Chapter 27

In the dockyards of Lysander, the four void ships of Fleet Velasquez waited, gleaming with fresh paint and repairs. Haulers and loaders flew back and forth between the ships and the yards, loading supplies for the voyage back to the heart of the Calixis system and retrieving their payment from the ships' holds. The proud Siren's Wail, sturdy Vonaznaniya-17.8, mighty Unshakeable Will, and glorious Stallion of the Empire had been restored to travel readiness by the hardworking shipwrights of Lysander, in return for generous bounty secured from the Will's stores.

The Stallion of the Empire was tethered to the Unshakeable Will. Jak lacked the crew to fly her, nor the armsmen to scour her decks of the Ryleth threat. His loyalists from the Yolenna Symphony and the Siren's Wail had been spread across all the ships, mixed in with those who had up until a few weeks ago sworn fealty to L'Tarvius. He did not expect too great a difficulty with his former enemy. Al Dessi assured him that the crew of the Unshakeable Will were keen to return to civilization, having long grown tired of the Rogue Trader's private crusade.

He stood on the flight deck of the Stallion, taking one final look around as the last of the crew prepared to depart. Such a strange ship, bristling with ancient power and dangerous mysteries. He gazed into the dark passageway as the heavy doors to the flight deck slowly closed. Somewhere in there the Ryleth still prayed to their malign gods. Somewhere in there his sister's body lay. And what other dark secrets lurk in these passageways?

But that was a question for another time. For now, these doors would be closed, the purity seals reconsecrated, and the darkness left alone. Jak turned away from his prize and walked across the landing deck, out into the recycled air of the shipyards.

To his surprise, Queen Hermia was waiting for him at the loading bay. She had come with no fanfare, and only minimal escort -Captain Adriarc thumped the Aquila against his chest when Jak walked over. The Queen's face was pale and serene behind its veil.

"Your majesty," he bowed.


Jak ran his hand through his hair uncomfortably, unsure of what to say in this moment. "My thanks to your shipwrights. Your people have done a wonderful job prepping the ships."

"I wish to know when you will be departing." The Queen said, her voice severe and formal. Jak straightened up and changed to a more businesslike tone.

"We'll be ready to depart by eight bells, your majesty."

"Eight bells?"

"Soon. We'll be out of your hair soon."

There was a pause, and Jak realised that the Queen was no longer looking at him. She was walking forward to gain a better view of the Stallion. He turned to regard it with her. The visible section of her hull featured a three-story tall bas-relief image of some victorious crusade lost to history. Ancient Space Marines floated like angels over a grateful people and a vanquished foe.

"And who will protect the Lysander system now that her only warships are gone?" The Queen asked quietly. Jak looked over his shoulder, but her escort had kept a respectful distance away, giving them privacy.

"You lost more people in the Crusade than you ever did to slavers, your majesty," he said. It wasn't much of an answer, he knew. They were abandoning the Lysander system, and leaving the Kabalite Eldar free to continue their dark works. The Queen's shoulders lifted, and her breath seemed to pause, as if what she was about to say was taking a great deal from her.

"You could stay," she said softly. Jak sighed.

"You didn't come here to tell me that."

"No." Queen Hermia shook her head. "I came to ask what account you intend to give of us… of me. What will you say to your masters on Scintilla?"

"I will tell them that a brave outpost of the Imperium is standing firm against the forces of evil, and that they should send reinforcements at once to assist them." Jak turned to the Queen with a smile. She looked up at him, her face inscrutable behind her veil.

"Do you truly believe that they will?"

Jak glanced back at the Stallion of the Empire, this magnificent vessel. He could imagine perfectly, for a moment, all the hope held by those who had voyaged on her, their bravery and optimism for the future. He could imagine the torment of such a proud ship, left stranded over the millennia in the madness of the Warp. He turned back to the young Queen.

"I believe that the galaxy is a cruel place, your majesty. And that you should trust in the mercy of the God-Emperor."


On board the Vonaznaniya-17.8, Maternin looked about the refurbished bridge with satisfaction. With so few tech priests to go around, some modifications had been needed so that a human crew could assist in flying the ship, but Maternin had insisted they be temporary and of no disruption to the sensitive machine spirits of her vessel.

Her vessel. Captain Velasquez had given her the acting command, and both the human and mechanical sides of her brain were practically glowing with pride at the fact. When the fleet departed, she intended to show those warships what an expeditionary vessel of the Adeptus Mechanicus was capable of.

"Stow those cables! Bring the menials up, I want everything on this bridge to shine in reverence to the Machine God! Sergeant Shadlo, have your squad ensure the menials are careful around the electronics."

"Yes ma'am!" Shadlo saluted vigorously. The armsman had made a full recovery from his injuries on board the Unshakeable Will, although a full third of his face was glistening chrome now. He had refused to shave his beard, so it grew in ragged tufts around the metal, somewhat ruining the affect, but his good spirits seemed unchanged. "Come on you mugs, you heard the captain!"

A cadre of lexmechanics, fresh from the Unshakeable Will, had arrived and were standing on the bridge, ignoring the Noospheric instructions that were flashing about them. Maternin approached them, addressing them in Lingua Techna.

"You were expected thirteen and a half minutes ago. Such imprecision will not do on board my ship."

The lead priest visibly bristled at the scolding. He advanced on Maternin. "Is this some human attempt at humour? We are expected to obey the orders of a Genitari? An innovator? A heretek?"

"Click click, gentleman. That sounds like dissent in binary." The priest froze at the cocking of a pistol, and the feel of metal pressing through the hood of his robes. "Did I hear wrong ma'am?" Borjean Narn stood behind the tech priest, gun clutched in his gleaming new bionic arm. "Just say the word, and I blow his gears all over the deck."

"Thank you, Master at Arms, that won't be necessary. Our newest arrivals were just inquiring as to where they would be able to find their quarters. If they follow the instructions available to them in the Noosphere, we'll have no more need for conversations regarding insubordination or gears blown all over the deck."

The priests left hurriedly, trailing data streams of obedience and supplication.

"You think they'll be trouble ma'am?" Borjean asked, eying their retreat.

"Perhaps. That's why the Lord-Captain offered me your services, after all. But I think we will find the dissent wears off quickly. We are a hierarchical people at heart," she sighed and turned to her acting-Master at Arms. "How is your new limb serving?"

"Fairly well, thank you for asking, ma'am." Borjean flexed the metal arm, which he kept uncovered and gleaming in a show of pride that Maternin greatly respected. "I could almost be one of your bunch now, don't you say? Hand in my human badge and pick up a red robe."

Maternin laughed in delight. "The Genitari would gladly take you in, Mr Narn!" She tapped his arm. "You know, some in the Cult Mechanicus believe that the Omnissiah will be revealed when we escape the trappings of human flesh. But humanity was the shape we were given. We were never intended to become profane automatons, to lose our essential nature in pursuit of mechanical perfection."

"Is that so, ma'am?"

She grasped his arm, looking up at him, longing for her friend to understand. "We are the place where the human meets the machine. Where flesh meets metal. The place where the Warp meets the Void. We are the ones destined to answer the age-old question."

Borjean looked genuinely curious now, as he considered the little hand of the tech priest wrapped around his metal limb. "What question is that?" He asked.

"How far can we push into the unknown before we lose ourselves?"

She turned away from him and looked out through the great vista panes of the bridge. Even the Adeptus Mechanicus understood the romance of being able to look out into the very void itself. For the first time since the death of her parents, she allowed herself to feel that most irrational, that most human of emotions. Hope.


Ravenna Al Dessi was waiting for Jak in the captain's stateroom aboard the Unshakeable Will. He had changed little about the rooms since claiming them as his own, except to replace the bed and bring in his father's desk which they'd salvaged from the Yolenna Symphony. Ravenna had both hands pressed against the desk as she looked out through the vista panes into the void.

"Is the fleet ready for departure?" Jak asked, coming up alongside her.

Ravenna straightened and spun around. "Aye, sir. Ready to depart at your order." Jak shook his head, smiling in wonderment, permitting himself a moment of disbelief at the fact that the risks they had taken seemed to have all paid off. He leant back against the desk, shoulder to shoulder with his first officer.

"We did it Al Dessi. We bloody well did it. Returned from the Halo Stars without a Navigator, found a priceless treasure and captured a grand cruiser flying only a frigate. A grand cruiser! They'll never forget this back in Calixis!"

"Aye, sir, because we won't let them. Your father would be proud." Ravenna hesitated as she said the last part, and an awkward silence grew between them.

"You think he would be?" Jak asked quietly. Ravenna did not answer straight away.

"I remember when you were first born," she said at last. "Did you know I was there that voyage? I was only a junior officer back then, but your father had already seen my potential and had taken it upon himself to prepare me for leadership. We were chasing the frigate Bellaphron across the Stygian whirlpool. You mother was nine months pregnant." She chuckled at the memory. "No normal man would bring his pregnant wife with him on such a mission, but your father always wanted his family close and Yolenna Velasquez was game for anything. The two of you, the twins, you were due to be born any moment, but the Bellaphron had just escaped into the Warp. In a matter of hours any trace of her would be gone."

"I've heard this story before Al Dessi," Jak said but she cut across him.

"You haven't heard the ending. We were caught in the storm, tossed through the Immaterium, hundreds lost to madness or the shadows of the Warp. When we finally righted the ship, dropped back through to the calm of the void, the Bellaphron long forgotten and all of us simply happy to be alive, I heard your father speaking to the midwife that he had brought with him."

"She told him that my sister and I had been born during the storm." Jak said.

"Born during a warp storm." Ravenna shook her head. "Such a black star to be born under. Your father said that the two of you and your mother were to be kept in seclusion for another week, whilst the ship was undergoing repairs. No one but him and the midwife were to know that you had been born before the ship had left the Warp."

"What is your point Ravenna?"

"Your father confessed to me his fear that you would both be cursed. That you and Retta would bring chaos and destruction upon the whole family."

Jak grinned and shrugged. "Well there's still time for him to be proven right."

"No," she shook her head, frustrated. "It was always in my mind, you see? That moment when Garian accused you of his murder, I wondered what your father would have wanted me to do. You frightened him. But then I realised, it didn't matter. You were his rightful heir, with Mustek incapacitated. As an added bonus you turned out not to be his murderer either. And you got the ship through. No matter what hit us, you got the ship through."

Jak smiled wryly. "If I had a glass, we could raise a toast to a happy ending." But Ravenna wasn't smiling. She looked troubled.

"L'Tarvius is a threat still. His people are spread across the ships, to reduce their opportunities for plotting, but still they outnumber our own. If he can inspire them to rise up-" This time it was Jak's turn to cut her off.

"L'Tarvius has given me his word not to attempt an escape."

"And what good is his word? He betrayed you, sir, took your ship and killed her captain, threatened you and held this whole system hostage to his games. Yet, this system will remember L'Tarvius as the Hero of Lysander, and you will be the man who stole him away and abandoned them to their fate."

Jak shrugged as he stood "We're not the good guys Al Dessi. We're Rogue Traders. Tell Jestross I want fresh meat with dinner this evening, I'll be dining with Lord L'Tarvius. Now, I think I'm going to go to the bridge and tell my fleet to set sail."


Jestross stalked the galleys of the Unshakeable Will, searching for a steak. He recognised some of the galley yeomen, but many were strangers to him, and to his great satisfaction they blanched at the sight of a xenos walking the ship. They had been told about this blasphemy but knowing something and seeing it rummaging through the fridge were two very different things.

"Thou," he reached out with one heavy clawed hand and grabbed a passing sailor by the shoulder. "I want meat." The sailor, a young man, yelped and babbled incomprehensibly at him. "Meat for thy captain's dinner table." Eyes rolling in fear, the sailor pointed towards where the steaks were being prepared. Jestross let him drop and set off again.

Behind him, Jestross heard someone spit. He stopped in his tracks but did not turn around. There were a half dozen galley workers behind him, he could picture in his mind where every one of them was standing. Casually, the great xenos flexed his claws. To his satisfaction, he heard a pot clatter to the deck and the sound of footsteps hurriedly running away.

Jestross took a long, deep breath, drawing the stale air of the ship through his nostrils. The scent that suffused the ship was one he knew well. He could smell it on every deck ever since the captain's victory. He drew it in deep. HateFearLove. The smell of a pride.


They ate at the long table, seated either end. Jak lounged in a gilded throne, eating leisurely as he regarded his prisoner, who hunched over his plate and picked slowly at his food. Titanius L'Tarvius had behaved like a gentleman since his capture, but something about his behaviour struck Jak as unnatural. He had burned with a Crusader's passion and the arrogance born to all Rogue Traders. These qualities should not have left him so easily. Jak did not trust this cowed, humble figure before him.

"How is your food?" He asked. L'Tarvius looked up from his plate, a brittle smile upon his lips.

"Delightful." He returned to his meal. Jak continued to probe.

"The ship is performing splendidly. I thought there might be some issues, what with two thirds of her crew spread throughout my fleet or wallowing in the brig, but she responds like a charm with the right man on the throne."

L'Tarvius paused, fork to his mouth, but did not look up. When he spoke, there was an exaggerated calm in his tone, a man forcing himself to discuss the weather rather than his murderous rage. "I take it you will be bringing me back to Scintilla. My family will thank you. They'll have thought me dead and the ship lost. One of those things would sadden them more than the other I fear."

Jak chuckled. "Well, they may have to stay in mourning, my friend. I'll ransom you back for the family reunion, but the ship is staying with me. The law in Calixis allows for that, your refusal to return the Siren's Wail counts as piracy."

Now L'Tarvius looked up properly, pushing himself back and straightening to consider his rival across the table. "You think the law is a concern here? My dear boy, you may have won a lucky skirmish, but you've entered into a war with House L'Tarvius now. Ransom me back for a princely sum- I won't complain. But as soon as I'm back with my family, with my armies, I will come for you. And you had best be ready for that. Because the last man who crossed me like you have, well… I destroyed his ships, I destroyed his family, I put out his eyes and I left him as a warning for every man thinking to make his mistakes. You don't cross a L'Tarvius, boy. I'm very sorry that you'll have to learn that the hard way."

Jak continue to carve his steak, nodding thoughtfully at his rival's words. "Not very polite dinner table conversation, L'Tarvius. My father always punished us for impoliteness at the dinner table. Actually, he loved it, but mother didn't and so he would always threaten to punish you." He waved his fork as he mustered a blustery imitation of the late Admiral Velasquez. "'If you can't listen, I shall shove you out an airlock!'" He chuckled. "Always saying he'd vent us out of airlocks, that was his favourite threat. Never did it of course. Always just threats."

He looked across the table. L'Tarvius was staring at him, silently, eyes filled with hate, flickering in the candlelight. Here was a true enemy now. It wasn't the capturing of his ship that rankled, Jak could see that. It was the humiliation. He had humiliated L'Tarvius, stolen his Crusade and his pride. The old Rogue Trader wasn't lying about his desire to destroy Jak Velasquez. Jak placed his fork very slowly back down on the table.

"Father's dead," he said, so quietly that L'Tarvius had to strain to hear. "He wouldn't want me sitting here blathering away about him like a fool. It's time I stopped thinking about the lessons he tried to teach. It's time to start teaching a few of my own."


Behold! The ships of Fleet Velasquez surge through an inky void, great fortresses of adamantium traversing the space between stars, their thrusters aglow with roaring flames of royal blue punching back against the darkness, whilst proud armoured prows in red and gold lead the way home.

Look closer and see these mighty floating city-states bedecked in the artificery of war and demonstrations of faith. Void-shielded stained glass catches the light of distant suns and reflects it upon the statuary of saints and martyrs. Great cannons bristle in their housing, warning the foes of the Imperium that no easy targets will be found amongst this fleet.

Look closer still, and see the tribulations of their travails, writ large in blackened scars across their hulls. The doughty crew within carry their own scars of the flesh and of the mind, but like these great ships they persevere regardless, each hewing to their own paths through the darkness, each dependent on one another to do their duty and ensure that the voyage continues.

Such fragile things these void ships are, for a hundred thousand things must go right every day, lest these mighty vessels become nothing but drifting mausoleums, lonely relics in a cold and unforgiving void. In battle, they are such things as could end worlds and win wars, but every crew member knows, deep in their hearts, that they survive at the mercy of fickle gods and wilful spirits.

What man, even a man with a destiny glittering like gold, could rein these forces and turn them to his will? For an Imperial captain must be a soldier and a sailor, a diplomat and a king, a statesman and a rogue. And if he should falter in any one of these duties, mutiny awaits, or worse, the utter destruction of all on board. Is there no greater testament to the wild-eyed optimism of humanity than that they send themselves out amongst the stars in these ships, that they commit to these anabases into the vicious unknown, to plunge into the very depths of Hell and emerge again with smiling countenance? What kind of man counts the darkness as their friend, the very laws of physics as their foe and the galaxy as their ocean?

So, look closer still, for they do say that the devil is in the details. Consider the hull of the greatest of these ships, stitched as it is with maintenance hatches, rivets and airlocks, crawling with shipwrights and tech priests performing their countless duties of repair and restoration, a veritable hive of industry. Consider the lessons that must be learned by a man who would call himself Lord and Captain, who would rule over all of this. Consider the open airlock, the rush of air escaping the ship, the tumbling corpse of Titanius L'Tarvius as it drifts away from the ship, and heed, if you've a mind to, the final lesson: Don't cross Jak Velasquez.





The Stallion of the Empire flew in veritable silence compared to the constant noise of her sister ships. Still, even on a crewless ship, there is always life amongst the labyrinth of passageways.

A jackdaw flew down one of these passageways, a bird that had once been one of the Yolenna Symphony's dark passengers, which had escaped that doomed ship but missed the boats when they were leaving the Stallion. It landed on an exposed pipe and peered down the unlit corridor. Its avian brain had evolved to manage the dangers of void travel and to beware the gloomhaunts and boreworms that could just as easily be predators as prey. But it was hungry and something had drawn the jackdaw to this part of the ship, some scent or sound that it could not recognise nor resist. Still it was wise enough to be wary, as it fluttered to the decking.

It hopped cautiously, claws echoing against the metal. It moved towards the shadows of an access tube, one of the thousands that provided crew with access to the inner workings of the ship. An attempt had been made to seal this one off, but the panel had been torn away. Something was hiding in the shadows of that access tube, and the jackdaw was hungry enough to attempt making a meal of it.


The Ryleth reared, scuttling out from behind a loose console. The jackdaw squawked, flapping wings desperately as it tried to escape upwards. An arm, bone-thin and filthy, shot out to snatch the bird from the air. The jackdaw had time for one last, desperate, croak before the hand closed tight around it, crushing its brittle bones. The body was shoved, feathers and all, into the mouth of Amaretta Velasquez. She bit into it with ferocious hunger.

The Ryleth approached her, clicking with its own ravenous need. Amaretta hissed and raised her hands defensively to the xenos.

"Mine! Mine!"

Cowed by powers it did not fully comprehend, the creature scuttled away, leaving Amaretta briefly alone with her prize. She crawled out of the access tube, moving in a crab-like scuttle. Even half mad with the deprivations of her time aboard the Stallion of the Empire, she had the presence of mine to spit bones and a few spatterings of blood onto the deck. It was a paltry offering, but in only a few moments she felt a gust of foul air briefly blow through the passageway, and she knew that it had been accepted.

They know I am strong. Stronger than the pitiful Ryleth, blind worshippers of powers they could not comprehend. Stronger even than the Heldrake, an abject monstrosity of metal and warp-sorcery, that had been separated from its masters and drawn like a moth to the flame by the true power on board this ship. That power had slumbered for millennia, waiting for servants it could rely upon.

Amaretta had no idea anymore how long they had been travelling for, but she knew that the power which moved within her was happy with where they were going. It had spoken to her in her dreams, promised her everything that had been denied to her so long. Power. Respect. Revenge. Smiling through blood-stained lips, Amaretta plucked the jackdaw's skull from her mouth and crushed it in her fist. I pledge my soul to the Lords of Chaos.

The End







Authors Note 16/07/2018: And so, after two long years, the first tale of Jak Velasquez comes to its foreboding conclusion! I'd never tried to write something in a serialised format before this, and when I started I had no idea I would be working on it for so long, or that it would turn out to be as many chapters as it eventually became. Being serialised created enormous challenges in terms of pacing and structure, but the opportunity to read reviews and think about responses as I went was enormously rewarding and definitely shaped the finished product. Thanks so much to everyone's who's taken the time to read and leave a review, I truly appreciate your time.

This story was always intended as part of a series, and there are dozens of Jak and Maternin scenes and story ideas, long and short, sitting on my hard drive. You can see one of those, inspired by a reviewer, in the short story Dinner with the Inquisition on my profile. Sadly, I can't justify continuing to dedicate so much time to projects that don't pay right now, and so I have no idea if and when I'll be continuing the adventures of Jak Velasquez and Maternin Shyendi. But for those who are curious, and won't find it too frustrating, keep reading for a sneak peek into what Book 2 might one day look like…

Rogue Trader Adventures

Book 2

Between the Warp and the Void

Having set out two years earlier as a lowly armsman, Jak Velasquez returns to the Calixis Sector captaining his own fleet and towing one of the greatest pieces of salvage in Imperial history: The Stallion of the Empire, an ancient star-galleon bearing a dark secret. With multiple factions vying to take possession of the vessel, Jak must uncover its mysteries and turn them to his advantage before they destroy him and everything he cares about. Crossing swords and matching wits with heretics, assassins, orks, cultists, the Imperial Inquisition and the fabled Deathwatch Marines, Jak will need all of his luck and cunning if he to survive and obtain the prize that every potential Rogue Trader desires above all else: A Warrant of Trade.




In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only…

music. Beautiful music.

Tech-Adept Maternin Shyendi did not recognise the song that the Blood-Aethsophonist was playing, but she was entranced by it. Entranced by the delicate tune, by the sight of the slender fingers plucking delicately at the air, and that of the red liquid that pulsed through crystal tubing threaded through the latticework of gold-plated frame. The Blood-Aethsophonist was one with her instrument, grafted into it, her upper body emerging from the instrument's base so that she could not walk but could only be carried. It was her blood that pumped through the sluices and valves, providing the instrument's rich tones, a symbolic representation of the beautiful merging between humanity and machinery desired by the Machine God.

A voice behind Maternin spoke in Gothic, with toneless, mechanical precision.

"She plays well, does she not?"

Maternin turned quickly and bowed her head with perfectly calibrated formality. "Ave Deus Mechanicus, revered Gnostarch," she said. "Yes, she plays exceedingly well."

Gnostarch Prim-Veta was the highest power on the forge world of Daedalus, an Archmagos with holdings on Mars itself. The Gnostarch loomed over Maternin, standing eight feet tall on his four spider-like legs, his body a lumpy array of glistening black armour and segmented limbs, each a masterpiece of craftsmanship designed with great precision for specific purpose. His neck was a gentle curving spine of darkened plas-steel, leading to a jawless head that disconcertingly still held his original deep-blue eyes, sparkling and intelligent. He wore a hooded robe in the tradition of the Cult Mechanicus, bearing the colours of his forge world, emerald and violet.

The Gnostarch gestured with a ten fingered hand that attached to an arm emanating from the centre of his chest-plate. "Come, be seated."

Maternin had been summoned to meet the Gnostarch in his private gardens, at the highest level of his personal tower, rising far above the thick forge world smog. It was very much a Mechanicus garden, the flora placed and trained with exacting precision, so that the colours on the petals of a bed of Septheniums formed patterns replicating the First Algorithmatrix, and the great Ssutub tree branched in a natural display of perfect Hexamathic geometry. A bamboo water fountain slowly tapped out the six sacred answers to Latteir's equation, and Maternin noticed that even the fine blades of grass had been cut to reflect Fibonacci spirals as they caught the sun. She was loathed to step upon them, but she noticed that the Gnostarch displayed no such hesitation. Fine mecha-tendrils emanated from his ankle joints as he walked, repairing the damage of his steps.

Maternin moved as carefully as she good across the grass to sit at a stone bench in a secluded corner of the garden, where they could still watch the Blood-Aethsophonist as they spoke. The Gnostarch crouched on his spider-limbs, squatting so that he was eye level with Maternin.

"Would you be surprised to learn that she has been playing for less than four decades?"

"Revered Gnostarch I would," Maternin forced herself to make eye-contact despite his disconcerting gaze. She had never imagined being summoned to meet the Gnostarch as a child, but little in her life had turned out as expected. "I had estimated that the instrument would be three centuries old at least."

His expressive eyes sparkled. "Such are the marvels that we can work, to convince even the most perceptive minds that new things are old. But the new holds its own values, does it not?"

Maternin nodded shyly, not quite sure what to say. Typically, tech priests conversed in the Lingua Techna, a language of clarity and precision that left little room for subtlety and innuendo. But the Gnostarch was choosing to speak to her in Gothic, and in this setting, a garden! What did it say about the leader of Daedalus that he kept a private reserve of living things, no matter how neatly organised? What did he wish to convey through such a meeting place?

The Gnostarch had always been known as a man with tolerance for the unorthodox. That was why he had allowed Maternin's people, the Genitari, safe haven on his Forge World. And that was why Maternin Shyendi had convinced her captain, Jak Velasquez, to come here when they returned to the Calixis Sector.

Jak had originally intended to go straight to Scintilla, the sector capital, but that carried great risks. Jak Velasquez held possession of one of the most valuable pieces of salvage Calixis had seen in centuries, the Stallion of the Empire, an Imperial treasure galleon that had been lost in the time of the Crusades. Every major power in the sector would be wanting to get their hands upon it. Maternin had convinced Jak that the Gnostarch would offer them a safe haven, somewhere to regroup and make plans for their next move.

When it became apparent that Maternin had no response to his comment, the Gnostarch continued. "I rarely meet face to face anymore. But I understand vocalised communication and attendant eye contact remain traditions of the Genitari, and I greatly wanted to express my appreciation to you for returning the Vonaznaniya to me, Magos Shyendi."

The easy, informal way with which he presented her the promotion she had dreamt of since she was a child shocked and thrilled her, but only a tiny twitch of her mouth gave away her emotion, she clamped down on all the rest and focused on the task at hand.

"I am loathe to correct you, sir, but it was not I who returned it to you. The ship is a gift from my Lord-Captain."

"'Bargaining chip', was the term he used," the Gnostarch said. "I was satisfied to see that he did not obfuscate or dissemble. His words were clear. The Vonaznaniya in return for safe harbour for that… magnificent vessel. But a man of his nature would not have come to the conclusion that he could put faith in my word based purely on reason and probability. He would trust in the testimonial of a confidant. That, I predict, is you. And so, I thank you. Tell me, though, you captain reports that the warp drive is badly damaged and so he can risk no further journeys, yet he requests no assistance with repairs. Why is that?"

This was a test of her loyalties, Maternin could see that plainly. She had known that this course of action would put herself between her Gnostarch and her captain. She chose in this instance not to lie, suspecting that the Gnostarch already knew the answer to his question.

"The warp drives on the Stallion of the Empire are in perfect working condition. Lord-Captain Velasquez holds some concerns regarding the xenos still on board the ship, but they are not the reason that he stalls. He fears that his claim to the ship will be lost once he is in home space."

"His judgement is correct on that count. Many will have their eyes on that ship. Shall I tell you what is to come?" Maternin nodded, looking up at him.

"The Imperial Navy will come first, with their bluster and their guns. You were wise to bring the vessel to me, for my rank and faith will stop them for a time. They are reluctant to contradict the Adeptus Mechanicus when they are so reliant on us for their vessels of war. Next will come the Inquisition, with their rosettes and whispered threats, longing to scour her for secrets. They will be harder to chase away."

"Revered Gnostarch, I had no wish to bring danger to your forge world. If you wish us gone, merely say the word and we will depart."

"No, the Inquisition holds no fear for the Priests of Mars. I will allow them to board the ship, if only because they have neither the inclination not the capacity to take her. And they will keep away the other interested parties, the High Lords and Merchant Princes who will make their own claims, not with any expectation of success, but simply because it makes for a convenient stake in whatever trifling political game they are playing at the time. And then, last of all will come the delegation from Mars."

He said the word without emotion or tone, but in the Noosphere above his head, the concept of Mars glowed golden, a stream of worshipful data pouring from the Gnostarch. Mars was home to the Adeptus Mechanicus, the true heart of the Imperium. "Mars will have the ship, for our claim is the righteous one and blessed by the Omnissiah. Mars will deal with the Inquisition, and the Navy and anyone else who would set their sights on what is ours. But these disputes will take their time. You have done well to bring this ship to me. We will both be richly rewarded for our service to the Machine God. Still," and for the briefest of moments, Maternin could almost swear she heard the Gnostarch sigh, "it brings me deep sadness to imagine that vessel stripped in the drydocks of Mars. Such a ship was built to explore."

A change in the Noosphere indicated that their conversation was completed, and the Gnostarch rose from his squatting position. Maternin Shyendi regarded him warily as he stood. She sensed a great conflict in the Archmagos, one that he could perhaps not even express except through hints and insinuation. But this was a man who had taken in the Genitari, who had created a garden celebrating the mathematics of life itself. He was no dogmatic arch-conservative, Maternin was sure, hadn't he as good as said that the Stallion belonged with a captain who would see her voyaging? This was a priest who knew how to walk the line between humanity and machinery.

She hoped that she could walk the line as well as the Gnostarch seemed to. She was serving two masters here, balancing on a tight-rope over flames. But this was the only path that left any hope of Jak Velasquez retaining the Stallion of the Empire, and so she would walk it fearlessly, for her captain.

"Tell me," the Gnostarch bent down again to look into Maternin's face. "What kind of individual is this Lord-Captain Velasquez?"

"Captain Velazquez is… unorthodox, sir." Although he possessed no mouth, or even vocal folds, the Gnostarch gave a slow, static-filled chuckle.

"I would not expect a Genitari to serve any other type of man. Thank you, Magos Shyendi, you are dismissed."

End of Excerpt