You’d like Lyra. Tiny, cute as a kitten, bouncy and friendly and cheerful and just a bit naive. Not as serious as you. Not a worrier. You’d like her.
The Orks, however, did not.
We trailed, masked by ancient stealth machinery, through the curtain of Ork asteroids. Sweating in silence as rocks tumbled past the great dome, balanced on their pillars of hydrogen fusion fire. Somewhere behind me, a voidsman muttered prayers to the Emperor. I did not pray. I never pray. Every moment I breathe is a gift, a blessing, not a possession, not something that I own and might fear the loss of.
For I am already dead.
Men whispered, though kilometers of hard vacuum lay between us and the alien. They did not want to speak. They scarcely dared to move. I saw a seasoned ex-Lieutenant of His Holy Navy jump when I raised my voice and gave the word. A single word.
The Choir circled her, eight ranking adepts of the Astra Telepathica, the fat one who is forever muttering to himself, the hulking brute who scourges himself with whips to make the power come, the pretty one with her miraculously whole eyes and the brand of Inquisitorial sanction burned into her forehead. Their hands joined, their voices raised. Reality rippled about them like a curtain of steam.
And the child raised her arms and heaved, as if hauling herself upward, and hung suspended in the air, swaying slowly back and forth in some unseen ripple of the warp. Reality bent toward her, a thin skin stretching over the vast ocean of raw energy. I felt it tug at me, drawing, wanting, beckoning. Calling.
I wanted to join my voices to theirs, but I did not know the words. From somewhere, impossibly far away, Brother Alrick sung the Rune of The Emperor’s Creed, a counterpoint to the Astropaths’ chanting. His words of holy light cut through each pause, shattering the dark whispers that gathered at the corners and edges of their voices, in the silences of their song.
Flames whirled in the air about Lyra, danced upon her skin. Patches of her pink dress crumpled into white ash and fell away, costly Illyrean Moth-Silk vanishing like touchpaper. And she heaved again, the unseen link dragging the circle of Astropaths to their knees like a chain of fallen dominoes. Blood began to trickle from the fat one’s nose. The pretty one’s face froze in an expression of awe or ecstasy, weeping as if she beheld the most beautiful thing in the universe, and never would again.
Lyra giggled, high and thin and pure, like a little girl at play.
Moving as one in a dream, I bent half an ear to the faint chatter of the vox. Orkish voices screaming reports of fires breaking out. Voidsmen reporting torpedo traces as weak-minded gunners on Ork vessels began to open fire upon each other.
We hung silent in the gulf of the void, tumbling in the wake of the Orks as they tore each each other apart. And all through it, Lyra laughed.
When finally her feet touched the deck again, I saw what I had known to look for… the fear in the eyes of hardened men. The averted gaze, the slightly withdrawing step, the pale faces and clenched hands. I’d seen it before.
I would not have that. She’s just a little girl. A little girl with a precious gift. Not an animal. Not a monster. With two long, deliberate steps, I reached her side.
And I swept her up in my arms and kissed her full on the lips, in front of the bridge crew and senior staff. And I carried her exhausted body down the stairs to the command suite, and made her a hot fudge sundae.
And Dr. Prescott dressed the burns on my arms and neck from where I touched her.