The Black Ships are the dread starships that make up the fleet of the League of Blackships, which forms the recruiting division of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica of the Imperium of Man. The League of Blackships consists of a substantial fleet of powerful Imperial starships charged with collecting and transporting human psykers from their various homeworlds across the galaxy to Terra where they will be either trained to become Sanctioned Psykers who can serve the Imperium in a number of important roles or their lives will be sacrificed to the Emperor of Mankind so that He will have the psychic energy necessary to maintain the crucial telepathic navigational beacon of the Astronomican.
During the Great Crusade and Horus Heresy eras in the late 30th and early 31st Millennia, the Adeptus Astra Telepathica possessed a militant arm which was referred to internally within the records of the Adeptus Terra as the Departmento Investigates. But they were known throughout the galaxy as the Sisters of Silence, the Silent Sisterhood and the Witchseekers. The Silent Sisterhood was an all-female Imperial order of Witch Hunters dedicated to the elimination of psychic threats to Mankind. Their primary base of operations was the Somnus Citadel on Luna, the moon of Terra. Their purpose was to hunt and kill rogue human psykers whose activities presented a terrible danger to the people of the newborn Imperium of Man. The Sisters of Silence were well-trained warriors, and with the added benefit of their natural and innate anti-psyker abilities they were dangerous opponents to the psychic enemies of Mankind. Unlike other living beings, these women sworn to silence possessed no presence in the Warp and were therefore unaffected by all forms of psychic power. There were many names for them in the multitude of human cultures to be found across the galaxy: Untouchables, Pariahs, Blanks. All of the members of their order were non-psychic, for they bore the Pariah Gene which made them immune to all forms of psychic assault and rendered their minds unreadable by telepathy.
The Sisters operated the Adeptus Astra Telepathica's infamous League of Black Ships, which ranged across the galaxy following behind the Great Crusade's Expeditionary Fleets in search of rogue psykers to capture or expunge, seeking to collect and carry them back to Terra where they would be tested and their eventual fate decided. Though few in number, the Sisters of Silence commanded great respect within the Imperium and most servants of the Emperor regarded them with some awe. Few would willingly stand in their way or interfere with their activities and few indeed were those who were comfortable in their presence. The ultimate fate of the Sisters of Silence is not found in Imperial records, and no references to their continued existence in the era of the late 41st Millennium exists. It is believed that they were either destroyed long ago or were ultimately folded into the organisation of the Imperial Inquisition following the Horus Heresy, which now administers the League of Black Ships.
The League of Black Ships
Constructed solely by the Adeptus Mechanicus of Mars and administered by the Inquisition, the so-called "Black Ships" are among the most secretive of warships currently in the service of the Imperium. Sometime in the distant past the Grand Masters of the Inquisition viewed the reliance upon Imperial Navy or Space Marine forces for transport, support and protection as unacceptable and a new vessel capable of independent action was required. Like their predecessors from ten millennia earlier, these Black Ships (so-called due to their somewhat sinister reputation) combine many features of a Space Marine Strike Cruiser with a full sized Battle Cruiser hull. These formidable vessels can deploy company-sized formations with orbital support. Usually operating alone or in conjunction with Imperial Navy or Space Marine Escorts, these vessels can serve as the core of a formidable battle group for dealing with rebellions or Heretic incursions.
The Black Ships are feared transports filled with mournful unsanctioned psykers held in cavernous, psi-shielded holds to be taken back to Terra to feed the voracious psychic appetite of the Emperor. Only those with the strength of mind to withstand the constant soul-numbing despair produced by the captured psykers that permeates a Black Ship may crew it, so mentally traumatic is such duty. These psykers will become either officially sanctioned psykers trained to serve the Imperium in a variety of capacities or they will be bound and sacrificed to the Emperor, their lives snuffed out to maintain the telepathic beacon of the Astronomican that the Emperor's mind produces in the Immaterium to guide all Imperial interstellar transport and commerce.
The Black Ship fleet travels constantly throughout the Imperium. Each Imperial world is visited every hundred standard years or so by a Black Ship. When a Black Ship nears a planet, its Imperial Planetary Governor is instructed to prepare the customary levy -- a tithe of unsanctioned psykers drawn from the world's population. Once the levy has been collected, the Black Ship's captain makes an initial evaluation of his cargo before proceeding to the next world in his circuit. When the starships are full of psykers they return to Terra and the psykers are transferred to the Scholastica Psykana of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica for evaluation and training before the ship leaves again to continue in their eternal search. It is common for Inquisitors of the Ordo Hereticus or Ordo Malleus to travel on board these ships, as this gives them a good opportunity to investigate a planet's potential for psychically-based corruption.
These rarely seen vessels usually operate only on Inquisition business but occasionally, when the interests of both the Inquisition and the Imperial Navy coincide, a Black Ship will join with an Imperial Navy battle group. While it is a rare Admiral who welcomes an Inquisitor to his counsels, these vessels are highly capable additions to any force.
The Black Ships are described as like a void that blocks out the light of the stars visually as they pass. The captains of Black Ships are often senior Inquisitorial agents with a ship-based defence force of Inquisitorial Storm Troopers or Sisters of Battle.
Notable Black Ships
- Aeria Gloris - This notable vessel was operated by the Silent Sisterhood during the Great Crusade era of the late 30th Millennium. Whereas conventional vessels of an Imperial Expeditionary Fleet ran with pennants and signal lamps to illuminate the lengths of their hulls, the Aeria Gloris came in darkness, arriving out of the interstellar deeps as an ocean predator might slip to the surface of a night time sea. It was difficult to make out anything more than the most basic details of this formidable warship, as it blended with the void.
- Ecclesiarch Nevsky - Such is the secretive nature of their work few of the exploits of the Black Ships are known. However, the destruction of the Ecclesiarch Nevsky while destroying the Tyranid incursion on Horatia III stands out. The Nevsky and her Escorts managed to destroy three Hive Ships of the invasion fleet before succumbing. The destruction of the hive vessels prevented any Tyranid reinforcement reaching the embattled planet and the Imperial Guard, coupled with a Deathwatch Kill-team from the Nevsky, helped with the extermination of the Tyranid horde.
- Validus - A notable vessel that was operated by the Silent Sisterhood during the Great Crusade and early Horus Heresy era, the Validus became stranded within the Warp. Further details in regards to this vessel and its ultimate fate remain classified, even ten millennia later.
- Battlefleet Gothic Magazine 9, "Inquisition Black Ship," by Bob Henderson, pp. 16-17
- Codex Imperialis (1st Edition), pg. 36
- White Dwarf 140 (UK), "Space Fleet"
- The Flight of the Eisenstein (Novel) by James Swallow
- Tales of Heresy (Anthology), "The Voice" by James Swallow