Next episode, FYI my work shifts are going crazy at the moment so the weekly game will be jumping around different days so the writeups might not come out as constant.
++ Excerpt taken from the personal record of Enginseer Prime Nicander Hak ++
++ LOCATION: ORREMA, THE ORREMA SYSTEM, WINTERSCALES REALM ++
There was little that we could do directly at such distance with the pressure that the Administratum was putting on the Dynasty, so the decision was made to call in a favour from the Inquisition, that organisation that had used our services so regularly. Interrogator Helbrech responded to our requests, and although he was unable to do anything himself, he passed the request along his chain of command, and the mysterious Inquisitor who he reported to agreed intercede on behalf of House Dureen. Of course, I do not think for a minute that this will be the end of the matter, and no doubt this Inquisitor will want something in return eventually.
However, as Hartek so eloquently phrased it; "If some Emperor-damned Inquisitor waltzes in and demands another Emperor-damned favour from us, whether we owe him one or not doesn't matter, effectively we have no real choice, so let's make the bastards work for us for a change!"
I cannot say that I find much to disagree with there...
We turned our attention to the matters we could deal with directly, and focussed on removing the Travellers from Home. The 5th, 11th and 12th Cohorts were ordered to prepare for action, and the 46th prepared to act as a reserve, with the Stormtroopers on standby to handle any surface ships that may choose to intervene. I attached myself to the mobile Field Medicarium units that had been setup in the back of a number of the guncutters, feeling that my talents would be best utilised in dealing with casualties, something that Calldia agreed with whole heartedly as this should keep me off the front lines. Air cover would be provided by several flights of guncutters and by Ivanov in the Fury interceptor. Viscount Spry was invited onto the Furnace of Redemption as an observer, and watched events unfold on the holo-projector as the images mirrored those on the planet.
Hartek had ordered a number of reconnaissance flights, and combined with Navigator Proscesu's map and the orbital auger scans we had developed a good understanding of the defensive organisation of the Travellers, and planned our deployments accordingly.
Operation Domestos, as the assault was named, began with a stirring speech from the Rogue Trader Regent which the troops seemed to enjoy and appreciate if the cheering is anything to judge by. The initial landing was split into two parts; 5th Cohort deploying in the south-west of Home with orders to hold the enemy that had been detected in that area, and the 11th and 12th Cohorts deployed to the south-east, with orders to overrun and destroy the enemy units there, before pushing North up the coast to destroy further Traveller units entrenched in the North East. All Cohorts would then push towards the centre of home to surround and defeat the remaining enemy units detected in that location. I attached a number of servo-skulls to the units to record the action, and chosen troopers had vid and pict capture devices attached to their helmets, for the purpose of creating an official record and for information broadcasts around Orrema once the operation was completed.
The initial landings were unopposed; however, as soon as the Dureen units moved off from the landing zones they came under effective fire and suffered some casualties. The soldiers pushed forwards, and supported by very effective attacks by the air cover against bunkers and other fortified ground positions, quickly achieved the initial aims of the landings. The southern half of Home was firmly under Dureen control, with the enemy in the south-east destroyed in the first four hours, with those in the south-west pinned into their defensive positions and their combat effectiveness being rapidly degraded. I deployed in the second wave, and am more than happy to report that the Field Medicarium performed flawlessly; over fifty percent of the casualties that reported to the facility were able to return to the frontlines within the hour, preserving the momentum of the attack. Of those that could not be returned to the battle, their swift treatment meant that their long term recovery was far more certain than it would otherwise have been.
The Omnissiah smiles on those that marshal their resources efficiently.
The surviving enemy forces attempted to disengage from the combat to retreat towards the other Traveller units, however, our people had read the battlefield well, and they found themselves pinned into position and unable to extract themselves from their perilous location. The superior training and equipment of House Dureen troops was obvious during this phase of the battle, and the hapless enemy units were destroyed in their defences. The battle-plan was holding well, and 11th and 12th Cohorts pushed north, with the 5th Cohort holding the high ground overlooking the remaining enemy dug in to the ruins and wooded areas towards the central region of Home.
The subsequent battle in the north of the island was more costly; the travellers had had longer to fortify their positions, and the Dureen troops had to advance over areas of clear ground, exposing them to the accurate defensive fire. While the final result of the battle here was the same as the previous ones, with the Travellers utterly defeated by the combined attentions of the ground troops and once again, effective air support, the gallant 11th Cohort suffered significant casualties.
Basilisk heavy artillery had been landed in the second wave and ordered to setup on the high ground in the South of Home. From here, their reach effectively covered the island in its entirety, meaning that they dominated the remaining known enemy positions. No attempt was made to camouflage their location; they were not necessarily there to be used, more as a demonstration of the availability of overwhelming firepower to demoralise the enemy. 5th Cohort were now effectively a screen for this artillery as their positions placed them between the Travellers defences and the high ground, essentially offering a disincentive for the enemy to try anything creative to negate this new threat. Realistically, the travellers were not in any sort of position to do anything about the big guns, however, a field commander who is over-confident has the tendency to lose battles, and Hartek had no intention of losing this battle.
The 12th Cohort pivoted south-west from the freshly defeated enemy and began to advance towards the remaining known Travellers who were being held in position by the 5th Cohort, leaving the depleted the 11th Cohort in charge of the prisoners that had been taken during Operation Domestos so far.
As the enemy positions began to be surrounded, Lieutenant Ivanov broadcast a vox message to Hartek; "Rogue Trader Regent, perhaps an approach should be made to the survivors that further bloodshed will achieve nothing...?"
Hartek paused a few seconds before replying. "A capital suggestion Number One, I hereby authorise you to act as my representative in these talks!"
I am sure that I heard muted swearing from Ivanov's vox feed.
The First Officer skilfully piloted the Fury interceptor to a touchdown in the landing zone, and commandeered a vehicle to take him to the 5th Cohort positions. At the same time, the reserve Cohort, the 46th were deployed to replace the decimated 11th in the North, and the Stormtroopers were called into action to take the surface ships at anchor around Home. As they moved into position from the Furnace of Redemption it became clear that the majority of the Travellers were ashore, so the ships were brought under House Dureen control in short order leaving the enemy still on the island completely stranded, and with no means of escape.
On arrival at the 5th Cohort positions, Ivanov wasted no time in requesting parley with the leader of the surviving Travellers. The meeting was agreed, and accompanied by one of my servo-skulls, dispatched to record the meeting so we would have proof of our attempts to end the conflict by all means necessary should we need it, the First Officer cautiously headed to the neutral meeting place. Waiting for him was a young looking man covered in some form of crude war paint, and carrying a lasgun, (obviously one of the weapons supplied by that damned interfering Haderak Fel) to which he had added a number of colourful feathers for some unknown reason.
Before the First Officer could open his mouth the young man spoke, his voice shrill; "We will never surrender to you invaders!"
Ivanov looked at him, and slowly reached into a pocket and retrieved a hip-flask, from which he took a swig.
"Drink?" He asked the Traveller, raising an eyebrow. There was no response, so Ivanov continued; "Now there are a couple of things we can do. We can take you out from orbit, like we destroyed the ship a few weeks ago. We can bomb and strafe you like we've done to the other units in this area. We can put an assault in over land. Or we can bombard you from distance using those..." He indicated the Basilisks. "Or, and this is worth thinking on, we can all stand down, you can join your compatriots who have already agreed to come with us on our great adventure, and no-one else needs to die!"
The young man looked thoughtful, but still suspicious.
"You do realise" Ivanov continued, "That it's not us that want you away from here? It's the city folk who have got tired of the raiding, and asked us to remove you... If you come with us, you'd be actively encouraged to do what you have been so far... But on a grander scale!"
"We've heard the fighting!" The young man finally responded. "We know you've lost many men! We'll defeat you too..."
Ivanov smiled sadly, "We've lost men, but not as many as you think, our medicae facilities are better than you assume. And we now hold most of this island; your compatriots are dead or have surrendered. And we can deploy reinforcements whenever we like."
"The other tribes are not as dedicated as us! I am not surprised they surrendered..." The Traveller shot back.
"It's a shame that you seem most concerned about the differences between your own people. And the differences you have with us..." Ivanov said thoughtfully. "We simply see the similarities, the common ground that we share, and the potential! All I ask is you discuss the offer with your people, and we meet again in an hour to continue the conversation."
The young man paused again. "Two hours." He stated, and when Ivanov nodded, he turned on his heel and walked away.
The Rogue Trader Regent called a command conference over the vox network, and once I had patched all the feeds in, we began to discuss the possibilities that had been raised by Ivanov's conversation with the young Traveller leader. After several minutes of discussion and clarification, Hartek stunned us all with a suggestion.
"Why don't we get hold of a small ship or two for them, and let them do what they do on this world for us, except around the Expanse? Leave them independent, but tied in to our House, and with a certain amount of duty to us?"
I paused, then spoke, "Use them as explorers? That could work... We would need to train them first though..."
Hartek spoke again; "Agreed. They would need to learn the skills to operate a star-ship, but "explorers" would be a good way to describe what I have in mind..."
The more we considered the idea, the better it seemed, and with Hartek taking the lead, we all made our way to the agreed parley point.
The same young man who had spoken to Ivanov appeared once again, flanked by half a dozen of his fellows. Hartek nodded a greeting, and then with the minimum of preamble and fuss made the offer. The Travellers seemed shocked at first, but readily agreed to a truce as they liked the idea that was being presented; they agreed to vacate Home and board their ships to discuss the offer in more detail with all the tribes scattered around the world. I suggested to the Rogue Trader Regent that we give anyone who wished a limited tour of the Furnace of Redemption, accompanied by some of the Travellers who had already agreed to work with the Dynasty so they could get an idea of life upon a void-faring vessel; Hartek considered the idea for a second, and nodded, passing the offer on to our potential allies.
I turned my attention to the Travellers' wounded, and with permission of their leadership, and the Rogue Trader Regent arranged for them to be transported to our Aid Posts to be treated by the medicae staff there. Instructions were given that the enemy wounded be given the same care and attention as our own injured, which it appeared was appreciated by all concerned. I do not know what else the fleshbags expected, it is clearly inefficient to let large numbers of wounded die, or remain ineffective; a simple grasp of logic and statistics should make that clear, however, the Omnissiah works in mysterious ways, and if they think better of us for preserving the lives of potential allies, then so be it.
The Rogue Trader Regent stressed to the Travellers that the offer we were making was time sensitive as the Dynasty had various other irons in the fire, and could not neglect those while they prevaricated over the offer. I offered a communication device that the Travellers could fit to each of their ships, which would give them the ability to communicate directly to the Furnace of Redemption should they have any questions, which they accepted, along with the notion that they had limited time to accept, or reject our offer; they said that they would have an answer for us within a standard month. Of course, an additional benefit of the communication devices I had created was that they allowed us to track the ships from our position in orbit with the minimum of fuss. Negotiations concluded, we parted on surprisingly cordial terms.
Viscount Spry seemed to be suitably impressed by both our military and diplomatic efforts, and appeared to feel that he had made the correct decision in allying with us. He had obviously been paying attention during his previous discussions with Hartek, as when asked by the Rogue Trader Regent whether his intelligence network had discovered the identity of our attackers of a few days previously, he nodded, before speaking.
"Rogue Trader Hartek, I am ashamed to have to report to you that my agents have uncovered evidence that one of my fellow leaders was behind the dastardly assault!" Looking suitably grave, he continued; "I can hardly believe that any faction would try to kill travellers to our world, but the proof I have is irrefutable, and it pains me to say that it was the Merchel Trading House that betrayed our world so heinously!"
Hartek sat down before responding. "I, for one, am shocked and disappointed..."
"As am I..." Spry nodded sadly.
"What are your feelings Number One?" Hartek asked Lieutenant Ivanov.
"Sir, I am shocked and disappointed. Perhaps we should do something about it..." Ivanov responded.
As I watched the exchange, I could not help but agree with Calldia when he muttered "They may be masters of politics, intrigue, and military matters, but they will never be actors..."
"It's a shame that some of our men didn't get to flex their muscles on Home." Hartek mused, "Perhaps they'll enjoy some exercise now..."
The Command Staff were summoned to develop a strategy, which was effectively in two parts. We were to begin with a charm offensive on the Merchel population, appealing to those amongst it who felt stagnated by the slow processes which the Trading House seemed to rely on; we aimed at the younger more dynamic generation, painting a more prosperous picture for the future, inviting those with an interest to visit the Furnace of Redemption and spend time with selected representatives, in the same way that we had allowed the Travellers to visit. Once we had managed to separate the views of the Elders from the wider, younger, population Hartek would call, and attend, a diplomatic meeting on Orrema. He would publicly accuse the Merchel leadership of being responsible for the attack in the meeting, and respond to any perceived the threat there and then. I would be standing by on the teleportarium to transport troops to the designated location, as reinforcements to rapidly overwhelm any opposition. Additional troops from the infantry Cohorts would be ready to deploy from guncutters to seize key points within the Merchel cities.
As the planning session broke up, Orbest Dray was waiting for Hartek. "My Lord. The witch wishes to speak to you! He says it's urgent, and is waiting in the Dome."
I reflected that were I the Astropath, I would take exception to that name. And yes Calldia, I do know that the crew refer to the followers of the Holy Omnissiah as "Cog-boys", which is generally inaccurate when there are a large number of female adepts too. I am more offended by the inaccuracy than the name itself; after all, it is a great honour to be a follower of the Cog, is it not?
Astropath Golgotha was waiting as we entered the huge domed chamber, indeed, the door opened before we had chance to request entry. He was dressed in white robes with blue and black trimmings, and wore an Aquila amulet; his acolytes stood around him in a semi-circle, their heads bowed. There were trinkets, and parchments of Holy texts, some written in blood, attached to what appeared to be every surface, a mix of different incense burners in different areas of the chamber, and there were devotional phrases scrawled in High Gothic across the walls. One section was filled with plants, and seemed to create a pool of tranquillity, but the chamber as a whole seemed as strange to me as Hold 51 where the Orks had taken up residence.
"Master Golgotha!" Hartek's voice broke the silence. "You summoned us?"
The Astropath nodded. "Thank you for coming at such short notice, Lord Captain. I have an urgent message which I thought would be of interest..."
The door behind us closed with a soft thud.
"Do continue Master Golgotha!" Hartek prompted.
The Astropaths surrounding the Choir Master Telepahica began to chant quietly, and although there were definite words present in the chant, as the strange energies swirled around the room, for some reason I was unable to hear the words clearly enough to decipher them. Golgotha joined the chant, and then suddenly, one after another they entire Choir began to call out words; the overall effect was unnerving as the different voices rose and fell, and although spoken in a staccato sentence, the message just seemed to be a garbled collection of random words. After five minutes of the nonsense, the choir went quite, and puzzled I looked at Hartek, not quite understanding what I was supposed to make of what had happened; I certainly could not decipher anything of use from the noise we had just been subjected to.
Suddenly, my attention was drawn back to the Choir in the centre of the chamber as one of the Astropaths spoke a few Low Gothic words in a hollow disassociated voice; he fell silent and one of his colleagues spoke a few more words in the same manner, then fell silent, then another, and another, until eventually a full message was produced in a most unnerving form as each Astropath spoke and fell silent. Throughout the chorus of voices, the message flowed uninterrupted as though each mouth was controlled by a single, guiding, intelligence yet the voice that spoke it sprang from one random mouth to another, changing so regularly it was difficult to pinpoint which person spoke each section. The disorientating effect was still present in the recordings I have of the encounter, kept to make sure I understood what was happening, and I do not enjoy watching them back.
I have transcribed the message in its entirety here so that I do not have to refer back to the strange meeting again;
"Author; Governor, the Honourable Lord Belkan Kapak, 20th Heir of the Damaris throne, Lion of the Highland Fields. Encryption Level, None. Message Begins. To all available Imperial and affiliated Rogue Trader Vessels within range. Being a loyal system to his most Holy Majesty the Emperor of Man, Governor Kapak requests the aid and succour from Imperial assets against the Xenos-threat known as the Ork. Damaris is preparing to resist an impending invasion by the wretched greenskins who are massing outside of the system. We ask for any assistance in the form of ships, supplies, manpower, arms and expertise so that we may protect the Emperors worlds from the depredation of this horrid and unclean horde. Governor Kapak in his most magnanimous foresight promises to reward any such aid with the wealth of his planet. Know that Damaris is a rich planet and will reward her allies greatly. Message Ends."
"A call for help Rogue Trader." I stated, after a pause to steady myself. "And potential for profit, influence, and new allies..."
Hartek nodded. "Indeed!" He turned towards Golgotha; "Thank you Choir Master for your sterling service."
"My service is to the Throne, and the Dynasty. As always." Golgotha replied.
"As is all of ours." Hartek smiled, and turned to the rest of us. "To the chart room, then!"
Golgotha joined us, and relayed what he knew of Damaris as we headed to the Cartographer; both Hartek and I had some knowledge already, and between the three of us we managed to develop a reasonably detailed background. Damaris was a relatively rare case in the Koronus Expanse as it had aligned itself with the Imperial cause, and having succeeded, grown into a thriving world. While not officially part of the Imperium, the societal structures in place dove-tailed exactly with Imperial organisations, and the population considered themselves members of the Imperium of Man, a happy coincidence as the world was known to be rich in mineral resources, always in demand by the Imperial industry.
The strangest thing about the message that the choir Master had received was that although Damaris was known to be located within The Cauldron, some thirty days warp travel away and closer to the Foundling Worlds than to our base of operations in Footfall, the message seemed to originate much closer, perhaps only six days warp travel, to our current location within Winterscales Realm.
"Perhaps there is some sort of warp anomaly, or gate in that region..." Hartek mused, mostly to himself, I am sure. He turned to us and spoke more clearly; "We put our plans for Orrema into action tomorrow."
We prepared to move on towards Damaris, and in parallel ran our public relations campaign against the elders of the Merchel Trading House, which began to have an almost immediate impact as the younger generations responded to the dynamic message that House Dureen was giving. Part way through the week Hartek requested that the Merchel leaders and others of influence assemble in the Council auditorium as he wished to address them. They were eager to hear him speak, so much so that those not immediately invited clamoured to be included too.
The Rogue Trader and his retinue were greeted by the Merchel elders in a guarded manner, obviously not being unaware of the effect that House Dureen was having on their population, however, they were cordial and respectful. I kept an eye on the proceedings via my usual vid-link with Hartek. As well as the thirty elders, there were around a hundred others of position, and thirty armed guards, who did not appear to be overly alert.
1st Cohort were standing by in the teleportarium chamber, preparing to deploy in small teams, each with orders to detain everyone within the Council rooms, and only using lethal force if threatened. Viscount Spry had procured detailed plans of the Merchel chambers, and the troops had used these in rehearsal stage of the planning of the strike until they were thoroughly familiar with the target building.
Hartek stood to address the audience, and spoke in a clear, loud voice; "Gentlemen. Gentlemen! Pah! And ladies Of the Council of Elders."
Immediately there was a rustle of unease throughout the room.
"I came to your world as a traveller from the stars, seeking friendship, and a peaceful, mutually profitable co-existence." Hartek continued. "I extended unto you the hand of friendship of House Dureen. And you have slapped it away!"
The unease was replaced by shocked gasps, and startled looks.
"You have slapped it away in the most insidious and invidious manner! Perhaps not all of you are guilty, but there are those among you who will know of the attack on my person. You will know of it because you were responsible for it!"
Cries of denial rang out from the Elders, whilst others around the chamber had covered their mouths with their hands, unable to hide their surprise.
"I have incontrovertible proof..." Hartek slammed the book he had been holding onto the lectern he was standing behind, and the sharp crack cut through all the protests and denials that rang out from the Elders, forcing silence from the Merchellians.
"I have incontrovertible proof! Do you compound your calumny with further deception and denials? And now with a heavy heart, I find I am forced into action. I believe that this council no longer has the moral right to govern the honourable people of Merchel without stronger, more moral guidance..."
I triggered the Teleportarium the instant Hartek used the key phrase, and strike team after strike team were deployed to their target locations, each arriving precisely where intended.
As the troops began to materialise, the Rogue Trader Regent began to detail the full evidence to his shocked audience. One guard was foolish enough to attempt to intervene, raising his shotgun, and was quickly dispatched by the Dureen troops for his trouble, and others who attempted to offer resistance met the same fate. Unfortunately during the chaos that resulted several of the more quick-witted Elders managed to get clear and make good their escape, however, casualties outside of the security forces were remarkably light. As I had triggered the teleportarium, I had relayed the order for the other Cohorts to deploy from the already transiting guncutters and take their targets. They met no resistance, and in some cases were greeted with open arms.
Once the key areas were secured, the Rogue Trader Regent broadcast a message from the central vid-station, outlining what had happened, and why he had acted. He was apologetic to the people, and said he had only acted to prevent such an honourable and admirable populous being further led astray by weak and fearful leaders.
He signed off with "People of Merchel, we have tolerated it previously, but no more! Regrettably we have been forced into action by your corrupt, self-serving and insidious leadership, and have been forced to intervene and remove them. The people of Merchel can now know true freedom, true opportunity and true justice. My only wish is that I could have done this for you sooner."
It was quickly clear that he had hit the right tone; the population were shocked by, and condemned the actions that their erstwhile leaders had taken. They demanded the removal of a number of the societal structures the old regime had put in place, something Hartek was happy help them with, and they even turned over fugitives to Dureen troops. The people were happy to accept the protection of House Dureen at this critical time in their history, and even recognised Viscount Spry as the representative of the Dynasty.
The Elders that had been captured during the coup were transported to the Furnace of Redemption, and while I am not entirely certain what their fate was, I did notice that the Orks in Hold 51 seemed to gain some new human helpers.
The other City States were shocked by events in Merchel, however with the exception of the Coam Federation who had allied themselves to House Fel, they took great pains to make perfectly clear to the Rogue Trader Regent that they considered themselves allies and trading partners with him. Viscount Spry, as befitting his new role of Planetary Governor, was then tasked to bring all the factions of Orrema together, and ensure that they worked towards a single goal; the prosperity of Orrema, and by extension the prosperity Dureen Rogue Trader Dynasty.
As Hartek phrased it, "Viscount Spry, by the time we return here I expect the Coam Federation to have at the very least, disavowed their links to Fel, and the world to be united under our umbrella! I will leave 11th Cohort and a flight of guncutters to aid you in your task. Do not waste these resources."
Colonel Senf of the depleted 11th Cohort was ordered to screen and recruit from the Orremnians in our name, and Hartek left him one final instruction. "If Viscount Spry decides he longer wishes to abide with terms of our agreement, remove him."
The Colonel clicked his heels and acknowledged the instructions.
As we were making the final preparations to leave Orremnian space we received a message from the Travellers; over forty-thousand had decided to accept our offer to explore the stars. They were left with instructions to gather a thousand of their brightest and best to be assessed and screened by small cadres of specialists that we detached to the world, in preparation for our return from Damaris when we could begin to train them so that they could crew their own warp-capable vessels. Colonel Senf was given the overall command of the cadres we left behind, and left to make the arrangements for transporting such large numbers of people to the new training centres.
A week later we jumped into the warp from the edge of the Orremnian system and began our journey to answer the call for aid from Damaris.
Although not as smooth as some of our more recent journeys had been we initially travelled along known warp routes, taking us through other systems we had previously explored, and allowing us to check-in with our representatives via one form of communication or other at each stage. However, it was when we hit the unknown route towards the anomaly that things began to get strange.
I was focussed on the some maintenance sweeps when I noticed a sudden fluctuation in the Gellar field, which lasted for a fraction of a second, before settling out again. I immediately contacted the bridge, warning of a potential problem. All acknowledged my warning, except the Rogue Trader Regent, who had apparently retired to his quarters, and so I turned my attention to further diagnosing the problem, and attempted to detect the source of the fluctuation. As I was doing so the First Officer contacted via the vox warning me that the Choir Master had just staggered onto the bridge, looking drained and dishevelled, and issuing a dire warning. Ivanov replayed the automatic recording that the cogitators on the bridge make of any conversation, to allow me to judge the full importance for myself.
"There is a presence on the ship! I can feel it! It is as if a spark has just lit itself! It draws the attention of the powers that should not be named, we need to snuff it out before it brings doom on us!"
Golgotha demanded Ivanov accompany him to search for the "spark" of which he had spoken. I acknowledged the warning, and began to run a systems check, deck by deck, and level by level throughout the ship. I was quickly able to pinpoint some anomalous readings from the cold storage areas of the Furnace of Redemption, however all the surveillance devices I had in place there were simply transmitting white noise and static, and once again, the Gellar Field began to fluctuate.
I raised Ivanov on the vox, and directed him to this area, but he reported that the Astropath was already guiding them there, muttering of a "Strong presence". I diverted power from non-essential systems to the Gellar Field in an attempt to restabilise our protection from the fiends of the warp, and made fruitless attempts to reactivate my surveillance devices. Suddenly, the centre of disruption detected by both the Astropath and myself, seemed to focus on Hartek's quarters.
I have no record of what happened next, and was forced to piece together events from official verbal and written post-event reports, and some accidentally decrypted personal logs, to get an idea of events, however, as far as I can ascertain, what follows is an accurate summary of events.
Gothgotha staggered towards the door, supported by Ivanov, and between them they forced it open; they were greeted by the sight of the Rogue Trader Regent scrambling to his fleet, and reaching for his axe.
Ivanov, concern in his voice shouted "Trader! We have something from the warp aboard!" His last words almost drowned in a booming noise.
The room and corridor were suddenly swept with immensely strong winds and all three men were forced to hold on to firmly anchored fixtures, and then from nowhere sprang a rain of blood.
"I know!" Hartek shouted back, "It's taken on the form of Dureen!"
Ivanov had support the Astropath, who began to shout at Hartek; "Lord Captain! Close your mind! Your mind is a feast for the creatures of the warp!"
Hartek dragged his head to stare at Golgotha; "What are you saying, man? You're talking nonsense!"
"You are drawing them!" Golgotha's voice became more desperate. "Like blood would draw a shark!"
"Then let them come!" Hartek bellowed. "I'll face them down! I fear no ruinous power! Let them come!"
The pressure of the winds increased, and Golgotha shouted at Ivanov; "Steady me!"
The First Officer grasped the Astropath by his robes, and shouted at Hartek; "Look! It's Dureen. Behind you!"
Unable to resist, Hartek glanced over his shoulder, and there seeing nothing, turned back, starting to speak; "What do you mean? There's no-one th..." right into a blow from the Astropath's staff.
The Rogue Trader Regen was knocked off his feet and deposited in a heap on the floor, unconscious. Instantly, the winds died out, and the blood faded from reality. In my position in the engineerium, I saw the Gellar Field return to normal operation, and twenty-two point four seconds later, all my surveillance devices sprang back to life.
I was greeted with the sight of Hartek in a heap on the floor of his quarters, slowly attempting to get to his feet, a very confused look on his face. The room was silent, and I was about to check the audio feed when I noticed the Astropath examining himself closely, he glanced over to the slow moving form of the Rogue Trader Regent.
"What is the meaning of this?" he demaded. His words trailed away, and he glanced at the Rogue Trader Regent again, before speaking in a quieter voice; "What? What? Number One... I... What?"
"Choir Master? Are you hurt?" Ivanov asked
Golgotha looked utterly confused; "What? Choir Master?" He limped over to the mirror on the wall, put his hand to his face, and spoke again. "Oh boy!"
Ivanov rushed over to the struggling form of Hartek, still trying to get to his feet; "Rogue Trader?"
"Yes?" the Astropath answered from behind him, and then suddenly staggered again.
"Rogue Trader?" Ivanov asked again, looking from one figure to another, as confused now as the others in the room.
This time Hartek answered; "I think so!"
Later on, having reviewed the records, I knew that I had missed something when my surveillance devices were non-functional, and that the official reports were similarly incomplete, however when sorting through the ships cogitators and decrypting some operational files, I retreived, and accidentally included into the decryption routines, the Rogue Trader Regent's personal diary entry for this part of our travels. The section concerned with the events I have just reported makes very interesting reading so I have included it here to fill in the blanks;
+ + + There's some as cling to the notion that a man's dreams are the product of his own subconscious mind, an outpouring of his own guilty secrets and hidden fears.
Trollocks to that. I had a vision. Visions aren't just for poncey, skinny prophet types. That ex-Astartes who was running around with the Inquisitor, he had visions too and the Inquisitor seemed to take stock by 'em. Ain't no Astartes anyone could ever call poncey, 'cept possibly for them Dark Angels. Anyway, I reckon what I had was a vision of something that hasn't happened yet, that might not happen if we can stop it. Castagir changed what happened in his vision, so I figure we can do the same.
I was in my quarters, resting. Well I had eaten first, and drunk a little. It was the Hartek fruit, from the planet of the Dropas, that I find so refreshing. Nothing wrong with that. We were in the warp, and that little **** Ivanov was running the bridge so efficiently there was bugger-all to do until we get to our destination. So retired to my cabin, hit the "Do Not Disturb" button and had myself a slice or two.
At the start of the vision I was looking down into a cold room. So cold, I could feel it chilling my blood. I looked down and into the room. It looked like a Freezarium, the walls lined with foodstuffs preserved for a long journey. There was a figure in the room, walking towards the door, as if to leave. There were wisps of smoke coming off him. Maybe steam, but I swear I could smell the brimstone from my disembodied position. I couldn't see his face at first, but then he stopped and slowly turned around. He looked towards me as if he could see me, and smiled evilly.
"No!" I found myself screaming. "You're dead!" The obviously dead figure of Rico Dureen grinned wider and I could see the sharp points of his elongated teeth and the demonic glow around his eyes. His ice-cold frozen corpse was now almost glowing with infernal energy. He nodded towards me, as if acknowledging my ethereal presence.
"No! Your time has gone. This is my ship now! My Dynasty! I won't let you take it away from me!" In response he simply turned away and reached out to touch the door. Where he touched by the lock, the metal started to glow red, then white hot. Molten metal started to puddle on the floor as he burned his way out of his icy prison.
"No!" I cried once more. "Go back!" But then it was too late, as the possessed Dureen lashed out with a foot and smashed the door open before striding out into the ship to wreak his revenge.
Then suddenly I was overcome with dizziness, and found myself falling, and awoke momentarily to find myself crumpled naked on the deck-plates in my cabin, a goblet half clutched in my left hand, its contents spilled out over the floor. I tried vainly to drag myself to my feet, but wave after wave of dizziness swept over me. Now I've always been able to hold my drink, drugs or whatever else is available. I remember there was this one time on Pylos with the old 48th where I got meself into a drinking contest with an Ogryn Sergeant... but that's another story. Anyway no amount of wine or Hartek fruit had ever effected me like that, and I wondered briefly if Ivanov had made his move at last by poisoning my meal.
It was then that I detected a foul odour, the likes of which I couldn't possibly begin to describe, but so strong and pungent that it made my eyes water. I blinked to clear my vision, then all of a sudden I had the feeling of falling again and on opening my eyes I found myself looking down upon a dusty desert plain, flanked on all sides by mountains. Moments later I was standing on the ground looking up at the sky, where a bright ruddy star shone down and a vague, greeny-blue glowing mass, scattered across the breadth of the heavens, visible even in the daylight.
Looking across the plain, I saw several plumes of dust being thrown up, as if by some fast moving vehicles. I ran towards them, stumbling down the loose sand of a dune, until I could get a better view of them. As they grew closer, I could make out the forms of three chopper bikes, speeding across the dusty landscape, their course parallel to my current position. Thinking that they were scouts from the 7th Cohort sent out to rescue me, I let out a great shout and waved my hands in the air to attract their attention.
They didn't seem to notice me, but continued on their course weaving through the broken and barren terrain. I ran after them, somehow able to keep pace and even gain on them, and as I grew closer, I realised that these were not the Malfian humans of the 7th, but were in fact of my own people. Squats! Their short, rotund bodies and extensive beards could be nothing but Homo-Sapiens Rotundus, the abhumans of my race long thought lost to the depredations of the Tyranids. Somehow they had survived the apocalypse and made their home on this dusty, barren world.
"Stop!" I cried. "I'm one of you." But still they didn't notice me, continuing on their path which I now saw led them towards a huge rock face that had been carved out into the form of a mighty fortress.
Suddenly the skies darkened and a shadow was cast over the riders. I looked up to see at least half a dozen ships appearing in the sky overhead. Their vast forms were corrupted and distorted with spikes and fins and other features that I knew marked these vessels as those in the service of the Powers That Be Not Named, like the cruiser we had faced in the Sapphirus system. Again I cried out to my brothers.
"No! Come back! Don't go there, it's not safe!" But again they failed to heed my warning, but seeing the Chaos ships arriving overhead, spread out slightly and gunned their machines into even greater speed. I tried to run after them, but tripped on a stone and fell, skidding into the dust and dirt. Pulling myself up to my knees I cried out once more in a weakened and croaking voice. "Come back."
There was a flash and a crack of thunder, and a searing white bolt of energy pierced the sky, scattering clouds and heading straight for the rocky fortress. It struck, and scoured the very bones of the world, eliminating all trace of the habitation that had been there moments before. A vast cloud of dust and debris was picked up and hurled outwards from the blast site. The three riders slammed their vehicles into sliding brakes, but before they had time to flee the blast-wave swept over them and they were obliterated. Moments later the blast reached my position and I felt myself lifted bodily into the air and hurled several meters across the desert, only to slam into the cold, hard deck-plates back in my cabin aboard the Furnace of Redemption.
I hauled myself to my feet, and moments later the door to my cabin opened and there was Lieutenant Ivanov, weapon in hand. Thinking that he had made his move and come to finish me off in my poison-weakened state, I reached for my battle-axe. No-one was going to give this squat the bloody Emperor's Peace without losing a few extremities first, but then he spoke.
"Trader! We have something from the Warp aboard."
At these words there was a mighty boom and a blast of force ripped through the room. I barely managed to keep my feet and saw that Ivanov was doing the same, while struggling to keep hold of the Choir-Master who had apparently accompanied him. A mighty howling wind whipped up through the cabin, and as if from no-where, the room was suddenly awash with a rain of blood.
Something told me Ivanov might be right in his assessment.
"I know." I shouted over the howling wind. "It's taken on the form of Dureen." Ivanov seemed momentarily baffled by the reference to my predecessor, but then he'd only had the official story about Dureen deserting his duties. He couldn't know that Rico Dureen's corpse was in fact hidden in a Freezarium aboard the Furnace of Redemption and now, as I sincerely believed, possessed by a warp demon that threatened the very safety of the ship.
Choir-Master Golgotha forced his frail body into the cabin, gripping tightly on the doorframe to secure himself against the storm. "Lord Captain!" he shouted, "Close your mind. Your mind is a feast for the creatures of the warp!" Now there have been many things said regarding my intellect over the years, but it has never been described as "a feast".
"What are you saying, man?" I shouted. "You're talking nonsense!"
"You are drawing them. Like blood would draw a shark."
"Then let them come!" I cried, hefting my battleaxe. "I'll face them all down." The battle-rage was upon me now, and the learned sophistication of the Trader's rank fell away and I was who I had always been. Kilgrim Hartek. Warrior. "I fear no ruinous power! Let Them Come!" At this point I was ready to take on whatever the demons of the warp could throw at me, but was unready for the machinations of the trickster Ivanov who pointed behind me.
"Look! It's Dureen. Behind you!" Having already been transported to a distant desert world on this day, I was ready to believe anything could happen. I span ready to do battle with my demon-infected predecessor, only to see a blank wall covered in blood. My wits slowed by a combination of the Hartek juice, the infernal storm and what had been so far shaping up into a really crappy day, it took me a moment to register that there was no-one there, before I turned back.
"What do you mean? There's no-one th..." And that was when the Astropath's staff struck me in the face and everything went black.
I opened my eyes to find myself already standing unsteadily, being held upright by Lieutenant Ivanov.
"What is the meaning of this?" I shouted, then turned to look Ivanov in the eyes.
Without looking up.
Something was very wrong. My cabin was smaller than before, the ceiling lower and more claustrophobic. All traces of the storm had vanished, but as I moved to look around I felt the constant jabbing of pain from all my joints. Looking down, at the end of long spindly legs covered in robes, I saw my feet.
As a new wave of dizziness hit, I leaned on my staff for support.
"What?" I managed. Then again. "What?" Looking around the cabin, I saw a short, rotund and bearded figure lying crumpled and naked in the corner. My mind clawed desperately to make sense of the scene "Number One.... I .... What?" Ivanov was still at my side.
"Choir-Master? Are you hurt?" he asked.
"What? Choir-Master?" I could scarcely make sense of what was happening. I hobbled across the cabin to a mirror, and there looking back at me was the wizened form of Choir-Master Golgotha. I bent slightly, and put a hand to the wrinkled face I now wore. Looking back at me with empty, burned out eye sockets, I heard the Astropath speak in my voice "Oh boy." I was dimly aware of Ivanov moving to help my former body to its feet.
"Rogue Trader?" he asked.
"Yes." I replied by instinct. Ivanov seemed momentarily confused, but then moments later there was a flash of intense pain and I found myself back in my own body.
"Rogue Trader?" he asked again, looking from me to the body of the Astropath I had briefly occupied.
"I think so." I replied, though it was only some time later that I was able to convince myself of this.
So that's what happened, my vision of a possessed Dureen, the Squat colony on a world blasted by Chaos. I can only hope that this was a vision of things yet to come, that by bold action we may yet avert the colony's destruction and save my people. The rest of the crew can't know that this is what drives me, they wouldn't understand. Or worse, might suspect I am possessed by the ruinous powers myself. We're already committed to the relief of Damaris, but once our business there is concluded I intend to take the Furnace there with such forces as I can muster to try to save my brothers. I have consulted Commander Jace our Carto-Artifex and between us have identified a likely candidate for this system in Winterscale's Realm, with an orange sun in the shadow of a mighty nebula. I can only hope we arrive in time.
Personal log entry end. Save and encrypt. Keyphrase: "Blessed is he who in the name of the Emperor shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brothers' keeper and the finder of lost children." + + +
+ + + Addendum: Not enough. Can't risk it. The buggers will think I've lost me wits. Erase last entry, double security protocol then mark storage media for destruction and replacement. Authorisation Hartek-One. I'm sorry, my friend Nicander, but this is one entry I cannot let even you, my dearest friend, just "stumble across" as you do. Your boundless curiosity will have to remain unsatisfied and be replaced with obedience to the Trader's Throne. For am I not my brothers' keeper? + + +
Kilgrim was right, with that level of encryption, followed by a deletion, it would have been more work and time than it was worth, however, it is rare that it is the file structure in the cogitators themselves I search, it is the data traps in the buffers. No-one ever thinks to purge them.
For the record, I do not think he has lost his wits; when you are not seen as exactly normal by those around you, I understand the drive to discover those that are your kin. I am considered an anomaly even by others within the Adeptus Mechanicus, and I am ninety seven point three percent certain that I was attached to this Dynasty as a form of exile. While I would not say I am "obedient" to the Trader's Throne, I am certainly loyal to my friend who occupies it. I find it strange to use that word again; since the death of Yorrick, himself a victim of the servants of the ruinous powers, I have not considered any other a friend, and I will keep his secret; even he will never know that I know.
++ End of record ++