"Atten-shun!" shouted Amira Starnes. A thousand feet crashed on the deck. "Captain on the deck!" Fists slammed on breasts and were then flung outward. "My lord captain," said Amira, "the fighting men and women of your crew await your pleasure."
Amira Starnes was no beauty. She was one hundred ninety five centimeters and one hundred kilos of bone, muscle, gristle, and cicatrices. Her skin had paled from a healthy tan and her hair was a cross cropped dirty blond. The left side of her face was marred by scars radiating away from the augmentic that replaced her eye.
"Thank you senior lieutenant," said Paul Mustarios. "Walk with me please." She fell in stride beside the young lord. Five hundred spacers stood rigidly at attention in the empty cargo bay. "The men are mostly from Callivern Mercantile?"
"The majority of us lord," she replied. House Mustarios was the largest single share holder in Callivern. "A few of your House's own armsmen, a few from other ships looking for new berths, and a handful of battlefleet veterans. "
"Sounds formidable," replied Paul.
"The signing bonuses and the opportunities were attractive to ambitious young men and older veterans who have not found their fortunes. They'll take orders and kick ass, my lord. I've already winnowed away the weak. My life if I fail you."
"I may hold you to that."
The bell chimed and Damien Esticles rose from his desk and walked across the room. The temporary quarters were Spartan, but tolerable. The door opened, revealing Captain Mustarios. "My lord," said Damien, bowing. "Won't you come in?"
"Thank you," said Paul. He walked in, his lethal shadow following behind him. "I hear you won't be sailing with us."
"My lord, when your man contacted me, it wasn't for a position in the crew. It was to train you and help find suitable officers and enlisted men for the ship. I'm not a young man anymore, my lord. It has been a pleasure instructing you in the art of commanding a vessel and I'm pleased to pick the wheat from the chaff when it comes to picking a crew, but my spacer days are done."
"I can't say I'm happy to hear that. Is there anything I can do to change your mind?"
"My lord, if I were ten or fifteen years younger, then I would be delighted to be your man. But a long voyage into unknown space with all that entails. . . . "
"What if you didn't come in conventional role? The Lord Gregor has space set aside for luxury suites with all the amenities that senior officers can expect in the battlefleet. Your experience is valuable. I could use an adviser."
"Just think about it. We've only begun to supply and crew the ship. There's time."
"I will, my lord."
"The Lord Gregor eh?" said the fat man. He was over two meters tall was still immensely strong. Decades of easy living had added bulk to his frame, but had not weakened him. "Not very original of the young pup."
"As you say, my lord," said a slim, dapper man barely over one and a half meters tall. He wore black accented with silver, in contrast to his patrons scarlet and gold uniform.
The room was lit from above by lumen globes hanging from chains. A gold cased cogitator was connected to a desk and wall screen display. Viscount Jaq Barlais lounged behind a three meter long teak desk in a massive gel filled chair that shaped itself to his contours. "What of our Inquisition friends?"
"The ones who will pretend not to know us and kill us if we persist? They've got what they want. Gregor is out of the way and they can advance their pawn to push whatever agenda it is they want to advance."
Barlais raised an eyebrow. The corpulent noble man was as bald as an egg and had most of the rest of his body hair removed. His eyebrow were very thin. "That's all? I'm disappointed in you Byron."
"I try not to pry into the Inquisition's internal politics. Every faction hates that and they all kill people for knowing too much. If you wish to risk their displeasure, I will, of course, endeavour to find out."
Barlais scowled. "No. So they're just going to let the young pup go?"
"Why not?" asked Byron. "He doesn't know who had his father killed and he never will. They have no specific grievance against Mustarios and taking the house on will be costly. They've won. They're content with that."
"I," said Viscount Barlais, "am not."
"As you say, my lord. Do you have instructions for me?"
"Find some way of hurting them, of breaking their power so I may crush them."
"As you say, my lord."
Sybel Dawning strode down the length of the nave, which ran half the length of the command basilica. The assassin wore dark blue great coat with an elaborate silver fringe over her armoured bodyglove, an act of disguise that made her hard demeanor and weapons seem to belong to a ranking officer than to a bodyguard. Behind her followed Janos Peteros, wearing a dark fur lined robe, and Paul. The Lord Gregor's master and commander wore the midnight blue uniform marked with flashes of red and gold appropriate to senior member of House Mustarios.
Paul stepped forward onto the raised dais. "The command throne," he said softly. Holo projectors lined the edge of the dais, allowing the captain to surround himself with data. He looked forward at the bank of pict screens that covered the front of the basilica, above the stations that would be operated by crew and servitors. "Funny," he said. "I expected windows."
"That would be impractical," said Janos Peteros. "The command basilica is protected within the Lord Gregor's hull, not exposed to enemy fire. Romantic conventions remain those. The ships spires are for sensor and communication systems, not the command deck. In any case, the repeater screens can show you what is out there far better than the naked eye."
"Of course," said Paul. "How much longer until we get the rest of the servitors?"
"Those associated with the Mechanicus cloister have already arrived. The remainder are do to arrive in two shipments over the next few weeks. From out side the solar system, so one must make do with a certain uncertainty in arrival time. Tech priests associated with our house will be performing security checks on their programming. That would delay us, except that we are still dealing with the matter of the crew."
"Not enough battlefleet veterans and merchant sailors from old allies?" asked Paul. Many of the jobs aboard ship could be automated or done by fairly unskilled labour, but there were others for which skilled and experienced hands were crucial.
"Not close to enough," replied Janos. "Not an obtain a high standard of performance. Too many of the applicants are unsuitable."
"Keep trying," said Paul. "We may have to lower our standards and set out with fewer experienced men than I would like. We will have time to train the crew."
"Unless something untoward happens before you leave the Segmentum Solar," objected Janos. "Not every part of space is as civilized as Ancient Terra or the Mustarios holdings. There are still pirates and xenos in the Segmentum."
Paul smiled. "I am justly rebuked teacher. However, the longer we wait the more time our enemies will have to their plans into motion. The sooner we leave the better."
Janos inclined his head. "As you say, my lord. On the crew front we do have an interesting application, for the position of cargomaster."
"Supercargo," Paul corrected. "The position is called supercargo. Is he, or she, a spacer?"
"No, my lord, but one with interesting qualifications nonetheless."
"Make an appointment. We shall see if we can fill another senior position."
"As you will, my lord."
Gaius Poladin coughed and adjusted his collar. The white silk shirt and black wool/silk blend jacket and pants were the most expensive clothes he owned, suitable for marriages, funerals, and meetings with upper management. The clothes were good enough to be respectful and somber enough to convey his status as a professional member of the lower orders. He had never in his life met anyone as important as an heir to one of the great houses of the Segmentum Solar.
One of the guards in midnight blue carapace armour addressed him. "The young lord will see you now." The door slid open and Gaius stepped through.
The room wasn't as lavishly decorated as Gaius had expected, but then a lord of House Mustarios did not need extravagant displays of wealth to convey his power. His name alone did that. The walls were lined with mostly empty shelves, although a few books and recording media were present. The room was large, with plenty of room to walk around or host a meeting with a large group of people, and lushly carpeted. Conventional lumen globes illuminated it, although the desk lamp was covered with gold leaf. A cogitator dominated the huge polished oak desk and a rack behind the shockingly young man seated at it was filled with a variety of weapons. Young lord indeed. Paul Mustarios could not be much more than twenty. A too skinny woman stood in the corner, almost invisible in the shadow. An aide or lover or perhaps something more sinister.
"My lord," Gaius said and bowed. "Thank you for seeing me."
"I understand you wish to become the ship's supercargo? Can you tell me why I should choose a man with no experience in space for the job?"
Merciful Throne, the man got straight to the point and talked enough like an exec. This Gaius could handle. "My lord, I am not a spacer. I am, however, a man who deals in trade. I balance books for Callivern Mercantile, an enterprise that has greatly enriched your house over the years. I confirm or block purchases. I know the price foodstuffs will fetch on Holy Terra and I know the operating costs of shipping them there by sprint courier or heavy freighter. I know the risks of stopping at Armageddon and the price its autoguns and heavy artillery will fetch on feudal worlds and agricultural planets. I know what to buy one world that will bring a profit when sold at another and what to buy on that world to ship to the next. I can't fly a ship or navigate it or repair it or target its guns but I can help you earn a profit. It's what I do and I do it very well."
"And why do you want to go out into the black with us?" asked Paul Mustarios.
"My lord, your family has a reputation for treating its retainers and associates well. I can be valuable to you. At Callivern, I've risen as high as I can. I am a man with no name, no titles, no elite scholam educated me, and no men of stature stand as my patrons. I will work a few more years for Callivern and then retire to a modest apartment and live modestly for the last few decades of my life. No one will remember me when I'm gone.
"Here I can matter. I can help build a dynasty. I can receive rejuvenant treatment and live for centuries. I can be an officer and live well. I can do something other than aspire to live the same life as my father and the father before him, mere cogs in the machine. I can have adventures. I can make fortunes and even share in them. My lord, for this job you do not need a cargo handler, you need a man who knows worlds and knows numbers. You need a man like me."
"That I do," said Paul Mustarios. "My decision will be soon. My agents will inform you of my will."
"Thank you, my lord."
"You are dismissed."
Ignacius Cole felt a wave of vertigo passed him as the shuttle entered the Lord Gregor's gravity field. After so many years in space it didn't cause nausea nor, if he had been standing, did it interfere with his balance. He sat back in his chair and waited for the shuttle to land.
The landing gear slammed into the deck with a loud clank. The pilot had come in too hard. Within equipment tolerances, because everything was built to last, but the pilot had had a heavy hand on the throttle for the entire flight. Rookie or attack craft pilot wannabee. Or both.
He unstrapped his crash belts and headed toward the loading ramp. The door cycled and let in a wash of cold air with the heavy stench of fuel fumes. The bay held fuel tanks and docking space for four heavy cargo lifters. An elevator near the rear was available to transport damaged craft to a lower deck for repairs.
Two men in midnight blue livery were approaching the shuttle. They didn't look like ship's security that he had ever seen. The uniforms were too flash for everyday wear by common grunts, there weren't enough pockets, and the boots were ground pounder not spacer wear. They wore long knives and pistols on their belts and had drum fed, short frame, big bore sluggers slung on their backs.
"Senior Lieutenant Cole?" the lead one asked. His was dark, even for a dirtsider, nearly as black as space. The second man was a few shades lighter.
"Yes," said Ignacius Cole. "I have an interview for a position on the ship."
"Yes sir. If you would please follow us we will conduct you to the lord captain."
"Certainly. Lead the way." The two men lead Cole out of the docking bay and down several corridors to a tram way. They took their seats in the eight man car and it raced down the length of the ship. After about a minute of travel it stopped and they got off. The climbed three decks and approached a room guarded by another pair of dirtsiders. Auspexes were built into the door and there were four cyberskulls hovering in the air, two of them gun skulls. Cole surrendered his saber and his pistol and let them run surveyor wands over his body. There was a follow up pat search before they were finished.
One of them nodded to an unseen voice, probably microbead or implant communication. "You may enter." The door slid open to reveal an office considerably more spartan than those of most of the captains in the battlefleet.
Mustarios was young, but Cole had done research of his own and expected that. He was taller than Cole, who was used to being one of the shorter men in the room, and slim. The woman next to him had a voidborn's build and height. "My lord, I am Ignacius Cole, formerly a flag lieutenant of Battlefleet Solar."
"Have a seat," said Paul Mustarios. Ignacius Cole was short for spacer, with a slim and compact build. His skin was pale and his hair and eyes were dark. He had fine aquiline features that were the gift from his genes or a surgeon's knife. "Your record indicates you mustered out as a senior lieutenant, not a flag lieutenant. Would you care to explain that?"
"Certainly, my lord," said Ignacius as he sat down. "I had enemies in high places and no friends. I took the hint and retired before they inflicted any more damage."
"And what did you do to incur such wrath?"
"I was born wrong. Hive nobility is high birth compared to most, but not good enough for Battlefleet Solar. I wasn't . . . .modest, especially when it came to commenting on the inadequacies of my betters. I wasn't born to be the lick spittle of lesser men. My talents and money carried me far, but then I reached the limit. I had no patrons and a temper. Duels got me enemies and enemies made sure my future in Battlefleet Solar was gone."
"That's more charitable than my informants would put it."
"I am not completely without bias in the matter."
Paul chuckled. "Why would I want an arrogant, ruthless bastard who has the tendency to spill the blood of his brother officers on my ship, especially since you're likely to view me as one of those incompetents whose blood you are so eager to spill?"
"Ahh. Good question. Three reasons, my lord. The first is that I will tell you when I think you're wrong, something your very loyal liegemen will be reluctant to do. The second is that you're my best shot of getting a ship of my own. You have to gain enough wealth to expand your fleet for me to get a ship and I have to stay in your good graces to command one. Lastly, I'm damned good and your spies must have already passed that along. You need a seasoned spacer to back you up. I need you. You need someone like me. My ambition can only be served by making you successful."
"You practiced that."
"I did indeed, my lord."
"Welcome aboard. I'll let you know your rank when I decide it. You'll have quarters suitable for a senior officer in any respect."
Cole rose to his feat and saluted, fist to chest. "As you say, my lord captain."
Mustarios returned the salute. "Your are dismissed."
Cole turned on his heel and exited Paul's office. "I kind of like him," said Sybel. "I hope I don't have to kill him."
Maria embraced her son. "How are you Paul?"
"I'm well mother," he replied, hugging his mother. "The ship is fully crewed and is loading cargo as we speak."
"You have good officers?" the matriarch of House Mustarios asked?
"I think so. The void will tell, as they say." They walked down the hall. Ancient tapestries and holopicts of scions of the house hung on the walls. Mirror masked guards stood at attention beside columns of transparent crystal.
"It is a mother's place to worry about their children."
"I'll be in good hands."
"You'll be going into the dark," she replied. "A venture at least as dangerous as war. A venture that may include war."
They walked through red stained oak double doors to a dining room. A hundred people were standing around the three long tables. Suspensors held a dozen crystal chandeliers in mid air above the dining hall and servants in immaculate dark blue livery waited to serve the feast. Maria took her place at the head of the center table and Paul stood at her right hand. Maria raised a glass of white wine.
"Since the Great Crusade our family has served our beloved God-Emperor. Before that it stood against the chaos and darkness of the Age of Strife, sometimes serving the Master of Mankind under the names he used then. We are Mustarios and we have been soldiers and scholars and teachers and rulers for as far back as any can remember! Our heritage is glorious service to the Emperor and mankind. Now my son begins another chapter, a new chapter, in our family history! He will go into the dark and bring the Emperor's light to those he finds. He shall bring justice to the wicked, wisdom to the righteous, and wealth to the wise. He shall rediscover what is lost and blaze paths into the unknown. This is a human galaxy, now and forever, and as Mustarioses have fought and struggled on the known worlds to keep it that way, so shall he fight and struggle among the unknown worlds to extend mankind's reach. Mustarios and the Emperor!"
"Mustarios and the Emperor!" the crowd shouted back. They raised their glasses in salutes and then drank. Maria sat down and the rest followed. Servants removed the tops from platters of food and the dinner began in earnest.
Paul put the gold framed pict into his chest and looked at his room. What had been his room. Odds were that he would never see it again. Never stand on Ancient Terra, never again see his childhood friends, never again see the treasures of his youth. Never see his mother again.
He sighed. "It's hard," said Maria from behind him.
"Are you psychic mother?"
"Only in the way all mothers are. Oh my son, it hurts to think I may never see you again."
"Never is a long time mother," said Paul as he turned towards her. "Fortunes have been made and kingdoms built in shorter spans." He embraced her. She sobbed. Tears ran down her cheeks. And down his.
She broke away from his grasp, holding him at arms length. "Go now. While I'm still strong. Go now and stay safe. I love you."
"And I you." He kissed her on the forehead and closed his traveling chest. A servant standing nearby picked it up and put it on a suspensor plate. Maria Mustarios watched her son leave.
"May the Emperor guard you and keep you," she whispered.
Fantastic. I look forward to your future works.
Kingdom Hearts Official Errata Writer
KH TCG Board Resident Troll
I thought what I'd do was, I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes.
That way I wouldn't have to have any goddamn stupid useless conversations with anybody.
If anybody wanted to tell me something they'd have to write it on a piece of paper and shove it over to me.
They'd get bored as hell doing that after a while, and then I'd be through with having conversations for the rest of my life...
A score of men in vermilion cloaks and carapace armour descended from the lighter's ramp. Steam hissed from the landing gear, strangely loud in the almost deserted lighter bay. The armsmen stood at attention around the ramp, their faces invisible behind their helmet masks, as five figures obscured by robes of vermilion silk walked down the ramp. The one in the lead was the shortest and most heavyset of the group, although the all encompassing robes made determining any physical characteristics difficult. The armsmen parted before him and he stepped forward, throwing back his hood to reveal a puffy, bloated face. He was pale, with eyes that were pits of darkness and a headband of black silk around his forehead. "Lord Mustarios," he lisped. His lips were fleshy and blubbery. "We are here as contracted."
"My lord Navigator," said Paul, bowing slightly. He was a rogue trader and a great lord in his own right, but the Navis Nobilae were aristocrats in their own right. "Welcome aboard the Lord Gregor. These are my senior officers and staff." He gestured to score of people in dress uniforms standing behind him. Along the walls of the bay troops from Dowell's regiment stood rigidly at attention, hellguns held in gloved hands.
"We are honoured, of course," said the Navigator. "But tired. The journey has been strenuous. We would like to retire to our quarters."
"They have been furnished to your specifications," replied Paul. "If anything is inadequate we have time to make corrections before we leave. If you would follow me?"
He lead the Navigators and their guards down the bay. "A transport car has been given over to your use. It will take you directly to your quarters."
"Thank you Lord Mustarios. We shall have to spend the time becoming acquainted. Sometime soon."
The Navigators and their guards embarked on the transit car and departed. "That went well," said Colonel Dowell.
"He's old," said Esticles. "The older ones tend to be reserved. One of the younger ones will probably get the job of being intermediary between you and the rest of the Navigators."
"Or one of their human retainers," said Ignacius Cole. "They have two more lighters full of personnel due to arrive."
"Their retainers don't need the royal welcome. The rest of you return to your duties. Tell the good sub lieutenant that the bay is once again his. The rest of you are dismissed to go about your duties." The gathering of senior staff began to break up. Paul walked out a corridor, shadowed as always by Sybel.
"My lord," said Damien Esticles. "There is one more matter to discuss." Ignacius Cole was following right behind him.
Paul stopped and waited for the older men before resuming walking down the corridor. Maintenance crew stood aside as senior staff passed them. "What is that?" Paul asked.
"It's a delicate matter," said Esticles. "It's a matter of crew morale."
"And?" asked Paul.
"The crew is mostly male."
"Ahh. What is the usual way such things are handled?"
"Licensed prostitutes service the crew, officers maintain mistresses."
"Or harems," said Cole. "Its not a savory business, but we aren't a Chartist vessel with a third generation voidborn crew and an even balance of the sexes. Without some kind of outlet it'll get bad. Or go from bad to worse."
"What do you mean?"
"They Navy occasionally empties prisons when they need ratings. Are you aware-"
Paul silenced him with a wave. "I get the picture. The underdecks of Navy warships must be a sewer."
"They can be," said Cole.
"That will not do for House Mustarios. The crew are my retainers and their safety and well being is my responsibility. Do you gentlemen know how to ah-"
Esticles looked at Cole. "We can take care of it my lord."
"Good," said Paul uncomfortably. "Then do so. Handle the necessary arrangements with Master Poladin. And offer good terms."
"As you say, my lord," said Esticles. Both former Navy officers watched their lord and his bodyguard walk to the lift and the gates close.
"He's a good kid," said Cole. "Too good."
"Yes," said Esticles. "It's going to be problem."
Gaius Poladin strode towards the bridge, data slate in hand. There were four men at the entrance, two looking in and two looking out. All of them wore carapace armour over the dark blue and red uniforms of Mustarios household troops and clenched hellguns in armoured gauntlets. Their gazes were hidden behind dark visors. Poladin couldn't help but feel a chill in their presence. It was a relief to move passed them.
The command deck was huge. Near the back Lord Captain Mustarios was sitting upon the command throne. Two long pits housed servitors slaved to ship stations and the ship's machine spirit. Closer to the lord captain were human personnel manning various command and control stations. More junior personnel manned ancillary stations, monitored ship functions, or watched the servitors.
Sybel Dawning stood just off Paul's left, a power sword slung over a dark blue long coat with vermilion shoulder boards and an autopistol on her hip. "Lord Captain," began Gaius, "if I may?"
"Approach," said Paul, a slight smile on his lips. "What do you have?"
"A proposal, my lord captain. Turibia Minor is an unimportant world about five hundred light years from Holy Terra. The last part of the warp passage is prone to shifts and eddies. Most Chartists captains won't chance it and Rogue Traders don't operate this close to Terra. It is, however, subject to periodic Ork raids and doesn't have enough industry to supply the weapons they need. Battlefleet patrols are irregular do to the same shifts which means that the Orks are almost never intercepted."
"And I suppose they can pay?"
"Their industry gets hammered when the Orks attack, but they have mining and agricultural resources that makes it worth the trip. The Administratum collects tithes every ten years or so. Last time was four years. With enough weapons to put a fight off any Ork raiders that show up, they can easily afford that."
"The Sollax Works in the Belt actually. Defense lasers, anti-vehicle and anti-air lascannons, anti-personnel and anti-air multilasers-"
"I get the picture."
"The first two thirds of the journey will be through well mapped space. I thought this would make a good shakedown voyage. The first part easy, the last leg a little harder, and profit at the end."
"And if our timing is bad a fight at the end."
"I believe we are in the service of a rogue trader and risk goes with the territory."
"Not even a hint of a smile Mister Poladin. I'm impressed."
"Cards, my lord. They're good training if you can manage not to lose your shirt."
"I'll keep that in mind. Very well Mister Poladin. Inform the Sollax Works that they have a sale."
"With pleasure, Lord Captain."
The man who answered to the name of Deckan West walked alone through the bowels of the Lord Gregor. Deckan West was an able spacer with fifteen years experience in the void and an excellent record for both skill and diligence. He had signed with the Lord Gregor in hopes of winning fame and fortune. What he had received was a bullet in the head and an secret cremation. His murder assumed his identity and took his berth.
The corridor was an access way from the enginarium control rooms to the engines themselves. Tubes heavy with control system wiring and power conduits ran along the ceiling and through the walls. The assassin stopped at an access panel and knelt down. He knelt down beside it and pried open the panel. From a pocket in his overalls he slipped a grey case. He opened it revealing rounded square of something that looked a lot like worked ivory, but was not. A dark blue jewel was set in the center. He touched the jewel and closed the case. Reaching up, he attached it to the inside surface of the wall directly above the access panel. He closed the panel and walked away.
The ship was still in port. Jumping ship would be simple enough. Deckan West would be missed, but nothing would be wrong and it wouldn't be the first time a void sailor had jumped ship. He wouldn't be the only one either. He would shed the Deckan West identity in favor of others as he traveled back to his master to report that the plan was in motion. Paul Mustarios's days were numbered as were all of those who served aboard the Lord Gregor.
The touch of a hand on his shoulder caused Japhel Magellos to stir uneasily in his bed. "What?" he said with eyes still half shut and a brain full of fog.
"My lord, your esteemed uncle has called for a full meeting of the family," said Clara softly. The petit valet was barely over one hundred fifty centimeters and wore a vermillion uniform that proclaimed her status as a retainer of House Magellos.
Japhel yawned and motioned the blond woman away. "Lay out clothes, comfortable, and an overrobe." He staggered out of bed naked. "And a new headband."
He lurched across his bedroom and into the marble tiled bathroom. The shower enclosure opened automatically and hot water started running before he reached it. The door closed behind it and he luxuriated in the spray. After a few minutes he was fully awake and reached for the soap. The water sluiced away the foam and he stepped out of the shower. Clara and Danica stood waiting, their gaze averted. Japhel had not removed the black silk band that had covered his third eye in the shower. "Proceed," he commanded.
The body servants dried him with fluffy towels and anointed him with scented oils. He stepped into the next room and dressed himself in the clothes that had been laid out. Plain black pants, a simple white undertunic, and a black over tunic with gold buttons and a stylized zig-zag pattern worked in cloth of gold. His servants handed him a robe of vermilion silk and he draped it over his body, belting it with a sash. "Leave me," he commanded. They departed.
He removed his headband and stared into the mirror. He was almost handsome, by human standards. Almost. Tall, lithe, with a well formed face and a short, thick dark hair. His skin was a touch too pale by some standards and his eyes were wells of black ink. All three of them. On his forehead was the black orb of his warp eye, the mutation that allowed him to stare into the warp and stay sane. The mutation that granted unparalleled ability to navigate the dangerous tides of the warp and helped make a far flung human empire possible. A mutation that brought death to those that looked upon it and the finest of gilded chains to those that bore it.
He covered his warp eye with a navy blue headband shot through with streaks of gold and departed from his chambers. Alyss was waiting for him outside his chambers. She wore a black gown under her robe. Physically, Japhel and his cousin were much alike. Tall, graceful, pale, and dark haired they were the scions of bloodlines that touched frequently. However, her eyes were shining blue. She had not begun to succumb to the inevitable tide of mutation that consumed all Navigators. The genetic changes that made them what they were, tied them so closely to the warp, and the prolonged exposure to the power of the immaterium eventually combined to warp and alter Navigator's flesh. Webbed fingers, claw-like hands, and gross variations in weight were the most common of the changes. Webbed fingers, claws, weight change, and eyes as black as the void.
"Hello cousin," he said.
She inclined her head gracefully. "I decided to wait for you."
"Courtesy or a desire not to go to the meeting alone?"
He snorted. "Do you have any idea what it is about?"
"Our first course, I would imagine. It's getting about that time."
The two Navigators walked down the hall towards a pair of four meter tall ebony doors. The dark wood was inlaid with platinum stars and moons. A pair of guards wearing vermilion and black carapace armour stood guard, automatic drum fed shotguns in their hands.
The Navigators passed and the doors closed behind them. Inside a room with nests of throw pillows piled around a hololithic table. The gross physical deformities that Navigators could develop sometimes made sitting in chairs impossible. The others were waiting for them.
"Glad you two could finally join us," said Tiberius. The eldest's toad-like body was half buried in pillows. "We have matters of importance to discuss. Our honour and dignity are at stake."
Philippos nodded like the gutless sycophant that he was. Yvenna remained motionless and noncommittal, a slender statue of living marble. Alyss settled down in one of the patches of pillows. Japhel walked to the other patch. "And what grave offense has been committed against our honour?" he asked skeptically. The old bastard was just pissed that he actually had to do some damn work.
"Only the gravest!" said Tiberius. "A course has been set without consulting us. As if we were mere servants!"
"We are servants," said Japhel as he sat down cross legged. "Our entire purpose is to serve. And because our service is so very vital we are rewarded with wealth and power, but we exist to serve mankind."
"Very pretty," said Tiberius. "Are you finished with your recitation or may I continue? We are Navigators! We set the course, we are masters of the warp, and we are owed the respect our position demands!"
"The captain is the master of the ship," said Japhel, a smile on his lips. "The sole master. The Navigator controls the course in the warp. He is captain and Mustarios. A young, unproven captain. He cannot be seen to yield. To anyone."
"We are not servitors!" roared Tiberius, spittle flying from his lips.
"No," said Japhel, "we are not. But we do take his orders."
Tiberius sneered. "You're a good little dog, aren't you?"
"Want to test my teeth?" asked Japhel sweetly. "Or do you want to throw a fit before we've left dock? Do you think he'll back down under those conditions? Or will he replace us with a more . . . tractable house? How do you think that will go over with the Hierarchy? What do you think that will do to your position?"
Tiberius growled. "Don't threaten me boy."
"Throwing a fit will get you off this ship," said Japhel, "but it won't get you someplace better."
"And your solution is to let this insult pass?" said Tiberius contemptuously.
"Not at all," said Japhel. "One should politely remind the rogue trader and scion of the ancient and noble House of Mustarios of the place of wise and puissant Navis Nobilite in deciding such matters. Without offending him or appearing to undermine his authority among the crew."
"You're such a tame curr," said Tiberius. "Alyss."
"Yes uncle?" the young Navigator said sweetly.
"Educate the boy on the right way of doing things."
"As you wish," she said with a bow.
"This meeting is over." Japhel, Alyss, and Yvenna stood up and walked out the door.
"You provoked him deliberately," Alyss hissed.
"The fat fraud is looking for an excuse to scuttle this contract, a contract we need, and get back to sitting on his overfed arse," whispered Japhel. "As if I'm going to let his manufactured tantrum scuttle our chances at careers of note and this opportunity to rebuild the family fortune."
"Out there, there is no Hierarchy for him to answer to. He's the highest authority."
"Out there, he's just a lazy never was with delusions of adequacy," replied Japhel. "Out there, the Navigator who can get the ship to where the captain wants it is senior."
"Your ambition is going to get you into trouble."
"We're already in trouble, cousin dear. We're up to our necks in it and you'd better learn how to swim."
Love the post here... some fantastic work!
"Human kind cannot obtain anything without first giving something in return.
To obtain, something of equal value must be lost.
That is alchemy's first law of equivalent exchange.
In those days, we really believed that to be that world's one and only truth."
The Mustarios household troopers stood aside and let Alyss Magellos into the captain's office. Paul Mustarios was seated behind the polished oak desk. The place was decorated with a restrained hand and the shelves that lined the walls were mostly empty, waiting to be filled. He does not feel the need to overawe with wealth, thought Alyss. Instead he displays his taste and his ambition for those wise enough to perceive it. "My lord captain," she said with a slight bow.
"My lady Navigator. Please make yourself comfortable. May I offer you some refreshment?"
"No thank you, my lord captain." Her sight beyond sight caused her to turn her head to the left. Leaning against the corner, shrouded and shadow and out of the sight lines of any that would enter the room was a whipcord lean young woman.
She pretended to ignore the bodyguard. Both of them knew the realities of high politics. "My lord, I have come regarding a matter of some concern for my fellows." She clasped her hands on the back of one of the chairs. Sitting would be the action of a supplicant.
"Please continue," said Paul Mustarios.
"The course of the ship has been sent without consultation of the ship's Navigators. That is both unwise and against custom."
"My apologies," said Paul Mustarios. "I have sent several requests to consult with the senior among you, but I have met with no response."
[i]Damn Tiberius to Khorne's bloodiest hell,[/i] Alyss thought angrily. "We have been occupied with settling in," she said calmly. "I apologize for any perceived rudeness. There must have been some confusion on the part of the servants. In the future a notice that directly mentions setting a course will elicit an immediate response."
"Thank you," said Paul. "I'll keep that in mind. Having said that, do you and your colleagues have an opinion on our course?"
"We believe it to be low risk and well within our capabilities," she replied. "If it is your desire, we shall guide the ship through the warp to Turibia."
"Excellent," said Paul with a broad smile. "Please keep me informed of all information and real space course work you require so that I can see that your needs are fulfilled."
"Thank you captain. Our retainers will be in touch. I hope we have a long and convivial relationship."
"As do I," said Paul as he rose from the desk. He stepped around the desk and raised her hand to his lips and kissed it. She blinked with surprise at being the object of the ancient courtesy. Navigators were crucial for the Imperium, but they were still mutants and thus unclean. For a mundane not in the service of a house to deliberate touch one was almost unheard of. "If there is anything I can do for you and your colleagues, please let me know."
"Thank you captain," she said, recovering her composure. "You are most kind. With your leave I will depart."
"You have it," said Paul. Her skirts swished as she turned and left. The door closed automatically behind her.
"We need to know what is going on among their ranks," he said, his voice as cold and deadly as space.
"A spy will be impossible," replied Dawning. "Tech sorcery will be questionable."
"For now maybe," said Paul, "but it will be done, one way or the other. Consider that your priority."
"Your will, my lord captain."
Soloman Kridge wasn't tall, but he was a big, big man and while he carried a little too much around his waist most of his mass was muscle, bone, and gristle. He was used to casually intimidating men, but the cook's assistant who was maybe two-thirds his size was either oblivious or unimpressed. "Sorry. Can't do it?"
"Did you just 'can't' me boy?" Soloman growled. "I didn't think you were that dumb."
"Sorry petty officer," the smaller man repeated, "the scraps from the officer's tables are already spoken for. The head cook has an arrangement." And the muscle to back it up went unspoken.
"Bloody hell," Soloman swore. "You think I'm going to take this lying down?"
"Nothing I can do about it," said the younger man.
Kridge punched the wall in frustration, with almost enough force to injure something. He turned and stomped away from the junior officer's mess, grumbling as he went. Back in his bunk room he found Tekton playing dice. He grumbled and sat down on his bunk. Tekton finished a few more rounds and then gave up the dice to another player. He trundled over to Kridge.
They were an odd pair. Mauricio Tekton was a tall, lean voidborn spacer with almost no body hair and a stretched out looking body. A thin layer of dark hair lay on the top of his head and beady eyes looked out over a pointed nose. Kridge was shorter, stocky, and blessed with abundant body hair and perpetual stubble. They had taken to each other immediately because while they barely knew each other, they knew the type.
"How'd it go?" asked Tekton.
"Officers spoken for," glowered Kridge. "No joy."
"Crew mess," said Tekton. "Almost anything will do for juice if you treat it right. Cut the lightning with water and a little juice drink and we have a concern."
"Still need cooperation in the kitchen."
"We work the gambling thing, we get more cash. Recruit a likely lad or two from your detail and we've got muscle. Find a spot?"
"Yeah. Equipment locker. We break the door, transfer the tools to another locker, and the closet never quite gets fixed right. Set the still up in there."
"Sounds like we're about to be in business."
"All systems ready," said junior lieutenant Stall Olefsson. He was space tall and spacer lean with pale skin and a shock of blond hair.
"We await your word, my lord captain."
Paul Mustarios leaned forward slightly. "Our status magos?" he asked, looking to his left.
The red robed techpriest emitted a staticky burst of binary. "All machine spirits active and obedient. All systems ready on your command."
"Signal docking control that we will begin to depart," said Captain Paul Mustarios. "Power to main engines and maneuvering thrusters, but no burn."
"Aye, aye captain," said a young ensign. "Main engine and maneuvering systems are hot, standing by for burn."
"Lines have disconnected, gantries are uncoupled," said the techpriest. Time seemed to stretch out. "Gantries retracting."
There was another short eternity. "Permission to depart granted," said a Ensign Catecal.
"Helm, maneuvering thrusters only, one quarter gee burn for four seconds. Take us out."
The Lord Gregor slowly coasted forward. The sides of the construction cradle slowly slid by. Observation galleries were packed with watchers as the the grand cruiser began to inch toward the void.
"Status?" asked Mustarios.
"All green lights," said Olefsson. "Course is steady and holding."
"Second maneuvering thruster burn," ordered Mustarios. "One half gee, four seconds."
The Lord Gregor picked up speed. Her adamantium prow nudged into open space.
"Open void," Ignacius Cole said soflty. He was standing just behind the captain's throne. Then, louder. "We have touched free space captain."
"I see it Mister Cole," said Paul. "And it is beautiful."
"We are drifting slightly to starboard," said Oleffson. "Zero point zero one meters per second."
"Helm, correction burn," ordered Paul. "Schedule the maneuvering thrusters for a full check."There was a brief puff of flame from the starboard thrusters to correct the drift as the Lord Gregor continued into open space. "Take us on to our departure path, maneuvering thrusters only. When we're fifteen kilometers from the dock, light the main drive at one tenth power until we're a safe distance away."
Cole put his hand on Paul's shoulder. "Well done captain."
"Thank you flag lieutenant," said Paul. "In the future, do not take liberties with my person."
"My apologies, my lord captain," said Ignacius as he retraced his hand. "It was the heat of the moment."
"Apology accepted," said Paul.
"But don't forget again," Sybel Dawning whispered in Cole's ear.
"Huh," grunted Soloman Kridge. "So you're the fresh body?"
"Yes petty officer," said Lyda Sharp. She a touch on the short side and on the compact side, but not in a bad way in Kridge's opinion. There were grease marks on her overalls and hands. Some girls thought they could skip the nastiest work because they looked good. Those ones paid for it, but not in coin.
"You're not a spacer."
"No sir, not before-"
"I'm not a sir."
"Sorry petty officer. What I meant is that I'm not a spacer. But I do know tech systems. I had lay Mechanicus training and worked on maintenance and repair of hive systems back on Terra."
"Huh," said Kridge. "Handy. Worked with high power lines before?"
"Yes petty officer."
"Good. Introduce yourself to the rest of the boys and I'll walk you through what we usually do on our shift. Mostly inspection and preventative maintenance for now, but once this old girl gets into a few fights or bumped by 'roids and so on, then our work really begins."
"I understand petty officer?"
"Smoke?" he said, offering out a pack of lho sticks.
"No thanks," she said.
"Suit yourself," he said, hiding his disappointment. He took stick and put it in his mouth. A few flicks of a lighter and he was inhaling the rich smoke. "Alright then. Let's get started."
The Lord Gregor cruised through the Sol System on the course approved by traffic control. At any given point a half dozen weapon systems and a dozen sensor antennas were pointed at the grand cruiser as she made her stately voyage. After nearly two days of travel the ship reached the appointed place and vanished in a flare of a thousand colours as it entered the Immaterium.
The Lord Gregor swam through the warp with massive shutters blocking her view ports and windows. The crew and officers went about their business as usual, finding what worked and fixing that which didn't. This was a shakedown cruiser and the Lord Gregor was a brand new vessel. A few surprises were inevitable.
There was one exception, of course. In a chamber near the bridge, Japhel Magellos was enthroned in a crystalline dome. Hexagrammic wards laid into the crystal helped keep the worst of the warp at bay as the Navigator's third eye, a smooth orb of absolute dark, gazed into insanity. Insanity gazed back at him.
It was Japhel's job to derive order and meaning from the rolling chaos that churned outside the Lord Gregor's Gellar Fields. Lines and feeds connected his flesh, nourishing him, removing his waste, and keeping him awake as he steered the ship through hell.
Behind him shone the Astronomicon, almost blindingly bright. There was no question of his course or direction. The Lord Gregor was a powerful ship, easily pushing through the tides of the warp as she flew towards her goal. The warp was perhaps more turbulent and discordant than normal, but that wasn't too unusual.
Time flows in deceptive ways in the warp. It was hard to say how long it took, but soon the Lord Gregor entered a more turbulent passage. The ship was occasionally shaken by a great buffet, but there was nothing here with the force to seriously threaten the ship and Japhel was able to see most of the the most energetic eddies in time to steer the ship out of the way.
Soloman gently slapped the burly rating in the face. "Turk, Turk, Turk. What I am going to do with you? You owe and yet you don't pay."
The rating slipped back from the crew chief, retreating deeper into the storage room. "Sorry, sorry. Look, I'm just a bit short. I'll make it up to you."
"The rest of you, take a hike," said Maurico Tekton. He was cleaning his nails with twenty centimeters worth of knife. The other two ratings took on look at the two veteran spacers and left.
"Kridge, look, I would never cheat you."
"I know you wouldn't," said Kridge gently. "But I can't let a man simply not pay me when he owes. So you're going to have to make it up to me."
"Sure, sure. Anything."
"Good. Now since you load cargo, you're going to help me get a little bite. Not big enough to notice and not big enough for someone in the upper levels to care, but just a little that fell off the shuttle. Understand?"
"But if they find out-"
"Then you had better be sneaky, eh?"
"Uh, yeah. Whatever you say."
"Good boy. By the way, you're just a deck hand and I'm a petty officer. Your word against mind if this goes to security. Nothing will happen to me, but you, you will have an accident if it does. A really bad accident."
"Good," said Kridge. He lightly slapped the rating's face. "I'm glad we understand each other."
Now the plot thickens! I like the layering of the story on the last few entries! Gives us a feeling those ships are actually populated by living beings.