Deep inside the sprawling fortress-city referred to by all but the most pedantic of Inquisitors inhabiting it as "Sector Headquarters", No-Longer-Acting-Inquisitor Greg Sargent straightened his orange jumpsuit as the holding room door he'd spent the better part of seven hours staring at finally creaked open. The two Inquisitorial Stormtroopers flanking the door, who'd been stuck standing reflexively at attention for the entire time, breathed a little sigh of relief and hastily led the way into the courtroom on the far side. The four other Stormtroopers in the room relaxed as well as the impromptu poker tournament that'd been occupying the rest of the squad ended without further bloodshed and Aimy, as winner, put Doc and Tink in charge of collecting Twitch. While the two of them extracted the demolitions trooper from the pile of furniture he'd squirreled himself away in, Nubby collected the cards he'd "borrowed" and scooted the chair he'd subsequently been cuffed to over to the borrow-ee, who grudgingly uncuffed him. The Stormtrooper blinked in confusion as the little trooper sidled off after his companions without returning the cards, or the cuffs for that matter; he shared a pained look with the other Stormtroopers as they followed the guardsmen into the courtroom. By unanimous silent agreement, the unholy mess that'd once been the court's tastefully-decorated holding room was left for the janitorial staff to discover for themselves.
As the six Guardsmen quite literally trooped into the courtroom the robe and wig-wearing Inquisitor sitting at its head took them in with the boredly-hopeful expression of someone who was almost done for the day. That expression soured as a one of the court's side-doors opened to admit a cart bearing a teetering meter-high pile of binders, folders, loose papers, dataslates, and precariously balanced scrolls. With an annoyed glare at the scribe hidden somewhere behind the cart, the Inquisitorial Judge plucked the topmost binder off the pile and cleared his throat. "Greg Sargent, you and your men stand accused of… parking in a restricted area?" The Inquisitor paused and flipped to the next page, "Failing to vacate in a timely manner?" he flipped farther, "Loading or Unloading a Vehicle in a No-Loading Zone? Really?" There was a mutter of "it weren' posted or nuthin" from the end of the line of guardsmen and one of the Stormtroopers made a choking sound. The Inquisitor shot a glare at both of them as he snapped the binder shut pulled the next one off the pile and cleared his throat again. "Greg Sargent, you and your men, you stand accused of Attempting to Bribe a Traffic… Excuse me for a second." The Inquisitor leaned over the side of his desk to glare at the cart-load of files and the figure behind them until he was finally rewarded with a slightly quavery reply. "What? Do you need help with the long words or something?" Ignoring the increasing snickering, and entirely missing the look of confused recognition on three of the guardsmen's faces, the Inquisitor leaned further and gritted his teeth. "Why. Are. They. HERE?" "They're just more of Quercus' idiots. Obviously." Sarge's eyes widened slightly, Twitch let out a faint giggle, and Doc abruptly started blushing as a familiar gray-haired woman in adept's robes shuffled out and extracted a leather folio from the middle of the pile. "Did you think I'd schedule a real case this late in the day?"
The Inquisitor's expression brightened as he opened the folio. "I see... " he looked back up to the Adept. "So all this is just-" he gestured at the teetering pile of documents. The Adept shrugged. "Like I said, idiots." "Hmmm, quite." The Inquisitor sat up, straightened his wig, and cleared his throat for a third time. "Greg Sargent, as servants of a Rogue Inquisitor you and your men are hereby sentenced to-" "Wait!", interrupted Tink, "You can't just sentence us! What about our trial?" Nubby stepped forward as well. "Yeah, you didn' even ask if we was guilty or not!" The Inquisitor raised an eyebrow. "Are you saying you're NOT part of Inquisitor Quercus' criminally oversized retinue?" "Yes!" Tink paused, "I mean no, but we definitely didn't do any of that other stuff." "An' if we did, we 'ad orders." added Nubby, completely ignoring the boot repeatedly slamming into one of his augmetic shins. The Inquisitor raised his other eyebrow. "Ah, I see. So you're saying your Inquisitor ordered you to," he looked down at one of the binders, "Assault, Abduct, and otherwise Obstruct a Traffic Officer in the Performance of Their Duties?" "Well, he might have..." Tink trailed off as he finally registered the glares of his comrades. "An' we definitely 'ad orders for the stuff wit the Zoan- OW!" Nubby doubled over as Sarge stepped forward. 'Yes sir." Sarge cleared his throat. "Those, uh, traffic offenses were committed in the performance of our duties. All of them." The Inquisitor turned his gaze to the noncom, who stared not-quite-back with the blankly fixed expression employed by soldiers receiving discipline since time immemorial. After several seconds the man shook his head, shot an annoyed glance at the massive pile of files and the Adept behind them, and sighed. "Noted. Greg Sargent, as servants of a Rogue Inquisitor you and your men are hereby sentenced to Stasis Imprisonment until such a time as the matter of your Inquisitor's loyalty has-"
Once again the Inquisitor was interrupted, this time by a cough from the Adept and a single envelope being pushed up onto his desk. He glared at the elderly woman, who grinned back innocently until he finally sighed and extracted the envelope's contents. After a few seconds of reading he paused; his eyes skipped down to the signature at the bottom of the letter and then up to scan the line of guardsmen until they settled on the white-haired guardswoman in the center. "Oh dear, this is a regrettable situation isn't it?" He glanced to the side, "One I certainly could've been informed of BEFORE the trial started." The Adept just rolled her eyes and pointed a bony finger at the letter. The Inquisitor looked back down and continued reading until his expression suddenly cleared. "Hmmm, that's certainly an.. unexpected suggestion." He tapped his fingers on the letter for a few seconds then looked down to the Adept again. "Not a bad one though. Surprisingly reasonable all things considered." The Adept prodded the massive pile of documents between them. "It would save on the paperwork..." The Inquisitor's lips twitched ever so slightly. "And it certainly never hurts to stay on good terms with the sector Militarum. Yes..." he sat up, straightened his wig, and returned his gaze to the assembled guardsmen. "Greg Sargent. This court has decided that, in recognition of you and your men's years of faithful Militarum service and your status as associates of the Lady General Von Humpeding, the charges against you will be deferred indefinitely, and you will be given a chance to redeem yourselves of any crimes you may have committed through service in the Penal Legions. Dismissed" The shocked silence that followed the gavel strike was broken by single, rising growl. "That scheming, conniving, two-faced, lying," guardsmen and Stormtroopers alike scrambled back, "RAT-FUCKING-BASTARD, TOLD MY MOTHER!?" >The All Guardsmen Party and the Inquisitorial Penal Legion
So no shit, there we were, being hauled off to die the Penal Legions, just like our old Commissar always said would happen. Honestly, it really shouldn't have come as a surprise, especially given Oak's little comment about arranging for us to get a "shorter sentence". After all, the average life expectancy of a Penal Legionnaire is probably somewhere between one and zero battles. Needless to say, we weren't exactly thrilled with our oh-so-clever Inquisitor, though none of us could quite reach Aimy's level of simmering rage. It'd taken three Stormtroopers with shock batons to end our markswoman's little fit; she only started to calm down once she got a chance to read the letter that the Adept handed her as she was dragged out. We honestly thought the part where her mom said she understood it was all Inquisitorial political bullshit, wasn't her fault, and would always love her were all very touching. Less so the bit about how she didn't have to worry about disgracing the Von Humpeding name, because they'd already arranged to have her posthumously disinherited and struck from all family records if she died before the charges were cleared. Aimy took some comfort in it at least; said it was proof her mother actually wrote the letter herself. Sarge got an envelope from the Adept as well, but it turned out to just a wad of official paperwork and transfer orders. Given the way the sarcastic old bat had choreographed the whole farce we'd sort of expected something more, you know, secret orders-y? Maybe a little note explaining just where this top secret evidence-storage facility Oak wanted us to infiltrate was, and how in the Emperor's name we were supposed to accomplish this while stuck in a bloody Penal Legion? The only even remotely relevant thing Doc and Tink found in there was a bit saying we had ten days to claim our property out of evidence before it was all incinerated. We somehow doubted we'd be given a day off from penal-legioning to do so.
We didn't have too much time to dig through the Adept's packet for more clues, or to bitch about how stupid the whole situation was for that matter. We'd expected to be shipped across the planet or system to some munitorum depot, but as it turned out the HQ had their very own Penal Legion stationed on-site, presumably to save on gas or something. After a short drive, the Stormtroopers hauled us out and we got our first look at our new home: "Camp Redemption" as the big sign over the gate declared it, or "The Dump" if you went by the spray paint under it. Honestly, it didn't really look that bad: if you ignored the fact that all the defences were pointed INWARDS it could've passed for pretty much any other Guard camp we'd seen. Same prefab buildings, same drill yards full of sweating grunts, same ankle-deep mud. Hell, it even had the same smell; that wonderful combination of body odor, pit latrines, stale rations, and spilled prometheum. Sarge took a deep nostalgic breath, as did Twitch and Nubby, Aimy just made gagging sounds. Now the camp's occupants on the other hand… We'd apparently arrived right at some sort of muster, but we didn't pay the thousand or two shaved and bomb-collared troopers much mind. No, the first thing our trained guardsman senses noticed was the sheer number of Commissars strutting around. Your typical regiment, in as much as there is such a thing in the Guard, tends to sport around one Commissar per company, or even less if you were one of them fancy pants nobby regiments; we spotted what had to be at least one pointy-hatted bastard per platoon, and that wasn't all. Instead of the Arbite shock-squads we expected to be keeping discipline in the ranks, the lanes between each platoon were patrolled by squads wearing the blue-trimmed coats and eagerly homicidal expressions of baby Commissars. Twitch informed the rest of us that we were all going to die. For once, nobody argued with him.
Our grim speculation was interrupted by the arrival of one of those cadet-commissar squads, led by a particularly unpleasant looking real one carrying a whip. The Commissar, a weasel-faced bastard somewhere between 60 and 600 depending on how much juvenant they'd pumped into him, angrily informed the Stormtroopers that they were late. After a bit of confusion about the transfer orders and why in the Emperor's name they'd given them to us, he ordered his minions to just chain us all together and get us in formation; he'd process us and send back the uniforms later. The Legion had almost finished forming up in a platoon-wise grid by this point. We were led to an empty spot at the near corner, where Sarge was instructed to stand out as far as the ankle-chain would allow and the rest of us lined up behind him. Satisfied that we were capable of standing at parade rest without any motivational whipping, the old Commissar told us not to move or say anything, and stalked off to stand at the head of our column. The reason for the parade became clear when a Scribe with a dataslate and an especially fancy Commissar (who we assumed was the base Commander) arrived and announced that the Inquisition was looking for volunteers. To our surprise, they actually got them, at least at first. At the back of our line, Twitch claimed that this was a clear sign that they were drugging the rations. Doc, who was in the spot ahead of him, actually took him seriously enough to look around and check for signs in the other Legionnaires, and got reminded of the "no moving" rule by the old Commissar and his whip. We watched as three whole platoons of chumps stepped forward were loaded up into transports, followed by two more that were more traditionally "volunteered" by the Commissars, and then Scribe announced that the rest of what his Inquisitor needed were specialists, starting with a demolitions expert. The old Commissar checked the papers we'd given him and stepped forward.
Fortunately for us, the specialist positions must've had slightly higher requirements than "literally the first idiot you find", because the Scribe and Commander came down into the ranks to inspect the candidates. They did, of course, start with our end of the regiment, but we didn't have to do anything drastic to get Twitch off the hook. All it took was one look at the strung-out demo trooper, his own proud declaration that he didn't just know explosives he SLEPT with them, and a single Ork-related accusation in the Commander's direction for them to decide to move on to the next candidate. Once the headhunting party passed us we began to notice whispering and occasional movements in the legionnaires around us. None of us were close enough to the other platoons to really catch what was going on, aside from it obviously being related to avoiding volunteering. Since that old Commissar was far too close and attentive for us to consider shifting closer, we didn't pay any of it much mind until a scuffle in the back ranks of our column drew the Commissars' attention away, and someone behind Twitch muttered "Punch Greg next pass". The demolition trooper turned to stare in confusion at leader of the platoon behind him, a large muscle-bound dark-skinned man, and asked who "Greg" was. This was apparently not the correct response. The dark-skinned platoon sergeant, who Twitch was fairly certain hadn't been there earlier, rolled his eyes and repeated himself twice, then made a frustrated noise and finally clarified to "Punch Greg Sargent, your Interrogator, RIGHT NOW." Twitch gave him a fish-eyed look and gestured at the chains connecting his ankles to Docs and the distance to Sarge out in front of the line, eliciting more eye rolling until finally realized what was going on and passed the message on to Doc, then to Aimy, Tink, and finally Nubby. The short trooper glanced between Sarge's back and the returning Commissar, and then told Tink to ask "What for?".
The message was passed back down the line to the platoon sergeant, who went bug eyed, but didn't manage to get an actual reply out before the Scribe, just a few platoons away, announced that the last man he needed was someone with a bit of command authority. As the Scribe asked the Commander had anyone properly Sergeanty, Twitch abruptly got the point, and passed the message to "JUST PUNCH SARGE DAMN IT!" back up the line, where it once again stalled at Nubby and Tink, who both took one look at the watching Commissar and his whip, and then nominated eachother to do the actual punching. The ensuing argument over whether Nubby or Tink would make the less suitable Sarge-assaulter was interrupted by a string of curses and Aimy charging past them at Sarge's back. One spot farther back in line, Doc looked down at the chain connecting his ankles to Aimy's just in time to see his feet fly out from under him. Nubby and Tink watched as the markswoman slammed face-first into the mud next to them, blinked, and then immediately resumed their argument, paying absolutely no attention to the approaching Commissar. Fortunately for the pair, before the actual whipping could start, attention was taken off them by the sudden arrival of the dark-skinned Legionnaire, who's flying tackle hit Sarge hard enough to pull both the arguing troopers down as well. Twitch, as the only guardsman left standing, watched with a certain amount of satisfaction as the Sarge pulled the Legionnaire off him and did his level best to kill the man until the fight finally broken up by several cadets armed with shock-batons. In the silence that followed the exciting round of noncom mud wrestling, the Clerk asked if the Commander if he'd been drugging the rations again.
The Commander explained to the confused Clerk that they'd discontinued that program for cost reasons and starting fights was a common tactic to avoid getting chosen. The dark-skinned Legionnaire had a history of it, especially when it involved his subordinates getting chosen. The Clerk digested this, and then said that sort of behavior sounded remarkably leader-like, the Commander grinned and agreed. Down in the mud, the Legionnaire started swearing, but quickly shut his mouth as the Commander leaned down and asked if he was refusing to volunteer for Inquisitorial service. The man shot a final, exasperated look at us as he was hauled off with the rest of the Inquisitorial volunteers and the Commander and Clerk finally left with the whole parade in tow. Any relief on our part evaporated as the old Commissar stalked forward again, and had his cadets haul us out of the mud. Instead of the expected whipping though, the man gave us a thoughtful look, asked why the Legionnaire would've bothered with us. When he didn't get an answer, the Commissar started flipping through our papers (briefly pausing at Sarge's name and rank to look up and ask "Really?") until his expression abruptly lit up with recognition. The Commissar looked Aimy up and down, and in the most self-satisfied voice we'd heard outside an Inquisitorial briefing, announced that a penal legion was no place for a lady like her, but fortunately the Commissariat would be happy do the Von Humpedings a little favor. Aimy's expression conveyed exactly what she thought of his "favor" and where he could shove it, but she still put it into words, just to make sure. Unfortunately for the markswoman, it didn't turn out she had much say in the matter, and Cadet-Commissar Von Humpeding was marched off at gunpoint to get a shower and a fancy new hat, while a tech-priest and pair of servo-skulls were brought over to fit the rest of us for some less-fancy explosive collars. All in all, she probably got the worse deal.
One bomb-collaring and servo-skull shave-job later (the part where they'd tattoo our foreheads would apparently wait until deployment), we were standing around wondering just what the hell had happened and if we should've done, well, anything about it. Our discussion on the subject was interrupted by someone behind us asking the exact same question. We turned around to find a group of four Legionnaires staring at us, Sarge began to say something, and then paused and stared back for a few confused seconds trying to place why the four bald guardsmen we were looking at seemed so familiar, until Twitch and one of the Legionnaires both pointed at eachother and shouted "It's YOU!" and the rest of us (sans Tink) abruptly recognized all four of them as former Trainees from our brief stint as Inquisitorial drill-sergeants. It was hard to say who was more surprised, we all just stared at eachother for a few seconds, and then the leader of the group, one of the ex-PDF troopers, laughed, saluted Sarge, and said he never dreamed Oak would send *us* to get them out and we'd better talk to the Interrogator right away. At least, as soon as they found him; he'd snuck off during the muster to do something or other at our end of the parade grounds. According to them, he looked sort of like Sarge but bigger, grumpier, and blacker... Had we seen him by any chance?
The four trainees accepted the bad news about their Interrogator like true guardsmen; that is to say with a mixture of swearing, the exchange of a few packs of smokes and ration bars, and a smug "I told you so" from the former scum who'd apparently just won the running death-pool. Our pride in them was only tempered by the fact that the agent Oak had apparently sent to help us had just been hailed off to join some sort of Inquisitorial suicide squad. They took the news that we had no idea what they meant about "getting them out" and were there for something completely different with a similar amount of cynicism; the ex-scribe said it explained a lot, and suggested we get back to their barracks to finish the conversation. Doc asked if that was really wise, given how gossipy barracks life can be, but the trainees assured him it was okay: they had their very own building separate from the rest of the platoon, just them and their Commissar, who was "one of the good ones". Nubby and Twitch both pointed out that the only good Commissar was a dead one; the trainees agreed and said we'd understand when we met him. What they meant by that became clear when we entered the lovingly sandbagged and razor-wired prefab, and encountered a rotund red-coated man firmly ensconced in a filthy recliner. Judging by the snoring, the man probably wasn't dead, but judging by the thick carpet of liquor bottles on his side of the barracks, he was definitely working on it. The Scribe introduced him as Commissar Kelly, gave him a firm poke in the belly, and when he didn't respond, extracted a data-slate from the recesses of the chair and asked whether Sarge wanted to be put down as the new platoon lead or if one of them should do it. Nubby, Twitch, and the rest of us admitted that they were right about their Commissar.
Once we'd been officially inducted into the platoon (with Sarge as lead), issued proper Guard fatigues and some disappointingly power-packless lasguns out of a stash behind the Commissar's chair, the trainees brought us up to speed. As it turned out, the four of them (one PDF trooper, scribe, cleric, and no-longer-ex-con), hadn't been scooped up as part of the whole Oak thing, they'd actually been enjoying Inquisitorial hospitality since before everything hit the fan. Their team had done alright on their first few missions after graduation, as had the other trainees as far as they knew, but a few months back they'd run into trouble. The PDF trooper explained that it'd all been because of our training, you see, while our advice about just shooting anyone stupid enough to mess with the blatantly evil eldritch artifacts had served them well, we probably hadn't meant that rule to include Interrogators. At least not when there were witnesses around… The good news was that thanks to that decision they'd mostly survived that encounter, and the Inquisition investigators had actually agreed with their decision. The bad news was that grunts shooting their superior officers is generally frowned upon, regardless of what organization your in, hence the penal legion. They'd been in there for the better part of two months, and since regiments were shipped out ever two or three months, that actually made them some of the camp's most senior inmates. They'd arrived at the arrangement with their pet Commissar and had been trying to figure out if there was a way to get themselves "forgotten" when the regiment shipped out, and then the Interrogator had turned up and started talking about how Oak wanted to help them escape. Not being chumps, they hadn't believed a word of it and told him as much, until the man finally admitted he needed their help for something and would arrange for one of Oak's allies to extract them all together afterwards.
Our former trainees had been a bit dubious, but the Interrogator had obviously been some sort of legitimate, because right after he'd arrived the Penal Legion had started being assigned work details around the nearby sections of HQ. Somehow he'd gotten their squad permanently assigned to groundskeeping duty at a complex just down the road, and had been devouring their reports on the place's layout and exterior security these last few weeks. Of course, being an Interrogator, the man had been tight-lipped about WHY they were doing all this scouting, but given that the largest building in the complex had "Mundane Evidence Storage" written on the front, it didn't take a genius to figure out he was planning some sort of heist. Their theory had been reinforced by the contents of the Interrogator's "secret" stash under the barrack's floorboards, which they'd discovered and rifled through about ten minutes after the man had set it up, and happily cracked open to show us. Aside from the booby traps (which they declared to be decidedly sub-standard compared to what Twitch had tested them on), the stash contained an Inquisitorial Stormtrooper uniform, complete with a badge identifying the Interrogator as an Inquisitorial HQ guard, as well as some sort of weird dataslate with a badge slot, and several stacks of notes and blueprints focused on (and under) the Evidence Building. The final item, tucked in the very bottom of the stash, was a three-ring binder titled "The Loyal Servant of Mars, Mk.121-HS Etheric Variable Discipline Collar: Sacred Diagrams and Maintenance Hymnal". Tink immediately seized the technical binder, and after a few seconds of perusing, demanded a mirror and a Type-5 Combi-Tool or the closest thing the trainees had. The ex-con raised an eyebrow at him and then shrugged, fished a large slightly-bent screwdriver, a cracked shaving mirror, and a few homemade metal shims out from under the Commissar's filthy chair, and told him to go nuts.
After a few seconds of dismayed staring at the proffered tools, Tink huffed, snatched them up and went to work. The rest of us watched as the techie began scraping the blunt screwdriver around the seams of his collar in search of something or other, and alternated between cursing at his tools (as well as whichever cogboy had written the manual), and flipping between three different technical diagrams. After nearly a minute of this, the former cleric suggested he worry about the collar later: the Interrogator had been trying for days and hadn't even managed to get his collar's cover off. Tink assured him that it was because the man was a technological idiot who didn't know a diode from a donut, whereas he could read a circuit diagram with both eyes closed and had spent the last year studying technology so advanced it made the mechanicus' simple little toys look like, um, simple little toys. The trainee nodded and agreed, and suggested that it might also have something to do with the fact that the manual was for a completely different model of collar than the ones we were all actually wearing. One without the special anti-tamper feature, or so he'd heard. Tink paused, and then very slowly pulled his tools away from his neck and suggested that it might be better if he started with someone else's collar first. Everyone in the room took a step backwards, except for Twitch, who suggested that maybe this sort of thing should be left to the demolitions expert instead then grabbed the screwdriver and instructed Tink to hold still. Tink decided he'd rather not do this, and darted behind the comatose Commissar with Twitch close on his heels.
While Tink and Twitch bickered, the rest of us perused the Interrogator's notes on the Evidence Building, but it was all disappointingly rough. There were several different possible entry points marked on the diagrams, along with little notations about pros and cons, as well as several instances of "ask team's technical/demolitions expert about X". Given that said experts were busy playing ring-around-the-Commissar while a harried trainee tried to keep them from waking the snoring man up, we decided those could wait for later. The one thing in the notes that really jumped out to us was a complete lack of any sort of objective marker; everything was either about getting in or getting out, but not a word on where to go afterwards. Noticing our confusion, the ex-Scribe pointed at several strings of numbers and letters jotted along the side of one of the pages. He said he was pretty sure the shorter one at the top was the storage unit ID code for Oak's case, and that the rest were the IDs for the individual pieces of evidence he wanted us to steal before his trial.The real question, according to the former PDF trooper, was just what the hell piece of evidence in Oak's case locker was so bloody damning that having it spontaneously disappear would actually improve things? Sarge, torn between relief that at least some fragment of operational security had been maintained and feeling like a hypocritical ass, informed the trainees that they really, REALLY, Didn't Need to Know. Sarge's non-answer was accepted by the trainees with only a moderate amount of grumbling about him having become "one of them", and over the course of the evening a plan was formed.
Well, it wasn't exactly a plan per-se, more of a chore list. For starters, Sarge wanted to have a look at this Evidence building himself, so the trainees did some more fiddling on the napping Commissar's dataslate to get him included on the groundskeeping detail. While Sarge was out scouting, the rest of us were to put our heads together on the whole Collar problem. After a lot of inane argument, the technical side was assigned to Tink AND Twitch, and the pair were given firm instructions to start by actually reading the outdated manual instead of just looking at the pictures. They were going to need some proper tools of course, which was Nubby's job, along with the Ex-Con who said he already Knew Some Guys. Finally, since nobody present was willing to let Tink or Twitch fiddle with THEIR collars, Doc was asked to go to provide a corpse or seven. The Medic had objected, loudly asking why we expected him to just have a bunch of dead bodies lying around. Tink pointed out that A: He was an Imperial Guard Medic and B: this was a Penal Legion, the only real problem would be finding ones that still had their heads. Doc grumpily ceded the point and promised to go volunteer for the Legion's medical corps. The final chore involved the numbers from the notes, or to be more precise, the very similar ones Sarge vaguely remembered seeing on that little "Please Collect your Stuff" slip mixed in with our transfer orders… the ones that the old Commissar had walked off with. According to the trainees, they'd have been filed away in the Commissariat Command Post and none of us stood the slightest chance of getting anywhere near them. Luckily for us, we already had someone on the inside, all we had to do was figure out a way to make contact without raising any commissarial eyebrows. The trainees asked if we meant that Sister who'd come in with us, and were advised not to call Aimy that to her face if they valued their teeth.
The next morning we got our first taste of life in an Inquisitorial Penal Legion. They day started off at six with a public execution, followed by a fiery sermon from the Legion's head Priest (some sort of Redemptionist Praecentor we guessed based on all his stuff about cleansing sin through glorious death). After the sermon we there was a roll call, in which a slightly disgruntled Cadet stood in for the Commissar we'd been left snoozing in his slightly damp chair, and we moved on to some good old Guard-issue PT and dummy weapon drills, and finally another public execution before lunch. Honestly it was all sort of homey; just like being back in one of the Training Regiments, if a rather disciplinarian one. Okay, maybe "disciplinarian" is putting it a bit lightly: by lunch the death-count was up to seven, and we were pretty sure the Commissars had some sort of daily competition going on to see who could get the most whippings in. Aside from the big public executions (which the trainees said weren't actually a pre-meal tradition, that morning was just busier than usual for some reason), the leading cause of death appeared to be summary execution at the hands of the Cadets for minor, possibly imaginary, infractions. This behavior didn't really surprise us, anyone who's met a Baby Commissar could've told you there's a reason why they aren't given authority to shoot Guardsmen until a tour or two has mellowed them out a bit. It did strike us as a bit wasteful though, even if Penal Legionnaires were considered even more expendable than your typical Guardsmen (if that's even possible), one had to wonder how they were managing to keep the Legion from dwindling away to nothing before it ever saw combat. That little question was answered for us just after lunch, when an an Arbite convoy escorting four whole busses of new recruits rolled in.
According to one of the trainees, the four busses full of new arrivals were the Arbite's weekly delivery of fresh meat. See, there were two types of Legionnaires in the camp. Unlucky mudfeet and disgraced Inquisitorial agents only made up about a quarter of the Legion, the rest consisted of the hardened dregs of the planet's criminal underworld. Unlike us Guardsmen, who accepted our sorry lot fairly easily, the assorted gangers, assassins, heretics, and occasional outright lunatic chafed a little at their new strict military lifestyle, and apparently the more organized members harbored some downright lethal bad-blood for eachother. Anyway, as the busses unloaded, an entire platoon of Legionnaires jumped some of the new arrivals. Some of the Cadets moved in with their shock-sticks to settle things and one of them got a bit too cocky and wound up yanked into the melee, which was when their seniors stepped in and we got to see our fancy Discipline Collars in action. All at once, every collar in a large radius started beeping and almost everyone (including us) froze, but the melee's participants were a bit too wrapped in things and didn't stop until their collars went from beeping to an electrical buzzing and they all flopped over into the mud in a twitching heap. The Old Commissar strode out of the crowd followed closely by a pair of toadies as well an unarmed Cadet we belatedly recognized as a very stiff and unhappy looking Aimy. While a few Cadets pulled their comrade out from under the pile, the Old Commissar fiddled with a fancy dataslate like the one that was kept under our Commissar's chair, and very abruptly three of the Legionaries in the pile didn't have heads. Without a second glance, the man turned on his heel and walked off again, only pausing to instruct a squad to "clean that up" and shoot an unreadable glance at Aimy when she began to lag a little behind him. The Markswoman immediately sped up and didn't so much as glance in our direction.
Afternoons in Camp Redemption were a little more free than the mornings. Most of the Legion got a second round of drills focused on such complex concepts as which way 'round to hold a lasgun, ditch-digging, and how to serve as a human bomb, but as Guardsmen we already knew that stuff. The more senior members of the Legion were split up between various work details, which gave us a chance to get started on Sarge's little Chore List. Sarge's scouting mission to the Evidence Building involved a lot more drain-cleaning and hand-weeding of poisonous xeno-flora than the trainees' description of "light groundskeeping duty" had led him to believe. The PDF trainee apologized, saying it varied a lot day to day, since they were filling in for a whole range of servitors that'd been hauled off by the tech-priests. When Sarge expressed interest in this, the trainees further explained that it wasn't actually just the Evidence Building's servitors, an entire third of the Headquarters' corpse-bots had been pulled for inspection by a team of Magos'. Something to do with the discovery of a shipment of chaos-tainted servitor control units with Inquisitorial markings on some backwater space station… Sarge decided not to ask further questions on the subject.
During the periods of time when the Cadet overseeing the groundskeeping detail (the same morose-looking one that filled in for the Commissar during the morning) wasn't watching too closely, Sarge got a good look and the Mundane Evidence Building's layout and outer security. Nothing really interesting jumped out at him about the building proper, but his attention was grabbed by three smaller buildings sharing its end of the compound. The one directly adjacent the evidence building turned out to be a shipping and receiving depot, where the majority of the actual Evidence being stored came in and out. Judging by the sweating Inquisitorial Stormtroopers hauling load after load after load of boxes, it was the one menial job in the complex that hadn't been handed off to the Legionnaires. The second building spotted had an industrial look to it. The trainees said it was a plasma incinerator used for general trash burning and the disposal of the various evidence that the Inquisition was done with. When the Cadet commissar wasn't nearby, the PDF trooper quietly informed Sarge that the Legionnaire squad currently running it were a bunch of organized locals best not trifled with. More importantly, they were also the primary source of contraband in the camp. The final smaller building wasn't nearly as interesting, at least according to the trainees. They said it was just a laundry processing building, serving both the camp and other Headquarters staff in the area. The guys running it were rivals to the incinerator gang, but considerably less organized since two of their leaders had been executed that morning for stealing out of the bins.
Tink and Twitch's assignment was a little less straightforward. "Sit around in your barracks, where nobody can see what you're doing" wasn't one of the available duties, so their official job was assisting our Commissar in his functions, both official and bodily. Tink had protested and tried to foist the latter part of the job on Doc, but the medic had his hands full working in the camp's medical corps, who'd accepted him without so much a check to see if he knew which end of the scalpel to hold, and immediately set him patching up the constant stream of bleeding Legionnaires sent over from the remedial drills. Anyway, fortunately for Tink and Twitch, a few discrete life-support features built into the Commissar's chair handled the ickier parts of their duty, which is why the trainees said they preferred to just leave him in it. The Cadet who turned up at the barrack's door pushing a pallet had the same disgruntled expression as the one supervising Sarge's patrol, but he brightened up immensely when Tink and Twitch took it from him and scurried off without asking any questions. Once the Commissar, who'd attained a vague, profanity-filled semblance of consciousness just after lunch, had been placated with his "morning" drink, and loaded on the pallet chair-and-all, he ordered his new handlers on a lovely little tour of the base. Nobody gave Twitch or Tink a second look as they pushed the man around the camp, slurring inarticulate curses at anyone he saw and unsuccessfully commanding the few female Cadet Commissars to service him. In fact nobody even gave them a first look, both the Cadets and the other Commissars avoided the trio as much as possible and did their best to ignore them when they couldn't. Tink and Twitch quickly decided they liked the man, it was like having their very own profanity-spewing cloak of invisibility, which only occasionally spit on them and threw empty bottles at their heads.
The parade wound up visiting pretty much every building in the camp, with the notable exception of the Command Post, which the Commissar informed the pair was full of pissant busybodies unfit to choke on his massive… well, safe to say he wasn't on the best of terms with his nominal superiors. From what Tink and Twitch could gather from the little tidbits of sense mixed in with the incoherent ranting, the man had once had a pretty successful commissarial career with some fancy noble regiment. Medals, parades, beautiful women expressing their eternal gratitude to their planets noble saviors, and all that stuff; right up to the point where literally his entire regiment deserted (NOT the Tau Empire, Twitch checked). The man had just came back from a trip to planetary HQ with the regiment's other Commissar and they were gone, gear, armor, tents, camp followers and all; nothing left besides an excessively detailed note telling the campaign's senior brass where to stick it. Needless to say, said brass had been pissed. The Inquisition had gotten involved, things had gotten political, and here "they" were, assigned permanent duty to this shithole. Not to the legion mind, but the camp itself, everyone else got out eventually, one way or another, but not him or "that weasel-faced, self-righteous, ass-kissing, ladder-climbing, lying little shit". His once solace in life was that our "glorious" deaths would doubtlessly be long, horrible, and probably involve Orks with pointy sticks. Twitch wholeheartedly agreed. Anyway, after a final stop at the quartermasters for as much booze as the harried man running the stores would give him (plus a few extra bottles he commanded his minions to cram down their pants when the man's back was turned), Tink and Twitch were freed to do as much collar-tinkering as they could manage while the old man's increasingly slurred curses transitioned to snores. The Cadet never came back for the pallet.
Nubby, who'd vanished along with the ex-Con trainee, returned to the barrack after everyone else that evening and brought a set of what looked to be home-made lockpicking tools with him. Unfortunately he also brought three Legionnaires, one of which Sarge recognized from the crew working the incinerator, and there was a bit of disagreement on the matter of payment. A few bottles out of the snoozing Commissar's stash had originally been offered, but upon arrival the biggest of the three men informed us that the Interrogator had run up a tab and we'd inherited his debt. Needless to say, we saw things differently: Tink and Twitch were in favor of just killing them, we did have 3 to 1 odds on them and were all armed selection of pokey metal things courtesy of their stop at the quartermaster's office. Doc and Nubby were feeling a bit wussier though, especially considering the way we'd seen the old Commissar break up that one fight, so the ultimate decision was left to our fearless leader. Sarge briefly debated the merits of establishing superiority by punching the biggest thug in the snout, possibly with his augmetic hand, but judging by the trainees' worried expressions it didn't seem like the smartest fight to pick, and anyway, it was a bit early to be burning bridges with our only supplier in the camp. After a bit of arguing and haggling from Sarge and Nubby respectively, the thugs were sent off with as much booze as the trainees felt we could slip out of the Commissar's collection without him noticing. The three men smugly thanked us for the "interest payment" and said they expected more next week. We didn't need the trainees to tell us that the arrangement wasn't going to be a stable one.
Our shaky relations with the local underworld were only a minor concern compared with the looming 10-day time limit on them throwing all our stuff out. We weren't sure what Oak would do to us if his super-secret Conspiracy-foiling boxes got thrown in the incinerator, but we were pretty sure death would be a preferable alternative, so it was an incredible relief when we finally got our first real break on the sixth day. That morning, thanks to a downright heroic series of fuck-up by the locals during the live fire drill, nearly two dozen legionnaires landed themselves in the base hospital, while another ten skipped straight to the morgue. Doc's offer to handle the post-SNAFU cleanup, including the augmetic "recycling", was eagerly accepted by the overworked head medicae. That afternoon the drunken Commissar's escort was larger than usual, and a bag of tools was crammed under his chair. After the mandatory first stops to empty and refill the crotchey bastard, the parade paused at the morgue, where Tink and Twitch split off while Nubby and the ex-Con trainee stayed with the Commissar and kept an eye out for trouble. Inside the morgue, Doc had the seven legionnaires who'd died with their collars on laid out and ready, and watched over Tink's shoulder as the techie brought out his tools and announced his intention to start by isolating the primary control board. A few seconds of fiddling later, Tink had one of the collar's panels open, exposing a jumble of wires, circuits, shaped charges, and a little boxy-thing which he didn't recognize from the manual, which immediately started beeping. Tink managed to duck in time; Doc was covered with a light marinade of neck-bits. While Doc swore and attempted to fish the legionnaire's head out from the table it had rolled under, Twitch seized the tools from Tink and reminded the techie that he'd told him so: the first step HAD to be disconnecting the detonators. Doc swore again as a second head rolled past him.
Ten minutes and four more headless corpses later, we'd firmly established several things NOT to do, especially in regards to the beepy-box thing. Tink was nursing a burned hand and arguing with Twitch over whether they should try wrapping the last collar in the some of scan-proof fabric they'd wrapped the tools in before they made an attempt on the final "volunteer", when the corpse in question abruptly sat up and announced that he actually felt completely fine and would be returning to duty now. There was a shocked pause as everyone tried to shift mental gears, and then the man and bolted for the exit. None of us had gotten more than three steps before the not-quite-dead legionnaire hit the heavy, metal, and (thank the Emperor) LOCKED fire-exit at a full sprint, and bounced off with a sound like a coconut being hit with bat. All three troopers breathed a sigh of relief, only to freeze as someone started knocking on the door from the far side. Fortunately, the knocker turned out to just be the ex-con trainee. Once Doc let him in, he began to ask if we'd set off any alarms, only to break off mid-sentence as he registered the unholy mess of headless corpses, the patina of gore dripping off the walls, ceiling, and all three troopers, and the feebly-twitching legionnaire lying in front of the door. The trainee paled, and announced that we were all going to die. At Doc's prodding, he expanded, explaining that a posse consisting of the old sour-faced Commissar, his entourage, and the tech-priest in charge of the collars had just left the command building, and he was pretty sure they were coming this way. We had just a few minutes to somehow hide the evidence of collar-tampering and get out of here, or they'd have the lot of us up on the gallows before dinner-time. Doc whimpered, Twitch swore, and Tink pulled the unconscious legionnaire's pants off.
Outside the morgue, Nubby noted that the trainee hadn't come back, and the commissarial posse the man had been so worried about seemed to be heading towards the hospital's entrance. After briefly debating finding somewhere else to be, the little trooper decided that what was probably needed was good old fashioned distraction. He eyed the composition of the oncoming group, and then chair-bound Commissar on the pallet next to him, who'd worked his way through half the bottle of Sacra they'd given him after breakfast to keep him quiet, and then grabbed the pallet's handles. As he pushed his cargo on an intercept-course for the posse, he leaned forwards: "Eh, uhh, sir? I was wonderin, what'cher 'pinion on... tech-priests?" The approaching group saw Nubby and his pallet coming; it was a bit hard to miss them, given that the drunken old man riding it was slurring at the top of his lungs about how if he had it his way all those smug metal bastards would be rounded up and shot like the heretics they were. His volume only grew as, at Nubby's prodding, he began expounding the various shortcomings of the martian priesthood, ranging from the moral, to the personal, to the sexual, and what he felt should be done about them. The group immediately began to curve around the obstacle, only to find Nubby and the Commissar turning to match them, and then turning again as they tried the opposite side. The demented game of anti-chicken continued until, at a range of around 15 meters, the ranting Commissar spotted the group's tech-priest, and loudly instructed his minion to push him closer. Nubby did as ordered.
Faced with the fearsome might of Nubby's speeding pallet of doom, the approaching Commissar and his cadets abandoned the field of battle and dodged off into the mud next to the path. The tech-priest tried to dodge with them, only to find himself back in the line of fire as the white-haired Cadet next to him suddenly slipped on the mud and shoulder-checked him back onto the path. The pallet smashed through the cogboy's shins like they weren't even there, because they weren't, the grav plate that'd replaced them bobbed him over the metal edge without it even ruffling the hem of his robes; the Commissar riding it on the other hand… The now-empty Sacra bottle shattered spectacularly as it hit the tech-priest's metal jaw and the man reeled backwards, only to be brought up short by the liver-spotted hand gripping the front of his robes. The four Cadet-Commissars watched as their nominal superior with a mixture of shock, horror, and in Aimy's case, poorly disguised glee, as he drunkenly menaced the terrified tech-priest with the jagged remains of his bottle and Nubby cheered him on. Sadly, the show didn't last long: Nubby's cheers abruptly cut off as his collar sent a few thousand volts through his neck, and the weasel-faced old Commissar stomped forward and knocked both the bottle and the tech-priest out of Commissar Kelly's hands. The chair-bound commissar started to angrily slur something, only to pause as he registered who'd disarmed him, and instead fix the man with a look of immense hatred, which the other Commissar returned in kind. After nearly two minutes of mutual death-glaring (which is a lot, at least if you're doing it properly), the more vertical of the pair broke off and shifted his glare to Nubby. He gave the still-twitching trooper a few stress-relieving kicks to the ribs, instructed one of his flunkies to load him onto the pallet and return both him and the Commissar to our barracks, and resumed his march towards the hospital.
When the Commissar and his posse finally entered the morgue, with their bolt-pistols drawn and a worried-looking Head Medicae bringing up the rear, they found a blood-spattered Doc standing over a similarly stained pile of clothing and augmetic body-parts. The Medic snapped to attention, attempted to salute, nearly brained himself with the severed metal arm he was holding, and (following the first rule of survival-oriented soldiers since time immemorial) Kept His Damn Mouth Shut. The Commissar eyed him for a second, and then swept his gaze around the morgue, taking in both the bloody mess and the complete lack of any other living legionnaires in the room. He motioned to the tech-priest, who waved around something that looked like a cross between a dataslate and an auspex, and then pointed at the pile next to Doc. At the Commissar's signal, Aimy moved forwards, dug around in the bloody mess, and after the slightest pause, extracted one of the detonated collars from it. The Commissar fixed Doc with an absolutely menacing gaze, and asked what in the Emperor's name he thought he was doing here. Doc didn't need to feign the panic in his voice as he began rattling off the Generian Regimental Regulations (5th Edition, of course) on the Post-Mortem Recovery of Wargear, Augmetics, and Personal Effects of Greater than Fifty Thrones Value. The Commissar's expression didn't change, but the cadets behind him shared a disbelieving look and the Head Medicae let out a pained groan. Aimy, catching on immediately, summoned every ounce of incredulous disgust she could muster as she asked if he was really stupid enough to try and salvage a live discipline collar. Doc just blinked at her, and claimed that it hadn't been THAT hard, at least not after he'd figured out you could skip the bonesaw if you set them off first by poking the "beepy-bit" with a scalpel.
Inside the large medical waste bin at the far end of the room, Tink, Twitch, and the trainee listened as the Tech-Priest ranted at the Head Medicae about agreed upon procedures and standards of training for all medical corps personnel. Any relief on their part quickly evaporated as the Commissar told the arguing pair save it for later and asked the Tech-Priest whether he was sure there weren't any other legionnaires present. All three troopers in the bin tightened the strips of scan-proof cloth they'd torn off the tool bag and wrapped around their collars, and hoped like hell that Tink actually knew what he was talking about for once. Out in the room, Doc suffered a moment of heart failure as the tech-priest waved around his auspex-slate and announced that there was some interference from all the screamer-signals, but he was picking up at least two still-active collars in the room; the Commissar immediately tapped something on his own dataslate. Doc dropped to the floor, thrashing and clutching at his sparking collar, and so did the not-quite-dead legionnaire on one of the nearby tables. The Commissar pondered this new development for a second, then shot the man in the head with his bolt pistol. There was a slight rustle from the bin as Twitch misinterpreted the sound, but fortunately nobody noticed and Tink and the trainee managed to hold him down. The Commissar, once he'd deactivated the shocker, gave Doc a brief, but incredibly condescending lecture on penal legion regulations vis-a-vis corpses and collars, and how the latter were the sole responsibility of the Commissariat. He wrapped it up by punching a command into his dataslate and holding his thumb against the biometric reader on it, and then freshly-decapitated legionaire's collar popped open. His little demonstration done, the Commissar began to collect his posse, only to pause and shoot a look at where Aimy was still standing next to Doc. In a thoughtful voice, he asked if they knew each other.
Doc's "No" was cut off by Aimy's "Yes", after a slight pause, in which the Commissar gave Aimy a very piercing look, the markswoman explained that they'd just arrived in camp together. The Commissar stared at her some more, and then shrugged and announced that she wouldn't have any problem handling his discipline them. Aimy, without even the slightest hesitation, turned and popped Doc in the jaw hard enough to knock the medic across the nearest table. The Commissar just sighed, shook his head, and held out his whip to her as his Cadets dragged Doc outside towards the parade-ground. When Sarge returned from his groundskeeping detail, he was less than thrilled to find Doc lying on his stomach with a pile of inexpertly-applied bandages on his back, Nubby with a similar set around his burned neck, and Tink and Twitch arguing with each other about who'd been wronger. The only real bright side of the whole thing, aside from nobody actually getting killed, was that Doc managed to get in a brief word with Aimy as she cut him down from the whipping post. He was able to direct the markswoman towards the camp chapel, and that evening the ex-Cleric managed to finally catch her alone long enough to relay our urgent request for our mislaid transfer paperwork. At Tink's request the trainee also asked if she could get us one of those fancy collar-removing dataslates, but Aimy said that wasn't going to happen: while they had her dressed up like a red-coat, they sure as shit didn't trust her like one. Not only did the old Commissar have his minions following her and snitching on her every action when she was out of his sight, she wasn't even allowed to have a weapon and he personally frisked her every time they left the command building. Honestly that last bit surprised the hell out of us, not because it didn't make sense, but because none of us ever imagined Aimy had the self control not to at least try to kill the unpleasant old bastard on the spot.
Anyway, Aimy claimed that even if she could score us a Commissar's dataslate, they could only remove collars with the biometric authorization of their owner, and she didn't see herself getting out the door with an unconscious red-coat draped over her shoulder. The best she might be able to do would be a Cadet's dataslate, but that was what our Commissar had, so the Cleric trainee told her not to bother. So no fancy dataslate for us, but she promised to get the orders to us in time for our infiltration, which Sarge's "plan" said was four days off. And yes, the term was definitely "plan", because even Twitch and Nubby's most harebrained schemes had more structure than what our fearless leader was proposing. Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh, Sarge's favorite all-purpose command "handle it" only appeared at five points, but that's still five more than anyone who's about to BREAK INTO AN INQUISITORIAL FACILITY would ever say they're comfortable with. The general theory was to start by taking the majority of the Interrogator's notes on entry-points, especially all the details about the defunct tunnels under that whole compound, and chucking them in a bin. We figured that if the man felt putting on a Headquarters-Security uniform and going in the front door was good enough for him, it would be good enough for all of us too. Of course we were shy at least four of said uniforms, but we figured a visit to the compound laundry would fix that, problem was, the fellows working the place were beyond useless. We'd known their recent run-in with the Commissariat would leave them cagey, but the second Nubby even floated a suggestion their way, they'd all clammed up and threatened to call the Commissars. Sarge's personal visit to their building and offer to swap duties with them, which had been met with outright hostility and paranoid accusations of working for one of the other crime families, had rounded off the general cavalcade of failure that was the sixth day.
So we needed a bunch of uniforms we didn't know how to get, and to remove a bunch of collars we didn't know how to remove, and that was still before we even got in the door. Once inside and passed the manned checkpoint that was the main barrier to entry, Tink and the ex-Scribe were fairly certain we'd be able to move through the majority of the facility using the security badges everyone who went in there seemed to be wearing. We just had to get one, somehow, and use the card-reading datalsate that'd been in the interrogator's stash to copy it onto a few other cards, also acquired "somehow". The incredibly vague plan after that was to walk around, potentially kidnap some clerk and force him to disgorge some directions, and eventually find wherever they'd shoved our gear and Oak's boxes. The one actual firm part of the whole thing was that since that was the day they'd be throwing our stuff out, nobody should blink when we showed up and grabbed it. Now, what they'd think when we rolled up to Oak's evidence-locker… Anyway, skipping over the question of how we'd get access to the evidence for what seemed to be the biggest case in the sub-sector, at least the Interrogator's notes had some reassuring bits in them about security screamer-tags only being applied to the contents of evidence boxes. Theoretically, we would be able to go in and swap Oak's boxes with some of the containers in his locker, and leave with the leftover empties without setting off any alarms. Then it would just be a matter of taking all of our stuff out the shipping entrance under the guise of incineration, and then just cheesing it back to… somewhere. So, yeah, safe to say were a bit dubious. Still, though, if Oak had told the truth about them putting everything we'd had on the Arbite vessel into storage, once we got to our locker we'd have weapons, grenades, and three entire crates of high-explosives to work with... and in our experience that could "handle" pretty much anything.
Time being limited and the idiots on laundry duty being uncooperative, the next day we launched what could be called a hostile takeover. Emphasis on the hostile part. Given their paranoia they were probably expecting something, but we didn't show up at their barracks in the middle of the night with a bunch of lead pipes and making faux-subtle comments about unrefusable offers: that's civvy thinking there. Any proper soldier can tell you that even the most low-key training drills offers an amazing array of ways for someone to check themselves off the active-duty roster, especially if their comrades are willing to give murphy a little hand. First there was the catastrophic knee dislocation during PT, then the unfortunate incident where two legionnaires fell into the razor-wire they were practicing clearing, and the poor fellow who's collar malfunctioned during the mud-crawl. Obviously this all caused a bit of distraction in their platoon-mates, which was probably the reason that three more of them managed to misplace their assigned dummy-weapons. The Commissar in charge of their platoon seemed willing to go easy on them, but at the arrival of a bunch of cadets, one of whom promptly began asking pointed questions about the disciplinary regulations, he decided to make a bit of an example. That afternoon, after the whipping and publicly announced reassignment back to remedial drills with the latest bus-load of FNGs, the Commissar in charge of the work detail assignments asked for volunteers with prior laundry experience. For some reason, nobody aside from us stepped forward.
Laundry duty involved a disappointingly high amount of actual duty, largely due to the Commissar that'd previously managed the detail sticking around to make sure we didn't burn the place down or anything. The man actually seemed pretty impressed by our well-honed stain-scrubbing and underpants-starching skills and willingly turned command over to the morose cadet officially overseeing us at the end of the shift. Still though the way he was looking over our shoulders while we worked was enough to discourage us from trying to pocket anything. It wasn't a total waste though, we were at least able to ascertain that suitable numbers of HQ Stormtrooper uniforms came through for us to borrow a few, and we did indeed spot one with an ID badge carelessly left still-attached. That specific uniform wound up mis-filed back into the "IN" pile. Upon our return to base, we received even more good news: during their medically-mandated light Commissar-sitting duty, Doc and Nubby had come up with an actual non-suicidal idea for dealing with the collars. Well, actually it was Nubby's idea mostly, but that didn't NECESSARILY rule it out. While sitting around, watching the old Commissar work his way through the fourth bottle of the day, Doc had regaled Nubby with an in-depth, profanity filled, account of Tink and Twitch's decapacitation experimentation. At the point where everyone except the unfortunate medic had hidden in the bin, Nubby raised the question whether we REALLY needed anything better than the scan-proof fabric. After all, if the stuff could block that tech-priest's scanner, wouldn't it also block the Commissars' data-slates and whatever they used to watch for escapees? Doc's excitement over this novel new idea soured somewhat when he was nominated to be the test-subject while Nubby played mad-scientist with the old Commissar's dataslate.
So, after a few hours of painful experimentation, at least on the testee's part, Nubby and Doc delivered the verdict that an anti-scan scarf would definitely, totally, 100% do the trick. At least, if we kept the heist to under 20 minutes that is, because after that point the collar would start loudly beeping and administering increasingly powerful shocks until the covering was taken off it. Doc estimated, using some completely arbitrary math, that if we really had to we could stretch it to a whole hour before the shocks became incapacitating, and maybe another half hour after that before they became fatal. The ex-Scribe trainee corrected this figure down to just 40 minutes, because at that point the collar would just give up and detonate, he'd seen it happen to some of the legionnaires that the Commissars had assigned to run messages, back before the Inquisition got tired of cleaning up the bodies and told them to knock it off. Doc got really pale at this and decided to leave further testing to Tink and Twitch (who were both less than thrilled to be shown up by Nubby of all people). Our moderately-productive of possible excuses for why a squad of Inquisitorial Stormtoopers would show up to the Evidence Building wearing a collection of scarves, neckerchiefs, or other neck-covering attire was interrupted by someone knocking on the barracks door. Sarge's disgust was palpable when he opened it to find the same big stupid bastard that'd shaken us down for booze a few days ago, this time backed up by a full eight flunkies as well as the badly-limping boss of the former laundry-gang. The lead-thug glowered at Sarge in a manner that was probably supposed to be threatening, but mostly came off as constipated, and informed us that we owed his "new best buddy" an apology. A material one. Sarge barely managed not to roll his eyes as the idiot rubbed his fingers and thumb together in front of his face.
Once again, we were stunned by just how suicidally stupid these guys were. It wasn't just that they showed up at our door to try and intimidate us with what was, at best, roughly equal strength, they also had the absolute gall to demand not only the hand-over of laundry-detail, but the old Commissar as well. Sarge did actually TRY to talk them out of it (even if it was mostly just to buy time). He began to say something along the lines of "just give us three more days to enact our secret Inquisitorial mission and it's all yours", but managed to catch himself in time and converted it to a vague request to work the job until all the old laundry crew was healed. This, coupled with some alcoholic reparations, the return of most of Tink and Twitch's tools, and the Owing of a One, seemed like a more than reasonable offer to us. Even the laundry-boss seemed to think so, judging by the way his expression fell and he started backing up when the big thug rejected it. Sarge's expression, on the other hand, didn't even change as his sucker-punch hit the idiot in the jaw. Surprisingly, the lead thug didn't fall down, at least not until one of the full liquor bottles the rest of us had been collecting for the bribe hit him square in the nose with every ounce of force Doc's throwing arm could muster. That shot was followed by two more bottles courtesy of Tink and Nubby, which hit the nearest two flunkies in the stomach and groin respectively. Twitch's bottle had a little flaming rag stuffed in the mouth and all things considered, it was probably a good thing that it just bounced off his target's head with comical thunk as opposed to shattering like he'd intended. Those thugs remaining upright immediately drew a combination of shivs, pipes, and clubs and started to advance, only to scatter backwards as Sarge kicked their leader down the short stairs like an especially ugly bowling ball. The arrival of the four trainees on both their flanks was a bit redundant.
The one-sided scuffle was brought to an abrupt halt by a stream of slurred profanity, an (empty) bottle to the back of Tink's head, and a long shock from all of our collars as the old Commissar woke up and demanded to know who'd been stealing his drinks. There was a brief pause, in which the few thugs still capable of fighting visibly debated whether to try and take us while the collars had us down, and unanimously decided to just cheese it before any real red-coats showed up. All weapons were immediately stashed and all un-broken bottles (including Twitch's still-burning one) were retrieved from mud and returned to their rightful place next to the old Commissar's chair. Tink exchanged an open one with a straw in it for the man's dataslate before he could shock us anymore. As the thugs staggered, crawled, or were dragged back off to whichever barracks they'd come from, the former laundry-boss (who'd made the wise decision to just stand very still at the back of the group and see how things worked out) sighed and advised Sarge to be very careful before limping off after his new "friends". Despite what certain superiors of ours have said about our mental faculties in comparison to those of a waterlogged gerbil, we knew a hint when we were explicitly handed one with a little red bow on top. That's why the five unfamiliar legionnaires lounging around the nearest bathrooms the next morning were so surprised to find all nine of us treating Sarge's morning shit as a group exercise. Similar groups were dissuaded during roll-call, service, and PT, as well as a larger group who seemed to be aiming to eat their breakfast next to us until the combined weight of Sarge and Twitch's concentrated glaring convinced them to find something else to do.
The goons obviously could take a hint too, because when we got to training field, we encountered a pair of Cadets splitting incoming legionnaires up into new squads for morning drills. When the two baby Commissars spotted us, they immediately began homing in and started to bark off what sounded like carefully memorized group assignments, only to pause as none of us moved and they belatedly registered the snoring old Commissar we'd decided to bring with us. Sarge casually informed them that we had orders to stay as a unit, and asked if they wanted to have a word with our Commissar about changing that. The two cadets blanched, shared a look, and then left without saying anything more. The downside of bringing the Commissar with us was having to literally carry him, the chair, and the pallet through a full morning of drills, which made us a bit of a sitting duck. Aside from the occasional barrage of rocks or mud and unsuccessful attempts to sic other Commissars on us, the chief hazard was periodic attempts to sneak up and snatch or shank someone, which is a bit hard to pull off in an open-bloody-field, especially when one of the targets is a professional paranoid. Still though, had to give them points for persistence, most folks would quit after seeing a comrade lose BOTH eyes to crazed, fork-wielding demolitions trooper… There was a brief lull during lunch, followed by one last attack by a lone legionnaire who attempted to grab Sarge in the chow line. At least, we assumed it was an attack, just, like, a really half-assed one… fortunately the guy only received a little tap to the nose and a light round of kicking before the trainees pointed out that he wasn't affiliated with any known crime family, and mostly just ran messages for people. After some awkward sorries, a few bandaids, and some apology-booze from under the Commissar's chair, we received a note from Aimy directing us to meet her the following evening and collect our orders.
The afternoon was blissfully shanking-attempt free. There was some concern about the Commissar-watching portion of the team, as well as what might happen to our barracks while we were away, but a deal was worked out with the two depressed Cadets who actually handled all the Commissar's duties, which entailed one of them accompanying their boss and Twitch during his daily walk while the other managed our laundry detail, in exchange for the ex-Scribe trainee doing the day's paperwork. By the end of our shift, Nubby's increasingly filthy legion-issue jacket contained three ID badges as well as some promisingly scarf-like bits of clothing, and a test run was made to both the front and freight entrances to the Evidence building under the guise of an unscheduled uniform delivery. Rather worryingly, both runs pushed the twenty-minute mark without even actually getting past security. That night The Plan was revisited, and we came to the uncomfortable conclusion that, unless Tink and Twitch suddenly figured out how to get our collars off, we were going to need to bring one of those Commissar dataslates on the mission with us to periodically reset their timers like they did on work-details. This wasn't a problem in and of itself, we had one of those dataslates just lying around, the real issue was that it needed to be periodically "refreshed" by it's designated user via the slate's biometric scanner. We fervently hoped Aimy was going to be able to grab a slate and join on the mission, because the only other option involved an unconscious "volunteer" and a laundry hamper, which we were pretty sure would raise some eyebrows at the security checkpoint. In retrospect, this might've been a bit of an optimistic take on things...
>Sorry, that's all for now. The chapter will resume, Soon™