Prologue

"We are offered a universe of depraved insanity or cold obliteration. The Warp or the Void. It is a cruel choice, an impossible choice. But, perhaps, between the warp and the void there is a thin line in which the mind may survive without succumbing to madness." – Navigator Sirenna E'Al'Xandros Musings of a Celestial Navigator (text considered heretical and forbidden in the Imperium, available only in the Koronus Expanse)

In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only…

paperwork.

Miles and miles of paperwork, extending into the darkness as far the eye could see. Although by the gloomy light of the lumen by which the scribes worked, that was not very far. Many retired from their jobs near blind from the daily toil of scratching out orders, requests, requisitions, memorandums, declarations, records, receipts and, of course, the ever-important logs of every piece of paperwork that crossed their desks.

Scribe Borrus looked with despair at the pile of ancient parchment in front of him. It was his and his alone, the good work of the galaxy going undone. Far more important than any battle, he knew, was the proper ordering and sorting of the legions of paperwork created by the countless -no not countless, it was his job to count them- wars of the Great Imperium of Man.

But Borrus had stared all day, all week even, at the latest, moldering pile and had read nothing, had written nothing. It was too huge, too old, too daunting. Even the noblest Astartes, or the grimmest Inquisitor, could surely not tackle this task.

"Brother Borrus, are you coming?" Another cowled and squinting scribe stopped by his desk, smiling with the amiable ease of a man who knows his rest day is nigh. Borus always had hated Brother Sevren's easy-going nature. "We are all going to the Floating Pyres of Reflection to see if we can catch a glimpse of the sisters returning from their prayer." His eager voice and waggling eyebrows insinuated that a glimpse of the sisters returning from prayer was possibly more carnal satisfaction than any man could dream of.

"I cannot, Brother. I have been tasked with finishing this," Borus waved futilely at the unfinished pile.

"Brother," Sevren leaned in. "Surely this must be a new stack? Stack 461Gamma5Delta88Swordfish was due to be completed two days past. If this be a new stack then you can surely leave it until after the rest day."

And if it is the old one, I will be scoured, Borus knew. After the rest day he would be scoured for his failure. His compatriot read the expression on his face.

"Don't despair brother. Perhaps the ordinates will be lenient with you." Sevren realised how foolish he sounded and rallied with, "Perhaps during the rest day you can sneak in and get some work done?"

"But how?" Borus wailed, and immediately clapped his hands over his mouth. The cry had echoed in the cavernous halls of the Administratum vault. Other scribes had looked up, and some were coming over now. "Ordinates Teevil only found this stack in the ancient vaults last rest day and he has given me this task because he knows I will fail it!" Borrus explained frantically to Sevren. "Stack 461Gamma5Delta88Swordfish has some paperwork nearly 2000 years old in it. Some of these forms were thought lost forever. Just look at them!" His dendri-quills, branching out from over both of his shoulders, flapped helplessly in the direction of the pile of ancient paperwork.

Undeterred, his fellow scribe took two sheets from the top of the stack and passed one to Borus. "It is just a matter of finding the right place to start," Sevren assured him. Borrus looked at the paper. It was yellow with age and it crinkled in his hands like fragility itself, but the words could still be made out on it. Other scribes were joining them now.

"Oh this isn't so bad." He said. "The Navy needs this Papyrus 7B filled out before they can decommission a carrier ship."

"Well this one is a little more complicated," Sevren said. "It's a requisition form to certify the collection of Imperial tithes from a mining world that has not been keeping up to date with its taxes… it is dated two hundred years ago." Other scribes had begun picking up sheaves and were looking through them.

"These ones all refer to a system in the Segmentum Obscurus with habitable worlds for colonisation." Said one "The first of three expected colonies was finished over a thousand years ago. They are waiting on the paperwork to launch the next colony fleets."

"Those systems could be next door neighbours!" Sevren observed, with growing excitement. "I'm sure one fleet could be dispatched to collect the tithe and deliver the colonists. How much can have changed in one thousand years?"

"This is a request for the removal of undesirables from an overpopulated Hive World," called out one scribe, his bio-monocle whirring busily as he scanned the page. "Perfect for building a colony fleet".

"I've got a memorandum regarding the need for a diocese to be found immediately for a newly made Archdeacon." Said another.

"Do you think one hundred years counts as immediate?" Borrus asked, glancing at the age of the memorandum. His fellow scribes smiled thinly and nodded.

"Oh most definitely. You know, brother, maybe this isn't so bad after all," said Sevren, stroking his chin with gnarled, ink-stained fingers. "A little creative bureaucracy and we can have Stack 461g5Delta88Swordfish completed by sun-down. It is simply a matter of filing out the forms so that they all satisfy each other."

"Yes. Yes, I see it now Brother," Borus said, glimpsing the light glowing at the end of a long dark tunnel. "Put the Hive-worlders onto a colony fleet together, provide the paperwork for a decommissioned vessel to be auctioned as escort, collect the tithes on the way. I think we can do this."

Two thousand years of paperwork, completed in one night. Borus would be a legend amongst his fellow scribes, his deeds told of for millennia to come. The group of them clustered around the ancient stack with renewed vigour and purpose. The chance to glimpse the sisters returning from their prayers was all but forgotten.

The galaxy can be a cold, unforgiving place. But with valiant companions around you, anything can be achieved.