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    Default Thy Fearful Symmetry - Dark Heresy (IC)

    Thy Fearful Symmetry

    OOC thread

    Chapter I
    The Reward for Treachery is Retribution

    The world of Pry: a dark, swollen gas giant of approximately a hundred and fifty standard Terran planetary masses. Racing around its parent star in a blisteringly close orbit of just under a hundred hours, it was tidally locked – one side of the planet perpetually facing inwards towards the blazing solar furnace, while the other stared eternally out into the freezing darkness of the interstellar void. Currents of superheated gas - the breadth of continents on smaller worlds – streamed across the frontier of twilight from hot to cold, a conveyor belt of gases whipped up from the planet’s bloated heart by the solar blowtorch on the illuminated side.


    Sheltering in the shadow of the leviathan, the space station of 41 Pry drifted, a speck of metal hanging in motionless silence over the maelstrom below. Positioned at the confluence of several stable warp routes, Pry had seemed the ideal location for a supply station on the long route between Scintilla and the worlds of the Markayn Marches – that was, if it had not been for the necessity of approaching so close to an active star, where a shield failure outside the protective shadow of the gas giant could mean the flash-cooking of an entire ship. The vessels of the Chartist Captains are old and ailing beasts, and they had avoided 41 Pry like the plague since the moment of its construction, much to the chagrin of its owners.

    Instead, the space station had been adopted by a rather less salubrious crowd – valued for precisely the same inaccessibility that had kept legitimate business away, 41 Pry had become a seething hub of criminal activity, the blackest rogues and shadiest smugglers of the Golgenna Reach coming here to exchange and acquire contraband. Ghostfire pollen from Iocanthus, stolen goods, the illicit drugs of a dozen hive worlds; it was even rumoured that xenotech changed hands in the corridors of 41 Pry, if you knew who to ask. Inspections this far out were infrequent, and on-station officials often less than incorruptible: the identity of the shadowy consortium that currently owned the station was unclear, but they were known to have deep pockets.

    Shields flaring white under the high radiation density, a ship was approaching 41 Pry. Unremarkable and unmarked, it bore the first Imperial officials to visit the station in six standard years.

    Their lives depended on keeping that fact a secret.


    1

    ++ONE WEEK PREVIOUSLY++

    Do you know what this is? Al-Subaai had asked them. Wraithbone.

    The merchant ship Hypatia had taken three weeks to reach Scintilla from its rendezvous with the Navy corvette Instigator near the silent world of Abandoned Hope. It had carried four agents of the Inquisition, and a single scuffed ration tin containing the fragments of something incalculably older than even the Golden Throne they served. It was that tin that Al-Subaai had upended onto the hardwood desk, letting the slivers of alien ivory skitter across its varnished surface.

    There had been three days before he had seen him. As soon as their shuttle had touched down in the windswept cloister of the Tricorn Palace, jutting on its rocky pinnacle from the sea-cliffs of Hive Sibellus, the silent servants of the Inquisition had come to take them away from each other, ushering them each to separate chambers in the echoing marble halls of the fortress. Three days of intensive questioning and debriefing by men with titles like Interrogator and Inditor, uncertain and alone, before they had been brought together again.

    What did it look like?
    Where did you find it?
    What did you see?

    The questioners had been interested in many things. They had relentlessly probed the nature of the ‘psychic phenomena’ that had so nearly brought their mission on Abandoned Hope to an end. They had traced and retraced the circumstances leading up to the death of the psyker, Ignace Erriphias. They had questioned keenly the nature of the alien gate that had brought them – so the four said – to another world. Most of all, though, they had asked about one word – the shadowy ‘Tenebrae’ of the acolytes’ report. Every detail regarding that strange term, it seemed, was precious to them.

    It was only on the fourth day that they saw each other again, and that their master had deigned to see them. Accompanied by men in faceless carapace armour and a lean, sharp-faced character in a priestly cassock, the solemn Inquisitor had spoken with an air of grim excitement.

    The alien material, he said, was the vindication of his most firmly-held beliefs. His acolytes had stumbled across a piece of a puzzle that the Inquisition had laboured over in secret for centuries. An ancient prophecy, the Hereticus Tenebrae, or “heresy of shadows”. Fragmentary, cryptic and blasphemous, it was the subject to which Al-Subaai – and certain others – had devoted the better part of his career. Though its dreadful prophecies had been shown to successfully predict catastrophe after catastrophe, none of the secretive cabal of Inquisitors were able to agree on the nature or purpose of the thing it heralded. They had worked in secret for generations, each pursuing their own lines of investigation. Now, these fragments of ‘wraithbone’ showed at last a solid link between the subject of the prophecy and the ancient race of the Eldar – the domain of Al-Subaai’s own Ordo Xenos.

    The secrets of the Tyrantine Cabal were not to be disseminated lightly, and he told them nothing more. Further revelations would be earned, not given: this first tentative induction was reward enough for their momentous achievement. In the meantime, the Inquisition still had need of their services.

    “Our adepts have not been idle,” said Al-Subaai, placing a leather-bound file of crinkled documents on the table. “Following your encounter on Prol VII, we have finally secured the cooperation of the Mechanicus.” Pulling out one sheaf of parchment, he held it out for inspection. “In 981.M41, the Explorator vessel Byzantium set off for Port Wander, en route to the Koronus Expanse. On its passenger manifest,” – he produced another piece of paper – “a certain Magos Xenobiologis, by the name of Phaestus.” He let the name sink in. “Having returned from the service of the Inquisition, it seems the elders of the Lathes wanted him out of their hair.” He looked briefly up at Jericus. “Or in this case, their cranial cables. He accepted a startlingly low-ranking position in the Explorator corps and took ship on the Byzantium.”

    “The Byzantium never reached Port Wander. It was registered as lost with all hands, and assumed destroyed in the Warp.” More paper was shuffled. “In the eighteen years since, there have been three sightings of ‘ghost ships’ matching its description, ranging the breadth of the sector – although they have never been correlated until now.” He allowed himself the tiniest smile. “The bookworms do have their uses.”

    “Most importantly, they have discovered something rather more recent. A long-range Astropathic transmission, sent out-sector through a relay on Guytoga. Its encryption key was Lectoprioritas 50, which our recalcitrant friends of the Mechanicus have reluctantly confirmed was Phaestus’ authorisation ‘in life’.” He paused. “Their revered cogitator records list him as lost with the Byzantium, and so they still prefer to insist that Phaestus is dead.”

    “Unfortunately for us, the Guytogan Astropathic choir was struck by a noophagic virus shortly after the recorded date of the transmission.” He frowned. “All twelve of the astropaths involved in sending the message perished, and their cerebral cortices severely necrotised. The virus was believed to be an off-planet strain, and should have been investigated... but it was not.” He paused. “Nevertheless, we have identified the recipient of the message... one Captain Maximilian Vyres.”

    “Vyres is a free trader who plies out-sector routes, trading in rare breeds of Xenos animals. His range reaches as far as Ultima Segmentum, and he has not been seen in the Calixis Sector for some years. Whatever the contents of Phaestus’ missive, it caused him to extend his stay in the Eastern Fringe for four months.”

    A final dossier hit the table.

    “Now, Vyres is returning. We hear from our informants that he is planning to sell off his cargo at the space station of 41 Pry, and we also hear that the heretics known as the Beast House are involved in the sale... which means he’s moving more than bull loxophants for the pits. Apparently Vyres is staging a secret auction away from the main market – selling his more exclusive goods to his more exclusive clients. There are rumours that he has brought back something truly special.”

    “Maybe it’s a cover to meet with Phaestus. Maybe it’s what Phaestus told him to get, and he’s decided it will fetch a better price on an open market – free traders of Vyres’ type are not known for their trustworthiness. Whatever the reason, if we’re going to catch Phaestus before he disappears again, 41 Pry is the place.”

    “This is Father Drake,” Al-Subaai, indicating for the first time the tight-lipped man who stood beside him. “He is the fifth acolyte who will be joining you for your mission – which is to attend Vyres’ auction, undercover. You will locate Phaestus or his cat’s-paw, and capture them for interrogation. You will identify what Vyres has brought him, and secure it for examination, or destroy it if you cannot. Finally, and secondary to the other objectives, you will note the names and faces of those present at the auction. Their very presence will be proof of their guilt in the Emperor’s eyes.”

    He passed the dossier across the table. Opening it, Jericus found it was packed with slim data-slates.

    “The mission details are in these documents. Your ship anchored in high orbit six hours ago, and your shuttle is waiting in the cloister.”

    He made the sign of the Aquila.

    “The Emperor Protects.”


    1

    Now, Sergeant Red - late of the 345th Guytogan Rifles- waited on the launch deck of the Miranda, watching the vast world of Pry grow slowly larger in the scratched viewport he had found. It was only thanks to the attenuation of the reinforced tint-glass that he could look at it at all, the immense, blinding furnace of its sun surrounding its cinder-black silhouette on all sides. In its shadowy lee, a tiny glint of reflected light might just have been their destination.

    Behind him, the heavy void shuttle waited. It was a step up from their battered old Arvus Lighter, although not quite the upgrade he would have wanted – the Mercator was the civilian’s Aquila, a glorified joyride for wealthy noncombatants. He had been assured that a Navy craft would draw too much suspicion, but he still wished for something with guns.

    That was the warning bell. In the cockpit, the green-lit figure of the pilot was flicking rows of switches, bright running-lights glowing into life along the shuttle’s stubby wings. Ten minutes to decompression: the Miranda’s crew were evacuating the launch bay, leaving the Acolytes alone with their craft. The Miranda herself was not going to come all the way into a berth at 41 Pry, but rather anchor above the planet itself – the plucky little transport ship had enough fuel for the return journey, and did not want to end up locked to the station’s docks if a hasty escape proved necessary. For one thing, the dock workers might notice the decidedly military alterations that had been made during the Miranda’s refit in the Battlefleet dockyards.

    The launch crew were motioning him in now, making hurried motions with their bulky, padded arms. In the silent, blazing vacuum outside, the crumbling bulk of 41 Pry hung silently against the crimson cloud oceans of its parent planet – waiting.
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    Sargent Red turned towards the shuttle, ever-so uncomfortably. The new clothes were startched just that little bit too much, and he felt naked without the Guytogan camoflauge covering his hide.
    He opted instead for simple matte-black combat fatigues, just on the off-chance one of the scum aboard 41 Pry could read Imperial Guard colours. His armour had gotten intimate with a paint brush, too. The entire thing was now a colour matching the new combat fatigues. No red trim, no imperial Aquila watching his back, no proudly displaying the 345th's banner on his shoulder.

    The only concession he made to sytle and design was a white lambda painted where the 345th's seal once was, surrounded by an iron halo, and puncuated with four skulls.

    One for each man he had lost during this investigation.
    Phrenz he couldn't do anything about. Likewise, Ignace. But Kat and Bosc were his own fault. He'd even tried to save them. The loss weighed heavily on him.
    Red still had nightmares about the fires on Prol, and sometimes, he could still smell the burning books and hear the omni-present, pursuing beat of owl's wings.
    That was absurd, of course.
    The Owls didn't make any noise.

    Red stepped aboard the shuttle and plopped down in his chair opposite Tychon. No. Opposite Gideon Kastor, his employer. The sargent had never exactly gone undercover before, and the transition to pseudonyms was something he found jarring. The role as somebody's dog-on-a-leash, though, made him feel right at home, just like he was with the Dross Serpants again.

    Thinking of such, the Sargent took great care in unfastening his quiver and bow, stashing it under his chair, and produced a cloth-wrapped pistol from one of his fatigue's many sets of pockets and lay it beside the bow.
    Carrying too many guns into the auction might prove to be a bad thing. Hopefully, his perceived role as Gideon's bodyguard would let him keep his rifle.
    He'd recently taken to calling it Abagail. No idea why. The name just appealed to him.

    "You ready for this, Lambda?" Red asked, keeping the nervous tremor out of his voice as much as possible, and looking directly at the cell's newcomer.
    "Actually, come to think of it. That's a bad idea. Let's start using the pseudonyms we decided on, shall we? Even over the commbeads."
    Red immediately reached up to the visor on his helmet and pushed it down to punctuate the point. He couldn't afford to be recognized by anybody who had been on Prol.
    Then he settled in for the ride.
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    Erasmus Keter smoothed back his hair instinctively, the unfamiliar weight of his concealed holster combined with the loss of his usual arms leaving his shoulders slightly off balance. He drew his robes up around him, plugged in his combead and lit a lho-stick, enjoying the smooth taste for a few seconds before collapsing into a fit of coughing. He paused, engaging his internal filters with a brief mind-pulse, then tried again.

    Much better.

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    The man now calling himself Titus Vane did not look as priestly as Tauron Drake usually did. Gone was the cassock and vestment, and the heraldry and symbology of the Aquila and the Imperial Creed. He still had all his weapons, though, and as he reached Red, he handed his chainsword hilt-first to the Sergeant - wordlessly, but with a look of solemnity that invited his comrade to treat the weapon the same way. Then, he lifted the rifle, shotgun and flamer from where they had been slung across his shoulders and back and laid them heavily, with associated thuds, in a neat line on the floor. He deliberated over the hammer, before placing it down too. Finally, he checked that his pistol was still by his side, holster on his black leather belt.

    After much deliberation punctuated with a lot of frowning, Drake had chosen a sombre outfit from the Miranda's supplies - black trousers, and a black dress shirt that Tauron's vestigial fashion sense hoped looked elegant but not flamboyant. His thin flak armour was between them and an equally dark and slightly bulkier longcoat - his thin frame making it not seem too bizarre. The armour was dull and had never been in perfect condition, and he felt fairly sure it looked of about black-market quality.

    As he sat down aboard the shuttle, grazes and thin lacerations he had inflicted on his back not an hour earlier sang out in pain - he closed his eyes for a moment, savouring the purity of feeling purged of sin, and the assurance it gave him that the Throne was watching over him.

    "We go to bring His light into the darkness," he said aloud to the others - possibly the last prayer he would openly utter for the duration of the mission. "The Emperor protects." He felt as yet unable to judge how the other acolytes thought he fitted in to Lambda Cell, and on the week aboard the Miranda he had struck up a few short conversations about their past missions, but had done little more with them besides planning for the arrival to 41 Pry. But he respected them and what he knew they had already accomplished; some of the Emperor's most devoted servants were aboard the shuttle with him, and he owed it to himself and to the Imperium to live up to that standard.
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    Three hours ago, Tychon Urbanus sat in his room aboard the Miranda, staring at a box full of purity seals. It felt wrong, somehow, to leave them behind. Like he was abandoning a small part of himself. The little blessed Aquila he had acquired from the Instigator's priests had to stay too, as much as he would have liked to bring it along. The same went for his scuffed old boots, and his regular belt buckle. Appearances were important for this mission, and the responsibility to lead fell squarely on him.

    It was not something Tychon was used to.

    A pile of clothing, selected from the ship's stores, was arrayed on a rack by the door. There was no more putting it off. 41 Pry was waiting, and he would have to be ready. Tychon locked the door, and began pulling things off the rack.

    One hour ago, Gideon Kastor stepped out of Tychon's room. His long hair was washed, combed, and pulled neatly back, resting under Tychon's wide-brimmed hat, the metal studs newly polished. Mr. Kastor had discarded the stubble that Tychon habitually neglected to be rid of, and had decided on clothing in the fashion of Metallican nobility. He wore a navy blue vest over a white shirt and blue cravat tie, and pinstripe trousers. Over that went a light coat, black with gold trim, and over that went the flakcloth greatcoat. Glossy black highboots ringing on the deck as he walked, Kastor made his way towards the common area of the ship in preparation for the shuttle launch.

    As he walked, he checked the time on a gold pocket-chrono. Tychon had taken the opportunity in accessorising to pick up nicer replacements for a few of his old things, as well as some new ones. The chrono was new. The silver lho stick case in the shirt's breast pocket, and the silver lighter that accompanied it, were replacements. A matching flask, filled with rotgut alcohol instead of the amasec one might expect, was stashed in his greatcoat's inside pocket. Never much for jewelry, the only additions in that department were a pair of patterned silver rings. His gold wedding band was staying behind with the purity seals. Mr. Kastor was not married.

    Passing a viewport, Tychon stopped to look at his reflection against the blackness of space, running a gloved hand over the scar on his chin. Shaving around that had been the Emperor's own job.

    "I look ridiculous..."

    Muttering to himself, the gunslinger continued walking.

    Ten minutes ago, Gideon Kastor climbed onto the Mercator shuttle, shades of Abandoned Hope flashing through his mind. At least this time, the place they were bound for was metal and machinery, much more civilised than the Eldar world. If 'civilised' could truly be applied to it in any way, at least.

    Settling into his seat, Kastor's eyes flicked over the others in the shuttle. The sergeant, his loyal bodyguard. Ignace, he had said he was going by. Titus and Erasmus, advisors and aides. Tychon was especially nervous about Titus. Tauron Drake could read, whereas the gunslinger couldn't. If he got caught alone somewhere and had to examine papers of any sort, the game would be up. Nova, or whatever she was calling herself, hadn't arrived yet. Tychon hoped Akadia wasn't watching when she did.

    "So," he said, checking to ensure all five of his pistols were in their proper holsters, "here we go again, aye?"
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    "Once more, unto the breach.", droned Erasmus, flashing a wink and a battered lighter at Kastor.

    A strand of hair sprung up, and Jericus smoothed it down.
    "We ought to work out some codes before we go in. Mr Vermillion is in the Mine Lobby, that sort of thing."

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    Nova strode into the hangar a few minutes before decompression, her pack and equipment harness loosely dangling over one shoulder as she headed straight for the cell's new shuttle. The outfit for her disguise instantly stood out, as different from her normal attire as night from day.

    Gone were the pure white tabard and cloak, the light gray breeches and tunic. The matte black, skin tight mesh armor she normally wore hidden under her clothes was now the base piece of her outfit, though modified to fit her cover story. The fabric-like material had been split into an upper and lower part at the waist to reveal some skin, and a moderately deep neckline had been added to the top part. An ornate vest and leggings, decorated with a skulls and blades motif, rounded out the outfit. Though she knew the Inquisition's armorers would be displeased with her armor modifications upon the team's return, Nova preferred their displeasure to the thought of not having armor after what happened on Abandoned Hope. With her hair held back in a tail by an elaborate skull pin and her matched blades hanging from her belt, the assassin would not have looked out of place in a death cult or wandering the battlefield on a feral world.

    Nova's pace varied as she strode toward the shuttle, seemingly trying out different styles of walking to fit her cover. She finally settled on a slow, sure pace, swaying her hips slightly while holding her head high.

    Stepping onto the shuttle, she sighed. "It apparently never occurred to whoever programmed my disguise skills that there might be a middle ground to strutting like a noblewoman or swaying like a joy girl," Nova said as she secured most of her gear in a storage compartment. Only the swords on her belt, the daggers at the small of her back, and a small pouch containing useful tools on her hip were going with her onto the station; the rest would be on the shuttle, just in case. "But I think I have it down. And I should at least provide a bit of a distraction to anyone who might otherwise examine you too closely, Gideon," she continued, smirking at Tychon. "Hmm... how should each of us refer to you? Mr. Kastor, boss, Lord Kastor if you're feeling ambitious? I'll simply refer to you as Gid or Gideon due to our cover, but the rest of you will want to pick something more in-line with your cover professions."

    "Speaking of aliases, I'll not be taking one. The only way my identity would be compromised is if one of three inquisitors and four acolytes from my last cell suddenly turned traitor, so it won't be needed. And it's one less new name to confuse."
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    "Mr. Kastor," Tychon decided. "Lord Kastor feels too self-important, and boss is too informal."
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    Drake - Vane - nodded. "Anything else would seem inappropriate, if not suspicious." Leaving his backpack beneath his seat, he stood up once more, to move the weapons from the floor to compartments.

    "As for codes, an abort phrase is probably most pertinent. Or a code that one of us is in danger. I do not know what other situations we can expect to arise."
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    Red - he still had trouble thinking of himself as Ignace Bosc, allowed himself to appreciate the view of Nova as she walked into the room. Distracting was one way to put it, but Red had spent the past year either in transit aboard massive, unfamilar voidships, attempt to unravel this Phaestus plot or on a battlefield, scared for his life.
    And now, his face was hidden beind tinted glass.

    He positively leered.

    After a moment, the Sargent stood up and banged upon the cocpit door.
    "All personnel aboard." He shouted through the armoured steel before returning to his seat and strapping in.
    "Don't forget the codes for 'my cover is compromised', 'my cover is blown', and 'Sweet God-Emperor, run!'." The Guardsmen suggested unhelpfully.
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    Before any of the assembled Acolytes could reply to Red with a constructive suggestion, a blaring horn sounded in the hangar outside. Even filtered as it was through the Mercator’s ceramite hull plating, the sound was deafening.

    The Miranda was closing for the approach. The deck rumbled like tectonic plates grinding together, its tremors shivering up the shuttle’s hydraulic landing gear. In his mind’s eye, Red could see the huge, cog-toothed launch shutters lumbering open, spilling the launch bay’s thin air into the black and endless void.

    “Welcome aboard, Mr Kastor,” came the pilot’s voice over the comms. “Launch in thirty seconds, counting.”

    The Mercator’s engines sparked into life with a powerful, rising whine. Jericus recognised the hiss-click of void seals being tested, the passenger cabin becoming an airtight box. Padded restraints swung down, ready for them to use.

    “Five,” came the polite, crackly voice. “Four. Three, two, one...”

    There was a stomach-turning lurch, and then a punch of acceleration as the Mercator’s jets kicked in. Hugging the teardrop shadow of the gas giant, the tiny craft dropped clear of the Miranda’s belly and arced away towards the silent bulk of the station below.

    ~

    The Mercator had no viewports in the cabin, but there was a visualiser screen that relayed a pict-feed from the cockpit. Bringing up the picture in faint and fuzzy shades of green, ‘Erasmus’ watched their approach with a kind of scientific disinterest.

    41 Pry appeared just as the briefing slates had shown it – a great cruciform of metal, hanging in low orbit above the whipping clouds of the gas giant’s uppermost atmosphere. Later additions crusted its pure design like crude and dirty barnacles, breaking its symmetry where they rose in a sooty stack behind the exhaust flues of the refinery systems.

    The long harbour arms had sustained some debris damage in places. How long ago, it was difficult to say, but repairs had evidently been a long time coming – the old wounds still gaped, the station’s punctured metal skin held together only by skeletal scaffolds of girders, open to the void. Perhaps the station’s inhabitants had found it easier to work around the exposed sections than to repair them.

    As they closed in, the sheer scale of the structure became apparent. The harbour arms yawned like canyon walls, big enough to swallow the Miranda twice over in their gape – in the other arms of the cross, other ships already rested at anchor, their crenellated bridges rising above the forest of antennae, hatchways and defence turrets that blistered the tops of the docks. There was a little merchant ship, not unlike the Miranda; on the other side of the station, a great Jericho-class hauler wallowed at its mooring, huge, snaking cables pumping 41 Pry’s hydrogen harvest into its tanks.

    At the head of the cross, the third ship hung lightly at anchor, as if poised to break away at any moment. Longer but narrower than the merchant vessel, it had the look of a sprint trader – but a sprint trader that was prepared to fight its way out of a corner, if the dorsal weapons batteries were anything to go by. Were it not silhouetted against the red blaze of the planet below, it would have been almost impossible to spot – its hull was painted void-black, its lit windows and running-lights the only clue it was there at all.

    Another instant, and the ship was blotted out by the soaring dome of the Station Primaris, and the jury-rigged bulk of the Stack. They were coming into Alpha Dock, the only dock that didn’t hold a ship. At the inward end of the long harbour arms, its shuttle bay was gaping open like the mouth of a baleen whale, great mechanisms clattering away in silence as the Mercator angled in through the opening jaws.

    The Acolytes felt the push of force as the shuttle spun its jets around, burning off its speed in a sharp braking manoeuvre. With it came the sudden weight of artificial gravity reasserting itself once again, the station’s a little stronger than the sometimes-flighty field the Miranda possessed. Inching down on howling thrusters, the Mercator made contact with the deck. Internal mechanisms vented vapour, and all around came the sibilant whistle of air as the cabin decompressed.

    “Orders say your contact should approach you here,” came the pilot’s voice. “Shuttle’ll be waiting for you when you come back.”

    With a rush of unaccustomed light, the rear hatch hissed open. Outside, the sights and sounds of a huge and bustling shuttle-bay assaulted them – and in the foreground, a man in the shabby blue robes of some kind of port official was waiting for them.

    “Mr... Kastor?” asked the man in a thin and feeble voice. He looked around at the emerging group, clearly not sure which face he should be addressing. “I have been asked to convey a message from supervisor Nahum Sawney. He welcomes you to 41 Pry and invites you to join him at the Bridge.” He coughed to clear his throat. “Will you be requiring a guide?”

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    Obviously feel free to conclude conversations about code-words etc. with a timesplit to when you were still inside the shuttle.

    Also, for anyone who’s interested, feel free to roll an Awareness check to get a more thorough first impression of the landing bay.
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    The black-clad Red stepped forward.
    "Ignace Bosc." he introduced himself, injecting as steely a tone as he could manage.
    "Mr. Kastor will be requiring you to guide him to the bridge, if he does, indeed, wish to join the Supervisor. He will also require a detailed map of the station."
    Red flashed a grin before he remembered the visor hid his face.
    "Security."
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    Then:
    "Keep things simple. I ain't gonna remember half a million new codes." Tychon stopped, considering the words. He was going to have to make an active effort to talk less like a midhiver. "Infernis rising, for danger?"

    Now:
    Gideon Kastor strode down the ramp, idly watching the goings on in the port and trying to be disinterested in his immediate surroundings. Let the security man handle those. It was going to be difficult, he realised, to conceal his contempt of the criminal element in a place like this, but if he was lucky they might take it as a noble's contempt for those beneath him. Time would tell.

    Part of the conversation jerked him out of his thoughts, and he turned his attention to the official. "Inform the supervisor it would be my pleasure." Provided, of course, went the unspoken connotation, that he has something interesting to say.

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    Yon awareness test, vs 49: (1d100)[38]
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    Vane buttoned his coat, hoisted his backpack and silently followed his master out of the shuttle. His role would come later; for now, let Security bluster about to make sure Mr Kastor's arrival was treated with the respect it deserved.
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    Aboard the Aquila

    "In the Guard, we would call for an Angel of Mercy to let any sharpshooters know we were in trouble. Infernis rising works better fo this situation." The solider replied, mulling over the code for a moment. "How about something like 'the forges are hot' if we think our cover might be compromised?"

    41 Pry: Alpha Dock

    "Ignace Bosc" nodded slightly behind his impassive mask, and then set a full glare upon the toady that joined them. There were many problems with having your visage hidden from sight, but it certainly helped to intimidate.
    "You heard the boss, Escort."

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    Belated Awareness and "Don't mess with me" rolls.Awareness - (1d100)[20]
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    Erasmus glanced around the bay, taking everything in with a sort of hunger. It was good to be somewhere a bit less primitive, even if doubtless countless organics were profaning machines in the bay at that very moment, He'd deal with that later.

    Awareness: Per 34 (d100)[15]

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    Nova descended that ramp, a half step back and to the right from Tychon. She ignored the conversation, trying to appear bored while she casually looked over the hangar.

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    Then:
    "That works. As long as we're running with that theme for things, let's say "shift change" for abort, and "forge overheated" if we know our cover's blown. I don't think "Run like frak" really needs a code."
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    Alpha Dock

    The landing bay was impressive in scale, if not in how it had been maintained. The vaulted hull-plates of the original construction had been haphazardly patched in places with irregularly-placed squares of later metal, riveted in place and beginning to rust. In the high girders of the roof, steel rods that might once have supported long banners hung on burnished chains, left to gather dust.

    The bay was packed with small craft. Many were drab, powered-down units, service shuttles of the station itself waiting to be wheeled down to the launch pads from where they stood stacked like shopping trolleys along the rear walls. Others were larger and more varied, flyers from the visiting voidcraft standing at refuelling banks or taking on cargo – a couple of superannuated Sentinel walkers stomped slowly across the mesh decking, huge power-lifter arms hefting crates and containers twice their size with a straining whirr of servos.

    In the centre of the cavernous space, a bevy of servitors were working on what looked like a Lathe-world bulk hauler, its massive, rusted hull half-draped with dusty blue tarps. Sparks flew from augmetically-installed power tools, some kind of modification work going on inside the old workhorse’s empty cargo hold. Beyond it was a higher landing platform, reserved for a more exclusive class of civilian craft. On it, among the others, was a sleek silver sky-yacht, its curving lines wholly at odds with its surroundings.

    It was a shuttle Red and Jericus had seen before, at another berth, on another world. There, the landing pad had looked out over an ocean of verdigrised roofs, the cold winds of Prol VII whipping its tarmac... but it had been the same shuttle, sitting next to the bull-nosed gun-cutter of Secutor Ferox. They knew it, and they knew its owner.

    Barring the shuttle, there was no sign of him here.

    "Mr. Kastor will be requiring you to guide him to the bridge, if he does, indeed, wish to join the Supervisor. He will also require a detailed map of the station."
    The port official seemed almost bored by Red’s attempts at intimidation. Peeling a sheet of thin, glossy paper off his clipboard, he handed it to Red.

    “You are welcome to a copy of the visitor’s map,” he said, and Red saw that that was what he was holding – a relatively simple document, outlining the major hab-zones of the station and what could be found within them. “More detailed schematics are issued solely at the discretion of the Board.”

    Looking over his shoulder, he hesitated for a long minute as one of the heavily-laden Sentinels thudded past – when it had cleared the way, he motioned to one of the blue-robed adepts who stood elsewhere on the deck, a younger man hurrying across.

    “Mr Kastor, this is Junior Supervisor Clemens,” said the first man, making sure to emphasise the junior. “Clemens, Mr Kastor requires a guide to the Bridge, Pryside of the dome. You know the way?”
    “I do, senior,” said Clemens. He looked up smartly at Tychon. “Are you ready to depart, sir?”
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    Mr. Kastor nodded, gesturing for Clemens to lead the way with one hand. His staff had everything they needed, of course, so there was no need to check. Folding his arms behind him, he fell into step behind his guide. "That upper platform," he said, angling his head to look up at it again, "will my shuttle be moved up there, or is it to stay where we landed? I like to know where my property is."
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    "No, sir. That is an overflow zone." Clemens consulted a dataslate in his hand, scrolling through some kind of list. "We have no more booked arrivals for some time; your shuttle should remain where it is." He looked up at Tychon. "Is that satisfactory?"
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    Red glared through the smoky glass of his visor for a few extra-long moments at Octavian's shuttle.
    "Sir," he cut in, falling in neatly beside Tychon, "If there's any way for us to acquire a list of recent arrivals, it would make my job significantly easier. Especially if one of your rivals is at dock." the faux-Security expert prattled, desperate to relay the danger of Rhodes' shuttle being present.
    "We wouldn't want a repeat of that incident with Erasumus and the uprising in the Infernis, would we?"
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    Erasmus shot a glance at Red, but kept silent.

    He wondered how one might go about getting servitor control codes for the bay. Probably with menaces, which ruled that one out.

    Common Lore: Tech check on the security and safety systems of this type of station
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    "Quite so, Mr. Clemens." Tychon cast another glance at the upper platform. "Have a look into Mr. Bosc's request. If at all possible, I would like to make sure I don't meet certain people here."
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    Clemens looked slightly uncomfortable.

    "I'm sorry, Mr Kastor, but such records are not available to visitors." He gave an anodyne smile. "I'm sure you value your own privacy as much as our other guests."
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    "Possibly even moreso." Tychon had expected as much, really, but didn't say it. There was no harm in playing up the paranoia aspect of Mr. Kastor. "If you can't tell me that, what can you tell me? The more my security man, and myself, have to go on, the happier I will be with your capabilities as a guide."
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    "Tell you about what, sir?" asked Clemens, with attentive politeness. "If you wish for particulars about the station, I'll be glad to point them out to you on our way."
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    "Do so. I have not been to 41 Pry before." Tychon suspected there was a lot the man wasn't going to tell him. You could hide a regiment of guardsmen in the dark corners of a place like this. Or a regiment of worse things. Hordes of pale shambling creatures with bulbous eyes flashed through his mind, and he suppressed the urge to shudder.
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    “As you wish. This way, sir.”

    There was one exit from the shuttle bay – a wide and high-ceilinged transit corridor, sealable by a pair of immense blast doors should the outer airgates fail. Half of it was taken up by a sunken rectangular pit, built to accommodate a straight set of rails on which heavy cargo platforms shuttled people and goods back and forth into the heart of the station. The other half was an open concourse, its decking worn smooth and faded by many centuries of passing feet.

    At the mouth of the corridor, where the floor was scored by the sockets of the blast shutters, Clemens stopped them, calling an elderly-looking grav-platform from a rank that stood by the entrance. Ancient impellors straining under its weight, it whirred over with a sallow man in some form of guild heraldry at the helm – Tychon noticed that the man’s right hand had been replaced with a clunky but functional augmetic.

    It reminded Red of the grav-lecterns on Prol, although where those flimsy platforms had been finished in lacquered wood, this was a harsh, lumbering thing of metal, its corners painted with yellow and black chevrons. Apparently on board Pry 41, only the plebs had to walk – patricians got to float.

    The operator swung open a ‘gate’ in the thin railing that enclosed the platform, ushering the party on board. Clemens followed them, closing it behind him and straightening out his robes as the platform groaned up into the air. Walkers ducked out of its path, its descending underbelly threatening to clip the taller of them across the back of the skull as it skimmed overhead.

    “There are corridors like this leading from each of the major docks,” said Clemens, gesturing serenely to their surroundings as they slid past. “When a ship’s crew are on shore leave, the walkways can get quite crowded – hence these platforms.”

    Their guide’s next words were drowned out by a rush and roar of machinery, as a grimy black engine came thundering down the rail track in the opposite direction. It pulled a car of passengers and two flat-beds of stacked wooden crates, a handful of armed men in no coherent uniform sitting sentry on the mounds of boxes.

    “The trains move cargo to and from the dome market,” explained Clemens. “Not far, but there is always a lot of cargo to move. Better to mechanise.” He looked across to Tychon with a simpering smile. “I’m sure a man of your business interests understands such problems of logistics still more than I, Mr Kastor.”

    After a short time, the platform reached the end of the tunnel. There, another cargo locomotive was sitting idle at the end of the rail pit, heavy boxes being unloaded from the back – beyond it, the wide corridor opened out into a still wider expanse beyond.

    The dome market certainly did not disappoint. Soaring overhead was the armourglass dome that the Acolytes had glimpsed briefly in their approach – huge, vaulted windows into the glittering void of space arched their backs overhead to meet a central point, casting striated shadows across the plaza below. Three other access tunnels radiated out from the cardinal points of the circle, cutting the perimeter like the bars of a crosshair: at the centre point where they would have met, beneath the apex of the colossal dome, a tall metal tower rose halfway to the ironwork of the roof, crowned with an enormous four-faced clock.

    On the burnished brass of the clock faces, shift divisions as well as simple times were marked, mounted on traversable bearings so that they could be adjusted if management so desired. It looked as if they were coming up to the end of the day cycle on station time.

    Below the clocks, a tangle of pict-recorders looked down into the plaza. Nova thought she could see some narrow glass windows above the clock faces – possibly this was a guard tower as well as a timepiece. Clemens made no comment on it, instructing their pilot to set down the grav-platform and leading the party back onto the solid deck.

    If the tower was a guard tower, it could hope to do little more than observe. The space it looked over was far too broad and sprawling to be policed by one isolated crow’s-nest of enforcers. Easily the size of an airfield, the walls on its far side pressed in where the bulk of the Stack had crept up the flank of the dome, putting down jury-rigged roots that fizzed and shone with neon signs advertising a dizzying variety of station-side establishments. In the shadow of that overgrown cliff-face of bulkheads and sheet metal, a semi-permanent penumbra of shops, food vendors and little market stalls clung to the edges of the plaza like a colony of limpets. They stretched all around the circumference of the dome, encircling the central space in a forest of stalls and booths.

    In the central space itself, a different kind of market had been set up. Huge open-topped cargo containers, numbers and letters stencil-sprayed on their sides in flaking white paint, had been laid out in rough lanes around the clock spire, facing each other. Rising head and shoulders above their metal walls, huge animals shuffled and bellowed, packed together like canned fish for the swarms of humans who ogled and dickered over them. There were great grey loxophants, prehensile trunks reaching down for the treats offered by the teasing crowd; glistening amphiceres, wallowing in cargo-containers half full of brackish water as assistants perched on high stepladders hosed them down with fine sprays of moisture. Many of the massive amphibians had fresh scars on their spade-shaped muzzles, seemingly gained trying to headbutt their way out of their steel prisons.

    There was a rank animal stink rising off the market, but it didn’t seem to affect Clemens in the slightest. Leading the way towards it, he began to talk again.

    “This is the cargo just come off the Bold Endeavour, Captain Vyres’ ship. Animals from all over the Calixis Sector, and beyond. Many of these will be bound for hive circuses and fighting pits, but there is also a brisk trade from other sectors. The agri-world collectives are always interested in new, profitable breeds, and of course there are private collectors...”

    Closer to, one could see the smaller crates and cages that had been set down around the larger containers. Languorous crotalids lay sprawled behind iron bars, watching the punters go by with yellow, slit-pupilled eyes. Four-winged hawks scrabbled and beat their wings against walls of wire mesh, giving voice to weird, ululating cries that drifted over the hubbub of voices that pervaded the echoing market.

    If the animals on sale were peculiar, the people buying and selling them were just as strange. Forging a path into the crowd, ‘Mr Kastor’ found himself swallowed up by a sea of humanity at its most diverse. Weathered frontiersmen, still wearing sturdy boots and heavy coats; hivers in slick bodygloves or brightly-dyed clothes, some reeking of wealth, others only of sweat and the grease-fried meat. Gaggles of voidsmen on leave bounced aimlessly between the enclosures, there only to gawk at the creatures on display.

    The punters were not the only ones, either. There were men in some kind of ship’s uniform who seemed to be doing the bulk of the moving selling, but every local with an animal to sell had taken advantage of the temporary market to set out their own cages and stalls. Perhaps some of them had even been brought by the ship – even a lean sprint trader like the Endeavour was a big place, after all.

    “Vampire squid! Straight from Goldmann’s world, still swimmin’. Sacs and all, yours for a steal.”

    “You sir, will you buy? Powdered thornox horn! Put some spring in your spring, sir, if you know what I mean. Medicinal!”

    There was still the remnants of an open space at the base of the clock spire. There, with his back to a row of lowing loxophants, a harassed-looking man was managing a crowd of shouting bidders, a pair of assistants aiding him in entering names and numbers into a huge ledger. Clemens led them straight past, brushing aside the hawkers and ‘entrepreneurs’ who tried to waylay them along the way. He was leading them towards the towering wall of the Stack, the place where the glow-signs blazed.

    Escaping out the other side of the animal market, the Acolytes found themselves moving into the bazaar of more permanent establishments that hunkered around the edges of the plaza. Strange smells wafted from sizzling food stalls, and shrouded booths sold strange and gleaming things. Here and there, real shops were built into the metal walls of the station, their windowless insides shrouded in darkness. Bent old shopkeepers watched them with avaricious eyes, while pedlars approached them with dirty hands full of dubious wonders.

    Passing a hefty array of elevators that connected to the upper and lower levels of the hab-zone, they turned down a broad avenue between two descending walls of steel. Its sides were lined with neon-signed establishments, gnawed like caves into the base of the metal canyon. The place was heaving with bodies – voidsmen and station workers coming off-shift, laughing and shouting in an echoing din almost as great as that of the market.

    “Many of the workers come here in their time off,” said Clemens. “Not far now.”

    Red’s armed presence helped to clear a way for them through the seething crowd, and before long, Clemens brought them to a stop. They were standing outside a dingy-looking club, the muffled sound of loud music thumping from inside – over its wide double doors, a luminous yellow sign fizzled feebly.

    THE BRIDGE

    “This is where your friend should be,” said Clemens. “I wish you a profitable stay on 41 Pry, sir.”

    Although he seemed to be saying goodbye, he did not turn and leave – instead, he waited politely in place, like a waiter expecting a tip.

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    "Thank you." Tychon paused before going in the door. He wasn't sure if Clemens was actually expecting a tip, and if he was, what sort of tip might be appropriate. Of course, Mr. Kastor didn't necessarily need to deal with things like that. "Titus, make sure Mr. Clemens recieves appropriate compensation for his services as a guide."

    With the buck sufficiently passed, Gideon Kastor entered The Bridge.
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