by Chris Cook

"The simulation is prepared, Lord." The Inqusitor looked over the shoulder of the tech adept, the blank eyes of the ritual mask scanning the rows of lights that told the status of the combat chamber. The hooded head nodded once, and a hand reached out, touching a pair of buttons in sequence. The adept watched as a series of warning lights flashed red.

"Lord, those controls set the drone weapons to live fire," he said uncertainly, "I was told this would be a training exercise."

"Yes," said the Inquisitor, "it will be. If there is no danger, the simulation is not accurate."

"As you wish, Lord," replied the adept quickly, grateful his objection had not caused offence. He watched as the Inquisitor carefully loaded a storm bolter and stepped through the armoured portal into the combat chamber. The door hissed closed.

The chamber today gave the illusion of a ruined city, the flames of its death long since burned out. The Inquisitor's careful footsteps were the only sound to echo down the deserted streets.

"Simulation begins," said a mechanical voice from the direction of the portal. There was a low hum from a building. The storm bolter fired once, and a split second later its shell blasted the head from a training drone that emerged from a doorway. The boltgun in the machine's hands dropped to the ground, a tiny light on its side still indicating its readiness to fire. Looking down the storm bolter's sight, the Inquisitor studied the wrecked machine, then carefully laid the weapon on the ground, removing the ammunition and deactivating the power cell. There was another hum, then the rattle of something moving through the rubble to one side. The Inquisitor looked back up, and a movement below the hood suggested a smile.

The adept watched with grim fascination as the console showed drone after drone being damaged and deactivating. He did not realise the exterior door of the control suite had opened until he sensed a presence behind him. Turning, he saw the current Master Inquisitor stationed on Terra, who he had only ever seen previously from a distance, in the company of the Inquisitorial Envoy on ceremonial occasions. The adept quickly bowed, reciting a short litany of devotion. The Master acknowledged with a nod, and turned from the adept to look at his console.

"Inquisitor Vail is inside," he said. The statement was flat, leaving the adept to interpret it as a question.

"Yes, my Lord, these last two hours."

"Doing well, I see."

The adept was puzzling over the appropriate response when the portal hissed open. The Inquisitor, Vail, emerged, carrying the head of an advanced assault drone.

"This one wasn't target tracking properly." The drone's head clanked to the floor at the adept's feet, and the two Inquisitors faced each other.

"Master," said Vail, with a brief nod.

"Your mission has been aproved by the Council of Lords," said the Master. "You leave Terra today."

"Good." The two Inquisitors left the adept, who nervously recovered the machine's head and turned to his console, noting that every light in the column for drone status was now darkened.

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