Author's Note: I don't like stories that need to be read with a whole lot of preamble and introduction, and this isn't one of them, so feel free to skip these acknowledgements entirely and get straight to the story. However, there are a few sources that I think it's important to acknowledge prior to telling this story. Firstly, and most obviously, all parts of the Warhammer 40K Universe and its characters are owned by Games Workshop. That said, this story does feature the dread scourge of original characters, most prominently the Rogue Trader Jak Velasquez and his trusted tech priest companion Maternin Shyendi. If you're at all interested in the two of them, their continuing adventures can be found in my long form story The Very Devil of the Stars.

This tale also features two individuals who represent opposite ends of the reasonability spectrum when it comes to the Inquisition, Fyodor Karamazov and Amberley Vail. To the best of my knowledge, Karamazov first appeared in the Witch Hunters Codex and has since come to stand for every aspect of the Inquisition that is based on the history of the Spanish Inquisition and historical witch-hunt practices in general. Vail is a recurring character in Sandy Mitchell's excellent Ciaphas Cain stories, representing not only a more circumspect application of Inquisitorial authority, but also the more secret service-y 'James Bond with a plasma gun' side of the Inquisition.

I may have my continuity wrong, but as far as I can work out, this story takes place shortly after Karamazov was presented with the Throne of Judgement for his role in the Abraxan purges, shortly before Vail travelled to the Damocles Gulf and met Cain for the first time, and approximately ten years into Jak's career, after his first attempt at exploring the Ghoul Stars ended in failure.

Finally, I want to thank Toraach, whose reviews and commentary first inspired this story, although he probably would have preferred it if Karamazov never turned up.




Dinner with the Inquisition

Part 1

"Tell me everything you know about Jakobian Velasquez," said the Inquisitor.

The servitor blinked, an unconscious gestured retained despite its lobotomised state as an indicator of cogitative processing. "Lord-Captain Jakobian Velasquez, Rogue Trader, master of the Jackdaw, granted the Warrant of Trade by Lord-Sector Calixis, Marius Hax, in the year-

"Tell me everything you recall about your service with Jakobian Velasquez," the Inquisitor interrupted.

"This unit served aboard the Jackdaw as a mono-tasked waste reclaimant servitor for thirteen shipboard months. This unit was sold out of service this morning to-

"Tell me your destination logs during your months of service aboard the Jackdaw."

"All service logs were memory-wiped prior to sale. No recollections of specific activities aboard the Jackdaw remain. This unit served aboard the Jackdaw as a mono-tasked waste reclaimant servitor for thirteen shipboard months." The Inquisitor's tongue clicked in irritation.

"Will that be all?" The Servitor inquired, in tones of dull civility. The Inquisitor hesitated but a moment, then stepped forward, hand raised. In one hand, a metal canister, wired with electronics. In the other, a scalpel, edge gleaming in the low light.

"No," said the Inquisitor. "There will be one other requirement."


Some hours earlier on…

Cypra Mundi!

A world where every day a million cultures mingled, ten million ships berthed and a hundred million deals were done, from opulent emporiums to shadowy back alleys. A naval forge world, where the best and brightest of the Imperial Navy rubbed shoulders with the celebrated shipcasters of the Adeptus Mechanicus, those priests of the Machine God tasked with the sacred duty of building, repairing and restoring the bastion fleets of Battlefleet Obscurus.

As naval and military headquarters for the entire Segmentum, Cypra Mundi was first and foremost a shipbuilding world. In fact, the entire system was devoted to the work of the Imperial Navy, from the shipbreaker rings of the outer reaches, where scavenger barges trawled the derelicts for valuable scrap-tech, to the secret moons of Kriti Mundi, where the Fabricator Admirals worked on the latest improvements to their ancient warships, all the way to the Ravenburg shrines on the capitol world, a place of holy pilgrimage for young naval cadets.

For Jak Velasquez, a man who had been born in the void and raised by the navy, you could not come closer to a planet that felt like home.

Jak stood on the highest floor of a great spire, overlooking the turbulent, seething city below. Like many hive worlds and all naval vessels, the city-state of Cypra Astu organised its hierarchy vertically, and wealth always floated to the top. At ground level, the stranglers' markets jostled with the fungi co-ops, hanging on desperately for survival amidst the mud and toxic crust of the hive foundations. Higher up, the air hung thick with smog and the hypnotic gases of the Omni-malls that kept the middle classes so effectively in thrall. And at the apex of the towering superstructure, amidst the silver spires and clear skies, sat the Golden Emporiums, the great merchant halls where anything and everything under the sun could be purchased for those with enough wealth.

The Emporium De Astrata was less a market-place and more a lavishly appointed meeting hall. Open, airy and well-lit, the hall was broken up into dozens of ringed booths, where buyers and sellers could sit in comfort, their conversations kept private by confounder domes and their Epicurean requirements seen to by golden robed servants.

Jak stood at one edge of the hall, eyeing the crowd. It was the usual motley arrangement of wealthy nobility, chartist captains, military officers and the occasional figure whose air of mystery and refinement was a little harder to identity. Jak scratched his beard thoughtfully. There would be no guesswork involved in picking out his career; everything from his outfit –his doublet in red and gold velvet, brass omniscope and archaeotech chronometer hanging from gold chains-, to the way he carried himself –leaning casually but with his sword hand always free, a brace of pistols across his chest- to the scars he displayed openly –none more prominent than the one that ran down his right cheek from beneath a velvet eyepatch- screamed Rogue Trader.

Still, he was not here to see and be seen by the planet's big spenders. He was looking for one man in particular. And he had found him. The short, waddling merchant prince wore a purple cape and forked goatee, and covered himself in jewellery from a dozen different worlds. He oozed wealth and privilege, and just oozed in general really.

"De Astrata," Jak growled.

A hand reached up and touched Jak's shoulder. He looked down at Maternin Shyendi, priestess of the Adeptus Mechanicus. The petite but formidable woman was an Archmagos, and bore the title Technis Majoris within House Velasquez, Jak's senior adviser on all things mechanical and many things that weren't. Unlike many of the cult Mechanicus, machine-touched worshippers of the Omnissiah, her visage remained mostly human, pale skinned and delicate. Only the steel grey of her eyes, the sensorium of twitching silver mono-tendrils that cascaded from her scalp in place of hair, and the three slender mecha-dendrites that coiled and swayed like poised cobras behind her back marked her out as a tech priest.

"Mind your temper," Maternin warned him. He recognised the look of concern on her face. He shrugged her hand away, but gently.

"Aye," he said, striding towards De Astrata. "I'll mind it."


Maternin watched with dismay as her Captain, and friend she liked to think, strode across the room. He was in a poor mood, with reason.

They had returned to Cypra Mundi far earlier than intended. Jak had used the forge world as a staging post for his planned voyage into the Ghoul Stars, a desolate cluster of mysterious stars that clung to the north-eastern frontier of the Ultimate Segmentum. For millennia, they had eluded any attempt to probe their deeply hidden mysteries. Many expeditions had departed into the Ghoul Stars' depths, but none had returned.

Jak had intended to be the first.

Cypra Mundi was a strange choice of staging post. Maternin had argued strongly for the use of Orask, a sentinel world at the edge of the Ghoul Stars, a far more convenient location to base an expeditionary fleet. But Jak had known many merchants on Cypra Mundi who had offered him favourable prices to outfit his expedition. One of those merchants had been Tobias De Astra.

Maternin followed along in Jak's wake, her short legs having to move quickly to match his long stride. De Astrata seemed to recognise Jak from a distance, and certainly recognised the look on Jak's face. His face went from corpulent charm to waxy terror in a second.

"De Astrata, old chum!" Jak bellowed across the hall. "How are you?"

De Astrata was a small man, born on some low gravity world, and his weight, height and manner of dress put Maternin in mind of nothing so much as a velveteen bauble. He stammered and tugged at his forked goatee as Jak approach.

"My dear Lord-Captain Velasquez," a smile appeared on De Astrata's face, false and fleeting as a desert mirage. "I had not expected to see you again in my fine emporium so soon!

The Velasquez expedition had not even made it to the edge of the Ghoul Stars. Merely weeks into the voyage hundreds of sailors had become sick, nutrient blocks had spoiled and vital equipment had turned out to be barely operational. Facing disaster, Jak had chosen not to risk his crew's lives any further. The expedition ended quickly and ignobly and Jak had returned to Cypra Mundi to charge De Astra with selling him tainted goods.

Jak picked the Emporium owner up by the collar of his cloak, lifted the squeaking man clear off the ground. "I'm back, De Astrata," he growled. "No thanks to your fine Emporium."

Behind him, Maternin's mechas twitched, as a half-dozen augmented goons suddenly melted out of the crowd as if from nowhere and encircled them, auto-cannons cocked.

"Oh dear. I may have told a little lie, young Jak. I was expecting you actually." Silence had gathered over the emporium. Every merchant, trader, buyer and attendant had turned to watch. "What's say you put me down? I'd hate to be washing your blood off the carpets, and no one here will want to do business with a man who can't keep his temper."

Jak lowered the merchant slowly to the ground. "You tried to fleece me, De Astra! We were on starvation rations for a month!"

De Astra adjusted his rumpled clothes fastidiously. "I'll accept my apology now." When none was forthcoming, he gestured to his goons to lower their weapons and fixed Jak with a nasty stare. "You should think carefully before throwing around rash accusations. I'm not responsible for the poor care you provide to your crews."

"All your provisions were tainted," Jak hissed. "You gave me your personal guarantee of quality." He leaned in close. One of De Astrata's golden robed attendants had rushed over to place a confounder dome over their conversation. "People died. You'll pay for those lives," Jak said.

"Threats, Velasquez?" De Astrata bristled. "Just where do you think you are? This is not the Cypra Mundi you left behind three months ago. Look out the sky door and smell the smoke. There's a new power on this planet, and you had better learn to mind your manners and know your place. You come into my Emporium and threaten me? You clearly don't know just who you're dealing with now."

De Astrata fixed his stare on Maternin. "I would advise you to keep your captain on a shorter leash, priestess. I find the Adeptus Mechanicus are always much more rational in their decision making than young Rogue Traders can be. Make sure he understands what his mistakes may cost him." And with that, he walked away.


"Look out the sky door and smell the smoke."

The sky door was a wide platform that jutted out into the open air from the hall itself, like a balcony with no railings. The golden emporiums were nothing if not libertarian endeavours; if a man could afford to enjoy the open air he should be allowed to, and if he chose to stand too close to the edge and an accident befell him, well what self-respecting tradesman would waste valuable coin trying to prevent a man from making his own mistakes?

Jak stalked out into the open air, and stood at the very edge of the platform, over the dizzying fall. He and breathed deep of the –relatively- pure air, trying to calm himself. Cypra Mundi provided a poor facsimile of clean air, like most forge worlds it was so full of toxic smogs and shipboard runoff that the blue skies were only achieved by use of ancient climate engines, only available to the richest of districts. But, so used to the stale, recycled atmosphere of void ships was Jak that he found the air on Cypra Mundi heady, even addictive. He liked nothing better than to stand here, on the edge of a mighty drop, and fill his lungs fit to bursting.

He took a deep breath and said, somewhat apologetically, "I forgot to mind my temper."

"Indeed," Maternin murmured. She pointed down, at least twenty levels, to where black smoke rose from a crowd arrayed along one of Cypra Astu's many skyway processionals. "And it appears that we forgot to smell the smoke."

The magnocular device in Jak's eyepatch (itself a technical marvel that provided him with far better vision than his own eye ever had) focused on the Inquisitional parade that was taking place below. Through it, he took in the details of the parade, the flagellating penitents, the chanting priests, the torch bearing sisters, all marching in disorganised rows. Above them sharp-faced cherubs darted about amongst low-hanging zeppelins, which carried underslung vox-casters, blasting the sounds of prayer above the noise of Cypra Mundian traffic.

Not that there was much traffic. The city had all but ground to a half to watch the Lord Inquisitor parade his latest captures.

The centrepieces of the procession were fifty Inquisitional crucifixes, thrice-bisected Is, held high on wooden posts, carried by augmented servitors. It was these crucifixes that were producing the greasy black promethium smoke that Jak could smell. Heretics were tied to each one, their bodies writhing silhouettes amongst the flames that consumed them.

"The third procession this week," said Maternin softly. "Over a thousand heretics executed in a single month."

"Funny how easy it becomes to find heretics everywhere when sneezing too loudly becomes a crime against the Emperor." Jak said. Both of them, with their augmented vision, were looking at the figure bringing up the rear of the parade.

He sat on one of the oddest war machines Jak had ever seen: a heavy bipedal chassis, it walked with the slow, rolling gait of an Astartes dreadnought but was topped with an ornate throne. Three figures occupied the throne: a servitor at one arm wielded a multi-melta, and a scribe at the other arm was holding on grimly and looking somewhat sickened by the swaying steps of the ponderous vehicle. But it was the man in the centre who drew the eye. Visibly old, none of the vanity of rejuvenat treatments here, his hawk-eyed gaze fixed on some unknown horizon, as if the crowds and pageantry meant nothing to him.

Even from this distance Jak could hear the pandemonium of the processional, the screams of heretics almost drowned out by the chanting of the true believers. The Lord Inquisitor seemed to ignore them both.

Fyodor Karamazov, scourge of Ultima Macharia, Bakka and Abraxam. 'The Burning Judge', folk called him, although never in earshot. He had been on Cypra Mundi for only a month, and already he had brought the world to its knees.

"He is a formidable figure," Maternin said. "Perhaps with one such as that it is wisest to spend as little time in their vicinity as possible. And to carry a handkerchief."

Jak grinned. Had that been a joke? Maternin Shyendi had always been too serious for his liking, but perhaps their years of friendship was finally having a positive effect on her.

"I plan to have no dealings with Karamazov, rest assured. But De Astrata clearly believes that he is protected by the Lord Inquisitor's presence on the planet. I wouldn't trust that lickspittle not to have started toadying up as soon as the first crucifix was lit."

"Ignore the Inquisitor," came a voice at Jak's other side, a voice twisted with age. "It is his audience you should be watching."

Jak glanced down, but the woman to his left was following her own advice and watching the crowd. Her expression was almost eager, in fact, despite that she lacked the augmented eyesight of Jak or Maternin. She made up for it with her own second sight. The little woman –Jak was a tall man, certainly, but his two petite advisors made him look positively gigantic- all but disappeared into robes of deep ocean hues, cinched over the armoured collar and breastplate of the Navis Nobilite. The only word that could be used to describe her was ancient, and even that did not do her justice. She looked fossilized, a shrivelled, tiny relic of a woman, her nut-brown skin hardened to such wrinkled leather as to make her almost unrecognisable as human, let alone living. Yet, for all this, she radiated a strength like few other people Jak had ever met. Sirenna E'Al'Xandros, his Chief Navigator and trusted confidant, if not precisely a friend. She turned her milky white eyes to him expectantly.

Rather than question what she'd meant, Jak followed her advice. He looked to the audience watching the processional.

The crowd was a disparate lot, seemingly drawn from every level of the hive and watching the priests and flagellants and burning bodies with an almost feral intensity. Some cheered, a few raised their voices in prayer but most remained silent. But the look on their eyes; Jak struggled to put a word to it.

"They look hungry," he said at last.

"Hungry for salvation, perhaps. They think they know what awaits them beyond the void. They watch the parade knowing that they'd sacrifice their own mothers to the crucifix if it might protect them from their fate."

Jak pondered that in silence. He could not say that his Navigator was wrong.

"A lesson well worth learning," Sirenna said. "The throne is a poor joke, a mockery of the Inquisitor Lord's true power. He is nothing without the masses who hope, desperately hope, that he will be their salvation."

"And who know that tomorrow, if they raise their voice, it might be them on the crucifix," added Maternin. Sirenna looked at her sharply, but she nodded in agreement with the sentiment.

"It is the mob that allows his work to be done, the mob who ensures that even the planet's government is helpless to interfere with the purge."


Maternin shuddered and turned away from the awful display of Inquisitorial power. The three companions walked inside, again, met at the entrance of the hall by the fourth member of their party, Tahrir Venturianis, seneschal extraordinaire, High Factotum and Master of Whispers for House Velasquez. The slender, stern-faced young man bowed when he saw his Master, but there was little deference in his tone.

"That seemed an unnecessary display."

They were still surrounded by hundreds of powerful men and women, nobility and military, sailors and merchants, all of whom had seen Jak's temper explode at Tobias De Astrata. Jak gave a satisfied smirk at his seneschal's displeasure. "Very necessary, Tahrir. I needed to blow off some steam. And now we know that De Astrata believes himself in bed with Lord-Inquisitor Karamazov. A fact that I would have known in advance if we had any half-decent informers on this planet."

Still bowed, the seneschal gave a small movement of his shoulders that could have been a shrug. "A good spy network grows from seeds, my Lord, and their planting is not cheap. With time and funds, ours will bloom. Until then, we survive on such titbits as we can gleam through my travails in dens of ostentatious iniquity such as this."

"Titbits? Such as?"

Tahrir rose to his full height again. Despite his youth, he had sloped look about him, a hunch on his back and a shuffle in his gait, seemed to give him age beyond his years, and the conical hat he wore detracted rather than added to his dignity. "Such as the fact that Tobias De Astrata has a private sky-palace that he has lent out to a group of visiting Inquisitors, including none other than Fyodor Karamazov." He paused. "Admittedly that information would have been more useful had I brought it to you ten minutes earlier. Thus, why patience has its advantages."

"So does picking people up and shaking them until they tell me things that I want to know," Jak said.

"In the likely event that this philosophical point of difference between us will find no resolution through disputation, may I turn your attention to more profitable matters?" At Jak's nod, he continued. "I have met a dealer who has a most intriguing proposition to put to you. One that requires no risk, or even exertion on our part, just parting with a small amount of merchandise at great profit."

Maternin followed silently, as Tahrir led Jak to a private booth. Sirenna seemed to have wandered off on her own explorations of the hall, and whilst Maternin would have liked to have done the same -she had scanned the hall upon entry with her sensorium, and picked up a number of fascinating Noospheric signals that hinted at intriguing devices secreted about the place- she was reluctant to leave Jak's side at this time. His choler was up, and she did not trust De Astrata not to provoke the captain again.

Tahrir's buyer was waiting for them at one of the booths, a semi-circle of low, cushioned seating topped with a confounder dome. He was a tall, handsome man, possessing a gentle smile that showed perfectly white teeth and a demeanour of supreme confidence. The latter was somewhat enhanced by the ornate suit of white and silver power armour that he wore. No one but the most elite of the Empire's protectors could afford to wear a suit of such magnificence.

Maternin was entranced by it. She, like all priestesses and priests of the Omnissiah, knew archaeotech by sight, and she could pick out the delicate servo-structure of the joints, the intricate rune-work of the wardings, the impenetrable strength of the plating, all the details that classed this as a masterwork. Whoever this man was, he was evidently extremely powerful.

The man stood –armour humming quietly as he moved- and raised both arms out in welcome. "Lord-Captain Velasquez! It is an honour and a pleasure. Allow me to introduce myself. Yrobael Instillius Ahktenartrum Tzuma, Inquisitor of the Holy Orders of His Imperial Inquisition."

Maternin could see, in his right hand, the Inquisitor holding out a rosette, his symbol of office and proof of his rank. It was a masterwork in its own way, a small ornate pin, worked in emerald and gold. On it, the Inquisitorial cross (a thrice bisected I) ended in a sharp point and was topped by a grinning, silver skull. Such designs held meaning only to those initiated into the Holy Orders, but even for one not so initiated, the encryption identification signals that the rosette gave out into the noosphere left no doubt of the Inquisitor's rank. Only someone with a death wish would attempt to forge an Inquisitorial ID.

Jak simply smiled at the rosette, and took the Inquisitor's free hand in his own. "The pleasure is all mine, Inquisitor Tzuma, my seneschal assures me."

The Inquisitor smiled again, that great beaming smile, and gestured to his left. Jak joined him in sitting; Tahrir and Maternin remained standing.

"I am in the market for servitors, Lord-Captain," explained Inquisitor Tzuma. "Servitors of a very specific nature. Your seneschal tells me that you can help me."

"Well, we have three thousand servitors aboard the Jackdaw, secundus grade wetware, mono-tasked and multi-tasked to specialist voidwork. But I don't know how many fit the 'very specific nature' that you're referring to."

"These servitors were with you when you skirted the Screaming Vortex am I correct?"

Jak quirked an eyebrow at the question, but the fixed smile on the Inquisitor's face did not slip even an inch. "Aye, that they were. Most of them anyway. But that's neither here nor there."

"Perhaps to most," the Tzuma said, his voice soothing and resonant, "but that is precisely the reason that I am interested in them. I will take two dozen. Here is my offer of purchase." He passed over a dataslate. Jak took a single look at it and didn't hide his surprise. He passed the slate to Tahrir. The seneschal did a better job of covering his reaction.

"I admit Lord Tzuma, I'm intrigued. Why so much for two dozen servitors?"

The Inquisitor smiled complacently. "Does it matter? It's all profit to you."

Jak leaned back in his seat, studying the smiling Inquisitor. "Perhaps that's true," he admitted, "but I find myself in no mood to do business with the Inquisition today."

Maternin found herself biting her lip, watching the palpable tension between the two men. Neither Inquisitor nor Rogue Trader was used to being denied. And she had seen Jak in this kind of mood before; it was a killing mood.


Jak found his fist clenching in his lap as he examined the Inquisitor. The smile never left Tzuma's face.

"You find yourself in no mood to make money, Lord-Captain? I have to admit, that's the first time I've heard a Rogue Trader make that mistake."

"Well, I could be off my game," Jak conceded. "All the promethium in the air has given me a headache."

For a moment, Tzuma's smile flickered and Jak saw a glimpse of the man beneath. "You refer to the purge of heretics I take it? You may have heard that I am lodging with Lord-Inquisitor Karamazov. Let me tell you that I am here on Cypra Mundi on my own business. In fact, I advised strongly against the purge."

"I'm sure that was of great solace to those poor sods strung up on those crucifixes out there."

"They were found to be heretics, Rogue Trader, by an ordained member of the Imperial Inquisition, as is his holy right and sacred duty. A duty carried out in the name of the God Emperor."

"And parading the bodies through the street, coating them in chemicals so that they'll burn longer before their deaths, setting the crowds screaming for more blood. Is that your holy duty as well?"

Tzuma leaned forward. There was a dangerous edge in his expression now. Jak knew that he shouldn't be pushing such a powerful man but he was in no mood to back down for a second time today.

"Our holy duty is for the Inquisition to know, and for no one else to question, Rogue Trader." Tzuma placed as much scorn as he could into those last two words. "But for your information, no, not all in my organisation approve of his methods."

"Yet, here we are, a month after his arrival. And still he whips the planet into a terrified frenzy of violence and paranoia. And I hear no disapprobation from the other Inquisitors on the planet."

"It's true, Yrobael," said a new voice. Jak spun around in his seat to see who had entered the private bubble of their confounder dome. "We are tragically silent on the matter."

The woman was among the most beautiful Jak had ever met. Bare-shouldered and blonde, in silk and chiffon, she looked like nothing more than an angel redeemer from some ancient portrait. But the smile on her face was one of wry humour, as if she was expecting the punchline to a joke that you were not privy to.

Jak found himself lumbering to his feet, feeling the familiar warmth in his face that he experienced around all beautiful women. She showed no such awkwardness, and held out a hand for him to shake or kiss, indicating with her eyes that the choice was his, but that she would be awarding points afterwards.

"You must be the young Lord Velasquez," she said. "Only a Rogue Trader would question the methods of the Inquisition so, and expect to leave the room afterwards on their own two feet." She smiled brightly as she said it, and the threat was delivered so warmly and with such good humour, Jak was momentarily at a loss how to reply.

He took the hand of Tzuma's companion gently, and felt a warmth beneath his fingertips. On instinct, he turned her hand over. She did not protest as he examined her palm and the glowing electoo that had been imprinted on it, a stylised, thrice bisected I.

"My Lady Inquisitor," he said, mustering a smile. "My Lord Captain," she replied, clearly enjoying his discomfit. Tzuma seemed to recover his earlier grace and ease.

"Allow me to introduce my colleague, Lord Velasquez. Amberley Vail."

"You are also here to discuss the sale of my servitors?" Jak asked.

"Oh no," she shook her head. "I'm simply being a busy body. Trade halls are such wonderful places for gossip and innuendo. Tzuma's business is entirely his own, as is Karamazov's for that matter. Every Inquisitor walks his or her own path in the service of the Empire. As such, we tend to stay out of each other's way, even when we disagree on each other's methods."

If Yrobael Tzuma had been offended by the interruption, he did not show it. He graced her with his wide, easy smile and quickly turned his attention back to Jak.

"So, Lord-Captain. I still await your answer."

"And I await yours, Inquisitor. What do you want servitors that have circumnavigated the Screaming Vortex for?"

"He wants to see how the warp storm tainted them." This was Sirenna, no else had that death rattle of a voice. She had appeared silently, as she so often did. When the Inquisitor saw her, his smile grew, if possible, even wider. "Sirenna E'Al'Xandros. What an immense pleasure it is to see you again."

"If you say so, Yrobael Tzuma," Sirenna's tone implied no time for pleasantries. "I had not realised that you were on Cypra Mundi now."

He waved a hand airily. "A backwaters military rock, but one which holds a small degree of interest to the Inquisition."

Jak almost laughed and he could see amusement on Vail's face as well. To call Cypra Mundi, the home of the Segmentum military and Battlefleet high command, a rock required the sort of arrogance that only an Inquisitor could muster. Or, he had to admit, a Rogue Trader. "I take it the two of you know each other."

"Inquisitor Tzuma was a firebrand Interrogator when last I met him, whilst I was on the staff of Inquisitor Merissina. He always had a keen interest in the effects of the Warp on the mind and soul."

"You know me too well, Navigator. It is true, she has seen to the heart of the matter. I wish to study the effects of prolonged exposure to such a warp phenomenon as the Screaming Vortex on the mind of a servitor. Your presence here on Cypra Mundi has provided me with just such an opportunity."

"An opportunity to study the Warp? It's effects on a servitor's brain?"

"I subscribe to the notion, somewhat radical amongst my compatriots, that we must understand the enemy in order to defeat it. Gazing into the abyss does us no harm, whatever the proverbs may teach."

"And what do you hope to learn from gazing into my servitors skulls?"

"In short, the protection of a quiet mind. A mind not turbulent with desire or fear. I want to discover if your servitors, lobotomised as they are, are protected against the subtle degradations of the consciousness caused by exposure to the storms of chaos?"

"I see." Jak might not understand the details of the concern, but he felt now that he knew enough to sense that the deal was on the level, and beyond that he felt little interest in the Inquisitor's experiments. He held out a hand. "Then you have a deal."

Tzuma took his hand. Jak could feel the flexing cordage of the power suit's musculature grinding down against his hand. He gritted his teeth and met Tzuma's toothy grin with his own. "A pleasure doing business with you, Lord Captain." The Inquisitor turned to Sirenna. "Mistress E'Al'Xandros. Now that is settled, I have another piece of business that this delightfully serendipitous meeting allows me to address. I have come into the possession of an immensely rare and curious artefact in recent times, one which I would dearly appreciate having appraised by an expert. From memory, your experience with these types of artefact was… unparalleled."

Jak saw Vail's fail take on a studious neutrality, indicating that she clearly knew was Tzuma was alluding to. Jak had also known, since before he had employed her, that Sirenna possessed a fascination with and expert knowledge of inferno-archaeology, the study of ancient chaos artefacts, and a hobby which bordered on heretical. Tzuma was obviously something of a radical if he wanted Sirenna's assistance. Small chance then that he got along with a puritan such as Fyodor Karamazov.

"I will help you, Yrobael Tzuma. Where are you lodgings?" Sirenna said.

"A sky mansion, hosted by the owner of this Emporium. A number of off-world Inquisitors have been given lodgings there. Including, I should add, the Lord-Inquisitor Karamazov."

Jak glanced at Sirenna. He couldn't help but grin. She had walked into that particular trap; the last place on the planet she would want to be setting foot on was wherever Fyodor Karamazov was staying. But, she could not back down now, her pride wouldn't let her, and if proximity to the burning judge concerned her, she did not show it on her face.

Amberley Vail suddenly clapped her hands together, as if realising something. With a bright smile that took in the whole group she said, "I just remembered. We are hosting a little dinner tonight. Just a small gathering of worthies, to express our thanks for our stay on the planet. We were even thinking to coax Karamazov down from his private studies to dine with us. We would be honoured if you could come, Lord-Captain Velasquez. And your companions, of course."

That wiped the grin off Jak's face. De Astrata's house. Karamazov's lodgings. But how could he say no without losing face? He looked into Vail's shining blue eyes.

"I would be delighted to, my Lady."

She made a small noise of pleasure. "Excellent! Then we will see you for dinner."

To be continued…