Rogue Trader: S2 EP 23: We Need A Knife Proof Back.
As two figures scurry across the surface of Footfall, measure proceed apace in the skies above. The Measured Response, a charred husk, is moved to the ship yard to be rebuilt and readied once more, though at least half a year will be spent before it is ready. Aviner’s poring over the elder technology is interrupted by the news that the data tombs for Sigmund’s Folly have been authorised, he has somewhere to safely store the heretical devices found amongst the stars. His research has unlocked ideas that no tech priest should know, a path that should not be walked. The check sums of his mind are returning errors now, amongst the comfort of the engines he records his findings, so on the day he falls, all he worked for will not be lost.
Xanatov sits silent, reflecting on the path chosen, applying his knowledge of game theory to circumstance and happenstance looking for clues to what will happen next. He has spent the past days anonymous amongst the crew, watching for infiltrations or the hand of the other Rogue Traders. The reports of Pandareos and Lucius actions does not bode well. With a wave of his hand he assigns his underlings to follow them and watch over them, and notes that the Drusians are at his beck and call, if need be he can bring them into the fray.
Now, on Footfall itself, the corridor and gantries loop and wind like an Escher nightmare. Panadareos lies upon one such gantry, his blood mingling with the rust as he binds his wound in the stale dry air. Lucius looks around the landscape, thinking of the need to contact the Cas Balika, or at least gain the use of the Obsidian Emporium. His eyes still on a drinking establishment, with a sigh he turns back to Pandareos “we’re going to end up in one of those aren’t we?”. Pulling himself up Pandareos smiles bitterly” after we do some hunting, need some new ammo”. The hunt comes to nothing though, even on footfall, the rare ammunition he looks for cannot be found. Bitter and tired he shrugs. Back to the main mission it is then.
It is thus they end up back at the “Ork and Banshee” below the shimmering neon depiction of its copulating namesake. Stepping into this hive of piracy, Pandareos grabs a bottle of amsec from a passing tray and slides down onto a chair “Aight, if I remember rightly, you were all terrible last time. Want to win some money back?”. Lucius fades into the background as he mutters “He’s going to get shot again isn’t he”. Around them the bar shuffles through its usual violent outbursts, gangers brawl over the attentions of a rent boy whilst the acid scarred bar tender stokes himself limply to the banal pornography on the vid screens. Opposite Pandareos sits a man with dead eyes, like gateways to the void itself and a vacuum in his heart, around him all feel deep unease.
Outside Godwin Blake slumps in the disguise of a mutant, a down and out, muttering into his vox . “My lord there is something here that may be of interest to you. There may be agents of cas balika here and it seem Pandareos has found himself playing a game of chance against and untouchable. A blank.” Recognising the use of such a sink for psychic energy Xanatov replies “make sure Pandareos doesn’t shoot him, I’m coming down”. By the time Xanatov arrives at the scene Blake is disguised as a fast food vendor, in the alley nearby the hand of the unfortunate original vendor lies, nibbled at by the local vermin. “Alright squire what can I do you for” Godwin says. Xanatov answers “What special offers do you have today?” A laugh “Everything I got’s special guvnor, however if you were to turn your back you would see a very interesting game of chance there” quietly he adds ”The way Pandareos is playing, things might get nasty” as he pushes a concealed silenced machine pistol into the Lord Captains hands. Taking it Xanatov steps unseen into the establishment, wary of what may come.
In front of his gaze, Pandareos sits, pouring strong spirit down his throat as he laughs and throws cards to the table. To the very attentive eye it can be seen that he is counting cards and slipping extra cards into the game, and yet he loses badly still, as if doing so deliberately. With every loss he smiles, laughs and buys a drink of congratulation for the winner. As he does so he drops in subtle questions into the now friendly conversation, the booze and winnings have done much to smooth over the anger that lingered but moments before. With each question Pandareos teases out another clue to the group he must find. The Void Master is gambling all right, but the prize is not for some petty winnings, but for if he can loosen their tongues enough to get the information he requires.
The mood is nearly shattered by a new arrival. A figure of bionic leg, pirate hat and an eight point star that wriggles before the eyes. This piratical figure greets Lucius as if he was a Navigator of house nostromo. Hands slide to weapons instantly, for even on this land, the name of such a heretical and despicable house brings animosity and violence. With great calm Lucius manages to diffuse the situation, with tales of his true house and their noble deeds. By the end the Pirate grasps Lucius in a drunken gesture of friendship . “You’re a great guy, you understand him like no one else does” he mumbles drunkenly, to the laughter of the rest of the tavern. Under the cover of this Pandareos seals the meeting with the Cas Balika, they have established their credentials now. As the game ends each player moves to their respective end.
Outside the pirate shuffles, unleashing a stream of urine in front of Xanatovs hidden eyes. As he does so he speaks into the vox “This is Marbon to wolf pack, do you read me. Have not found any reference to Xantovs troops on footfall, I don’t know where they are, I have seen the ship but not them” As the final word leaves his mouth he twitches in sudden pain “Yes , yes my lord, yes. You want him brought back in stasis, to malfea. To present him for the insult he has made”. From his hiding place Xanatov opens a channel of his own asking Blake to follow the figure ready to pick him up if need be.
Inside Panadreos talks with the untouchable who sits with an obsucra pipe in his mouth. “So, you want to meet the bosses?” he asks. “Well since you mention it, sounds like a good idea to me” Pandareos answers, something about this man makes his skin writhe and wish to strike him. “Ah you owe my bosses money” the man says, touching Pandareos hand “maybe you can, ahem, persuade me to put in a good word for you”. Pandareos pulls his hand away “If I needed that I could get better money than you could pay for my arse”. The man offers the obscura pipe “want some then?” Pandareos shakes his head, “would need something stronger anyway”. The man pulls out a lode stick dashed with the narcotic “White Void”. “Stronger, how about this?”. Pandareos tries to decline, but the horrors of recent days still weighs heavy on him, and his hand takes the offered release, within moments the drug takes hold, bringing a peace he has not known for many years
As Pandareos stares into space, the room fills with men and women, dressed in grey and marked with the aquilla. Their eyes and demeanour mark them as well trained and dangerous. Within moments they clear out the room, with the exception of Lucius, Pandareos and a small group of figures that match the Lord Captains DNA profile. It seems the Cas Balaika have come in force
Xanatov grins inside, not a single step of this was unexpected, the area has been rigged to confuse the DNA scanners fields, allowing him his anonymity as Tachara steps into the room. Lucius slides his way into the background, moving up to the intoxicated Pandareos. “I’m sorry about the three eyed jibe, I’m just insulting everyone now, Kinda angry ya know” Pandareos mumbles from his numbing haze. Lucius mutters “Shit” realising that the void master will be of no use to them in the near future.
Tachara, a tall thin man, marked more by his shaved head and silver aquilla than the anonymous grey body glove he wears, looks over the corralled men before him. “Xanatov, Xanatvo, Xanatov” he murmers, shaking his head “My lord, lords and lord captain forgive me for this insolence. One of you is the man I wish to speak with and he is an esteemed business partner, the other six are going to die here and now, you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. You have gone though your lives with admirable blandness, but it will end for you here on this floor. Bleeding out, looking at this unimaginative pornography”. Xanatov speaks out from the crowd “That won’t be necessary, all these men are working for me”. Tachara blanches “They are your agents? How well played lord captain, you have caught me off guard again, that never happens”. Unwilling to be left off balance for too long Tachara complements on the profits made from their endeavours together, dropping into conversation a reference to having found the halo devices at Marteks domain. This verbal riposte done he turns to Lucius “Ah the esteemed navigator, we have been watching you and Pandaroes since you came to footfall. If only I had reached you before the lord captain did, I could have made a very compelling offer, So Lucius my good fellow, how was it to have to accompany such an uncouth and ill educated ruffian as this?” he waves dismissively at Pandareos as he says this. ”Somewhat unpredictable” Lucius replies honestly.
Xanatov cuts in over conversation about the shootout earlier, enquiring about the untouchable that works on Tachara’s employ. Tachara replies “I met shanky here when it came from the bountiful beast”. Xanatovs eyes narrow “Why that’s almost tantamount to family”. Tachara continues “He found his way through the maw, fleeing some transgression. Now Lord Captain, we have business to discuss”. Tachara enquires why they felt the need to come undercover, bridling at the implied insult of a leak in his ranks. Turning his fears aside Xanatov explains his wish to auction some of the co-ordinates for the Dread Pearl “I do not need all this information, so it would be sportsmanlike to offer some of this information for auction”. “Then you are a true emperors servant, to open up your monopoly to potential conflict” Tachara says gleefully. ”When we acquire items, it is our birthright as humans, I claimed a planet and the information, would you doubt the information is mine? This the rogue traders dispute” Xanatov says. Tachara recoils with shock “The other rogue traders thinks you should have some communal share?. It is the politics of envy, it will not stand”. To this affront, Tachara is honoured to make the required arrangements for the coming auction. The main business done, Xanatov returns to the point of the untouchables contract. “He is in the labour market so we must sell for the optimal price” Tachara concedes but puts off discussions to a later point.
For the lord captain time seems to slow down as the doors swing open, frag grenades bouncing across the ground towards them. As explosions rock the room, Xanatov shouts the first syllable of a codeword that will have them teleported back to the Saint Druses. The first explosion throws Xanatvo back, his synskin torn and tattered, Tachara collapses, his leg blown off at the knee and spewing blood forth. Pandareos, with the luck of the drunken and foolish is thrown to the ground but nearly unharmed, as the untouchable next to him takes the brunt of the blast. The room then fills with troopers storming in, a a hail of bolter shells at their hands. The Cas Balika troopers fold before the sheer weight of fire as Xanatov completes his shout. A moment of nausea and blasphemy as they fade through the warp, then they lie safely in the arm of the Saint Druses surrounded by her arcane engines.
Aviner is above the injured Tachara, tending to his wounds “Do not worry” he intones as he looks at the ruined leg “I can welcome you to the machine”. Over the vox Godwin Blake asks “What just happened?”. “looks like our preparation was not enough, did you get out” Xanatov replies. Godwin’s reply is cut off by a high pitch shriek as the vox fails.
Within an instant Xanatov has wrenched the inferno pistol from Lucius coat and screams to Aviner “You coming?”. “ I would not want Godwin injured by my absence” comes the calm reply. Sente skips forwards gleefully, aquilla and opus mechanicus tags bouncing upon her overalls, greeting her lord captain for the first time since her return. “Oh heya boss, we going to shoot something?” she says as she racks a bolt round into the breech.
With another burst of light they return to the scene, pentagram shapes writhing before them. In the moment before they appear Lucius sees an image in the dark, an underhive, a legion of mutants and gangers coming to devour him, and then reality asserts itself once more. Above the roofs of the shanty town they look down at green armoured troopers standing around the Ork And banshee, now a ruined husk. In the midst of these troopers, dragging a bloodied and battered Godwin Blake stands a woman in power armour. A woman known as Sun Li.
Cursing the betrayal, Xanatov drags his sun rifle from where it had been concealed, and scutters to a sniping position. From the vox he speaks “Sun Li”. Sun Li answers “Ah lord captain, since you vox, I take it you know exactly what is happening”. Hiding his presence Xanatov says ”I am not there, but I have eyes everywhere in footfall, can I ask a small question- why did you choose such a direct action when we could have talked about this”. Growling Sun Li says “you made me look a fool , stringing it out”. From the roof Aviner floats down before her eyes. Lightning flashes and Sun Li disappears, teleported from the area with her prize. All las weapons line up at the floating tech priest “This is not going to end in violence. We bear you no ill will” they shout. “I am glad” Aviner replies, distracted as he records the readings of the teleport for future reference.
Still on the vox Xanatov concedes “what are your terms?”. “We want what you know lord captain, how to get the dread pearl” Sun Li answers. In the distance a cloud of dust billows up. Scout bikes sweep in through the rising dust storm. As all weapons turn, Jeremiah Blitz pulls off his helmet and smiles from under his mirrored sunglasses. . “you know, would you be mightily affronted if I leant my support to your cause, cos ever since I heard this I wanted to see if you had the balls to pull it off “ he turns to the troops ”run along now, my troops are here as well”.
Smiling Xanatov turns back to the vox “I want my man back, or your dynasty will not get a seat at the auction, and I want compensation for the injuries”. The reply comes ” “very well lord captain, my mistress accepts your terms, your man will be returned unharmed.”
Turning to Blitz Xanatov says ” I appreciate the favour but don’t think this will get you any special favours”. Blitz laughs “You’re not my type, I just want to see people abiding by the rules of the game”. Xaantov frowns “You are very similar to someone I know”. Blitz laughs again “someone this handsome?” “No, someone that arrogant”. “Hey don’t hate the player, hate the game” Blitz says “We have bets on if you will die or be sold into slavery. By the way, if that pilot of yours reneges again, I’ll hunt him down and take his head”
With that the sides stand ready, peace holding for one more moment as the auction looms up ahead. The peace will be short, but will it be long enough