From now on, everything is a test.
Those were the first official words said to us at the academy. It was early in the morning on our first day of training, most of us still rubbing the sleep out of our eyes. We didn’t think too much about those words then, didn’t give them much weight. Not that first day. After the first week we begun to understand. After the first month we had taken it to heart. Or, those of us who could had. Some of us never lived to learn.
It’s been a long while since our mission to Tsachar IV, and many of the details of those days has long since faded from my memory. But whenever I think about that mission, those first words from my training always comes back to me. Everything is a test.
The young Emali being offered to us by her father, scared witless by our presence. How would you handle this situation, recruit? I lost my temper then, just as I had back in training. No, I didn’t kill him. The Emperor knows I wanted to, and I put all that desire into the threats I offered him in return.
The meeting with the minister. How do you ensure cooperation from planetary officials, recruit? I never did well in those lessons, but he was too clever to order us arrested. Perhaps clever enough to see how much trouble arresting us would be. Oh, we were trouble then.
The historian. We are watching you, recruit. He was nice. He was helpful. He was eager, and innocent. Just like all the best informers. I could never get entirely comfortable around him, even when he didn’t deserve it.
Even the tower itself was more of the same. A different shape, colour, and smell, and yet the same. A carefully arranged crime scene to take apart. What do you see, recruit? Even the Flock was the same; a house guard remains a house guard, regardless of shape. A theft remains a theft, even when the object stolen is the Pandaemonium Codex.
The attack cutting us off practically came on cue. You must always be ready, recruit. I hadn’t been ready, and so our ship was lost to us. I was so angry, just like I was when I failed a test in the academy. Anger would postpone the fear of the punishment. They were clever, our instructors. Our punishment for failing was never overt, and every one of us learned to fear them.
The Eldar coming to our rescue was the only thing to truly take me by surprise, but let’s be honest. When does meeting a xeno not feel like a test?