4 Springing the Trap
998.M41, Fyracus IV, Segmentum Obscuras
"It's absolutely the best thing that's ever come from Dylar III, and I swear on Saint Sabbat's left tit that it's the finest Surala seed ever to come from that planet."
The man who said this was rakishly dressed, a long tan overcoat covering an outfit that combined the eminently practical with the eminently foppish. Errold Glynn had held a letter of marque for a good half century, and he hadn't traded amongst the stars for that long by being an idiot; but a half remembered life and style he'd found boring and dessicated had, he'd found, clung to him with rather more force than he'd anticipated. He was pretty sure that he could prefix Graf to his name now, but one could never be sure if his old man was haring off on one of his great adventures around the galaxy, or was actually just dead. It was something in the genes.
His genes had taken him to a rather well lit and well appointed bar in one of the more salubrious parts of the city; where professionals wanting a quiet, relaxing evening might gather, free from having to be obsequious to the nobles and fearful of the proletariat. The furnishings were clean, the drinks well priced, and the clientele possessing a reserved attractiveness that was the hallmark of judiciously paid-for juvenat treatments saved up over the years, rather than obtained as a matter of course.
The person he was talking to seemed less than impressed. "This is xenos blasphemy," the trade guild representative said, pointing to some data on the slate the (Fully Licenced, thank you very much!) Rogue Trader had given her. Her practiced eye glanced over the account, and she flicked an errant strand of light, almost white hair from her face. "What in the name of the Emperor is a "Dylar Houseplant?" Her eyebrow quirked up in a stern, but still somewhat amused expression.
Errold's brow matched it. "Now that's a fascinating question," he said, flexing his fingers as he mentally prepared for the best way to spin what he was about to say. "A Dylar Houseplant is a plant based, intelligent xenos lifeform native to Dylar, and when the great crusade happened to pass over, they took one look at the Emperor's armies and immediately concluded he was the great seed father, root of us all, come to save his seedlings from their bondage. The Ecclesiarchy says they're 'honourary humans' or somesuch." He shrugged. "They're also the best farmers in the galaxy." He gestured toward the woman, so as to ask if he could manipulate the data slate in her hand, and she nodded, sidling up to him. He did not quite understand why she let him so close so easily; but then, on another hand, fully comprehended why she had, in his more instinctual parts of his brain. This, he saved up for later.
He tilted the slate, and input some commands. "They've been farming the Surala plant since genetics came to Dylar III, and the one agri world feeds over a thousand hive planets. It's pretty much a perfect food. Keeps, and tastes great." He reached into a coat pocket, fishing out a sealed bag with some plant matter in it. "You should actually try one. I keep some as samples."
The trade representative leaned in, looking down at the rather plain looking stems the trader was fishing out of the bag. She reached out for it, but he shook his head, keeping the stem in his hand.
"No. I'll show you. Now take the stem in your mouth…" and then Errol Glynn smiled, for he had now sealed the deal, and he gently, teasingly bit off the end of a stem, and placed it in the representative's mouth.
As the representative's eyes opened wider in pleasant surprise, Glynn continued to explain the virtues of his product. "In that is a wide selection of carbohydrates, with a few essential minerals and vitamins bred in through the centuries. It replaces the chocolate ration in a few Guard regiments."
"… and it tastes like…"
"Heaven?" the trader finished for her.
She nodded her agreement.
"Now, what would it take for me to convince your trading house to take this deal?" he asked, smiling, looking into her eyes, and he saw something in her eyes fight viciously to take back control of her brain, and fail.
"Well," she said, her face utterly serious, "We will need to finalise details of our agreement before we can execute it." She looked up at him and tilted her head sideways, her hair now falling becomingly across her face. "How about later tonight, at my quarters? I can vox you the co-ordinates." The tips of her fingers played across the side of his hand, across the top of his knuckles.
Errold Glynn smiled, and the reptilian part of his brain told his rational part of his brain to suck on it, it was far better at closing deals. "Of course."
He was surprisingly quite a prudent man for one holding a letter of marque, but he had never believed the old trader's adage never to mix business with pleasure.
Errold Glynn looked down at the datapad he had in his hand, checked that this was the correct place, and pressed the door indicator. It was hardly a bad part of town, a good way up near the highest tenth of the hive spire, but it seemed more suited to a prosperous, industrious local professional than an employee of an interstellar great trading house.
It did seem rather dingy for a Great Trading House's representative, but he did muse that perhaps she was married to one of the House nobles for business reasons who, while understanding of the nature of the arrangement they had, did not appreciate his wife finding her pleasures in the cold light of upper spire society. Discretion was an important business skill, after all.
"Come in!" came the bright and cheery call, and the door opened for him.
The trade representative sat there, modestly yet stylishly dressed in rather raffish fare for Fyracus IV, but it was probably the most expensive clothing she could have found, having been imported from off planet. She lounged on a couch, set up neatly and welcomingly in the middle of the pleasantly appointed room, with a table filled with well appointed cutlery and plenty of food and drink. An empty chair across from her beckoned to him.
She smiled, a sunny, winning thing that brightened his day immediately. It was the most memorable thing about her, after her snow white hair. Such a rare thing on Fyracus IV!
From behind him, he heard the ubiquitous cheep of a door locking, and he spun around to see a man, dressed in the uniform of the Imperial Navy, a pilot's cap on his head and a carefully neutral demeanour. Maintaining a ghost of a smile, the man nodded in acknowledgement to the trader, with the rather gentle but tacit threat not to leave the room.
Errold's heart sunk. Granted, he was still alive and not set upon yet, which was always a good thing, but the doorman's neutral façade hid the absolute certainty that Errold Glynn would be quite dead the moment he tried anything sudden.
Resigned, he shrugged his shoulders and turned back to the trade representative. "So what's your real name?" he asked, surprisingly able to maintain his cool.
The woman smiled. "Oh, don't you worry, Mr Glynn, My name is exactly as I told you." She tilted her head welcomingly toward the seat in front of her. Figuring he might as well follow her lead, he sat down. The woman in front of him picked up a cup of some steaming dark brown liquid, probably tea, and took a sip, letting out a satisfied sigh.
"Try the starch mash, it's actually pretty good," the woman said. Her smile suddenly became quite sad. "But you see, my job isn't what I told you it was."
Errold grimaced. "Grifter? Charlatan? Scammer? You're here to steal my credits and kill me and dump my body in an alley somewhere?"
Alera Jumil laughed. It was a pleasant sound.
"Oh no, Mr Glynn, not that nice. Not that nice at all. I'm far worse."
She leaned forward, and now her smile had a predatory glint.
"I'm Alera Jumil, his Divine Majesty's Inquisitor, Ordo Hereticus, and you, my friend, should never mix business with pleasure."
The Inquisitor had told Errold Glynn that he wasn't in any trouble.
He called various types of animal waste on that.
"So what was that all about?" Errold Glynn asked, having calmed himself down sufficiently not to feel that he was going to be gruesomely murdered within the next few seconds.
"Very simple," Alera Jumil said. She took another sip of her tea.
The man now tucking into some kind of meat dish next to him spoke up. "You are an actual, titled Count, or at least you are in succession for the title, with sufficient funds, a Letter of Marque, and an actual bank account we can use."
"So wait…" the Trader said. "You just wanted… my bank account details?"
Alera smiled. "We also wanted the fact that you are genuinely you, but yes, any old noble with enough money would have done. And I'll just repeat, for your peace of mind, that you're not in any trouble."
And so, certainly, he wasn't in any specific trouble with the Inquisition, such was the unreasoning terror that first rose in his chest after hearing those words out of her mouth, but as she had gently reminded him, there were only really degrees of guilt.
That his guilt was as yet unascertained led Inquisitor Jumil to offer him two very simple alternatives, while the three of them had sat down to a delicious meal.
One would be a trial for various breaches of his letters of marque, for which he could spend the next five hundred years in a prison cell on Fyracus IV, or he could do a small favour for her, after which he would be free to join her retinue (and engage in any legal or at least not-actively-harming-innocents profiteering he might feel like.) Her apparent enforcer was actually her Investigator by the name of Garen Danar, and would (for she was not an unreasonable Inquisitor) try to keep him alive during the next twenty four hours in which he engaged in his errand.
And to be fair, the starch mash really was extremely good.
And so it was that Errold Glynn smiled sardonically, in his most aristocratic tenor, to the person guarding the door to a neat and presentable looking hab complex in the middle of the real hive elite's residential district. It was open to the air, such was the wealth of the owners of the properties on this level, with real streets and the illusion that one was on solid ground; truly a luxury.
He was in his finery as befitted his status, salvaged from a mostly disused footlocker in his personal starship (taken out only to impress the governors' daughters). A man dressed in an Imperial Navy uniform stood respectfully behind and beside him, as befitted his rank. The streets around the complex were filled with the business of important people of various sorts, followed by retainers, orderlies, servitors, or just plain servants, for it was a rather fashionable part of the city, with fashionable businesses supplying refreshments to the fashionable ladies who ate lunch and discussed important topics of the day at leisure, such as how attractive each others' servants were.
The servants bedecked in finery standing next to their fashionable mistresses took such things in their stride.
"Of course, Graf Orlok," said the doorman, who was dressed in sober, uniformed and servile attire, as befitting an employee of any respectable Gentlemen's club. "We are always welcoming to any members of Quality."
"Good," Glynn said, and, nose appropriately in the air, stepped inside the Hall of Hopes and Dreams.
The Hall itself was a rather pleasantly appointed complex, with tastefully arranged decorations. Glynn looked around, and although the eye motifs on all the decorations should have unnerved him, he felt only an intense curiosity to look at everything, to see what was behind it all.
The Doorman waited for the Graf to take it all in, and courteously gestured to the Trader and his companion to speak to the well dressed young woman sitting at a desk with a terminal.
The woman smiled at the Trader. "Welcome to the Hall of Hopes and Dreams, Graf Orlok. We received your communication concerning your visit and we're most pleased that you've decided to pay us a visit." She started typing into the terminal. "You are welcome to take a look around to see if you are interested in joining our organization." She looked up and her grin seemed to grow even wider. "You are our guest for today."
"Thank you," Glynn said, as sincerely as he could. He did, truth be told, have a sudden intense interest as to why no one had told him of such a sumptuous and tasteful place of leisure. A doorman took him from room to room, pointing out the various card games, gambling, and other tasteful past times gentlemen of good breeding could engage in. Nothing too luxurious, of course; that always brought down the arbites.
Glynn spent the next few hours relaxing, chatting with other members of the club and pretending to be interested in what they had to say, and having a few drinks, which agreed with him immensely. Always with him was the re-assuring presence of Garen, attending on him as intently as a Navy adjutant would on his superior officer. Of course, he would have preferred a company of space marines, after being told what he was doing, but it was the best Alera Jumil could give him.
He stretched out on his comfortable chair, picked up a data slate from a stack arranged neatly on the low table in front of him, and off-handedly waved it toward his current companions.
"So, what's this?" he said, flicking the pad about slightly between his fingers. He pretended to give it a passing glance, although he had, in fact, read the thing extremely carefully in the several times he had passed his eyes over it before picking it up. His brow quirked up slightly. "I'm afraid I haven't been on planet long enough to really pick up the slang of the locals, but what on Holy Terra is a R'yleh and why is it worth going to?"
One of the other well dressed men sitting in one of the comfortable armchairs near the Count stopped smoking a cigar for long enough to answer. "Oh, that?" He shrugged. "It's a club thing. Not club sponsored itself, but one of the directors is involved with some silly play-acting they do in stupid robes every now and then. Can't say I've ever wanted to do it." He stubbed out the cigar. "All chanting and "Praise Ctulhu!" and then orgies. I have to say not even the schola freshmen initiation stunts are that silly."
"Orgies, you say?" came the studied answer that feigned disinterest but had more than enough of an inflection of curiosity for anyone to pick up. "I'm intrigued and wish to know more."
The nobleman sitting across Glynn smiled indulgently, remembering back to a more rambunctious youth. "Ah yes," he said, taking another puff. "Sorry! Forgot that a young Count's tastes are different to an old man's foibles…"
Errold Glynn got what he wanted.
A few more studied hours of leisure later, Errold walked out of the Hall of Hopes and Dreams, a cigar in his mouth and a pleasant, heady sensation in his head from well aged amasec.
He turned to the man in navy uniform next to him. "Did you get what you want?"
"And that you couldn't get yourself?" The count nodded askance back at the club. "I saw Navy officers in there."
Garen Danar smiled. "Mr Glynn," he said, "I may be good for just about any piece of skullduggery ever devised, but I've never been able to pull off a man of leisure." He shrugged. "I'd be at the Mess reading technical manuals for fun. That kind of guy." He shrugged. "To be honest, neither myself or Ms Jumil would have gotten in because neither of us has the ability to act like a spoiled noble nor obtain an invite, and neither of us would have been able to get enough information to know where the next meeting would be even if we had been able to fake one."
"Well, I'd love to go back there one day," he said, remembering the amasec fondly.
Garen laughed, a hollow sound. "That's probably a bad idea."
"Well, one, you were in a cult of the Chaos Gods; two, I'd have to shoot you." A glimmer of mirth flickered in the corner of Garen's eye.
"Three, the arbites are going to raid the place five minutes from now, arrest everyone inside on charges of heresy, and burn the place down."
Errold Glynn took the cigar out of his mouth and looked down at it. "Well damn," he said. "I should have asked them what brand this thing was then."
She first noticed that she was lying on a bed. The air was dry but comfortably cool, sheets covering her. She heard the reassuring beep of machinery.
She felt a hand in hers.
She knew whose hand it was, and it comforted her greatly. She opened her eye… eye?
"Welcome back," he had said.
She was lying on a bed in a medicae facility, that much was obvious. What wasn't obvious was why she wasn't in a mechanicus facility. She queried herself for the information, and then suddenly her eye opened even wider…
"Shhh, shhhh," her husband said, gripping her hand tighter, as her fingers curled around his wrist through no motive power of her own.
Ally Danar couldn't hear herself.
Looking down on her, Garen Danar tried to explain it as best he could. "The virus has some sort of weird self-replicating code that appears almost to suborn anything we try to use to clear it. It's almost like a biological virus."
As Ally considered the craziness of that concept, Garen continued, trying to remember what the Medicae and Mechanicus had told him, in conference. "We had to take your mechanical parts offline. We can't risk turning them online again without them overloading and doing something to your biological parts."
She managed to sit up in the bed, scrambling confusedly as her biological muscles tried in overcome the weight of the inert masses of metal they were attached to. Horrified at her uselessness, Ally almost gurgled an inchoate cry of frustration out, but she managed just in time to stop, and replaced the action with trying to squeeze her companion's hand as hard as she could- an action that would normally have crushed it easily, but with only human nerves supplying data to her hands, which were not programmed to accept such input, led to only a mild grimace on Garen Danar's face as he noticed her flush, trying to get her implants to respond to her brain signals.
She looked into her husband's face, saw the concern in his eyes and the warm touch of his hands, and then her breath quickened as she felt herself begin to hyperventilate, as a deafening silence echoed through her mind.
No! She said. Just because you're a Baseline doesn't mean you're dead.
Then she realized that baselines had two eyes for stereoscopic vision, and usually had multiple biological failsafes developed over millions of years of evolution, and she had removed them all, to replace them with now worthless husks of metal. That had once been her.
She was less than human.
A look of absolute, petrified disgust and horror came across the still human parts of her face, and she began to sob.
She tried to reach out for her husband, a halting, jerky action, and she was glad, as his arms enfolded her and she could at least take comfort from a sensation that was still familiar to her, that the wracking sobs of anguish from her still biological throat were entirely her own.
When she had reached a level of calm again, she, with the help of her husband, managed to swing her legs out of her bed.
She had not been used to moving without her machines for almost a century now, and Ally found it almost impossible not to overbalance, or even remember what nerve signals to give her muscles, especially since she had long ago replaced her biological legs. She wasn't sure if she could even hold herself up if her straining muscles in her torso (those parts she had not replaced) gave up on her and threw her to the ground.
Garen gestured for her to stop, and reached into his navy issue rucksack he'd deposited at the foot of the bed. He took out a small leather bag, much longer than it was wide.
"What's that?" Ally said, cocking her head to the side, slightly.
With a flourish, the former pilot untied the string closing one end of the bag, and took out what appeared to be a simple metallic cane, with a handle.
"A present," he said. He smiled, showing the interface built into the top of the cane. Ally knew immediately what it was.
"A prosthesis interface!" she exclaimed, in curiosity more than anything else, and reached out to take the cane. But then she realized she couldn't, as her hands and arms were not her own and she could not move them, and she looked disheartened, but Garen gently clasped her hand around the handle and pressed a button placed unobtrusively on its side.
The cane hummed, and suddenly Ally felt feeling come back into her limbs. Not the true control she would have had as a tech-priestess; but as if her human mind could move her implants as if they were human limbs. She held out her left arm, which moved, all too jerkily; but she tried to bend her fingers in her left hand, and they did.
"The medicae tell me that they use one of these to control your prostheses through the mind impulse link in the control interface, before they program each limb individually." He held out his hand for her. "So you should at least be able to move around. But I wouldn't let go." He chuckled.
"Let's try it out," Ally said, almost laughing, and she took her husband's hand. She felt, not quite joy, but a happiness that she once again was able to commune with a machine to move. That her fleshy darling had remembered to get it for her filled her with a warmth and sensation that she remembered extremely well, and fondly.
Through special dispensation of the planetary governor (and to the frustration of the Mechanicus designers of the hive spire, who now had to wonder how to keep the spire upright with a huge structural weakness halfway up), the medicae hospital was built at the side of the spire, and so, there was a large balcony open to the air the size of a park, where patients and staff could convalesce. Ally and Garen slowly, methodically, moved through the hospital complex toward the park, and took a gentle stroll through it, eventually finding an empty bench. Ally sat down, heavily, with a thump, unused to the sensation. It hurt. Garen sat next to her, and his hand reached out for hers. She took it, instinctually. The two turned to look at the speeding aircar traffic rushing past the balcony park.
An hour or two later, they were still there, lost in the moment, when their communicators chirped.
Alera Jumil sipped a cup of Ulara tea as her eyes scanned the datapad before her. She was dressed, almost on a whim, in the same clothing she was wearing yesterday (a cleaned and pressed set, of course), in the same apartment that she had rented to recruit Glynn. On the table in front of her was a pile of datapads with cross-referenced data and more accounts of the acts of electronic sabotage that were increasing on an almost geometric progression as each day passed.
"What's the probability this is a trap?" She asked Garen, who was seated across her, next to Glynn. Ally stood to the side of her, holding on to the cane, gazing out of the apartment's windows to the skyline.
"High," Ally said, a rather amused tone to her voice.
Alera chuckled and continued. "We're dealing with a cult that has suborned the ecclesiarchy. This "hall of hopes and dreams" screams Tzeentch. The cult underneath the cathedral was clearly devoted to Slaanesh. The virus that has infected Ally seems to act almost like a biological virus, which indicates Nurgle, and of course, there are the crazy nutters screaming about skulls for the throne and then shooting people randomly."
The inquisitor's eyebrow arched up, just so. "So this means we have a cult that appears to worship all four Chaos Gods simultaneously without becoming adherents to Chaos undivided, can suborn Imperial institutions, is clearly signaling to something or someone to come to Fyracus IV, and at the same time holds infantile orgies worshipping some non-existent Chaos entity?"
"I don't understand," Glynn said, and so Garen explained the matter to him.
"The orgy you were invited to and obtained details for is extremely low level stuff," Garen said. "If it wasn't for the fact that there *is* documented activity from the ruinous powers on this planet only the most puritanical of inquisitors would waste their time investigating it."
The inquisitor nodded. "For the most part, they really are just sex orgies, and that's not illegal under the laws of the Imperium unless certain things happen."
"Which you need not know about," finished Garen, looking askance at the Inquisitor, but she shrugged.
"You might as well know. Certain acts further one of the ruinous powers called Slaanesh, which I mentioned earlier. It's not just about sex or experiencing pleasure, it's seeking it to some twisted extreme."
She waited for the point to sink in before continuing. "I ran a search on the local datanet on any references to R'ylleh, which is a term that managed to imbed itself into Ally's programming, and the only reference is to the Hall of Hopes and Dreams."
Although he was not an inquisitor, Errold Glynn could spot corporate espionage security when he saw it. "Ah… so you put anyone on your trail to the most harmless, pointless activity you do so you can observe them without playing your hand."
"Yes," replied the Inquisitor, smiling, "They hold all the cards, we don't."
"Well, what do we do about it then?" Errold Glynn asked.
Alera Jumil took another sip of her tea. "There are some operational axioms in the Inquisition," she said. "One of them is that if you know there is a trap, often the best way to deal with it is to spring it. The more things that become known variables, the better."
She looked up at the Rogue Trader. "So, in the absence of any further leads, and in light of the fact I'd prefer not to have to call an exterminatus down on this world if the situation gets out of hand, we're going to spring the trap."