Every single fiber of her being was on fire. She was being burned alive in this whatever it was. She tried to scream and could not. She tried to fight and she could not. She tried to curl up and let the pain course by her and she could not. It flowed through and around-
No! She would not give in! She would never give in! She was a soldier of the Emperor! She would not surrender! No pain could break her!
Her skin was burning. She was burning. Every muscle, every nerve was on fire. But she was lying on something hard and something cool was being poured over her. The shock made her gasp and then something was holding her hand gently as she sobbed.
"It is all right." The voice in her ear was female, kind. The woman was speaking high Gothic, but...the accent was not one she knew. Was it? She couldn't bring anything to mind. Something was rubbing her... her bare skull? Where was her hair? What was going on? "The Emperor protects and he protected you. You are going to be all right."
She took those kind words into a painless slumber.
"Report." The tone of the person speaking was not quite polite, but no one blamed him. He was in charge of the military forces in the area. Not a light burden at the best of times, which these were not.
"The human is alive although I am not sure why." The medical professional turned to his screen and touched it on. A grunt came from the other and the medic shook his head. "My special assistant says it was the Emperor's will she lived."
"Considering where we found this one..." The other said with a snap. "...I highly doubt that. I have to admit though. She is one tough gue'la to have survived that." He turned and the red circle within a 'T' symbol on his rectangular shoulder armor was clear.
"Shas'vre, that is an insult and demeans us as much as her." The medic chided the other gently. "Yes, she is not of us. But she can be. What do we know of her?"
"She is of the Gue'la Imperial Guard." The armored form was scrutinizing the holo that showed their latest patient. "She is not weak willed or she would have perished in that machine. The engineers did not think she would survive being removed or until arrival at your medical facility. That in and of itself is a minor miracle."
"More than you know, Shas'vre." The medic said quietly. The other turned to scrutinize him and the medic nodded. "She was implanted with a biological weapon. The trigger failed. It was designed to attack us."
"Is the weapon disabled?" The other demanded. He relaxed a little when the medic nodded. "Can you remove it?"
"We have." The medic reassured the soldier. "It is being analyzed now. My assistant says it seems too straightforward for those sorts though. We are scanning her for more oddities now."
"A trap." The armored form said slowly. The medic nodded. "For us. No wonder the ship was deserted. What else can you tell me?"
"Not much." The medic said with sigh. "There was no identification with her and with the brain injuries... She may or may not be cogent when she wakes." Both of the watchers turned back to scrutinize the sleeping human on the screen. She wore the usual blue gown for patients and a covering shielded her eyes from the light of the room. Restraints were not needed at the moment, she wouldn't be capable fo movement for a time, let alone conflict. "All we can do is wait now."
"We will be arriving in a matter of hours, medic." The team leader said quietly. "Will your people be ready?"
"The Earth Caste stands ready, Shas'vre." The medic clasped a three fingered hand to his chest. "We will spread the Greater Good."
"The Ethereals tried once here." The armored form said absently. "They failed, but through no fault of their own apparently. They were simply overmatched. Such can happen to anyone. Even Commander O'shavah is not omniscient."
"No." The medic agreed. "But he is closer than anyone else." His grin was wide and the armored form shared it. "The Ethereals never expected us to come back here, did they?"
"No." The commander said with a shrug. "They lost a great deal here. They will amass a much stronger expedition and take much longer to come here again. By then? We will have entrenched ourselves."
"The base, sir?" The medic asked. "I had a distant relative who served here. She didn't make it out. Our family would want me to look in my free time."
"After all this time, it is highly unlikely that anything will be left." The other's tone was milder now. "The 'humans'-" He enunciated the word heavily and the medic smiled a little. "-tend to destroy anything they think might be impure. Having seen some of the other enemies they fight, I cannot say that such caution is unwarranted. If brutal." He shook his head. "After we get settled in and the defenses are set, I can authorize such expeditions. But.." He held up a hand as the tech smiled. "Not alone. We have no idea at all what trap might have been left. From what I understand the base switched hands several times in the fighting after Sha'so Or'Es'ka was pushed out."
"Bloody butchers." The tech said softly, his gaze far away.
"For now, focus on your tasks, Fio'El Ke'lshan Torom." The officer said quietly. "We will have time to mourn our losses when the base is up and running again. But this time, we will see the defenses secured first."
"As ordered, Shas'vre." The tech nodded in the proper way of a subordinate dismissed to duties before turning back to his consoles. "I will keep you updated on the human's condition." The other left wit6hout comment and the med tech turned to another console. "Sister Agatha? How is our guest?"
"She woke for a moment, but then fell unconscious again, Fio'El. The fluid soothed her as we suspected it would. A small mercy, but a kind one." The voice was human and the form that appeared from nearby was as the voice supposed. She wore ornamental robes that were not -quite- Tau in design and her ornamentation was anything but Tau. Ordinarily, such would not be permitted at all, but she was a special case in a number of ways. Her scarred face was solemn as she turned her blind eyes from one side to the other. One thing he liked about her, she never let her lack of sight slow her down even if she did refuse the tech that could in all likelihood let her see again. She was odd that way, but no one doubted her integrity or devotion to her duty. "I never expected to return here. Certainly not like this."
"We are not here to fight, Sister." The Fio'El said quietly. "The base we will build here is here to gather information. Nothing more."
"It is never that simple, Fio'El." The woman said with a frown as she turned back to the room she had come from. "Part of me truly wishes I had died that day, but that would have been betraying the Emperor. I failed my duty to my sisters, but I survived and spread the Emperor's light as best I can in my darkness."
"If more of your kind believed as you do, there would be a lot less strife in the universe." The other said with a sigh. "But as it is? I am glad to have you here. The others have questioned, but your compassion and skill are wonders to behold."
"You are kind to an old blind Gue'la, Fio'El." The human said sadly. "I know my place and it was to be a slave and then a lab rat." The medic stiffened and she shook her head. "I know that you of the Enclaves do not feel the same as the ones who took me in the raid on Kaurava IIIs moon. Otherwise, you would not have rescued me from their lab, treated my wounds, tended me through my infirmity. But your leaders want something I cannot give. I cannot give you my faith. I cannot show you how what was done happened. I cannot."
"I do not want that, Sister Agatha." The other said quietly. "I asked for you on this expedition because I know we will encounter other humans. With you, there is a chance at discourse. Without? There is none. The Water Caste seeks communication and..." He broke off as the sister grimaced. "Sister?"
"They will not talk to you." Agatha said sadly. "The only communication any of the Guard will be allowed is from the barrel of a lasgun. Our guest would have better luck talking to them than I would after what happened with my sisters here. I missed that, being captured by the Dark Eldar. If I am very lucky, they will simply shoot me. If not?" She shivered. "Your philosophy has much to recommend it. I can see the Emperor perhaps agreeing. But the Imperial Guard will not."
"Sister... If you could go back to who you were before, would you?"
"That woman no longer exists, Fio'El." Agatha said flatly. "If she did... She would be horrified by what I have become." Whatever the other was going to say was cut off by a cry. The medic spun to see the human woman writhing on her bed but Sister Agatha was already in motion.
"Be careful!" He snapped even as he ordered a new set of scans and a drone with some specialized equipment. The woman shouldn't have woken so soon. Something was very wrong here.
Agatha swallowed as she entered the room. She couldn't see the other, but the sister could smell her. Without sight, her other senses took on new meaning, honed far beyond human norms by necessity. She could still smell the scorched flesh. The techs assured her it was only the outer layers of the woman's skin and it was healing quickly with the medical skill of the Earth Caste but the smell remained and only years of discipline coupled with her devotion to aiding those less fortunate allowed her to keep her composure and her stomach contents. The other was moaning, but it sounded odd.
"Is she awake?" Agatha asked.
"I am not sure." The med tech replied, concerned. "Her brain scans are erratic. She may be having a seizure."
"Or something far worse." Agatha said with a snarl even as her hand dropped to her side and she felt the door close behind her, equalizing the pressure in the room. "Tech, do not quibble with me on this. If she... alters from human in any way, vent the compartment." A gasp sounded but she was in motion. "It would be a far kinder death for me -and her!- than many." She felt the edge of the bed and reached out to the moaning woman. "Easy, easy..."
She heard words and felt fear rise, but relaxed as she realized the woman was speaking Gothic. If she had been speaking something else, Agatha probably would have strangled her as she lay. Again, far kinder. But then Agatha gasped in recognition. The woman was praying! Praying to the Emperor for deliverance.
"It is all right." Agatha said softly as she reached out to touch the seared flesh with gentle fingers. "You are not alone. The Emperor has delivered you. You are in pain from your burns and nothing we do can ease that quickly, but we will tend you. Easy..." She crooned, unsure if anything she was saying was getting through.
"I... What?" The woman sounded awful but strength beyond normal for humans resonated deep inside it.
"What is your name, Dear?" Agatha asked. "Mine is Agatha. I am here to help. I cannot wave my hands and magically make your pain vanish, but I can be here with you, share your time if nothing else."
"Mira. My name is Mira." The woman said after a moment, her voice steadying. "Did Titus make it?"
"You were the only one we found." Agatha filed the name 'Titus' away for future consideration. Right now, she had a pressing concern. "You need to rest, child. You are badly hurt. While we did what we could, it will take time to heal."
"This isn't an Imperum ship, is it?" Mira asked, her tone suddenly flat. "I can't see, but I can hear and what I hear isn't like any Imperium ship I have ever been on."
"I won't lie to you." Agatha said quietly. "It isn't an Imperium ship." Mira seemed to shiver under Agatha's hand. She brushed the skin she could feel. "You were found on a small ship. It had seen hard fighting, but you were the only one aboard and you were inside some kind of evil machine."
"What?" Mira could not possibly be faking the sense of confusion, fear and consternation that Agatha could both hear in her voice and feel in her fingertips.
"Removing you from the machine was difficult, especially since you had been implanted with a nasty biological weapon that would have triggered if any of the other crew had touched you." Agatha said softly. "Luckily, I was here. They detected it and while I can't see, I can obey simple instructions fairly well."
"Why can't you see?" Mira asked, suspicion rising. "Why can't I see?"
"In reverse order..." Agatha kept her voice calm despite the old, old pain that surged through her empty eye sockets. "You cannot see because the medics covered your eyes. We fear that what burned you may have damaged them as well even though you wore a breather helmet in the machine. We don't know yet so, it is a precaution. As for myself? I lost my eyes along with my world." Agatha turned away from the other for a moment, the pain surging in her. "For the Dark Eldars, it was sport, you see. When they caught someone who could resist, they took their time. What they did to me, broke me. It took years for me to bring myself back to see the Emperor's light. It was always there and I can see it even without eyes."
"Sister." Mira breathed and Agatha smiled a little.
"Once." Agatha corrected. "Now? I am an adjunct to healers. I serve as an ambassador of sorts. I bring the Emperor's light into dark places just as I did in the Sororitas, if a trifle less violently."
"And yet, you work with xenos like the ones who took your eyes." Mira couldn't wrap her mind around that. Such was clear from her tone.
"These are not the ones who took my eyes." Agatha said quietly. "These are the ones who rescued me from those. Who healed my wounds, cared for me in my weakness and never once demanded that I forsake the Emperor." She heaved a sigh. "I didn't understand at first. Not for a long time. I tried to die, several times. They didn't stop me, Mira. Something else did. I am not sure what, but I have suspicions. Then I met their leader and everything changed for me."
"Would they stop me?" Mira asked and Agatha felt a rock form in her stomach.
"No." Agatha admitted. "Their philosophy is that every life is precious but also that every being has a right to choose for such. Not all adhere to the same truths any more than all humans do. But they are remarkably coherent from what I have encountered. Far less alien than some I encountered in my previous life. If you are calm and in control when you choose such, they will not gainsay it. I wasn't." She said with a sad smile of memory. "It took Commander Oshavah himself to shake me out of my depression in its entirety. But he is... something." She shook her head. "No one I have ever met, barring the canoness of my order who I heard preach once, had the same level of..." She paused. "I don't know how to describe it. Charisma maybe? A feeling of knowing your place and accepting it? It wasn't mind control. It wasn't drugs. I knew those feelings from my time as a battle sister. He just accepted me as I was. He did not ask or command me to change, just asked me what I wanted." She laugh a little. "I had no idea. Still don't, to tell you the truth. But I enjoy healing, helping others. That hasn't changed since I was a novice."
"So... You are with them?" Mira said slowly.
"Mira, what use is a blind Sororitas?" Agatha asked softly. "One who failed to martyr herself when given the chance? I live, therefore the Emperor still has need of me. Somehow. Some way. I have to believe that. I still spread the Emperor's light, just not from a flamer anymore."
"I can't believe you." Mira said softly, turning her head under Agatha's hand. "I can't!"
"No one is forcing you to." Agatha said with a frown. "And no one will. We are not the Ethereals. We do not have the wherewithal nor the inclination to force others into our midst. Some of what we do is troubling, but we are focused on surviving, Mira. And right now, that has to be your focus. You have to recover from your injuries. Don't give in, Mira. The Emperor is with you. I am with you. You are not alone. Right now, though... You need rest to recover. So, sleep."
She brought her other hand up and laid the mask in it over Mira's nose and mouth. The woman gave a small moan and fell asleep.
"Rest well, soldier." Agatha said softly as she brushed Mira's head where hair would have been. Then she jumped as an alarm blared. She ran for the door, but the medic's voice sounded from an intercom.
"Stay there." The medic declared. "You are safer in there. We just went to battle alert. We have detected enemy ships at the edge of the system. Not Imperial."
"Who then?" Agatha felt fear rise and quieted it with a prayer.