nature of the conflict that has transpired. Although sensing immense heat and pain, he is sure that there is no chaos taint present.
As Calidus approaches the control room, he can see that the single door is closed. Furthermore, the high-strength blast windows have been sheared apart and pushed inwards. Another body floats within, bouncing around the chamber. However, this one’s injuries appear different in nature.
Calidus dismantles the door’s locking mechanism and allows himself, Felpox, and Brenner to gain entry. Felpox inspects the corpse, noting that the victim was torn apart with a series of incredibly sharp blades.
Brenner scans the consoles and realizes the extent of the damage. The station is completely without power – including emergency reserves. However, because the hold was pressurized before the group’s entry, the emergency air supply is still ready.
The acolytes decide to make room for the Arvus, seal the docking bay, and re-pressurize the hold.
Using his newly-acquired helgun, Taeric blasts apart the docking clamps and the group pushes the burnt-out wreck aside. Corvath deftly pilots the Arvus inside and the group secures it to the deck with the tow cable.
With brute force, Felpox closes the main blast door.
Brenner recalls that there may be a maintenance lift nearby that should run all the way down to the generatoriums. If power can be restored, it may be possible to restore gravity and awaken the station’s machine spirits.
The acolytes carefully open the interior doors, finding that the rest of the station still also has air.
Drifting weightlessly down the dark, silent corridors, the group sees both decades of wear and tear on the station’s bulkheads as well as more signs of recent conflict. Every so often, another body drifts by. The air is stale with death and rot.
Eventually the acolytes find the maintenance lift of which Brenner spoke. Peering over the side, the acolytes see hanging chains and pulleys leading down the shaft to an ancient lift crashed and destroyed at the bottom.